St. Francis and the Wolf

Long-time IFFP member Dr. Dan Griffin‘s take on the story of St. Francis and the wolf.

October 4th is St. Francis’s feast day. You can tell when you pass a church and see a line of cats & dogs (and their humans) waiting to get inside. When many people think of St. Francis, they think of the brownish garden statue of the guy with the funny hair cut with birds perching on him, or if you’re Italian, it might be a similar image on a pot trivet hanging in your grandmother’s kitchen… But Francis is not for the faint of heart. If Jesus initiated a rebellion, Francis organized Seal Team 6. Francis was a radical.  

“It happened that a large and ferocious wolf was terrorizing inhabitants of this mountain town. Starving, at first, The Wolf slaughtered animals but then began attacking human beings. Afraid of being devoured, no townsfolk ventured past the city gates.  When Francis was visiting this town, Gubbio, and saw the suffering of the people, he took it upon himself to confront the wolf.  

Francis, in a manner we could only describe as Franciscan, worked to make peace between the predator and the people…. That night as the townsfolk watched from the safety of the city wall, Francis ventured beyond the gates and into the dark wood surrounding the town.  The townspeople thought; This Monk is out of his gourd!”  Almost immediately the wolf came charging out of the forest, his ears back, teeth bared, mouth drooling.  But Francis held up his hands in a gesture of peace, making the sign of the cross.  At this, the wolf suddenly stopped in his tracks and closed its mouth.  Invited to come closer, the wolf approached Francis and lay down at his feet.  

Knowing that the wolf was suffering from hunger, Francis spoke to the animal: Brother Wolf,…I know what hunger is and I know you are very hungry, but you have no right to terrorize and harm the people of Gubbio. Francis sought to convince the people the wolf is terribly hungry, not evil, and instructed them to feed the wolf every day. In exchange, the wolf would never hurt anyone.  

From that day forward, the wolf appeared in town every afternoon, stopping at a different house to be fed.  The wolf was gentle, and the humans kind and generous. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio grieved.”  Francis instinctively saw all of God’s creation as good- Brother Son, Sister Moon that’s easy, but even a fierce wolf was declared his Brother. 

Now this makes a nice tale, and we could leave it at that. But I think the story, and the life of Francis as a whole, holds so much more.  I will try not to ruin the story, while offering a few thoughts for your consideration. 

Who is the Wolf?  Who are the Townspeople? Who is Francis?  Here’s my take: 

In short, all of them are us. The Wolf is our hunger – our selfishness, impulses, our ceaseless attachments, untamed desires, our anger, and recently, our rage. The wolf, in my humble opinion, may be thought of as our lesser angels…notice, I didn’t say demons or devils or evil twin…. our lesser angels, or more down to earth, maybe even our brothers and sisters.

The Townspeople are our population of fears…the clear and present feeling of dread that can accompany us so much of our lives. The terror that says we’re not enough, we’re broken, we’re bad, we’re weak.  

Francis is our heart, our divine spark, if you will, the best of our better angels.  

Our inner Francis, the divine spark is subtle. That Holy Navy Seal in our Soul, needs training and care and feeding itself. It can then be summoned at a moment’s notice and deployed ready to meet whatever ferocity life imposes around and within us. Our Better Angel’s mission is peace, and she must be summoned to aid us to speak kindly but firmly to our impulses, our fears, our rage- the vast population of fierce wolves and frightened townspeople within all of us. Those feelings are absolutely real, but the feelings should absolutely not be allowed to steer the course of our lives. Francis greeted everyone: Pace e Bene: “Peace and All Good.” He compels us to remember, to declare that the World, that Life, is Good; recognizing that, we, like the Wolf and people of Gubbio, can make the choices that Better Angels will make. We all need help remembering… I had to get a tattoo.


  • Dan Griffin

    Dr. Dan Griffin is a licensed psychologist with extensive post-doctoral training in adult and family-based therapies. He is a long-term member of IFFP.

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