LITTLE FLOWERS: Saint Francis Preaches To The Birds

Saint Francis Preaches To The Birds

Saint Francis, humble servant of God, a short time after his conversion, having gathered together many companions and received them into the Order, fell into great perplexity and doubt touching what it behooved him to do — whether to be wholly intent on prayer, or sometimes to preach.  And greatly he desired to know the will of God touching these things.  But since the holy humility wherewith he was filled suffered him not to lean overmuch on his own judgment, nor on his own prayers, he thought to seek the divine will through the prayers of others.  Wherefore he called Friar Masseo to him and spoke to him thus, “Go to Sister Clare and bid her from me that she and some of the most spiritual of her companions pray devoutly unto God, that He may be pleased to reveal to me which is the more excellent way: whether to give myself up to preaching or wholly to prayer; then go to Friar Silvester and bid him do the like.”

Now he had been in the world and was that same Friar Silvester that beheld a cross of gold issue from the mouth of Saint Francis, the length whereof was high as Heaven, and the breadth whereof reached to the uttermost parts of the Earth.  And this Friar Silvester was a man of such great devotion and holiness that whatsoever he asked of God he obtained, and the same was granted to him; and ofttimes he spoke with God, wherefore great was the devotion of Saint Francis to him.  Friar Masseo went forth and gave his message first to Saint Clare, as Saint Francis had commanded, and then to Friar Silvester, who no sooner had heard the command than he straightway betook himself to prayer, and when he had received the divine answer, he returned to Friar Masseo and spoke these words, “Thus saith the Lord God, ‘Go to Friar Francis and say unto him that God hath not called him to this state for himself alone, but that he may bring forth fruit of souls and that many through him may be saved.’”

Friar Masseo, having received this answer, returned to Sister Clare to learn what answer she had obtained of God; and she answered that she and her companions had received the selfsame response from God that Friar Silvester had.  And Friar Masseo returned with this answer to Saint Francis, who greeted him with greatest charity, washing his feet and setting meat before him.  And Saint Francis called Friar Masseo, after he had eaten, into the wood, and there knelt down before him, drew back his cowl, and making a cross with his arms, asked of him, “What doth my Lord Jesus Christ command?”  Friar Masseo answers, “Thus to Friar Silvester and thus to Sister Clare and her sisterhood hath Christ answered and revealed His will: that thou go forth to preach throughout the world, for He hath not chosen thee for thyself alone, but also for the salvation of others.”  Then Saint Francis, when he had heard these words and learned thereby the will of Christ, rose up and said with great fervor, “Let us then go forth in God’s name.”  And with him he took Friar Masseo and Friar Agnolo, holy men both, and setting forth with great fervor of spirit and taking heed neither of road nor path, they came to a city called Saburniano.

And Saint Francis began to preach, first commanding the swallows to keep silence until his sermon were ended; and the swallows obeying him, he preached with such zeal that all the men and women of that city desired in their devotion to follow after him and forsake the city.  But Saint Francis suffered them not, saying, “Be not in haste to depart, for I will ordain what ye shall do for the salvation of your souls.”  And then he thought about the third Order which he established for the universal salvation of all people.  And so, leaving them much comforted and well disposed to penitence, he departed thence and came to a place between Cannara and Bevagna.  And journeying on in that same fervor of spirit, he lifted up his eyes and beheld some trees by the wayside whereon were an infinite multitude of birds; so that he marveled and said to his companions, “Tarry here for me by the way, and I will go and preach to my little sisters the birds.”

And he entered into the field and began to preach to the birds that were on the ground; and soon those that were on the trees flew down to hear him, and all stood still while Saint Francis made an end of his sermon; and even then they departed not until he had given them his blessing.  And according as Friar Masseo and Friar James of Massa thereafter related, Saint Francis went among them, touching them with the hem of his garment, and not one stirred.  And the substance of the sermon Saint Francis preached was this,

My little sisters the birds, much are ye beholden to God your Creator, and always and in every place ye ought to praise Him for that He hath given you a double and triple vesture; He hath given you freedom to go into every place, and also did preserve the seed of you in the ark of Noah, in order that your kind might not perish from the Earth.  Again, ye are beholden to Him for the element of air which He hath appointed for you; moreover, ye sow not, neither do ye reap, and God feedeth you and giveth you the rivers and the fountains for your drink; He giveth you the mountains and the valleys for your refuge, and the tall trees wherein to build your nests, and forasmuch as ye can neither spin nor sew God clotheth you, you and your children: wherefore your Creator loveth you much, since He hath dealt so bounteously with you; and therefore beware, little sisters mine, of the sin of ingratitude, but ever strive to praise God.

While Saint Francis was uttering these words, all those birds began to open their beaks, and stretch their necks, and spread their wings, and reverently to bow their heads to the ground, showing by their gestures and songs that the holy father’s words gave them greatest joy: and Saint Francis was glad and rejoiced with them, and marveled much at so great a multitude of birds and at their manifold loveliness, and at their attention and familiarity; for which things he devoutly praised the Creator in them.  Finally, his sermon ended, Saint Francis made the sign of holy cross over them and gave them leave to depart; and all those birds soared up into the air in one flock with wondrous songs, and then divided themselves into four parts after the form of the cross Saint Francis had made over them; and one part flew toward the east; another toward the west; the third toward the south; and the fourth toward the north.  And each flock sped forth singing wondrously, betokening thereby that even as Saint Francis, standard-bearer of the cross of Christ, had preached to them and had made the sign of the cross over them, according to which they had divided themselves, singing, among the four quarters of the world, so the preaching of Christ’s cross, renewed by Saint Francis, was, through him and his friars, to be borne throughout the whole world; and these friars possessing nothing of their own in this world, after the manner of birds, committed their lives wholly to the providence of God.

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