holiest works for sanctification of the soul
St. Francis of Assisi Preaching to the Birds
From 'the Fioretti'
'Wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits ; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.'
Saint Francis called Brother Masseo into the wood; and there kneeled down before him and drew back his hood, stretching out his arms in the shape of a cross, and asked him:
"What has my Lord Jesu Christ commanded that I should do?"
Replied Brother Masseo: "As unto Brother Silvester, so likewise unto Sister Clare and her sisters, has Christ made answer and revealed: that it is His will that thou go throughout the world to preach, since He hath chosen thee not for thyself alone, but also for the salvation of others."
And then Saint Francis, when he had heard this answer and known thereby the will of Jesu Christ, rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said: "Let us be going in the name of God"; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men. And setting forth with fervent zeal of spirit, taking no thought for road or way, they came unto a little town that was called Savurniano, and Saint Francis set himself to preach, but He first he bade the swallows that were twittering keep silence till such time as he had done the preaching; and the swallows were obedient to his word, and he preached there with such fervour that all the men and women of that town minded through their devotion to come after him and leave the town, but Saint Francis suffered them not, saying: "Make not ill haste nor leave your homes; and I will ordain for you what ye should do for the salvation of your souls" : and therewith he resolved to found the third Order, for the salvation of all the world. And so leaving them much comforted and with minds firm set on penitence, he departed thence and came unto a place between Cannaio and Bevagno.
And as with great fervour he was going on the way, he lifted up his eyes and beheld some trees hard by the road whereon sat a great company of birds well-nigh without number; whereat Saint Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: "Ye shall wait for me here upon the way and I will go to preach unto my little sisters, the birds."
And he went unto the field and began to preach unto the birds that were on the ground; and immediately those that were on the trees flew down to him, and they all of them remained still and quiet together, until Saint Francis made an end of preaching: and not even then did they depart, until he had given them his blessing. And according to what Brother Masseo afterwards related unto Brother Jacques da Massa, Saint Francis went among them touching them with his cloak, howbeit none moved from out his place. The sermon that Saint Francis preached unto them was after this fashion:
"My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and alway in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and the valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sew, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God."
Whenas Saint Francis spake these words to them, those birds began all of them to open their beaks, and stretch their necks, and spread their wings, and reverently bowed their heads down to the ground, and by their acts and by their songs to show that the holy Father gave them joy exceeding great. And Saint Francis rejoiced with them, and was glad, and marvelled much at so great a company of birds and their most beautiful diversity and their good heed and sweet friendliness, for the which cause he devoutly praised the Creator in them.
At the last, having ended the preaching, Saint Francis made over them the sign of the cross, and gave them leave to go away; and thereby all the birds with wondrous singing rose up in the air; and then, in the fashion of the cross that Saint Francis had made over them, divided themselyes into four parts; and the one part flew toward the East, and the other towards the West, and the other towards the South, and the fourth towards the North, and each flight went on its way singing wondrous songs; signifying thereby that even as Saint Francis, the standard-bearer of the Cross of Christ, had preached unto them, and made over them the sign of the cross, after the pattern of which they separated themselyes unto the four parts of the world: even so the preaching of the Cross of Christ, renewed by Saint Francis, would be carried by him and the brothers throughout all the world; the which brothers, after the fashion of the birds, possessing nothing of their own in this world, commit their lives wholly unto the providence of God.