|The man of whom I am now going to tell you was famous, not for his wealth or his power or his deeds in war, but for his great gentleness. He lived more than seven hundred years ago in a quaint little town of Italy. His name was Francis, and because of his goodness, all men now call him St. Francis.|
Very kind and loving was St. Francis—kind and loving not only to men but to all living things. He spoke of the birds as his little brothers of the air, and he could never bear to see them harmed.
At Christmas time he scattered crumbs of bread under the trees, so that the tiny creatures could feast and be happy.
Once when a boy gave him a pair of doves which he had snared, St. Francis had a nest made for them, and the mother bird laid her eggs in it.
By and by, the eggs hatched, and a nestful of young doves grew up. They were so tame that they sat on the shoulders of St. Francis and ate from his hand.
And many other stories are told of this man’s great love and pity for the timid creatures which lived in the fields and woods.
One day as he was walking among the trees the birds saw him and flew down to greet him. They sang their sweetest songs to show how much they loved him. Then, when they saw that he was about to speak, they nestled softly in the grass and listened.
“O little birds,” he said, “I love you, for you are my brothers and sisters of the air. Let me tell you something, my little brothers, my little sisters: You ought always to love God and praise Him.
“For think what He has given you. He has given you wings with which to fly through the air. He has given you clothing both warm and beautiful. He has given you the air in which to move and have homes.
“And think of this, O little brothers: you sow not, neither do you reap, for God feeds you. He gives you the rivers and the brooks from which to drink. He gives you the mountains and the valleys where you may rest. He gives you the trees in which to build your nests.
“You toil not, neither do you spin, yet God takes care of you and your little ones. It must be, then, that He loves you. So, do not be ungrateful, but sing His praises and thank Him for his goodness toward you.”
Then the saint stopped speaking and looked around him. All the birds sprang up joyfully. They spread their wings and opened their mouths to show that they understood his words.
And when he had blessed them, all began to sing; and the whole forest was filled with sweetness and joy because of their wonderful melodies.