The humble servant of Christ, St.Francis, a short time after his conversion, when he had already united many companions and received them into the Order, began to ponder deeply and to doubt what it beloved him to do, namely, whether he should only remain in prayer, or whether he should sometimes preach. He was greatly desirous of learning God's will in regard to this. And as his humility was such that he did not presume to find the answer by himself or in his own meditations, he thought to discover the divine will through the meditations of others.
Therefore he called Brother Masseo and said: "Go to Sister Clare and ask her from me to pray devoutly with some of her most spiritually advanced companions that God may be pleased to show me what is better: that I should attend to preaching, or only to prayer. Then go to Brother Silvester and ask him the same."
The latter had been Messer Silvestro in the world, the same who had seen a golden cross proceeding from St.Francis' mouth, a cross as high as the heavens and reaching to the extremities of the earth. The devotion and saintliness of this Brother Silvester were such that whatever he prayed for was granted, and he often had conversation with God; therefore St.Francis was much devoted to him.
Brother Masseo went and, according to the bidding of St.Francis, carried his message first to St.Clare, and then to Brother Silvester, who, as soon as he had received it, immersed himself at once in prayer, and while he was praying was given the answer from God. He returned to Brother Masseo and said: "God says this, which you are to repeat to Francis: that God has not called him to this state for himself alone, but so that he should reap the fruit of souls, and that many may be saved through him."
When he had heard this, Brother Masseo returned to St.Clare to learn what she had obtained from God, and she told him that she and other other companions had been give the same divine answer that Brother Silvester had received. Brother Masseo returned great loving kindness, washing his feet and preparing a meal for him. And after he had eaten, St.Francis, and the father received him with great loving kindness, washing his feet and preparing a meal for him. And after he had eaten, St.Francis called Brother Masseo into the wood; there he knelt down before him, threw back his cowl, crossed his arms and asked: "What does the Lord Jesus Christ command me to do?"
Brother Masseo answered as follows: "To Brother Silvester, and also to Sister Clare and to her sisters, Christ has answered and revealed that it is His will for you to go out into he world and preach; for He has not chosen you for yourself alone, but also for the salvation of others."
Then St.Francis, having heard this answer and recognized the will of God, arose with great fervour and said: "Let us then go in God's name." He took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Angelo, very holy men, and he set out filled with impetuous zeal without taking thought of road nor path. So they arrived at a fortified town called Savurgnano (Cannara). St.Francis began to preach, after bidding the swallows who were singing to be silent until he had finished his sermon, and the swallows obeyed him. And there he preached with such eloquence that all the men and women of the town wanted to follow him in their devotion, abandoning their homesteads. But St.Francis would not allow this, and said to them: "Be not in such haste and do not leave, and I will tell you what you should do for the salvation of your souls."
And then he thought of founding the Third Order, for the universal salvation of all people. Leaving them much consoled and well disposed to penitence, he departed and came to a spot between Armano and Bevagno. As he went on in great fervour, he lifted his eyes and saw some trees by the roadside, and on them an almost infinite number of birds. St.Francis was amazed at this and said to his companions: "Wait for me on this road, and I will go and preach to my sisters the birds."
And going into the field, he began to preach to the birds which were sitting on the ground, and at once those that were in the trees came to him, and they all remained still until St.Francis had finished preaching to them, and even then they did not fly away until he had given them his blessing. According to the testimony of Brother Masseo and Brother Jacomo da Massa, they did not even move when St.Francis walked among them and touched them with his cloak.
The substance of St.Francis' sermon to the birds was as follows: "O birds, my sisters, you owe much to God your creator and you must praise Him always and everywhere, for He has given you freedom to fly wherever you like, and He has also given you double and triple raiment; and He has preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, so that your kind should not grow less on earth; and furthermore you must thank Him for the element of air which He has assigned to you. What is more, you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you, and has given you the streams and the fountains to drink from, the mountains and the hills to shelter you, and the high trees whereon you can build your nests. And although you can neither spin nor sew, God clothes you and your children. Therefore the Creator loves you dearly, and He has given you so many blessings, and so, my sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude and be always eager to praise God.
When St.Francis said these words to them, all the birds began to open their beaks, stretch out their necks, unfold their wings and reverently bow their heads to the ground. So by their acts and their song they showed that the words of the holy father gave them very great joy. And St.Francis rejoiced with them and was glad and marvelled at the great multitude of the birds, and their beautiful diversity, and at their attentive and fearless behaviour. For these reasons he praised the Creator in them with great devotion.
Finally, when he had finished preaching to them, St.Francis made the sign of the cross over them and gave them leave to depart. Thereupon all the birds rose up together into the air with wonderful songs and then the flock divided itself into four parts, following the direction of the sign of the cross: one part flew to the east, the other to the west, the third to the south, the fourth to the north - thereby signifying that the preaching of Christ's cross, renewed by St.Francis, would spread over the whole world through him and his brethren who, like unto the birds, possess nothing of their own and in the world and commit their lives wholly to God's Providence. Praised be Jesus Christ, Amen.