On this day that the Church celebrates the life of Francis Xavier, I urge you to take five minutes to listen to a marvelous podcast by the English Jesuit Father John Edwards about the great saint who was one of the first to join St. Ignatius Loyola in what would become the Society of Jesus. With beauty and wit, Father Edwards encapsulates the “immense love” that prompted the saint to put himself completely at the disposal of God’s will as it came to him through his religious superior:
St Francis Xavier is one of the patrons of the missions … . He’s Basque by birth; son of minor nobility; very, very ambitious. Ambitious for his family. But when he turned to Jesus, he was ambitious for Jesus. Thing is he was totally unselfish which is the vital thing. Unselfishness is really almost what we mean by charity, by love: not having self first. Incredible journeys in those ten years in the East, massive responsibility, India, Malaysia, islands of the East Indies, Japan, very nearly China; greatest hardship and through it all immense prayer life, immense charity, immense love. …
I’ll just elaborate on one simple point. There he was acting as secretary to St. Ignatius. … He was in Rome, and the man who had been detailed to go to the East was unable to make it. … So St. Ignatius, the leader of the Jesuits, comes across Francis Xavier and says, “Francis, you know Simon was supposed to go to the ambassador, but he can’t. This is your job.”
Francis Xavier, with those words, being sent at a moment’s notice to India and the life of the missions, said, “Pues, sus! Hene aqui!“ “Pues” is the Spanish for “well” or “OK.” “Hene aqui” means, “Here I am!” “Sus,” I don’t know how you translate that. I think it’s more like Homer Simpson’s “d’oh!”
What he said was, “OK, d’oh, I’m here!” And that’s how we should respond to God’s will. To love God is to do his will. Nothing else. And when God’s will comes, it may come as a surprise, as it did to Francis Xavier.
Maybe it’s a dreadful will. Maybe you’re bereaved. Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you’ve lost your good name. Maybe you’re going to lose your life.Well, d’oh! Here I am. Lord, here I am. I don’t want anything except what you want. I’d be a fool if I did. …
I say we can’t—I mean, I personally can’t imitate the man. But this is so desirable in him, one would wish one could imitate him in this. “Pues, sus! Hene aqui!” Well, d’oh! Here I am, Lord, for you. [Listen to the podcast on the Totus Tuus website.]
I have written before about Father Edwards; his beautiful distillation of Ignatian spirituality, particularly in his book Ways of Forgiveness, was a prime inspiration for the “theology of wounds” that I share in My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. So I was very saddened to learn, in recent correspondence with him, that he is suffering from a grave illness and is not expected to recover. Yet he seems more joyful than ever—a fact confirmed by a friend who spoke to him on the phone and said he described himself as “completely at peace.” Father Edwards is doing what he had previously thought himself incapable of doing: imitating St. Francis Xavier’s “d’oh” moment. Just the same, he is grateful for prayers, so please say one for him on this, his hero’s feast day.
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For more on Father Edwards, you can find a recording of him telling his vocation story on this page (scroll down to “Father John SJ”). What made him follow the call of Christ? “To be able to forgive one serious sin, just once in one’s life, to be the instrument God used to bring that person back into union with Himself, to turn that person’s life into a thing of beauty, and that is what happens when a Catholic gets his sins forgiven, I thought that would be worth everything.”