The Feast of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

The Feast of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) December 3, 2018

Friends, this morning marks the Feast of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the Jesuit missionary who helped bring Christianity to Japan and India. Born in Spain, he was studying at the University of Paris when he met St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556). Together with their five companions, they founded the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. After working in Rome for a few years, Francis plunged into missionary work, first in India and then Japan, where he was highly successful. At the time of his death, he was planning to go to China. Known as “the Apostle of the Indies” and “the Apostle of Japan,” he was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622. The following is taken from this morning’s Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours, which I highly recommend.

Letter from St. Francis Xavier to St. Ignatius Loyola, written from India, ca. 1542-1544

We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here, the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law.

I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.

Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”

I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.

This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.

Also worth reading is the prayer that St. Francis Xavier himself wrote. I think it’s worth a read, because it reminds us that we should love God not for any personal motive, but simply out of love for God who is all goodness and love.

My God, I love thee; not because I hope for heaven thereby, nor yet because who love Thee not are lost eternally. Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me upon the cross embrace; for me, didst bear the nails and spear, and manifold disgrace. And griefs and torments numberless and sweat of agony; even death itself, and all for one Who was thine enemy. Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ should I not love thee well? Not for the hope of winning heaven, or of escaping hell. Not with the hope of gaining aught, nor seeking a reward, but as thyself has loved me, O ever-loving Lord! Even so, I love Thee, and will love and in thy praise will sing, solely because thou art my God, and my eternal king. Amen.

(*The above drawing of St. Francis Xavier is by Pat McNamara.) 

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