Solemnity – St Francis Xavier – Luke 10:1-16 – 3rd December 2020
St. Francis Xavier was one of St. Ignatius Loyola’s closest friends and an original founding companion of the Society of Jesus. He is known among other things for his missionary accomplishments particularly in India, Southeast Asia and Japan. He was born in 1506 in the family castle in the Basque region of northern Spain, the fifth and youngest child of noble, wealthy, and pious parents.
At the age of nineteen years, and after completing preliminary course of studies, he left home permanently, bound for the University of Paris. By age thirty, he had earned a Master of Arts degree in philosophy, taught the subject for four years and then studied theology for two years.
While studying at the University, Ignatius Loyola, who was a fellow student, became an increasingly important influence on Xavier. So much so that, despite early reluctance, Xavier eventually made the Spiritual Exercises under his direction. In August of 1534, he joined Ignatius and five other companions in pronouncing vows. Together, Xavier and Ignatius were ordained priests in 1537. In the following year, Xavier went to Rome to share in the discussions that led to the formal founding of the Society of Jesus. Upon approval, Xavier served as the secretary of the Society until leaving for India in 1541.
His missionary travels took him to many places around the world. In fact, Xavier was the only original companion to leave Europe. He travelled from Rome to Lisbon, Portugal and then to India. Along the way, he assisted in many previously established missions; including those in Mozambique and Melindi in Kenya, Socotra (an island off the coast of Somalia), Goa and other communities in the southern coastal areas of India.
In 1549, Xavier began the first Christian mission in Japan where he served in the country for over two years. In 1552, he set sail to begin the first Christian mission in China. When he arrived, however, he was not allowed to disembark on the Mainland. For three months, he waited on an island off of Canton while trying to gain entry into the country. He died on the island of an acute illness at the age of forty-six. Xavier was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, at the same time as Ignatius Loyola.
Francis mission was also not just bonded inside the church but he was also a compassionate shepherd who helped the Christians who suffered and ill-treated under Portuguese and raided by the neighbouring rajahs troops. He organized relief expeditions to take food materials by boat to Christians who had fled for their lives. To provide basic Christian faith and its teaching, St Xavier also started few schools to give education for the converts and their children.
St. Xavier ranks among the greatest missionaries in Christian history. Historians place the number of baptisms at roughly 30,000 people. Three qualities of St Xavier are highlighted which are noteworthy in today’s modern world.
A man of prayer: the authors who wrote about his life have defined him as a man of intense prayer. He used to spend long time in prayer, and often even night time after a very busy day of apostolate. A witness wrote about him: “during the day he entirely belonged to God, during the night, he entirely belong to God”.
A man of enthusiasm: Xavier set high standards for himself and had ambitious plans for the future. He was a man of quick perception and sound judgment. And while he was fervent, he was known to be so without losing a realistic grasp of the facts. Yet, his goals were not to be “the best” or “first”, but rather to make an impact. Xavier was known to have conducted his life’s work with great vitality and zeal. For instance, when Loyola asked Xavier to join an expedition to the Far East he was “overjoyed”. Even descriptions of how he moved capture his gusto – “he walked with a joyful, calm face” and “everywhere he went he went with laughter in his mouth”. Xavier’s enthusiasm is underscored when recognising that his work and life were not easy. Seventeenth century sea voyages were filled with life-threatening dangers. Moreover, by the time Xavier finished University studies, his father, mother and a sister had died (his father had passed away when Xavier was only 6 years old) and his other sister and brothers had married. He felt as lonely as “an orphan”. However, it was not only during this time that he felt this way. For much of his life he struggled with feelings of loneliness, depression and chronic feelings of inferiority.
Openness to the influence of others: The third quality associated with Xavier’s personality, including how he related to others as well as himself. It goes beyond enthusiasm and passion. Xavier was known to be a charismatic man. He had a “dashing and robust personality” and has been described as “astounding”, “decisive”, “cheerful”, “vivacious”, “practical”, “prudent”, and a “keen, ambitious” boy in school.
Today, he would be described as a “people person”. He was successful because of his ability to mix easily with persons of various social-classes, races, and beliefs. Xavier understood people. He learned the languages and adopted the indigenous dress of the peoples he served. Xavier lived the beginning of “inculturation”; he had a deep sense of cross-cultural understanding, and appreciated that God’s presence was already present in all cultures, peoples, places and things. His appreciation is noteworthy because it was not always true of his beliefs. It grew out of his experiences.
These three qualities of St. Francis Xavier are reflected in a description of him written by a companion: I have never met anyone more filled with faith and hope, more open-minded than Francis. He never seems to lose his great joy and enthusiasm. He talks to both the good and the bad. Anything he is asked to do, Francis does willingly, simply because he loves everyone.
We are also called to be missionaries. We may not be called to travel to some far-off land, but there are always those in our midst who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Remember, sometimes it is how we act and what we do that speaks more profoundly than what we say.