Remembering Francis Xavier on his feast day
In 1541 King John of Portugal asked Ignatius of Loyola for Jesuit priests to send to the missions in India. Despite knowing he would never see his beloved companion again, Ignatius chose Francis Xavier for the mission. The last words that St. Ignatius said to Francis Xavier before he was sent on mission were: 'Ite inflammate omnia!' Go set all on fire! Francis left for India, arriving at the city of Goa in 1542.
For the next ten years the missionary Francis Xavier traveled from Goa to Cape Comorin in south India, then to the East Indies, Malacca, and the Moluccas, and onward to Japan. It was Francis Xavier's great ambition to get permission to enter China as a missionary. He died in 1552, at the age of 46, exhausted from his labours and fasts, on a small island off the coast of China with a single companion at his side.
St. Francis Xavier's great ambition was to bring the world to Jesus Christ. Armed only with his breviary and a book of meditations, Francis preached the Gospel to the poor and sick, spending most of his time ministering to their needs. His nights were taken up in prayer. His only attention to his personal needs was to have a pair of boots. He barely ate enough to stay alive. He left behind flourishing churches that were the foundations for the Catholic faith in Asia.
Statue of Ignatius in Jesuit Curia in Rome
I have always been impressed by the remarkable Apostolic creativity of this great teacher, pastor and missionary. As a tool for memorization of the catechism, Xavier frequently used songs and music to hand on the faith, especially with young children. He is remembered as the great baptizer. Everything begins for us Christians through baptism. Francis Xavier offered solid catechesis in preparation for the sacrament of baptism and then he baptized the multitudes. At the end of his day at times he could no longer hold up his arm any longer due to the huge numbers of Baptisms he would do. After he finished his missionary work in one place, he would leave behind well-formed catechists to carry on with the mission of forming the people in the community. It was never about him, but about the lay catechists whom he formed and the people whom he served with such devotion. Now more than ever we need zealous lay leaders, catechists, co-workers and partners in ministry to help us carry on the task of the first evangelization and the new evangelization.
Francis Xavier also had a very keen understanding of inculturation. While travelling to Japan, Xavier had to learn the social mores and customs of another country. If he dressed in rags, the Emperor would close his mind and heart to this itinerant Jesuit missionary. Xavier therefore dressed in the most elegant clothes fashionable and gave gifts to the Japanese Emperor, thereby winning the Emperor's friendship and opening up the door to the preaching of the Gospel message in Japan. Is this not what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote: 'I become all things to all men so as to win as many to Christ as possible.'
At the end of his exhausting days, Xavier spent hours in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament, praising the Lord, thanking the Lord and imploring for the sanctification and salvation of the people God placed in his path. May Xavier attain for us the fire of intensity in our prayers and in our acts of penance!
The favorite prayer of Xavier was 'Give me souls!' In the Office of Readings for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, in a letter written to St. Ignatius, there is a passionate appeal for more workers to gather in the harvest, specifically reproaching the proud and learned at the Universities of Europe (especially Paris). The words of Xavier explode with apostolic zeal and intense suffering for the salvation of immortal souls. Those words still speak to us today:
'Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason: 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.' (Office of Readings, Dec. 3, Feast of St. Francis Xavier)
Notice the fire extinguisher carefully placed next to founder of Society of Jesuits and his famous words: "Go set all on fire!"