November 28, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Advent offers us the grace to become better friends with Jesus

Three topics are on my mind as I prayed about a reflection for The Criterion this week. They are Thanksgiving Day, the beginning of Advent and the annual feast of our archdiocesan patron, St. Francis Xavier.

The three topics aren’t as disparate as they may seem at first.

The national holiday of Thanksgiving evokes the memory of blessings for which we are grateful. It is probably true that we are tempted to consider mostly material blessings on this secular feast.

In fact, for many of our sisters and brothers, material blessings may seem a little less due to recent financial problems in the national and global economies.

Maybe these problems can remind us that there is more to life than material goods.

In the end, the spiritual blessings which come to us from God are more likely to give us inner peace, and therefore cause for gratitude, than an abundance of other goods.

We Christians know that thanksgiving to God is at the heart of our observance of this secular holiday.

I commend those of you who made time to thank God at Mass on Thanksgiving Day.

The Mass is our best Thanksgiving prayer. This weekend is still a good time for our families to gather for gratitude at Sunday Mass.

It is hard to believe that this Sunday begins the Advent liturgical season, in fact, a new liturgical year of the Lord.

Advent is a time of new grace for spiritual renewal, and it is characterized by a spirit of joy and of hope. Once more, we prepare to celebrate the great act of divine humility whereby God’s own son is born a human person like us in order to become our Redeemer.

This is a season of joy because one of our own, the Blessed Virgin Mary, bowed humbly to God’s will and said “let it be” when asked to become the Mother of God’s own son.

She played a crucial role in bringing about the Incarnation of our Redeemer. She offered her life as an instrument of hope, and we are grateful.

Just as Jesus acceded to the will of the Father by entering our world to atone for the sins of humanity, so Mary, with deep faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, would share in the suffering our redemption would entail.

The love of Jesus and Mary, and faithful husband and foster father Joseph, once more are the cause of our joy and hope in the season of Advent. They are a Thanksgiving gift for us Christians.

Centuries later, St. Francis Xavier, one of the pioneer Jesuits and companions of St. Ignatius, would be an awesome witness of faith and hope as a lone evangelizer to the East Indies. This courageous missionary lived from 1506 to 1552. He is celebrated joyfully as the patron saint of our archdiocese.

French Missionaries from Canada brought devotion to St. Francis to the territory of Indiana. They named a small church in his honor in Vincennes. When the diocese of Vincennes was created in October 1834, Bishop Simon Bruté claimed the first cathedral named for St. Francis Xavier.

As a young man, Francis Xavier had a promising career in academics and a life of prestige before him. However, he became a friend of Ignatius Loyola, who persuaded him to give his life to Christ.

In 1534, he joined the infant Society of Jesus. He was ordained a priest in 1537, and sailed from Portugal for the East Indies, landing in Goa. For 10 years, Francis preached the Gospel to Hindus, Malayans and the Japanese.

He was known and beloved because he chose to live with the poorest people, sharing in what little they had. His ministry was primarily to the sick and the poor, particularly to lepers. He learned enough Japanese to be able to preach simply to simple people. I am sure our Bishop Simon Bruté, who had wanted to be a missionary in the Far East, easily identified with the patron of his cathedral.

St. Francis Xavier wanted to evangelize the people of China, but he died on the island of Sancian, a hundred miles southwest of Hong Kong. Portuguese sailors, on whose ship he sailed, removed him in his final illness and left him on the sandy shore. A merchant took him to a hut for shelter, where a friend testifies that Francis died with the name of Jesus on his lips.

Our patron gave up a promising career to give his all to Christ and his Gospel in foreign lands. His faithful love could only have been possible because he and Jesus were friends.

Intimacy with Christ is a guarantor of hope and joy. Advent offers us the grace to become better friends with Jesus. †

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