December 3, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

We are missionary disciples traveling on the road to heaven

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“You, Lord, created me and gave me my body and soul and all that I have; and you, my God, have made me to your likeness, and not the false gods of the gentiles. O Christians, let us give thanks and praise to God, three and one, who has given us to know the faith and true law of his Son Jesus Christ!” (St. Francis Xavier)

Today, Friday, Dec. 3, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, who along with Anne-Thérèse Guérin (Mother Theodore) is a patron saint of our archdiocese. Both were missionaries who left the comfort and security of their homelands to preach the Gospel to people in foreign lands.

Francis Xavier was one of seven men, including St. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) on Aug. 15, 1534. Francis had known wealth and privilege as the son of a Basque nobleman. He had also witnessed the horror of war when his family’s home and property were destroyed by Spanish invaders who claimed the Basque country as part of Spain.

As a university student in Paris in 1529, Francis shared lodgings with Ignatius Loyola. Biographers tell us that Francis, who was ambitious and worldly, resisted the influence of Ignatius at first, but he eventually became a wholehearted convert to the way of life that became the Society of Jesus.

The initial plan was for Francis to be a theologian who taught in European universities, but God’s providence directed otherwise. In 1540, Ignatius asked Francis to go on a missionary journey to India taking the place of a companion who was ill. Francis accepted the assignment and spent the rest of his life as a missionary in Asia.

In addition to his work in India and surrounding territories, Francis Xavier is known as the first Christian missionary to evangelize the people of Japan. He also sought to be an evangelist in China, but died from a fever on Dec. 3, 1552, while he was waiting on a nearby island for a boat that would take him to mainland China.

The universal Church honors St. Francis Xavier, along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as co-patron of all foreign missions. His courage and his fidelity to the Gospel, combined with his insistence on understanding the language, culture and beliefs of the diverse peoples he was sent to serve, make St. Francis Xavier a model for all of us who are called to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ in every time and place.

The synod process that we have begun here in our archdiocese, and in dioceses throughout the world, has a profound missionary character. We are being asked, in the words of Pope Francis, “to move beyond ourselves” as individuals, families and communities. We are being challenged to look at one another with new eyes and to listen attentively to the voices of those who are different from us. The objective, ultimately, is to help all of us—each in our own way—to encounter the person of Jesus Christ as he comes to meet us “where we are” on our life’s journey.

As Pope Francis tells us, when Jesus encounters people on his journeys, he welcomes them not as strangers but as fellow travelers:

“The Lord does not stand aloof; he does not appear annoyed or disturbed. Instead, he is completely present to this person. He is open to encounter. Nothing leaves Jesus indifferent; everything is of concern to him. Encountering faces, meeting eyes, sharing each individual’s history. That is the closeness that Jesus embodies. He knows that someone’s life can be changed by a single encounter. The Gospel is full of such encounters with Christ, encounters that uplift and bring healing. Jesus did not hurry along or keep looking at his watch to get the meeting over. He was always at the service of the person he was with, listening to what he or she had to say.”

Isn’t this what we are called to do as missionary disciples—to be always at the service of others, always listening to them with open minds and hearts? Certainly this is what Francis Xavier and Mother Theodore Guérin did, and what all successful missionaries do. They don’t impose their faith on others. They strive to introduce the person of Jesus Christ using language, images and symbols that are readily understandable even in radically different situations.

Today as we honor a beloved patron saint here in central and southern Indiana, and throughout the whole world, let’s pray for the grace to be faithful missionary disciples.

St. Francis Xavier, pray for us. Help us to encounter Jesus, and each other, as we walk together in this synodal process. †

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