November 26, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Francis Xavier

John F. FinkSt. Francis Xavier, whose feast is on Dec. 3, is considered the greatest missionary since St. Paul. He is the patron of Catholic missions, along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. He is also the patron of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, along with St. Theodora Guérin.

He met St. Ignatius of Loyola while both men were students at the University of Paris. They and five others founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1534.

Francis was ordained a priest in 1537. In 1541, he was appointed an apostolic nuncio to the East Indies, and left for the Orient, arriving in Goa, India, in 1542.

He spent 10 years as a missionary, first in India, then in Indonesia, and finally in Japan. (Look at a map and see what a great distance this was.)

His many adventures read like a novel. He was on his way to China in 1552 when he died on the island of Shangchwan, or Sancian, 100 miles from Hong Kong when he was 46.

He sent letters back to his superior, Ignatius, in Rome, telling how busy he was, but how eager the people were to learn about Christianity. In one of his letters, he wrote that the native Christians had no priests, “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.” Nevertheless, he said, they know that they are Christians.

He reported that he conscientiously made the rounds of the villages, and had baptized “a very large number of children.” The older children, he said, kept at him to teach them “one prayer or another,” keeping him so busy that he scarcely had time to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or to eat. Then, though, he said that he “began to understand: ‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ ” (Mt 19:14; Lk 18:16; Mk 10:14).

Francis said that, while teaching “the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” then the prayers mentioned above, he noticed that some of the people had great intelligence. They would make excellent Christians, he said, if someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, as he was doing.

There was only one reason why people in the East were not becoming Christians, he said: There is nobody to make them Christians. He wrote: “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, thanks to you!’ ”

He thought that surely he could stir up most of those students to meditate on spiritual realities as hard as they worked on their books. “They would forget their own desires,” he wrote, “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!’ ” †

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