Dec 3 – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, presbyter, religious, missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)
St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.
In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets, ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.
He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death, you may be ordered out of paradise.”
He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went, he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He travelled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.
- Patron Saint Index
“You received without charge, give without charge.”
I have always been drawn to St Francis Xavier, a Spanish Jesuit priest and great missionary, who planted the seeds of faith in the East Indies and brought about the flowering of Christianity in countries now encompassing Singapore, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, Macau and Japan. As a contemporary of St Ignatius of Loyola and an original founding companion of the Society of Jesus, St Francis Xavier was sent as part of the evangelisation efforts to spread the Good News to those who have yet to hear it, which he did with great success, so much so that he is honoured as the patron saint of missions.
Although I participated in regular mission trips pre-COVID, I always felt torn in the battle between my heart and my head. While the romanticised notion of travelling to a developing country to share our time, gifts and talents appealed to me emotionally, I also found myself questioning the impact that a group of foreigners spending a week in a remote village could possibly have on the day-to-day lives of villagers. The pragmatic policy wonk in me believes that sustainable change can only be brought about by political stability, eradication of corruption and a strong system of governance. What did we bring to the table, besides enthusiasm, some bible songs and a bit of funds? Also, how adept could a group of urbanites be in building an extension of a schoolhouse, when most of us have barely done a day of labour in our lives?
I am sure the early missionaries were cognisant of the trials and tribulations they would encounter in preaching the Gospel. They persevered despite the overwhelming odds, and many would go on to be persecuted and martyred. As I reflected on today’s readings, it dawned upon me that my first world pontifications were missing the point. Our mission should not hinge on the guarantee of success nor the sustainability of our efforts. As Christians, we have been entrusted with the mission to bear witness to the truth of God’s love and salvation. Having received God’s grace and mercy, we are called to live out our faith through action, leaning on His strength rather than our own understanding.
As we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, let us reaffirm our identity as God’s children and live out our faith with courage.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Eber)
Prayer: Father God, we pray for strength and courage to always walk by faith and persevere in seeking your saving grace, no matter the circumstances.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for loving us. You gave without charge, help us to give of ourselves without seeking for reward, except the reward of knowing that we are doing Your will.