Feast of Saint Francis Xavier

As the title of this post indicates, today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary to the East. From this morning’s Office of Readings, we read:

Francis Xavier was born in Spain in 1506. While studying the liberal arts at Paris, he became a follower of Ignatius Loyola. In 1537 he was ordained at Rome, and there devoted himself to works of charity. Francis went to the Orient in 1541 where for ten years he tirelessly proclaimed the Gospel in India and Japan, and through his preaching brought many to believe. He died in 1552 near the China coast on the island of Sancian.

In honor of this Feast, the second reading of the Office of Readings is a very interesting excerpt from a letter by Saint Francis Xavier to Saint Ignatius Loyola, apparently written while Francis Xavier was on one of his missionary journeys. Here is today’s second reading, and I think it well worth the read:

From the letters to Saint Ignatius by Saint Francis Xavier, priest

Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel

We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is 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.

I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptised. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.

Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: 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.

This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, 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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