St. Francis Xavier: Fearless Missionary for Christ

St. Francis Xavier: Fearless Missionary for ChristSt. Francis Xavier: Fearless Missionary for Christ

Today, December 3rd, is the feast day, and has been now for three hundred and fifty six years, of St. Francis Xavier. The sheer quantity of industrial enterprises he engaged for the desire of Christ flounder the ingenuity and captivates the admiration of men. The season has come for a Jesuit commercial.

He was a Basque by birth, from Navarre, in the part of Spain bordering on the Pyrenees and France. In the late 1520 s he was a student at the University of Paris, ambitious for glorification on earth , not the least interested in sanctity or the services offered of Christ. But there came tottering into “peoples lives” another Basque, Ignatius from Loyola, older than he, already well on his nature to that epic piety that distinguished his mature years.

What Ignatius distinguished in Francis at that stagecoach to make him worth a siege lasting nearly three years is hidden from us. But deep called to speak to deep and a great heart is quick to recognize its fellow, even under veils.

Xavier’s dreams had been his own dreams–success, prominence, the recognition of a great name on earth. One breach after another Ignatius the patient besieger made in Francis’ defenses. Ignatius remained his time, watched for a sortie of respect, and then flung his question: “Francis, what does it gain a somebody if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? ” One daytime the passions of Francis Xavier returned altered, aims now not for himself but for the honour of Christ, Our Lord, and on that day all the buzzers of heaven rang.

Five others, devout “mens and” zealous, met themselves to Ignatius and Xavier and the seven stressed swears at Montmartre in August, 1534. In 1540 when their numbers had grown to some thirteen and Ignatius had drawn up constitutions, Pope Paul III formally approved the Society of Jesus as a religious order existing in the Church.

The following year King John of Portugal solicited of Ignatius to send a papal legate to Portugal’s brand-new dominion in India. Xavier was the man and on April 7th, 1541, his thirty-fifth birthday, he skippered from Lisbon. There began then a decade of the most courageous and tireless missionary enterprise this nature has ever seen.

On shipboard and in the harbours, never for a minute did Xavier leave off hearing acknowledgments, doctrine Christian doctrine, inclining the sick, and all this in joy.

He was a man exhausted with a gues ardour, a saint in a hurry. Sometimes he has been accused of restlessness, but God knows, as he would say himself, that his vagabondage was not due to an itch for change or a inclination for more interesting proletariats. He “must go to open doors, ” he said, and God knows very what each entrance penalty him in privation and digest. If he spent only five months in Goa when he first arrived there, they were at any rate months never to be forgotten by the sick, the poorest of the poor, the slaves, the lepers the half-baked alters from heathenism among whom he labored day and night.

During his decade in the East, Xavier’s trademark was his bell. In the city’s schools he preached in Portuguese, itself a foreign tongue to him, but apart from that his worst tribulation was the language. He would have someone translate the petitions and commandments for him into Tamil, or whatever. Then in his own commands “ . . . when I had them fixed under my remember, I went through the whole place with my buzzer in my hand, accumulating all the boys and men that I could, and doctrine them twice a day for a month.” Xavier has been falsely credited with the offering of tongues, and one can understand why, but one might also wonder if that month’s toil were not itself a lovelier supernatural than any gift of tongues would have been.

“So enormous is the multitude which turns to the faith in this land where I wander, ” he wrote to St. Ignatius, “that often my limbs are weary with baptizing, and I have no voice left through so frequently reciting the sect and the commandments.” A short while last-minute his arms must have been almost paralyzed, for up and down the sad, desolate land of Tranvacore he christened during the course of a single month more than 10,000 persons. Making a twelve hour daylight, that would have been about one baptism every two minutes for thirty days consecutively.

Beyond India, Malacca attracted, and beyond Malacca, the Moluccas and the Spice Islands. Three of his friend came to take up his load in India ,, so by September, 1545, “hes had” intersected two thousand miles of perilous seas to his destination. There he labored in his usual style in the city of Malacca, chiefly among the Portuguese settlers who needed converting no less than did the native Malays. From there it was to the forests of Amboina and the Moro Islands, from which he was not to be dissuaded by the consideration that the islanders were head-hunters.

In the spring of 1547 it was back to Malacca, and there he firstly heard of Japan, where the identify of Christ was altogether unknown and no parole of the gospel hitherto urged, where, in fact , no European had as yet infiltrated. In April, 1549, he left from Goa on his six thousand mile voyage to Japan, knowing, of course , not a word of Japanese. His years there is indeed, in one word, disappointment.

“In Cape Comorin, ” as one of his fellow Jesuits showed it, “he had fished with a net, but in Japan he was obliged to fish with a line.” He was persecuted by the rulers, the person or persons, the children, the climate. In all, Japan was heartbreak. In mid-November, 1551, he skippered from Japan, leaving behind after about two and a half years strive there in Kagoshima, Ichiu, Tamaguchi, Hirado, Fuiami , no more than 2,000 Christians, very few out of a population of some 15 million. God, nonetheless, does not count by figures and from this little flock at a later time came one of the Church’s greatest armies of its grey dressed horde of martyrs.

India, the East Indies, the Spice Islands, Japan: all this was not big enough for his great heart. There was still China. To register China in those eras, he would have to be slipped in. In the late time of 1552 he reached the smuggler’s paradise of San Cian, a barren and empty-bellied island off the Cantonese coast. He waited there until he found a Chinese broker who agreed to smuggle him into the mainland. The daytime was designated for November 19 th.

That day dawned. His journals and his little bale of drapes beside him, Francis waited, watching the shore. Hour after hour he waited. There was nothing to see , not a sign of the dark-brown voyage he had hoped for. Then he knew that China had thumped him, and the poor body, so long driven by the dauntless spirit, made its retaliation. At that moment, he came ill. A fortnight later, the night of December 2, 1552, he was dead, forty-six years and seven months age-old. He whose side had been raised in absolution countless ages died without a clergyman within a thousand miles of him and was buried without liturgy in a deserted island in unhallowed ground.

Just seventy years later on March 12 th, Pope Gregory XV collected to the altars the two who the hell such fast friends on earth–Ignatius and Xavier. Pope Pius X showed St. Francis patron of the Propagation of the Faith and of all Catholic missions.

In all he voyaged some 75,000 miles, three circumnavigations of the globe. He wasted a total of two full years on shipboard, and we are not talking about the Queen Mary. The interval from Goa to Cape Comorin is approximately New York to Miami. Xavier jaunted it thirteen ages, either on foot or in those rickety, leaky, creaking bathtubs that progressed for barges in those climes.

If we expect Francis to provide us with a diary of his voyage, we do not know him at all. He had his own interests, but they only centered so exclusively on men’s spirits that in his 127 extant letters, written close by jungles and risky seas , not a single elephant trumpets , not a tiger roarings , not a shark demo a fin. His symbols are stigmatized by clambered grammar, frightful mean, tolerating repeats, and recalls that burn like kindles. In all there sheens forth the painting of the most beautiful thing under heaven, the totally unselfish man.

image: A Japanese depiction of Francis Xavier, dated to the 17 th century. From the Kobe City Museum collection. via Wikimedia Commons .

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