Blessed memorial of St Francis Xavier SJ – 3 December
Jesus asked, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16:26a). The words were repeated to a young teacher of philosophy who had a highly promising career in academics, with success and a life of prestige and honor before him.
The great missionary St. Francis Xavier was from a Basque noble family, like his beloved mentor St. Ignatius Loyola. When Francis met Ignatius in Paris he was a proud, autocratic, ambitious man wanting to accomplish great deeds in the world. For three years Ignatius patiently encouraged Francis to look at his life differently. “What profits a man,” Ignatius asked Francis, “if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”
Francis joined Peter Faber as the first of Ignatius’s companions. Francis Xavier was ordained in 1537.
Francis Xavier, 24 at the time, and living and teaching in Paris, did not heed these words at once. They came from a good friend, Ignatius of Loyola, whose tireless persuasion finally won the young man to Christ. Francis then made the spiritual exercises under the direction of Ignatius and in 1534 joined his little community, the infant Society of Jesus. Together at Montmartre they vowed poverty, chastity and apostolic service according to the directions of the pope. In 1541 King John of Portugal asked Ignatius for priests to send to the missions in India. Despite knowing he would never see his beloved companion again, Ignatius chose Francis Xavier for the mission. Francis left for India, arriving at the city of Goa in 1542.
From Venice, where he was ordained a priest in 1537, Francis Xavier went on to Lisbon and from there sailed to the East Indies, landing at Goa, on the west coast of India. For the next 10 years he laboured to bring the faith to such widely scattered peoples as the Hindus, the Malayans and the Japanese. He spent much of that time in India, and served as provincial of the newly established Jesuit province of India.
Wherever he went, he lived with the poorest people, sharing their food and rough accommodations. He spent countless hours ministering to the sick and the poor, particularly to lepers. Very often he had no time to sleep or even to say his breviary but, as we know from his letters, he was filled always with joy.
Francis went through the islands of Malaysia, then up to Japan. He learned enough Japanese to preach to simple folk, to instruct, and to baptize, and to establish missions for those who were to follow him. From Japan he had dreams of going to China, but this plan was never realized. Before reaching the mainland, he died. His remains are enshrined in the Church of Good Jesus in Goa.