Saint of the Day – 3 December – St Francis Xavier SJ (1506-1552) Confessor, Priest, Missionary, Miracle-worker, co-Founder with St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) and St Peter Faber (1506-1546) of the Society of Jesus. One of the Greatest Missionaries since St Paul. St Francis was Canonised on 12 March 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. His body is incorrupt.
St Francis Xavier
By Fr Francis Xavier Weninger SJ (1805-1888)
Part One -(His early years, before departing for the Indies).
St Francis Xavier,–the great Apostle of the Indies, as he is called in the Bull of his Canonisation–the celebrated Thaumaturgus of the 16th Century, the irreproachable witness of the truth of our holy religion, the ornament of the Society of Jesus and of the entire Catholic Church–was of Royal lineage and was born of illustrious parents, at the Castle of Xavier, in the Kingdom of Navarre.
Having passed his childhood there, he was sent to the University of Paris, to study the liberal arts, for which he evinced an especial inclination. He applied himself so diligently and made so much progress that he was not only created. Doctor of Philosophy but also appointed to instruct others in that science. All his aim was to gain honours and to become great in the eyes of the world. His father intended to recall him home after some years but his sister, who was Prioress in the Convent of the Poor Clares at Gandia and had the reputation of being a Saint, knew, by Divine inspiration, the great work for which her brother was destined by the Almighty and persuaded her father not to insist on his return, saying, in a prophetic manner that Francis was chosen to become the apostle of many nations.
Whilst Xavier was teaching at Paris, St Ignatius came to the same City to finish his studies. Knowing, by Divine inspiration, how much good Francis, who was so highly gifted by the Almighty, would be able to do for the salvation of souls, he sought the friendship of the young Professor and gradually showed him the emptiness, of all temporal greatness and drew him from his eagerness to obtain worldly honours, by repeating the earnest words of Christ: “What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul!” These words of our Saviour, coming from the lips of a St Ignatius, so deeply pierced the heart of Xavier and made so indelible an impression that he became entirely converted.
Taking St Ignatius as his guide, he followed his precepts and after having most fervently gone through the “Spiritual Exercises,” he resolved to devote himself, with Ignatius, to the greater glory of God.
On the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, in the year 1534, Ignatius, St Francis and five others, made a vow in the Church of Montmartre at Paris, to consecrate their lives to the salvation of souls. Soon after, St Francis, by the order of St Ignatius, went with some of these zealous men to Italy.
At the very beginning of this journey, which was to be performed on foot, St Francis gave a striking proof of the ardour of his spirit. Before his conversion, he had been a great lover of dancing and gymnastic exercises and, so greatly excelled in them that he had taken great pride in these accomplishments. To punish this vanity, he tied his arms and ankles so tightly with small knotted cords, that he could not make the least motion without pain. After the first day’s march, his pains became so intense that he fainted away and was forced to reveal the cause. The cords had cut so deeply into the flesh that they could hardly be seen. The surgeon who was called, declared that a painful operation was necessary to cut the cords out of the flesh.St Francis and his companions, not wishing to be delayed on their way, prayed for aid from on High and, on the following morning they found, not only the cords broken but all the wounds entirely healed. Having given due thanks to the Almighty for this miracle, they continued their journey.
At Venice, St Francis spent two months in the hospital, nursing the sick most tenderly. While there, it happened that he found, among the sick, one who was suffering from a loathsome ulcer. St Francis felt a natural repugnance to approach the poor patient, but, recollecting the maxim of St. Ignatius, “Conquer thyself,” he unhesitatingly went to the sick, embraced him kindly and putting his lips to the ulcer, cleansed it of all offensive matter. As a reward for so heroic a victory over self, God restored the sick man’s health and took from St Francis all repugnance to the most hideous forms of disease.
Two months after this, he was Ordained Priest and said his first Holy Mass, amid a flood of tears, after having prepared himself for it, by forty days of solitude, many prayers, austere fasting and other penances.
At Rome, whither he was called by St Ignatius, he preached for a time with great success. It was at this period that John III., King of Portugal, requested the Pope to send him six of the disciples of St Ignatius, for the Indies. St Ignatius, on account of the small number of his followers, gave only two, Simon Rodriguez and Nicholas Bobadilla but, as the latter fell ill just before the time appointed for setting out, St Francis Xavier., whom Heaven had selected for this mission, was sent in his stead.
No tongue can tell the joy with which the Saint received this news, which fulfilled that which had been shown him, years before, in a mysterious dream. It had appeared to him, in his sleep that he had a negro on his shoulders, whom he was obliged to carry and that he was so fatigued, as to sink to the ground under his burden. He then awoke and found himself in truth, covered with perspiration and extremely tired.
He was soon prepared for his journey from Rome to Lisbon, whence he was to sail for the Indies and having received, from St Ignatius, valuable instructions and from the Vicar of Christ, the Papal Blessing, with the powers of an Apostolic Nuncio, he set out with his companion, Rodriguez, carrying nothing with him but the Crucifix on his breast, his Breviary under his arm and his staff in his hand.
At the holy house of Loretto, where he stopped on his way, he commended his important mission to his divine Mother, and begged, with childlike trust, for her motherly assistance. Feeling in his heart that his prayer had been heard, he was greatly comforted, on leaving this blessed spot. To be continued …