Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Francis Xavier.
Francis Xavier was a friend and companion to Ignatius of Loyola and and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was one of the first Jesuits to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises had an enormous influence on Francis, and his life reflects an embrace of the recognition that loving God means being men and women for others, being “contemplatives in action”. Francis knew that loving God means uniting oneself with God by joining God’s active labor to heal and save the world.
Francis Xavier has been called the greatest missionary in history, second only to St. Paul. Putting God first for him meant going where he was called, without regard to what his plans had been.
In 1539, the King of Portugal requested that Ignatius send two missionaries to the Portuguese colony of Goa. One of the two named fell ill and there was no one to take his place except Francis. At the time, Francis himself was recuperating from having overworked himself in Venice; he is described as having been at the time “so pale and wasted that he seemed no longer to be a living man but a walking corpse.”
Yet when Ignatius broke the news to him that he must go to India, Francis didn’t say, “Aw c’mon, why me.” He didn’t say “it wasn’t exactly my plan to be a missionary in India.” He didn’t say, “Look, I’m beat and I just can’t handle a tough posting right now. Can’t I get one of those cushy spots in the wine country of France or Spain?”
Rather, he responded, reportedly with these words: “Good enough! I am ready!” The next day he left Rome, never again to return. He left knowing he would have no possibility of contact or comfort from those he knew and loved save for letters that could take weeks or, more likely, months to arrive.
Francis had unlimited confidence in God, a confidence that allowed him to face obstacles and reversals. He had a level of trust that allowed him to travel wherever he was sent with a sense of joy and enthusiasm. One of his companions said that he never met anyone more filled with faith and hope than Francis Xavier.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!