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; made the Exercises under the direction of Ignatius himself. And it was his experience of the Exercises that so filled him with his zeal and missionary spirit.
Francis’s life reflects an embrace of the recognition that loving God means being men and women for others, being “contemplatives in action.” As with all those formed by an Ignatian spirituality, loving God for him meant 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. And some of the places he was called were a bit more dangerous than the lives to which most of us are called. Francis once wrote to a fellow Jesuit, “In this life, we find out greatest comfort living in the midst of danger, that is, if we confront them solely for the love of God.”
One of Francis Xavier’s companions once said of him “Anything he is asked to do, Francis does willingly, simply because he loves everyone.” Another commentator said that upon his arrival in India, “Xavier’s heart overflowed with love for the poor of the country. His love knew no bounds.”
Just to give one example, Francis spent two years living among the Pravas, low-caste coastal fisherman in southern India. Here is what he once wrote about them.
There is such a great multitude of those who are being converted to the faith of Christ in this land where I am that it frequently happens that my arms become exhausted from baptizing, and I can no longer speak from having recited so often the Creed and the Commandments in their language, and the other prayers, along with an exhortation which I know in their language…. There are days when I baptize an entire village…
Not only did he work beyond exhaustion, but when the ruler of Jaffna on the northern coast of Ceylon physically attacked the Paravas, Francis remained with his flock and assisted them to safety as best as he could.
If we are looking for a model of obedience to Jesus’ command to love God and love one another, Francis Xavier is a good one.
Note that this is a the twenty-second in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20 of this year.