Saint Francis Xavier’s Missionary Wisdom

The Vision of St. Francis Xavier, by Giovanni Battista Gaulli ca. 1675

Francis Xavier was born on 7 April 1506, in the city of Javier, which in Basque language means “new house”, in the Kingdom of Navarre (present day Spain). He was a companion of St Ignatius of Loyola, one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris in 1534. He is rightly to be regarded as a co-founder of the Society of Jesus.

Following the example of St Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles who brought the Christian message all over the world, St Francis Xavier was responsible for the expansive mission into Asia, principally within the Portuguese Empire. His sterling missionary work of evangelization brought him to India where he left the impact of his tireless ministry. Due to the fact that he conducted his missions in India and East Asia, St Francis Xavier is also known as the Apostle of the Indies. Even though some sources say that the Goa Inquisition was the idea of Francis Xavier, nevertheless his letter to the king of Portugal, John III, specifically requested for a special minister whose main office would be to advance Christianity in Goa. St Francis Xavier was the first Christian missionary to go to Japan, Borneo, the Maluku Islands, and other areas. Facing both the challenge of learning the languages of the people, as well as the opposition he was less successful than he was in India. Xavier was planning to spread his missionary preaching to China but he died on Shangchuan Island on December 3, 1552.

St Francis Xavier became a role model of what it means to be a missionary in pagan land. This motivated the effort to produce prolifically extensive material regarding his figure and works he did, particularly his epistolary. He is an example to be followed by every missionary who wants to leave an impact where he and she is sent to evangelize.

Francis Xavier was beatified by Pope Paul V on 25 October 1619 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on 12 March 1622. In 1624, St Francis Xavier was made co-patron of Navarre. He is known as the Apostle of the Indies and Apostle of Japan. In order to remember this great missionary since the times of St Paul, Pope Pius XI, in 1927, thanks to the decree Apostolicorum in Missionibus, named Francis Xavier, together with Thérèse of Lisieux, co-patron of all foreign missions.

Let us now savour some of the wisdom God gave to this holy missionary which are so relevant for us today. First, holiness is founded on prayer and penance. Francis Xavier used to say: It is impossible to find a saint who did not take the “two P’s” seriously – Prayer and Penance. Second, true love is gratuitous. He said: You don’t have to give to me because I love you; after all, even if I didn’t expect from you what I do, I’d still love you just as much. Third, humble things make people great. He noted: Let no one foment the illusion of believing that they will stand out in great things, if they do not stand out in humble things. Fourth, love is the soul of every work we do. Xavier said: Love is what gives value to all our works; it’s not thanks to the greatness and multitude of our works that we please God, but thanks to the love with which we do them. Fifth, for Francis Xavier God’s consolations were important but too much of them might have impeded him from working tirelessly for God himself. Enough, Lord: If you send me so many consolations, you’re going to make me die of love.

Sixth, in evangelization success comes along by the way you treat others. He said: Make yourself loved, and this way you’ll influence them. If you employ friendliness and treat others well, you’ll see admirable effects. Seventh, desiring what you can do for others motivates you to serve them through that work. St Francis Xavier said: If you cannot do what you want to, then try to want to do what you can. Eighth, authentic spiritual life is measured by putting at work all the talents God endows us with. He said:  I have professed your name until the end; never, Lord, have I hidden the lamp under the bed; you have given me five talents, and I’ll give you five more. Ninth, humility is the success of every good work. St Francis observed: With humility, all things are obtained; by force, nothing. Tenth, faith is pivotal in our journey to holiness. It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken.

In order to appreciate more the wisdom God gave to St Francis Xavier let us read meditatively this portion from the address Pope Francis gave to the Community of the International College of the GESÙ in Rome, on Monday 3 December 2108 at the Consistory Hall:

Thus, to ground yourself is the first verb I would like to give you. Saint Francis Xavier, whom we are celebrating today, wrote about this: “I implore you, in all your matters, to ground yourselves totally in God” (Letter 90 from Kagoshima). In this way, he added, there is no adversity for which one cannot be prepared. You live in the house where Saint Ignatius lived, wrote the Constitutions, and sent the first companions on mission throughout the world. You are grounded on the origins. It is the grace of these years in Rome: the grace of the foundation, the grace of the origins. And you are a seedbed that leads the world to Rome and Rome to the world, the Society in the heart of the Church and the Church in the heart of the Society.

The second verb is to grow. You are called in these years to grow, establishing roots. The plant grows from the roots, which are unseen but support the whole. And it ceases to bear fruit not when it has few branches, but when the roots dry up. To have roots is to have a well grafted heart, which in God is able to expand. To God, semper maior, one responds with the magis of life, with limpid and unbridled enthusiasm, with the fire that blazes within, with that positive, ever-growing tension, which says ‘no’ to every compromise. It is Saint Paul’s “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16), and Saint Francis Xavier’s “I did not stop for one instant” (Letter 20 to Saint Ignatius), and is what spurred Saint Alberto Hurtado to be a sharp arrow in the lethargic limbs of the Church. If the heart does not expand, it atrophies. Do not forget this. If one does not grow, one withers.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.