Saint Francis Xavier – the relic of whose forearm, instrumental in the baptizing of tens of thousands made a tour around Canada a few years ago – was one of those remarkable men of history, whose intensity, focus and singleness of purpose echo through the ages. His desire to give everything to save souls, brought into full force after his own deep and irrevocable conversion was spurred on by the equally intense Ignatius of Loyola at the University of Paris, drove him quite literally to the ends of the earth, to India and Japan – struggling and persevering against what to lesser men would seemed insuperable odds, baptizing, confirming, catechizing, and generally making saints of untold tens of thousands, myriads of myriads, with the gift of tongues, of miracles, truly an image of Saint Paul.
His dream was to evangelize the untold vastness of China, but died of a fever at the age of 46 – having lived several lifetimes in that short span – alone in a hut, on the small island of Shangchuan, 8 or so miles off the coast of China, on this day in 1552.
Francis, handsome, athletic, intelligent, used all these charisms as a true missionary, in the fullness of that term; as Ad Gentes declares, the document on the missions from the Second Vatican Council:
Yet man must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he devotes himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stay at his vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead to “make himself all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Once he left Europe, Xavier never saw his native land again, and died in exile, as we all must in some sense. As he wrote to his former fellow scholars back in Paris: I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
If not their salvation, at least ours may depend upon leaving ‘all’, in some sense, for the sake of the Gospel. We could use more of his intensity in our Church, that there really is much at stake in this pilgrimage of life, and we will all be asked what we have done with the time and talents we have been given, in the cause of Christ, the beginning and the end of all history.
For only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word, as Gaudium et Spes declares, does the mystery of man make sense.