Fr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Friday of the First Week of Advent;
Memorial of St. Francis Xavier
December 3, 1999
1 Cor 9:16-19;22-23; Ps 117:1-2;Mk 16:15-20
Every so often in the history of the Church, God raises up a figure who so thoroughly responds to God’s graces that he or she not only bears great fruit, but inspires everyone else to live the faith heroicly. God did that in the indefatigable St. Paul, who, as we read in the first reading, considered himself ruined if he didn’t preach the Gospel. And preached it he did, with his words, letters, example, life all over the known world, as he did ultimately with his blood, shed here in this holy city. God did it again in our century with the great Agnes Bojaxhiu, the zealous Albanian who turned the gutters of Calcutta into the highway to heaven, and inspired the whole world to become missionaries of love, until the ends of the earth. Today, we celebrate one of these great figures in the history of the Church, one whose own life inspired not just countless people but countless saints to respond to the great news of God’s love as he did, with all they had. Today we celebrate simply one of the greatest saints of all time, one whose heroic deeds out of love for the Lord and for those the Lord loved so much serve as a living examination of conscience for us as well as a promise and invitation that God can indeed do such great things through those who give themselves wholeheartedly to him.
Multivolume works have been written on St. Francis Xavier, but not even these can come close to exhausting the spiritual richness of his life. Today I would like to focus on three aspects of his life that are particularly relevant for us today: (1) The importance of spreading the Gospel; (2) That we should use every means possible; and (3) That our world desperately needs saints like him.
First, the importance of spreading the Gospel, of missionary work. Since the Second Vatican Council, one of the worst heresies in the history of the Church has arisen, one which says that basically all religions are equivalent in bringing people to salvation and hence, it is no longer good or necessary to try to make converts. Vatican II affirmed, rightly, that God who instituted the sacraments as the ordinary means for salvation is himself not bound by those means and can indeed save people outside of the sacraments. That much is absolutely true. What has happened, however, is that many have misunderstood this to mean that it is no longer necessary to spread the faith, because, they claim, all religious roads lead to heaven. Rather than try to spread the faith, too many Catholics and Catholic leaders have become content with remaining merely at the level of “interreligious dialogue.” Against this whole tendency stands St. Francis’ witness to the truth, as we hear in the Gospel, that “the man who believes in the Gospel and accepts baptism will be saved; the man who refuses to believe in it will be condemned.” He gave his life to this truth, a truth that is as valid now as it was then. God wills that all be saved and wills that we be his instruments. With St. Francis Xavier we can affirm that “many people are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians… How many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell thanks to you!” God in his mercy won’t hold the laziness of Christians against those who haven’t heard the Gospel, but he will hold such laziness against the Christians. All of us ultimately have the vocation and mission to spread the faith, as Paul VI said in Evangelium Nuntiandi and JP II reaffirmed in Redemptoris missio, in the particular Indies to which God sends us.
Secondly, our Basque saint teaches us that we should use every means possible to spread the faith. His whole life was one of the creative use of anything that could help him spread the Gospels. He put the catechism and the main prayers of the faith to music so that the musical people he encountered might more easily retain them. He used children, with their razor-trap memories, to teach adults the faith. He took advantage of every traveling opportunity, on all types of ships and other methods of transportation, despite the risks, to bring the Gospel to unknown parts. He took advantage of every language and dialect he could master, from Hindu to Japanese, in order to be able to transmit the faith more thoroughly. He dressed poorly to evangelize the poor and as a daimyo to evangelize nobles. He used whatever energy he had left in his fatigued right hand to baptize once again. Like St. Paul, he made himself all things to all men in order to save at least some of them. Whatever opportunity, whatever gift, God gave him, he made it an occasion for spreading the faith. God will always provide the opportunity. May we invest it as St. Francis did.
Thirdly, the patron saint of the mission’s whole life is a clarion example of how much God can do in those who give themselves to him wholeheartedly. His extraordinary life inspired so many because Francis was in many ways ordinary. He was an ambitious college student in Paris who sought benefices to live the easy life and got them, who sought after the fame of a teaching position, who bragged about his athletic accomplishments, who tried to fit in with the students of his day. He would have been indistinguishable from countless other students along the Seine. But then he became roommates with Peter Faber and a slightly older fellow Basque, Iñigo de Loyola, and everything changed. Francis began to tutor Ignatius in Latin and Ignatius began to teach Francis something about the only ambition, the only knowledge, the only accomplishments that really mattered. Doubtless Ignatius conveyed the story of his own conversion, that recuperating in a bed from the cannonball that shattered his tibia, he read the lives of the saints and asked himself “Why am I not capable of doing what they did?,” thereby filling Francis with the same question and the same desire. With God’s grace, Francis indeed proved capable of doing what they did. With God’s grace, so did Ignatius and Peter Faber. And with God’s grace, so can we. So can we. So can we.
St. Francis is ultimately living proof that all things are possible in Him who strengthens us. With God’s help, we can turn Rome, Nashville, Alma, Texas, Lafayette, into our Indies. St. Francis prayed that this example of his would inspire us to do just that. As he wrote to Ignatius, referring to his contemporaries in Paris, but just as applicable to us today: I wish they would work as hard at saving souls as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them. This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like — even to India!” Today at this Mass, let’s ask the Lord to show us where India is.