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Saint Francis Xavier - Jesuit Saint

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Just to get my direction straight, this is the kind of a Holy Hour from four to five, in other words I talk and then, you sing and pray and we close with Benediction. We spoke yesterday on St. Ignatius and the logical second Jesuit saint to speak about is St. Francis Xavier. He is sometimes called the second founder of the Society of Jesus, a totally different personality from Ignatius; a man who was very learned, intellectual, and in fact a university professor when Ignatius found him.

I suppose the first thing we should note is how remarkably different God's grace is in different people and that God is no respecter of persons. He chooses those who cannot write like Ignatius and intellectuals like Xavier. Like Ignatius, he was born of the nobility; Ignatius of the Loyola family and Francis of the Xavier family. He was a faculty member of the University of Paris when Ignatius found him. Ignatius had no hesitation, once it was clear to him that Francis had a vocation, to keep hounding Francis to the point of making himself very unbearable. When he told Francis, I'm sure you've heard over the years, "Francis, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul." Francis had everything, humanly speaking in his favor. He was young, intelligent, had a good position, highly respected, very influential and the prospect of advancement.

Ignatius realized that God's grace has got to make the change in Francis, that he cannot do it alone, so he finally convinced Francis that he should make the Spiritual Exercises and that did it. For thirty days then, Xavier made the Exercises and it was, at least partly if not in large measure, the experience that Ignatius had with Xavier that convinced Ignatius that the Exercises, as we call them, there is a single main purpose to discover ones' vocation. And over the years the Exercises are given either to people who need to find their vocation or those who have found it, to strengthen themselves in their vocation. This is not trivial when we think of all the retreats by now we've made. In other words, Francis convinced Ignatius that no less than he, Ignatius had found his vocation by making the Exercises, not for thirty days but for twelve months that others would profit at least as much. In any case, the combination of Ignatius pursuing him and the Spiritual Exercises converted Xavier from a very worldly, though believing layman into one of the Church's great saints. After his conversion, all his biographers tell us that he was very ascetical, that is very mortified – in food, in physical accommodations and very prayerful. And the phrase that I copied from the Latin text that I used, he became after his conversion, in rerum divinarum quantumplacone de fixus – he became fixed, rooted, set, in the contemplation of divine things. There's more than just a superficial lesson in that there is no easy way to become a contemplative. The precondition for becoming a contemplative in the sense in which the Church understands, the precondition is detachment from creatures. You do not become fixed on God, to quote the Latin phrase, until you become detached from everything else but God. In any case he became, for a man as active as he was, a mystic and the mysticism was, you might say God's reward for his giving up and the more he had promising him, the more merit he gained. Over the years I've told so many people: the more things you like or the more things you dislike, you've got the makings of a great saint. 'Me?' "Yes you." 'Father, you got me wrong.' "I don't have you wrong." The more set you are in your ways – the more stubborn; the more comfort seeking – the more selfish; the more ambitious – the more naturally proud; the harder you have to practice chastity – the more lazy you are. Barring God's extraordinary providence, in His ordinary providence, it's those people … honest, last June 18 was thirty-five years in the priesthood … I've learned a lot. I could write from now for the next twenty years to share what I've learned, but one thing I've learned – the more attached a person is to creatures, the higher are God's plan for that soul, because once that person gives in … (audio cut off for three counter numbers) …. He died in his early forties … one of my great models. People tell me I'm working too hard, but I'm still around. Xavier finished his earthly course years before – he wore himself out. So much for his European stay. When the Society of Jesus was organized he was one of the first members – that was in 1534 – he was not yet a priest; the only priest in the society, as we call ourselves, was Peter Faber who ironically has yet to be canonized; he's only a blessed. And those who were laymen at the time have become saints.

In any case, shortly after the society was founded, Ignatius sent him to India. Ignatius said it was the most painful thing in his life – they were very close. Ignatius made a big sacrifice and in the ordinary course of providence I'm sure that Francis would have lived much longer had he stayed on in relatively comfortable Europe compared to the impossible India. The reason he went to India is because the Pope, Paul III wanted somebody to go to India. There were Christians there you know from the time of St. Thomas, but what Christians. We'll talk about them in a few minutes. He went to India … took months to get there … shipwrecked, quite a few people died on the way. He managed to get there alive.

I was a novice when I read my first life of Francis Xavier. With apologies for saying this but, it is worth mentioning. Francis lived a very austere life and he would wash his own socks on the way to India, that's what I've been doing ever since. Once known if I'm in a convent my socks disappear. I've had to hide them (laughter) so I decided before my first vows, this must be one of the conditions for becoming a saint, there are others of course, but one is washing your own socks. When he got to India, I suppose he thought he would have a lot of trouble interesting the Pagans in Christianity – no trouble at all, eager, hungry to hear about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. All these troubles he wrote back to Ignatius came from the Christians, including their priests. Here's one quotation. Speaking of these people, Christians—centuries of Catholic ancestry, but not instructed in the faith, hear that? Here's one of Xavier's statements to Ignatius back home. "All they know is that they are Christians, that's all they know about the faith. There is nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God's law and, Sisters, you can say that about millions of Catholics today. The situation is horrendous, so much so that the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's sisters whom I teach in the Bronx ... once I was giving them a conference in Chapel – I teach them every week in a classroom outside of Chapel then every other week we have a conference in Chapel – when I mentioned the missions and missionaries in one of my conferences and somebody laughed and we're … (I mean among the sisters) so I asked, "What are you laughing at?" You know, we're friends, so they said, 'Father, listening to you, you would think that India is a mission country. Do you know that when we come to the United States we are sent to the missions. Mother Teresa considers the United States a paganized country – sobering, isn't it? – but I'm afraid true. So that's what Xavier met in India and not only were they ignorant, but their bad example, Xavier complained, was the hardest obstacles he had to overcome in convincing the Pagans that Christianity is a noble religion. Noble? Look at those Christians in Angola. In other words, he had to shield his converts from exposure to the Christians so they wouldn't be scandalized and the deeper he went into the interior and the farther the Pagans were from Christianity, the more and better converts he made. Sad, isn't it? But again, I'm afraid, sadly true of so much of our own country. The husband of a very dedicated woman in Philadelphia – good Presbyterian – his wife was hoping that he would become a Catholic we met, husband and I just a good Christian. His wife of course, and family he brought up Catholic – exemplary, but what I see of Catholics turns me off.

In any case, the single greatest obstacle to evangelization, and Xavier proved it, is a bad conduct of Christians. The single biggest obstacles to vocations to the priesthood is priests who are not what they should be. The single biggest obstacle to vocations to religious life is religious who are not what they should be. The mail I got today from New York was about what's going on in one New York community. It seems they had just hired a notorious communist to help teach the community.

Xavier was a very zealous man. In other words, for him the way to Heaven is to convert others and bring souls to Heaven with you. He took literally Christ's words to go and preach the Gospel to all nations. He was about as far away from Spain as you can get, when further than India he would be coming back to Spain and again a deep lesson for us. The need of souls having the Gospel preached to them and the pity that so often you don't find zealous people to proclaim Christ. Francis Xavier wrote many letters to Europe begging for missionaries. His letters written to Europe were written some of them to his own confreres, especially St. Ignatius. He wrote letters to his former associates at the university and he begged for missionaries. Among the statements over the years that I have quoted and lectures I have given, Xavier said, "It is your speaking of those who were Catholics in Europe but we're not concerned about the salvation of souls, say outside of Europe. It is your laziness – this is a direct quotation from Xavier – it is your laziness that is preventing so many souls from reaching Heaven and of going to Hell." In other words, a lot of people are so smug and satisfied in their situation that the idea of going to preach the Gospel, especially in this case in a foreign land was if not unthinkable, was certainly not attractive. Many people answered his letters. Remarkably, Xavier who was no theologian in the ordinary sense of the word though he was a very intelligent person, what we have of his writings is mainly one volume of his letters and I'm sure he never intended them to be published. They are so out-spoken, so critical of people who's lack of zeal as he kept telling them, is keeping souls from reaching Heaven. You might say that the spirituality of Francis Xavier is the spirituality of a missionary. Xavier was blessed in many ways by God to help him convert the souls that he was trying to bring to Christ. We know that he spoke to people who had many different dialects and languages. Father John, they called him, who is staying with the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence on Austin Ave. (it's from Carola, that's So. India and just within the confines of his own home region) there are some twenty languages spoken. In other words, Xavier as he traveled couldn't possibly master these tongues so one of the things that God did was to give him the gift of tongues in the sense that he could talk one language and many would understand what he was saying.

Xavier very soon began to work miracles. It must be twenty years ago … if I can find a copy I will have you read it – it's my defense of the miracles of St. Francis Xavier. It seems that somebody wrote a life of Xavier, very learned life, but was not so sure that Xavier worked all those miracles attributed to him. Well, my Jesuit temper rose. I'm very seldom aroused, but I was – they were genuine miracles and let nobody say the contrary including several people raised from the dead. In other words, his phenomenal success in converting souls was helped by the Holy Spirit. He came as a stranger into a strange land. The few words that he learned were as nothing compared to the languages that he would have needed to speak the language of the people; God then supplemented his ignorance of the languages by having him gifted with working miracles. Realizing that the future generation had to be converted to the faith and trained to know their religion from childhood, he concentrated on bringing children around him. He would go into a village ringing a bell – I'm not sure what kind of a voice he had, but he would sing. Well, any man walking down the street ringing a bell and singing would attract a crowd of children and he would teach them to sing along with him and the songs that he taught them were their catechism lessons which he had them memorize. It is no wonder then, and we don't have exact figures, there's no way of telling. He was a missionary for only ten years, in ten years he wore himself out – great, wonderful! St. Francis Regis, John Francis Regis, died in the confessional about the same age as Xavier, wonderful! In any case, we are sure that he baptized, personally, over one hundred thousand people. Biographers are not sure how many were eventually baptized, some say several hundred thousand, we are sure of at least a hundred thousand that he personally baptized. Now if you divide a hundred thousand in to ten years, that's ten thousand a year, just the baptizes and we don't have evidence that he took them into I would say the Jehovahs' Witness or some of the Baptist’s baptize their people by dipping them into water. He poured the water. If nothing else he would have been exhausted from just the sheer baptizing.

Xavier was not satisfied with preaching the Gospel in India. In ten years he met enough converts … he figured I would better to go on so he went to Japan. All told he evangelized eight nations; India, Japan, and six other countries that of course by now had been largely absorbed by the communists in China and Vietnam. His great desire was to evangelize the people of China and as you know he died on December the 2nd looking at China and wishing that he would live to get into the mainland of the country and to preach the Gospel to them, but he never made it. In other words, he died looking at China from his death bed. That's the life of a great man. Very different from Xavier and now just a few features of his spirituality.

The first feature is what I would call his intellectual humility. Ignatius was very humble, but he didn't have to call it an intellectual humility for obvious reasons. He was humiliated during the years that he sat on the hard benches learning grammar with the children who we know made fun of him. Xavier was a great mind, a very gifted intellect. The lesson I think for us in our country especially, is an important one. My job has been teaching, at least they would consider themselves intellectuals. All I know is the one virtue they all desperately need is humility. And we are living in that kind of a country. We're all infected by this disease or at least even if the disease is arrested, we're all prone to it. It's in the air we breath, it's in everything we touch. In other words, the hardest thing for the human person to submit to God is the mind, and the more gifted a person is the harder it is to make that submission – we're forever questioning, and questioning and questioning. Until now we have some sixteen volumes of Karl Rahners; pray for him that before he dies he might acknowledge the Popes' authority in moral matters – he does not accept it. The most learned and disastrous denial of Humane Vitae of Paul VI is by Karl Rahner and he has never retracted it. His sixteen volumes … he's got a few pious works which are nice … good reading on Our Lady, the Sacred Heart – beautiful; that's before he lost his … I hope something slipped in his mind rather than his faith. But the books, all these other books are called theological investigation. My eye! That's not the purpose of theology to investigate, to investigate what? You believe, you submit! It enters my mind when I was a child, I must have told you, I told you people so much I'm afraid of repeating myself. Sister, then her name was Gorgonia, did I tell you? fifth grade … we were talking about intellectual humility, whatever I was doing I was doing it. And she called out to the back of the room, "Johnny (that's me) stop showing off." I don't mind my telling you – I've got to keep watching it constantly. Some people show off with their works of art or the multimillionaire who took me through twenty miles of gardens. He had lost his faith and as we were driving along slowly through his palatial estate, this is all for my pleasure, all for my pleasure – he was showing off. So I can wax eloquence on his intellectual humility, I keep cutting down on my vocabulary. I don't think I've ever said this before, but one thing that I've learned, at least in the last ten years, when I go over a manuscript for publication what simpler word can I substitute for one that's in the manuscript now and I still find in print and I'm embarrassed and I think to myself, 'Johnny, stop showing off.' I wouldn't tell this except to friends. Do you know what I'm saying? Whatever we've got we want to show off; we're afraid that somebody is liable to miss it. I watch young women combing their hair on the plane. Like while I was on the stage, I won't dare imitate – our Lord is protecting me. First, humility and especially humility in whatever we've got, to watch it. If we don't parade, we don't vote, we don't in plain English, show off. Xavier buried himself in the wilds of India. There was just no possibility, they wouldn't appreciate ... in fact, he had to babble like a child in trying to make sense of a language he didn't know. Okay, first feature.

Second – Union with God. Xavier by all accounts, was a very busy person. He slept little (that's before they had blood pressure gauges) whatever he died of it was inevitable. He was just living too busy and exhausting a life. Now the lesson there is a good one. I'm speaking to you who don't have that much physical work to do, that's not your vocation – you've got some to do and do that. You are mainly to pray and the sacrifice of just living, there are six of you. For any one of you, all you have to have is the other five in the community and you don't have to read a book about sacrifice. And I don't even have to know, all I have to do is know human nature. I'm better off, I've got sixty-one others, we've got sixty-two in New York in the community, that makes it easier, you know that? I know some of my confreres choose their tables, I can see. There's a seat next to me, they don't sit there, they go else where, okay. That's human nature. In other words there's enough seats to go around.

Union with God is absolutely necessary if we're going to do anything great for God. In other words, it's not just your being here in Chapel. It's not just whatever you're doing or for those who are more actively engaged as surely I am and it took the doctor to tell me to stay put and thanks to your sister nurse, I … that was a contum cuntum, by the way, which I promptly applied. I called up the doctor, he said, "that's a warning, Father." 'You think I should go to Philadelphia on Saturday. I'm to speak to the profession class, 6:30 Mass with Cardinal Quovare(?) I think better not, okay – and I've got video taping to do.' "Don't do it." In any case, the more busy we are no matter what we're doing the more we've got to be united with God and for that there's no substitute. Having a prayer book in front of you is not necessarily being united with God, in case nobody told you. There's no gimmick; there's no trick; there's no course on where that you learn, it might help, but … union with God means exactly what it says. What part of us must be united with God, don't forget this – our will, all right, our will! In the nature of things this is Xavier's great lesson. No matter what else we may be doing and we may have to be engaged and you name it what activity where our minds cannot be, say, thinking of God. He knows that, but whether the mind is consciously aware of God or not … (who could finish this sentence … it depends on what translation you use). It's from the Old Testament. "While my body sleeps … (who could finish that sentence) … my heart is awake." Where the biblical word for 'will' is heart, all right? Even when we're asleep, because we're doing it out of conformity with the will of God our heart is awake. In other words, it is not what we do that matters, it's why we do it for Him. That's the second lesson.

Third – obedience. His going to India was an act of obedience and a hard act at that. He was sent as apostolic nuncio, the Pope's representative, great! But he was the only Jesuit in India. He thought he joined a community and there was no community. He was superior, subject, provincially he was everything – though after ten years things improved, by that time he was ready to be rewarded for his sacrifice. How many times I thought of Xavier in the five years I taught at a state university, living – I found the Neuman Chaplin who was willing to have a priest live with him – why I was living outside the community for five years – that's why the Jesuits (pardon me for saying this, I feel I'm a good Jesuit even though I'm in Lake Villa and living, shall I say, among or near to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood). You know what I'm saying? In other words our spirituality – this is Ignatian spirituality because it didn't drop from the Heavens, of course the inspiration came from God – it had to be worked out in practice. Here Xavier worked it out in practice. There is one statement of Ignatius that Xavier obeyed to the letter, here's how it reads, and we're still reading it, "Ours (it's always capitalized, that's us, Ours this and Ours that) Ours should be ready to travel to various places wherever there is hope of God's greater glory and the good of souls." For Xavier, go to India, and for me, Lake Villa. If I was in another tradition, I couldn't do it or I shouldn't do it. In other words, we may do work, and this is what Xavier did in obedience – he even separated himself from the community that he dearly loved and all the advantages and benefits. One thing that I don't tell you is missing, my daily confession, which I miss.

Fourth feature, and the last one. With his great love of God, he wrote that famous prayer, I hope you have it somewhere. "O deus ego amote"--O God, I love thee. Somewhere it should be among the Church's approved prayers. When some fifteen years ago I was asked by the American provincials to put together a prayer book for Jesuits, I naturally put in that prayer of Xavier. Yet with his great love for God, Xavier was always a realist, he never lost sight of Heaven and of Hell. That is not unimportant. In other words, let’s never think we have graduated from being motivated by the desire of being rewarded by God for our good works and being motivated by the fear of God's justice if we lose His friendship. It's no wonder he was made the Church's universal patron of the missions and when Pius XI came along, you know what he did – he added the Little Flower. He is the model of apostolic zeal and she is the model of apostolic prayer. St. Francis Xavier, pray for us. In the name of the Father and of Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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