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April 25, 2007|
More than a passion
Soon, the little group was joined by four other students. Ignatius then proposed to his six companions that they give themselves to God more completely and unite themselves to each other through the bonds of religious vows. On August 15, 1534, in Our Lady's chapel at Montmartre, Pierre Le Fèvre, at the time the only priest in the group, celebrated the Holy Mass, during which all made perpetual vows of poverty and chastity with the promise that they would go to the Holy Land or commit themselves to the will of the Supreme Pontiff. As they waited to know the holy will of God, they gathered often to pray and encourage one another in the practice of virtue.
Straight to the heart
After a journey of three months, Father Xavier arrived in Lisbon in the company of Simon Rodriguez. Both were received by John III, a truly pious man concerned for the salvation of souls. While waiting to leave for India, they devoted themselves to the care of souls in the capital of Portugal. Their apostolic devotion aroused such admiration in Lisbon that the king was asked to keep them in the country. Ignatius decided that Rodriguez would stay in Lisbon; as for Father Xavier, he would leave for India. He left, in the company of three young confreres, on April 7, 1541.
At the time, the voyage from Portugal to India by the Cape of Good Hope was an adventure from which no one could be sure of coming out alive. If the ship didn't sink, epidemics, cold, hunger, and thirst often decimated the passengers. On January 1, 1542, Father Xavier wrote to his brothers in Rome: «I have been seasick for two months; and all have suffered much for forty days off the coast of Guinea... The nature of the difficulties and labors is such that I would not have dared confront them for a single day, not for the whole world. Our comfort and hope in God's mercy is growing continually, in the conviction that we lack the talent necessary to preach the faith of Jesus Christ in a pagan land.» On May 6, 1542, they reached Goa, on the western coast of India.
First method of prayer
Father Xavier wrote in a letter to Saint Ignatius: «I am happy to go: enduring the strain of a long voyage, taking upon myself the sins of others, when I have quite enough of my own, living in the midst of pagans, suffering the heat of a burning sun, and all this for God; surely these are great consolations and cause for heavenly joys. For in the end, the blessed life for friends of the cross of Jesus Christ is, it seems to me, a life sown with such crosses. ... What happiness can equal that of living by dying each day, by crushing our wills to seek and find not that which will profit us, but that which will profit Jesus Christ?» The Christians he found on the shore of the Fishery knew nothing of their religion. Father Xavier thus began with the rudiments of the faith: the sign of the cross accompanied by the invocation of the three Persons in God, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Salve Regina, the Confiteor.
This concern for passing on the rudiments of the faith is shared by the Church. In fact, in today's world, marked by an overabundance of information and specialization in higher education, we see that the most simple truths, those that lead to eternal salvation, are not passed on. This is why the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, promulgated the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, «with its brevity, clarity and comprehensiveness, is directed to every human being, who, in a world of distractions and multifarious messages, desires to know the Way of Life, the Truth, entrusted by God to His Son's Church» (Motu proprio for the approval of the Compendium, June 28, 2005).
«If the laborers were not lacking...»
Caring about the soul
So many did Francis Xavier bring to the faith each day that often his arms would be tired from baptizing. Overwhelmed with work, he was alone only during the night, much of which he would devote to his religious exercises and studying the local language. But God never abandons His servants. He flooded the missionary's soul with heavenly consolations and gave him to a large extent the gift of miracles. At the end of October 1543, Father Xavier decided to return to Goa to look for reinforcements. There he learned three years after the fact that Paul III had approved the Society of Jesus and that Ignatius had been elected General. So he made his solemn profession, using the formula his Brothers in Rome had used.
Yet he knew that other countries were waiting for the Good News. He was perplexedshould he push on toward these distant lands, where the name of Christ was unknown to so many? He went to the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle to ask God to enlighten him. He stayed there four months (April-August 1545), helping the local parish priest, who would say of him: «In all things he led the life of the apostles.» «In the holy house of Saint Thomas,» wrote the missionary to the Fathers of Goa, «I have employed myself in praying continuously that God Our Lord might grant me to feel in my soul His most holy will, with the firm resolution to accomplish it. ... I have felt with great interior consolation, that it was the will of God that I go to Malacca, where several recently became Christians.»
After several months spent on the Malaysian peninsula of Malacca, where he did not fear to search out sinners where they livedin the gambling houses and brothelsto put them on the right path, on January 1, 1546, he began a cruise of more than 2,000 km, in the course of which he evangelized a number of islands, in particular the isle of Morotai, where he risked his life amidst cannibal tribes. In a letter to his confreres in Europe who were worried about this adventure, he replied, «The souls of the isle of Morotai must be instructed and someone must baptize them for their salvation. I for my part have the obligation to lose the life of the body to provide my neighbor with the life of the soul. Therefore I will go to the isle of Morotai to help the Christians there spiritually, and I will face every danger, entrusting myself to God Our Lord and placing all my hope in Him. I wish, to the full extent of my small and miserable abilities, to experience in myself these words of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord: He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (Mt. 10:39)».
Japan ... and China
Nevertheless, aware of his duties as Apostolic Nuncio, he resumed contact with India and returned to Goa, which he would leave on April 15, 1549 for Japan. The following August 15, he landed on Kagoshima, where he spent more than a year learning the Japanese language and customs. Toward the end of 1550, he left for the residence of the most powerful prince of Japan, then for the capital. There, a great disappointment awaited himthe king, who in fact was only a puppet, would not even receive him. Father Xavier nevertheless obtained permission from the prince to preach the Christian faith, and had the joy of welcoming several hundred conversions. But soon a revolution broke out, and the missionary had to leave. Having had no news from India for two years, he decided to return to Malacca, where he arrived at the end of 1551. It was there that he received a letter from Saint Ignatius written more than two years before, naming him «Provincial of the East,» that is, for all the missions of the Society of Jesus from Cape Comorin, in southern India, all the way to Japan.
On April 17, 1552, the missionary took to the sea once more, this time headed for China. This voyage, the last one of his life, would strip him utterly and conform him to the suffering Christ. At the beginning of September 1552, he reached the island of Sancian, ten kilometers from the Chinese coast. The handful of Portuguese who had put into port there at the time greeted him with joy, building him a wooden hut and a little chapel made out of branches. Father Xavier immediately began to tend to the children and the sick, to preach, catechize, and hear confessions. Nevertheless, he sought to find a Chinese «smuggler» who would secretly lead him to Canton. Access to the shore of China was strictly forbidden. Anyone who dared to violate this prohibition was, if caught, doomed to torture and death. On at least two occasions, the missionary found a man who agreed to lead him there in exchange for a large sum of money. Each time, once the money had been received, the «smuggler» disappeared.
On November 21, Father Xavier celebrated his last Mass. As he came down from the altar, he felt himself weaken. He tried to return to the sea, but the rolling of the ship was unbearable for him. Taken back to Sancian, he spent the last days of his life half-conscious. Without medicine, and certain of his imminent death, he raised his eyes to Heaven and spoke with Our Lord or Our Lady: «Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. O Virgin, Mother of God, remember me.» As he was saying the name of Jesus, he breathed his last, at dawn on December 2, 1552. He was only forty-six years old. His body was taken back to Goa where it is still venerated by the faithful. Francis Xavier, canonized along with Ignatius of Loyola on March 12, 1622, is the heavenly patron of Catholic missions.
When one considers the life of this giant of holiness, one is struck by the number of travails and sufferings he had to endure. His secret was a boundless love for Jesus. In the Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius had taught him to listen for the call of Christ: «It is My will to conquer the whole world and all my enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of My Father. Therefore, whoever wishes to join Me in this enterprise must be willing to labor with Me, that by following Me in suffering, he may follow Me in glory» (Sp. Ex., 95). In his obedience, Francis Xavier was «prompt and diligent to accomplish [Jesus'] most Holy Will» (ibid. 91). In turn, he gave himself fully, without counting the cost, to extend God's kingdom on earth. May he obtain for us the grace to be like him filled with zeal for the eternal salvation of our neighbor.