03 December 2013

St Francis Xavier: 'Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians.'

Today, 3 December, is the feast of St Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary priest who, with St Thérèse of Lisieux is the patron saint of missionaries. Here is an extract from a letter of the saint to St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. This is the Second Reading in the Office of Readings in the Breviary for the saint's feast day. I copied this version from DivineOffice.org, a website that has the full Prayer of the Church for each day. I have highlighted parts of the letter of St Francis Xavier.

From the letters to Saint Ignatius by Saint Francis Xavier, priest
Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel

We have visited the villages of the new converts who accepted the Christian religion a few years ago. No Portuguese live here—the country is so utterly barren and poor. The native Christians have no priests. They know only that they are Christians. There is nobody to say Mass for them; nobody to teach them the Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Commandments of God’s Law.

I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.

Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!

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.

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.

Evangelii Gaudium, the new Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, a Jesuit like the saint we celebrate today, begins with these words:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church's journey in years to come.

I'm sure that St Francis Xavier, whose whole being burned with the desire to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, would agree.

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