Dec 3 – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, presbyter, religious, missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)
Francis (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.
In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.
He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”
He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He travelled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.
- Patron Saint Index
Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more. He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears he will answer. When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, ‘This is the way, follow it.’ He will send rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the bread that the ground provides will be rich and nourishing. Your cattle will graze, that day, in wide pastures. Oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat a salted fodder, winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain, on every high hill there will be streams and watercourses, on the day of the great slaughter when the strongholds fall. Then moonlight will be bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter – like the light of seven days in one – on the day the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises his blows have left.
Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.
And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’
He summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’
The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few
Hundreds of years ago, Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, preaching and healing as he did. He was a lone foreign missionary, carrying out God’s work. He recognized that the people were hungry for God as they had been in spiritual need for so long, and to fulfil the need to minister to as many of the lost and abandoned as possible, he sent out the twelve apostles to far-flung places to do God’s work. Thus you could say, began the foreign missions.
St Francis Xavier was one such missionary. His work carried him from present day Spain where he was born, to Goa, India, Malacca, Japan, and China, to name a few. There, his mission work was often met with resistance, cultural and language differences, lack of funds and support, and opposition. But he, like Jesus, recognized that the people were like lost sheep, and needed spiritual guidance. In most places, he was the first Jesuit, and therefore he had to carve out a road where no road had been before. There was much work to be done, and many a time he would get side-tracked and remain longer at a place than he had intended. Where there had been some in-roads before his arrival, those efforts had been previously focused on the nobility and officers; St Francis Xavier instead reached out to the ordinary folk in lower classes, and concentrated on teaching the children especially. He believed that there was an abundance of ‘lost sheep’ in China and had set his sights on missionary work there, but sadly he died before he could fulfil his purpose there.
Things have not changed much since. Few hundred years spanned between the time of Jesus and that of St Francis, and few hundred years have now passed between the time of St Francis and the present day. Yet one thing remains — that there are still many of us searching and yearning for Jesus. Our loneliness makes us feel abandoned, and the emptiness in our hearts makes us wish we were wanted and loved. We seek solace and comfort in other ways, sometimes in not so positive ways. As a result, we turn to habits that destroy us rather than help us, but thinking that these are resolutions to our emotional needs, we continue doing them until we realize too late that it has not helped us. We are now stuck in a vicious cycle, unable to break the habit, and nowhere near emotional fulfilment.
God is around us, and He could be our next door neighbor, or the soccer mum you see on the school run, or your colleague. God sends His labourers out to do His work and He hears our cry. He knows our hearts. Maybe it feels like He is distant or does not hear us. Sometimes we even question whether He is there. However, turn away from these thoughts and remember that God searches for His lost sheep, and He rejoices for every lost sheep that is found (Luke 15: 4-7). Every now and then, God sends out his labourers to find and gather His sheep; take heart that we too will be found.
(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)
Prayer – Lord, I pray for your comfort for our loneliness, love for our empty hearts, and direction for our wandering souls. Hear our hearts as they cry out for you, and fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may rejoice with hearts overflowing at being found.
Thanksgiving – Thank you Lord, for the labourers that you send out to do your work. We pray for wisdom to recognize them, strength to emulate them, and courage to do your will.