Today the Catholic Church celebrates Francis Xavier, the great missionary. One of the first Jesuits he was sent to south Asia at the age of thirty-five, where he labored, seemingly without rest, until he died at the age of forty-six, on an island off China.
The patron of missions, he offers us some lessons for our daily lives of spreading the Good News of Jesus.
In India he was known for his love and care for the poor, even offering Mass each week for the lepers. After visiting hospitals and prisons in the morning, he would go around town with a bell, gathering children for catechism classes.
His zeal was almost without bounds, but he had a deep love and respect for the people he met. As he wrote in one letter to St. Ignatius of the children he baptized, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I have found in these children the seeds of spiritual greatness…”
But it was not enough to care personally for the poor. He sought justice for them, even writing the King of Portugal, denouncing the injustices he saw:
There is danger that when our Lord God calls Your Highness to his judgment Your Highness may hear angry words from Him: “Why did you not punish those who were your subjects and who were enemies of Me in India?”
But when he went to Japan, recognizing the high culture and education he found there, he adopted a different approach and approached the rulers well dressed and as a representative of the Portuguese king.
Though I appreciate more his approach to the poor, I can understand why he thought he should approach Japan in a different way, becoming as St. Paul said, “all things to all people.”
But all through this exhausting mission work he seems to have maintained a deep spiritual joy. As he wrote:
The dangers to which I am exposed and the tasks that I undertake for God are springs of spiritual joy, so much so that these islands are the places in all the world for a man to lose his sight by excess of weeping; but they are tears of joy.
May he inspire us with his zeal, challenge us with his love of the poor and his cries for justice, and help us be signs of the Kingdom of God wherever we may be.
For all of us are called to be missionaries – some of us in places like India and Honduras, others in the recesses of our homes and towns.