I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned,
and made them known to the little one.
Luke 10, 21
On December 3, 1552, a Basque Jesuit priest, Francis Xavier, died on an island off the coast of China. Only 46 years old, he had spent eleven years in Asia, bringing the Gospel to many people in India, Indonesia, Japan, and other lands.
He had baptized tens of thousands. In a letter complaining about the failure of the European universities to respond to the need for missionaries, he had written:
In these lands so many people come to faith in Jesus Christ that many times my arms fail me because of the painful work of baptizing them.
Though his body is venerated in Goa, India, the arm he used to baptize is preserved above an altar in the church of the Gesù in Rome.
In India he often worked with the poorest and most abandoned who were victims of the avarice and injustice of the Portuguese colonists. But for him it was a joy.
He once wrote to his friend and superior, St. Ignatius Loyola,
We came next to the villages of the new Christians who had been converted a few years back….The native Christians are very poor; they are without priests and know only that they are Christians: there is no one to preach to them, no one to teach them the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer an the Hail Mary, or Gods commandments.
Ever since I came here I have constantly been visiting the villages and baptizing children in great numbers… during this time I have also begun to realize that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. I have found in these children the seeds of spiritual greatness and have no doubt that if there were teachers to train them in Christian ways, they would become excellent Christians.
Francis Xavier found in these poor people “the seeds of spiritual greatness.”
The bishops at Vatican II and the Latin American bishops at Puebla and Aparecida spoke of the “seeds of the Word” present in peoples before being evangelized.
It is important to recognize that God has worked and is working in peoples, especially in the little ones, before the missionaries come.
This reminds me of a quote of John Taylor that I have often used with people going on service or immersion trips:
Our first task in approaching
another people, another culture, another religion,
is to take off our shoes,
for the place we are approaching is holy.
Else we may find ourselves treading on another’s dream.
More seriously still,
we may forget
that God was there before our arrival.