“The dangers to which I am exposed and the tasks 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; that they are tears of joy.”
St. Francis Xavier
Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier (Francisco Javier), one of the first Jesuits and a missionary to the Indies and the Far East. He died on this day in 1552, almost alone, on an island off the coast of China.
He was an indefatigable missionary, baptizing tens or hundreds of thousands, so many that he once wrote a letter complaining about the failure of the European universities to send missionaries:
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.
The arm that he used for baptisms is preserved in the Church of the Gesú in Rome.
For his years spent in mission, he is the patron of foreign missionaries.
But what struck me about San Francisco Javier this morning was the quote that heads the entry for his feast in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints, which I quoted above.
There is a joy for me in mission, here in Honduras. Yes, there are days of loneliness, days when I’m frustrated by the lack of response by some people, days when I’m cursing out the drivers who nearly hit me on a mountain road, days when my stomach is “upset,” days when I worry about my car which is again being repaired because of the terrible roads.
There are days of sadness when I hear of deaths and killings in the parish, when I hear that a promising young man left, trying to reach the US, when I hear of the mental crisis a young leader recently experienced, when I see the poverty, especially the houses of tin or mud as I drive through the parish.
But despite – or maybe even because of – these experiences, I have found a deep peace and joy here.
It’s a joy that is a gift.
I find joy when I see 101 young people seeking to be baptized, as I saw last Sunday at the entry into the catechumenate in the Dulce Nombre parish. I was especially moved when the sponsors knelt before their godchildren to sign their feet with the cross.
I find joy when I listen to a young widow speak of how she would like to help the unmarried couples in her village.
I find joy when I witnessed more than 500 confirmations in the parish earlier this year.
I find joy when I can joke with people and provoke a smile – as I did yesterday in a bakery and as I often do with the workers in the house under construction.
I find joy when I see that the workers on the house, without my instructions, put my name in broken ceramic in the floor of the utility room.
I find joy when I work with the catechists who devote hours each week to share the faith with the young people of the parish.
I find joy when I can give someone a ride in the countryside. I find joy when they smile at my response to their question, “How much do I owe you?” I used to say “Nothing,” but now I say “Pray an Our Father for me!”
I find joy when I see the young man who had a mental breakdown at Mass as a sponsor for a catechumen and when I see in church the young man who tried to go to the US.
I find joy when a young catechumen asks me if I was in the Viet Nam War, surprised at his interest in history. I find even more joy when I can tell him that I was among those who protested that war.
I find joy when I can be present to the joys and sorrows of the people here.
I find joy here and at times I find myself close to tears – seeing the workings of God among the people.
For all this, I give thanks for the grace to have been called here, to Honduras, to the parish of Dulce Nombre de María.
Gracias a Dios.