Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest
The readings for the day can be found here.
Today is the feast day of College Church’s patron saint, St. Francis Xavier. Francis is arguably the best-known Jesuit saint, even more so than his great friend and founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola. He is best known for his extraordinary missionary activity among the peoples of Asia.
The story begins when Francis Xavier and Ignatius were both were students at the University of Paris. Though resistant at first, eventually Francis joined the small group of friends, led by Ignatius, who become the first Jesuits. A few years later he was sent at the last minute to be superior to the new Jesuit mission in India.
It was while ministering in India that Francis Xavier first heard of the distant land of Japan. He resolved to go and spent more than two years there preaching the Gospel. During his time in Japan he became enchanted by the notion of proclaiming the Christian faith in the great and powerful kingdom of China. Alas, he was never allowed entrance to the kingdom. He died relatively young at 48 years old on an island off the Chinese coast.
As a young Jesuit the exciting and, frankly, romanticized exploits of St. Francis Xavier struck a deep chord with me. Now, however, I am fascinated not by the accomplishments of Francis, but instead by the very incompleteness of his labors. An argument could be made that “success” eluded St. Francis Xavier his entire time in Asia. He did not convert emperors or bring entire nations to Christ as he had dreamed. His great desire to proclaim the Gospel in China remained unfulfilled. Future generations would nurture and harvest what Francis had planted, but that only came much later.
That sense is consistent with our own experience, especially as we get older. There is much that will remain unsaid and undone no matter how long we live. Many of our most cherished dreams will never be attained. Our lives are more like that of Francis than we care to admit. The labors we devote ourselves to may appear quite meager in the long run.
However, what our patron saint might tell us is that discipleship is not about success or accomplishment. Like Francis Xavier, we are called to be faithful rather than productive. His vineyard was Asia, ours is a bit smaller. No matter. All that is important is our willingness to respond to Christ as he did: totally and completely; in our own time and in our own place.
Fr. Dan White, S.J. is Pastor at Saint Francis Xavier College Church.