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MISSION TO THE EAST

Father Francis's picture
Saint Francis Xavier

The life of St. Francis Xavier, whose feast we celebrate today was a true adventure story, full of dangerous voyages, shipwrecks and travels in strange lands. His journeys took him to Africa, to India and to what we now call the Far East - but possibly his greatest journey took place within himself.

He was born in 1506 into a wealthy Spanish family. His parents encouraged him to study in Paris and a prestigious academic career beckoned when he met Ignatius of Loyola who wanted him to join his newly formed Society of Jesus but Francis was very ambitious and keen to pursue his career. Ignatius had to use his considerable powers of persuasion and perseverance, constantly reminding Francis of Our Lord's words, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Francis underwent a long interior struggle, including following Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, before he was convinced. He was ordained at the age of 31.

Francis then set about changing his life completely, by acts of mortification and humility. On the long voyage to India to begin his missionary work, he made himself the servant of his fellow passengers, sharing his food with the needy and using his own cabin as an infirmary for the sick.

Arriving in Goa an enormous task confronted him. The Portuguese settlers had effectively lapsed, their lives devoted to greed and corruption, and the native people were completely without spiritual help or guidance. Francis began by instructing the children and was deeply moved by their eagerness to learn. The harvest, he knew, was great but the labourers were so few. He thought often of those learned men in the universities of Europe who had so much to offer yet gave so little of themselves in charity. Francis longed to say to them, "How many souls are lost to Heaven through neglect?"

Francis in fact won a great many souls for Heaven, through his teaching and by his example. He travelled tirelessly from Goa, through India and then to the islands of Malaysia and up to Japan baptising thousands of converts. He had dreams of going to China but they never materialised.

A great adventure, indeed, but surely his most amazing journey was from privilege to poverty, from pride to humility, from worldly ambition to a desire to serve those in need.

St. Francis Xavier is one of our two patrons of the foreign missions; the other is St. Therese of Lisieux. What a contrast! One travelled half way round the world, the other never left her enclosed convent. Few of us are called like Francis Xavier, to go and work in foreign lands, but perhaps, like Therese of Lisieux, we can each find our own “little way” of supporting this vital work.