|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation." (Isaiah 52:7) These prophetic words resound in the hearts of those who have taken up the pilgrimage to Goa to venerate the uncorrupted body of St Francis Xavier exposed at the Bom Jesu Cathedral. It is on the shores of Goa that the saint arrived on 6 May 1542 with the Light of the Gospel. His untiring zeal for the proclamation of the Word took him to the western coastlands of India and later to the far eastern countries where he died in an island off the shore of China on 3 December 1552.
“More Precious Than Gold” (1 Peter 1:7)
Francis was born on 7 April 1506 in the Xavier castle, Navarre to an aristocratic family. His father was the Privy Counselor to the King of Navarre. The Spanish invaded Navarre and three years later his father died. Francis was only nine years old then. In this Spanish invasion, the Xavier family lost all their fortunes except their residence. The one ambition in the life of Francis was to restore the lost fortunes to his family. Dreaming of a glorious future, he went to the most reputed university of the time at Paris to study. His roommates were Peter Faber and Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius had come to study after having been badly wounded in a war and after a marvellous and radical conversion to Jesus Christ. In the company of Ignatius, Peter Faber soon found the truth of life in a personal commitment of his life to Jesus Christ. Francis Xavier however insulated himself from this spiritual influence because of his worldly ambitions. Ignatius of Loyola repeatedly spoke to him about Jesus Christ. The one Scripture that Ignatius would keep proposing to him was this challenge, "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" (Matthew 16:26) At one sacred moment, this word struck Francis as a "double edged sword" (Hebrew 4:12), transforming his life dramatically.
In the life of every saint there's a sacred moment of finding the Lord. Jesus teaches us that this is the spiritual dynamics of accepting the Kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)
In these two parables, Jesus speaks about the finding and a joyful renouncing. The person who found the treasure in the field was so fascinated by it that he went and sold everything he owned and bought that field. In the same way, the merchant who found the pearl of great price was so enamoured by its beauty that he sold every other pearl he had joyfully. The joy in the renunciation was caused by the fascination of the discovery.
Francis was a man of the world who crowded his life with everything the world could offer. But once he met the Lord, everything else became irrelevant. One is reminded the testimony of St Paul. who said, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:8) At one time, Saul had thought that the glory of his Roman citizenship and the meticulous observation of the regulations of the Pharisaic law and his scholarship under Gamaliel were all achievements that gave value to his life. Once he met the Lord, everything changed. All he wanted was to become one with God! Even his life was not of any importance for him since he preferred to die in order to be with the Lord. His abandonment of worldly assets was not a painful renunciation but a joyous liberation to pursue the goal of total oneness with the Lord.
“That People Might Seek God” (Acts 17:27)
Religion is today for many a compromise with the ways of the world. The practice of the faith is confined to an hour on a Sunday - and that too according to one’s convenience. To renounce anything for God seems unreasonable, painful and not worth the exercise. God is good enough only as far as He will satisfy our needs and answer our prayers. When God seems to fail this purpose, people could even go from godman to godman to get their ways. God seems to have become one of the providers in this consumerist culture. Satisfaction of one’s personal needs has become the motive of religion itself. God seems to be sidelined in the practice of religion and the inflated ego has been enthroned. As a result radical commitment to God has not just lost all its value but is counted as implausible. So now religion has come to be centred on the corruptible.
It is in this background that it is very telling that thousands are flocking to venerate the uncorrupted body of St. Francis Xavier. This glorious body proclaims the radical commitment that the saint had to the incorruptible. The words of Ignatius of Loyola challenged him to leave behind the corruptible and embrace the incorruptible. This is an echo of the challenge the Lord put forth when He spoke of the enduring quality of life for those who had a firm foundation of a commitment to follow the Word of God. “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
“He Has Anointed Me To Bring Good News To The Poor” (Luke 4:18)
The unwavering zeal of the saint to make Jesus known brought him to India. Following in the footsteps of His Master Jesus Christ, it was to the lowly and the poor that he went with the Good News. He had a heart for the sick and the downtrodden.
His preaching ministry was greatly supported by charismatic gifts especially the gift of healing. Francis Xavier writes to Ignatius of Loyola about a healing event, which opened the doors of the whole village to the Good News of Christ. A woman was critically ill and at the point of delivery. Neither was the child being born nor was she getting better. Midwives and sorcerers were treating her with superstitious incantations. Xavier went to the woman's home and called on the Name of Christ to heal her. He wrote to Ignatius, “By the mercy of God, the woman came to believe in Jesus Christ. I read excerpts from the Gospels in that house where, I think, they were never heard before.” As soon as Francis prayed for her, she was healed and gave birth to a healthy baby. The woman's family was so touched by this divine intervention that they invited Francis to stay with them and instruct and baptize all of them, including the newborn. News then traveled quickly throughout the village. A representative of the local king gave the village elders clearance to allow Francis to proclaim Christ there.
In another village, crowds besieged Francis, begging him to pray for ailing family members. Missionary and teaching duties overwhelmed him - so he enlisted some enthusiastic children to minister to the sick. He writes to Ignatius that he taught the villagers including the children to pray and sent them to the homes of the ailing. Xavier not only responded to requests for prayer but he managed to train the villagers to exercise their faith powerfully and proclaim the Word of God. Because the sick and their families had faith, he said, “God has shown great mercy to them, healing them in both body and soul.” He indeed started the system of training catechists to build the Church by preaching God’s Word and praying for the people.
When Francis Xavier was passing through the Malabar coast, his preaching and miraculous powers of healing attracted crowds. The King of Travancore invited him to the palace because his son was critically ill. Francis prayed for him and the boy was healed miraculously. The King called him “the grand priest” and allowed him to preach and establish churches in his kingdom.
Francis, apart from preaching and teaching the people, spent time nursing the sick, comforting the dying and administering the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. He would visit the prisons where he often counselled the inmates to repent and change their way of life. He took a special interest in teaching children to pray. He knew the importance of formation given to the children in their tender age so that the future generation would be founded on firm truths. It is his famous words, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.”
Francis was well known in the city as the priest who called upon the people of the town to prayers - by walking around the streets and ringing the bell. After celebrating Sunday Mass, he would go to the colony of lepers on the outskirts of the city. There again he would administer the Sacraments to them, comforting them with the Word of God. He was indeed the ambassador of God who dedicated his life “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” (Luke 1:77-79)
“Whether We Live Or Die, We Are The Lord’s” (Romans 14:8)
The saint was charged with a great zeal to make Jesus known and accepted by all. Once he realized the futility of pursuing the goal of life in this material world, he was enlightened by God to realize that the evil in humankind is to remain satisfied with the pleasures and gains of the world. He also was aware that greed for material possessions has an addictive power holding man in chains. He knew this from his own experience. Once he was liberated from the shackles of greed for more of the world, he worked for the Good News of Jesus to be proclaimed to the whole world. It is this great mission that he took up when he consented to take all the hardship involved in going to the Eastern countries. No sacrifice for him was too much to make Jesus known and accepted by all. The salvation found in Jesus gripped his heart to such an extent that he wanted to lead the whole of humankind to this life-transforming experience.
One is reminded of what St. Pope John Paul II exhorted speaking of mission, “Do not be afraid. Do not settle for mediocrity. Putout into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” A life without Jesus at its centre will be pursuing the superficial goals that will never satisfy the human heart as St. Augustine had long ago recognized: “Our hearts were made for you Lord. They will never find rest until they find their rest in you.” The heart of St. Francis grieved for the bulk of humanity wasting their life running after the superficial pleasures of this world. Abiding joy comes only in finding Jesus who is the treasure of great value. In the midst of his great hardships and many struggles in his missionary journeys, his heart was rejoicing in the great sense of achievement that he was living for the Lord who called him and made him his own and that he was able to bring thousands to accept Jesus as the goal of their lives. Even when he was shivering with fever in that lonely shelter in a remote island off the China coast, and he knew death was at hand, his heart was so filled with the heavenly comfort that he seems to have cried out, “Sufficient my Lord, sufficient.” A man who could have spent his life in the lap of luxury and wasting his resources in useless pursuits had found the fullness of heavenly joy in living and dying for the Lord. St. Francis Xavier had a message not only for the people of his time but his life continues to inspire the men and women right up to our age.
His uncorrupted body proclaims to the whole world the way of incorruptible living. When one chooses to live and die for Christ and for the Kingdom of God what is gained is the eternal. “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus we thank You for the gift of St. Francis Xavier who reveals to the world that when we are consumed by Your Love, we will live forever. We praise You, O God, for the way You touched his heart with the fire of Your Love and made him a powerful instrument bringing Your Good News in a mighty manner across the nations. We offer to You every one of us and we pray that You would renew us by Your Holy Spirit that we may live for You and that our lives will bring Your Light to this world.