Wednesday, December 03, 2008

St Francis Xavier - Apostle of Indies

Rm 10:10-18.
For, with the heart, we believe unto justice: but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith: Whosoever believeth in him shall not be confounded. For there is no distinction of the Jew and the Greek: for the same is Lord over all, rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things? But all do not obey the gospel. For Isaias saith: Lord, who hath believed our report? Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ. But I say: Have they not heard? Yes, verily: Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the whole world.

A charge to go and preach to all nations was given by Christ to his apostles. This commission the pastors of the church have faithfully executed down to this present time; and in every age men have been raised by God and filled with His Holy Spirit for the discharge of this important function who, being sent by the authority of Christ and His Name by those who have succeeded the apostles in the government of His church,have brought new nations to the fold of Christ for the advancement of the divine honor and filling up the number of the saints. This conversion of nations according to the divine commission is the prerogative of the Catholic Church, in which it has never had any rival.

Of all the valiant messengers of the divine Word who have, during the last few hundred years, proclaimed the good tidings among infidel nations, there is not one whose glory is greater, who has worked greater wonders or who has shown himself a closer imitator of the first apostles than the modern apostle of the Indies, St. Francis Xavier. He labored only ten years in the missions before he was taken to heaven. And what years they were! In so brief a time, this one man, animated by God in a most extraordinary way, won for Christ over a million souls.

The life and apostolate of this wonderful man were a great triumph for our mother the holy Catholic Church; for St. Francis came just at a period when heresy, encouraged by false learning, by political intrigues, by covetousness and by all the wicked passions of the human heart, seemed on the eve of victory. Emboldened by all these, this enemy of God spoke, with the deepest contempt, of that ancient Church which rested on the promises of Jesus Christ; it declared that she was unworthy of the confidence of men, and dared even to call her the harlot of Babylon, as though the vices of her children could taint the purity of the mother. God's time came at last, and He showed Himself in His power: the garden of the Church suddenly appeared rich in the most admirable fruits of sanctity. Heroes and heroines issued from that apparent barrenness; and while the pretended reformers showed themselves to be the most wicked of men, two countries, Italy and Spain, gave to the world the most magnificent saints.

The sixteenth century is worthy of comparison with any other age of the Church. The so-called reformers of those times gave little proof of their desire to convert infidel countries, when their only zeal was to bury Christianity beneath the ruin of her churches. But at that very time, a society of apostles was offering itself to the Roman Pontiff, that he might send them to plant the true faith among people who were sitting in the thickest shades of death. But, we repeat, not one of these holy men
so closely imitated the first apostles as did Francis, the disciple of Ignatius. He had all the marks and labors of an apostle: an immense world of people evangelized by his zeal, hundred of thousands of infidels baptized by his indefatigable ministration, and miracles of every kind, which proved him, to the infidel, to be marked with the sign which they received who, living in the flesh, planted the Church, as the Church speaks in her liturgy. So that, in the sixteenth century, the east received from the ever holy city of Rome an apostle, who, by his character and his works, resembled those earlier ones sent her by Jesus Himself. May our Lord Jesus be forever praised for having vindicated the honor of the Church, His bride, by raising up Francis Xavier, and giving to men, in this His servant, a representation of what the first apostles were, whom He sent to preach the Gospel when the whole world was pagan.

St. Francis Xavier was born in 1506 in Navarre, Spain not far from the present French border. Incredible were the labors of the saint. His food was the same as that of the poorest people, rice and water. His sleep was but three hours a night at most and that in a fisherman's cabin on the ground. The remainder of the night he passed with God or with his neighbor. In the midst of the hurry of his external employments, he ceased not to converse interiorly with God, who bestowed on him such an excess of interior spiritual delights that he was often obliged to desire the divine goodness to moderate them.

His day began on his knees praying for guidance for the day lying ahead. Prayer was followed by offering of the Mass. The intensity of his preoccupation with the mysteries of the altar filled with the awe the little group of the faithful who came for the Holy Sacrifice at dawn. "Frequently," one learns, "the Father seemed transfigured at his Mass. Especially at the elevation when he was seen raised in the air, and a radiant light streamed about his head." Reference is made in all his
biographies to this matter of levitation. It happened during his Mass and occasionally when he was distributing Holy Communion upon his knees, his usual posture for giving the Bread of Life to his people.

Miracles, the likes of which the world has never before witnessed, began to follow the servant of God wherever he ventured. In Travancore, God, for the first time, bestowed upon His servant the gift of tongues. It happened suddenly, before an immense crowd of people who had gathered in some remote area to hear the man whose name had been echoed up and down the coast as far north as Calcutta. As the holy priest opened his mouth to give word to the interpreter, he began to speak in the very Tamilese dialect proper to the audience before him. Moreover, at other times, as the crowds grew even larger, many different tribes, composed of as many varying dialects, all simultaneously heard the foreigner speak as if he had been raised among them. But hear even more! If the glory of God were not manifest enough in these prodigies, an even greater one occurred. For as the crowds continued to swell, often reaching as many as ten thousand, the missionary inevitably would be bombarded with a deluge of questions, too many for him to have satisfied even one percent of the inquiries. The
generosity of our heavenly Father, however, was not to be outdone. As the wonder worker opened his mouth to answer a question (in a tongue he had never spoken) the very waves of his voice were transformed in mid-air so as to bring home to the ears of his listeners as many answers to as many different questions as had been hurled at him. Indeed "the Lord is good to them that seek him!" (Lam:3:25) This phenomenon, as well as so many others, drew forth converts by the droves. Whole villages, en masse, together with their rajah, vied with one another to be the first to receive the saving
waters of Baptism.

As the saint was preaching one day at Coulon, a village in Travancore near Cape Comorin, perceiving that few were converted by his discourse, he made a short prayer that God would honor the blood and name of His beloved Son by softening the hearts of the most obdurate. Then he bade some of the people open the grave of a man who was buried the day before, near the place where he preached; and the body was beginning to putrefy with a noisome scent, which he desired the bystanders to observe. Then falling on his knees, after a short prayer, he commanded the dead man in the Name of the living God to arise. At these words the dead man arose and appeared not only living but vigorous and in perfect health. All who were present were so struck with this evidence that, throwing themselves at the saint's feet, they demanded baptism. The holy man also raised to life, on the same coast, a young man who was a Christian, whose corpse he met as it was being carried to the grave. To preserve the memory of this wonderful action, the parents of the deceased, who were present, erected a great cross on the place where the miracle was wrought. These miracles made so great impressions on the people, that the whole kingdom of Travancore was subjected to Christ in a few months, except the king and some of his courtiers.

Our saint raised about 25 people from the dead. He built over 100 churches. He destroyed forty thousand idols in the pagan East. After ten and a half years of tremendously successful work in the Indies and Japan, St. Francis wished to continue his missionary work in China. He took passage on a Portuguese ship to the island of Sancian on the coast of China; but Almighty God was pleased to accept his will in this good work and took him to Himself. A fever seized the saint on the 20th of November, and at the same he had a clear knowledge of the day and hour of his death, which he
openly declared to a friend, who afterwards made an authentic deposition of it by a solemn oath. On the 2nd of December, having his eyes all bathed in tears and fixed with great tenderness of soul upon his crucifix, he pronounced these words, "In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; I shall not be confounded for ever"; and at the same instant, transported with celestial joy which appeared upon his countenance, he sweetly gave up the ghost in 1552.

In what remains of the story of St. Francis Xavier, the world catches a glimpse of what Our Dear Lord thought of the saint. Truly the hand of God is here. The burial of Francis' body took place upon the day he died. His face after death stayed beautiful with such red coloring that he seemed yet alive. The Portuguese Captain and two others carried the corpse to a hastily dug grave. Two bags of quicklime were poured about the body. It was with the purpose of bringing the bones of the saint back to India later when convenient that the quicklime was used so that all would be decomposed except the bones. In mid February, when it was time for the ship to return
to Malacca, the coffin was exhumed and opened with the covering of lime removed. Now we see the finger of God begins to write the record of divine approval of Francis Xavier. His body is found unaffected by the lime. It is fresh and with the red glow of health which gives the appearance, not of death, but of sleep. The flesh is soft and blood still stands in the veins. An incision made near the left knee bleeds freely. Late in the evening of March 22nd, the vessel reached Malacca. The plague which for some weeks had laid waste to the town, all of a sudden ceased. The body was interred in a damp church yard; yet in August, was found entire, fresh and still exhaling a sweet odor and being honorably put into a ship, was transported to Goa,
where it was received and placed in the church in the college of St. Paul on the 15th of March in 1554; upon which occasion several blind persons recovered their sight and others, sick of palsies and other diseases, recovered their health and the use of their limbs. The body of our Saint is still incorrupt residing in a glass coffin in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India.

Holy zeal may properly be said to have formed the character of St. Francis Xavier. Consumed with an insatiable thirst for the salvation of souls and of the expansion of the honor and kingdom of Christ on earth, he ceased not with tears and prayers to conjure the Father of all men not to suffer those to perish whom He had created in His own divine image, made capable of knowing and loving Him and redeemed with the adorable blood of His Son.

St. Francis was a model for missionaries, formed upon the spirit of the apostles. So absolute a master he was of his passions that he knew not what it was to have the least notion of anger or impatience and in all events was perfectly resigned to the Divine Will; from whence proceeded an admirable tranquility of soul, a perpetual cheerfulness and equality of countenance. He rejoiced in afflictions and sufferings and said that one who had once experienced the sweetness of suffering for Christ, will ever after find it worse than death to live without a cross. By humility the saint was always ready to follow the advice of others and attributed all blessings to their prayers which he most earnestly implored. St. Francis Xavier was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, and was proclaimed "Patron of Missions", a title he shares with St. Theresa of Lisieux.

ou will find a more extensive article on the life of St. Francis Xavier, which you are welcome to print and distribute, at Our Lady of the Rosary Library.