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When we begin to ask, who was the greatest missionary ever, the answer for all is St. Paul. When asked who is second, for most, the answer is the Patron Saint of our neighbors across the street: St. Francis Xavier (d.1552). He is known as the “Apostle of the Indies” and the “Apostle of Japan.” As he is the Patron of neighbors across the street, I thought it important we know a little about him.
Francis grew up in the Basque region of Spain, the son of a wealthy aristocrat. He intended to go off to school and make a name for himself as an academic, but while at school, he had Peter Faber as a roommate and Peter had a friend, Íñigo López, that was introduced to Francis. Francis cared little for López, but eventually was convinced by Peter to take part in a set of Spiritual Exercises that had been developed by López. Once completed, Francis’ life would never be the same. From there, St. Francis Xavier, Peter Faber (now St. Peter Faber), and Íñigo López (now St. Ignatius of Loyola) would go on to form the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
Following a thirteen month sea voyage from Portugal to western India, Francis began the great work. He did so by first learning the language and gaining the people’s trust by serving as a nurse in a local hospital. Then, dressed as one of the poor of the community, he would walk the streets of the city, ringing a small bell. The children and people would be interested in what he was doing, so they would follow him around until he had a large enough crowd and would stop. Then, in their own language, he would proclaim the Gospel message to them. He and his little bell took Christianity all across southern India and then to Japan. He died on a beach in China, while attempting to take the Gospel there.
We often think we need great education, schemes and plans to proclaim the Gospel message, but Francis Xavier proves to us that all that is really needed is relationship and the willingness to bear witness to the hope that is within us. Go. Go find a few friends, ring a little bell, and see what a great Apostle you can be.
St. Francis Xavier wrote a beautiful hymn, My God, I Love You. A translation of his words prove to be just as beautiful prayer as they are a hymn. Let us pray:
My God, I love You; not because I hope for heaven,
Nor because those who do not love You are lost eternally.
You, my Jesus, You embraced me upon the cross;
For me You bore the nails, and spear, and manifold disgrace,
And griefs and torments numberless, and sweat of agony;
Yes, death itself; and all for me who was Your enemy.
Then why, Blessed Jesus Christ, should I not love You well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven, nor of escaping hell;
Not from the hope of gaining anything, not seeking a reward;
But as You have loved me, O ever-loving Lord.
So would I love You, dearest Lord, and in Your praise will sing;
Solely because You are my God, and my most loving King. Amen.