Saturday, 3 December 2016 : Feast of St. Francis Xavier, Priest and Patron of Missions (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we commemorate together the feast of St. Francis Xavier, a renowned Jesuit priest and missionary, whose hard work in evangelisation throughout especially South, Southeast and East Asia had led to the foundation of the roots of the Church in the many countries existing there today, where many millions upon millions of the faithful now live, a growing and thriving Church.

And for what he had done, he was named as the Patron of Missions, as the patron saints for all missionaries and their mission areas, for his pioneering work and dedication in establishing many of the buds of the faith in those far flung areas. And he did not have it easy, because such a task at that time was indeed very monumental and challenging to be done.

First of all, St. Francis Xavier lived during a time of great difficulties in the Church, a time of turmoil, both within and outside the Church, where conflicts and wars were rampant. At that time, from outside, the Turks who reigned in the Ottoman Empire were resurgent and powerful, seizing lands after lands from Christendom, putting many of the faithful under the rule of these pagans. As a result, great suffering occurred and also a great fear arose to threaten the Church, as then, there was a real threat that the Ottoman Turks would be able to overcome all of Christendom.

And at the same time, from within, there were divisions among the faithful, where false prophets and heretical teachings arose in the population, heresies such as Hussites and later on, during the time of St. Francis Xavier, the heresy known as the Protestant ‘reformation’, where many people rebelled against the authority of the Church and established splinter groups on their own, with their own teachings that are deviant and in contradiction with the teachings of Christ through His Church.

And within the Church itself, there was plenty of corruption and immorality, where many of the members of the clergy, even to the higher ranks were corrupt and wicked. They engaged in corrupt practices, demanding money and worldly goods for the absolution of sins, a practice known as indulgence, but which was twisted and corrupted by these irresponsible Church leaders and officials.

Amidst all of these challenges and difficulties facing the Church at that time, St. Francis lived through a time of great change and renewal within the Church, known as the Counter-Reformation, spearheaded by his contemporaries, and which he was also part of, through the Society of Jesus or the Jesuit religious order which was established by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Through their hard work, the Church began to purify itself from all its excesses and corrupt practices, and brought back many to the true faith.

It was told that at first, St. Francis Xavier was reluctant to join the effort, and he had aspirations of worldly glories and achievements. Initially St. Ignatius of Loyola and some other of these saints also had similar condition, where they sought for personal glory and achievement and ignored God’s calling at the beginning. But through persistence and constant guidance, who was said to quote to St. Francis Xavier at one time the saying of Jesus, “What would it benefit a man if he gains the whole world, but lose his own soul.” Eventually, he became convinced and decided to dedicate himself to the Lord.

Henceforth, St. Francis Xavier together with the saints of the Counter-Reformation, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Peter Canisius, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Philip Neri and many others, St. Francis Xavier helped to rejuvenate the faith in many people, and he led the efforts to spread the Good News of God to those areas of the world which have yet to hear it. For at that time was a time of great discovery, the Age of Exploration, where new lands were discovered, and the Christian nations have the opportunity to evangelise to the peoples who have for the past one and a half millennia no chance to listen to the teachings of the faith.

But at that time, travel was not as convenient and easy as it is now. If it is now possible to go from one end of the earth to the other end in a mere day or less, and with relative comfort and little risk, at that time, the only available method of travel was either by land or by sea. The sea route was the faster route, but it was rife with danger, as storms and strong gales could cause the ships to be broken up and sink, and at the fastest, the journey took many months to complete.

Amidst all of these challenges, St. Francis Xavier was one of the first pioneers of the works of evangelisation in that time, bringing the Good News of the Gospel to many countries along the route of his travel, from India to the Malayan Archipelago, to the region of China and the Philippines, and as far as Japan to the furthest part of East Asia.

St. Francis Xavier visited all of these places, sometimes by himself, and sometimes with his fellow brother priests and missionaries, planting the seeds of the faith among the indigenous population, sowing the seeds for the growth of the future Church that would be established in those areas. Some welcomed him openly and willingly, while some others viewed his teachings and the Christian faith with suspect, and still some others outrightly banned the faith and persecuted its followers.

But amidst all these difficult challenges, nevertheless St. Francis Xavier persevered on, visiting many places and countries on his way, preaching to the people wherever he landed on and stopped by on, guiding the priests and missionaries and helping to delegate these faithful servants of God in their mission to bring the salvation of God to these people.

It was told that one time, St. Francis Xavier travelled in a boat with some others, and a great storm occurred, with huge waves that threatened to sink the boat. All of the people in the boat feared for their lives, save for St. Francis Xavier who prayed to the Lord fervently asking for His help. He put a crucifix into the water and the waves and the wind calmed down. But the crucifix was lost as it slipped through his fingers.

When he landed in one of the islands of the Moluccas Islands, it was told that a crab appeared from the water, with a crucifix marked on its back, and holding onto the crucifix which St. Francis Xavier had used earlier on and lost. And St. Francis Xavier thanked God and blessed the crab. This crab does exist and is indeed prevalent in the Malayan Archipelago where St. Francis Xavier once did extensive works.

There are many other miraculous works attributed to St. Francis Xavier, and this is related to what we heard in the Gospel today, that the Lord Jesus said that all those who do His work and bring the Good News to others will perform wondrous works, not necessarily be miracles, but most importantly, as St. Francis Xavier had proved and done, many millions upon millions up to this day have been saved from hell, and many among them were saints and martyrs themselves.

Today, as we all commemorate the feast of this holy and courageous, hardworking and diligent Patron saints of all missionaries and the Mission itself, let us all look again at all the examples which St. Francis Xavier had done, some of which we have discussed earlier on, and then let us ask ourselves, are we able to do what he has done, and contribute to the good works of the Church in preaching the faith to many others?

We may be thinking that in this world today, where all the peoples are easily connected to each other and where travel is so commonplace and easy that everyone would have heard of the Good News, but the reality is that, there are still many people outside the bounds of the Church, either because they rejected the Good News, or were ignorant of the Good News, or received the wrong messages because of false prophets and messengers in our midst.

And within the Church itself, there are many who have slipped away from their faith, because they were lukewarm and also for some, lazy, as they did not live out their faith with zeal, but instead, were what we often call as nominal Christians, those who call themselves as Christians, and they are indeed Christians, but in their actions in life, they do otherwise.

If we look at it, the situation today is pretty much just as how it was five and six centuries ago, at the time of St. Francis Xavier and his fellow saintly contemporaries and martyrs, all the holy missionaries who went through a great deal of suffering and persecution, difficulties and inconveniences to bring the Good News and the truth of God to many people. But because of their dedication, many were saved.

Shall we not then do the same, brethren? Shall we not follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and these saints? Jesus our Lord has given all of His disciples and followers that final command before He left them to ascend into His heavenly glory, that all of us should go to the nations, and preach the Good News to all the peoples, that all may believe in God and give themselves to be baptised in the Lord’s Name. And it is also important that we have people who have that quality in their faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what shall we do then? How do we do what the Lord had asked us? We do not have to start from very big things. We can and indeed should begin from ourselves. Live our lives faithfully with real care and mercy for our brethren, showing concern for our neighbours and those who are suffering. Let us all through our actions show one another and all the people of God, that the Lord Jesus calls all to repentance and to turn our hearts towards Him, that in the end, all may be saved through Him.

May God bless us and help us in all of our endeavours. May He strengthen our faith and show our commitment to Him, that like St. Francis Xavier and all the good workers of the faith, missionaries of the Good News, we may continue the works that they have started, and by our works, we may awaken the faith in many people who are in need of God’s salvation. May the Lord be with us all. Amen.

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