St. Francis Xavier
Apostle to the East – St. Francis Xavier
On December 3rd, the Church remembers the life of St. Francis Xavier, a successful missionary and pious man who would come to be known as the apostle to the East. After encountering Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier would become one of the first Jesuits, and would spend much of his life spreading the Gospel and teaching the faith to children. We, who are called to spread the Gospel in our own everyday lives, call to mind the actions of this zealous saint.
A Brief Biography of St. Francis Xavier
In 1506, Francis Xavier was born in Spain, to a noble family of the Basque region. In time, Francis was sent to the collège de Sainte-Barbe (college of St. Barbara) in Paris. An intelligent young man, Francis became a teacher in philosophy after completing his studies. His career in academics looked highly promising.
However, a companion working on God’s behalf would guide him in another direction. Francis was 24 when he first met St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was already in the process of developing the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Tirelessly, Ignatius persuaded Francis to live for the Lord, often repeating to him these words of Christ: “What profit is it to a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” (Mk 16:26). Finally, Ignatius won the young man to Christ and in 1534, taking a vow of poverty, chastity, and apostolic service, Francis joined the newly formed Society of Jesus. He was ordained a priest in 1537.
Most of the rest of his life was spent as a traveling missionary. He ventured into many countries and into impoverished and rough communities in order to spread the Word of God. He was most successful in doing so, converting and baptizing thousands. He had dreams of traveling to preach in China, but before this could take place, he fell ill and died on the island of Sancian in 1552.
The Apostle to the East
“In these places, many do not become Christians for the sole reason that they lack those to make them Christians.” – St. Francis Xavier to Ignatius of Loyola.
Francis Xavier is called the “Apostle to the East” due to his extensive travels to Eastern countries to preach and convert people to Christianity. In letters to Ignatius of Loyola, Francis lamented that there were many people throughout the world who were not Christian simply because they lacked access to priests and missionaries to teach them. Because of this, Francis dedicated his life to bringing the Gospel to those lands.
Not long after his ordination, St. Francis traveled to Lisbon, and then on to Eastern countries and islands. For ten years, he preached in India, the East Indies, Malaysia, and Japan. He taught the Gospel to the masses, converting thousands and baptizing children.
While on his travels, he wrote to Ignatius of Loyola of his progress:
“I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized. . . .The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: 'The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'
I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; then the Apostles' Creed, the Our Father, and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.”
Aside from his wishes to take his work to China, St. Francis also dreamed of establishing Christian universities, like those in Europe, in all these communities he visited. However, illness would end his life before he could see these hopes realized.
St. Francis Xavier and Marian Devotion
Francis had a deep and tremendous devotion to the Blessed Mother, and when he implored God for grace, it was done through the intercession of Mary. He encouraged all the faithful to have recourse to her and finished every sermon by praying the “Hail, Holy Queen.” He considered serving Mary an honor, and wore his rosary prominently around his neck and prayed it every day.
A Short Prayer to be said on the Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier
O Lord, you won many peoples for your Church through the preaching of Saint Francis. Inspire the faithful today with the same zeal for spreading the faith, so that everywhere the Church might rejoice in her many children.
This article was adapted from Best Loved Saints by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D.