Saturday, December 4, 2021

Francis Xavier: Following Jesus to the Ends of the Earth

On December 3, we commemorated Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first and most prolific of missionaries to East Asia, as well as an important figure among those who built historical bridges between East and West. 

Though his evangelizing ministry coincided with modern European expansionism in the 16th century, Francis was no "colonialist" or seeker of earthly power or riches. He was among the earliest followers of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and was one of the original seven members of Ignatius's "Society of Jesus." 

Francis Xavier set the example for countless missionaries who came after him. He was above all a man on fire with the love of God, with a passion to witness to Jesus through all the world. He preached in India and the Indonesian archipelago, became the first Catholic missionary in Japan, and longed to bring the Gospel to China, where he recognized the presence of an extraordinary human civilization.

It was there, before beginning any work in the Middle Kingdom, that Francis finally died of an illness (having reached the limits of human endurance) on an island seven miles from the coast of the southern province of Guangdong. Subsequent generations of Jesuits (and others) would take up this work after him. While they preached Christ, they also pioneered the first truly global  encounter between peoples from all over the world, with their diverse customs, heritages, and environments. In Christ, every people and every history is destined to find its fulfillment.

The ardor of Saint Francis Xavier's missionary heart brought great multitudes to Christ, shined the light of the Gospel explicitly in nations where it had never shone before, and planted seeds - many of which have yet to grow, blossom, and bear fruit. 

But they will…