Saints of the Society of Jesus: Saint Francis Xavier

detail from the painting 'Saint Gregory the Great with Saints Ignatius and Francis Xavier', by Guercino, c.1626, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, EnglandArticle

3 December, Apostle of the Indies

Next to Saint Ignatius in veneration in the Society comes Saint Francis Xavier. What Saint Paul was to Saint Peter, that was he to our holy founder; in fact, they are both considered as the founders of the Society of Jesus. The same spirit which animated Ignatius in Rome filled Francis in the East. The one was the Society in design, the other the Society in action. The God Who created them for the same work gave them the same light and the same interior life. Like Ignatius, Francis was from the north of Spain. At that time the great European universities were still great centres of attraction, and the ambition which led Ignatius to seek glory in the profession of arms, induced Francis to search for fame in the applause of the crowd gathered round the pulpit of the professor. This brought him to Paris. At first Ignatius and Favre were unable to produce much impression on his mind, but finally the words of the former constantly iterated, “Francis, what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” produced their effect. He was the first conquest of Ignatius after Favre. While going to Venice with his companion, he was miraculously cured from the evil consequences of his own indiscreet penance; having tied his legs with cords in punishment of his former vanity in athletic exercises, the flesh got so swollen that the doctors were afraid to cut the cords. This would have been the end of his career, for he would have been left behind had he not found himself after sleep completely cured. When King John III. of Portugal, who was so great a friend of the Society in its infancy, asked for Fathers for the East, Saint Ignatius decided to send Fathers Rodriguez and Bobadilla. Neither of them went. Francis Xavier was the chosen soul of God, not only to enlighten the East, but rather like the sun rising in the Orient, in that dark period, to throw the light of Catholic truth and the radiance of Catholic virtue over the whole world for frail men to look at. He first evangelized the natives of India; then the many islands lying off the southeast coast of Asia. Though he was deterred by no fatigues and by no perils, yet nature shrank from his exposing himself alone to a whole nation of cannibals, as he confessed in writing his beautiful letters to his brethren in Europe. “But woe is me,” he adds, quoting the Apostle, “if I do not preach the Gospel!” and he went ahead, in spite of all remonstrances, trusting in God. One of his chief means of converting the infidels was by teaching the catechism first to children, and then making them the instruments of converting their parents and their countrymen. Innumerable were the miracles he wrought, and those of the highest order – the speaking of various tongues, the fore-telling of the future, the raising of the dead to life, the apparition of his own person at the same time in different places. These miracles have been attested by thousands of witnesses. He would show the same zeal for the conversion of one soul as he did for that of thousands, trying perhaps for several days, by prayers and penances, to soften the heart of one obdurate sinner. On the 15th of August, 1549, he landed in Japan. As the Japanese were fond of display, Francis, yielding to the advice of discreet friends, though so contrary to his habits, presented himself in great state at the court of these petty kings as the ambassador of the king of Portugal. In India he had suffered a great deal from the enmity of bad Christians: it was to be expected that he would meet with the opposition of the Japanese priests, especially when that intelligent people showed by their submission to it their appreciation of the Gospel, now for the first time preached to them. In these priests or bonzes he found very subtle antagonists. Finally, seeing the influence exercised over Japan by its neighbor, the great Chinese Empire, he determined to invade this domain of darkness and subject it to the rule of Christ. In writing to Saint Ignatius (to whom he always wrote on his knees), Francis, after announcing his intention of evangelizing this immense nation, declares that he will then proceed over Asia, through Europe,to America; in a word, this man who goes on his knees to write to his Superior undertakes to convert himself alone the whole world to Christ. Such was the heart of Saint Francis Xavier. Such a man was consumed between two fires, the incredible fatigues which made him aged before his time, and the burning aspirations within his own breast. Having landed on the barren island of Sanchan in his efforts to penetrate into China, he fell ill of fever, and, strange to say, being abandoned by all men, here he died on the 2d of December, 1552, at the age of forty-six. Saint Francis Xavier was of a florid complexion and cheerful disposition. Confidence in God appears to the writer to have been the most striking feature of his supernatural character. Although so absorbed by his immense works of zeal, he did not neglect the formation of the Society in the East; he insisted that its young men should be well trained first in the practice of the virtues in little things before being launched out into great undertakings. Notwithstanding all the hostility that has existed to the Society of Jesus, I do not know that any one has written or spoken but with admiration of Saint Francis Xavier. He was canonized with Saint Ignatius and Saints Teresa, Philip Neri, and Isidore the laborer, on the I2th of March, 1622. Many graces have been obtained by making a novena in honor of Saint Francis Xavier previous to that date. His body is still incorrupt in its magnificent shrine at Goa, a city of India, where it has remained entire, except one arm which was transferred to Rome.

MLA Citation