Stories of the Saints for Children – Saint Francis Xavier

detail of a statue of Saint Francis Xavier, Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal; date and artist unknown; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsOne of the best-known, best-loved names among the fellow-students and followers of Ignatius Loyola is Francis Xavier, whom Almighty God chose to renew in his own life many of the wonders and labours of the lives of the first apostles, and gave that attractive manner, that energy, and powerful mind which were necessary for him fully to carry out the divine purpose in his creation.

His pious parents had implanted in his little heart a great fear of offending God, and a remarkable modesty of manner which preserved his childish days from sin; and, as he grew older, his strong desire for learning caused him to turn his whole mind to study rather than to follow the taste for military life which his brothers possessed. His progress in education was so rapid, that he was early sent to the University at Paris; and there he gained many honours, and at twenty-two years of age was teaching philosophy in the schools.

God was not then his great, his only end. The glory his talents had won, the flattery with which he was surrounded, had done their work, and his thoughts were full of the position he had already attained, and the still higher place he beheld awaiting him in the future. But God’s way was not his. The time was coming when he would awake to see his true life-work, and just when he was enjoying the place he had gained by his abilities, Saint Ignatius, who had left home, and friends, and fortune, came to France. The founder of the Company of Jesu3 soon heard of Francis Xavier, and believing that God had great purposes for him, Ignatius resolved to win him to use his gifts for a nobler and higher end than worldly approbation.

“What will it profit a man it he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Over and over again Xavier heard those words from the lips of his new friend, but it was not easy to relinquish his ambitious desires, and become forgotten and despised, for the love of Christ. At length Francis declared his intention of thiuking seriously about the affairs of his soul, and for this purpose gave himself up to the directions of Ignatius, and during the retreat which this great spiritual teacher gave him, the love of God penetrated the long-closed heart, and Francis Xavier came from his retirement a changed man, his only ambition to bear the cross and give his life for the glory of his Creator and the good of his fellow-men.

One of the seven who made their vows in the chapel of Montmartre, he accompanied Ignatius to Rome, and there had an audience from Pope Paul III, who encouraged him to go generously along the path which opened before him. The King of Portugal had made a request that some of the fathers of the new society might be sent as missionaries to his possessions in the Indies, and although Saint Ignatius could only spare two from his followers, one ofihese was Francis Xavier.

Their route to Lisbon took them within a short distance of the home of his parents, yet Francis refused the ambassador’s permission to visit them, so that his soul might not be hindered by renewing ties which he had put from him for the service of God. This mission to the Indies was not entirely a surprise to Francis, for once, in a dream, he had seen the miserable darkness of those heathen souls, as if his own lot was cast among them, with great toils, and cares, and sufferings to undergo; therefore, when he was chosen for this mission, he felt that God had forewarned him of what was to come.

On his arrival at Lisbon Xavier was invited to make his stay at the court, but he would lodge nowhere save at the hospital, and lived on alms which he collected himself. However, he won so much esteem and affection during his stay, that the king began to think of keeping him there, instead of allowing him to proceed to the Indies. Francis set sail from Lisbon at last upon the 7th April, 1541, which was his thirty-fifth birthday, on his voyage to Goa, in Hindostan. He carried with him letters from the Pope, giving him the power to teach and preach throughout the East, but he refused to take with him any attendants, although he was urged to do so. The voyage was one so much dreaded that passengers usually took a winding-sheet with them, in case of death, so that their bodies might be buried in the sea with some Christian decency. The ships were in those days only despatched once a year, and were then crowded with merchants, soldiers, and travellers of every kind. However, fortunately for Francis Xavier, the company he met with seemed unusually quiet and respectable.

Yet it was a strange life for one who had only before been with students like himself, or in the company of Ignatius, and we could scarcely have felt surprised if Xavier had shut himself up in the solitude of his own cabin during the voyage. But it was during his time on ship-board that he really began his apostolic life, mixing freely with all, winning them gradually to give up their bad habits of swearing, and becoming a peace-maker in many quarrels. During the voyage, illness broke out, and there was no one to attend to the sick but Francis and his friends, who washed their linen, dressed their food, and fed them with the greatest care and gentleness. He soon persuaded many to go regularly to confession, and every Sunday he preached on the deck of the ship.

When they got as far as the island of Mozambique, Saint Xavier was ill himself with fever, but during its height he would visit and instruct the others, hearing the confessions of the dying, and comforting them in their last hours with the sacraments of the Church. During this time news came to him one day of the sudden death of a boy who, he was told, had never had any instruction, and Francis was filled with the keenest sorrow and selfreproach that even one soul which had been within his reach should have died in ignorance, although he knew that such an one was not responsible before God for what he did not know.

When Francis reached Goa, he found it full of vice and sin, but he was not cast down, and so vigorously did he work that in a few months’ time there was a remarkable improvement visible. God gave him grace to see how to deal with diflferent characters, how some could be won by great gentleness, and others by thoughts of hell, death, and judgment. Going about the streets, Francis would ask some one to give him a meal, and then, sitting down at the table, talk kindly and cheerfully to his host, call for the children, and, taking them in his arms, ask God to bless them. After a while great numbers of slaves and little children would run to him in the streets, and follow, as he led the way, to our Blessed Lady’s church, where he would sing the catechism to them, so that they might more easily remember it. In this way, all about the streets and houses of Goa, instead of bad or silly songs, the Christian faith was to be heard, even from children who could but just speak. Very often he would go up and down the town, tinkling a little bell in his hand to attract notice, crying out, “Faithful Christians, for the love which you bear to Christ, send your servants and children to hear the Christian doctrine.”

Francis next made a journey to the Christians who had been newly converted, dwelling on the Fishery Coast, where he preached and taught, and administered the sacraments during the time he stayed there, to people who scarcely knew anything excepting that they were Christians, and who begged him to teach them some prayers. The greatest suffering was to find so many souls needing care which they could not have, and in one of his letters Francis said he wished he could visit all the Universities in Europe, and get some of their learned men to come and work in those distant and neglected places to gain souls for Christ But while his days were passed in labour, he gave the greater part of the night to prayer, begging Gods blessing upon his work. In the villages he visited, the Saint spent much care in instructing the children, who then became his helpers, teaching the Creed and the Commandments to their parents, and getting such a hatred for idolatry, that when Francis heard of any sacrifice being offered to their false gods, he would go to the place with a band of children, who fell upon the idol with sticks, and heaped every abuse and outrage on it.

Very often Saint Francis would persuade a whole village to come out and burn the temple and idol to the ground. In the accounts which he gave, by letter, to Saint Ignatius and other fathers of the society, Xavier avowed that he obtained more conversions by means of the “Hail Mary” than in any other way. But his own sweetness of disposition, his energy, his holiness, and lastly, the many miracles which God was pleased to work by his means, kept the people faithful to the truth they had received. In Goa he established the College of Saint Paul, for training students to missionary work; then he went to labour in Travancore with the same success which always attended him. While there, a young man was one day being carried to the grave, followed by his father and mother, and a numerous crowd, when Saint Xavier met them, and the sorrowful parents asked him to restore their son to life. Their grief touched his heart, and he came and stood near the corpse, lifting up his eyes to heaven in prayer. Then, sprinkling the body with holy water, he took the young man’s hand and raised him up in perfect life and health, and the people were so impressed by what had happened, that many immediately became Christians, and a large cross was set up to which many resorted who desired to see the ground where God’s power had thus been shown.

From province to province, throughout Hindostan, this great missionary journeyed almost entirely on foot, his days a continual succession of prayer, labour, and miracle, for by the mere touch of his hand, or his blessing, many sick were immediately healed; so in the Molucca islands, in Ceylon, everywhere his foot rested, he gained triumphs for Christ.

Large books have been written describing the life and labours of this wonderful Apostle of the Indies, which yet have not contained accounts of all that he did, and in a short story of his work for God, it is not possible to speak of all the wonders which were joined to his teaching, but we must follow him as he goes to Japan.

While Francis was visiting Malacca, a native of Japan came there, on board a Portuguese ship, called Paul Auger. He had lived a bad life, and having, in a quarrel, killed another man, had fled from punishment and got on board this vessel. Francis met him, and induced him to go to the missionary college at Goa, where he afterwards saw him again, and when the Saint started on his new undertaking, Paul Auger (now a Christian) was one of those who went with him, and, when they landed, found out his own family, who provided the missionaries with a lodging.

Here, in Japan, as in other places, Saint Xavier received power to perform many miracles. One of the natives came to tell him of his daughter’s death, and after a few minutes’ prayer, the holy Francis bade him return to his home, where he would find her living. The man was both angry and unbelieving, but when his servants came running to tell him the strange news, he returned to see what had happened, and, bringing his daughter back to Francis, was baptized with her and the rest of his family.

After staying more than two years in Japan, the Saint returned to Hindostan to visit his converts, and inspect the college which he had commenced at Goa, but, on the voyage, many dangers surrounded the ship which carried him. During one terrible storm, after hearing the confessions of the passengers, and leading them to submission to the holy Will of God, he went to a corner and became absorbed in prayer, where another of his companions found him immovable, before a crucifix. When three days had passed, he suddenly rose up, took a rope and flung a portion of his robe into the sea with it, calling on God to have pity upon all on board the vessel, and immediately there was a calm.

Having, at last, reached Malacca safely, Saint Francis longed to go on a mission to China, and, in spite of many difficulties, he got as far as the island of Sancian. It seemed that God would treat His servant as He had, long before, treated His servant Moses, for though from this island Francis could see the land of his desire, it was made known to him that God accepted his intentions, but that the work in the great Chinese empire should be done by the hands of his brothers, not himself.

Francis had not been long upon the island before he was seized with fever, from which he recovered after a fortnight’s confinement. Then many sorrows and disappointments happened to him, for those who had promised to help in his design of going on to China failed him for want of courage. But very soon Francis was again struck with fever, and he felt sure that his death was approaching.

There was a scarcity of provisions on the island, and during his illness the Saint suffered real want, lying in a poor hut which scarcely sheltered him from the cold wind and rain, but with his crucifix in his hand all the time. When he was delirious, his talk was always of his mission to China, or murmuring short prayers in Latin, such as “Jesus, Fili David, miserere mei.” So his illness went on, and for the last two days he could take nothing; then, on a Friday, the 2nd December, about two o’clock in the afternoon, he fixed his eyes with a fond gaze upon a crucifix, and murmuring, “In te Domine speravi, non confundar in aeternum,” breathed his last with a heavenly joy gleaming upon his face in death.

When the body of Francis was placed on board the vessel, which was to carry it back to Malacca, it was found to be perfectly fresh and unchanged, and then those Portuguese who had been cold and neglectful to him in his illness, crowded round the coffin, weeping and lamenting his loss.

The plague had been raging in that part of Hindostan, but after the ship came into the harbour, and the sacred body was carried through the streets, it was immediately stayed, and many wonderful cures took place.

The remains of this great apostle were taken to Goa, where they rest even to this time, amongst the people to whom he carried the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We shall never find a life of more continuous sacrifice than that of Saint Francis Xavier; we shall never find a death more worthy of such a life, in suffering and desolation amidst unfriendly hearts, upon the island of Sansian. But with the support of God’s love all around him, and an infinite confidence which filled his heart, there came faintly from his lips with his last breath, “In te Domini speravi.”