St Francis Xavier
"What profit is it to a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his soul?"
The words were repeated to a young teacher of philosophy who had a highly promising career in academics, with success and a life of prestige and honour before him.
Francis Xavier, 24 at the time, and living and teaching in Paris, did not heed these words at once. They came from a good friend, Ignatius of Loyola, whose tireless persuasion finally won the young man to Christ. Francis then made the spiritual exercises under the direction of Ignatius, and in 1534 joined his little community (the infant Society of Jesus). Together at Montmartre they vowed poverty, chastity and apostolic service, according to the directions of the Pope.
From Venice, where he was ordained priest in 1537, he went on to Lisbon and from there sailed to the East Indies, landing at Goa, on the west coast of India. For the next 10 years he laboured to bring the faith to such widely scattered peoples as the Hindus, the Malayans and the Japanese.
Wherever he went, he lived with the poorest people, sharing their food and rough accommodations. He spent countless hours ministering to the sick and the poor, particularly to lepers. Very often he had no time to sleep or even to say his breviary; but as we know from his letters, he was filled always with God's presence and joy.
Francis went through the islands of Malaysia, then up to Japan. He learned enough Japanese to preach to simple fold, to instruct, and to baptise, and to establish missions for those who were to follow him. From Japan he had dreams of going to China, but this plan was never realised. Before reaching the mainland, he died.
All of us are called to "go and preach to all nations." Our preaching is not necessarily in distant shores but to our families, our children, our husband or wife, fellow employees. And to preach, not with words, but by our everyday lives. Only by sacrifice, the giving up of all selfish gain, could Francis be free to bear the Good News to the world. Sacrifice is leaving yourself behind at times, for a greater good. The good of prayer, the good of helping someone in need, the good of just listening to another. The greatest gift we have is our time. Francis gave it to others.
Francis died on the island of Sancian, a hundred miles southwest of Hong Kong. In his final sickness he had to be removed from the ship because the Portuguese sailors feared that kindness to him would offend their master. They were forced to leave him on the sands of the shore, exposed to a bitter wind, but a Portuguese merchant led him into a ramshackle hut. He prayed continually, between spasms of delirium and the doubtful therapy of bleeding. He grew weaker and weaker. "I (Anthony, his friend) could see that he was dying, and put a lighted candle in his hand: Then, with the name of Jesus on his lips, he gave his spirit to his Creator and Lord, with great peace and repose."
We celebrate the feast of St Francis Xavier on December 3 each year.