After St. Paul, the greatest of all Christian missionaries was St. Francis Xavier, whose feast day we celebrate today. He was one of the original members of the Society of Jesus, and his passion for bringing the Gospel to the people of Asia was enflamed through the influence of his spiritual mentor, St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Francis Xavier is most known for his work in the Asian subcontinent, where he famously baptized thousands, and he died at the age of 46 just off the coast of China. If you pray the breviary, you know that the reading from the Office of Readings today is an excerpt from a letter that St. Francis Xavier wrote in which he describes his work among the people in the missions. He talks about how the people are responding to the message of the Gospel, how they desire to be baptized, to receive the sacraments, to learn the faith and the simple prayers of the faithful. The amount of work to be done was enormous, and he lamented the fact that the only thing keeping the people of India from being great Christians was the fact that there weren’t enough people willing to teach them. In the most memorable section of the letter, he refers to all of those enjoying comfortable lives in the universities of Europe, and speaks of his desire to shake them out of their complacency, so they might be filled with greater zeal for the salvation of souls. If only they would pay attention to spiritual realities and listen to the voice of God, he says, “They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: ‘Lord I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India.’”
St. Francis Xavier was completely convinced of the truth of the Gospel, and it moved him to want to share it with everyone. His example stood in stark contrast with his contemporaries in Europe who made theology their field of study, but were not moved to share the life of Christ with others. His critique should also inspire in us a bit of self-examination. Are we truly converted? Does our profession of faith in Christ Jesus affect the way we live? In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew (7:21,24-27), Our Lord contrasts those who listen to his words and act on them with those who listen but don’t act. The former are wise, like those who build their house on rock and are thus able to weather the storm. The latter are like those fools who build their house on sand, which collapses when the storms come their way. St. Francis Xavier was a man who was fully converted and who longed to travel to the ends of the earth to share the news that Christ is God, that He is Our Savior, and that He has come to share His life with us so that we might become like Him through our lives lived with Him. Not just through our words, but especially by our way of life as truly converted members of the Church, who trust in the Lord and are convinced of His loving presence among us. This is what made St. Francis Xavier so compelling to the people in the 16th century missions of India, and what makes the authentic follower of Christ so compelling in the 21st century missions of southwestern Connecticut as well.