Today is the feast day of St. Francis Xavier. What does that have to do with Advent? Well, St. Francis was a great missionary to Asian people, and I want to make the case that Advent is a time to evangelize everybody, including but not limited to Asians. I am drawing this conclusion from the readings for the days of the first week of Advent and from other ideas associated with those readings in my rather unorganized head.
If you want to learn about Francis Xavier, you will find that he left his native Spain and went to study at the University of Paris. There he met a man of his own age (about 19), and shared a room with him. This was Peter Faber (Pierre Favre). Later the two brought a third student into their room, Ignatius Loyola, and these three and a few others were involved in the founding of the Jesuit order. Faber was canonized on December 17, 2013. Faber went to Germany to preach to Protestants with considerable success, apparently not from the force of his intellect, but by the strength of his love for his neighbor. According to one source,
“As a lone Jesuit often on the move, Faber never felt alone because he walked in a world whose denizens included saints and angels. He would ask the saint of the day and all the saints “to obtain for us not only virtues and salvation for our spirits but in particular whatever can strengthen, heal, and preserve the body and each of its parts”. …. He sought support from the saints and angels both for his personal sanctification and in his evangelization of communities. Whenever he entered a new town or region, Faber implored the aid of the particular angels and saints associated with that place.”
I like to connect with the saints of the day each morning. While I am no Peter Faber, I like to have the intercession and enlightenment of the saints each day. [Two sources: 1. Google “Roman Martyrology”, for a sixteenth century list of saints of the day used in connection with the liturgy of the hours. Often based more on legend than fact; and 2) Universalis.com and click on “About Today”. Most days, this talks about the saints of the day, many times more modern saints with a heavy emphasis in English and Irish saints and martyrs.] But I digress.
The only two days that are saints’ feast days this week are today (St. Francis Xavier) and last Monday (St. Andrew the Apostle). While we do not know much about St. Andrew’s ministry, tradition says he established the diocese of Byzantium (Constantinople/Istanbul) and preached in Greece. And we know that Jesus said that he would become a fisher of men. According to tradition, Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
St Francis Xavier SJ in Japan
We know more about Francis Xavier. He left for the missions in 1541 when he was 35 years old and died eleven years later in 1552. During those eleven years, he preached the gospel in Goa, India, Southeast Asia, Japan and briefly China. He traveled on foot and by sailboat. Wherever he went he had to learn new languages that were nothing like the Latin-based languages he knew from Europe. And yet wherever he went he taught the people there about Jesus.
I think that the last clue from the liturgical events of this week that points to the need for evangelization is the Gospel reading from Saturday’s Mass. The reading from the 10th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel is about the mission of evangelization of the 72 disciples. The gospel of the dayis sstrictly speaking about the disciples return from their mission, but I would like to expand the discussion to refer to the context in Luke 10:1-24.
What originally caught my eye in this reading was the 21st verse, “At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit.” The idea of Jesus sitting down with six dozen of his closest friends and rejoicing because they were all cooperating in spreading the word of God just made me smile as well. How do I add myself to the group of people sitting around Jesus when he is rejoicing in the holy Spirit?
Jesus’ plan for evangelization is spelled out in Luke 10. First, He send us to places and people that he intends to visit Himself. V. 1. Next, He says “No distractions.” V. 4-8. He says that he will give us what we need to do our work, i.e. “cure the sick.” V. 9.
Then he tells us what to say. ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ V. 9
He warns us that we may be rejected, and if we are rejected he says that we should still say, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ V. 11.
Notice the difference. The message to those who accept the word is ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ To the others, only ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ One way it is a promise, the other way a warning, if not a threat.
So the first week of Advent gives us two missionary saints, and an example of evangelization from the Gospel to follow, complete with instructions. And when the “plan comes together” we see Jesus rejoicing with us in the Holy Spirit. And finally, don’t forget that Jesus says that we should not rejoice because of our evangelistic efforts on his behalf. Rather we should “rejoice because [our] names are written in heaven.”