Francis, born in 1506, was a philosopher by the time he was in his twenties. Br. Thomas preached today and made the point that if you ask a philosopher anything, you never get a simple answer.
And so it was with Francis. He struggled with himself for a long time, trying to discern what kind of life was worth living–a life of pleasure, prestige, etc. or a life of sacrifice, poverty, charity, etc. He was perfectly capable of the former and the latter, but struggled for some time to figure out which was more worthwhile.
I worry that today many don’t even struggle with this but merely opt for the former.
But Francis was a man of discernment. His problem wasn’t that he had no direction in life; rather, he had too many different directions. His writings indicate just how confused the man was.
Br. Thomas put it this way: His thoughts were as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore.
Yet things changed when Francis sought the direction of St. Ignatius. At first, Francis didn’t much care for Ignatius and would mock his lifestyle.
Ignatius would usually reply with Matthew 16:26: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”
The confused Francis learned something from Ignatius’ persistent answer and his example. He was brought to conversion and became a follower of Christ by following Ignatius as a Jesuit.
This is precisely what Jesus does for us: he brings us together. When we live for and with and by him, he will help us and make our path straight. Because of him, we can collect ourselves! We can find our way.
You see, Francis, whose thoughts and directions at the beginning were as many as the grains of sand such that he knew not which direction to go, came to a rock solid faith. The grains of sand converged and became one rock–much like the rock we hear about in today’s Gospel (Mt 7:21, 24-27).
May our story be the same.
Now with his solid identity as a Catholic, Francis went out and preached the Gospel in India, Japan, and other places, too.
Let’s do the same, but follow Mother Teresa’s advice and start where we are.
Francis had a beautiful way of approaching his missionary life: he started with the least, not those who were able to flex authority and influence. He would go to towns and ring a bell, which gathered the children to him. There, he would share the faith.
And the children would, in turn, share it with their parents. A good lesson here, too: we must listen to the calls God issues us from those who are “less” than we are–from those below us.
Francis died on his way to China. He was on ship with others, but developed suddenly a severe fever. Those on the boat, seeking to protect themselves, threw him off the boat on an island shore not far from China. In fact, China was in sight from the island. It was there that Francis died.
He died with his goal in sight but not reached. He died alone. He died abandoned.
Yet he died in service to Almighty God, following in the Lord’s footsteps.
He died a rock on the sand!
St. Francis Xavier: Pray for us!