Francis Xavier had it pretty good. In fact, to some, he may have seemed to have the whole world. After all, he was an aristocrat; he was highly educated, wealthy, young, respected,…you name it, Francis really did seem to have it all.
Including a pesky little illiterate friend named Ignatius, later known as Saint Ignatius of Loyola – founder of the Jesuits.
Francis Xavier was at the university of Paris when Ignatius began hounding him to join religious life. Saint Francis wanted no part of it. He planned to pursue worldly things, to be counted among the intellectuals, the respected, the admired of the world. How could this happen if he gave up his own goals to follow Christ?
But Ignatius knew better. “What profits a man,” Ignatius repeatedly asked Francis, “if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com)
The question took a while to sink in but eventually, Saint Francis became one of the greatest missionaries of the Catholic church, traveling to India and Japan among other places and winning 30,000 souls for Christ.
But that’s the end of the story,
and we often forget years upon years worth of the middles of our stories.
Yes, we know Francis had a comfortable life and attended the university. Yes, we know Saint Ignatius was instrumental in helping him find his path. Yes, we know that path led to leading others to Christ, including those who had never heard of Jesus Christ, those who worshiped idols instead of their Loving Father.
But we miss everything in the middle.
We jump from cushy lifestyle to sainthood
in the space of just a few short sentences.
But there’s a whole lot of middle-of-the-story we miss.
We assume the road to sainthood was easy for Francis and others like him without thinking of how foolish Francis must have looked to his high class friends, how worried must his mother have been, how disappointed must his father, advisor to the king, have felt. We skip the idea that others must have tried to talk him out of his vocation as much as Ignatius talked to him about it.
Remember, in those days, he was not Saint Francis Xavier. He was simply Francis of the Xavier family, with all the normal insecurities and desires and doubts of any normal, average every day Joe. To those around him, Francis may or may not have been anyone special, but one can guess that many must have thought he was crazy to give up living in such a world of comfort to live in one of such sacrificial service.
Today, we tend to look at the saints and admire them, but we also tend to put them on pedestals, assuming their greatness came easily to them and that they are far above us, but in many cases the saints struggled with faith too. Some were born gentle and Godly, but many, like Francis Xavier, were distracted by worldly pursuits and required great, consistent, enduring prayer on the behalf of those around them as well as a heart open to receiving Christ. Without either of these, the praying friends and the open heart, Francis may not have heeded God’s call even if he had heard it.
Thankfully for thousands upon thousands of Christians worldwide including us too, Francis did not let his pursuit of worldly goods interfere with the calling God was putting on his heart. He did not let the noise of his generation, the distractions of wealth and education, intelligence and physical comfort pull him away from his true vocation, from what he was meant to do.
In short, Saint Francis Xavier, with the help of a persistent friend and God Himself, refused to trade his soul for the world. Today, how many of us can say the same? When this world and our faith collide in telling us how to act and we choose faith, when friends and family whom we love question and mock our decisions, when we are told we are crazy for doing something we know to be right despite others saying it’s wrong, when we reach out to someone despite risk to ourselves, we are putting God’s Love first. We are refusing to gain the world while losing our soul. By detaching from things that signify success in this life, we are fixing on God for Love with Him in the next. We are putting eternity with God ahead of temporary worldly gains.
Saint Francis knew that, You do not become fixed on God until you become detached from everything else but God. (quoted from a Latin phrase and Father John A. Hardon’s blog – The Real Presence)
Do you know it too? Do you believe it? Do you live it? Do you Love it?
Are you cashing in your soul for worldly gains? What do you need to detach from in order to more perfectly serve the Lord? What is holding you back from sainthood? Do you doubt God’s ability to turn you into a saint such as Saint Francis Xavier who started out as simply Francis Xavier?
Tonight, on this feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, I will pray that you make choices that may lose you the world but gain you your soul. When that happens, you’ll never go back.