Ten Lessons in Evangelization From St. Francis Xavier

Before St. Francis Xavier set out on his great mission, St. Ignatius spoke these final words to him: Go set all on fire! Francis embarked for India, then to Japan and died on the shore overlooking China. His missionary work was completed in only 11 years and he died of exhaustion at 46 years of age.

Like Francis Xavier, all followers of Christ are called to be prophets, evangelizers, and missionaries. Followers of Christ must strive to be encountering Christ as Friend and Lord and then share Jesus with others. It is a contradiction in terms to keep the priceless treasure of Friendship with Jesus to oneself. St. Andrew teaches us this lesson. After being called by Jesus, Andrew filled with joy hurries to tell the Good News (“Gospel”) to his brother Peter.

How did St. Francis Xavier, in such a short time, convert, baptize, and teach the Catholic faith to countless souls? What was his secret to success?

1. Spiritual Exercises   

His conversion came about by completing the Spiritual Exercises under the direction of St. Ignatius of Loyola himself. Ignatius challenged Xavier with the Biblical quotation: “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul in the process?” The Spiritual Exercises, done well, enlighten, convert, and transform souls into fiery apostles.

2. Obedience

The Holy Father asked Ignatius to send some of his followers from the Order of Jesus to India and the Far East, and Francis Xavier obeyed. Obedience to God, the Pope, and the Church is always a true sign of holiness by which God blesses with abundant graces. “Lord, not my will but yours be done!”  (Prayer of Jesus to the Father in the Garden of Olives).

3. Love For Poverty

Upon arriving in India, Xavier’s heart overflowed with love for the poor of the country. His love knew no bounds. Instead of seeking out comfortable lodgings and ease, Xavier decided to live with the poor, sleep like the poor, eat and drink with the poor, and become poor himself. Jesus’s first Beatitude exemplifies this attitude of heart: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5: 3).

4. Love for God’s Children

Jesus taught love for children.“Let the children come to me for such is the kingdom of heaven.” Francis Xavier loved the children and they loved him. He taught them their catechism, as well as their prayers. Such was the love the children had for him that barely did he have time to say his prayers or even eat!

5. Apostolic Creativity  

St. Francis Xavier was a genius, especially as a teacher and missionary. As a tool for memorization of the catechism, Xavier made use of song. In simple verse and rhyme, Francis taught the children the basics of catechism.

Then the children then would return home and sing the catechism, thereby teaching their own parents. Pope John Paul II exhorted followers of Christ to be open to the Holy Spirit as well as apostolic creativity. Jesus said to Nicodemus that the spirit blows where He wills. Like Xavier, let us be open to the direction of the Holy Spirit and follow where He wills!

6. Baptism  

It all starts with the sacrament of Baptism. After instructions, Francis Xavier would baptize by the thousands! He baptized so many that sometimes, at the end of the day, he could no longer hold up his arm.

7. Ordering the Disorder

This great saint, after finishing his time in one place, would leave well-formed catechists to carry on with the mission of forming the people in the community. Now, more than ever, zealous priests need zealous lay leaders to help to carry on the task of evangelization. “The harvest is rich but the laborers are few.”

8. Inculturation

While travelling to Japan, St. Francis Xavier had to learn the social mores and customs of another country. In this case, seeing someone dressed in rags caused revulsion to the Emperor. As St. Paul says, “I become all things to all men so as to win as many to Christ as possible.” Xavier donned the most elegant clothes fashionable and gave gifts to the Emperor, thereby winning the Emperor’s friendship and opening up the door to the preaching of the Gospel message.

9. Prayer & Penance

It is impossible to find a saint who did not take the “two P’s” seriously: prayer and penance! 

At the end of his exhausting day, St. Francis Xavier spent hours in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament, praising the Lord, thanking the Lord, and imploring for the sanctification and salvation of the people God placed in his path. The consolation that God sent Francis Xavier during his prayers was so intense that the saint begged the Lord “basta” — “enough” of the consolation, lest he die of its intensity!

May St. Francis Xavier attain for us the fire of intensity in our prayers!

How did the saint practice penance? One way: he slept very little, so as to accompany the Lord and offer himself as victim for the salvation of souls.

10. Apostolic Zeal

A favorite prayer of St. Francis Xavier was, “Give me souls!”  Another saint who had a similar motto was Saint John Bosco, whose motto was posted on the wall of his office: “Give me souls and take all the rest away.” St. John of the Cross asserts: “Authentic charity is manifested by apostolic zeal.”

Indeed, if we truly love God then we should love what God loves—the salvation of immortal souls. In the Office of Readings for the Feast of  St. Francis Xavier, in a letter written to St. Ignatius, there is a passionate appeal for more workers to gather in the harvest, specifically reproaching the proud and learned at the universities. The words of Xavier explode with apostolic zeal and intense suffering for the salvation of immortal souls.   

Let us meditate attentively the words of St. Francis Xavier:

“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman. Riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: What a tragedy:  how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you! I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.” (Office of Readings, Dec. 3, Feast of St. Francis Xavier)

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Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary and From Humdrum to Holy. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

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