Feast of Saint François Xavier
Homily of Roland Laneuville, p.m.é.
Laval, Thursday December 3, 2020
While searching if Francis Xavier could be a good patron for us in this time pandemic, I found much more than I could have imagined.
Francis Xavier departs from Lisbon on April 7, 1541, aboard a sailing boat. He reaches Goa, the target of his trip, only after thirteen months of navigation…thirteen months of confinement! The one whom we consider as the great missionary whose arms would have been worn out because of baptizing, well! He knew also – and very much – moments of passivity. He experienced what we are feeling during times of pandemic. For him, the COVID-19 had as a name « las calmas ». In fact, boats were often held back from moving forward, when, on a calm sea and the wind lacking in the sails, « las calmas » kept the boats off the African coast, at times for 40, 50 or 60 days, with an unbearable heat, with fevers and deaths that would follow. « Las calmas » or « the damn respites » as we could translate them.
While he was sailing « within the paradise of fish » according to his own words, Francis took time to visit the sick as a male nurse and comforter. At that rate, it took him five months to reach the Island of Mozambique, where he passed winter and lived another confinement with 400 to 500 persons on a small area. We thought he was joyful, but he himself wrote: «I find myself in a mediocre state ». Then, from island of Mozambique, his boat went up the coast up to Malindi, in Kenya, and finally brings him to Goa.
His missionary expeditions, spread out over twelve years, had him cover more than 100,000 kilometers, from India to Japan and at the doors of China: a feat worthy of Alexander the Great. All that is true and well known. Still, « next to a tireless activity, the apostle is subjected to heavy passivities» writes XL Dufour (« Saint François Xavier, Itinéraire mystique de l’apôtre » p. 156). During mostly12 years of mission, he sailed 3 years and seven months. If the Vatican is looking for a saint as a model for our actual confinements, Francis is the answer. Francis, the tireless preacher and baptizer? Of course not. That Francis is not our model during the COVID, but yes, Francis the poor orderly, the useless apostle on day at a time.
I am particularly hit by one of his writings when he felt in particular the impossibility of action. Francis Xavier was saying: «That he gives me the grace to trace the path for others, since myself I cannot do anything». « No hago nada! » according to the original text. Here is an extraordinary missionary who traces the path for others, and yet he feels that he is doing nothing! This is the most inspiring phrase of Francis Xavier in this time of pandemic!
Fifteen hundred years earlier, another apostle with a heart of fire lived his own « las calmas » and his « COVID » he also. That is what Paul was telling us in the first reading of the mass: « We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying Jesus…so that life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh». II Cor. 4: 9-11
In this period of pandemic, wherever we are, physically; in whatever state of spirit we are in, psychologically; waiting for a vacation or an assignment, limited in our apostolic work, in adversity or in a feeling of frailty, more inactive because of sickness or age, it is the Francis Xavier of patience whom we must invoke more than the one whose throat got hoarse by dint of catechizing or whose arms wore out by dint of baptizing.
When our general Assembly of 2013 was saying that the most inspiring vision of the mission was the one of the mission of presence, it did not foresee this actual time of pandemic and of confinement, but it could not say better to encourage us today. We are missionaries even if our action is reduced to mostly nothing. To stay there, to be there. With Francis we say « no hago nada » but we remain missionaries. Our mission is in the quality of our being before being in action, we often repeat since the general assembly of 1997 (#147).
« Blessed be the God of all compassion, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.» II Cor 1, 3-4