(This is the full text of the homily delivered by Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan president Fr Roberto "Bobby" C Yap SJ during the opening mass of the XU Festival Days 2017 celebration on Wednesday, November 29. Photo courtesy of The Squire Publication.)
Explore + Excel + Experience
Feast of St Francis Xavier
Xavier University Festival Days, 29th November 2017
XavierAteneo: Explore + Excel + Experience; this is the theme of our 2017 Xavier Festival Days. Xavier Days is a celebration of the Feast of St Francis Xavier, the patron of our university. So let us turn to him to understand more deeply what it means to Explore, to Excel, and to Experience.
Exploring for Francis Xavier meant his mission, his going to the frontiers. Excelling for Francisco meant his identity, the fire burning in his heart, the motivating force of his entire existence. Experience for Javier meant his community, his friendship with others in serving the Lord. Explore + Excel + Experience. Xavier’s Mission – Identity – Community. His triptych of Frontier – Fire – Friendship. A word on each.
First, Explore – Mission – Frontier. Francis Xavier was thirty-five years old on the day he set out for India, 7th of April 1541, his birthday. He led an intense life for the next ten years. He worked among the coastal village peoples of India, baptizing thousands. He visited settlements in India, Sri Lanka, modern Indonesia, and Japan. He spent two years with the coastal villagers in India, two years and three weeks in Japan, and the rest going backwards and forwards to settlements like Malacca (then the center of the Portuguese trading empire in South East Asia, near modern Kuala Lumpur), Macao, Goa, Ambon, and in Japan – Kagoshima, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Yamaguchi. Of those ten years, half were spent working inside India, half outside India. Because of the nature of travel in those days, small and slow sailing ships, Xavier spent one-third of those years actually at sea. To travel such distances was very dangerous and unpleasant. Many travelers never reached their destinations, drowning in storms and shipwreck, or murdered by pirates.
Francis adapted to the cultures in which he found himself, a reflection of the spirituality of Ignatius “to find God in all things." In the Portuguese settlements, he wore his black cassock, in the Indian villages, the garb of a guru. He visited the Buddhist monasteries, debated with their abbots, and preached the catechism from the gates of their Temples. When the Japanese nobles sneered at his tattered cassock, he went and employed a retinue of servants, gathered European gifts – clocks, spectacles, music boxes, wine – and returned to the Court dressed in fine silk. He tried to be all things to all people.
Francis Xavier rowed into the deep. He was truly a Jesuit who was sent and went to the frontiers, “the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.” Loyola and Javier understood the importance of reaching out to people in the peripheries. They wanted Jesuits to cross other types of frontiers between the rich and poor, between educated and unlearned.
Second, Excel – Identity – Fire. What was it that impelled Francis Xavier to leave everything and go to the frontiers and edges of the world? What made him go almost halfway around the world on a harrowingly long and dangerous journey to lands of strikingly different cultures and religions and strange and difficult languages? What made Xavier embrace this mission so wholeheartedly for the last ten years of his life? What was the fire that kindled his heart so passionately?
When Francis Xavier was studying at the University of Paris, he shared his dormitory room with a young priest (Peter Faber) and a middle-aged man in his forties (Ignatius Loyola), a former soldier who had a permanent limp because of a battle wound. These three university students would one day form themselves into the Jesuit Order. After his battle wounds, Ignatius Loyola had to convalesce for a long time and he began to read the Gospels and the power of the personality of Our Lord began to influence him. He asked three short questions which required big answers – “What have I done for Christ?; What am I doing for Christ?; What ought I to do for Christ?” Answering these questions helped change his life, and he put the same questions to his roommate, the very worldly and ambitious young Francis Xavier. “What does it profit you, Francis, to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?” Eventually, these questions had their impact on Xavier and he became one of the great Saints of the Church, Patron Saint of Missionaries, men and women leaving their own lands to spread the news about Christ to other peoples.
The fire of Christ’s ardent love lighted up Xavier’s entire being. A fellow Jesuit, Melchior Nunes Barreto, wrote about him to his confreres in Portugal:
My brothers, what virtues I saw in him …! What a heart, so afire with the love of God! With what flames it is burning with love for his neighbor! What zeal for helping souls …! What affability he has, always smiling with a calm and cheerful face … because he always has spiritual joy.
Third, Experience – Community – Friendship. Jesuits find their identity not alone but in companionship: in companionship with the Lord, who calls, and in companionship with others who share this call. The experience of friendship was important for Francis Xavier. It was a huge anguish for Xavier to leave his brother Jesuits and at just twenty-four hours notice. He cut out the signature of Ignatius from his letters and carried it with him near his heart. He himself wrote 150 letters that survive – imagine it, in a hut at night, by the light of a lamp, pen on page after page. Many of those letters were published by the Jesuits in Europe, and which became the most published letters of the age, stirring up great enthusiasm for the missions and bringing hundreds of young men into the Jesuit Order. The early Jesuits said Xavier’s letters did as much good in Europe as his preaching did in Asia. For his part, Francisco only ever received two letters in ten years from Ignatius, the rest never reaching him. The third letter to reach him was one from Ignatius calling him back to Rome, but Xavier had died a year earlier, in 1552.
After they parted in 1541, Ignatius and Francis never saw each other again, but their love for each other remained strong. Xavier once wrote to Ignatius:
God our Lord knows how much my soul was consoled on receiving news of your life and health, which I cherish so highly…Your Holy Charity has written to me that you have a great desire to see me before you leave this life. God knows what an impression these words of great love made upon my soul, and how many tears they have cost me whenever I recall them…
As we celebrate 2017 Xavier Festival Days, XavierAteneo: Explore + Excel + Experience, we ask San Francisco Javier to beg the Lord to kindle the fire in our hearts, so in companionship and friendship, we may strive for the magis, by going to the frontiers and serving in the peripheries. St Francis Xavier, pray for Xavier Ateneo.∎