The humble missionary St. Francis Xavier once said of evangelizing others, “Speak to them of the great mercy of God… sometimes people are helped by your telling of your own lamentable past.”
During my early college years, while home visiting my family for the Christmas holiday, I happened to run into a friend from high school. Though our visit was short, I was saddened to learn that he was no longer attending Holy Mass, sharing with me his misguided belief that “church is where good people go.”
That moment, in my small town world, was a missionary moment for me, an opportunity to speak gospel truth and love to my friend. While my first inclination was to share Scripture and Church teaching, it was the admission of my own sinfulness and deep need for God’s mercy and love that bridged the gap between our beliefs. I wanted him to know that the Catholic Church is a home for sinners as well as saints, that God’s mercy and love have no limits, and that Christ always receives us just as we are, right where we are.
Saint Francis Xavier, one of the seven founding members of the Society of Jesus, is one of the most recognized and beloved missionaries, honored for his evangelical work in India, Southeast Asia, and Japan. It is believed that he baptized an estimated 30,000 converts during his life as a missionary!
Born in Spain in 1507, Francis was the youngest of 5 children. His parents, who were of substantial wealth and nobility, were known for their piety and devotion. At the age of 18, Francis was sent to further his education at the University of Paris, where he studied philosophy and theology. It was there that he met and befriended Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius had a profound influence on his new friend. He encouraged Francis to join him in his spiritual exercises and pursuits, posing to him the question from Scripture, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Though reluctant to accept Ignatius’ invitation, Francis eventually agreed to follow Ignatius, and together, along with their five companions, they formed the Society of Jesus.
Francis’ life as a missionary began At the age of 34, when he was sent by Ignatius to the East Indies. Wherever he traveled, he was often well-received . His kindness and warmth attracted others, especially children, whom he spent much time teaching and reading Scripture to. The suffering that Francis witnessed among the people he served moved him to tears. Though often offered generous material comforts, it was Francis’ desire to live among his people and share in their poverty and suffering.
With a deep desire to continue his missionary pursuits, Franics sought to evangelize the people of China. It was on his journey there that he was struck with fever and died at the young age of 46.
For most of us, the call we have received by the nature and grace of our Baptism and Confirmation to be missionaries of the gospel will not take us to far off lands. Rather, it will continue to be a day-by-day openness to sharing Christ through the ordinary circumstances of our lives, giving testimony to His love through the confession of our own lamentable past, and the profession of hope we hold dear of a glorious future in heaven with Christ, our eternal home.
Susan Husband is a farm wife and mother of seven adventurous sons. When she’s not cooking for the army or acting as resident medic, she enjoys reading, gardening, and running. She and her husband, Steve, enjoy sharing encouraging stories and positive tips on raising sons via their Testosterone Tuesday series on Instagram. Susan and her family reside in rural Kansas.