The following Homily was delivered during the Institutional Eucharistic celebration for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier on 3 December 2013 by Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ, Xavier School President.
Soon after St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius Loyola, and their companions had organized themselves into the future Society of Jesus, they thought of going to the Holy Land to offer themselves for service there. Traveling in those days was a major undertaking, and they had to wait for several months to see if they could arrange passage to the Holy Land. During this period, they spent their time working in hospitals, which in those days operated under very primitive conditions, a far cry from what we have today.
It is this image of Francis Xavier, with all his skills and education, tending to the sick and the needy, that inspires us on his feast day this year. Though highly educated (most of them were fellow students at the University of Paris), the first Jesuits always took the time to look after the poor. This dedication to those who suffer at the margins of society has become a hallmark of Jesuit education.
That is why this year, we have chosen as our theme for the feast of St. Francis Xavier, FRANCIS: ON FIRE WITH GOD’S COMPASSION. We refer of course to SFX, and highlight an aspect of his character that is rarely given attention. We know him as a great missionary and traveler, but his passion, his fire to introduce Christ to others was not only about teaching catechism and baptizing so many babies and grown up men and women. He was also concerned about the physical well-being of people. In the stampita you will receive today, you will see SFX tending to the sick. This is St. Francis, on fire with God’s compassion.
But there is another Francis who is also on fire with God’s compassion. I challenge you to look for his image in the stampita, because he is also there. I am talking about Pope Francis, the first Jesuit in history to become Pope. When he was elected last March, Jesuits around the world were shocked. We are supposed to be at the service of the Pope. We have a special vow of obedience to him when it comes to missions. We never expect that one of us will become Pope, and yet by the grace of the Holy Spirit, it has happened. And what a difference this Pope is making.
Through his personal example, he has demonstrated for us the love and compassion of God. He likes to keep things simple so he can be as close to the people as possible, and he makes a special effort to care for those who are suffering. The most recent incident was when he met a severely disfigured man in St. Peter’s Square, and without any hesitation, embraced him and kissed his head. This is a man whose face and body was full of tumors. Any one looking at him would probably admit to being afraid of him, but Pope Francis did not show any fear. His heart was full of compassion, and even if that embrace lasted only a few minutes, the man later said that it felt like a lifetime.
My friends, we have before us two examples, two Francises who show us what compassion is. St. Francis Xavier and the first Jesuits never neglected to spend time with the suffering poor. Pope Francis is a model for us of compassion in the present world. I think we need the inspiration of these two Francises during this moment in our nation’s history.
We have been hit by so many calamities since August—Maring, Habagat, the siege of Zamboanga, the earthquakes in Cebu and Bohol, and of course Typhoon Yolanda, said to be the strongest typhoon ever to hit land. We have had our relief drives and as a school, we will continue using our resources to help those in need, but it should not end there.
As we approach Christmas, we must remember to count our blessings, and to think of more ways to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have to rebuild their lives while we can continue with our normal life. Our Christmas parties will be simpler, even for the teachers and staff. Whatever we can save, we will contribute to the rehabilitation efforts. Especially this year, I think this is the best way to mark the feast day of our patron saint. Let us be like St. Francis and Pope Francis in the demonstration of compassion for others.
Let me end with a story that moved me these past days. I met someone who said to me that she was very inspired when she saw Pope Francis embracing the man who had many tumors. She said, “Father, in my parish there is also a woman with tumors like that in her face. It is not as bad as the man the Pope embraced, but very similar. And nobody sits beside her even if she is not contagious. People just naturally stay away. But you know, Father,” she told me, “after I saw what the Pope did, I decided to go beyond my feelings, and I decided to go and sit beside her. It was difficult at first, but I forced myself to show her that I am not afraid of her, that I don’t mind sitting beside her and showing her that we are just the same in God’s house.”
You see, compassion is not only about making donations. It is literally, to suffer with others, to be with others in their suffering. Compassion is not a project, but a virtue that we must always live out, practice, through gestures large and small. Each in our own way, let us join St. Francis and Pope Francis in being on fire with God’s compassion.