The following homily was delivered by Fr. Joel Liwanag, SJ last 01 December 2017 during the institutional Eucharistic celebration in anticipation of the Feast of St. Francis Xavier.
Who among you were able to watch Justice League? There is a line from that movie which I found quite striking. It’s not from any of the Superheroes. It’s from Lois Lane, Superman’s love interest. She said, “There are heroes among us, not to make us feel smaller, but to remind us of what makes us great.”
You know, superheroes, because of the great power they possess, have the tendency to make us feel small. When we look at Superman flying, for instance, we are reminded that we cannot fly. When we look at the Flash running very fast, we are reminded of how slow we move. We put superheroes on a pedestal, and in doing so, we look down upon ourselves. We say, “I can never become like them.” We do the same thing, I think, when it comes to saints. We look up to them. We admire them. We put them on a pedestal. But the result is, we look down upon ourselves. We say, “Well, he’s a saint, and I’m just an ordinary boy, I can never become like him.”
This way of thinking, my dear friends, is what Lois Lane is speaking against. Lois Lane believes that there are heroes among us, not to make us feel smaller, but to remind us of what makes us great. Similarly, there are saints among us, not to make us feel smaller, but to remind us of what makes us great.
Today, as we celebrate in anticipation the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, I want to call your attention to three great characteristics that he had – three great superpowers that he possessed – but I invite you to look at them not as superpowers you can never have, but rather, as characteristics that you can learn to develop, traits that you can slowly live out in your own little ways.
The first is his availability for mission. Many of you here know that St. Francis Xavier was a European, a Basque like St. Ignatius of Loyola. He comes from what we not know as Spain. You also know that he was a missionary to Asia. He left his country, he left Europe, in order to spread the Christian faith in the East. But did you know that his mission to Asia was an accident? At that time, the Society of Jesus just started and the first Jesuits had just offered themselves to the service of the pope. On day, the King of Portugal requested the Pope for missionaries who could be sent to the Far East to spread the Christian faith. The Pope forwarded the request to Ignatius and his companions. Ignatius assigned two men to go – Simão Rodrigues and Nicholas Bobadilla. But, at the last minute, Bobadilla got sick. At that time, you could not just rebook your travel tickets because trips were very rare, and so Bobadilla had to be replaced. Ignatius turned to his friend, Francis Xavier, and right there and then, Xavier accepted the mission, and became the first Jesuit missionary.
Imagine, all of a sudden, you are asked to go to a faraway land, never to return. How would you respond? St. Francis Xavier responded with great availability. “I will do it. Send me.” My dear friends, we may not be sent to a faraway land like St. Francis Xavier, but there are times when the Lord invites us to do certain things, there are times when the Lord gives us a mission. “Robert, I am sending you to help your classmate who needs help with Math. Christina, I am sending you to help your mother with the house chores. Bryan, I am sending you to help your teacher carry her things.” My dear friends, how do you respond to God’s small invitations? How do you respond to the mini-missions you are given in your life? Do you respond with readiness and availability like St. Francis Xavier?
The second superpower of St. Francis Xavier that I wish to speak about is his zeal to spread the Christian faith. You know, the body of St. Francis Xavier is kept in a casket in Goa, India where he spent some years as a missionary. What is interesting, however, is that his right arm is kept in Rome, in the Jesuit church there, the Church of the Gesu. What is the significance of that right arm? Well, it was the arm he used to baptize thousands of people. We can never really be sure how many exactly he got to baptize, but just to give you an idea, in one of his letters, he mentioned that he baptized 10,000 people in one month! Imagine that, 10,000 people in 30 days! Multiply that by the number of months he was on mission, and you will get an idea of how many he was able to introduce to the Christian faith.
This, my dear friends, speaks of his zeal, his passion to let people know about Jesus Christ. Many of the people he ministered to did not know Jesus. St. Francis introduced Him to them, and he so with so much passion. The question now is, how about you? How passionate are you about your faith? How zealous are you in talking about your experiences of Jesus? These days, perhaps, we do not spend as much time talking about our faith or our relationship with God. I hope we can do something about this. I hope we can emulate the zeal of St. Francis Xavier with regard to the Christian faith. I’m not saying that all of you should become priests and baptize thousands of people (although St. Francis Xavier, I’m sure, would be happy if some of you would). But even in your own little ways, you can show your zeal for the faith through regular prayer, attending mass, talking to your friends about our spiritual experiences. The point is, learn to value your Christian faith just like Xavier.
Finally, the third superpower of St. Francis Xavier that I wish to share with you is his perseverance. St. Francis Xavier was a man who did not know how to give up. He knew he had a mission, and he persevered until the end in fulfilling this mission. Being in a faraway land, Xavier for sure encountered a lot of difficulties. One was the language barrier. Imagine, he moved from place to place, from India to Malacca, Malaysia, to Japan. All those places had different languages, and so Xavier had to learn all of them. And of course, language was not the only problem. There were also cultural differences, and so Xavier had to adjust his strategies depending on the culture he was ministering to. And of course, the difficulty of being far from his friends, his family, from his fellow Jesuits. Throughout all these difficulties, Xavier persevered. He knew he had a mission and so he persevered. He was so persistent in fact, to go to mainland China, but unfortunately, he died in Sancian Island before he could successfully take a trip to the mainland.
St. Francis Xavier encountered difficulties, but he persevered. He did not give up. How about you? Do you give up easily? All of us encounter problems in our life. Some easier than others, some more difficult. The point is not how easy of how difficult our problems are. The important thing is that we persevere, whatever problem we encounter, whatever problem we may face. The next time you encounter a difficult problem, just remind yourself to persevere like St. Francis Xavier. Don’t give up. Carry on.
As we celebrate the life of our dear patron, St. Francis Xavier, let us be reminded once again of what Lois Lane said – “There are heroes among us, not to make us feel smaller, but to remind us of what makes us great.” There are saints among us, not to make us feel smaller, but to remind us of what makes us great. As we look at St. Francis Xavier’s superpowers – his availability, his zeal, and his perseverance – let us not look down upon ourselves. Let’s not say, “Oh, he’s a saint. I can never become like him.” Rather, let us tell ourselves that in our own little way, we can in fact become like him. We can, in fact, become more available, more zealous, and more persevering in the little missions that the Lord gives us. We may not be called to go to a faraway land, we may not have the opportunity to baptize thousands of people, we many not need to adjust to many cultures and many languages, but in our own little way, we can be like St. Francis Xavier. In this mass, let us pray that his spirit might live on in us, that his superpowers may be bestowed upon us, that his availability, his zeal, and his perseverance may be ours as well. Amen.