Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Saint Francis Xavier, S.J.

Romans 10:10-18 / Mark 16:15-18

...they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them...

The missionary journeys of St. Francis Xavier are famous, inspiring, fantastic and, for many, a little too much to believe. Could any one man really convert so many thousands of people, thirty thousand by some estimates? Or, if he brought that number to the font, can we really believe they knew anything of the Christian faith?

It's easy enough to dismiss such numbers as incredible, when we might find it hard to convince even one friend to join us for one week at Mass, much less tens of thousands to come to Christ in baptism, thousands who did not even speak the same language as the one making the appeal. We might be tempted to think this is pious exaggeration, a way of insisting on his heroic sanctity through an inflation of the actual numbers. Although, even then, are we more likely to follow this heroic missionary if we knew the numbers he converted were more "reasonable"? How much fewer did he need to call to faith for us to believe such a thing is even possible? Or, how many need there be, at which point we might imagine that mission for Christ is worth the effort? Had he brought only one person to Jesus Christ, would we then be more willing to share the faith?

If we doubt the witness of Francis Xavier, how much more we must doubt the promises of Jesus Christ to his disciples when he sent them out to the whole world to preach and baptize. If we can lead ourselves to accept the casting out devils, and just might squint at the speaking in tongues to be less outright miracle and more divinely-inspired language training, we are more likely to pause at the claims which follow: snake-handling, immunity to poisons, healing by the laying on of hands.

While it is true that we have no right to expect any specific miraculous intervention in our giving witness to Christ—as the life of St. Paul himself could easily attest—it is just as spiritually dangerous to live as though we cannot hope in doing great things, indeed superhuman, miraculous things, in the service of the Gospel. The promises of Jesus Christ are not to be trifled with, they are not to be dismissed with the condescending wave of our hand. Rather, we might well ask ourselves whether we even believe God might do such things. If not, we might well wonder why we have cast our lot with the man who was born of a Virgin, who healed the sick, who was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. That is, if we do not live and act not merely as though Jesus could intervene on behalf of the Good News in dramatic ways, but really and truly believing that he might, might this not explain, at least in part, the paltry show we can give of those who have been brought to Christ by our witness?

Advent is a season of hope, a season of renewed confidence in God, who brings light where there was gloom, abundant food where there was want, joy in place of sorrow, life in the shadow of death. Shall we not, this Advent, renew our faith in God who has, still does, and ever will work mighty deeds?

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