May 2020 Print

How to Be a Missionary

By Fr. Therasian Xavier

A Meditative Lesson from a Great Master

St. Francis Xavier is “a model of missionaries of all times and all places” (Pope Pius XI). More particularly is he the patron and exemplar of missionaries in India, the one country where he spent the greatest part of his brief missionary career—nearly five years out of ten. The prodigious success of his apostolic labor, whose effects last till our own day, invites one to reflect on the secret source of his missionary achievements. Perhaps we may not have the same vocation as he did, but then we all are called, religious and laity alike—to be the “light of the world” and “salt of the earth.” We may not have the duty to evangelize the whole world, but can we say we have no duty at all? How about towards our own family circle, friends, the place where we work and county where we live? Let us have a brief look at the footprints of one of the greatest missionaries.

Tradidi Quod et Accepi

The most striking feature in St. Francis Xavier’s missionary life is undoubtedly his untiring activity. He was always on the move. Always busy: travelling, preaching, teaching, studying, planning, deciding, baptizing, receiving people, listening, advising, encouraging, reprimanding, writing. No moment of his day was wasted. One often wonders where he found time for meals and rest.

But St. Francis Xavier paid no heed to his own person, convenience or health. One ideal had gripped him totally: Christ must be preached, His kingdom extended. This dream of his was the driving power of his relentless activity. He passed through the East “a Saint in a hurry,” the missionary explorer of regions to be won for Christ: India, the Moluccas, Japan, China. His missionary career was brief, but how much he achieved! “Consummatus in brevi explevit tempora multa.

My apostolic life too must be one of intense activity. No moment of time may go waste: “fugit irreparabile tempus.” No talent of the lord gave me may be left unused. There should be no room in my day, week, or month for idleness. St. Francis Xavier’s example teaches the value of time. Do I waste time in useless talk, visiting, reading, idling?

Another lesson: It is not enough just to keep occupied, more or less lazily, choosing the occupations I prefer rather than what is most needed and important. Today, as much as in St. Francis Xavier’s time, perhaps even more, there is urgency in the work for God’s cause. The whole world is anti-Catholic. Period. Catholicism is being crushed. The restless and feverish activity of those in the other camp is a timely incentive to intense action. What are we doing?

Moderation is no doubt needed, in order that we may last. But moderation is a dangerous slogan. St. Francis Xavier did not know it. It should be no smoke-screen for laziness. Even our rest and relaxation can and should serve our apostolic action.


Credidimus Caritati

If we analyze the lives of any great missionary—we always see underneath their frenzy of activity, a beautiful source of energy. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a great missionary bishop of our times could say towards his end “Tradidi quod et accepi.” This is how his missionary life ended. But where did it begin? Credidimus Caritati—that intense love of God. This universal love of effective charity is found in the Gospel. Yes, the last word of Our Lord is “Go and preach” but it began with “come and see.” Contemplation of charity is absolutely necessary for any missionary.

St. Francis Xavier was no less a contemplative than a man of action. On the high roads of the East he was not less a contemplative than was the other Patron of missionaries, St. Therese of Lisieux, in her cell and cloister. He was, and no one who lived with him failed to be struck by it, a man of God, homo Dei—a saint, as they called him.

It was said of him: “semper ridet et numquam ridet”; he always shows spiritual joy, the kindness and cheerfulness attendant on charity; but he never pours himself out on creatures, he is always recollected. His was a permanent spirit of prayer. Ejaculations—“O sanctissima Trinitas! Bone Jesu, Creator meus!”—escaped his lips, even when he would have preferred his converse with God not to be noticed by others. This constant union with God—a passive divine gift, in his later years at any rate—had been prepared by regular long hours of prayer. Part of the night, of the time that could not be given to immediate missionary tasks, he spent in prayer; and so, he did with a great deal of his time in traveling, whether on land or on the high seas. His daily Mass was for him the acme of his intercourse with Christ his Lord.

My activity too, as a baptized Catholic, must be steeped in contemplation, in union with God, else most of it is a waste. The life of action and the life of prayer must go hand in hand. My daily time of prayer—holy Mass with preparation and thanksgivings, meditation, rosary, spiritual reading: must be spent in actual prayer, not in dreaming distractedly, but in real and sincere surrender and raising of my heart to God.

Outside of prayer time: recollectedness, “virtual prayer,” founded in purity of intention in my every action. I ought to renew my intention now and then; I ought especially to be genuinely unselfish in my actions, seeking purely God and His interests, not mine. Ejaculatory prayers also: I may teach and advise this practice to others; but then I must, first follow it myself. Only when my action is thus supernaturalized can it be spiritually fruitful.

In Actione Contemplativus

St. Francis Xavier’s prayer penetrated his action in such manner that his very activity was for him a way to God. He found God in all things and in all persons. He was active as the minister and instrument of God whose hand held him without break, whose own power infused into his word and deed a spiritual efficiency for good. After St. Paul he could say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”—Is not this the secret of the wonderful spiritual success in his very active missionary life?

Apostolic action is of its nature the activity of God’s instrument. He, not I, is the chief agent and cause. I am instrumentum, quod motum movet”: I can effect nothing except in the very measure that I am moved on by God. Apostolic action, missionary labor, is essentially subordinate to, dependent on, the Lord’s actual influence. Not only in the properly sacramental action in which Christ Himself acts through His minister. Also, in our daily activities, I must lead my family, guide my fellow workers, give others an example of Christian virtue, encourage the discouraged, all these, not in my own name, but in His. Such is the ideal, such it should be. And in reality? Do I guide, direct, decide, as Christ’s instrument, after consulting Him in prayer, according to His intentions, under the constant guidance of His Spirit? Only then can my action be instrumental for spiritual results. We have a world bigger than at the time of St. Francis Xavier to save.

May St. Francis Xavier obtain for me a share in the missionary flame that burnt him and that came straight from the heart of God. Let us be mission-minded Catholic.