Relic of St. Francis Xavier

Homily by the Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien

Archbishop of Kingston

Mass with the Relic of St. Francis Xavier

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Kingston


Last Sunday, the opening prayer of the Mass expressed the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany when it said: “O God…on this day (you) revealed your only Begotten Son to the nations”, and, in the second reading from Ephesians, Paul spoke of how Gentiles now share the same inheritance (with the Jews); they are parts of the same body, and the same promise (of salvation) has been made to them in Christ Jesus, through the gospel.

It is very fitting that today, while the feast of the Epiphany is still in our minds and hearts, we receive the relic of St. Francis Xavier, a man who took this message to heart, and, with great zeal, brought the Christian faith to the nations, and, in particular, to India.

I have always been amazed and edified by how seriously missionary orders of both men and women have left their homeland to serve the cause of the gospel.  The North American martyrs immediately come to mind, as well as the Canadian Scarboro Foreign Missions and, among others, many congregations of religious women who have served in Central and Latin America.

In our first reading today, St. Paul says that he had a right to be supported by the faithful for whom he laboured in preaching the Gospel.  However, for fear that the pagans and the new converts might think he preached only for this temporal purpose, and not for their eternal interests, he freely chose to earn his living by his own hands so that the Corinthians could see and learn what it meant to deny oneself for spiritual ends and for the sake of others.

It is this same single-hearted purpose that we see in St. Francis Xavier.  In the Office for Readings for his feast day, we find a letter that he sent to St. Ignatius where he speaks of his ministry.  He says:

“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only:  there is no one to make them Christians.”  And then he went on to say that, if those studying in Europe really understood how many are missing out, “they would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice.  They would cry out with all their hearts, ‘I am here!  What do you want me to do?  Send me anywhere you like – even to India!’”

In this short quotation, we have a glimpse of the person of St. Francis Xavier, whose relic we venerate today, and through whose intercession we ask for a greater and more fervent desire to be of service to the gospel.

Today, we still send missionaries abroad.  In the past year, 23 local and foreign priests, religious, and lay missionaries were killed.  It is important for us to support missionary work in foreign lands, and we do so in a special way when we celebrate World Mission Sunday in October, but recent years have brought forward a new need and a new awareness.

The ‘new need’ can be described as the need for a “new” evangelization, which refers to the necessity to proclaim anew the gospel in our own land, where secularism and pluralism have brought about many changes.

With this new task has come a new awareness that all of us, not just missionaries from religious congregations, are called to be ‘missionary disciples’, to use the words of Pope Francis.  There is a renewed sense of mission, a call to be a Church which goes forth.  To be a missionary disciple means to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who, despite our imperfections, offers us his closeness, his word, and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives. (EvGaud #121)

The Holy Father, in speaking of the ‘new evangelization’, does not refer to an evangelization by professionals, which would leave the rest of the faithful as simply passive recipients.  Of course, we need professionals, and we need to have training, a deepening love, and a clearer witness to the gospel.  But evangelization calls for the personal involvement of all the baptized.

For this reason, we need examples; we need witnesses to encourage us and to show us the way.  St. Francis Xavier is a wonderful example of one who had this missionary zeal.  It is no wonder that he is the patron saint of Catholic Christian Outreach, for it was during his time at university that he had his conversion and heard a call to mission.

Let us pray that this Pilgrimage of the Relic of St. Francis Xavier throughout Canada will stir up the same grace and sense of responsibility for the work of evangelization.

May we see today as a grace-filled moment to strengthen our faith and our commitment to the gospel.