Deacon Stanley (2nd row, third from the left, with glasses) with companion Jesuits just below the rooms of St Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, Italy where St Francis Xavier received his mission to Asia. Photo: Deacon Stanley Goh, SJ

Saint Francis Xavier on friendship and evangelisation

Deacon Stanley Goh, SJ

Journey through the Church in Asia and one would immediately be struck by the number of parishes and other institutions which bear the name of St Francis Xavier. As one of the patrons of the missions, he is celebrated the world over for his missionary zeal and the major role he played in bringing the Good News to Asia.

Friends with the Lord

Tales of his exploits for the Lord often focus on the dynamism with which he preached the Gospel that helped convert so many from diverse cultures to the faith, along with his endurance that allowed him to bear the hardships that he face on his long, arduous missionary journeys.

However, what many often forget is that just before he left for Asia, St Francis Xavier was part of a small group who founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), with St Ignatius of Loyola, the very order that would commission him to be an apostle to Asia. Communication between superiors and missionaries were kept up with letters. A look at the letters and instructions can give useful insights into how sustaining relationships with his companions helped his mission.

His connection with his Jesuit brothers all over the world is of particular interest here because I believe that the friendship and support that he gave and received helped to sustain his zeal for souls, and were sources of encouragement during difficult times. In a letter sent from Cochin in 1545 to his companions in Rome, St Francis Xavier wrote, “though we are so much alike in spirit and in love, to such distant lands, there is no reason because of any intervening distance for a lessoning of love and care for each other… This continuous presence in my mind of all those of the Society is more yours than mine, since the sacrifices and prayers which you are ever offering for me, a poor sinner, are the reason why I have so great a memory of you.”

Friends in the Lord

We see how the bond he shared with his fellow Jesuits, though spread throughout the world, continued to be a source of consolation as he worked hard to make the Lord’s name known in our part of the world. Just as the Lord called us friends and then sent us to spread the Good News, St Francis Xavier received much consolation from the encouragement of his companions, which in turn, served as a reminder of his friendship with the Lord who sent him on mission.

The gift of friendship occurs both in the giving and the receiving. St Francis Xavier received much from friends but gave much in return as well. In another letter to the Jesuits in India, written just before he left Malacca in 1546 he wrote, “When brother helps brother, theirs is the strength of a fortress; their cause is like a city, strong and unassailable.”

Just as the support of his friends and companions helped him to overcome the challenges that he faced during his missionary journeys, St Francis Xavier also sought to encourage those who might have been in similar situations. The strength and support that such missionary friendships brought to those ministering to Christians in the past helped build the Church that we know today, and I would add that the connection between friendship and evangelisation is even more important these days, especially in the light of the separation that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought.

St Francis Xavier showed us how being friends with the Lord can translate into missionary zeal but also demonstrated that having good friends in the Lord can be a wonderful source of mutual encouragement for the work of evangelisation. Just as he gave and received such support from his companions through his letters and instructions, I believe that we can do the same with our friends, through our current means of communication, so that the work of bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth can continue unabated, strengthened by our bonds of love and friendship.

Friends for the Lord

As we move closer to the coming of the Word incarnate during this season of Advent, may we allow ourselves to be more open to receiving encouragement from our friends so that we can become better heralds of the Lord, spreading this encouragement while proclaiming the message of peace and joy.