Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Saint Francis Xavier, Destroyer of Pagan Idols

Saint Francis Xavier Healing and Preaching. An oil painting similar to one
by Peter Paul Rubens, early 17th century. 
On this feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, let us recall in particular his missionary zeal.

In our own age, we too often hear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be adapted to appeal to the modern world. We are told that traditional Christian practices are out of step with reality, and that Christian morality practiced for millennia now impose an impossible burden upon both sophisticated city-dwellers and the simple painted people of the jungle alike.

Saint Francis Xavier, perhaps the greatest Jesuit missionary of them all, had no such qualms. He preached the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ to all men without prejudice. He understood that it wasn’t the Gospel that needed adaptation, but the world that needed to be transformed by the Gospel. He believed that all were entitled to the truth of the Catholic Church without varnish, dumbing-down, or odd pastoral approaches that result in confusion and disunity.

Above all, he certainly did not countenance any sort of idolatry under the pretense of cultural diversity. This is how classical Jesuits behaved and brought millions to Christ—exactly the opposite of how too many of the heirs of this heroic patrimony tend to act in our own time.

Following is an excerpt from one of St. Francis Xavier’s letters explaining his method for bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the villages of 16th century India:
When I have done my instruction, I ask one by one all those who desire baptism if they believe without hesitation in each of the articles of the faith. All immediately, holding their arms in the form of the Cross, declare with one voice that they believe all entirely.

Then at last I baptize them in due form, and I give to each his name written on a ticket. After their baptism the new Christians go back to their houses and bring me their wives and families for baptism. When all are baptized I order all the temples of their false gods to be destroyed and all the idols to be broken in pieces.

I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done, witnessing the destruction of the idols by the very people who but lately adored them. In all the towns and villages I leave the Christian doctrine in writing in the language of the country, and I prescribe at the same time the manner in which it is to be taught in the morning and evening schools. When I have done all this in one place, I pass to another, and so on successively to the rest.

In this way I go all round the country, bringing the natives into the fold of Jesus Christ, and the joy that I feel in this is far too great to be expressed in a letter, or even by word of mouth.
The above is taken from the book entitled The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier, Volume 1 by Henry James Coleridge. Click the link above to read more.

In this same book, we read how Francis preached primarily to the lower classes in India, and how in consequence, he was despised by the wealthy Brahmins. But despite the opposition of the wealthy...
He never made any compromise with them, and one of the first steps which he took after baptizing the inhabitants of a village was to destroy the idols and their pagodas. It is natural enough that frequent attempts should have been made on his life. The cottages in which he rested were burnt down, sometimes three or four in one day. Once he was saved, like Charles II, in the thick branches of a tree, around which his enemies were seeking to slay him. He always had a desire for martyrdom, and was almost reckless in exposing himself to danger.” [The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier, Volume 1]
One wonders what our present-day Church would make of the missionary zeal of Saint Francis Xavier. Would he be denounced as a “proselytizer”? Would he be urged by his bishop to use a softer pastoral approach which enculturates the idols of his converts into their Christian worship? Would he be condemned as one who imposes impossible moral burdens upon his simple converts that not even the wealthy elites of New York, Madrid, and Rome can live up to?


Yet, it is hard to argue with success. Men like Saint Francis Xavier expounded a clear, strong and authentic Christianity to the world and thereby brought millions into the Church of Jesus Christ in lands which had never heard of the Gospel. By contrast, our modern leaders seem intent on creating a confusing, soft, muddy Christianity which is intended to offer easy salvation to all, calling none to conversion, repentance or sacrifice.

Those of us who have been alive since the 1970s have seen the bitter fruit of that latter approach. May the Holy Spirit inspire more souls to imitate the counter-cultural boldness, love, and zeal for Christ of Saint Francis Xavier.

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