Since last Sunday, we have been reading from Matthew 10. This chapter focuses on the messengers of God, the ones he sends, his missionaries. This Sunday there are two themes I wish to propose for our reflection.
First is, what do we need to give up to become God’s messenger or missionary? Second is the life in store for his messengers.
Let me reframe the first point, what we give up to follow what God wants us to do, using St. Francis Xavier’s prayer: “My God, I love you—not because I hope for heaven nor dread the fires of hell… but as you yourself loved me, even so I love you and will love… solely because you are my God.”
This reframes the question from what do we need to give up to be God’s messenger, to why we give up everything to follow his mission for us. St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s closest friend, is an inspiring example.
Xavier is among the first seven companions of the Society of Jesus founded by Ignatius. After going through the Spiritual Exercises under the direction of Ignatius, Xavier chose to follow Christ and became one of the first seven companions of the Society of Jesus.
He came from a very wealthy family, was a gifted athlete and dashingly handsome. He is today’s equivalent of the campus heartthrob, and also the star of the school’s premier varsity team. We hardly think of this when we hear of Xavier, but his missionary zeal we remember.
His dream was to be a missionary in China, and thus he traveled from Rome to China first via Portugal, doing extensive missionary work in Asia. Records show that he is the first Christian missionary who entered Japan, Borneo and the surrounding areas. His most successful missionary work was in the area of India, Goa in particular.
Reaching the island of Shangchuan, right at the threshold of fulfilling his dream to bring God’s message to China, Xavier died on the island. Despite this “failure,” many regard him as one of the greatest missionaries of the Church since the time of St. Paul. He, together with St. Therese of Lisieux, is the patron saint of foreign missionaries.
Food for thought
Xavier’s story also gives us food for thought related to our second point, the life in store for a messenger, a missionary of God. His was a life fueled by his dream and passion to be a missionary in China. His reward was not the fulfillment of his dream, but to live out his passion.
“The Passion to Be”—this was the theme for the school year chosen by our high school students in 1996 or 1997 at the Ateneo de Manila High School. This was the life Xavier was blessed with from the time he made a choice to be a missionary, a messenger of God out of love for him, to the moment of his death, at the threshold of the fulfillment of his dream.
Most images of Xavier depict him with a burning heart, a very apt representation of the life he was gifted with, the life of a missionary, of God’s messenger, a life lived with “the passion to be.”
A week and a half ago, I had a conversation with the son of some of my closest friends from high school and college days. He had discovered his passion several years ago and had actually lived it out for a few years, as he took his masters in his field in Boston and then worked in New York.
But—as is the life of all missionaries—God’s plan brought him back to the Philippines, a rather interesting turn of events. His clear and certain mission is now couched in an environment not seemingly as nurturing to his dream and passion as Boston and New York were.
In our conversation, we agreed that when one truly dedicates oneself to what God wants one to do, failure is not an option, and success is not the main motivation.
Perhaps being a missionary, a messenger of God is living “the passion to be” wherever this takes you; living “the passion to be” regardless of success or failure. This done, one is liberated from the worry over success or failure.
All of these thoughts were swirling in my mind—and heart and soul—and as I sat early morning of last Friday praying the Divine Office, the scripture reading for the Morning Prayer synthesized it all.
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2: 19b-20)
The life of a messenger of God, of God’s missionary—living for Christ, living Christ, and all in love and service with him. What a gift! —CONTRIBUTED