Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest
Reading 1 IS 30:19-21, 23-26
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.He will give rain for the seed
that you sow in the ground,
And the wheat that the soil produces
will be rich and abundant.
On that day your flock will be given pasture
and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows;
The oxen and the asses that till the ground
will eat silage tossed to them
with shovel and pitchfork.
Upon every high mountain and lofty hill
there will be streams of running water.
On the day of the great slaughter,
when the towers fall,
The light of the moon will be like that of the sun
and the light of the sun will be seven times greater
like the light of seven days.
On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people,
he will heal the bruises left by his blows.
Responsorial Psalm PS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Praise the LORD, for he is good;
sing praise to our God, for he is gracious;
it is fitting to praise him.
The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;
the dispersed of Israel he gathers.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He tells the number of the stars;
he calls each by name.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Great is our LORD and mighty in power:
to his wisdom there is no limit.
The LORD sustains the lowly;
the wicked he casts to the ground.
R. Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.
Alleluia IS 33:22
The LORD is our Judge, our Lawgiver, our King;
he it is who will save us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 9:35B-10:1, 5A, 6-8
Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”
Then he summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
Commentary on Matthew 9:35 -10:1,6-8 From Living Space
The promises of the First Reading are shown being fulfilled in the person of Jesus in the Gospel. We can read it in three sections:
Jesus is shown constantly on the move, teaching in synagogues all over the region, proclaiming the Good News of God’s reign coming among them and bringing healing to all who are sick and diseased. Matthew does not use the title of Good Shepherd for Jesus but he does indicate the deep compassion of Jesus for all those are harassed and depressed, people with no direction in their lives, who are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus is clearly the Shepherd who can lead them back to where they belong.
He then says to his disciples that there is a huge harvest waiting to be reaped. Up to this he has been working alone but he needs help, especially after he has gone. There are very few people available to work in the harvest field. He then calls the Twelve and hands on to them his own powers to liberate people from evil powers and to heal all kinds of sickness.
The harvest is still great and the need for labourers is as great as ever. In asking the Lord to send labourers into the harvest, we have to ask ourselves what is the role of each one of us. It is not just a question of priests and religious. Jesus was not talking to priests and religious (there was no such thing at the time the gospels were written) but to every one of his followers – to every one of us who has been baptised. Every one of us is being called to be a harvester. Each one of us can reach a corner of the harvest field that is accessible to no one else. These include my family, my neighbours, my work colleagues and others who come into my life. I may be the only person who brings Jesus with his healing and compassion into their lives.
And what are we to do? Let people know that the Reign of God is very close, because God himself and Jesus are so close. Once we say Yes to God and his Son, they become part of our lives. And we are to do the same work he told his to do:
Heal the sick: by our sympathy and support, which can often do more than any medical treatment.
Raise the dead: perhaps not literally. But there are many who are intellectually, emotionally and socially dead. They are physically alive but they have stopped living meaningful lives. We can help them to find life again.
Cleanse the lepers: all those people who are on the fringes of society, whom we neglect, ignore, despise, reject, avoid. There are the dropouts, the drug addicts and alcoholics, the HIV/AIDS victims, the homeless, single mothers, ‘sex workers’… Let them know they are accepted and loved by God.
Cast out devils: help people liberate themselves from the demons of fear, anger, hatred, violence, from drugs, alcohol, nicotine, sexual abuse (themselves and others), greed for money…
There are so many people who need to hear and to experience the message of Christmas.
There are many, alas, for whom Christmas is Bad News, a time of misery, depression and loneliness. Let’s change that.
In his apostolic encyclical, Pope Francis spoke of the joy of the gospel. Those who encounter Jesus and receive the gospel fill their hearts with joy and they are set free from sin, loneliness and emptiness in their lives. The gospel always gives hope and meaning to those who receive it. This joy must constantly be renewed because our involvement in the world, with all its pleasures and preoccupations can cause us to lose the voice of God so that His love is no longer felt and the desire to spread the Gospel also fades.
However, equally important for Pope Francis is that the proclaimers must first be filled with joy. He is wearied of evangelizers who lack joy and enthusiasm, as if they had just come back from a funeral. If we evangelizers are dejected, discouraged, impatient and anxious, we will become counter witnesses. Hence, today, we need to recover and deepen our enthusiasm by entering into the joy of St Paul, the missionary zeal of St Francis Xavier in the proclamation of the Good News.
St Paul in the first reading asked, “Do you know what my reward is?” Indeed, in a world where the subject is given priority, many ask “what is in it for me if I do this or that?” In other words, what do I get out of this job or work or service? We need to explain why we are doing what we are doing. Why does a person choose the priesthood? Why does a person choose to serve in the ministry? Why does a person enter into public service? What reward do you expect for your sacrifices?
Perhaps, in the first place, as Christians, we should not be speaking about rewards. The word “reward” is too worldly, secular, materialistic and self-serving. Rather, it would be better for us to think in terms of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. Of course, there are some who are worldly, thinking in terms of power, glory, status and even material gains from the ministry. They will only destroy themselves. St Paul wrote, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” (1 Tim 6:6-9)
Secondly, St Paul made it clear that he does not even “insist on the rights which the Gospel gives me.” This is a reference to his right to material needs. We know that at one point, he was working as a tent maker to pay for his own ministry. Later on, he depended on the generosity of others but he was always contented with what he had, without insisting on his rights as he rightly wrote to the Philippians, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.” (Phil 4:11f) This is so unlike the world today when we all speak of rights all the time. Whilst we certainly must be just to everyone yet this preoccupation of our rights certainly compromises the proclamation of the gospel as a free gift to be given freely to others without counting the cost.
The principle of finding joy in the proclamation of the gospel is derived from the fact that it is freely received and therefore freely given, without any strings attached, unconditional and pure. This is the starting point of St Paul’s attitude towards his ministry. His reward is that in his preaching he is “able to offer the Good News free.” Jesus instructed the disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay.” (Mt 10:8)
How, then, can such an attitude of selfless joy be attained? What attitudes must we have? Firstly, we must see ourselves as servants and apostles. Our ministry is a calling. St Paul said, “I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it!” It is a responsibility placed on us. As servants of God, we are slaves, like St Paul. We have nothing that is ours because all belong to God. “So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could.”
At the same time, as apostles, we are sent. We do not send ourselves and hence it is a vocation, a calling. We do not take it upon ourselves but we have been entrusted with the message of salvation for all. Just as the Father sent Christ, as apostles Christ sends us. We are always dependent on Him and we act on His behalf and never in our own capacity. Our task is not to proclaim ourselves but Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We are to proclaim the gospel, the Good News of God’s love, mercy and justice.
Secondly, this duty and privilege must be done out of gratitude. St Paul says, “If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands.” Unless we are grateful for the Good News we have received, we will not understand the responsibility that comes with it. Good News is always meant to be shared, not to be kept. Thus, the commission to announce the Good News is addressed to the disciples who have encountered the Risen Lord. “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:15) Are we grateful for our vocation or do we take it up with reluctance?
So we need to get back to the question, ‘what is our reward?’ St Paul said, “I still do this, for the sake of the Gospel, to have a share in its blessings.”
Indeed, the first great reward is sharing in the joy of Christ who came to give Himself freely for humanity and our salvation. The greatest joy in giving is when we give freely and for free. When we are able to free ourselves from our own needs and focus on the needs of others, we experience the joy of freedom and the joy of pure love and pure giving. It is a joy that no one can explain. This is the joy of those who help the poor. This is the joy of St Teresa of Kolkata. This, too, is the joy of the priesthood and religious life; that we are not paid for our services. Indeed, the beauty of Christian ministry is that we are not paid like workers so that we can render our services freely without discriminating people.
Secondly, it is the joy of being one with our fellowmen in their pains, struggles and joys. St Paul wrote, “For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost.” Feeling with our brothers and sisters and journeying with them help us to remain human, for joy flows from a man who is compassionate and sensitive to the sufferings and joys of his fellowmen. Indeed, as a priest, my great joy is to let people know that I am with them in their journey of life, in their struggles. Many times, I cannot do much for them but supporting them morally and in whatever ways I could, I know I bring hope and joy to them. This joy is a liberating and fulfilling joy.
In a nutshell, the only way to share in the blessings of the gospel is to share the gospel with others. In giving the gospel to others, in giving hope, meaning, love and life to others, we too in the process partake of their joy and happiness. As we give ourselves in service to others, we receive the same blessings as well. When I preach the gospel, I preach first and foremost to myself. When I heal others, I heal my own wounds. When I hear confession, I hear my own sins. When I give kindness to others, I grow in kindness and mercy. This is what the gospel says, “These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.” In restoring others to health and life, we receive faith and life ourselves because we see the power of God at work in us like the early apostles who, “going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by signs that accompanied it.”
Consequently, today as we celebrate the Feast of St Francis Xavier, I invite all Christians to renew their personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, in repentance, in conversion, in ministry and in service to the poor. No one should ever think that this invitation is not for him or her as no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. If, like St Francis, we are willing to risk our lives for Him, He will not disappoint us. Let us take the words of our Lord seriously, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Mt 16:25f) This was the text that changed the life of St Ignatius of Loyola. What about us?Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore . https://www.catholic.sg/03-december-2016-saturday-st-francis-xavier/ .
How can the Church be a beacon of mercy? It is ironical that often the Church is not seen as a place where mercy is shown. This happens when the Church becomes too institutionalized and legalistic. At times, the institutional Church can seem to be lacking in compassion and mercy to the poor, to the sick and those in need. Indeed, many have left the Church because the Church refused to allow them to remarry or because some confessors have humiliated them at the confessional with their judgmental attitude. This is in contrast to the gospel of mercy that St Paul spoke about, “Do you know what my reward is? It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.” So if the Church were to be a beacon of mercy, we must proclaim the Gospel as a work of mercy.
Many people today are walking in the valley of tears and darkness. Many are wounded by relationships with their spouse because of infidelity or irresponsibility and constant quarrels. Those who are divorced and unable to remarry find life very lonely. Worse still, when they have children to raise all by themselves with no one to carry their burden with them. Children are disillusioned with their parents for failing to show fatherly and motherly love and care. Siblings are often at odds with each other, competing for attention and acceptance from their parents and relatives. In offices, many feel so pressured by work and by office politics. Many others have fallen out of society and recruited into secret societies, living a life of sin and crime. Then there are those who are financially strapped or emotionally and psychologically so broken that they do not know how to handle their lives anymore. Of course, many are sick; some suffering from terminal illnesses or rare diseases. In all these desperations, the world is looking for mercy.
Indeed, as Christians we must be instruments of God’s mercy. This is how we, as Church and as individuals, must radiate the mercy of God. Again in today’s scripture readings, we are encouraged to show the mercy of God. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah urges us, “Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, clothe the man you see to be naked and turn not from your own kin.” In a similar vein, Jesus in the gospel instructs us, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised is saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.” Indeed, in Luke Chapter 4 the Lord inaugurates His mission by citing the text of Isaiah proclaiming the Jubilee Year, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18f)
But over and above all the works of mercy, we are called to proclaim Christ as the God of mercy. He is the Good News for all of humanity. This must be the primary work of mercy. Many fail to realize that to speak about Jesus to others is itself already a work of mercy. He is called Divine Mercy, as Sr Faustina has revealed to us. What greater gift can we give to anyone than the Divine Mercy Himself? Many of our Catholics do not mind rendering mercy in terms of charity to the poor or help people but they are afraid to announce Jesus as the Divine Mercy to them. It is as if we are happy to give those who do not have fish but we would not tell them where we got our fish from. What we must do is to give them the source of mercy, which is none other than Christ Himself. That is why to proclaim God’s mercy in works of charity and compassion, whilst necessary, without announcing Christ as the Mercy of God is to shortchange the world. How could we hide such a wonderful gift from those people whom we are reaching out to? We must give them the most important of all gifts, the Giver, Christ the Divine Mercy and no less. We cannot substitute good works and charity for divine mercy. Regardless of how much mercy we can show to them, we will fall short if we do not reveal to them the source of mercy, Jesus Himself.
In truth, who can lead them out of darkness and slavery? We cannot. No matter how much charity we do, we can never fill empty hearts. No matter how much assurance we can give to anyone, we can never give them peace and love and security. No matter how much condolence we can give to one in bereavement, we can never console them or give them back the one they love. Only Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life can fulfill the longings of their souls and heal the pains in their heart. For this reason, before Jesus instructed the disciples to heal the sick and to liberate them, He told them first and foremost to proclaim Him as the Good News for humanity. He showed Himself to the Eleven and said to them, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised is saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.”
So the proclamation of Christ as our Lord and Saviour is the primary work of mercy. It is not a secondary work of mercy. This is because in Jesus, we find hope for eternal life. In Jesus, we receive the healing grace of God and His unconditional forgiveness of all our sins. By His death on the cross, we know that we are forgiven because He prayed for all His enemies. In Jesus, we find the fullness of life by dying to self and living for God and for others. In Jesus, we know He can heal us of all our sinfulness and the consequences that come from sin. Jesus is the love of the Father in person. So in Jesus, we can face life and we can face death with courage because death has been overcome. With Jesus, we are liberated for new life and for love, like the apostles and the early Christians. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, heals us and transforms us.
But we cannot proclaim Christ as Divine Mercy unless we have encountered His mercy. St Paul wrote,“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.” (2 Cor 1:3-5) Indeed, granting mercy presupposes we have received God’s mercy. Only those who have known the Lord’s mercy in person can proclaim to the world that He is mercy. Only those who have encountered Christ could pray, “Eternal Father, it is by your gift that we praise you: the wonder of our making is only surpassed by the splendour and joy of our coming to life in Christ.” This is what the psalmist is inviting us as well. He prayed, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise always on my lips; in the Lord my soul shall make its boast. The humble shall hear and be glad. I sought the Lord and he answered me; from all my terrors he set me free.” Only having tasted the sweetness and goodness of God, can we proclaim His mercy.
This was the same reason that motivated St Francis Xavier to travel to foreign lands like many of our missionary Fathers to save souls. They would do anything and everything, taking with them nothing except their faith in the Lord to proclaim the gospel to all of humanity even at the threat of hunger, shipwreck, opposition and death. Like St Paul who wrote, “So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings.”
We can understand where they are coming from and what gave them such impetus to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ. For them, having discovered Christ as the gift of God’s mercy, they could no longer be silent about the Good News in person. They went beyond just doing good works and actively proclaimed Christ, in and out of season. As St Paul shared, “I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands.”
The birthday of our Lord is coming. At Christmas, we are called to do good, reach out especially to the poor, the elderly who are abandoned and to those who feel lonely and unloved. But let us not forget to give them the Saviour as well. Like the angels we must announce the coming of the Saviour. With the psalmist we say, “Look towards him and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed. This poor man called; the Lord heard him and rescued him from all his distress.”
Together with this direct proclamation of the Gospel, we accompany our announcement with the works of mercy and compassion. As in the early Church, Jesus promises us that He would accompany our words with works, “while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.” Indeed, if we continue this work of proclaiming Christ as the Divine Mercy and demonstrate by works of mercy, we can be sure that our listeners will believe and experience God’s mercy.
Francis Xavier, born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta (7 April 1506 – 3 December 1552) was a Roman Catholic missionary born in Xavier, Kingdom of Navarre (now part of Spain), and co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was a student of Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits, dedicated at Montmartre in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese Empire of the time. He was influential in the spreading and upkeep of Catholicism most notably in India, but also ventured into Japan, Borneo, the Moluccas, and other areas which had thus far not been visited by Christian missionaries. In these areas, being a pioneer and struggling to learn the local languages in the face of opposition, he had less success than he had enjoyed in India. It was a goal of Xavier to one day reach China.
Francis Xavier, born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta
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