What if you had the cure for a terrible disease—what would be your obligation to make that cure known?
What if the terrible disease for which you had the cure were alienation from God? Then what would your obligation be to make that cure known?
I believe that great Jesuit missionaries such as Saints Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf would understand my point and say, “That’s why we worked ourselves to death as missionaries!” These great men have been much in mind lately, as I read of preparations for the upcoming synod on the Amazon. One story in particular stands out: a mission in the Amazon that (proudly?) admits that in 53 years of working in that mission territory, not one person has been baptized.
Now consider these words of Saint Francis Xavier, the great apostle to Asia:
I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized…. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself… Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”
I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them. This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. 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 heart:” Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like…”
This man had a zeal for souls! No very long after the time of Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Isaac Jogues came to North America as a missionary to the native peoples. After surviving brutal torture, he returned to the mission fields. Why? Because he believed that people made in the image and likeness of God need the Gospel and the sacraments. He was so sure of that need that he chose certain death in order bring Christ to them:
My heart tells me that if I have the happiness of being employed in this mission, Ibo et non redibo (I shall go and not return); but I shall be happy if our Lord will complete the sacrifice where He has begun it, and make the little blood I have shed in that land the earnest of what I would give from every vein of my body and heart.
Jesuit Saint Jean de Brebeuf was Jogues’ companion in mission. His martyrdom was so gruesome I will not recount it here. This great missionary wrote the following to his superior in Rome:
As for the mysteries of our faith, although these are entirely new to their ears, they yet do not gainsay them, or mock or scorn them; nay, rather they wonder, praise and approve, though without keeping them long before their minds. They all have but one answer—“Such is not our custom; your world is different from ours; the God who created yours” they say, “did not create ours.” In short, caught in Satan’s snares, their evil habits hold them back.
What Saints Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf all had in common was a recognition of the unspeakable spiritual deprivation in a life lived apart from the grace of the sacraments. Each loved Christ and loved his neighbor and literally lived and died for the sake of winning converts to Christ.
As I read various accounts of the upcoming Synod, and about the practices of infanticide (which, historically, Catholic missionaries have always put a stop to wherever they went) and cannibalism among the Amazonians who have not been baptized, I wonder: Why aren’t there more efforts to convert to Christ these people whom he loves?
As the Synod meets in Rome this fall, I hope images of Saints Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebeuf will be available to those attending.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!