The Gospel passage today is taken from the ending of St. Mark’s Gospel. I recognize it almost immediately because it is also the passage that we use for the feast of St. Anthony of Padua who is regarded as the great evangelical preacher. St. Mark, of course, is the author of the first Gospel written after Jesus returned to His Father.
The passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians also speaks of spreading the Gospel message. St. Paul uses language that speaks to us of responsibility and obligation. He obviously recognizes that the commission that Jesus gave the disciples who were gathered around him at the time of his Ascension extended to all who professed faith in him. According to the Acts of the Apostles, when Jesus gave this commission there were as many as 120 disciples gathered around St. Peter. The Church has always regarded the obligation to preach the Gospel as part of every Christian’s baptismal responsibility.
St. Francis Xavier stands as an extraordinary figure in the history of the missionary activity of the Church. He was a companion of both St. Ignatius of Loyola. They were both students at the University of Paris and became friends when they were assigned to the same dormitory together. St. Ignatius told St. Francis and five other Basque students of his conversion experience and of his resolve to spread the Gospel in those areas of the world where it has yet to be heard. His original intention was to go to the Holy Land and preach to those who had taken possession of the city of Jerusalem. However, God had something other in mind.
King John III, whose merchants and soldiers were colonizing India at the time, asked the Holy Father to send the band of the first seven Jesuits to India to keep his citizens in touch with their faith. In addition, they preached the Gospel to the entire population. While they were there, a call came from the Malay Peninsula further east. Francis Xavier was sent in answer to that call. While there, he also had some contact with Japan but little success. When he returned to his fellow missionaries in India, he told them that his ultimate destination was to bring the faith to the people of Japan which meant that first they needed to go to China as the Japanese regarded the Chinese as a people of wisdom. Unfortunately, Francis Xavier died of a fever on December 3, 1552, on Shangchuan Island, China. He was canonized seventy years later as the Church recognized his holiness and his efforts to make the Gospel known throughout the Far East.
The Diocese of Joliet in Illinois was formed on December 11, 1948. Six days later, Martin Dewey McNamara a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago was appointed its first bishop. He was ordained a bishop on March 7, 1949. Bishop McNamara and the newly formed Diocese chose St. Francis Xavier as its principal patron, emphasizing the missionary character by which they wished to be known. We remember all of them as we celebrate this feast day and continue to pledge ourselves to the great commission that is ours by virtue of our baptism.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator