St. Francis Xavier and I sort of found each other accidentally. I was assigned to read the “Set All Afire” by Louis de Wohl for a college class. Previous to this, all I knew about FX was that he was a founder of the Jesuits (whose spirituality I was just learning about and taking into my own spiritual life). There was a story in there about after they formed the Society of Jesus, how St. Ignatius of Loyola was the de facto leader, and how FX wanted to be sent to the missions. It was his burning desire to bring the love of God to people all over the world. Fearing that, as had been the case in his life previously, this was only his desire and not the will of God, he never said anything of his desire to Ignatius. Initially, Ignatius passed over FX and sent someone else to go on mission and FX was incredibly disappointed. Still, he never spoke of his desire or his disappointment, taking this as a sign that his will was not in line with God’s. At the last moment, the other Jesuit fell ill and could not go on mission. St. Ignatius decided to send FX in his place. He was overjoyed and finally shared his long-held desire with Ignatius. When Ignatius questioned him for not sharing this desire earlier, FX answered that he was offering his will for the Divine Will and didn’t want his personal desires to interfere.
One of my biggest fears in my spiritual life is that I’ll let my own desires interfere with God’s will for me and I’ll miss out on something much bigger and better. Not long after I read this fictional re-telling of St. Francis Xavier’s life, I had my own encounter similar to his. I had been working through some tough self-built walls in spiritual direction and we were coming down the other side of all that. My spiritual director had given the Ignatian Exercises before and I desperately wanted to do them, too. But I was afraid that I was just getting caught up in a fad (Ignatian spirituality was rapidly increasing in popularity on my campus) and that I was just afraid of missing out on something everyone else seemed to be doing. So I didn’t say anything to my director. I figured that, if she thought the exercises would be good for me, she would recommend them.
It was months that I carried this desire in my heart. One day in direction, my director asked me what I really wanted–– out of spiritual direction, faith, and life. As if struck by divine lightning, without hesitation, I pulled out a prayer card from my bag, handed it to her, and said, “This.” It was an image of the Lamb on the altar in front of a monstrance and blood is running down the altar like an altar cloth, onto the steps leading up to the altar, and out from there. The only light in the image was radiating from the monstrance; all else was dark. “I want to drown in the blood of the Lamb and be poured out like Him,” I said. She instantly replied, “You shall have it and it will cost you much.”
At my next direction session, the first thing my director asked me was if I wanted to do the Ignatian spiritual exercises, telling me why she thought they would benefit me. I started crying that of course I wanted to! When I explained why I hadn’t mentioned this desire before, my director said, “You need to trust yourself more. God certainly does.” I ran to the bookshop, bought the book of exercises, ran back to my director, and we started the Spiritual Exercises that day.
Since I first read about him, St. Francis Xavier has been a good friend to me. I think part of it is that we have similar personalities. It’s all wait, wait, wait until it’s not anymore. And then it’s GO time! And once we get going, it’s hard to stop. It’s hard to stop being friends with him, too.
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us.