St Francis Xavier was one of the greatest missioners in the history of the Church after St Paul. He was born in Spain in 1506 and met St Ignatius of Loyola while he was a student in Paris. After his ordination, Francis was sent to India on mission where he converted many to the Christian faith and protected the native population from exploitation. He died from exhaustion in 1552.
In an extract from his writings, he communicates a strong sense of himself being an instrument of the Lord for the salvation of the people. He placed a high value of the content of the faith and the desire to educate the people into the Christian life. Despite the importance of the mind for the Christian life, Francis sharply criticized academics in places like universities in Europe who were more interested in their books than the salvation of souls. He wrote: ‘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’.
In the 12th century, St Bonaventure said something similar when he argued that all learning must be at the service of faith and directed to the glory of God. He recognized the inadequacy of ‘reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God' (Journey into the Mind of God).
What Francis and Bonaventure unite in telling us is that everything we think, say and do as Christians must be directed towards charity and be directed to the eternal salvation of human beings body and soul. A powerful lesson given at this time.