The Signs Accompanying the True Gospel:
The Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier
The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier by Peter Paul Rubens
“Signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17). Signs indicate the presence of a deeper reality. They don’t say something in and of themselves; rather, they confirm the veracity of a preexisting conviction. In Mark’s Gospel reading—chosen because of the Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier—we hear one account of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples. He reveals to them that great miracles will verify the good news that they preach to the world. However, it is important to note that such wonders are secondary in the text; they merely accompany the gospel. We know that Jesus’ miracles produced mixed reactions amongst the crowds. Very soon after He multiplied the loaves and the fish, the masses turned on Him because of His difficult teaching on the Eucharist. Based on this reality, it seems that the message is more important than the miracle.
Nevertheless, the signs are there. How might we approach them? While studying at the University of Oxford, I often engaged in discussions with a Polish student of physics and philosophy. Peter and I would talk about God, miracles, and the Church with great frequency, but Peter was an atheist. He would always remind me that miracles do appear to occur, but that they are easily explainable if we turn to quantum physics. After all, everything comes down to probability when you think about it. His conviction demonstrated to me that miracles, though they might have captivated the imagination of people of earlier days, don’t necessarily do the trick now, at least not among a certain class of intellectuals. Where, then, shall we turn?
Many people have speculated about the current crisis of the Roman Catholic Church. Some argue that the crisis is one of faith. Others say that it is an issue of trust. I think that we are living through a crisis of holiness. Why has Pope Francis, for instance, aroused so much interest? It is largely because he lives a life of authentic holiness. His lifestyle of sanctity turns more heads than the great number of miracles that have been performed within the Church since the start of his pontificate. The sign that verifies the message of the Gospel today is the sign of holiness.
Francis Xavier, being a saint, a holy man, as Bartlett’s coworker put it, is an outstanding model to follow in this regard. In one of his letters from the Far East to his fellow Jesuits, St. Francis exhorted them to “dispose themselves for much,” “que os dispongáis para mucho.” Though he surely disposed himself for much in that modern scholars estimate his performance of more than 30,000 baptisms, he also disposed himself in ways that are much more akin to our own. Where did Francis Xavier initially go when he arrived in Goa: first, to a hospital to minister to patients, like Dwyer; second, to a prison, like a number of our second years; third, to a school, like many of us first years. He knew both the little way of St. Therese and the big way of the early Apostles, both of which were signs that served to confirm the gospel he proclaimed.
St. Francis Xavier’s challenge to us, my brothers, is to internalize his call to “dispose ourselves for much.” I’m convinced that holy witness, above all, will convince this generation that God is truly Emmanuel. Let us pray that, during this advent season, we might rediscover the miraculous truth that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, as well. With God on our side, we can dispose ourselves to accomplish the impossible task put before the disciples and, of course, put now before us: the evangelization of the whole world.