Sunday, December 23, 2018

What is Christmas?

Christmas Message 2018

1. Christmas is an event that we Christians commemorate to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago in an obscure village called Bethlehem, of Palestine, under the Roman rule.

2. Jesus Christ is a focal point of our faith, and existence, moreover, gives us reason to celebrate that he is our Saviour and Master.  Jesus said, those who have seen me have seen the Father. 

3. The event of Jesus' coming into the world is to take us out of darkness and lead us to light, from untruth to truth and from death to life, in other words, as Jesus himself said, that he is the way, the truth and life. It’s the moment to start imitating.

4. Jesus' coming into the world is considered as a historical true event which happens in our own human history. Such an event is God becoming human to be part of our lives so that we become like him. It’s a story of our salvation. Christmas reminds us that we need to take seriously our life in this world as this would lead us to God once and for all. 

5. Christmas is a feast of life. It’s a festival of joy, peace, consolation, contentment, excitement, happiness, gladness. We are called to be partakers in this great event human story. Only God can give us the joy of living waters.

Happy Christmas!!!

- Olvin Veigas, S.J. 
22 Dec 2018

Monday, December 3, 2018

Three Takeaways From the Life of St Francis Xavier

What are the three takeaways from the life of St Francis Xavier on his feast day?

First of all, St Francis Xavier was a man of God.  Unfortunately, St Francis was thought to be a man of secular culture and carrier oriented man until he met Ignatius of Loyola.  Actually it is not so. Francis Xavier was a man of his times.  A man of his stature who is of noble birth would be looking normally during those times what the influential Catholic Church could offer him, a fine job in the hierarchical church.

If we go and see the Xavier Castle in Navarre, Spain there is a little place for prayer used by his family, a kind of chapel.  Here is a unique but large crucifix which was used by his family to pray daily.  Francis grew in this atmosphere of prayer and praying before the crucifix which still adorns the castle even today.

If we read his life, Francis was a man endowed with divine gifts and talents.  Unlike Ignatius of Loyola, we do not hear anything stupid or mischievous things from the early life of Francis.  Even though the Jesuit historians have given too much importance to the so called conversion experience of Francis under the guidance of Ignatius especially the line from the gospel "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mt 16:26).  But in reality, Francis knew what he wanted, and would strive to achieve the thing that he wished to attain.

What built Francis was his various experiences either in the Xavier castle, or his early studies in Navarre, or his later life and study in Paris academia. Paris was known for its philosophical and theological studies and continues to be so even today.  From Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Erasmus, and others the tradition of wisdom, humanism and experience went hand and hand. “The unexamined life is not worth living”, the words of Socrates seems to have rung high in Francis’s ears.  Therefore he was ready for any ventures including listening to Ignatius of Loyola and doing Spiritual Exercises under him. Later we see Francis and his adventures as Missionary in India  and South East Asia.

Secondly, Xavier was s man of the Church and of Christ. Once he had experienced God very intimately in the Exercises and among his first companions, Xavier was ready to do anything for Christ and His Church.  No personal comforts and any other benefits attracted him to preach Christ. In his short life of 46 years, he spent 10 years a missionary in Asia.  It is believed that much of his time, to exaggerate a bit, he must have spent at least 7 years in voyages in the sea.  Francis Xavier is widely pictured with a cross in his hands, including during his final hours of his life in a little known island of Shangchuan, Taishan, which is overlooking China.  Holding Crucifix is a symbol of Xavier’s incredible faith that he had since his childhood in Xavier castle which continued until his death in a far away continent Asia.  In other words, Christ was his solace and master.

In his letter to Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, Francis dispatches a letter from India in which he puts so beautifully his amazing zeal for souls and heart full of fire to gain the souls for Christ.  "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 – even to India".

Thirdly, Francis was a man of the world in other words, a man of people.  His heart was for the world but not in the world.  He never got stuck with Europe, its ideas and centrist working style but whole of the world.  I suppose his life of experience looked for something unique.  He quickly understood how important for the Church and for Christ to win three great civilisations of Asia, namely India, Japan and China.  To know these civilisations he was ready to embark on any sort of  tedious journeys or venture into dangerous risks.  His ardent desire was to bring Christ into those civilisations.  He looked something deep inside these cultures of the world.  Xavier did not conquer the world instead he tried to consent the world to embrace Christ and His Church.

One of the fascinating things we can see in Francis as a missionary is his popularity around the world. The early Jesuit reductions in Latin America bore his names. In Bogota, Colombia there is a huge Jesuit University called Javeriana.  A lot of Institutions and churches bear his name in all the continents of the world.  But probably not so much in Europe.  With my little experience in Italy I should say that I’m yet to trace an institute or Church honouring St Francis Xavier except his hand in our Jesuit Church Gesù, where an alter is dedicated to him.  Xavier was a man of the periphery in spite of coming from the centre of the world, that is Europe. Just like Jesus, Jerusalem did not embrace him but the outskirts of the Jerusalem.

Perhaps we can learn a number of things from his life. Francis lived beyond the rules.  He neither saw the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, nor the rule books of the Society.  For him the experience of Jesus was the rule book.

Xavier had a great autonomy to do things.  He appointed a very young Italian Jesuit Antonio Criminali (1520-1549) who was in his late 20’s as mission superior in Madurai mission and later was killed being the first Jesuit martyr in India in 1549.  He trusted his men with full confidence and support. When he realised that God was calling him to Japan, Francis set his foot.  Because he saw Jesus was calling him there.  Probably we should self critique today as Indian Jesuits.  Often we are stuck with rules and regulations and have given little space to the Spirit to work within us.  That is why we have become less enterprising and not ready for Christ’s missions but missions of our superiors or provincials.  If you are good at something and is ready to do fascinating things for Christ why not you give a try?  Probably we should do some self evaluation as we reflect on St Francis Xavier who is a role model in many of the things that we do today.  He is still relevant for our times in making Christ known in our world.

Olvin Veigas, SJ
Feast of St Francis Xavier