31 Jul 2022  |   05:11am IST

St Ignatius of Loyola’s impact on St Francis Xavier

Fellow companions, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier said goodbye in Rome in 1540, they never saw each other again, but their love for each other remained strong. They were both canonized on the same day, March 12, 1622
St Ignatius of Loyola’s impact on St Francis Xavier

Fr Joseph Cardozo SJ


he sixteenth century is known to have had an enormous impact on the era of that time, namely, discoveries, reformation, evolving of various religious Orders and congregations. Saints like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier were contemporaries, who gave an in-depth dimension to religious life and life of the Church. They carved different perspectives to the ways by which one ought to serve God’s people. Thus, they can be aptly called as reformers and counter-reformers of the Catholic world.

A plain reference to St Ignatius and St Xavier brings to the mind of every Christian seeker, of the way by which their conversion brought new vitality and hope to the Catholic Church. The inspirational life of St Ignatius had a filial and spiritual impact on the life of St Francis Xavier. It was not just the words from the Matthean gospel, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mt 16:26), that brought transformation in the life of St Xavier but the frugal, unassuming and faith-filled life of Ignatius.

St Xavier and St Ignatius were roommates and being from Spain, they shared their culture, religious underpinnings, political as well as economic tussles of their time. St Xavier was particularly touched by St Ignatius’ trust in divine providence and his way of humbly carrying himself while studying in Paris and later as one his fellow companions. Moreover, there was a moment when St Xavier struggled to pay for his sustenance and College fees, and it was St Ignatius who came to his rescue. Furthermore, due to a severe crunch in finances, St Xavier had to even discontinue the services of his servant, Miguel de Landivar. St Xavier remained eternally grateful to St Ignatius for his timely assistance. In imitating St Ignatius’ benevolence, St Xavier assisted the people in Goa in their financial, spiritual, and material needs. St Xavier’s life in Goa was rooted in simplicity, humility with a desire “to love and to serve in all things.” Like his model companion St Ignatius, St Xavier placed his trust in divine providence while ministering to the people of Goa.

Furthermore, after St Xavier’s conversion, St Ignatius generously guided him in the making of the Spiritual Exercises (SE), a book written by St Ignatius which consists of Christian meditations, contemplations, and prayers that enables a person to order one’s life. They are spread over four weeks, wherein a retreatant after having forgiven, journeys with Jesus in His ministry, passion, death and resurrection. These exercises made a deep impression on the life of St Xavier and while serving the people in Goa, St Xavier adapted the Spiritual Exercises in his teaching of the Catechism and other Christian teachings to the natives of Goa. Moreover, St Xavier would later remember Ignatius with nostalgia in his letters and call him, “father of my soul.”

The Spiritual Exercises filled the empty vacuum of his heart with the desire to know Christ intimately, love Him more dearly and follow Him more ardently (SE 104). These Spiritual Exercises rejuvenated St Xavier to give Christ to the people of Goa through his interactions, Catechism classes and by administering the Sacraments. It also created in St Xavier an ardent desire to serve God’s people irrespective of caste, creed and religion in Goa because he was impacted with the rules on thinking with the Church (SE 352-370). These rules focus on how one can be rooted in the ways of the Church and render one’s help to its progress in faith.

The sending of St Xavier to the Indies and the eventual adjusting with a foreign culture-language-creed in Goa did not deter him nor caused inhibitions because he was totally in love with the Crucified and risen Savior. The land of Goa became an epicentre for all his missionary activities. Despite his journeys, he would return to Goa because of his love and service-oriented passion for the people. Being imbued with the exemplary life of St Ignatius, St Xavier proceeded with zeal and enthusiasm “to love and to serve” the people of Goa. In upholding social justice in Goa, St Francis bore witness to Christ, where “his day would be given to active works of charity, missionary tasks, care of the sick and the suffering; to preaching, baptizing, and the administration of the mission (Correia-Afonso, 1922).”

While working in Goa, St Xavier sought the equality and well-being of every citizen of the place. As Superior of the Jesuit community, he instilled in the members a respect for the culture-language-religion of the natives. He urged them to deepen the faith of the Christians of his time with Christ’s love. While deeply entrenched in serving the people of Goa, he invited them “to see all things new in Christ.” However, seeing the precarious situation in Goa, “St Xavier’s heart was torn between the gross and systematic profligacy of the European rulers and the shocking idolatry of the native populations (Correia-Afonso, 1922).”

Nevertheless, he began his missionary activities with humility to uphold moral reforms and faith. In using the psychological insight of a Jesuit and the sympathy of his charity, he began to respond to uphold dignity and grant justice to the people in Goa, even to the extent of reprimanding those in authority. He bore witness to Christ by attending to the spiritual needs of the people, showed his concern for the wavered Christians, and brought them back to Christ. He upheld social justice by patiently listening to people’s problems, disputes, and administered justice to the needy. Despite his busy missionary schedule, St Xavier wrote letters to St Ignatius, Church officials, and to his companions.

It was a matter of spiritual pride for St Xavier, to have the signatures of his early companions being placed in his personal locket, which he carried along with him. The signature of St Ignatius was placed on the top, for it mattered him the most to his spiritual growth. Furthermore, St Ignatius’ trust in divine providence rejuvenated St Xavier and inspired him to do likewise in his desire to give Christ to the world. One can notice such a virtue of trusting in God’s providence in the life of St Xavier while serving the people in Goa in the deepening of their faith despite various struggles and misunderstandings.

To sum up, in a world of consumerism, individualism, and with the present challenges, we are urged to labor for the welfare of the society in Goa. St Xavier inspires us to work towards a just society by recognizing injustice around us, understanding it, and thereby “raising our voices against social exclusion and economic injustice (Evangelii Gaudium, 53).” Laboring for the betterment of society will entail problems, hardships, and trials. During those moments, like St Francis Xavier who was imbued with the life of St Ignatius Loyola, it is without fear one ought to move forward with courage and work towards giving witness to Christ and to the people in Goa.

(Fr Joseph Cardozo SJ is Assistant to the Provincial of the Goa Province of the Society of Jesus)