Preach or Woe

Today is the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary of India and lands of the East. Back in 2013, I was driving back to the parish and heard on the radio that we had elected a new pope, a Jesuit who had taken the name Pope Francis. I just assumed it was in recognition of Francis Xavier, such was the saint’s statue and esteemed life among the Jesuit Order. It was beyond surprising to learn it was St. Francis of Assisi. Either one would have been a great and inspiring choice.

The gospel for the memorial Mass is taken from Matthew’s recount of the Ascension: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” – certainly appropriate for the Patron Saint of Missionaries (along with St. Theresa). Francis Xavier was certainly one who took St. Paul’s words to heart: “If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1 Cor 9:16)

Woe to me”… that is a strong call of obligation – one that came with our baptism. We were anointed for this roll. We were not all called to grab a megaphone, stand on the street corner, and preach the Gospel. But we are all called. Which means we all have to find a way to “preach it.”  I found my way in a priestly vocation and this never-ending blog (now somewhat north of 3,300 posts). But I did not grab the megaphone of the blog and dive into the deep end. Like Francis Xavier and St. Paul, there was a time of preparation in learning the Word of God so that when I found my way to “preach it” I would be ready.

There was one year of working in the world in which I think I spent almost 200 nights in a hotel in support of clients. This was back in the 1980s when HBO was an amazing perk in some establishments. Maybe the first two nights of one week you might see some great movies, but then there was the rest of the week and the rest of the month.

There must have been an “itch” that I had been meaning to scratch, but I found (was given? discovered?) a book that was above my skill and knowledge level, but it opened up a world of depth and richness about Scripture. And there were 198 more nights in a hotel. That was some 35+ years ago. Countless Bible Studies and some 3,300 posts later there is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me and woe if I do not “preach it.”

Francis Xavier had worldly plans for his life but Ignatius of Loyola was his roommate at the University of Parish. Xavier was the reluctant seminarian who accidentally became a missionary when a fellow Jesuit became ill and the ever persuasive Ignatius asked him to take on the mission. He was prepared and set sail to “preach it” to a foreign land.

You have plans for a worldly life – and that is good! Perhaps there is an itch you need to scratch or a persistent friend to encourage you. But you are still called to prepare and find your way to “preach it.”  Preach or woe – the basic choice of all who would call themselves Christian.

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