Holy Mass in the Presence of the Relic of St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier Parish
Votive Mass of St. Francis Xavier
Celebrant: Father Edwin Gonsalves
13th January 2018
Reading: I Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
Psalm 117 “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News”
Our Obligation and Our Joy!
An obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.
St. Paul, from Tarsus, knew the obligation to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus in Corinth. St. Francis Xavier from Spain knew the obligation to preach the Gospel in Goa and other parts of the East. Today, before his holy relic, those of us who are descendants of those he first evangelized four and a half centuries ago ask our heavenly patron for this same grace, that we know the obligation of preaching the Gospel in our Canadian home.
An obligation has been imposed on me. We often think of our obligations as burdensome duties, but St. Paul doesn’t consider preaching the Gospel as such, any more than a mother thinks of her obligations to her newborn baby as a burden.
I am pleased that today you have had the chance to meet many of my friends from Catholic Christian Outreach, Canada’s national missionary movement for university students. When those missionaries, who dedicate their lives to helping students on campus live fully the Catholic faith, are commissioned for service each year, they recite the following line from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (1:18):
All that matters is that Jesus is proclaimed, that is what brings me joy.
Yes, to work for the advance of the Gospel is our obligation. It is our obligation and our joy, as it was for St. Francis Xavier.
On behalf of our principal celebrant, Father Edwin Gonsalves, Rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary, I express the gratitude of the Goan Overseas Association and the Canadian Goan Christian Group, and the entire Goan community to Msgr. Pan and this parish of St. Francis Xavier for their hospitality today, making it possible for us to venerate the holy relic of our patron saint as a community. We extend the same gratitude to Catholic Christian Outreach, our national campus missionary movement, for making it possible for this relic to make a pilgrimage across Canada.
Permit to begin with a personal memory. Six years ago, on the Solemn Feast of St. Joseph, the Goan community gathered in this same parish to welcome Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, on his visit to Canada. On that visit Cardinal Gracias was kind enough to compliment us on the good work we were doing for the faith in Canada, and he said: “How proud I am that it is being done by a son of Goa, a son of India.”
I remember hearing those words with great emotion, and thinking about my own grandparents and great-grandparents. When they left Goa, when they left India, could they have ever imagined that one day a Goan cardinal of Bombay would one day travel to the other side of the world and praise the work of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Canada?
Every family present today can hear those words and think of our own experience. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our story. This is our heritage. This is our identity. This is our obligation. And this is our joy!
The visit of St. Francis Xavier’s relic across Canada has been called a “tour”. That seems rather banal, and I preferred to call it a “pilgrimage”. But in these last days in Kingston and now in Toronto, I have come to see that it is most deeply a “missionary voyage”. St. Francis Xavier is patron saint of the missions, along with St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese said that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth. Surely the same is true of St. Francis Xavier? He is not retired from the missions, but is the patron saint of the missions, and now he is on mission in Canada.
We think of St. Francis Xavier’s mission in terms of converting tens of thousands of pagans to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet remember that when he arrived in India in 1542, it was already more than forty years since Vasco da Gama had established a Portuguese presence there. There were already plenty of Catholics who came from Portugal, both civil leaders and clergy, and many who had already become Catholic before St. Francis Xavier arrived. His mission was also addressed to them. He came to ask them how well they were living the Gospel. Were they preaching it with their lives so that others would be attracted to give their lives to Jesus? Or were they obstacles to others encountering Jesus?
On this missionary journey to Canada, St. Francis Xavier asks us that question: How are you living the Gospel?
He comes to ask university students that question. As Cardinal Collins put it at the Cathedral last night: Are you living frivolous lives dedicated to passing experiences, or our you living serious lives dedicated to worthy and enduring purposes, preparing yourselves for a great mission to which you can devote your entire life?
He comes to ask Jesuits that question. Have you kept the vows you made at your solemn profession? Are you holy and zealous priests? Are you faithful to the charism of your father St. Ignatius? Would St. Ignatius be proud of you?
Today we Goans in Canada might consider what questions our illustrious patron has for us.
Today is a day of great pride and emotion for our people. But we have not come here only to associate ourselves with our patron saint. Remember what the Lord Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew (3:9): Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Is not Jesus saying the same to the Goans of Canada? Do not claim St. Francis Xavier as your spiritual father. Rather make it evident by the lives you lead.
As a young student at the University of Paris, Francis experienced a definitive conversion of life when his roommate, Ignatius of Loyola, put to him a biblical question: Master Francis, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? (cf. Mark 8:36)
St. Francis Xavier no doubt repeated that question to the thousands upon thousands whom he would encounter on his missionary journeys. He asks that same question to us Goans in Canada today.
We came to Canada to seek a better life. Those of us born here are the beneficiaries of that sacrifice. But how do we measure that better life in Canada?
What does it profit us Goans if we have built a better life in Canada but neglect our life of faith, and put in doubt the gift of eternal life?
What does it profit us that we have succeeded in business and the professions? What does it profit us if we have leading roles in society? What does it profit us that we have comfortable, even luxurious houses? What does it profit us that we have achieved academic distinctions, that we have won scholarships and awards and prizes? What does it profit us if we have succeeded in Canada if we lose what is the most precious heart of our culture – the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is our story, our heritage, our identity, our obligation and our joy!
Permit me again to speak personally. I was so proud when it was announced some years ago that Fr. Edwin was appointed Rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary, such an important position for the future of the Church in Canada. No doubt you were proud too. But it is more important how the faith is lived in our Goan families than it is which of our community holds a high post. Fr. Edwin’s father died this past August, a man who lived his Catholic faith with great piety and devotion. We only need one rector of the seminary, but we need in every family those who will live the faith as the late Mr. Cyprian Gonsalves did.
St. Francis Xavier did not travel to Goa to make the Portguese colony more successful, more prosperous, or even more just. Our presence in Canada has made this already blessed land better educated and more prosperous. If our presence in Canada means that our countrymen now have tastier food to eat, but their souls are not enriched by our witness, then we have failed as missionaries in this new land.
If our presence does not make this land more holy, what it is the point of our being here? Did God bring us to Canada so that this land would have more more workers and entrepreneurs and taxpayers? Or did He bring us here that this land might have more saints?
Immigration is a contested and complex issue. Every immigrant community is marked by original sin, and not every community is a blessing to the country that receives them. It is not boasting, but simply to acknowledge reality, that we can say that the Goan community has enriched Canada. Canada has been good to us, and we have been good for Canada. We are good citizens. And so we have a duty and right to care for the future of this country.
We might therefore put to Canada the question that Ignatius put Francis: Canada, what does it profit you to be a rich and peaceable and successful country, if you have lost the principles and values upon which you were founded?
The history of Canada cannot be understood apart from its religious history, including our founding saints, beginning with our first bishop, St. Francois de Laval of Quebec, and the Canadian Martyrs, Jesuits like St. Francis Xavier. Canada has grown rich and powerful, she has indeed gained the whole world, but she is losing her soul. As immigrants to this country perhaps we see this better than others. And it is our task to ask this country that has been so good to us: Are you still striving to be a good country? Not just a rich country, but a good country?
When St. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa he observed some of the Portuguese colonial leaders acting in ways contrary to Gospel. They were Catholics to be sure but they did not act in accord with the teachings of Jesus. St. Francis Xavier was fierce with them, not for the sake of the Church as much as for the sake of their own souls.
Today in Canada, we have leaders at the highest levels who are no different, and in some ways much worse. They are Catholics, and often are proud to be known as Catholics. Yet they advance policies that are contrary to the Gospel, contrary to the common good, contrary to the principles of justice, contrary to the dignity and rights – including the right to life and the right to religious liberty – of every human person. What would St. Francis Xavier say to them on his missionary visit to Canada? He would tell them that for worldly success they are imperiling their souls. He would tell them that they will have to answer before God for their betrayal of the Gospel.
This is a model of success that we Goans must resist, the model of putting worldly advancement ahead of Gospel – the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is our story, our heritage, our identity, our obligation and our joy!
Dear St. Francis Xavier, we praise God for your missionary visit to us in Canada this day!
Dear St. Francis Xavier, our missionary father, we praise God that the faith you planted and nourished in Goa is bearing fruit today in every part of the world, including Canada!
Dear St. Francis Xavier, impassioned reformer of the Church, we praise God for demanding of our leaders and ourselves the high standard of the Gospel, not the lower standard of the world.
Dear St. Francis Xavier, patron of our people, we praise God that you are with us in Canada, to teach us that our mission here is not that we should become more like what Canada is today, but rather to make Canada more like the nation God intends her to be, where the Lord holds dominion from sea to sea.
Dear St. Francis Xavier, proudest boast of Goa, grant us for us this day the grace to be faithful and zealous missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is our story, our heritage, our identity, our obligation and our joy!
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!