FR BERNARD J MCGUCKIAN SJ outlines some aspects of the life of St Francis Xavier, the ‘Apostle of the Indies’ and how his memory remains fresh in the minds of those who pray through his intercession and who honour him especially in the annual Novena of Grace.
People all over the world have been praying for favours to St Francis Xavier, the great Apostle of the East, since his canonisation on 12 March 1622. On that day, he was raised to the altars with four other great saints; St Ignatius of Loyola, St Teresa of Avila, St Philip Neri and St Isidore of Madrid, the patron saint of farmers.
Devotion to St Francis increased dramatically when reports of a remarkable cure circulated around the world. During construction work on the Jesuit Church in Naples on 3 January 1634 a worker on the site let a hammer fall from the scaffolding. It struck one of the local Jesuit Community, Fr Marcello Mastrilli on the head.
He was apparently bleeding to death and being given the Last Rites, when suddenly the bleeding stopped. He reported that St Francis had appeared to him and cured him on condition that he would devote the rest of his life to spreading the faith in the Far East. He was eventually to die a martyr in Japan. The great saint furthered promised that all who would earnestly ask his intercession for nine days in honour of his canonisation, would infallibly experience the effects of his great power in heaven, and would receive whatever they asked that would contribute to their salvation. The tradition of a Novena from 4 – 12 March was born.
This Novena has been a feature of life in the Church of St Francis Xavier, Dublin since 1831. A part of the life of Dubliners from an earlier era, it has featured prominently in the devotional life of the capital city for over three hundred years now. People kept attending the Novena through the years in spite of the unjust Penal Laws forbidding practise of the Catholic Faith. It began in 1712 at St Michan’s, Mary’s Lane, now Halston Street and presently in the care of the Capuchin Fathers. Apparently the impetus to start the Novena at that time came from Irish soldiers who had learned about it from their Spanish comrades in arms in the Low Countries. The Novena is now an annual event in other Dublin churches but is also carried out privately in their own homes by many others not in a position to attend one of the churches.
Over the centuries, many saints have ‘done this Novena’. One of the most outstanding is Therese Martin, popularly known as the Little Flower. Her blood sister made the following contribution under oath to the proceedings, which led to the canonisation of St Thérèse. “Her charity also made her want to do good after her death. After making a novena to St Francis Xavier (4-12 March, 1896) she said to me, “I have asked for the grace to do good after my death and now I am certain of being granted it for through this novena one ‘obtains all that one wants’”. Her novena intention was to be realised to an eminent degree. A little over thirty years after her death, Thérèse Martin had become, not only a canonised saint, but was proclaimed Co-Patron of the Missions of the Church along with St Francis Xavier. On giving this title to St Thérèse, Pope Pius XI was moved to add an extraordinary phrase, ‘until the end of time’.
A Prayer to St Francis Xavier
O most kind and loving saint, in union with you I adore the Divine Majesty. The remembrance of the favours with which god blessed you during life and of your glory after death, fills me with joy; and I unite with you in offering to Him my humble tribute of thanksgiving and of praise. I implore of you to secure for me, through your powerful intercession, the all- important blessing of living and dying in the state of grace. I also beseech of you to obtain the favour I ask in this novena (here ask the favour you wish to obtain), but if what I ask is not for the glory of God or the good of my soul, obtain for me what is most conducive to both. Amen.
Let us pray
O God who was pleased to gather unto your Church the peoples of the East by the preaching and miracles of blessed Francis, mercifully grant that we, who honour his glorious merits, may also imitate the example of his virtues, through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.