Advent Book Club 2017: Unearthly Beauty by Magdalen Smith. Day 4: Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier: co-founder of the Jesuits.

Francis Xavier: a man who lived in simplicity and risked his life to take the gospel to other lands where it had never before been shared.

Francis Xavier: a man who, frustrated by the intransigence of many of the Goans and their unwillingness to embrace his spirituality and his idea of a discipline life, got permission from the King of Spain to set up an Inquisition which harrassed and tortured the Goan people for over 250 years…

Francis Xavier: a saint?

Surely not! surely he was the devil in disguise, led be demons rather than the Spirit of love. Surely we can not find anything good in the life of a man who could be instrumental in setting up an Inquisition…

And yet… up to that point, he had chosen always to being by being alongside the new people he encountered, by understanding their current situation. And even in the setting up of the Inquisition, it is just possible that his motive was love not hate. Because he will have believed deeply and passionately that the souls of the apostate were heading for eternal damnation and that therefore any means were justified if they led to repentance and therefore avoided the eternal suffering of hell.

So – to refer back to Graham’s point in his musings on Charles de Foucauld, we would do well to avoid pointing the one finger of criticism at Francis Xavier – or anyone else – because no doubt three fingers will point back at ourselves for the many, many moments when our own blinkeredness, our own theological conditioning lead us to behave in a way which others would see as antithetical to the Gospel – the message of love and acceptance which Jesus brought when he became the human face of God.

By that grace we do not stand condemned for our mistakes. We are all – to reiterate what is becoming a theme for me in my reading of this book – ordinary. We are all flawed. We all get it wrong. And supremely, we all are capable of and often demonstrate, albeit unwittingly, a boundless capacity for love, for forgiveness, for being a true friend rather than a benefactor, for being, in short, Jesus to those around us.

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