Today is the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, the perfect candidate to become the official patron saint of busy people. Upon joining the Jesuits Francis Xavier’s life was an uninterrupted missionary journey towards China. He felt God calling him to bring the Gospel to the Chinese and so he kept journeying eastward on a slow and painful pilgrimage that ended only a few miles from the shore of China. If you read through the letters that Francis Xavier sent to his superior, St. Ignatius Loyola, one discovers in Francis a man who worked hard and rested little.
I felt very close to Francis Xavier last summer while working for three weeks in the Regnum Christi mission territory in southern Mexico.
I was living in a little Mexican town called Nuevo Durango, nestled in the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula. With me was a group of missionaries from the US, mostly high school and college students who were giving part of their summer break to work in the Regnum Christi apostolate Mission Youth. During the day we were building homes for the poor families and in the evenings we were evangelizing and providing the sacraments to the people.
During that time we discovered one of the most delightful elements of Mexico: kids everywhere! It is striking the amount of joyful children running about all over the place. Around every corner, up in every tree and down every street you will find a group of children. From the moment we began our day until the very end we were surrounded by children! We played games with them, prayed with them, taught them and just loved spending time with them.
One evening though, after a long day of hauling cement, I was tired and simply wanted some peace and quiet to pray the rosary by myself. So, I tried to walk off alone down a small street unobserved. No such luck. Soon the pitter patter of little feet came running up beside me.
A little voice: “Father, what are you doing?”
Tired priest: “I’m walking and praying the rosary.”
The little voice again: “Can we pray with you?”
How can you say no to that question! This little voice belonged to Natán, who with his faithful sidekick Gerardo and his sister Luisa stood expectantly looking up at me. I thought I would do some catechesis so I said:
“If you can keep silence and talk to Jesus in your heart you can pray with me. Do you want to do that?”
Three little voices: “Yes!”
“Can you keep silence?”
Again the little voices: “Yes!”
Up ahead a cow raised its head over a fence and into the road. Off ran the three little kids. They all grabbed a handful of grass and fed the cow. After they had finished and I had caught up to them they saw my prayerful silence and all three immediately brought their hands together in prayer and got back by my side, once again trying to be “silent”.
It lasted another 20 seconds, this time a frog hopped into the road up ahead. Off ran the three little kids to this new adventure. Mr. Frog entertained the children for awhile and then again, as I drew near, they quickly got back behind me and started “praying.” By then I was quite amused by these little children and I chuckled to myself because it was so hard to pray with them around. As I looked helplessly at my unfinished rosary I remember something I had read in St. Francis Xavier’s letters to fellow missionaries about to join him in India.
Due to the endless amounts of people coming to him for help, he wrote:
“You won’t have time to pray, to meditate or contemplate, nor will you have time for any type of spiritual recollection. You won’t be able to say mass, you will be continually busy answering their questions. You’ll have little time to pray your breviary, and less for eating and sleeping.”
From Cartas de San Francisco Xavier a San Ignacio de Loyola, Translation is mine.
If St. Francis Xavier couldn’t pray during his mission work, I guess I was in good company! In fact, I was in the best of company. I was walking with Christ, his blessed mother and three little children with pure and simple souls. Our Lord said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these little ones. I imagine heaven is filled not with serious and stuffy people bowing their heads all day in prayer, but with happy and joyful children whose days are filled with endless wonder. They are free to run and play and enjoy eternal life. I venture to say that the streets of heaven will look more like these poor streets of Mexico than the insides of our great cathedrals.
I turned back to those three little children for a moment. After the frog left the scene we continued our prayerful walk but moments later the kids ran ahead to a Guayaba tree which was laden with fruit. The branch however was too high for the children. All three jumped and reached but try as they might they just couldn’t reach the fruit. After giving up they all looked at me imploringly. They kept a “prayerful” silence but were pointing to the branch as I drew near. Another distraction! I lowered the branch for them and they all filled their pockets and arms with as much fruit as they could carry. I felt like a good shepherd feeding his sheep!
After that I gave up on the rosary for the moment and sat down with the kids and enjoyed the fruit with them. Soon we were laughing and playing and simply enjoying God’s creation. Even though all my attempts to pray in that moment were thwarted, I felt very close to God. Children have a way of doing that, of drawing you closer to God in the ordinary things without you even knowing it. I realized that while we can always find God in prayer, God can also be found in the distractions of daily life if only we know how to become like little children.
St. Francis Xavier has a simple message for us today. If you find it hard to pray because of a fussy baby, a house to clean, a busy office or a very long Holiday to-do list, stop a second and ask St. Francis Xavier, the un-official patron saint of busy people, to help you to face the day with the simplicity of a child of God. You will be close to God, even if you don’t finish your rosary!