“What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his soul in the process? What can a man exchange for his soul?
These were the words that time and again the limping Basque ex-soldier repeated to the young Francis Xavier, athletic and brilliant in studies, socially gifted and from a noble family: in short, someone who had life’s doors flung open before him only waiting for him to pass through them. To accept Ignatius’s call to join his fledgling group, so unknown, unregistered by Church and State, would mean entering by another doorway, a very narrow doorway. And yet Francis was Catholic: he knew and assented to the truth of the iron logic of this question. And he was noble not merely of ancestry but of blood; and with the purity of heart that allowed him to weigh exactly the worth of the soul and the world on the scales of the Gospel.
When Ignatius sent Francis to the ends of the earth the reason for it was transparently clear to both of them: the greater glory of God through the salvation of souls. As Ignatius wrote to Francis, his hope was that each soul in that continent might ” leave its infidelity and come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our salvation”.
On January 15, 1544, in India, an emaciated Francis, who had not ceased to teach, baptize, confess, and offer the other sacraments since his arrival to Asia, took pen to paper and wrote words of fire that inflamed thousands of European youths to follow in his footsteps. He was only x years old but he was already exhausted from the sheer intensity and relentless efforts with which he went from one part of Asia to another, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, baptizing until he could not even lift his right arm some evenings, offering the Holy Sacrifice, confessing. “The fields are white, ready for harvest…” but the laborers were indeed few:
“Many fail to become Christians in these regions because they have no one who is concerned with such pious and holy matters. Many times I am seized with the thought of going to the schools in your lands and of crying out there, like a man who has lost his mind, and especially at the University of Paris, telling those in the Sorbonne who have a greater regard for learning than desire to prepare themselves to produce fruit with it: “How many souls fail to go to glory and go instead to hell through their neglect!” And thus, as they make progress in their studies, if they would study the accounting which God our Lord will demand of them and of the talent which has been given to them, many of them would be greatly moved and, taking means and making spiritual exercises to know the will of God within their soul, they would say, conforming themselves to it rather than to their own inclinations: “Lord, here I am! What would you have me do? Send me wherever you will, and if need be, even to the Indies!”
Francis Xavier lived and died for the principle formulated by St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises: “Man was created…”. But Ignatius had only formulated that principle for Francis Xavier: he had learned it many years before as a young boy in the family castle in Navarre as one of the central truths of his Catholic Faith.