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St Francis Xavier’s spirit still breathes life

Jesuits and their partners in mission preached at parishes throughout Dublin for the annual Novena of Grace from 4 to 12 March 2020 in honour of Saint Francis Xavier, Patron of Catholic missions.

Among the topics discussed were the life, conversion and mission of St Francis, care for the poor and care of self, the legacy of St Francis in India and Japan, St Therese of Lisieux’s devotion to the Novena and the power of intercession. It was also noted that the tradition of faith-sharing that existed in the life of St Francis and his fellow Jesuits continues most powerfully at the Novena today.

Guest preachers at Gardiner Street Church, Dublin, were Fr Gerry O’Hanlon SJ, Fr Brian Lennon SJ and Fr Jake Martin SJ. Their homilies were well received.

Gerry O’Hanlon SJ gave the Novena from 4 to 6 March at 11am, 1pm and 7.30pm Masses. He spoke under the broad heading of the early life and conversion of St Francis. His first talk was on the Principle and Foundation found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola; the second talk was on God’s Mercy in light of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises and his third talk was on the mission of St Francis in terms of Inculturation. Click here for the transcripts of his homilies ».

Fr Donal Neary SJ opened the Novena of Grace in Saint Brendan’s Church, Coolock, Dublin, on 4 March. In his homily entitled ‘Why Honour St Francis, Man of Prayer – Man of Action?’, he spoke about Francis’ upbringing in Spain, his “stormy” development of faith and conversion through prayer and the Spiritual Exercises.

He noted that Francis’ spirituality began and continued in friendships, conversations and community and pointed out the tradition of faith-sharing that continues at the Novena.

Donal Neary also spoke about Francis’ care for the poor in India and their needs that spurred him on.  “Their cries reached his heart to help them, and to bring them the faith of Jesus Christ.” Francis’ great affection for his fellow Jesuits and friends also kept him going. Regarding the saint’s gift to us, Fr Neary said, “His powerful spirit still blows like a gentle breeze and reaches us like the incoming tide”.

Ms Pat Coyle, Director of Irish Jesuit Communications, also preached in Saint Brendan’s Church in Coolock addressing the theme of ‘self care’.

In her homily on 9 March entitled ‘The Care of Self – A Most Important Task’, she challenged the notion that some people have of self cares as somehow being selfish or self-obsessed. On the contary, she argued, self-care is one of the two great commandments cited by Jesus when he told us to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves”.

She then went on to draw on the spiritual wisdom of St Ignatius applying it to key principles in self-care such as ‘paying attention’ and gratitude.

She also drew on 12-Step spirituality in her talk noting that the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon (for the relatives of those affected by addiction)  were developed with the assistance of an American Jesuit, Fr Ed Dowling.

She spoke of her own experience in Al-Anon and told the story of learning how to deal with the stress that can come from living coping with someone’s addiction. “The first principle in self-care I learned in Al-Anon was H-A-L-T – hungry, angry, lonely, tired – halt. She then went on to examine each of these four concepts in the light of true self-care for body, mind, and spirit.

Dermot Mansfield gave the Novena at morning Masses in St Gabriel’s Church, Dollymount, Dublin. Taking themes from the readings of each day, Fr Mansfield outlined aspects of the journeys of Saint Francis, concentrating on his times in India, and then especially in Japan.

He referred to the wonderful present-day  Christian communities in Goa and Kerala, and above all in Nagasaki. He spoke of Francis Xavier’s legacy in Japan in the figure of Tagashi Nagai, who died of radiation from the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and who preached and wrote about reconciliation. His cause for beatification is underway.

Fr Alan Mowbray SJ preached on four days of the Novena at Milltown Parish, Dublin. He spoke about the person of Francis as a Basque soldier and student of the Sorbonne in Paris and his eventual awareness of being deeply loved by Jesus Christ and called by Him for mission.

Regarding that missionary work, he said that Francis’s original mission to China was filled with danger and uncertainty including the possibility of ships being wrecked or boarded by pirates.

In India, Francis had to contend with the deeply embedded cultural caste system and the challenge it posed to the  Christian vision of aGod who loves all his sons and daughters equally.

Alan Mowbry also spoke about Francis’ mission in southern India among the pearl fishers and his subsequent journey on to Japan. He also highlighted the Novena’s intercessory power in today’s world.

Fr Barney McGuckian SJ was invited by the Carmelites to preach at Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin and to do so in honour of both St Francis and St Therese of Lisieux.

He told the congregation that St Therese firmly believed she would do good after her death and this was the grace she asked for during the Novena in honour of St Francis in 1896.

He noted that some thirty years later Therese Martin was not only a canonised saint but was declared Co-Patroness of the Missions along with St Francis. Fr McGuckian joked with the congregation to be very careful about what they asked for because they were going to get it!