3 December 2009 Memorial of St. Francis Xavier
Isaiah 26, 1-6; Psalm 118; Matthew 7, 21-27
A musician may spend years studying music, but cannot be a great one without practice. He begins to read the notes of a piece, tediously playing each note on the keys or the strings. At first, every single note is played consciously. As one progresses through constant practice, the fingers play automatically, as if playing on its own. But the musician remains attune to the spirit of the piece. In music, this is called muscle memory.
The same thing in our spiritual life. It is through constant practice that we become prayerful and in-synch with God. St. Ignatius of Loyola called his most famous book, The Spiritual Exercises, because they are like instructions on what to pray for, what to ask, and how to go about praying, but it is not the prayer itself. It is like an exercise book that guides you. When accustomed to it, the pray-er (the person praying) gets into contemplation right away, thereby praying. Here the person begins to enter into prayer, conversing with God, but not anymore conscious of every single step St. Ignatius proposes. Like a relationship: the first time you meet, you get conscious of what to say; as the relationship gets deeper, you say things spontaneously like “muscle memory”. In constant prayer, we build a relationship with God. And like relationships, the bond changes and acquires a shape.
This is the basis of a strong spiritual foundation or a solid relationship. Since the prayerful person has a relationship with a Person, one begins to see as God sees, feel as God feels, love as God loves. The spiritual person, grounded by love for God, will be able to withstand any storm in life. St. Francis Xavier SJ possessed this solid foundation. This basis enabled him to volunteer to work as a missionary to the India (esp. Goa) and explore creative ways to evangelize. This includes long sea journeys to different islands in the Malaccas, Borneo and Japan. Or to use art as an aid to preaching in Japan, since the language was difficult. Francis Xavier died in Sancian while keeping his eyes and dream to China. Years later, Mateo Ricci SJ would creatively choose a procedure in preaching the Gospel to China by donning a merchant’s robe to acquire the respect and the ears of the Chinese aristocracy. Though acquiring the ire of many in Rome for this unthinkable way, years later, what has been condemned by many in the Church will become a norm to all for Vatican II. They even called it, “inculturation”. If one has a strong foundation in God, we can be ‘wild’ in finding ways and means to further God’s enterprise.
The Season of Advent urges us to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. But in truth, Jesus already came and is present; we don’t pretend that He has not yet come. In the Season of Advent, however, we are to realize that we are preparing for the time when we will be finally see God face to face. We can think of our whole life as a Season of Advent. To build a solid faith foundation is a lifetime achievement. We should see Advent as an opportunity towards a spiritual maturity. So that grounded in authentic faith, we can read and respond to the signs of the times, in the manner Jesus would have done. And we will only be attune to His heart and desires only if we pray, and pray, and pray.