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This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.

Day 3: Francis Xavier

By Catherine Sullivan

“That’s St. Francis Xavier’s arm.” As I peered upward in the dimly lit church, I realized my friend was right. There, high above a side altar, encased in a baroque reliquary display, was the decaying right forearm and hand of a saint.

A small group of friends and I had come to the Church of the Gesù in Rome for Sunday Mass. We were studying abroad during our junior year of college, and we wanted to visit the church where the patron of our university was buried.

Little did we know we would run into his best friend, too. Or, at least part of him.

St. Francis Xavier first met St. Ignatius of Loyola when they were roommates at the University of Paris. Their friendship ultimately led to Francis becoming one of the first seven Jesuits. He then traveled to India, Indonesia, Japan and China to where he lived, worked and died as a missionary.

Why separate St. Francis’ arm from his body, bring it back to Rome, and put it on display? Although some people might find it macabre, there is something moving about gazing at a hand that baptized and blessed countless people.

There is also something beautifully symbolic about St. Francis and St. Ignatius occupying the same physical space once more. When Francis left Europe in 1541, he never returned.

And yet, in the Gesù these two great friends are together again, just across the aisle from each other, reminding us that their souls are together again, too.

When the Word became flesh, God affirmed the goodness of our bodies. In his earthly ministry, Jesus used his body to teach, heal and ultimately redeem us. The saints who followed used their bodies to share the good news of the Gospel, serve the poor and love the Lord. As we continue to journey through Advent together, may we follow in St. Francis’ footsteps and use our bodies to bear witness to the joy and hope that Jesus brings, so that we too can enjoy the glories of a heavenly reunion with friends one day.

Reflection: How can you mindfully care for your body today as a way of preparing to receive the gift of the Incarnation?

Catherine Sullivan is a Catholic writer, reader and teacher. After earning a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, she spent nearly a decade teaching religion and English to middle and high school students. She now stays home with her three young daughters and writes a monthly newsletter on the Catholic imagination called Wonder & Awe. Come say hi and find more of her thoughts on books and faith on Instagram @catherinesullivanwrites.



Read the previous reflection here.