This reflection, along with other Ignatian prayers, poems, reflections and art, first appeared in our free e-book, “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: Through the Year with Ignatian Spirituality.” Sign up to receive it at jesuits.org/ebook.
By Fr. Radmar Jao, SJ
The Novena of Grace of St. Francis Xavier, SJ, runs from March 4-12.
Since early Christianity, the desire for closeness with the Lord has been fundamental to our understanding of who God is and who we are as God’s beloved creations. It was understood that “Jesus became what we are that He might make us what He is” (St. Athanasius of Alexandria). In other words, as followers of Christ, we are created for oneness, or union with God. As St. Augustine famously writes, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
The beauty of Catholicism is that throughout our history, sacraments, sacramentals and pious devotions have mediated moments of encounter with the Divine. But over the years, they have lost their meaning and relevance.
Growing up in a Filipino-American household, devotional practices like the rosary, novenas and traveling statues of Mary or the Santo Niño (i.e., “the Infant of Prague”) were part and parcel of my Catholic upbringing. However, I never paid much attention to their meaning or purpose. They were simply challenges for my eight siblings and I to see who could make the other laugh first, ultimately getting the “stink eye” from our mother or grandmother!
As a Jesuit priest, I now understand that these pious devotions are a way for us ordinary human beings to not only express our love and devotion for God, but also to receive God’s love and care for us. The powerful “Novena of Grace,” attributed to St. Francis Xavier, is just one of hundreds of novena prayers that serve this purpose.
This miraculous novena is said to come from Italy, where a 17th-century Jesuit priest vowed to go to Japan during the great persecutions, but was severely injured when a hammer accidentally fell on his head. Near death, he had a vision of Francis Xavier, who said that if he prayed to him for nine consecutive days and received the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, he would ensure that his vow would be fulfilled. The injured Jesuit emerged from the vision healed and fulfilled his vow of going to Japan. Several miracles and changed lives have since been credited to this powerful “Novena of Grace,” becoming a tradition in Jesuit parishes ever since.
But the point of any novena is not what you get from it, but rather expressing our love and devotion for God, the giver of all gifts and graces. This is why the “Novena of Grace” ends with the words, “but if what I ask is not for the glory of God or for the good of my soul, obtain for me what is most conducive to both.”
It is said that “we value most what we love the most.” In other words, we spend our time, energy and resources on those things, people and events that mean the most to us. I think of people who wait in line for hours and sacrifice their hard-earned money to be the first to buy the newest technology or get tickets to a concert, a sporting event or a Broadway show like “Hamilton.” So, it stands to reason that if we value our relationship with God and our faith, we will make time for it, not out of obligation, but out of our sheer desire and love for God. Isn’t an encounter with Christ worth the sacrifice of our time, energy and discipline of nine days of a novena?
During this Ignatian year, where we’re asked to “see all things new in Christ,” why not incorporate the “Novena of Grace” into your life? Check it out and see how it draws you closer to the Lord.
Fr. Radmar Jao, SJ, is currently the director of vocations for the USA West Province of the Society of Jesus.