by Sr. Pia Ignatius, O.Carm.
On December 3rd, we celebrated the feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary and best friend of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. These two great men met in college, in fact, they were roommates at the University of Paris. Francis didn’t much care for Ignatius at first. He thought of him as over pious and Francis was more interested in being a “wild” college kid, keep in mind he was only 19, and Ignatius was 24 and an accomplished military officer at the time. With much patience, time and prayer Ignatius won over Francis and helped him with his conversion. The two men grew to love each other through the love of Christ.
As time went by and the Society of Jesus grew, Ignatius needed to send missionaries to the Far East. Francis volunteered when the original Jesuit fell ill and the two men had to make a huge sacrifice. Later Ignatius would tell his best friend, "Go, set the world on fire!" After Xavier left for "the missions" the two would never see each other again. “I believe that in this life we cannot see each other anymore except by letters,” Francis writes Ignatius in one of his first letters. “To see each other face to face with many embracing—that will be for the other life.”
Many letters were exchanged between the two friends but unfortunately Francis became gravely ill and died before Ignatius could call him back to Rome. In one of his final letters to Ignatius, and his fellow Jesuit brothers, he wrote: "So that I may never forget you and ever have a special remembrance of you, I would have you know, dear brothers, for my own consolation, I have cut your names from the letters which you have written to me with your own hands so that I may constantly carry them with me together with the valid profession which I made....I give thanks first of all to God our Lord, and then to you, most dear brothers and fathers, for the fact that God has so made you that I derive such great consolation from bearing your names. And since we shall soon see each other in the next life with greater peace than we have in this, I say no more."
Around his neck and close to his heart, Francis wore the signatures of his dear friends. “Let us ask God for the grace of seeing each other joined together in the next life,” Francis had once written Ignatius. “Whoever will be the first to go to the other life and does not there find his brother, whom he loves in the Lord, must ask Christ our Lord to unite us all there in his glory.”
In 1622, Francis and Ignatius were both declared saints. Bound together for eternity in mutual love for the God who brought them together, Francis and Ignatius are a powerful witness to the inexhaustible and transforming possibilities of friendship in the Lord. An amazing testament to God’s love for us that He provides us companions for our Earthly journey.
Upon reflecting on this great Saint, I couldn’t help but think of a dear friend of mine. Tragically she was killed in a helicopter crash last July. We were very close for a time but God called us to different paths. She became a flight paramedic in New Mexico and I entered religious life with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. We both had a zeal for being servants to others and caring for those in need. For a time our paths were in sync and we traveled together with great joy. But as we grew to follow our hearts we had to say our goodbyes and blaze new trails. Like Francis and Ignatius, we never dreamed that we would not see each other again. Friends may come and go in our lives but they will always leave a mark on our hearts. It is God’s way of showing us how much He loves us.