We are releasing a new kind of Bible study here on the blog. There’s lots of biographies about the saints. But here, we’ve collected some of their lesser-known stories—brief snapshots into their daily lives that give us glimpses into the ways the saints shared the gospel with their friends.
Whether you are a skilled evangelist or hesitant to share your faith, we hope these stories will both inspire and instruct you to follow in their footsteps… on your campus, in your parish, or in your family.
This is the first in a 3-part series, with possibly more to come in the future. I would love your feedback, and your input will be helpful as we build this study. So grab some friends, discuss the chapter together, and use the comment box below to let me know what you think. Thanks! – Katie
Ablaze: The Evangelization of the Saints
Chapter 1 • Xavier’s Incarnational Evangelization
Leader’s Note: For this study, we recommend that you read the saint’s story, in its entirety, with your group before starting the discussion.
As a student at the University of Paris, Francis Xavier was a star athlete who partied hard and was full of ambition. But once his new roommate, Ignatius, moved in, it wasn’t long before everything changed. Ignatius began praying for Francis’ conversion. After many late-night discussions, Francis gave his life to Jesus Christ and never looked back.
Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, another roommate named Peter Favre, and a few other men in their dorm banded together to form a new society, committing their lives to missionary zeal. They called themselves “The Society of Jesus,” later known as the Jesuit Order.
They split the map among them and set out to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Ignatius would remain to preach to the people of Europe, but Francis’ travels took him to Asia and the Far East. As they embarked, the roommates met together for the last time, and Ignatius left the men with one final commission: “Go, and set all afire.”
Today, Francis is known as a patron saint of missionaries, and his examples of incarnational evangelization and true Christian discipleship are among the Church’s greatest. Below is an account of one of Francis’ encounters as a missionary priest—one spark in the fire that he lit around the world.
The Journey of a Saint
(The following account is summarized from The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier.)
As Francis prepared for a certain voyage, he became acquainted with a young soldier with a “colorful” personality. The man was notorious for his rudeness, his foul language and blasphemies, his scandalous life, and his ability to offend all those present.
With many tears, prayers, and fasting for his conversion, Francis took it upon himself to befriend this soldier. As they boarded their ship, he took the man by the arm, letting him know how glad he was that they were companions. The two men were seen together constantly—passing their days onboard, always chatting and eating together.
As the soldier gambled and gamed, Francis stood faithfully by his side, excited for him in his victories and sorrowful for his defeats. Francis seemed not to hear the man’s swears and blasphemies. The other men onboard who knew Francis were shocked at the way he kept his fervor so hidden. The soldier seemed to fascinate him.
At last, Francis pulled his friend aside, asking him how long it had been since his last confession. With a heavy sigh, the soldier’s cheeks reddened. His heart had already been won. It had been 18 years.
Francis assured him that great mercy was to be shown toward sinners—it was for them that Our Lord had shed His blood. With compassion, he comforted his friend:
If he had all the sins in the world on his conscience, [Francis] would hear his confession willingly. He had full power to absolve him, and as for his penance, they would divide it between them, and the soldier should take as much of it as he liked for himself and no more. God in His infinite goodness desired his salvation, and asked of him nothing but a sincere repentance for having offended One Who loved him so much. The soldier was overcome, and begged Francis to help him in his confession.
At this point, the ship dropped anchor along the coast. Francis and the soldier went ashore, followed at a distance by many crewmembers who were curious to see what would happen. Finding a grove near the beach, Francis sat down beneath a tree while his friend began to confess with many tears and sobs. Eventually, the two men parted. The soldier had received the simple penance of a single Our Father and Hail Mary.
After their voyage, the soldier returned to the battlefield, but first he received good instruction and rules of conduct from his friend, which he followed faithfully. Later, the man entered religious life and became a “model of penitence,” always indebted to the love and influence of his friend, Francis Xavier.
Coleridge, Henry James. The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier. London: Burns and Oates, 1872 (pp. 41–42). Read Coleridge’s complete account of St. Francis’ life online.
To Seek and Save the Lost
Francis desired, first and foremost, to build a friendship with this man and to win his soul. Before he gave the soldier a lesson in morality, before correcting his indecent behavior, even before he began to evangelize or invest in the man, Francis first prayed, wept, and did penance for him. Then, he laid the foundation for friendship.
Francis soon began to invest his time and care in this man. They shared meals, games, and interests together, experiencing both the good and the bad alongside each other. All the while, Francis had a deep, genuine desire for this soldier and for his soul. Even before Francis broached matters of faith, he had already won the man’s trust.
Finally, Francis asked him a simple question—the same question that Jesus, in the person of the priest, asks us to answer each time we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation: How long has it been since your last confession?
Without judgment, Francis listened as the soldier uncovered his wounds. He did not attempt to offer answers until he knew the man’s pain. Then, Francis simply offered him the hope of the gospel—that in the blood of Christ Jesus, we find mercy and forgiveness. It was, after all, for sinners that Jesus came, to seek and save the lost.
Finally, Francis sent out the new disciple with instructions on how to live. The soldier returned to his ordinary work but as a new man. Eventually, the newness of life he received spilled over, leading him into his vocation—his path to Heaven. And so it is for us, as well: Holiness is our aim. In sanctifying ourselves and those around us, we find the fullness of life.
Discussion Guide for Your Bible Study
1. Can you identify the “win,” “build,” and “send” stages within the story? What strikes you about Francis’ approach?
2. In what ways do we find it hard to befriend those different from us—those who have different values, different lifestyles? With whom do you spend most of your time?
3. How often do you pray for your friends? If they don’t know Christ, have you prayed for an opportunity to share the gospel with them?
4. Read the following passage from Pope Francis at World Youth Day in 2013:
We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, in our parish or diocesan institutions, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! To go out as ones sent. It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome because they come, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people.
What are some simple things you can do to love those who are “outside the Church?” Why is it not enough to “open the door in welcome”?
5. Who in your life has shown you love and mercy, and perhaps even changed your perspective on God, the Church, and yourself? How did they do this? In what ways did they “go out as one sent”?
6. Once he had won the soldier’s trust, what does Francis do to invite him into a deeper relationship with God? How does Francis build him up in the Faith?
7. What are some examples of times you were challenged and built up in the Faith?
8. What opportunities have you had to share your faith with someone else? What was that like for you?
9. What is the greatest obstacle you face in sharing your faith with your friends?
10. What are a few concrete things you can do this week to overcome these obstacles?
11. When the men parted ways, they knew it was not likely that they would meet again this side of Eternity. But Francis equipped his friend with the tools he needed to go back to his job as a changed man and to seek out God’s will for his life.
When we leave this small group Bible study and go back to our classes, dorms, extra-curriculars, etc., how do we stay accountable to the Christian life? What tools are available to us to help in this process?
You can access the rest of the Ablaze study here: