“We Must Be Pilgrims”: Saint Francis Xavier and Discernment



by Libbie Steiner



On April 7, 1545, in Negapatam, India, the Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier wrote these words to Father Francisco Mansilhas: “May God our Lord grant us in time the gift to perceive his holy will. He wishes that we should always be ready to fulfill it whenever he manifests it to us and lets us feel it within our souls. To fare well in this life, we must be pilgrims ready to go wherever we can serve God our Lord the more” (The Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier, translated by M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J.).


I have meditated on these words over the past few weeks as I attempt to discern where God is calling me to go after graduation. In many ways, my journey through Lent has been one of discernment. I have spent countless hours worrying and praying about where I am to place myself in the coming months and years. “It’s good to have options,” everyone keeps telling me, and while I know that that is true and I am grateful to have opportunities, that doesn’t make it any easier to find the will of God in my decision-making process.


From March 4 to 12, the Novena of Grace is prayed. The Novena comes from devotion to Saint Francis Xavier and centers around the numerous letters that he wrote during his travels in Asia. Xavier’s letters offer a fascinating glimpse at the early missionary life of the Society of Jesus. He traveled to India, Malaysia, and Japan, ministering to people wherever he was. He often learned local languages so that he might be able to relate better to them. Leaving Europe behind for what he knew would be the rest of his life, Xavier followed the will of God in leading him to minister in Asia.


Though I do not want to equate my minor decision about what to do next year with Xavier’s significant decision to journey across the world in the sixteenth century, I have found comfort in so many of his letters during my discernment. His zeal for the faith and his trust that God sends people where they are meant to be inspires me to become more aware of the will of God at work in my life. Am I truly recognizing how God works in me and in those around me?


I often wonder if I am following the will of God, or if am I following my own will. Yet Xavier reminds me that God’s “holy will” is able to be felt “within our souls.” God’s will is manifest in the essence of our beings, if only we can tap into it. We are sanctified in this beautiful revelation found in the depths of our person. Sometimes God works in mysterious ways, but sometimes God also works in obvious ways or in our deep inclinations. The desire to follow God’s will is the beginning of discernment.


Over the past few weeks, I have sat down with many friends, family members, and mentors in an attempt to gain some clarity. Though they have all been enormously helpful in different ways, there are two things that everyone has been telling me which I think are helpful for any discernment process. The first is to go with what brings you more joy. Not necessarily fleeting happiness, prestige, or convenience, but genuine joy, because that is what God is calling you to. The second point is that wherever you go, you go with God. In that sense, there are no “wrong” choices, because God’s grace will guide you wherever you are. There is consolation in the fact that whatever I choose, God will be there with me.

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