To be a saint doesn’t mean you have to be lame, rigid, and secluded all of the time – even though there are times when a serious reverence is appropriate. Ultimately, to be a saint means you fully dive into the adventure that God has placed in your life. In the life of most every saint, even in one as sweet and gentle as Therese of Lisieux, there has been a holy recklessness, a sense of adventure, and a great cosmic mission. The saints are the ones that teach us about the adventure the Church has for us. Today, I’d like to point to some adventures God might have for us if we decide to follow Him more recklessly. We can find a great deal of adventure in the examples from these three saints: Gabriel Possenti, Francis Xavier, and Therese of Lisieux.
St. Gabriel Possenti was a marksman that loved hunting and gambling. In his youth, he got sick three times and Mary appeared to him each time telling him to become a priest. The first two times he got distracted with petty things and went back to hunting and playing cards. The third time Mary told him to become a priest or his illness will kill him. This time he listened. He joined the Passionist order in Italy and began studying to become one of their priests.
One day marauders came through town. The monks were praying in the chapel when Gabriel heard a woman scream. This is not something he would allow. So he went to the rescue of the lady taking guns directly from the holsters of two marauders. He showed off his ability to shoot by blasting off the head of a lizard 50 yards away. He then held the two at gunpoint and ushered every single marauder out of the city and forced them to return everything they had stolen. No one was hurt but St. Gabriel chased a bunch of thugs of a town. That’s a bit of an adventure, right?! See what I’m saying? If Gabriel Possenti doesn’t respond to the call that God has for him, that adventure never happens and that town would not have been saved from all the evil that the marauders would have done. For more on Gabriel Possenti click here.
St. Francis Xavier was born into a noble family in the kingdom of Navarre (a part of modern-day Spain and France). The king of Aragon invaded Navarre when Francis was six years old and the fighting continued for the next 18 years. Francis’ family was much embroiled in the fighting, but to get away from it, Francis enrolled in the University of Paris. He became well-known for his athleticism, excelling at the high jump. Being away from his family, the party scene was commonplace for Francis and he had many aspirations to gain worldly success. But there he also met Ignatius of Loyola.
Castle of the Xavier Family now under the care of the Jesuits
Ignatius worked on Francis for years to get him to become more religious. Eventually, after Francis’ roommate had left to study for the priesthood, he found Ignatius as one of his only companions. On August 15th, 1534, Ignatius, Francis, and six others met in the crypt of a church just outside of Paris and made vows of poverty, chastity, obedience to the pope, and to missionary work in the Holy Land and other places around the world.
When it comes to missions around the world, it is impossible to overestimate the credit which Francis Xavier deserves. With the possible exception of St. Paul, the Church has not seen a missionary like him. His first task: bring the Gospel to the newly established territories in India. This was not an easy assignment because the “Christian” settlers in India were causing scandal for the message of Gospel because of their immoral actions with the locals. Francis Xavier also was pigeon-holed by the caste system in India. The Brahmin class tried to keep him from interacting with his heart’s true the desire, the poorest of the poor. Francis Xavier followed his heart and spent most of his time learning the culture and language of the people, tending to the poor, and teaching them the Christian message, often times lambasting the actions of the Portuguese settlers. Because of Francis’ adventurous efforts, however, Catholicism has a strong presence in India still to this day.
To see the real adventure in Francis’ life, we must look at his work in Japan in particular. Francis eventually made his way through many island territories, China, and found his way to the people of Japan. There Francis established missions and over the course of two years gained a number of Japanese to the Catholic faith and the Jesuit order. After establishing Catholicism in Japan, he left to go back to India leaving behind others to run the communities of Japan. In 1620, less than one hundred years after Francis established Christianity there, the Empire banned Catholicism and killed all the priests and attempted to stamp out what Francis has built. Communication was lost with all the Catholics in Japan until 1865. In that year, it was discovered that a small group of Japanese had continued ritual baptism, belief in clerical celibacy, the primacy of the pope, and devotion to the Blessed Mother. For nearly 250 years, because of “the adventures of St. Francis Xavier” and the way he built the community there, Japan had retained a Catholic presence in secret, unknown both to the Japanese government and to the rest of the Church.
Therese of Lisieux
God is not calling people to be a flock of sissies. In some ways, we are to be more like lions than sheep. Speaking of that contrast, St. Therese of Lisieux is an example of a saint who seems very gentle but actually had the heart of a lion. While it’s true it hard to see a lot of adventure in the Therese’s active life, there are many quotes from her Story of a Soul that demonstrate her adventurous attitude. To start, in discovering her vocation, Therese finds what her adventure within the Church is, and in a real way it is every human being’s adventure. She says, “Then, overcome by joy, I cried, ‘Jesus, my love. At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and then I will be all things.” For Therese, the great adventure of this life is learning how to love in all the little ways. We see this clearly in this famous line that was often referenced by Mother Teresa when she says, “You know well that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions,nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”
Therese sees this life not as a destination, but a journey of learning how to love. One day, she desires to be with Love forever, when the adventure is over. Referring to this life she says, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” For Therese, the journey of this life is holiness, which is found in the perfection of love. To perfect love, one must be well aware of God’s desire for his or her life. “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be,” says Therese. In her longing for God’s will, we see one of the most adventurous things that she has to offer us and her reckless desire for nothing shy of everything God wants of her. Even despite the ways others annoy and distract her, she endeavors to love in all things. When the trials are heavy, she reminds herself and all of us that “when one loves, one does not calculate.” If that isn’t the idea of adventure that burns in your heart, you are very much different from Therese and myself. What greater adventure is there than reckless abandon for the highest cause? Tolkien, Lewis, even Twain, Melville, and DeFoe made their careers based on the same movement of the heart: to abandon yourself to life’s greatest endeavors.
For Therese the adventure is to sail the ship of this world in a way that it leads to heaven. The way to stay on course is to always be solid in prayer, even if it is challenging. She says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Therese was adventurous even in her approach to prayer, seeing that the process brings trial and joy which occur simultaneously.
Finally, Therese always tied her life’s adventure to the adventure of the cross. “To dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to sweetness and consolations; it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter, because Love lives only by sacrifice and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love, the more we must surrender ourselves to suffering,” she says. She understood the great battle within her and around her. A battle all of us are called to engage in still today. She says, “Each time that my enemy would provoke me to combat, I behave as a gallant soldier.” Even in the heart of sweet Therese there was the presence of a fierce and unruly desire to follow Christ in his Church. If only more of us would find the same adventure in our lives as sweet, small, gentle, and simple Therese found in hers!
There are so many other saints that have lived lives of adventure from St. John the Baptist, St. Paul the Apostle to St. John Paul II, the mountain loving, soccer playing, skier pope that changed the face of Catholicism and instigated the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The point is, to be a Catholic saint means to be totally awesome. Jesus’ awesome adventure was the cross. And as Hebrews 12 states, it was because of the joy that was set in front of him that he endured the cross. The joy for Jesus was that one day he gets to be with you forever. He went on a great and reckless adventure and gave his entire life just so he could be with you someday. He has now asked us to follow his model of recklessness. To live an adventure. The Church needs great and adventurous saints to set the stage for the third millennium. It can and should be us. In our own unique way, we can live the adventure of following Jesus and being a great saint.