There certainly isn’t anything normal about carrying a 465 year old arm across Canada for a month. And frankly, it does seem pretty weird. But perhaps the greatest thing I learned from my month with St. Francis Xavier is that in the Christian life, we find not only the extraordinary in the ordinary, but also the ordinary in the extraordinary.
In January of this year, I was part of a team that brought the major relic - the incorrupt right hand and forearm - of St. Francis Xavier on a month-long tour across Canada that garnered significant attention from secular news sources and church bulletins alike. Acting as the guardian of the relic was the adventure of a lifetime, and a grace-filled experience that I will be continuing to unpack and reflect upon for the rest of my life.
On tour, we stopped in 15 cities, including every city where Catholic Christian Outreach and the Society of Jesus (co-presenting sponsors of the tour) have a presence. We saw close to 80,000 pilgrims on university campuses and at Catholic churches from sea to sea. They came with prayerful hearts and curious eyes to see this remarkable treasure of the Church.
When Angèle Regnier asked me to be a part of the team that would bring the major relic of her movement’s patron saint across Canada, I was humbled and honoured - completely surprised, but yet, so eager. No - I never could have in my wildest dreams have invented a more amazing adventure to take part in, but in a way explained only by God’s grace, I felt as though it was exactly what I was meant to do. No - I didn’t have any practical experience in caring for incorrupt human limbs. No - I had no intention of taking a semester off from my studies. And no - I hardly knew anything more about my saintly friend other than that he was a Jesuit missionary.
There’s something about that “wonderful adventure” St. John Paul II talks about living with Christ that had trained me to always expect the unexpected. And not just to expect small things, but to have great expectations for the Lord and His perfect plan.
While I wanted to give my answer right there on that lawn in the heart of the campus of the University of Ottawa, I did have a few things to figure out before saying “yes” to what would be the greatest experience of my life. But in the days and weeks to follow, it was made abundantly clear that the adventure the Lord was inviting me on was one that I would regret turning down. Of course committing to a month of travel meant making certain sacrifices, but “He takes nothing away and He gives you everything” (Pope Benedict XVI at his Mass of Inauguration, 2005). God certainly gave me more than I ever could have imagined, leaving me unable to sleep at night, often wondering, “why me?”
What I came to realize was that this really had nothing to do with me, but rather with Christ’s mission of redeeming the world. That reality could not have been more clear, that it was not us, but St. Francis Xavier himself who was on mission in Canada. By his inspiration and intercession, three particular graces abounded: the conversion of hearts to Christ, miraculous healings of physical and non-physical ailments, and missionary zeal setting people on fire for the mission of bringing Christ to the world.
It was almost 500 years ago that St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and St. Francis’ close friend, prayed over his confrere and commissioned him in Rome to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. St. Francis did not return until his incorrupt arm was brought back from Asia for veneration at the centre of the altar dedicated to his name, directly across from St. Ignatius’ tomb. It was a privilege to bring the arm that baptized 100,000 back to the Ge su Church in Rome after his most recent mission - this time not to India, but to Canada.
Seeing the arm back above the altar was a fitting conclusion to our time with St. Francis. To see him settled back into his regular home, business as usual reminded us that the saints never cease their mission from heaven. While St. Francis Xavier lived an extraordinary life, his mission in Canada showed me and so many others that the extraordinary lives of the saints are meant to become ordinary with our universal call to holiness and each of our vocations to sainthood.
Let’s make the extraordinary, ordinary. It’ll make St. Francis proud.