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Jesuit leader connects with novena

Posted By March 12, 2015 | 2:21 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – Novena-goers.
St. Francis Xavier.
Pope Francis.
Red Sox manager John Farrell.
The leader of U.S. and Canadian Jesuits spoke of personal connections with all of these people Saturday. He was making his first visit to the annual St. Francis Xavier Novena at St. John Parish.
“I loved it!” said Father Timothy P. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, who convenes the nine provincial superiors from the two countries. “The people were wonderful! The church was mostly full on a Saturday afternoon!
“Novenas are so important.,” he said. “There’s something beautiful about devotions.” He said people can read about a saint, but by coming together in Communion and adoration, “you come closer to the saint.” And what better saint than the patron of missions, during the present era of the new evangelization, he said.
Like Pope Francis, “he came from us” – the Jesuits – but belongs to the Church and to God, he said.
“He’s the model for Jesuits,” he said of Pope Francis. “He embodies everything a Jesuit should want to be.” Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he said, and spoke of Pope Francis’ commitment to poverty and obedience to God’s will and living the Gospel.
“He’s a model of chastity because he’s such a lover of people,” he added.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits’ founder, wrote about asking himself what St. Francis of Assisi would do, Father Kesicki said. So it is fitting that the pope chose the latter’s name.
Writing about the Year of Consecrated Life that the universal Church is now celebrating, Pope Francis called religious to “live the mysticism of encounter,” he said.
“We see our vocation come to life in the experience … and the faith of the people of God,” Father Kesicki said. Religious are called to encounter God’s people, who want the services of the religious, but also feed the religious, he said.
“I encounter St. Francis Xavier in a new way” praying the prayers with people here and seeing their faith, Father Kesicki maintained. He spoke about his life in his homily, and worshippers told him part of their stories afterwards, he said.
“I felt a duty in this Year of Consecrated Life to be here with you,” he said. He said he came at the invitation of Jesuit Father Jeremy Zipple, a present and past homilist for the novena here, and Father John F. Madden, St. John’s pastor.
“I’m visiting our men who are studying for the priesthood at Boston College,” said Father Kesicki, who lives in Washington, D.C.
Last year he concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis in Domus Santa Marta, where the pope lives. He said he told the pope that his father had kidney cancer and the pope asked his name and promised to pray for him.
“Imagine!” Father Kesicki said. On hearing that, the surgeon said his father’s surgery should be easy. His father, who turns 83 in August, did well, he said.
In his novena homily Father Kesicki told another story about being in Rome. The priest who grew up in Eire, Penn., first said he’s a John Farrell fan: the Red Sox manager’s sons attended St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland when he was president there.
Father Kesicki is also a fan of St. Francis Xavier. He said he was happy to be at the novena because he has a passion for this saint.
While in Rome last year he saw the door where Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola bid each other goodbye on March 14, 1540, he said. The building was then the Jesuits’ residence.
Two other priests were scheduled to go to India but one got sick, Father Kesicki said. So the day before the trip St. Ignatius asked his best friend to go instead.
“And St. Francis Xavier said ‘yes,’” he said. He noted how people hate to have their plans changed and said, “Imagine the sacrifice St. Francis Xavier made.” That changed the course of Catholic history, he said.
He asked where St. Francis Xavier got the courage to leave his culture and friends for a new world, and spoke of this year’s novena theme: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Father Kesicki said Jesus’ driving the moneychangers out of the temple was not about righteousness, but stemmed from his zeal for his Father.
“I believe this is the zeal St. Francis Xavier had when he said ‘yes’ to St. Ignatius of Loyola,” he said. He brought the message of zeal, not righteousness.
Father Kesicki talking about people today acting self-righteous. They’re studious about their own Lenten sacrifices and judge others about their Lent. They ask why there aren’t more youth in church and make fun of the young people’s gadgets, instead of showing the younger generation their own zeal.
St. Francis Xavier was not just a man of strength and bravado; he also had a very tender relationship with St. Ignatius, he said. He said he stood in front of the door where they last saw each other and remembered his own childhood, the day he had to walk to first grade by himself. He nearly cried when he left his mother, but when he looked back, he saw she’d been watching him from the window. Feeling her love and care, he lost his fear.
Francis Xavier knew Jesus was watching over him and St. Ignatius cared for him, Father Kesicki said and expressed hope that listeners would have the saint’s zeal.