Monday, July 21, 2014

Set All Afire by Louis de Wohl

Set All AfireSet All Afire by Louis de Wohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a historical fiction account of St. Francis Xavier who, inspired by Ignatius of Loyola to "set all afire", took the faith to India and Japan. I really enjoyed this quick moving book with accurate depictions of past societies and attitudes. I especially enjoyed the looks into the way that Hindus would have seen the Catholic faith. These days it is considered incorrect to embrace one religion as being True (or "truer") than others. However, de Wohl illustrates just what Christianity brought to the common people which helped open them to the light and love of God.

It also made several points which I found illuminating in the context of a recent conversation with someone who adheres to a metaphysical idea of different levels of consciousness mixed with belief in reincarnation. (Which always makes me think of Bender's, the robot from Futurama, mot juste: "If I'd thought I had to go through a whole 'nother life, I'd kill myself right now.")

A Brahmin is talking to Francis Xavier:
"For the sake of my soul and for the sake of the soul of India, answer me: if God became incarnate on earth and suffered for all men, be they Brahmans or Sudras or any other caste, then is final salvation possible for a man even if he has not achieved perfection by himself?"

"No man can achieve perfection by himself," said Francis gently. "But by cooperating with Our Lord and on the strength of Our Lord's death on the Cross a man will be acceptable to God."

"If he can do that, there is no need for him to be reborn on earth,"" said Ramigal slowly.
I had thought of the example of Jesus telling the "thief" on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that day, but not of the larger answer to the reincarnation question. God fulfills the lack in man so that we don't have to do it all by ourselves. And what a relief that is.

Ramigal converts and later writes to Francis Xavier:
Do you remember the first talk we had, in Tiruchendar, when I mentioned reincarnation, and you taught me that by the Grace of God all could be achieved a single life? Now that I am Father Pedro, I can see so clearly that more than one incarnation can be compressed into a single life. In a sense, a new life started for me when I joined an ancient and wise man high up in the North. But in baptism I was truly reborn from water and in confirmation I was truly reborn from the Holy Spirit....
This struck me mightily when I read it as the "different levels of consciousness" issue was swirling through the back of my mind. Again, God does it all in one go, if we cooperate with him. Wow, Christianity really does have it all! And I kind of love that.

At any rate, it is a fascinating and adventurous tale and one I can recommend.


  1. If you had to identify character traits of St Francis Xavier what would you say?

  2. It depends on which part of his life you are speaking of. By the end, complete trust in God.