Feb 6 – Memorial for Sts. Paul Miki and Companions, martyrs (in Japan)
St. Paul Miki (1562-1597) was one of the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan. He was born into a rich family and educated by Jesuits in Azuchi and Takatsuki. He joined the Society of Jesus and preached the gospel for his fellow citizens. The Japanese government feared Jesuit influences and persecuted them. He was jailed among others.
He and his Christian peers were forced to walk 600 miles from Kyoto while singing ‘Te Deum’ as a punishment for the community. Finally, they arrived at Nagasaki, the city which had the most conversions to Christianity, and he was crucified on 5 February 1597. He preached his last sermon from the cross, and it is maintained that he forgave his executioners stating that he himself was Japanese. Alongside him died Joan Soan (de Goto) and Santiago Kisai, of the Society of Jesus, in addition to 23 clergy and laity, all of whom were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862.
On 15 August 1549, St. Francis Xavier, Father Cosme de Torres, SJ, and Father John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima, Japan, from Spain with hopes of bringing Catholicism to Japan. On Sep 29, St. Francis Xavier visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, asking for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo agreed in hopes of creating a trade relationship with Europe.
A promising beginning to those missions – perhaps as many as 300,000 Christians by the end of the 16th century – met complications from competition between the missionary groups, political difficulty between Spain and Portugal, and factions within the government of Japan. Christianity was suppressed. By 1630, Christianity was driven underground.
The first Martyrs of Japan are commemorated on Feb 5 when, on that date in 1597, 26 missionaries and converts were killed by crucifixion. 250 years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of Japanese Christians that had survived underground.
“…may make you ready to do his will in any kind of good action…”
In yesterday’s reflection, I exhorted the great martyrs of our Church who stood up in defense of Christian virtue and paid the price of this with their blood. Today, our reflection on St Paul Miki and his companions shows how the Church reminds us of martyrdom for another, perhaps even more compelling pillar of our faith – our divine call to evangelical mission. As I pen this reflection, Christmas had just ended with the Baptism of the Lord. And in a homily, we were reminded that the Christmas season included Epiphany and Baptism. It is a poignant reminder that in Advent, we await the coming of the Messiah and when He arrives in Christmas, we then come to the realization (epiphany) that we are called to Baptism – we are called into the very reason why we are created – for mission. Divine mission — our salvation and the salvation of the world.
At the main entrance to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd is inscribed on the floor, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. This familiar phrase from John 10:11 serves 3 purposes: it pays homage to the Good Shepherd of Singapore – St Laurent Imbert, an MEP Father beheaded in Korea as a sacrifice in exchange for the safety of his flock from persecution in 1839; it is also a reminder, as we enter the Church, to the comfort and assurance that our Good Shepherd continues to embrace and protect us — the flock that He loves; and finally, that we too have a divine duty to be shepherds of the faith that God has entrusted to our care upon our baptism.
And like yesterday, it is a reminder that we have all but taken that divine duty for granted, and how badly so many of us have neglected our fulfillment of it. Our martyrs, once again, bear witness to the need to defend the faith and at times, the need to lay down one’s life for it. That the spread of the Gospel and its defense from heresy and relativism, has been paid with blood. It is good that we are reminded that our faith today has been paid for by the blood of the Apostles, who, all but one, were martyred by the blood of 300 years of persecuted Christians, who become snacks for lions and sport for blood-thirsty Roman emperors. The countless Catholic clergy ruthlessly executed as Lutheran Europe and the Reformation reared its ugly head. And the countless more who were cut down, when they rose in defense of Catholic Christianity against Fascism, Communism and Protestantism.
And perhaps what is not often understood is that of martyrdom in a different form – daily martyrdom. Martyrs who did not necessarily die for the faith but instead, died to themselves for the sake of fulfilling their mission in the faith. And there is no better example than that of our Blessed Mother, who had to forgo her own girlish dream of having her own happy marriage and family in her fiat to Angel Gabriel, who faced being stoned to death being an unmarried mother, of all those years of homelessness when in exile in Egypt so that her son might be safe from Herod, of how deeply troubling it was to carry the pain from the sword that pierced her own soul, of knowing when they knocked on her door, seeing the disappointment in Jesus being betrayed by his best pals and buddies, that the inevitable end of her son would soon be upon her, having to wipe the blood of Jesus from the place of his flogging and from her own hands when she carried her dead son in her own arms.
And if you think for a moment that their blood and sacrifice were in vain, think again. This was the blood that was needed in the divine plan, since the beginning of Christian time. And I cannot help but see that in these words of St Paul Miki, we get to have a glimpse of how much our debt of gratitude for the showers of blessings we have received from our Good Shepherds who have laid so great a sacrifice, at the altar of our salvation. And in that sacrifice, we remember these words of St Paul Miki, written in blood, which will live on forever:
“The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. And I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father help us. The evil one prowls about us and threatens to draw us away from you with his attack against virtue, morality and truth. Look upon us with pity as we languish helplessly in indifference, doubt and despair.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the great men and women of fortitude and courage who have shown us the truest examples of fidelity to the mission of what it means to truly live the faith, and to share the faith. By dying for it. And for saving our souls with their blood and the blood of your Son.