6 Feb – Memorial for Sts. Paul Miki and Companions, martyrs (in Japan)
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.
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
In the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord and, stretching out his hands towards heaven, said, ‘O Lord, God of Israel, not in heaven above nor on earth beneath is there such a God as you, true to your covenant and your kindness towards your servants when they walk wholeheartedly in your way. Yet will God really live with men on the earth? Why, the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built! Listen to the prayer and entreaty of your servant, O Lord my God; listen to the cry and to the prayer your servant makes to you today. Day and night let your eyes watch over this house, over this place of which you have said, “My name shall be there.” Listen to the prayer that your servant will offer in this place.
‘Hear the entreaty of your servant and of Israel your people as they pray in this place. From heaven where your dwelling is, hear; and, as you hear, forgive.’
The Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus, and they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with unclean hands, that is, without washing them. For the Pharisees, and the Jews in general, follow the tradition of the elders and never eat without washing their arms as far as the elbow; and on returning from the market place they never eat without first sprinkling themselves. There are also many other observances which have been handed down to them concerning the washing of cups and pots and bronze dishes. So these Pharisees and scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not respect the tradition of the elders but eat their food with unclean hands?’ He answered, ‘It was of you hypocrites that Isaiah so rightly prophesied in this passage of scripture:
This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.
You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions.’ And he said to them, ‘How ingeniously you get round the commandment of God in order to preserve your own tradition! For Moses said: Do your duty to your father and your mother, and, Anyone who curses father or mother must be put to death. But you say, “If a man says to his father or mother: Anything I have that I might have used to help you is Corban (that is, dedicated to God), then he is forbidden from that moment to do anything for his father or mother.” In this way you make God’s word null and void for the sake of your tradition which you have handed down. And you do many other things like this.’
“This people honours me only with lip service, while their hearts are far from me. Their reverence of me is worthless; the lessons they teach are nothing but human commandments.”
As the youth coordinator in my parish, I’m guilty at times of being a hypocrite, by not practising all that I preach. Working in church, I’ve seen so many similarities of how we are like the Pharisees and scribes.
People joining church activities, communities or ministries, either to make their resume look nice, to find friends of similar interests so that one will not be alone, to ‘earn’ their way into heaven, to network for their business and many many others. Most of the time, it isn’t to grow our relationship with Christ, to deepen our spiritual lives.
We go around preaching and sharing like we know the truth. It really isn’t difficult to give people an impression that one is a good Catholic.
At a superficial level, we may feel that people who are actively involved in the parish are actually really faithful, convicted and have a passion for Christ. But there’s also a group of such people that may actually be most broken, insecure and alone.
At the end of the day, we all will be able to tell because it is more than just the words but the way we live our lives. Are we reflecting Christ to the people we meet daily? The irony is that while most of us are so preoccupied with how others see us, none of us really ask ourselves the question if we have been Christ to the other? Most of the time, pride gets in the way.
The parish isn’t a museum of saints but a hospital for sinners. Indeed, we house some of the most broken, insecure, unaware, ungrateful, prideful and whatever else people; but we house them because Christ allows it to be so. When the world rejects, Christ welcomes.
Despite all the hypocrisy, though our hearts and intentions are far away from Him, He continues to run after us, to reach out for us, to create a place for us to dwell. Let us lower our walls and throw away the lies. Let us allow Christ in, let us give Him the wheel to our lives, for the true encounter and healing only happens when we allow Christ to take control of our lives.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)
Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for courage, perseverance and patience to stand up for our faith, to trust in You even when things are not going our way. To be patient for You will know when the time is right. Help us to see beyond the things that will pass, help us not to focus on the gifts but the giver.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your unfailing love. Thank you for constantly having this hope in us. Amen