Homilette for Friday, February 6, 2009

Memorial of Saints Paul Miki, martyr, and his companions, martyrs

(Hebrews 13:1-8; Mark 6:14-29)

Despite a relatively small number of adherents, Japanese Catholicism has a glorious history. St. Francis Xavier was one of the pioneer missionaries to the land in the middle of the sixteenth century. For a while the shoguns tolerated the thriving religion, but a minor incident triggered a major persecution at the end of the century. When Spanish missionaries trying to save a shipwrecked compatriot sea captain made what was no more than an idle threat about a Spanish invasion, the reigning shogun clamped down. He had Paul Miki, a talented native Jesuit preacher, along with twenty-five mostly Japanese other Catholics, martyred on a cross. Christianity went underground for more than two centuries. When Japan opened its doors to the world again in the nineteenth century, over two hundred thousand Catholics were practicing their faith clandestinely.

Japanese Catholics heeded the reading that we hear in the first reading today. They remembered their leaders who spoke the word of God and imitated their faith. Although only about one half of one percent of Japan is Catholic, there have been several prominent Japanese Catholics. Shusaku Endo, who died in 1996, was one of the finest contemporary novelists exploring spiritual themes. Taro Aso, the current Prime Minister of Japan, is also a Catholic.