Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and companions, martyrs
(I Kings 2:1-4.10-12; Mark 6:7-13)
A famous theologian of the second century (Tertullian) wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” But perhaps it would be more poetically justified to say that the blood of martyrs waters the seed sown by missionaries who are sent forth as Jesus commissions his apostles in today’s gospel. The preachers assure their hearers of what their hearts are afraid to believe: that the creator loves them so much that he has worked out a way for them to share his eternal life. This message is then verified by martyrs like St. Paul Miki and his twenty-five companions in Japan at the end of the sixteenth century. These saints testified to God’s love by choosing death at the hands of the shogun rather than recant their belief in so gracious a creator. Japanese Christians could not publicly practice their faith in Japan for the next two hundred and fifty years as the country closed itself to the rest of the world. But when Japan finally welcomed foreigners in the nineteenth century, Christians there numbered more than two hundred thousand!
We would be incorrect to think that the age of martyrdom is ended. Hundreds if not thousands of Christian martyrdoms are documented every year. These occur largely in Africa and the Middle East. As always, the victims do not die in vain. First, they experience eternal life. Second, their stories germinate the faith in others to accept that same message of God’s efficacious love.