Friday, February 6, 2015

Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and companions, martyrs

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

How have the Japanese Catholics reacted when they hear the last words of today’s first reading?  Have they cringed where it says, “Consider the outcome of (your leaders who spoke the word of God to you) and imitate their faith”?  Certainly some at least have in their minds the fate of Saint Paul Miki and companions, Japan’s first martyrs.  But perhaps the outcome they have remembered first is not their forbearers’ gory death but their entrance into glory!

Paul Miki was baptized as a child not long after Francis Xavier preached in Japan.  He joined the Society of Jesus and preached to his people about the Lord.  When the persecution of Christians started (according to one report out of reaction to a threat made by Europeans), Paul Miki and twenty-five others were arrested, tortured, and crucified.  But the persecution did not end Catholic Christianity in Japan.  Although the nation closed itself to foreign influence for more than two centuries, over two hundred thousand Catholics were found in Japan when the country reopened during the nineteenth century.

We are wise not to aspire to martyrdom for we do not know whether we will be strong enough to undergo the ordeal.  But we pray for courage to live our faith every day in imitation of Jesus.  We also pray that we will never withdraw our commitment to him even if it means giving up our lives.