Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A History of Witnesses from All The World

Paul Miki, baptized at the age of five, was one of the early fruits of Saint Francis Xavier's mid-16th century mission to Japan. He grew up to become the first Japanese to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and he preached and witnessed to the Lord among his own people. Many Japanese became Christians, especially in the southern port city of Nagasaki and the regions surrounding it.

At first the Imperial government permitted the new community to grow, but the situation became complicated when other Europeans arrived who also called themselves Christians but who sought their own interests: material gain, cultural and territorial invasion, robbery, and rivalries fostered to gain their own political power.

As a result, the Japanese authorities turned against the foreigners and their "foreign god"--thus began the process of expelling Europeans and all their influence, with no distinction between what was evil and what was good. Paul Miki--a native of Japan, full of love, a servant of everyone, a threat to no one--was condemned to be a scapegoat (along with a few other European missionaries and a group of Japanese lay people, including children). They were tortured and crucified on February 6, 1597. As he was dying, Saint Paul Miki urged his countrymen and women to know and love Jesus, and he forgave his executioners.

The impact of this event was shattering but also profound. By the mid-17th century all priests has been driven out or killed, and many more Japanese faithful were martyred or ritually renounced Christianity. But for nearly 300 years, a group of lay people in the Nagasaki area remained faithful to Jesus. Without the priestly ministry, without the sacraments of the Eucharist or Penance (but certainly not without the desire for them), with only Baptism, the Bible, a catechism, and a liturgical calendar, they passed down the heritage of their faith in Jesus and lived the life of His Church as best as they could. When Japan reopened to the West in the 19th century, European Catholic priests were permitted in the country again to minister to other foreigners. The priests did not approach the native population. Nevertheless, to their astonishment, they were sought out by the seventh generation of this Nagasaki community that had kept the faith but also hungered for the fullness of ecclesial life.

There are so many tremendous stories--real stories about persons, communities, families, and generations all through history and all over the world--that are vivified by these otherwise very diverse peoples' conviction about and adherence to one man. Among all the billions of humans who have lived, why is this one man so unique, so compelling, that people love Him more than life, more than everything?

Recall that yesterday was the feast of third century martyr Saint Agatha of Catania. Today celebrates these Nagasaki Martyrs of 1597 -- twelve hundred years later, over ten thousand miles away, these 26 men, women, and children were brutally tortured and murdered. Their "crime" was the same as Agatha's: they all loved the same man, and knew themselves to be loved by that man, in such a way that all the violence brought against them by the powers of their societies was not able to tear them away from that man.


Who ever heard of such a thing in all the history of the world?

But it's easy enough to ignore it, if we don't want to see it. There is no spectacle here. These are the stories of people, poor people, where encountered Jesus, who were changed, fulfilled, and transformed by Jesus. They were given a share in His love that saves the world: the love that forgives enemies, that endures all things, that bridges the abyss of death: the love that never fails.

The people who follow Jesus in the Church (bearing His promises with all their own weakness and failures and even betrayals) are the means through which He chooses to give Himself in this world, to "extend" His resurrected life and His unconquerable redeeming love to every place and time, through all of history. It is through these people that Jesus meets Agatha, the Japanese Christians, and countless poor and forgotten people in the streets of today.

Love communicates person to person. Love communicates new life to persons who share that life with other persons. The sacraments are the gestures through which Jesus guarantees the concreteness of the the foundation and continuity of the encounter with Him. But the living of this new life penetrates the whole story of each person and their relationships with others. This is what gives us the great story of God's People journeying to fulfillment in Him, the remarkable "history of the Church"--all the more amazing in the endurance and continual renewal of Jesus Christ's presence and the power of His love in these fragile vessels of people who follow Him (and in spite of the malice, violence, and manipulation of those who pretend to follow Him while actually betraying Him).

Jesus is here. He stays with us.

The history of these martyrs--these men and women in whom His love was fulfilled to the end--is our history. It is the heritage of all humanity, of every person. It has been entrusted to us in the Church so that we might share it with all the world.

That's what love does. It shares. It gives itself away. It generates life. It brings new life. We who have been so much loved... do we not long to be poured out and given to others so that this love will abound? We're hindered by many things, by our preoccupations, by fear. The field of our own lives seems small. Let us not think this means our love should be small.

These stories inspire us to trust in Jesus, to let His love be the measure, to begin to live a little more His love as a gift and a witness to one another, and in the particular circumstances and places that constitute our "world" each day.