Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saint Paul Miki, martyr, and his companions, martyrs (d. 1597)

Nagasaki, Japan, is familiar to Americans as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, immediately killing over 37,000 people. Three and a half centuries before, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his Church. Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution: “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith. Beatified in 1627, the martyrs of Japan were finally canonized in 1862.

A reflection on 1 Kings (3.4-13)

Be vigilant against temptation There is a most memorable event in the life of Solomon the son of King David. It occurred at the beginning of his reign. God appeared to him in a dream during the night and said, 'Ask what you would like me to give to you.' Solomon's answer was most pleasing to God. 'Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great?' God answered his prayer with abundance. 'I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you had and none will have after you.'

God endowed Solomon with immense gifts of wisdom. He was a person of great promise. But in the final analysis Solomon was a great disappointment. Not only did he overburden his people, but he abandoned God, turned to the idols of his women, and became ensnared in lust. In view of his gifts, we may surmise that he made choices that were contrary to what he clearly saw he should do. They were clear-sighted moral failures, perhaps the accumulated result of countless small infidelities. This is a great lesson. Being very gifted, spiritually gifted, will not ensure moral goodness, let alone holiness. Even having an abundance of so important a gift as wisdom will ensure nothing unless it is accompanied by humility, moral vigilance and resolve. We all have our gifts, natural and supernatural. But we must be vigilant against temptation and the occasions of sin, with a humble awareness of our weaknesses and need of God. It is on God's power that we must rely, while putting to good use in action the gifts we have been given.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (6:30-34)

The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.

God and Man

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Let us observe in our mind’s eye the spectacle of Jesus surrounded by His disciples, who were telling Him of “all they had done and taught.” There is a marvellous bond between them. They are all in the midst of heavy and unceasing work and we read that “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat”. They were all hungry and tired, doubtlessly including our Lord himself. We have various glimpses from the Gospels of just how tired our Lord was at times. On one occasion (John 4:6) the band reaches Jacob’s Well at Sychar. Our Lord is exhausted, and the disciples leave him resting at the Well while they go to buy provisions. On another they are out on the Lake in the midst of a heavy storm, and our Lord is in a deep sleep. In our scene today our Lord determines that they will all leave for “a quiet place and get some rest. So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” These simple events surely remind us of the wonder of the Incarnation. The great God became truly man. It is the greatest thing in the history of the world, the premier mystery, that at a certain point in history and in a certain locale, there was a man who was the living, infinite God. We must not become used to such a thought and take it for granted. The Church confesses that Jesus Christ transcends all other figures in history and certainly all other founders of religions. He is truly God and truly man. He possesses not just a human nature, perfectly developed though it assuredly was. He is not just the greatest man of all. He is first, foremost, and only, a divine person — but with two natures. He is a divine person with a divine nature who has taken to himself a human nature as well. This human nature, this manhood which is his, is not to be in any way confused with the divine nature which is properly and in the first instance his by virtue of his being a divine person. Both his divine nature and his assumed human nature are distinct from one another and yet united in his Person — the Person of the Word. The mind marvels at the thought, but thus it was.

So it is that his weariness and his hunger as evidenced in our Gospel passage today (Mark 6: 30-34) and in various other passages are to be attributed to his divine Person. In the humanity of Jesus all things — his miracles, his sufferings and his death — must be attributed to his divine Person which acts by means of his assumed human nature. It is God the Son who is hungry and tired because it is God the Son who is this man. It is as man that God the Son is acting in these circumstances of intense work and pressure from the crowds, as in today’s Gospel. He assumed a human body animated by a rational human soul. With his human intellect Jesus learned many things by way of experience — such as that the crowds had run ahead of him to meet him when they landed on the other side. At the same time, as man, the Son of God had an intimate and immediate knowledge of God his heavenly Father. He likewise understood the secret thoughts of people and knew fully the eternal plans which he had come to reveal. He had a divine will and a human will. In his earthly life, the Son of God humanly willed all that he had divinely decided with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation. The human will of Christ followed without opposition or reluctance the divine will or, in other words, it was subject to it. Jesus Christ assumed a true human body by means of which the invisible God became visible to ordinary man. This is the reason why Christ can be represented and venerated in sacred images. If the burial Shroud of Turin is to be regarded as authentic, we have on that Shroud an image of the incarnate God left to human posterity by Jesus Christ himself on rising from the dead. Moreover, Jesus Christ knew us and loved us with a human heart. In our Gospel scene today we see the very human heart of Christ being revealed. He shows deep concern for his disciples, leading them across the Lake for rest and recreation. Then on alighting, his heart is filled with compassion for the crowds and he gives himself over to their service. His heart, pierced on the Cross for our salvation, is the symbol of that infinite love with which he loves the Father and each one of us.

Let us never take for granted Jesus Christ. He is the Second Divine Person of the most holy Trinity. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father. He became man for us and our salvation, truly and fully man — and much more so, in a sense, than are we. That is to say, his humanity was full and complete. It was perfect, whereas ours is marred, wounded, crippled and wounded by sin. In this sense he was not only fully God, but fully and perfectly man. Let us be like Thomas before the risen Jesus, and bow down before him with the words, “My Lord and my God!”

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