Monday, February 6, 2023

Memorial of St. Paul Miki & Companions, Martyrs

Readings: Gal 2:19-20; Ps 126:1-6; Matt 28:16-20

Today we remember Saint Paul Miki and Companions. Along with twenty-five of his sisters and brothers, Paul Miki, a Japanese Catholic who became a Jesuit priest, underwent martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel.

Born into a wealthy family, Paul lived in the sixteenth century, when the Jesuits were bringing the Gospel to Japan. The Jesuits educated him. He then decided to join the still relatively new apostolic society founded by Ignatius of Loyola. In time, Paul became a successful and well-known preacher. His ministry resulted in many of his fellow Japanese converting to Christianity.

Suspicious of the Jesuits as outsiders and seeking to eliminate any foreign influence in his domain, the Japanese emperor, Toyotomi Hideyosh, began persecuting Christians. This meant the Jesuits who were the main perpetrators of Christianity. The martyrdom of these Japanese Christians occurred about forty years before similar events depicted by the Japanese-Catholic writer Endō Shūsaku in his novel Silence. In 2016, Martin Scorsese made this beautiful work of Catholic literature into a movie of the same name.

Along with twenty-five fellow Catholics, laity and clergy, after being arrested, Miki was made to walk about 600 miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki. As they walked, these faithful children of Mother Church sang the Te Deum. This great hymn of praise, still sung today, begins:
We praise you, O God:
we acknowledge you as Lord.
Everlasting Father,
All the world bows down before you.

All the angels sing your praise,
the hosts of heaven and all the angelic powers,
all the cherubim and seraphim
call out to you in unending song:

Holy, Holy, Holy,
is the Lord God of angel hosts!
The heavens and the earth are filled
with your majesty and glory.
The glorious band of apostles,
the noble company of prophets, the white-robed army who shed their blood for Christ,
all sing your praise1
Once in Nagasaki, on 5 February 1597, Paul Miki was tied to a cross and had his chest pierced, which wound killed him. All the remaining twenty-five were put to death in rapid succession. These Japanese martyrs were canonized in 1862 by Pope Pius IX.

Saint Paul Miki and Companions

The second reading from the Office of Readings for today’s memorial is a contemporary account of this martyrdom. It recounts that as he hung on the cross, Paul Miki preached his final homily. Echoing the First Apology of the great Church Father Saint Justin Martyr, in his dying words, Paul proclaimed that there was no contradiction between being Japanese and being Catholic. After thanking God for the “blessing” of martyrdom, he ended with these words:
As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves2
This is a deep lesson in what it means to live and to die as a Christian. Yet, how slow we often are to forgive far lesser offenses, how ill-disposed we are to bear wrongs patiently, preferring instead to carry a grudge or, worse yet, get even. Your karma may have run over my dogma but I’ll take grace over karma every time! While Saint Paul, the apostle, the author of our first reading, was beheaded in Rome, Paul Miki was literally crucified with Christ in Nagasaki.

As it pertains to our Gospel reading- let us not forget that martyr simply means witness. We evangelize far more by witness than by words and arguments. In his exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Saint Paul VI described very well the life and witness of Paul Miki and his companions:
Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst?3
You cannot make disciples unless you are first a disciple. In a sense, the phrase “missionary disciple” is what Kantian philosophy would dub an analytic phrase. It is analytic because to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a missionary and to truly be a missionary, you must be a disciple. But the reason we need the phrase is because too often we separate the two. It is the witness of so many saints, like the Japanese martyrs, that show us the truth of what our scriptures tonight teach us.

1 Liturgy of the Hours. The Ordinary. Office of Readings. Hymn: Te Deum.
2 The Liturgy of the Hours. Office of Readings. 6 February. Saint Paul Miki and Companions: Memorial.
3 Pope Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, sec. 21.

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