Japan's Way of the Cross
Feb 6, 2018
We have those days, for some its weeks, months and sadly entire lifetimes. Why is my life the way it is? Why so much suffering? Job pondered these questions in today’s first reading not with the arrogance of a disbeliever but the sincerity and courage of a believer who confronts reality and faith and understood that unless one has fire tried faith, there is no reality. This week the Church celebrates the Feast of the Japanese Martyrs Paul Miki and companions. The story of these remarkable 16th century heroes is not only meant to guide us through the darknesses of our lives, but remind us what our life on earth is truly about and what our definitive destiny will at last be.
Having been arrested for the crime of loving Jesus Christ, Paul and his companions were then forced upon a 600 mile journey from the capital of Kyoto through cold and snow. It would take nearly a month till they arrived at the sight of their execution upon an obscure hill in a then obscure town called Nagasaki. Perhaps there has never been a longer way of the Cross than this 600 mile stretch of relentless weather and unforgiving ground. And at the conclusion of this punishing journey: death by crucifixion. Along the road, villagers gathered and jeered the motley crew of Christians shouting: “fools…renounce your faith!” Rather than depress their spirits, the taunts served as a spiritual tonic, lifting their minds and hearts higher to the Heaven that was opening its gates to its soon to be welcomed new Saints.
Staggering up the hill they found littered upon the ground 26 crosses each one specifically made for the prisoners, most prominent were three smaller crosses reserved for three teenagers. Seeing the crosses they burst into song singing the Te Deum, the Church’s great hymn of thanksgiving. The three boys were the first to sprint to their crosses, boys who had served proudly at Mass, seeing in their deaths the reality that they were now to be the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass…offering their bodies and blood with Christ to the Father for the salvation of the world.
Bound to his cross, Paul Miki spoke: “I am Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime. The only reason I am condemned to die is that I have taught the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am happy to die for such a cause and accept death as a great gift from my Lord.”
Perhaps Miki thought it odd, even unfair, that he was to die so soon before his ordination as a Priest. At 33 years old he had been a Jesuit brother for 11 years and recognized as a man of devout faith who inspired many conversions. Yet he was never to celebrate Mass. When placed upon that Cross, it must have rushed into his body and soul like electricity, the reality of this privileged moment.
This had in fact become his ordination day, and the bread and wine to be offered would be his own body and blood transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, who once more would endure His Passion in the life of Saint Paul Miki and his companions.
Each Mass is a re-presentation of the Calvary event, but in addition to the Calvary outside Jerusalem, at that moment, and right here soon in our presence there are the Calvaries of Nagasaki that day and in 1945, Pearl Harbor, Aushwitz, 9/11, Tsunamis, Harveys, the many Calvaries of hospital rooms scattered throughout the world, African nations in bloody chaos, so many rooms in so many houses where teenagers hide in the shadows of terrible depressions and the list stretches across our entire human history, in our own personal lives.
All that is made present at every Mass for Christ has endured our every misery, suffering and temptation…taken it all up into Himself and given it to the Father for the redemption of the world. Saint Paul sums it up for us in his letter to the Colossians: “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.”
As Saint Paul Miki and his companions remind us, that without the power of the Mass in our lives, we will fall along the way of life and have not the strength to get up and make it to the altar of our Sainthood and be resurrected with Christ to Heaven.
I will conclude with this letter from 13 year old Thomas Kozaki martyred with Paul Miki: “Dear Mother: Dad and I are going to heaven. There we shall await you. Do not be discouraged even if all the priests are killed. Bear all sorrow for our Lord and do not forget you are now on the true road to heaven. You must not put my smaller brothers in pagan families. Educate them yourself. These are the dying wishes of father and son. Goodbye, Mother dear. Goodbye.”