This homily was delivered on 06 February 2014 on the Feast of Paul Miki and his companion martyrs of Japan.
One religious shrine that has left a deep impression on me is the Martyrs’ Shrine in Nagasaki, Japan. The first thing you’ll see when you get there is a row of 26 figures: the martyrs of Japan, each one hand clasped in prayer, with a distinctive facial expression. Some are Japanese; others foreigners. Some are priests and religious; others lay people. Among them is a Japanese youth, the Jesuit novice Paul Miki, who was well-known for his preaching.
Eye witness accounts tell us that he was crucified along with his companions, and in his last moments, he preached to the crowd (certainly the last thing I would do if I were crucified!). Paul Miki took the occasion to address the crowds, preaching about forgiveness but also about hope.
“Like my Master,” Paul told the onlookers, “I shall die upon the cross. Like him, a lance will pierce my heart so that my blood and my love can flow out upon the land and sanctify it to his name.”
In the museum attached to the shrine hangs a bigger-than-life crucifix of the young martyr looking down upon the pilgrims and tourists. But among those in exhibit are also some interesting artifacts called fumi-e.
The fumi-e is a piece of stones or wood out of which is carved religious images such as the Christ crucified or Mother and Child. The images have faded and can hardly be discerned, defaced not by age, but by footprints–namely, the footprints of apostates who were made to trample upon them to demonstrate their denunciation of Christianity. The fumi-e were used by the Japanese rulers in the 17th Century to ferret out hidden Christians. On New Year’s day, villagers would be gathered and instructed to trample on these religious images. Christians who took their faith seriously would refuse to do so and in the process identified. They were arrested, tortured, and if they refused to apostatize, executed.
I was reminded of Shusako Endo’s novel, Silence, a novel based on the true story of Jesuit missionaries in Japan just less than fifty years after Miki’s martyrdom. Soon to be made into a film by Martin Scorsese, it’s the story of a young Jesuit, Sebastian Rodriguez, who travels to Japan in search of his mentor, Christovao Ferreira. Fr. Ferreira is the superior of the Jesuit missions in Japna, rumored to have apostatized. The two meet when Rodriguez is arrested, and the rumors are confirmed: Ferreira has apostatized after five hours of torture. In a painful twist, Rodrigues’ mentor is now his tormentor, skeptical and hardened, who now tries everything to persuade the younger Jesuit to be “practical” and trample on the fumi-e.
In the tragic figure of Christovao Ferreira, we have the perfect foil to Paul Miki, a novice who embraced his martyrdom; on the other, we have Ferreira, the superior of the Japanese missions, who yielded and fell short of expectations.
This juxtaposition of stories questions me: What would I do if I were in their place? Would I have the grace, the faith and courage, to offer my life for Christ as the young novice Miki did so eloquently, both in words and in action? Or would I decide to be more practical like the Jesuit Superior, Fr. Ferreira, broken or hardened by suffering–not only his own, but also the suffering of others? Would I trample on the fumi-e?
It has been years since my novitiate. I still recall my zeal and holy foolishness those many years ago. Where have they gone? Maybe this feast of St. Paul Miki and his companion martyrs is a good occasion for me to beg for the grace of naivete and holy foolishness of novices and martyrs.