Japanese Jesuit Martyrs
We hear in the readings for today's memorial the following, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This verse is particularly resonant on the memorial of Sts Paul Miki, John Soan de Goto and James Kisai, the Jesuit martyrs of Japan, who, along with a number of others were executed on this date in 1597.
Paul Miki was from a well-to-do family that converted to Catholicism when he was under six years-old. He entered a Jesuit-run seminary at the age of 20. Two years later he requested admission to the novitiate. He was such an effective disputant against Buddhism that, despite not yet being ordained, he had already preached to great effect in several Japanese cities. He was martyred at the age of 33, several months before he was to be ordained.
John Soan de Goto was born to Catholic parents who had to emigrate from Goto to Nagasaki to escape persecution and to practice their faith. He was an 18 year-old novice when he was captured.
James Kisai, the eldest at 64 years of age, was born of a pagan family and educated by Buddhists. He converted at some point and married a convert. When his wife returned to Buddhism the marriage was dissolved. He put his son in the care of a Christian family and eventually found himself working for the Jesuits. The Society recognized how well he knew his faith and made him a catechist. He entered the novitiate as a brother only weeks before he and the two others were captured on 26 December 1596.
Catholicism had spread rapidly in the 41 years following Jesuit Father Francis Xavier’s arrival in Japan in 1549. By 1590, however, scattered persecutions began to appear. By 1596 the situation had turned ugly. How ugly is described in Shusako Endo’s astonishing and horrifying novel Silence.
After the Jesuits were captured they, and a group of Franciscan missionaries, were taken 600 miles to Nagasaki, traveling in open horse carts with their hands bound behind their backs. The trip took four weeks. Somewhere outside the city a Jesuit priest made contact with the three men. He heard their confessions and received the perpetual vows of the two novices. Upon arriving at the hill of crucifixion they sang the Te Deum and embraced the crosses on which they were to die.
While hanging on the cross Goto addressed his father who was in the crowd with the words, “Father, remember the soul’s salvation is to be preferred above everything else.”
After forgiving his executioners, Miki’s last words, just before two lances were thrust into his chest were, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
The example of these three martyrs and their companions remains relevant today. Physical crucifixion is more or less out of fashion as a penalty for not hewing to the party line of liberalism and social relativism. However, there are other forms of crucifixion. Just as Paul’s words are metaphorical, crucifixion today is a metaphorical one. It is a crucifixion of words and exclusion, of derision and snarky humor, hostility and sarcasm, rather than the physical nailing of the body to a few pieces of wood. “You’re a what?” “You actually believe in God?” “Haven’t you outgrown being a Catholic?”or, in the memorable words of Carl Sagan to a woman friend who was a Methodist minister, “You’re so smart, how can you believe that nonsense?” (Her reply was something along the lines of, You're so smart how can you not believe in God?)
The crosses on which Miki, Goto, and Kisai were martyred have been replaced by the rejection, hostility, horror and derision of nonbelievers or, even worse, the terminally hip. This hostility is directed toward those who profess and live their faith when they take a stand against abortion, protest killing the disabled and the sick elderly, exercise an option for the poor or even pray regularly. The persecutions of the war lords in Japan have not ceased. Today religious freedom and freedom of conscience is under concerted attack by a president and government who see abortion, be it by suctioning out the brain of a late-term infant or prescribing "morning after pills" as an unqualified good. A government that is preparing to compel Catholic physicians, pharmacists, hospitals and nurses to act against their consciences.
It is always tempting to try to fit in with the hip, the cool, the politically correct, the edgy, the sophisticated or those desperate to be seen as more than they are. But to accommodate to them is to devalue and scorn the lives of Miki, Goto, Kisai and their companions.
To do so is to relinquish our own souls.
The majority of photos on this blog were taken outside the U.S. However, there are some very good opportunities locally. During recovery from surgery I spent some time with the camera in a circumscribed area five or six blocks from my room and in the house as well.
The first is the view from the famous (infamous?) "Exorcist Steps" about three blocks from the house on Prospect St. These steps are so steep that it is easier to walk up than down. The Potomac River and Key Bridge are in the background.
It pays to carry a camera. There is a memorial sculpture of a former G'town professor sitting on a bench with a chessboard. It is life size. I was walking on campus the day after Christmas and saw this shot. Only managed to photos before the squirrel bolted. The wall in the background separates Georgetown University from the Visitation Monastery.
Georgetown presents wonderful opportunities to be a voyeur. These are from a house just down one of the "Letter" Streets. Black and white seemed to work better. The first is the entrance to a house and the second is a small library.
Next is a dining table at sunset in the conference room across the hall from my room. One of the men was having about a dozen people for dinner and a meeting. Amazing what warm lighting can do to an otherwise pedestrian scene.
Finally some breviaries and other books in my room. They will soon be packed and moved to Weston.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD