Friday, February 6, 2009

Processing with the Saints - St. Paul Miki and Companions

Today is the feast day of St. Paul Miki and Companions. Miki and twenty-three companions were martyred in 1597 in Nagasaki, Japan. The martyrs included Jesuits (Miki among them) and Franciscans, as well as laymen. Arrested in Osaka, they were taken to Kyoto, where they were condemned to death by crucifixion and the lobes of their ears were cut off (as a mark of shame). Then they were forced to march to Nagasaki on a month-long journey. Although bystanders mocked Miki and his companions, they preached to the crowds. When they reached Nagasaki, they saw the crosses upon which they would be crucified. They began singing the Te Deum, a hymn of thanksgiving that is said on Sundays outside of Lent, the octaves of Christmas and Easter, and on solemnities and feast days in the Liturgy of the Hours. They were crucified, and as he hung on the cross, Miki said:

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.

If we think of Miki's march with his companions as a procession, we learn some important things. They took evil (the mocking of the crowd) and turned it into good (preaching to them). Having had their ear lobes cut off as a mark of shame, their martyrdom was a mark of glory (staying true to the Jesuit motto, Ad maiorem Dei gloriam [For the greater glory of God]). As they processed to their death, they understood that they were drawing ever nearer to a more abundant life.

Looking upon the instruments of their torture, they could sing a song of thankfulness to God. The Te Deum was particularly appropriate for these martyrs; some of the lines include:

  • the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee (Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus)
  • Thou overcame the sting of death and hast opened to believers the Kingdom of Heaven (Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum)
  • We beseech Thee, therefore, to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood (Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni: quos pretioso sanguine redemisti)
  • Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory (Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari)
  • Every day we thank Thee (Per singulos dies benedicimus te)

The English word "martyr" comes from the Greek word μάρτυς, meaning "witness." In a procession, we witness to Christ and his life, death, and resurrection. We say by our witness that we have a share in that life, death, and resurrection. And we are saying to those who see us processing, "You can have a share in that life, death, and resurrection too!"

St. Paul Miki and Companions, pray for us that we will be witnesses for Christ, regardless of the cost, and that we will be thankful to God every day.

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