Tuesday, 6 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today from the Scripture passages we heard what is the meaning of becoming true disciples and followers of the Lord. Today we are all called to reflect on how each one of us can be more devoted to the Lord, by obeying Him, listening to Him and doing things He has taught us to do in the right manner and in the right way.

From the Old Testament today we heard the continuation of the reading taken from the beginning of the Book of Kings, in which if yesterday we heard about the festivities and celebrations surrounding the completion and dedication of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, built by king Solomon, then today we heard about how king Solomon prayed on behalf of the people before God.

King Solomon humbled himself before the Lord, thanking Him for all that He has done for His people, and by willingly coming down into the world to dwell among His people. He acknowledged that no matter how big and grand the house he has built for the Lord, there could be no earthly building or establishment that could have contained Him.

King Solomon beseeched God that He might listen to His people in their time of need and forgive them from their sins, so that He might turn to them when they sought after Him in sincere and genuine faith. And that grand edifice of worship that is the Temple was therefore purposed for the sole aim of the placement of God at the very centre of the lives of the people.

God must be at the centre and He must be the focus of our lives, or else we will easily slip and fall into the temptations of sin. And that was exactly what happened at the time of Jesus. In our Gospel passage today, we heard how the Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocritical attitude in following and enforcing the Law, as they enforced a very strict adherence to the rule of the Mosaic law, but they did that in a way which did not promote true understanding and appreciation of the Law.

The Pharisees wanted the people to follow the rules and the obligations as set by the Law to the smallest details, but all these ended up becoming empty rules and regulations, that the Pharisees themselves were unable to fulfil. And when they did the observations of the Law, they did not do them for the purpose of glorifying God, instead they did them for their own self-advancement and personal glory.

And according to the Lord Jesus, the actions of the Pharisees were even more hypocritical and inappropriate because they say one thing about a certain Law, and yet in a different occasion, they say a different story about the same rule of the Law. He used the example of the law which dictated that all of the people had to take care of their parents, and yet, the Pharisees mentioned that the people had excuse from their obligation just if they offer a sacrifice.

Similarly, on the matter of divorce, while God specifically mentioned that the man and woman whom He has blessed and united as one through holy matrimony cannot be separated by any means, but by arguing in accordance with the rules and regulations as established by Moses and the subsequent leaders of Israel, they argued that people could divorce their wives or husbands by simple matter of administration.

It is clear that in those cases, God was no longer at the centre of their judgments and even in fact, their lives. And that is why they falter and fell into sin. Unfortunately, this has happened to us mankind many times, and if we do not learn from our past history, I am afraid it will continue to repeat again and again in many of us. King Solomon himself in his old age fell from grace, and tempted by his great glory, prestige and might, he grew proud and no longer stayed faithful in the Lord, falling into the persuasion of his many wives and concubines who persuaded him to allow pagan worship and thus bringing the whole kingdom and people of Israel into sin.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps we should look upon the examples of the holy men and women whose memory we must remember on this day, our devout and courageous predecessors, the Holy Martyrs of Japan, as represented by St. Paul Miki and his many other companions and fellow defenders of the faith, who suffered greatly and died defending their faith.

St. Paul Miki was one of the many Christian converts in Japan, during the late era of the Warring States and the early Tokugawa Shogunate, a few hundred years ago. During that time, great missionary efforts had caused great revolution of the faith in Japan, and hundreds of thousands of people converted to the faith. However, due to the changes in the political and social condition, what was once a flourishing faith growing under favourable circumstances quickly turned into a nightmare for many of the faithful.

Soon enough, many of the Christians were forced to choose between abandoning their faith and thus live, or to remain true to their faith and suffered and eventually to be killed. Many were forced to desecrate the holy images of Christ and the faith, under very intense scrutiny from the authorities, and the Christians living at that time in Japan truly suffered greatly, and many martyrs were made.

Many abandoned their faith for the sake of safety and security of the world, but many, including St. Paul Miki, refused to abandon their Lord and Master, and chose to suffer and die instead. St. Paul Miki and his many other fellow countrymen and foreign missionaries believing in God were persecuted after they were rounded up and arrested. They were forced to march hundreds of kilometres under the most arduous conditions from Kyoto, the capital of Japan to Nagasaki, the place of their martyrdom.

But all these did not dampen their spirits, and it was told that they sung the praises of God in the hymn, ‘Te Deum’, singing throughout their journey, in what is known as one of the most touching and courageous display of faith. They marched to their certain death, and yet, God was always foremost in their mind, and they knew that He has blessed them with life, and despite all that the world levied on them, God will triumph in the end with His saints.

And still, in the end, St. Paul Miki and the fellow priests who were part of the death march imitated Christ to the very end, by forgiving all of their persecutors and torturers, by his words, ‘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.” They were then martyred for their faith in Nagasaki, in the year of Our Lord 1597.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all reflect on what we have just discussed today, and particularly, what we have just heard about the courageous faith of St. Paul Miki and his fellow companions, the Holy Martyrs of Japan. They have put their complete trust in God, and He was always foremost in their mind, despite all that they had to go through, and they followed His examples to the very end, obedient to His teachings with clear understanding.

Now then, are we able to do the same? Are we able to walk in the footsteps of the holy martyrs and faithful servants of God? Are we able to put God as the priority and the centre focus of our lives? It is imperative that we should do this, as without God at the heart of all that we do, say and act in our lives, we are bound to lose our way and fall into sin, and if we are not careful, into eternal damnation.

May the Lord, through the courage of His holy martyrs, St. Paul Miki and companions, inspire each and every one of us as Christians, that we may live ever more faithfully and devote ourselves ever more thoroughly with each and every passing day. May the Lord be with us always, and may He strengthen us in faith. Amen.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Mark 7 : 1-13

At that time, one day, the Pharisees gathered around Jesus, and with them were some teachers of the Law who had just come from Jerusalem. They noticed that some of His disciples were eating their meal with unclean hands, that is, without washing them.

Now the Pharisees, and in fact all the Jews, never eat without washing their hands, for they follow the tradition received from their ancestors. Nor do they eat anything, when they come from the market, without first washing themselves. And there are many other traditions they observe; for example, the ritual washing of cups, pots and plates.

So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands?” Jesus answered, “You shallow people! How well Isaiah prophesied of you when he wrote : ‘This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. The worship they offer Me is worthless, for what they teach are only human rules.’ You even put aside the commandment of God to hold fast to human tradition.”

And Jesus commented, “You have a fine way of disregarding the commandments of God in order to enforce your own traditions! For example, Moses said : Do your duty to your father and your mother, and : Whoever curses his father or his mother is to be put to death. But according to you, someone could say to his father or mother, ‘I already declared Corban (which means “offered to God”) what you could have expected from me.’”

“In this case, you no longer require him to do anything for his father or mother; and so you nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on. And you do many other things like that.”

Tuesday, 6 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 83 : 3, 4, 5 and 10, 11

My soul yearns; pines, for the courts of YHVH. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young, at Your altars, o YHVH of Hosts, my King and my God!

Happy are those who live in Your House, continually singing Your praise! Look upon our shield, o God; look upon the face of Your Anointed!

One day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be left at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

1 Kings 8 : 22-23, 27-30

Then Solomon stood before the Altar of YHVH in the presence of all the assembly of Israel. He raised his hands towards heaven and said, “O YHVH, God of Israel, there is no God like You either in heaven or on earth! You keep Your Covenant and show loving kindness to Your servants who walk before You wholeheartedly.”

“But will God really live among people on earth? If neither heavens nor the highest heavens can contain You, how much less can this House which I have built! Yet, listen to the prayer and supplication of Your servant, o YHVH my God; hearken to the cries and pleas which Your servant directs to You this day. Watch over this House of which You have said, ‘My Name shall rest there.’ Hear the prayer of Your servant in this place.”

“Listen to the supplication of Your servant and Your people Israel when they pray in this direction; listen from Your dwelling place in heaven and, on listening, forgive.”