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.