5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C (2022): Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (2022): Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

·  In his goodness, the Lord allowed me to be present in the city of Nagasaki, Japan on the first weekend of February 2015, when the small Catholic community of that remarkable city was celebrating the feast of the 26 Martyrs of Japan, who on Feb 5, 1597, were crucified on Nishizaka Hill overlooking the city of Nagasaki.

·   The martyrs, including missionaries from Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Japanese converts to the faith, including 3 teenaged boys, were marched from the Imperial Capital of Kyoto to Nagasaki to be a warning to others of what would happen if you accepted the Christian faith. Many had their ears and noses removed along the march to further humiliate them and intimidate any sympathisers. Upon arrival in Nagasaki they were promptly crucified.

·  Upon their crosses, the martyrs prayed and offered words of forgiveness for their executioners. One of the Japanese priests, St. Paul Miki, saw his cross as his final pulpit and spoke to the crowds below, forgiving those who were executing him but imploring all who would listen to discover in Christ the way to eternal life.

·  As I stood on the hill where once their crosses had stood, it was one of those moments in my life of faith that I began to appreciate what Jesus had asked of Peter, James and John long ago: that if they abandoned their fishing nets and came and followed him, he would make them fishers of men, but only if they put out into the deep waters of wherever Christ might take them.

·  The 26 martyrs had delved into those deep waters, striving to bring the Good News of Christ to an island nation of refinement and cultural brilliance that was thought by many in Christendom to be the very end of known world. The 26 Martyrs’ motivation was not colonial domination of the Japanese people, though certainly there were those European monarchs and merchants who hoped it to be so. Rather, they sought to proclaim that message that St. Paul shared long ago with the Corinthians: That in accordance with the scripture, Jesus of Nazareth died long ago to save sinners, that he rose from the dead, appeared to Cephas and the Twelve and hundreds more after, commissioning them to bring the Gospel to every nation.

·  That was the core of their motivation to preach and suffer with Christ: that others would come to know and believe in the love God had for them, that they might be baptized into Christ and one day witness the glory of heaven that Isaiah saw briefly when he stood in the Temple of God and witnessed the angelic choirs worshipping the Heavenly Father without ceasing.

·  My lasting memory of the shrine of the 26 martyrs of Japan was found in a well curated museum in their honour. In one of the display cases was a beautiful white silk scarf with blood stains on it. The scarf had belonged to a woman of Nagasaki who collected the blood of the martyrs as they hung of their crosses as a relic and memento of that fateful day when 26 men laid down their nets for Christ, that is, when they gave everything to be his disciples and witnesses, that others might come to believe through their sacrifice that there is no greater love that to lay down your life for your friends (and even more, for those who persecute you).

·  That blood-stained scarf is my favourite memory of that holy shrine for its contrasting messages of why we follow Christ. Like fine woven silk, to know and love Christ is to receive so many blessings and affirmations that you are loved! You are comforted by the ways the Lord softly touches your soul to console you when times are bad and to fill your heart with all the beauty of our faith. But the blood stains on that fine scarf reminded me of what it costs to go fishing with him, that rejection will come, that subtle and open persecutions will enter your life and may mean you shed your blood for him, as Peter would one day on a cross in Rome, and 26 others would on a hill overlooking Nagasaki.

·  All of them know they were sinners and that as Peter said Christ should depart from them, but Christ loved them, forgave them and inspired them, that they might in turn love others, even their enemies, forgive those who were taking their lives and inspire them to make their last moments on this earth a time to praise the Lord God of Hosts who is truly Holy, Holy, Holy.

·  Dear friends in Christ, God loves us very much and wants for each of us to come and follow him that we might fish with him to bring others to Him. We are all sinners, we all have our faults, we all have our reasons why we would rather not get into his boat and have him complicate our lives, but if we let him, he really will make us happy, even when we suffer with him.

·  Might the 26 Martyrs of Japan intercede for us today and remind us of our unique calling to be fishers of people.