Feb 23, 2016

Ash Wednesday @ Niigata Cathedral

Ash Wednesday for this year's Lent was on 10 February and I presided over the 10 am Mass in the Niigata Cathedral with more than 40 faithful who managed to join the Mass despite of very cold and miserable winter weather.

Homily of the Mass on 10 February.

A few weeks ago, Holy See made announcement of a good news for us, the Japanese Church. The good news was the approval of martyrdom of Justo Ukon Takayama by Holy Father. I hope his beatification will take place soon, maybe early next year in Japan.

Justo Ukon Takayama was a ”Daimyo" or a feudal lord of 400 years ago. He was exiled to Philippines with his entire family because of his Christian faith in the end of 1614. He died in Manila on 3 February, 1615 because of tropical disease.

Last year, there was a symposium on Ukon and one of the speakers said something like following.

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Shogun at that time, decided to expel Ukon from his position because of his refusal to abandon the faith, Ukon's friends tried to persuade him to avoid conflict with his master, Hideyoshi. But Ukon did not give any heed to these advice saying he wanted to hold his honor as "Knight of Jesus Christ". Then he told his friends that there was not a thing to be altered in the matter of God. When his entire possessions, title and honor were confiscated, Ukon happily accepted all these as sacrifice for God in thanksgiving. He even thank God that now he became a man receiving mercy from others. Moreover, even in that situation, he did not forget to share what he received with other people in much more need. The life of Ukon is surrendering everything to God and that is the life of martyrs.

As you have noticed, Ukon was not executed such as our 53 blessed martyrs of Yonezawa who were executed by the local government at that time. Ukon died of tropical disease in exile. Holy Father, however, recognized Ukon as a martyr. This decision teaches us that martyrdom does not exclusively mean the fact that someone was killed because of the faith.

Ukon for his part sacrificed everything of his possessions, fame, honor and title for the sake of maintaining his faith. He even accepted these fact in joy of faith and became a witness of God to others through his words and deeds. That is the life of martyrs. That is why he is a martyr and his life teaches us the modern meaning of martyrdom.

"There is not a thing to be altered in the matter of God." What would be the meaning of such resolution of Ukon for us today. We often make compromised choices mostly affected by relationships with others in order to avoid complications in our lives so that we may be able to survive through modern world saying these choices are down-to-earth or based on the realistic judgement.  In these circumstances, we often make compromise with our faith as we give priority to "realistic choices". Ukon's resolution in faith is telling us who live in this complicated realities that there are other choices to make. Ukon is the modern witness of choosing dignified way of life.

Be that as it may, it is not easy for most of us to choose such strict and unforgiving way of life as Ukon. Human weaknesses invite us to choose the way of compromise.

That is why Prophet Joel reaches us with his tender words.

"Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity"

Our heart will be in peace as we remember that we are wrapped around by mercy of the Lord.

As we are celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy, Holy Father, in his Lenten message, invites us as follows.

"In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, I asked that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17).

Then Holy Father teaches is how we should spend the season of Lent.

"For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy. In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated". 

On Ash Wednesday during the Mass, we receive ashes on our forehead. While receiving ashes, let us try to feel our smallness as compare to greatness of God. Let us try to feel the necessity to humble ourselves in front of our Creator. We are weak and always in need of help of God which is Divine Mercy and God is always with us and always ready to enfold us with his mercy. But we should not be a person of simply receiving gifts but be a person of sharing. That is why we need to share mercy of God to others through our "corporal and spiritual works of mercy" and that is also evangelization.  So what can we do during this lent season in our society?

At the same time, as I have mentioned, it is not a easy task to be like Ukon Takayama who lived the life of martyrs in great joy and maintained his resolution which was "there is not a thing to be altered in the matter of God." Our faith, in many cases, are not solid like Ukon's faith but rather indecisive、easy to give way to temptations. We are weak being. However, though we are weak, God never forsake us. We are in his hand of mercy.

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