Jan 10, 2017

Christmas season completed with the Baptism of the Lord

In many countries including Japan, the Epiphany is celebrated not on 6 January but on nearby Sunday which was on 8th this year. Therefore Monday after the Epiphany which is 9th is the feast of Baptism of the Lord which ends the liturgical season of Christmas.

Also 9th January this year is a national holiday to celebrate and congratulate those who reached 20 years of age. They are now considered as adults. So congratulations for those who have celebrated the feast this year and may God bless you and guide you through your life, life of responsible adults.

Now for the feast of Baptism of the Lord, Gospel of Mathew was read during the Mass. Jesus approached John the Baptist who had been baptizing people in the river Jordan asking John to baptize him.

John the Baptist, of course, had deep self understanding of his own vocation which is to prepare the way and proclaim that the Christ was coming. So it was quite natural for him to refuse the request of Jesus. He might have thinking this way; oh no, it is completely up side down to do such thing because it is against common sense that master should not ask his servant to do so. It is quite natural reaction of a man with common sense.

But Jesus told John that " allow it now". Then Jesus added that " for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness"

What does he mean by "to fulfill all righteousness"?  That means justified before God and not to follow common sense of human. We can see such example in gospel of Luke chapter 18, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector. In the face of common sense, the Pharisee is much more just than the Tax Collector. But judgement by God does not based on the human common sense. God has his own righteousness and quite often that is completely contrary to human common sense.

That is exactly the life of Jesus himself. Jesus challenged human common sense and showed us that priority has to be given to the righteousness of God which leads us to the life justified before God.

Therefore, whenever we make any decisions in our life, we have to take time to know what God wants us to do. For this we need to exercise spiritual discernment. And many times, the spiritual discernment draws conclusion contrary to the one based on the human common sense.

Lat year December during the general assembly of Japanese Catholic Bishops, we, Bishops, made number of decisions. Among them are the decision to revise the message published in 2001 on the theme of human life, titled "Reverence for Life"

Human life which is the precious gift from God is facing all kinds of crisis from its beginning to the end in this modern world. So the message of the reverence for life is very much important for all the people in Japan and not only for Catholics. Entire chapter had been revised and Bishops gave approval for the revised edition to be published.

In addition to this, Bishops gave approval to the proposition submitted by myself as the president of Caritas Japan and also one in charge of the rehabilitation exercise of Catholic Church in Tohoku area after the massive quake and tsunami in 2011. The proposition is to extend so called "All Japan" of Catholic Church to support local people in the Tohoku area to fully rehabilitate from the disaster till the end of March, 2021 which is 10 years after the disaster.

Mainly, three prefectures have been badly affected namely Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima which are all in Sendai Diocese. Catholic Church in Japan has been working on the rehabilitation support activities in all these three prefectures with number of volunteer bases. Through our activites, we felt that Fukushima needed much more attention. Because of that, a new volunteer base and a community facility has been built in the premises of Haramachi Catholic Church in Minami Soma city and renamed as the Caritas Minami Soma from the Caritas Haramachi Base. Tokyo Archdiocese is the main thrust to organize activities in Minami Soma and this new facility is the visible sign to local people of the commitment of Catholic Church in Fukushima to accompany people for many more years.

Tohoku area is gradually recovering, though it is in snail's pace. However, Fukushima needs much more time and attention. As the Catholic Church in Japan committed to accompany local people of Fukushima, we staretd to share the complex feeling of them especially of anxiety for unclear future vision. It is taking too much time to restore the local communities and, as majority are aging, it is something like the race against time.

I do not have proper words to explain feelings of people but it is not the assurance from the scientists or nuclear expert which expels anxiety of people. Situation is much more complex as no one could see real effect of the nuclear accidents with naked eyes. It is the matter of feelings and conviction much more than the scientific facts. That is the reality of nuclear accidents. As no one is able to see the effects of the accident, invisible damages have been caused in Fukushima which has been tormenting so many people up till now and torn apart local communities. Nuclear accidents should not be measured by numbers alone but also by emotional damages of affected people.

This experience in Fukushima made us, Japanese Bishops to issue again after 5 years a message calling abolishment of the nuclear power plants, though we fully understand existence of so many different opinions over the issue and of quite convincing explanation of the experts on necessity to use such technology. And this time we are calling of abolishment not only in Japan but also all over the world. Sound too much? But we should stop here and rethink about what has been happening in Fukushima.  You may read the message in English. Follow this link.

Relying on the Nuclear Power technology must have been accepted as inevitable solution for near future energy strategy in many countries. So our message might sound quite fantasy. But based on the idea of Pope Francis in the "Laudato Si" we said following in the message.

"We are convinced that to overcome this situation humankind, as the image of God, must return to a right relationship with nature, a relationship suitable to the common good of humanity and nature. Humans are naturally able to live happily in peace if they do so harmoniously in relation to themselves, to others, to the natural environment and to God."

No matter how absurd it sounds, we are convinced based on our own spiritual discernment on the issue, we have to give priority to re-establish harmonious relationship with others, the natural environment and God even though it might mean to us to change the way how we sustain this modern society. This relationship has been torn apart in Fukushima after the accident.

Through this message, we also want to share with all the people in the world what we have been experiencing and feeling through our accompaniment with people affected by the accident in Fukushima.

The message is not only meant for Japanese audience but also addressed to "all the People of Earth, Our Common Home." Therefore Japanese Bishops are now trying to communicate with other Bishops Conferences to share our concern over the nuclear technology. We know very well that in many countries already utilizing them are convinced that the technology would be the solution for the global warming. In fact, I do face quite a number of criticism over our position while I attend meetings in Europe.  It might be the best solution for the global warming at this moment but, in long run, we should consider our responsibility for future generation. The message says these.

"• Nuclear fission rarely occurs naturally on earth, and when it is brought about artificially, the energy released is vastly greater than the forms of energy that sustain life, and also vastly greater than the conventional energy generated through combustion of fuels;
• Nuclear fission produces unstable radioactive waste that we do not yet possess the technology to dispose of or stabilize;
• Once a serious nuclear accident occurs, the lives of people in the immediate area are radically disrupted, and the resulting environmental damage from radiation will spread beyond borders and across time."

We have to seriously do our spiritual discernment to know the best way to take.

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