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St Paul Miki and Companions

The feast of St Paul Miki and Companions is a good one for reflecting on loss and gain from a Christian perspective. In case you don't know their story, these are the twenty-six Japanese men and boys (Jesuit priests and brothers, secular Franciscans, cooks and carpenters) who were martyred In Nagasaki by crucifixion in the sixteenth century. As he hung on the cross, Paul Miki, a Jesuit brother and probably the best-known, said, "I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ . . . I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain." The persecution of that time looked like the end of everything. It is estimated that a further 40,000 Christians were put to death between their martyrdom in 1597 and the lifting of the ban on Christianity in 1873. The methods of suppression sound familiar: being required to trample on sacred images, not being allowed the scriptures, banning meetings, offering financial inducements to informers and betrayers. Yet when Christian missionaries returned to Japan in the late nineteenth century, they found thousands of Christian living around Nagasaki who had preserved their faith in secret through centuries of fear and oppression.

Why should that surprise anyone? What happened on Calvary must have looked like the end of everything for the first followers of Jesus; but it wasn't. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that the death and resurrection of Jesus are the fons et origo of our life as Christians, quite the opposite of what they must have seemed at the time. The crucifixion of those Nagasaki martyrs must have looked like the end of Christianity in Japan; but it wasn't. It was the beginning of something that even today places the whole Church in their debt.

Just as a community is not really a community unless it numbers the old and sick among its members, those who, in economic terms, are net consumers rather than contributors (the language is as ugly as the attitude), so too a community is not fully a community until some of its members have died and the communion of saints has become a personal reality on both the vertical and the horizontal level. The Nagasaki Christians experienced that when those brave men and boys died on the hill outside their city. It is something our community here in Hendred has begun to experience with the death of our dear D. Teresa. We have suffered the blow; we now confidently await the blessings to follow.