The martyrs give us hope

Last Sunday Pope Francis was in Nagasaki. He made several speeches that day, even mentioning how the saints who were martyred in that Japanese city and other places in that country centuries ago inspired him in his own religious vocation.

In the morning he participated in a tribute to the martyrs at the Martyrs’ Monument on Nishizaka Hill in Nagasaki. He began by saying, “I have very much looked forward to this moment. I have come here as a pilgrim to pray, to confirm you in the faith, and to be confirmed by the faith of these brothers and sisters who by their witness and devotion light up our path.”

This is an important concept to pray about as we come to the end of November, the month in which we honor the saints in Heaven and pray for the souls in purgatory. After a difficult month locally, nationally and internationally, we need to remember that the saints are always with us to give us inspiration and hope.

In Nagasaki the pope said, “This shrine bears the images and names of Christians who were martyred long ago, starting with Paul Miki and his companions on 5 February 1597, and a host of other martyrs who consecrated this ground by their suffering and their death. However, this shrine does more than speak of death; it also speaks of the triumph of life over death. St. John Paul saw this place not simply as the mount of the martyrs but a true Mount of the Beatitudes, where our hearts can be stirred by the witness of men and women filled with the Holy Spirit and set free from selfishness, complacency and pride (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 65). For here the light of the Gospel shone forth in the love that triumphed over persecution and the sword.”

In the Beatitudes Christ listed a number of situations which are challenging, if not down right depressing, from a merely secular point of view. However, Our Lord said that these people are “blessed” or “happy” (depending upon the translation). Our current pope and his Polish predecessor see in the martyrs of Japan how one attains this blessedness — so as to have beatitude in the life to come, i.e., being able to see God.

“This shrine is above all a monument to Easter, for it proclaims that the last word — despite all evidence to the contrary — belongs not to death but to life.” The pope said this on the last Sunday in November, reminding us that our focus on the dead is always to be understood through the prism of the Resurrection. “We are not destined for death but for the fullness of life. This was the message the martyrs proclaimed. Yes, here we see the darkness of death and martyrdom, but also the light of the Resurrection, as the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the new life that Jesus wishes to bestow on us. Their witness confirms us in faith and helps us to renew our dedication and commitment to that missionary discipleship which strives to create a culture capable of protecting and defending all life through the daily ‘martyrdom’ of silent service towards all, especially those in greatest need.”

After recalling his devotion to the martyrs since his youth, the Argentine pontiff then urged us, “May we never forget their heroic sacrifice! May it not remain as a glorious relic of the past, to be kept and honored in a museum, but rather as a living memory, an inspiration for the works of the apostolate and a spur to renewed evangelization in this land. May the Church in the Japan of our own day, amid all its difficulties and signs of hope, feel called to hear anew each day the message proclaimed by St. Paul Miki from the cross [which is how he was killed], and share with all men and women the joy and the beauty of the Gospel which is the way of truth and life (cf. Jn 14:6).”

Throughout this edition of The Anchor you can read about how we are called to have a joyful thankfulness towards God, with an attitude which doesn’t focus on ourselves and what we prefer to have happen, but instead with an availability to accept our crosses and help other people with theirs.

Pope Francis continued, “May we free ourselves daily from whatever weighs us down and prevents us from walking in humility, freedom, parrhesia and charity.

“Brothers and sisters, in this place we are united with those Christians throughout the world who, in our own day, suffer martyrdom for the faith. They are the martyrs of the 21st century and their witness summons us to set out with courage on the path of the Beatitudes. Let us pray with them and for them. Let us speak out and insist that religious freedom be guaranteed for everyone in every part of our world. Let us also condemn the manipulation of religions through ‘policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women’ (“Document on Human Fraternity,” Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019). Let us ask Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, St. Paul Miki and all his companions, who throughout history have proclaimed by their lives the wonders of the Lord, to pray for your country and for the whole Church. May their witness awaken and sustain in all of us the joy of the mission.”

We are about to enter a time that some folks call “the most wonderful time of the year” (according to the old Andy Williams song). Of course, as Catholics we are called to live Advent before Christmas. We are called to see how Christ comes to us — praying about how He came more than 2,000 years ago, adoring how He comes to us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, serving Him as He comes to us in our neighbors. The witness of the martyrs, who maintained their Christian joy in the face of cruel crosses (sometimes literally), can help us in our mission to bring renewal in faith and hope to our land.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts