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28th September: The Dominican Martyrs of Nagasaki

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What does it mean to follow Christ? Following Christ could be understood in lots of ways, but in order to come to a proper understanding, we must at the very least consider where He is heading - He’s heading towards Calvary. In today’s gospel, the demands He makes on those who might consider this journey, are really quite shocking. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. He is of no fixed abode and so following Him and sharing in His life means our place in the world is very precarious and insecure. Equally troubling is what He says to the person who wants to bury his father. The Church teaches that burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy, so can Jesus really mean we have to forgo such charitable works in order to follow Him? And don’t we owe something to our family and friends who have helped us and shaped us? Does following Jesus mean we have to be so transfixed on Him that all our other relationships should be severed without even so much as a goodbye? If there is a degree of hyperbole in what Jesus is saying, we mustn’t use this as a reason to water down what He says. Following Jesus is not ordinary and straightforward.

In the lives of the saints, we can see the extraordinary ways in which people have followed Christ. Today we celebrate the memorial of 16 martyrs who laboured to establish the Church in Nagasaki in the 17th Century. All of these martyrs were either Dominicans or associated in some way with the Dominican family, and the example they set provides a contrast with the would-be followers of Jesus in today’s Gospel. One of these martyrs, St Dominic Ibanez de Erquicia wrote a very moving letter to his father before he died. In this letter we learn that when he went out as a missionary to Japan, he was fully aware of the persecutions that were going on, but during his time there, the level of persecution greatly increased. And so when he wrote to his father, he knew it might be his last letter. In his final words he writes:

my beloved Father, let us so act that we may see one another in heaven for all eternity, fearing no separation here. Let us have no concern for this world, for it is our exile and separates us from God who is our total good. I say to my dearest sister: do not forget to commend me to God. To all my relatives and friends I send greetings. May the Lord keep you until you reach our heavenly homeland.

Although in our own society we don’t face the threat of torture and death for our faith, we still need to ask ourselves ‘how willing are we to go with Christ on the road to Calvary?’ It may feel like the way the martyrs followed Christ is beyond us, more than we could possibly endure. But we need to remember that whatever way we follow Christ, we do not go it alone. We are accompanied by the Church here on earth, we are accompanied by the saints in heaven, and of course when we follow Christ, we are with Christ.

from a homily preached by fr. Robert Verrill OP

Robert Verrill OP


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