1 Kings 3:4-13; Mark 6:30-34
For many people, the word “kamikaze” conjures up images of Japanese pilots crashing their airplanes into Allied ships in a suicidal attempt to stop or slow the defeat of the emperor and invasion of Japan. However, few people know that in Japanese, kamikaze means “divine wind,” and dates back to the 13th century, when two Chinese invasion attempts were repelled by powerful storms, “divine winds,” believed by the Japanese to have been sent by the Shinto gods to protect them.
A few centuries later, a different wind quietly blew onto Japanese shores. The great Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier swept through the island preaching Christ and baptizing thousands. About twenty years later, one of the seeds he sowed took root in a distinguished Samurai from Kyoto; in 1568, he was baptized along with his wife and their four year-old son, who we know as Paul Miki.
As Miki grew, Christians were free to practice their faith despite the emperor’s reservations. He distrusted Christianity because the missionaries were Western, but he ignored it when converts were few. However, like the Jews in the reading from Mark, the Japanese people began coming to Christ in great numbers. By 1596, the emperor’s fear finally got the better of him; he banished foreign missionaries and commanded the native Japanese to renounce Christ or die.
By then, Paul Miki was 33 years old. He had been a Jesuit brother for 11 years and was not far from ordination to the priesthood. Like Solomon in 1 Kings 3, the Spirit had been poured abundantly upon him; Miki was an eloquent teacher, a gifted homilist, and was graced with a large and forgiving heart.
These gifts were soon on display. Convicted of practicing Christianity and sentenced to be crucified, Paul Miki and about two dozen others were forced to march about 400 miles, from Kyoto to Nagasaki. The journey took a month and contained its share of jeering from hostile Japanese who saw Miki as a disgrace. He saw these taunts as opportunities for conversion; he wanted everyone to share in his Master’s joy.
As with Jesus and his Apostles in the reading from Mark, vast crowds awaited their arrival. Nagasaki was largely Christian; her people were genuinely moved at the sight of the prisoners. Looking at them, Paul Miki saw this as an opportunity not to be consoled but to console; to urge them to deeper faith and assure them that he was praying for them.
The prisoners were strapped to their crosses, with iron rings holding them at the neck. Hoisted on this pulpit, Paul Miki saw the crowd perhaps as Jesus did in the gospel; like sheep without a shepherd. He, too, was moved with pity, and took these final moments to show how one lives for Christ and how one dies for him.
He forgave the emperor and his executioners, and prayed that they too would become Christian. He confessed Christ as his Lord and Savior, and himself as a soldier, a samurai, honored to die for love of him. Finally, in imitation of Jesus, he commended himself to God, saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He was then executed by a thrust of the lance.
If the emperor counted on this persecution to chase Christianity from Japan, he badly miscalculated. After the deaths of Paul Miki and his companions, conversions increased; Catholicism was in Japan to stay.
Christians are martyrs, not kamikazes. The word martyr means “witness,” for that’s what a martyr does; they witness the faith in whatever circumstances they find themselves. What St. Paul Miki knew, and what the emperor could not understand, is that there is only one true kamikaze, one Divine Wind. The Holy Spirit graces each martyr with the gifts they need to witness the gospel according to their inclinations; always for the building up of the kingdom.
We must ask for the gifts to be witnesses, just as Solomon and St. Paul Miki did; not for our own sake, but for the good of all God’s people. God has shown that this prayer, and the work that goes with it, are amply rewarded. As Jesus said:
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:38).
St. Paul Miki and companions, pray for us.