During this time of uncertainty, it is important for us to become familiar with others who traveled through similar times and how their faith in the Risen Lord got them through it.
The saints have always given us a road map to true happiness and to salvation. One of the many great saints is the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola. What many do not know is that their co-founder was named St. Francis Xavier. St. Francis Xavier was so in love with the Risen Lord he wanted to take the Good News to those who never heard of it. He chose what at that time was the farthest known land without Christianity. In 1552 St. Francis Xavier went to evangelize in Japan. It did not matter to him not knowing the language or the customs. He was taking the gift of the Risen Lord! A few years later he went to India to do the same. Only 35 years after having left Japan, in 1587, there were 200,000 converts to Catholicism.
This burgeoning Catholic community became a perceived threat to the Japanese Emperor. As many did before him and after him, he thought by making an example of these Christians by killing them, he would end Christianity. On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians were publicly crucified at Nagasaki. Their Catholic leader, St. Paul Miki, was front and center crucified on the cross.
In 1854, approximately 250 years after the mass crucifixions, Commodore Perry, from England, forced entry to Japan to explore it. He learned the Catholic faith, after 250 years of persecution, was not dead. Missionary priests, accompanying the commodore, found 20,000 Catholics practicing their religion in secret under the threat of death.
250 years without priests, without churches, without sacraments and in secret under the penalty of death! They met in secret, reading the gospel, praying one day they would once again experience the sacraments. Over 20 generations kept the faith alive!
Here is another example of steadfast faith in our Risen Lord. This time in the Middle East. The young priest had just left his church, where he was the pastor, hopping into his car, turning the keys in the ignition, and pushing the accelerator as he had so many times before. Only this time, as he began the familiar journey to visit his parishioners at their homes, he immediately sensed something was different.
Right away, an explosion ripped through the car, violently shaking the vehicle and—at the same time—engulfing it in flames.
He was totally confused, and he could not see anymore and felt intense heat. The young pastor’s name is Father Josef. Though disoriented and in shock, he could hear a woman’s hysterical voice piercing his ears. This man is dying! She screamed.
This is it. Pastor Josef resolved. I am dying. Except miraculously, he did not. Instead, against all odds, Father Josef was able to exit the rapidly burning vehicle. His sight returned in time for him to see the wreckage engulfed in flames.
Every part of his car was destroyed and damaged, except for his seat. He had no scratches. The car was in flames, but he was not burned. He found pieces of glass in his hair. Nothing else touched him, he did not even shed a drop of blood.
The young pastor was dumbfounded by how his life had been spared. He immediately credited his survival to the hand of the Lord. He stated God gave him additional time. He put his stamp on his ministry, God told him, now we continue together. God saved him that day for a reason, but he could not figure it out.
You see for the next 7 years he, and most Catholic pastors in that area, lost most of their parishioners to war and displacement from their homes. He had very few parishioners left to minister to.
Seven years later, as the Isis Caliphate began falling apart, Muslims in his area began coming to Christ in surprising numbers. It was then that Pastor Josef understood why God wanted him to stay in Baghdad. When someone asks him why he remained in Baghdad, he explains, he wanted to be with his flock and suffer where they suffer and be there if they ever came back. And come back they did.
Pastor Josef’s brush with death convinced him of one thing. He knew, looking back, God was with him each moment, even though he could not understand why he was going through that perceived darkness without parishioners to lead. God never left his side.
We need to also realize that God has not left our side.
We are very blessed to live where we live. When we look back one day we will better understand why we went through what we are going through today. And will realize our Risen Lord never left our side.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, one of the many lessons of this pandemic is that we nay have been leading very routine lives without being thankful for all our blessings. Our routines have been suddenly taken away and that may be a good thing.
During this time let us look at the rays of sunshine and not the clouds. Let us focus on the positives and not the negatives. Let us be more contemplative in our prayers, enjoying the quiet time. Read more, pray more, when we get back to some type of normal let us always be thankful for our many blessings.
In the Walk to Emmaus reading in Luke, when it was getting dark and the two men were walking in fear, the Lord was walking with them. The Lord never left their side and they asked each other was not our heart burning with love?
The Lord is with us during these difficult times. When we close our eyes in prayer, trusting in Him, will we too say our heart is burning with His love?
Jesus, I trust in you.
A depiction of St. Paul Miki and his companions crucified
Father Josef’s church, 7 years after the bombing