Martyrdom is not a popular topic of conversation, and we often cringe in reading the lives of saints who died horrific deaths. St. Paul Miki and companions fall into this category, but their heroism and serenity at the time of their death speak of a deep and loving faith and trust in God.
Paul Miki was born the son of a wealthy Japanese military leader in 1562 and educated by Jesuits. He embraced Christianity and, instead of following in his father’s footsteps, joined the army of Christ and became a Jesuit in 1580. He was instrumental in converting his own family and many others because of his powerful preaching.
Although early missionaries were first accepted in Japan, the emperor soon grew suspicious of their intent, fearing they wished to eradicate the Japanese culture and replace it with their own. He banished all foreign ministers, and arrested Christians both foreign and Japanese. In 1597 Paul and 25 other Catholics were arrested and sentenced to death. Among them were two other Jesuits and Franciscan priests, brothers and laymen. They were marched 600 miles to Nagasaki, being beaten and abused along the way. Upon their arrival, all 26 were crucified and stabbed with a lance.
Each, however, professed their faith calmly and serenely before their death, praying and singing psalms. An eye witness account says that St. Paul Miki spoke the following words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.”
The account goes on to describe how “joy glowed in all (the martyrs’) faces” at St. Paul Miki’s encouraging words. They each knew that, like the good thief, they would soon meet Christ in Paradise.
Some thoughts on the spirituality of St. Paul Miki:
Carlo Carretto once wrote in “The God Who Comes” that the violence of Christ is the violence of the Cross, the violence of Love, and it is most assuredly a violence against ourselves: against our own hearts, against our own sins, so that we come to love those we think we are pitted against in this life.
St. Paul Miki would have agreed with this — he “fought” in his own life to obey Christ and to love others, even to his death. It is also our own calling, surely the most difficult — to die to ourselves, to use violence, not against our enemies but against ourselves in order to love more. This violence is not of the physical kind, but instead means the destruction of all that is self-centered and proud within us. Each day brings endless opportunities to do this if we truly keep an open heart. Can I forgive when someone has hurt me deeply? Can I still serve when someone lords it over me? St. Paul Miki accomplished these things; pray that we can, also.
We may never face crucifixion as punishment, but we are all “crucified” in other ways in our day-to-day lives. How do we react? It is human nature to lash out, to expect an eye for an eye, to return pain for pain. But our saint’s reaction to his own crucifixion was Christ-like, and ours should be also. How do we keep an attitude of love when we are hurting? One way is to keep Scripture firmly implanted in our hearts to enable us to “sing out” psalms as St. Paul Miki and his companions did. The Psalms in particular cover a wide range of human emotions; if we read and commit some to memory we will have a sure storehouse of material from which to draw in times of need. “Blessed be the Lord, who has heard the sound of my pleading. The Lord is my strength and my shield, in whom my heart trusted and found help. So my heart rejoices; with my song I praise my God.” (Psalm 28:6-7)
Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Paul Miki and Companions” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org.