Who do you say I am?
Jesus asks the ultimate question of his Apostles in our Gospel today. It is a question that reverberates throughout history and confronts every human soul with the fact of our faith or lack thereof. What do we believe about Jesus Christ? It is the most critical aspect of our lives. This is not to make anyone panic for lack of faith. Of the twelve Apostles only one, Peter, was able to annunciate his belief that Jesus was truly “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We perhaps, like the other Apostles, might be hesitant or not sure of what we believe. Jesus did not reject them, nor does he reject us.
Peter’s faith and proclamation made him Jesus’ rock upon which he would build His Church. It is this Church that has handed on the faith through the centuries. Like the first California winegrowers who brought quality grapevines from Europe, the Church continues to produce the same pure faith in souls that receive it. Like good wine, it can even grow richer with age. We cling to this vine and ask God to enrich us as heirs to a promise made to Peter: that while our faith will be tested, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
I’ve finished two books lately on the incredible story of the missionaries and Japanese Christians around Nagasaki. The first book I finished was, “Bells of Nagasaki”, the testimony of Dr. Taguchi Nagai, a Catholic doctor who was in Nagasaki when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb there. It speaks both of the horrific destruction of human life that took place, along with Nagai’s ability to forgive and even see God’s providence in guiding the bomb over the Catholic Cathedral in his village of Urakami, the primary community of Christians in Japan. As he said in his funeral address for 8000 Catholics who died in the bombing:
…the American pilots did not aim at Urakami. It was the providence of God that carried the bomb to that destination.
Is there not a profound relationship between the destruction of Nagasaki and the end of the war? Nagasaki, the only holy place in all Japan- was it not chosen as a victim, a pure lamb, to be slaughtered and burned on the altar of sacrifice to expiate the sins committed by humanity in the Second World War?
St. Paul said in Romans, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)
A second book just finished is, “The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Nagasaki” by Diego Yuuki, S.J. This is the story of the ancestors of the Japanese Catholics first evangelized by St. Francis Xavier, but then facing a terrible persecution from 1597 until the mid 19th Century. (St. Francis Xavier landed in Japan on August 15th of1549, the Feast of the Assumption, the day I’m writing this article!) These martyrs are celebrated as St. Paul Miki and Companions. Included in the 26 were both Franciscans and Jesuits along with some lay associates. Fray Pedro (Peter) Bautista proclaims the faith that motivated the apostles, “I firmly believe that to die for Christ is God’s greatest gift, and I hope that He will not take this great good from us. O, how happy we are to have come to Japan if we receive this blessing! What a wonderful way to begin the year!” (p.30)
A 14yr old, Thomas Kozaki, was martyred along with the religious. His faith matched their experience. In a letter to his parents he writes,
Although you need the priests, if you are deeply sorry for your sins, and have much devotion at the hour of your death, and if you remember and acknowledge the many blessings of Jesus Christ, then you will be saved. And bear in mind that everyone in this world has to come to an end, and so strive so that you will not lose the happiness of heaven. Whatever men may impose on you, try to have patience and show much charity for everyone. (p.55)
Prophetic words, as soon Japan would be without priests for 250 years. But the Catholic Christians would continue to baptize and pray to the living God.
Considered the best preacher in Japan, brother Paul Miki used every chance he could to draw others to Christ. From his cross (the 26 were crucified), he proclaims:
I am not from the Philippines (where some foreign missionaries were from), I am a Japanese, and a Jesuit Brother. I have not committed any crime, but die only for having preached the religion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I greatly rejoice to die for this cause; for me this is a great blessing that the Lord grants me. I am at the hour when you may believe that I won’t lie to you, and I guarantee and affirm that there is no other way to salvation except by the Christian path. (p.77)
We are challenged by such faith and courage to listen to Jesus’ question once more, “Who do you say that I am?”
Come to the Rock of Faith
If our faith is growing, the answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” will be slightly different each time because as we grow in our knowledge and relationship with God, the deepening effect will color our response. Eventually, we get to the point when God is so vast and yet so personal we can hardly find words for a heart so full of love. Our vocabulary is too puny, our words too vague to adequately describe who our wondrous God is to us. Would you like to explore a deeper experience of God? If you are already Catholic but would like to learn with others wishing to join the Catholic Church, contact email@example.com or 253-631-1940, x104 for more information. Our next RCIA Information Night is next Thursday, September 1 at 7:00 PM in the Outreach Annex.
- ▼ August (5)