Hokusanbara (AsiaNews) - What is "the meaning of martyrdom in the modern world?". With this question Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, Bishop of Niigata, began his homily during Mass on the feast of the blessed Japanese martyrs, on July 12. The Eucharistic celebration was held in Hokusanbara, the place where January 12, 1629 53 faithful followers of Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon were executed. According to the bishop, these people responded with their lives to the opening question: "The most significant thing about these martyrs is not that they died, but how they lived, that is, as witnesses to the values of the Gospel." Below is the full text of the homily of Msgr. Kikuchi.
What is the purpose of our life in this world? This is the question which 53 Christians of Yonezawa led by Blessed Luis Amakasu Uemon who were martyred on 12 January, 1629 had tried to answer throughout their lives.
What is the purpose of our life in this world? And this same question is in front of us, today, those who live after 400 years of these Blessed martyrs, waiting us to find answers in our lives.
We live in a world with plenty of information. Whether we like it or not, we have to maneuver through the tidal wave of information nowadays. Of course, there are important information which we may need to sustain our lives or give us joy and hope but, at the same time, there are useless ones for our lives also. Once a while, within these wave of information, we encounter a cry of heart which leaves deep impact on our own hearts.
I just encountered such a cry of heart recently in the sad news of a Junior High student, a 13 years old boy from Iwate prefecture, committed suicide after years of bullying, or IJIME, by school mates. In a TV interview, his grandfather said that the boy was bullied because "he was a boy with kind heart."
What is going on in our society where a boy with kind heart are bullied and cornered in to commit suicide? People with kind hearts are the one who cares for others and try to protect lives, aren't they? However the reality of this society is it does not allow a person with kind heart to survive through. What do we try to preserve in this society? What are our priorities? What is the purpose of our life today?
What do we know to answer this question based on our faith? In the Book of Genesis, after creating the first man, God said that 'it is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.'(Gen.2:18) Then he created the other person. Therefore we are created and given this precious gift of life to be "helper of each other." And our lives are created as image of God with such magnificent dignity.
If that is the case, then, just worrying about ourselves and not caring for others does not fulfill our very reason of being in this world. We are to be helpers for each other. Therefore, we also have to realize that everyone in this world had been created to be helpers for ourselves and, thus, we ourselves are given a mission to be helpers for other people.
Caring for others, being kind to each other, helping each other, loving each other. All these do not depend on our personal characters but, rather, these are the very essence of being a human. We do so because we are missioned to be so by God our creator.
Pope Francis issued his Encyclical, "Laudato Si" on 18 June. This Encyclical treats the topic of environment, particularly the climate change issue, and call all people to take immediate action to fight against climate change. In the Encyclical, Holy Father wrote that when we consider our responsibility for future generations on the issue of protection of environment we reach the question of "what is the purpose of our life in this world?"
God created us and said, according to the Book of Genesis that " be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth." (Gen.1:28)
Holy Father explains in the Encyclical the meaning of this "dominion" over other creatures saying that God did not give us just freehand to do what ever we want over the creatures to satisfy our desires. Rather he made us steward of all the creatures so that we are all responsible to care for environment to create the world as God desires. And this responsibility is not only among present generation but is also for future generations.
Sometimes we hear criticism that stressing the point of protecting human life or protecting environment are for "weak people" and real "strong people" choose to fight. Is that really so? To protect human life or being a helper for each other is not an easy task to fulfil in this modern world. Sometimes it demands us to risk our lives. The reality of this society made a boy with kind heart to commit suicide. Protecting environment requires us to change our life style radically and it may arose quite a resistance among the circle who do not want to leave comfort zone of present life. These must be choices for "strong people." Fulfilling mission of God is the real choice for us which requires courageous decision.
And today, we have our ancestors in faith who sacrificed their lives to protect human life and being helper for others. Through their lives, they became witness of this mission of God to show other people what is the purpose of our life in this world.
With the intercession of these 53 Blessed Martyrs of Yonezawa, let us pray to God that we would have courage to be witnesses of this mission of God to show others the true purpose of our life in this world.
* Bishop of Niigata