Homily by Bishop Kazuo Koda
28 Sep 2014 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo
Readings from the Scriptures
Today is the commemoration of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. He was murdered on the 29th of September, 1637, but because the 29th is the feast of the Archangels, we remember him on the 28th. Actually in Japan, today is the feast of the 16 martyrs, namely St. Thomas Nishi and 15 martyrs. But in the world at large today is for “St Lorenzo Ruiz and his fellow martyrs.”
The Filipinos know Lorenzo Ruiz very well. He was born in Manila in about 1600, from a Chinese father and a Filipino mother. He was a faithful churchgoer since his childhood. As an adult he participated actively in the life of the church as a member of the rosary circle. He was a happily married man but in 1636, he became involved in an incident which made it impossible for him to remain in the Philippines. He happened to see a ship bound for abroad, so he went aboard.
The ship was taking missionaries to Japan where Christianity was severely oppressed under the Tokugawa shogunate. So they were heading towards Japan at the risk of their lives. Actually all were captured in Okinawa and taken to Nagasaki. Lorenzo Ruiz was told that if he abandoned his faith he would be set free, but he remained faithful and became one of the martyrs.
When he went aboard the ship in Manila, he was not thinking of becoming a martyr at all. The fact was, he was escaping for his life. That was why he abandoned his own country. However, he became a witness of Jesus in the mysterious way he had never expected himself.
I feel that this figure of Lorenzo Ruiz is reflected in the foreigners residing in Japan. Most of you have not come here in order to become missionaries or witnesses. Many of you are from countries where there are many Catholics. Many of you take the Catholic faith for granted. But you find Japan quite different. In the Japanese society, to believe in Christ is something very special. Maybe you have experienced of being looked at by people with curiosity. “Why do you believe in God? Why are you a Christian? Why do you go to Church?” Some of you might have been questioned about your faith for the first time in life, after your arrival in Japan.
Just as Lorenzo Ruiz was chosen to become witness to God, maybe you were called to be Christ’s witness in Japan, in the mysterious ways of God.
In today’s liturgy we use the parable of two sons. The father tells them, “Go and work in the vineyard today.” One answered “Yes,” but did not go. Whereas the other said “No, I will not,” but he went to work.
We, too, are challenged to respond to God’s call. It is not enough to answer only with words. We are asked to respond with the way we live our life. “To turn away from wickedness and to do what is right and merciful,” this is what the first reading of Ezekiel asks of us. The second reading, Philippians 2, challenges us to “abandon selfish ambition or conceit and like Jesus, to become humble and look to the interests of others.” This is what God wants of us. Is it a strict and difficult demand? No, God is never trying to impose hardship upon us.
“My child, go and work in the vineyard today.” To go to the vineyard and work there. Surely there are some difficulties, but certainly the great joy of harvesting is awaiting us. God is addressing us so that we can taste the joy of the Gospel with Him.
After this Mass today, we will have small group sharing. The theme was taken from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The Pope says, “What you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope . . .” In the text he says: “In your heart you know that it is not the same to live without Jesus; what you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope is what you also need to communicate to others.” (121)
The Pope also writes: “It is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly.” (266)
What is actually taking place in us believers? What kind of help and hope are we receiving from Jesus in order to live? Here we are gathered together: there are Filipinos, Koreans, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and people from many other countries. We all know Jesus. We are given the gift of faith. How does it brighten our lives? It would be wonderful if we could share that with each other.
“My child, go and work in the vineyard today.” Where is “the vineyard of the Lord”? It is precisely where we live every day. That is the Lord’s vineyard.
May we live the joy of the Gospel there and share that joy with those whom we meet each day!