St Paul Miki and Companion

Martyrs (entered heaven in 1597)

Dear Michelle,

Your latest note contained a large amount of gossip.  It makes interesting reading for me, and I will certainly not be passing on anything you said to anyone else (one advantage of solitary confinement), but it has me a little worried about you.  Have you fallen into the loose-tongue trap? It’s so easy to do, you know, spend long conversations bantering unproductively about other people’s exploits and endeavors… Before you know it, you’re passing judgment on them, and you begin to think about them differently, and you start to form little cliques that they are excluded from.  And then you start wondering what everyone is saying about you when you aren’t around, and you get paranoid, and you try to secure your membership among the “in” group by spreading a little bit of dirt about someone who is currently “out” and the whole thing turns into a huge mess that ends up shattering friendships, giving scandal to your sisters in the faith, and destroying your own peace of heart.  In some cases, careless words can even have dire, irreparable damage. Take the case of today’s saint, for example.

Paul Miki was a native born Japanese nobleman who became a Jesuit priest and joined the work of the Christian missionaries on that beautiful island.  Their work had progressed steadily since St Francis Xavier had first planted the faith in 1549. By the end of the century, there were over 200,000 practicing Christians, being ministered to by numerous Spanish and Portuguese missionaries (mostly Jesuits and Franciscans).  The native rulers were suspicious and hesitant (especially since the Japanese emperor was considered divine, which didn’t harmonize too well with Christian monotheism), and expelled all the foreign missionaries. Some stayed behind in disguise, but by then there were enough native Japanese to continue spreading the faith.  Things got ugly, however, in 1596, when a powerful Japanese ruler was roused to anger by an imprudent boast: a Spanish merchant made an offhand comment that the missionaries were mainly there in order to facilitate the conquest of Japan by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns. Of course, he had no backing for the statement, and it was completely out of place, but it pierced a tender sore in the mind of the Shogun, and he initiated a brutal persecution of Christians, which included the martyrdom of whole families and their pastors, among whom was St Paul Miki – the first native Japanese martyr.  They were crucified in a particularly gruesome way, being fastened to crosses by cords, then elevated with chains and iron collars around their necks, then speared through the hearts (all this after having half their ear cut off and being paraded bloodily through the streets as a warning to others). It took place on a hill outside Nagasaki.

I admit it is an extreme example of the results of careless talk, but it drives home the point, doesn’t it?  Not idly does scripture say, “If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man” (James 3:2). Don’t be deceived – that goes for women too.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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