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Detail from Saint Ignatius, New York

Detail from Saint Ignatius, the Jesuit church in New York City

Before I was enlightened by the friendship and devotion of the Jesuits I have spent time with here in the US (and the election of a Jesuit pope!) I would console myself with a recollection of the great martyrs of that venerable missionary order. The Copley crypt chapel at Georgetown depicts, in worthy modern glass, the various implements of their death, as a reminder of the society’s illustrious beginnings and those who shed their blood for the faith bearing the motto Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam. Amongst these is Saint Paul Miki S.J., and his companions, who met their death on 5 January 1597 in Nagasaki, Japan, and whose feast we celebrate today.

To be a martyr means to bear witness. It is the greatest act of self-denial for the Christian, living not in favour of ourselves but of Christ. It is the most profound demonstration of individual faith in Christ and of allegiance to his Church, to give one’s life in sacrificial witness to God. It is also the ultimate instrument of Christian evangelization. We are told by Tertullian that semen est sanguis Christianorum – the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church (Apologetica 50, 13), and the evidence of the fruits of persecution throughout Christian history is testament to that. Truly, martyrdom is to give one’s life as a ransom for many (cf. Mk 10: 45).

Saint Paul Miki’s “noblest pulpit” was, we are told, the cross on which he was martyred (Officium Lectionis, 6 February). In his death – his final act of witness to God – he sought not simply to fulfil his baptismal vocation to die and be buried with Christ, but to bring others to a real and living knowledge of Christ and the salvation he offers. By shedding his blood for the gospel, he allowed others to glimpse the significance and impact that living by that gospel demands.

We may not face the brutal execution embraced by these great martyrs for the Christian religion, but we do face the call to conform our lives to the Lord’s cross as a sign of our personal faith in Christ and in witness – as an act of evangelization and proclamation of the gospel – to bring others to redemption. With Saint Paul in today’s First Reading, and with the heavenly aid of Saint Paul Miki and his companions, let us strive to say, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but the life of Christ who lives in me”.