20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, August 14, 2022
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? Not so, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)
What frightening words from Jesus. What a terrible thing for Jesus to say, as if to provoke us during this Peace Season, while we are thinking and praying about peace. On the other hand, Jesus himself certainly said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Is there a contradiction in Jesus’ words? For this we need to look at the historical background of the time.
At the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire had the expression “Pax Romana,” or Roman peace. From the accession of Emperor Augustus in 27 B.C. to the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in 180 A.D., the empire flourished for almost 200 years without war. People called this the Roman Peace. However, behind this prosperity were the sacrifices of many slaves, the monopolization of wealth by a privileged few, and a decline in morals. Records, ruins, and murals of the time give us a glimpse into the lives of luxury and pleasure of the people of that time. People were insatiably in search of gourmet foods from all over the world, same-sex marriages were common, and atrocities were enjoyed as a spectacle. Gladiators, for example, were slaves who were forced to kill each other. People called such a situation peace. Therefore, Israel, which was under Roman rule at the time, was also influenced by this situation to no small extent. Even in Israel, the wealth of a few was monopolized by the ruling class, while the majority of the people languished in poverty, and those who were regarded as sinners were not treated humanely.
To the people of these times, Jesus warned, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? Not so, I tell you, but rather division.” More important than any regulation, law, ritual, or institution is each human being, and if we treat each one of them with pure and unconditional love, as Jesus did, we cannot avoid being misunderstood by those around us, even family members, and we cannot avoid even division. Jesus knew that his way was the way of the cross. But he also taught that it was not his way alone, but the way of all who follow him.
The martyrdom of Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, who followed Jesus’ example, sharply reflects the world of the time. Today, the amphitheater Colosseum is a symbol of Rome’s tourism, but at that time, not only sports competitions were held, but also atrocities were committed. For example, Christians, who were banned and persecuted at the time, were captured and placed in the Colosseum, and then hungry lions and other wild animals were released into the Colosseum, where they chased and ate the Christians. The crowd of thousands of spectators applauded and enjoyed the entertainment. Bishop Ignatius was martyred in this way. Before he died, he left a letter to the Christians in Rome.
“...I can reach God only through the wild beasts. I am the grain of God, to be ground in the teeth of the beasts, that I may be the clean bread of Christ. When the world no longer sees my body, then I will truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I ask Christ for me so that I may be sacrificed to God with these tools (the wild beasts). I want fire, the cross, the battle with the beast, whatever it takes to befall me. My only desire is to reach Jesus Christ.” (Ignatius’ Letter to the Christians in Rome, chapters 4-5)
Bishop Ignatius told the persecuted Church of his day, “When Christianity is hated by the world, the work to be done is not to persuade, but to show greatness” (Ibid., chapter 3). In the midst of a world situation that has become very confusing this year, these words are a powerful message to Japan and the Japanese church, which have not experienced war for 77 years since the end of World War II and have assumed that the world was at peace.
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, August 7, 2022
“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”(Hebrews 11:1)
From August 6 to 15 is the Peace Novena. The world is currently in a state of tension over the Ukraine issue, and not only Ukraine, but also the countries of the former Soviet Union, which gained independence with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, are once again facing a great crisis. For example, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea coast are known as the “Baltic States,” and their history is marked by repeated invasions by Russia, the major power that borders them. From the modern era to the present, the Baltic States were suddenly occupied by the Soviet Union, and instead of national independence, they were denied freedom of thought and speech, and intellectuals and independence advocates were purged at every turn. In the midst of this situation, on August 23, 1989, the people of the Baltic States, demanding freedom, democracy, and national self-determination, and crying out that “the future of our people is in our own hands,” crossed the 600-km border between the three countries and joined hands with each other in Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. Two million people joined hands to build the event that created the largest “human chain” in history, which is known as the “Baltic Way” and is now part of unesco’s Memory of the World Heritage List and an important part of modern history.
One of those Baltic countries, Lithuania, is home to the “Hill of Crosses,” a World Intangible Cultural Heritage site. Its origins date back to the uprising of Poles and Lithuanians against the occupying power, Russia (the November Uprising of 1831 and the January Uprising of 1863). However, the uprising was suppressed by the Russians, and those who mourned the executed insurgents and those who were exiled to Siberia brought crosses one by one to pray. After the fall of the German Empire, Lithuania gained independence in 1918, and the Hill of Crosses became a place to pray for peace and for those who died in the War of Independence. However, in 1940, the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, and the hardships began again.
It was also during this period that Chiune Sugihara, as Lithuanian consul, saved 2,139 Jews with a “life visa.” In the early morning of July 18, 1940, many Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s persecution rushed to the Japanese Consulate in Lithuania, which was about to close, seeking transit visas to leave the country for third countries via Japan. When Consul Sugihara contacted the Japanese government, the reply was that visas should not be issued to those who did not meet the requirements. After agonizing over whether to obey the Japanese government or to save Jewish lives, he issued transit visas for a month, saving 2,139 Jews. Moreover, the visas were all handwritten by him. However, upon his return to Japan, he was accused of issuing visas without authorization from the government and was dismissed from the diplomatic service. His actions were reevaluated in August 1968, when the Israeli Embassy called him and a Jew named Nishri eventually visited him, showed him his tattered passport, and told him, “Thanks to you, we were saved.” In fact, many Jews who had been saved by Chiune Sugihara had been looking for him to express their gratitude but had been unable to locate him. Indeed, it had been 28 years since the “passports of life” were issued.
Lithuania came under the rule of the Soviet Union in 1944 as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Lithuanians demonstrated their non-violent resistance by going to this hill to offer their crosses and pray until 1990, when the country gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the meantime, the Soviet government tried three times to destroy the Hill of Crosses with bulldozers, but they could not destroy the faith of the Lithuanian people. Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in 1993 and told the world that it is a place of hope, peace, love and prayer for the victims. Today, the Hill of Crosses is the largest pilgrimage site in Lithuania, and many people still pray here for peace.
Today let us pray for the people of Ukraine as we contemplate the history of suffering in this neighboring country, Lithuania, by reading today’s Hebrew text as follows.
“Faith is confidence in what we hope for (peace in Ukraine) and assurance about what we do not see (Ukraine’s full independence and the restoration of the country).”
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, July 31, 2022
“Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” (Ecclesiastes [Kohelet] 1:2)
What do you all think of today’s First Reading, the words of Kohelet? Some of you may feel like you are being drained of your energy while you are trying your best to live today. However, Kohelet is not talking about pessimism. Indeed, everything passes away. That is why he is stating that we must pursue only what will never disappear and what is truly valuable.
To that end, let us now visualize a sculpture. Let us assume that there is a wooden log in front of you, and that you are now going to carve a statue of Christ. The first thing you have in your mind is the image of Christ. With this image in mind, take a large chisel in your hand and roughly cut around it. Once you have the general outline of the figure, change to a slightly smaller chisel and start shaping the outline. Then, when you come to the final stage, use a fine chisel to carefully and deliberately carve the most important parts, especially the face and the tips of the fingers. Finally, the statue of Christ that you had imagined in your mind is completed. In other words, in order to complete the statue, the unnecessary parts around it are continually carved away, and only what is truly important remains at the end. However, in order to actually carve the image of Christ, love and prayer for Christ are always necessary, and the image will ooze with these thoughts. A sculptor once told me, “Any art created by a person who does not have compassion and kindness for his neighbor is a lie.” I believe this to be true.
So, what is it that we can ultimately bring to heaven? It is only the heart. We cannot take anything else with us. But we need various things to form a rich heart. It is food for life, encounters with people, the blessings and beauty of nature, etc., and these are not empty things. However, there is a condition. That is as long as there is gratitude and compassion for those around us who support us. Without this, everything will be empty.
Time may seem to pass, but in reality, it continues to accumulate in our hearts. Then, on the final day of life, having continuously accumulated gratitude and compassion, let us return to God with our hearts filled with contentment.
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, July 24, 2022
“Ask, and it will be given you.” (Luke 11:9)
These words of Jesus are so famous and important, yet many people may be tempted to argue, “Don’t say it so easily, because real life is hard. Life doesn’t go the way we want it to.” Today, the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, is the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which was established by Pope Francis. Now that the average life expectancy has increased significantly in Japan, let us consider what many people are seeking, especially the recovery from illness and the longing for good health. From prehistoric times, when everything was primitive, to the present day, when medicine and science and technology have advanced, human beings have continued to wish for “the cure of illness” and “to be healthy forever.” Human beings sometimes receive warnings from their bodies in the form of illnesses, such as when there is an imbalance between mind and body, or when their thinking has become distorted. The majority of Jesus’ miracle stories involve the healing of the sick. However, for many who believe in modern medicine, the biblical miracle stories are a stumbling block, and many people assert that the sick should be left to the doctors. Certainly, there are instances where Jesus healed the sick by touching them or by a mere word, but also by telling them, “Your faith has saved you.” (Matthew 9:22, Mark 10:52, etc.) Human beings are endowed with the great power of self-healing. That is, we have the power to perform miracles on ourselves. It can be said that those who were healed by Jesus were healed by drawing out their self-healing power to the maximum extent through the encounter with Jesus.
Doctors have the skill to take effective measures against diseases, but they can only lessen or suppress the symptoms. It is, in fact, the self-healing power of each individual that can get to the true cause of the disease and cure it fundamentally. The physician’s role, therefore, is to draw out the patient’s zest for life and vitality by providing hope, while utilizing modern medical technology, and to tell the patient that he or she has such a self-healing power and to give the patient the faith that he or she can become healthy. Schweitzer was fond of saying that “every patient has his own physician (self-healing power),” and Alexis Carrel, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1912, cited the example of a patient who was completely cured by prayer when there was no hope of recovery, and stated that every human being has a wonderful self-healing power. We all have a wonderful self-healing power.
There are many people who are not interested in heaven, hell, or other out-of-this-world things, but who recognize the amazing life force, in some cases even divine, self-healing power within human beings. But it seems to me that religion and medicine both aim in the same direction. Religion is not something that some religious individual can bestow upon a person, but rather a search along with the other person for the God that is already present in the human being, and to maximize his or her power. Just as human beings are endowed with a self-healing power, so are they endowed with a divine power, and the greatest task of religion is to bring this out to its fullest extent.
“During the past 30 years, I have been called upon by people from every civilized nation in the world to examine and treat hundreds of patients. Without exception, those in the latter stages of life, that is, those over 35 years of age, sought final salvation in a religious outlook on life. It is no exaggeration to say that they were afflicted by illness because they had lost sight of what the living religions of all ages had to offer their congregations. At the same time, those who have not regained their religious outlook on life cannot truly be said to have been healed.” (Carl Jung)
To the many of you who wish to be healthy, true health is not found in health foods and supplements, but in a state of calm and peace of mind. It is a state of mind that puts anger and hatred behind, is always grateful to the people around and treats everything with love. With such a state of mind, even if there is illness or pain in the body, the person is healthy. In such a state, you will be able to overcome illness and pain and turn them into powerful hope by drawing to the maximum extent on the self-healing and divine power that is inherently given to human beings.
“Ask, and it will be given you.”
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, July 17, 2022
“There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part.” (Luke 10:42)
The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel of Luke is not a miracle story, nor is it a dispute with the scribes or others; it is a common scene of everyday life that can be observed also in our own homes. I believe that women, especially those who have a sister, have experienced this kind of thing in their families in the past and can relate to today’s gospel. Martha, probably the older sister, was busily working to provide hospitality to Jesus, but Mary, probably the younger sister, was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him and not doing anything. Martha was somewhat irritated and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” These words sound like something you might still hear in a home today. In response, Jesus first repeated softly, “Martha, Martha,” and then admonished her by saying, “you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
But I imagine there may be many who are not happy with these last words of Jesus. If “Mary chose the better part,” then the question arises as to whether what Martha did was not good. It goes without saying that Martha’s attitude of trying to entertain her guests is important. However, if both Martha and Mary were busy working for hospitality, they would have left Jesus alone without company. The Japanese love the word “Omotenashi” (hospitality, serving). Many of you may fondly remember the image of Christel Takigawa using her finger to spell the word “o-mo-te-na-shi” during a presentation before the decision was made to host the Tokyo Olympics. Hospitality is not only about serving food, but it is also about being a good conversation partner and not making the guests feel lonely. In fact, I have experienced this myself. I have been to several home meetings in the past. When, after the first part of prayer and sharing, we were about to move on to the second part, the tea time, I could hear everyone going to the kitchen to prepare for the lively hospitality, but as for me, I was left alone in the parlor....
This aside, it is because of Martha’s work that Mary was able to listen to Jesus speak in today’s Gospel, and Mary’s portrayal gives us an idea of what hospitality is all about. This story is not a question of superiority or inferiority, as if one is right and one is wrong, but both are necessary. We need Mary and Martha. We need both of them: an attitude of listening to the Word of God, like Mary, and putting it into action, like Martha. Just as a human being breathes with two lungs, walks with two feet, and prays with two hands, we need Mary and Martha, and we cannot separate the two. Although it is not written in today’s Gospel, I am sure that Jesus would have said to Martha. “Martha, you too have chosen the better part.”
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, July 10, 2022
“Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
In today’s Gospel, an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” But he drew a circle around himself and considered anyone who fell within that circle, such as a friend, family member, or fellow Israelite, to be his neighbor. But Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to admonish him not to draw a circle around himself, but to make himself a neighbor to all who need his help.
Today, let us approach this in a slightly different way, in a scientific setting. From the time of Aristotle in the 4th century B.C. until the Middle Ages, the prevailing view of the universe was that the sun revolved around the earth (geocentric model). However, in the 16th century, Copernicus proposed the sun-centered (heliocentric) theory that the earth revolves around the sun. However, this idea was not accepted at the time, and its successor, Galileo Galilei, was convicted in a religious trial. And although the geocentric theory was once dismissed, no one disputes it today. In the 1960s, 350 years after Galileo Galilei’s death, the Church reversed his conviction and acquitted him.
We all have an innate individualistic tendency to see and think with ourselves at the center. Especially during childhood, everyone has a tendency to be geocentric, as if he or she is the center of the universe. However, through education, habit, order, and prayer, we shift to a heliocentric view, in which we think and act from the standpoint of others. Just as man could not understand the true nature of the universe while clinging to the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe, so, too, he cannot understand how things really work in the world, such as how to cooperate with society or that we live with the support and assistance of many people, as long as we are thinking with ourselves at the center of things.
What does it mean to be a neighbor to someone who needs your help? Life is the amount of time we have. The weight of life is the weight of time. The way we use time is the way we use life. It is important to use time for ourselves. But to grow further as a human being, it depends on how much of our time we are able to use for others.
The “Copernican turn” (The philosopher Kant's reversal of his view of philosophy, compared to Copernicus' abandonment of the geocentric model in favor of the heliocentric one) is used as an analogy for how a radical change in thinking can open up to a new dimension of things. In this case, if you think you have only spent time on yourself up until now, it is time to take a Copernican turn and spend your time for others, focusing on others.
Life is the time we have been given. The weight of life is the weight of time. The way we use time is the way we use life. Life is something that is felt and not seen. Let us give our time, which is our life, for the sake of our neighbors who need our help.
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 3, 2022
“Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
In sending his disciples, Jesus warned them that it would be like sending lambs to a pack of wolves (Luke 10:3), but assured them by saying, “Nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19), and finally encouraged them, “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). (Luke 10:20). Paul described it as “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Galatians 6:17).
We too became disciples of Jesus through baptism, and our names were written in the baptismal register of the church, but at the same time, Jesus also wrote our names in the heavenly register. This is a joyous thing. You then think that Jesus made a point card for us. We have point systems all around us. When you shop for something or use a facility, they put points on your point card, and when you accumulate a certain amount of points, you can shop with them or use the facility for free. However, we often forget about the points, and we often become aware of them when a store clerk sometimes says to us, “You have accumulated customer points,” right?
Certainly, we often sin without being aware of it. But at the same time, we also do good things without knowing it. A hand gently extended to someone in need, a tear shed with a grieving person, a small word of encouragement to someone who is down in the dumps, and so on. But in many cases, these are just things that we do as a matter of course, and we are not aware that we have done something good, in fact, we often forget about them the next day. In general, there is no such thing as self-awareness in goodness. On the contrary, if we think we have done good, there is some sense of self-satisfaction. Isn’t that so? But it is the many little acts of love that we have forgotten that God is paying close attention to and remembering to give us points in Heaven because of them. Indeed, we have accumulated a lot of sins, and even in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we ask for forgiveness for the sins we have forgotten. But if God is only focused on our sins, then he cannot be our God. God, who is love (1 John 4:7-8), created us human beings in his own image (Genesis 1:27). How then could He not take notice of our goodness?
Before Jesus died on the cross, He asked God the Father to forgive those who had afflicted Him, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24). But at the same time, I believe Jesus is forever praying to God the Father for us as well, by saying, “Father, do not forsake them. They do not know the greatness of the little works of love they are doing.” And I hope that one day, when we have completed our earthly duties, the angels, the clerks of heaven, will say to us, “You have accumulated quite a number of points of love,” and our faces will involuntarily be filled with joyful smiles.
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 26, 2022
“Follow me...” (Luke 9:59)
In today’s Gospel, some people express a fervent willingness to follow Jesus even before He calls them to do so, while others shy away from His call to “follow him” by setting conditions. Certainly, it is important to follow Jesus’ call unconditionally without shying away from it. However, when we want to do our best for Jesus, for the church, and for other people, we need to pause for a moment and reflect on what is the “guidance of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).
A professional golfer once spoke of the, “The miracle formula.” That being, “Miracle = Talent x Effort x Power of gratitude.” He lost many things in the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. As a result, he realized that what is important is not money, status, or honor, but love, kindness, compassion, gratitude, and a positive attitude. Before the earthquake, I used to think that a true hero was someone who could persevere in any situation with an indomitable spirit, but after the earthquake, I realized that a true hero is someone who is grateful for being able to do his/her best. You don’t know at that point in life what is a hardship and what is an opportunity. But if you live honestly and without regrets at any time, and with a grateful heart, great power will be generated and miracles will happen. Who makes it happen? He says it is not you, but the people around you. They say that miracles don’t happen by themselves. A grateful heart makes a person big, beautiful, and strong. No matter how strong you are at golf, you will never become a pro. Strong people become pros. And strong people are always grateful to those around them. That is why they become stronger and stronger. He said he thought so by looking at various professional people.
He spoke as a professional golfer, but this word “power of gratitude” also applies to our missionary work. Passion, zeal, and single-mindedness are attractive words, but there is a serious pitfall in them. It is easy to lose sight of what is going on around us. Sometimes we need to stop and look back and wonder if what we are doing is really right. Reflection is especially necessary when we are convinced that we are in no way wrong. Sometimes we are so self-centered that we do not accept the advice of those around us, and we eventually find ourselves in a state of confusion. At such times, is something important missing? The great law that brings great fruit in life and in the life of faith is gratitude to God and to those around us. And that is the “guidance of the spirit.” Gratitude expands our hearts. Gratitude awakens gratitude. And the important thing is not to be thankful after receiving something we have wished for, but to “offer up prayers and requests with thanksgiving” (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 4:6). Where there is gratitude, there is already fruit. Let’s power up not only in our missionary activities, but also in our professional and study efforts, with the added “power of gratitude.”
The body and blood of Christ (Year C) June 19, 2022
“They all ate and were satisfied” (Luke 9:17).
The word “satisfaction” is one of the words used to express happiness. Here it certainly means that people’s stomachs were filled, however one can only be truly “satisfied” when not only his or her stomach but also his or her heart is satisfied. Our stomach and our heart are somehow connected to each other. When is it that we feel happy after eating a meal? The state of mind when eating has a great influence on the body. “Binge eating” food in a bad state of mind sometimes leads to poor physical condition. Suppose you put a delicious meal in front of your child: he or she will not eat if husband and wife are quarreling. On the contrary, even a seemingly simple meal is a true feast if the family eats it together while laughing. When we eat happily, your joy becomes my joy, and my smile becomes your smile. When we enjoy sharing a meal together, we are also sharing our hearts. A truly delicious meal does not depend on the ingredients, but on whether or not there is joy and peace associated with it.
I imagine today’s miracle of bread as follows. There was a fullness of love of Jesus caring for the weary multitude. The disciples distributed the bread first to the elderly and children, then to the general public, and finally to the disciples and Jesus. One child was happily eating bread, while Jesus looked at him with the same joy. And Jesus asked him, “Is it good?” The child answered, “Yes, it is delicious.” The crowd ate the bread and at the same time their hearts were filled with the love that Jesus had for them. Because there was love, their stomachs were full, and they were truly satisfied.
This story of the miracle of the bread is sometimes reenacted in homes and churches. You host a party at church or at home, and an unexpectedly large crowd shows up. Though thinking that this was a problem, you may have experienced that everyone was satisfied while enjoying conversation and eating, and as a result, there even was some food left over. Why was everyone satisfied with a small amount of food and why was there still some food left over? Because joy was there.
The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “A wise man is one who does not lament over what he lacks, but rejoices in what he has.” Confucius also taught us to “know what is enough.” To be grateful for what we have been granted and for the family we have been given, and to find joy in it, is the starting point of human happiness across religions.
Today’s meditation tip: It is not our stomachs that we want to be filled, but our hearts. When we have love and joy, even a little is enough.
Trinity Sunday, Year C, June 12, 2022
“We know that tribulation produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. Hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3–5)
Suffering does not end with suffering. It will always give birth to hope. It’s a comforting word, and one of my own favorite verses in the Bible. But hardship does not become hope without any effort. It requires a certain amount of awareness, training, and effort. It takes a clear mind and good judgment to see God’s guidance and opportunities in the midst of hardship and transform them into hope. This is generally referred to as an unshakable or steadfast heart. For this reason, the Church has traditionally taught that a regular life is the starting point for spiritual life. The practice of maintaining a steadfast heart by using regularity as a guideline for life can be seen not only in the church, but also among people in leadership positions in society, and even among world-class athletes.
For example, baseball player Ichiro said, “My support is to be my normal self. He says that people around him judge him as being in good shape because he hits well and in bad shape because he doesn’t. Even if he doesn’t hit well day after day, as long as he doesn’t lose his batting sense, he doesn’t worry about it. What is wrong is to get impatient when you don’t get any hits for a number of at bats and carry it over to the next at bat. To avoid this, you need to always be in a calm state of mind, in other words, be your “normal self.
What amazed me was his mannerisms. All his gestures were always the same. For example, when he jumped out from the bench to play defense at the start of the game, he always took 19 to 20 steps to cross the foul line. He would then run toward the right field line, his defensive position, but he always slowed down after 40 steps and was in position after about 15 steps. He was so famous for the way he looked when he entered the batter’s box to get ready for hitting. So he always kept his own rhythm by always acting the same way. His attitude had the flavor of a monk or a nun.
Ichiro also said that on days when he had a game in Seattle, his home stadium, he always had curry and rice prepared by his wife for breakfast, and cheese pizza when he had a game at another stadium. No matter how much he liked it, he would get fed up with it, but he didn’t want to blame the food for any oddities during the game. He achieved that great record by maintaining his “normal self” while thoroughly controlling himself in this way.
Regarding his own goals, he said, “You have to set your goals high, but if you set them too high, you will probably fail along the way. That is why I set small goals for myself and clear them one by one. If you keep accumulating them, one day you will reach your desired goal.” Set small goals that are within your reach if you work hard, not goals that are far away from where you are now, and fulfill the promise you made to yourself by completing them. Having accumulated such a sense of accomplishment, he also said, “The only way to go to tremendous heights is to do small things over and over again. This is something that Jesus and other saints and great figures of the Church, such as Theresa of the Child Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Helen Keller, have all said as well, although their expressions differ.
“The one who is faithful a very little thing is faithful also in much. Whoever is unfaithful in a very small thing is unfaithful also in much.” (Luke 16:10)
“Giving with love in each of our small daily acts of service is the way to the heavenly throne.” (Theresa of the Child Jesus)
“We don’t have to do great things, but we can offer great love in small things.” (Mother Teresa)
“With compassion for others, we can turn small good intentions into great accomplishments.” (Helen Keller)
To complete the ordinary is an extraordinary task.
To transform hardship into perseverance, perseverance into discipline, and discipline into hope is to keep oneself in control, to always maintain one’s “normal self,” and to offer small daily goals with love, while never forgetting to thank those around us who support us.
Pentecost Sunday, Year C June 5, 2022
“Come, Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.”
(Sequence of the Holy Spirit, Liturgical Chant〔352〕)
The resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven and then sent the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. This Pentecost made a 180 degree turn in the human nature of the disciples, who had been so weak, and they became powerful missionaries and went out into the world. Thus, the work of the Holy Spirit is to propel us forward and rejuvenate us. The Holy Spirit is not the object of our prayers in the way that the Son Jesus and the Father are, but rather He is the One who visits our hearts, infuses us with hope, and directs us to the Son Jesus and to the Father. Therefore, there is only one prayer to the Holy Spirit, and that is “Come Holy Spirit.” This prayer is offered today in the Sequence of the Holy Spirit. This prayer was not created in Japan, but has been offered in the Church as “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” since ancient times. The beginning of the song says, “Come, Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.” The lyrics of this song, using the images of light, water, and wind, bring youth and hope to us and to the church, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this song is “the church’s youth hymn.” Some older people may scoff at the word “youth,” saying that it is no longer relevant to them. However, youth is not something that can be estimated by age.
There is a poem by Samuel Ullman called “Youth.” After the war, someone saw it hanging in MacArthur’s office and was so moved by it that he translated it. Please read this poem over and over again along with the Sequence of the Holy Spirit.
Youth is not a time of life ― it is a state of mind;
it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions,
a predominance of courage over timidity,
of the appetite for adventure over love of ease.
Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years;
people grow old only by deserting their ideals.
Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair ―
these are the long, long years that bow the head
and turn the growing spirit back to dust.
Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder,
the sweet amazement at the stars and the starlike things and thoughts,
the undaunted challenge of events,
the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy and the game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear,
as young as your hope, as old as your despair.
So long as your heart receives messages of beauty,
cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth,
from man and from the Infinite, so long you are young.
When the wires are all down and all the central place of your heart
is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism,
then you are grown old indeed and may God have mercy on your soul.
This poem was written by Ullmann when he was 70 years old. Let us all lift up our heads.
Ascension of Our Lord Year C May 29, 2022
“Jesus was taken up into heaven while they were looking on” (Acts 1:9).
Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The Ascension of the Lord means that Jesus became invisible and made His definitive return to the Father. Traditional paintings depicting the Ascension of Jesus, such as “The Ascension of the Lord” by the Italian painter Garofalo, emphasize the image of Jesus leaving people and returning to the Father by depicting Jesus floating in the sky and his disciples and people looking up in amazement, according to biblical literary representation. Next week is the Solemnity of Pentecost: after Jesus became invisible, the disciples received the action of the Holy Spirit and understood for the first time the meaning of his words and deeds before his death, and then they became powerful missionaries, preaching the gospel throughout the world. In the same way, children may only truly understand their parents when they die and become invisible. If the disciples grew up understanding Jesus after he became invisible, it is the same for us, and although we may feel a little lonely, let us accept this as a way of life and for the growth of our children.
By the way, in the general society, we sometimes refer to the passing away of a person as “never coming back.” We, however, never use such a depressing expression. We do not become a person who will never come back, but rather we “return” after the journey of life. Where do we return to? We return to the home of our souls, to our Heavenly Father who sent us. That is why in the Church, when a person dies, it is called a “return to heaven.” Jesus was sent by the Father and returned to the Father. We, like Jesus, were sent by God to the world. Generally, those who are sent return to the person who sent them after their mission is over. If a sent person does not return to his/her sender after completing his/her mission, it is called exile or wandering, as the case may be. Even salmon return to the river where they were born to spawn. Why then should we not return to the Father’s house, the home of our souls? When a marathon runner puts in the most effort during the long 42,195-kilometer journey, it is called the last spurt. I believe that many of you are about to come to the last spurt of your life. So let us aim for the finish line and say, “Let us approach God with full trust and sincerity. He who has promised us is faithful, so let us hold fast to the hope we have publicly expressed.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C, May 22, 2022
“The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and make you remember every word that I have spoken to you.” (John 14:26)
We live in a myriad of memories, and our personalities have been formed by countless memories. Memory is part of the human body and all of our spirituality. It was the memory of Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that made those weak disciples stand up. We believe and hope in eternal life, but we still know it only dimly. But there is one thing we can say with certainty. And that is that the memory will remain. It is not good to live our lives imagining too much about what will happen after we die. What is important is what kind of memories we leave behind after we die. Memories are usually dormant. However, when we are faced with a great challenge, for example, we may recall a memory, such as a word from a deceased parent, and this may help us to walk with courage and hope again, and conversely, a sad memory may suddenly come back and make us feel depressed. We can and must give life to those who will come after us, even after our own earthly life is over. We cannot send the Holy Spirit after we die like Jesus did, but we can send the spirit of love to those we leave behind through good memories. A good memory is a guidepost in life. Jesus told his disciples, “I leave you peace, and give you my peace” (John 14:27). We, too, must leave something behind. And that is a good memory. Let us leave these words for those who will come after us, rereading them this way: “I leave you a good memory, I give you a good memory of me.” The greatest gift we can give to those who come after us is a good memory and a good death.
It is often said that “people die as they lived.” People who have lived gratefully will die with gratitude, and people who have lived with complaints will die complaining. In order to have a good death, one must live a good life, but this is a very subjective matter. For a person, a good life may be like this or like that, and everyone’s life is different. A hospice doctor at a Christian hospital once said, “Having cared for nearly 2,500 people, my feeling is that a good life is a positive life, and one in which one can be grateful to those around them. I feel that these two things are the most important. Everything has a positive and negative side, but I believe that the lives of those who have lived focusing on the positive side of things are positive and good lives. Gratitude is also a very important keyword. I think it is also a good life when we are able to bring to completion our lives while saying “thank you” to our families and to the people around us, and receiving in return a “thank you” from them. I call a person who can fulfill such a life a person skilled in the art of living.”
Good Memory = Positive Thinking x Gratitude
Now, let us send the spirit of love to those who will come after us.
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, May 15, 2022
“I give you a new commandment: love one another” (John 13:34).
To what extent do you use the word “love” in your homes? It is an important word, but in reality, I think we hardly use it on a daily basis. In that sense, I think it is an extraordinary word. Of course, Japanese people have the impression that the word “love” is something ticklish or embarrassing, even though they value and practice it not only in the home but also with each and every person around them.
Originally, Japan did not have the verb “love” until the Meiji Era (1868–1912). Until then, liking toward a person was expressed by ambiguous words such as “koishi” (affection) or “itoshi” (fondness), which expresses a feeling of affection. The word “itoshii” was also commonly read as “kanashii” (meaning “dear” or “precious”). Also, in the Buddhist tradition, the word “love” has a self-centered meaning that expresses attachment to the other person. Rather, the word “compassion” (nasake) has been used to describe a heart that is considerate of the other person’s needs and feelings. In Japan, therefore, there was originally no word other than “ren-ai” (“romantic love”) to express the broader meaning of “love.” In the Meiji period (1868-1912), when translating Western literature, the Chinese character for “love” was taken from the Chinese word of the same meaning, and a new word “ai” was created. However, it was not until the Showa period (1926–1989) that the word came into full use.
Perhaps because the word “love” is still generally used in the sense of romantic love, saying “I love you” out loud may give a somewhat light impression. However, strangely enough, even though the word “love” may give a light impression when uttered out loud, it is actually a word that is yearned for deep in our hearts. That is love. Deep down in our hearts, we wish to love and be loved, but we do not say it directly, but express it with various words such as thoughtfulness, gratitude, preciousness, beauty, etc. Japanese people still live in a culture that values “wabi-sabi,” or the beauty of what is imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, and one of our missions is to approach the gospel from that angle.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another.” While keeping this commandment of Jesus firmly in the depths of our hearts, I believe that putting this commandment into practice in a variety of words and expressions will add depth to the understanding of Christianity in Japan.
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C, May 8, 2022
“I give them eternal life” (John 10:28)
What is eternal life? Eternal life is a mystery; in fact, I still don’t really know. But “I believe in eternal life. The reason is that I have within me a longing for what is eternal.” (Helen Keller) This “longing for the eternal” comes from the cumulative effect of our small daily lives. Eternity is not a length of time, but something beyond the concept of time. This timelessness lies in the human mind. The mind recalls what happened decades ago and envisions the distant future. It is often said that time passes. Indeed, time seems to pass like the wind, but in fact it accumulates in our mind. Life is like a large sand hourglass. The hourglass shows the passage of time by the decrease of sand at the top, while at the same time the sand accumulates below without making a sound. Like this hourglass, time continues to accumulate in our mind even as it passes. Like the sand in an hourglass, the experiences we have had, the people we have met today, the scenery we have seen today, and the things we have felt today all accumulate in our hearts and minds like snow, weaving through our lives and forming a “longing for the eternal.” This accumulation in our minds is usually dormant, but when we need it, it will wake up for us. There is a poem by Tatsuji Miyoshi called “Snow.”
Put Taro to sleep, snow falls on Taro’s roof.
Put Jiro to sleep, snow falls on Jiro’s roof.
It is a poem of only two lines, but it evokes a sense of warmth in the midst of a northern winter with a heavy snowfall. Who put Taro and Jiro to sleep? Was it their mother? What does the snow mean? Is it their mother’s love? It can be interpreted freely, but to me it seems that God put the people represented by Taro and Jiro to sleep, and that the snow represents the weight of time. The weight of time, which allowed human beings to experience all kinds of things while they were asleep, that is, unknowingly, will continue to pile up in their hearts. That is why I would like to consider today, this one day, as my entire life, and to expand my "longing for eternity" as I weave my life firmly with all my heart and soul into every moment of it.
Third Sunday of Easter, Year C, May 1, 2022
“Peace be with you” (John 20:19)
“When you were young, you tightened your belt by yourselves and went where you wanted to go. But when you grow old, you stretch out your hands and let others tighten your belt and take you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this in an attempt to show Peter how he would die so that the glory of God would be revealed.” (John 21:18-19)
Some of you may have sensed in these words of the Gospel what you see in your future. Indeed, when we were young, we did what we wanted to do and went where we wanted to go. But as we grow older, we may not be able to do the things we used to do, and we may be taken care of by our children and, in some cases, taken to institutions we do not want to go to. But whatever form you take, even if it is something you originally do not want, let us trust God’s guidance to the end, maintain our dignity and civility, and in doing so, manifest God’s glory.
In the Edo period, there was a haiku poet named Taki Hyosui in Harima. He was a man of selflessness and abnegation throughout his life. He left behind a haiku poem, “To the seashore, even ama-divers, wear a cape in the rain.” One day, a monk came to visit him, drawn by Hyosui’s fame, but unfortunately he was not at home. Apparently, he had a cold and went to buy some medicine. “Even Hyosui has finally come to be afraid for his life,” the monk said in a half-mocking tone and walked away. When Hyosui returned home, he heard this and delivered this haiku to the monk, who was so ashamed of his own lack of wisdom that he visited Hyosui again and apologized. He never went to buy the medicine because he was afraid for his life, nor did he take life lightly because he was going to die anyway, but he wanted to keep the life he had been given beautifully until the end. With this thought in mind, he composed the poem, “To the seashore, even ama-divers, wear a cape in the rain.” They do not have to go to the seashore soaking wet because they’re going to get wet anyway, or that it doesn’t matter if it rains. Instead, if it rains, they cover up with a cape and go to the seashore while maintaining their dignity as women.
This “seashore” indicates the end of our life. Let’s not be discouraged by saying, “I quit my job anyway,” or “I’m too old for this.” Let’s live positively, let the life we have been given shine beautifully, and walk to the “seashore of life” while maintaining dignity and decorum in trust and gratitude to God, “wearing a cape,” until the last day of our lives.
It is not only the elderly who should not make lax “anyway” decisions, but this applies to the young as well. It is a self-deceiving line that keeps us from doing what needs to be done. When faced with a big challenge, the logic of “it’s impossible anyway” is the reason to run away from it. By switching your mindset from “it’s impossible anyway” to “in that case, I can do it this way,” and striving with courage and hope until the very end, you will open up all kinds of possibilities in life.
Whether you are an elderly person or a young person, this shallow logic of “anyway” or “it’s impossible anyway” will corrupt everything and deprive you of all possibilities.
Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy) Year C
April 24, 2022
“Peace be with you” (John 20:19)
The risen Jesus is quiet. He quietly visits the disciples as if nothing had happened, as if the suffering of the Passion was a fake. However, it is a stark fact that there was a Passion, and without the Passion, there would have been no resurrection. Did Jesus, at the height of his suffering on the cross, foresee his own resurrection? If so, it would have been a mere farce and not a Passion in the true sense of the word. The Passion was a state of abandonment, of despair, of forgetting that he was the Son of God.
There can be no Christian spirituality without the contemplation of suffering. But even outside of Christianity, there have been many people throughout history who have tried to find meaning in suffering, setbacks, and trials in order to master life.
The Chinese thinker Mencius (Meng Zi) (ca. 372-289 B.C.E.) wrote the following passage in his “Feng Zhi Chao” (Gaozi): “Shun, a farmer who plowed the fields, eventually became a heavenly prince; Chuanxue, a road construction laborer, was raised to the position of prime minister of Wuding; Jiaokhang, a fish and salt merchant, was adopted by King Wen; and Guan Yigo, a criminal held prisoner by a jailer, was rescued by the king and became the Prime Minister of Kwan-guo. Sun Shu-huang was taken in by the King of Chuxu from a life of poverty by the sea and became the Prime Minister of Chuxu, and Baekri-kei was raised from a humble citizen to become the Prime Minister of Qin by Mu Gong. As we can see from these examples of the ancients, when the heavens assign a person a great task, they always make that person’s spirit suffer, his muscles become tired, his body starve, his actions fail, and his intentions are not what they were intended to be. This is a noble test by which the heavens inspire a person's heart, make him persevere in his character, and thus enable him to do what he could not do before. It is only when a person is suffering from anguish and anguish of mind that he rises to his feet, and only when his anguish and distress become apparent in his face and in his moans and groans that he realizes how to solve his problems. The same is true of a nation. If there are no vassals within the nation to uphold the law from generation to generation and no wise men to assist the sovereign, and if there are no opposing nations or foreign threats outside the nation, the nation will naturally drift into a state of peace and tranquility, and will surely perish. In light of the above, it is clear that an individual or a nation can survive only in the midst of sorrow, and that indulging in ease will surely lead to death.”
God, who guides us through history, teaches us the meaning of life only through many trials, and He wants us to turn those trials into gratitude, so that at the end of our life’s journey, we may return to the home of our souls with the most mature and dignified character and with confidence.
Easter Sunday April 17, 2022
“Jesus had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
The belief in the resurrection is at the core of the Church’s faith, but unlike other ethical teachings of Jesus, it is very challenging. The reason is that we have not yet experienced death as Jesus did. We believe that there must be something greater beyond death, but we have not yet seen it. Our present state can be likened to the state of the daybreak just before dawn. Dawn is the state in which the darkness of the night ends and the light around us gradually becomes brighter. It is an undeniable fact that the sun will soon rise. But we do not yet see the sun.
From another angle, for example, this universe continues to grow while maintaining its balance. The universe repeats birth and death in cycles. That is why life has a definite lifespan. However, the energy of life does not disappear with death; it is assimilated into the energy of the universe and is a preparation to inhabit a new life form again, a return to a new life. This is what the Church calls death and resurrection. Because of death, the energy of life is immortal and eternal. Just as each of us has a different face, personality, and individuality, each of us has a different given life span. The question is how fulfilling a life can be. Jesus entered the tomb at the age of 33.
This world is made up of dualities. Darkness and light, male and female, hot and cold, subjective and objective, inside and outside, positive and negative, entrance and exit, birth and death, and so on. And this duality is the basis of human nature. The American thinker Emerson said that there is a “law of substitution” in this world. For every loss in the world, in nature, and in life, God will always give us something equal or greater in compensation. And conversely, if we gain something, we must lose something else in return. God and nature do not want exclusivity or exceptions. Nothing can simply originate or cease to exist. If you think you have sacrificed a lot in your life, you have actually received greater blessings. Sometimes what you thought were your strengths can hurt you in the end. On the other hand, there is no one who has not been saved by his or her own shortcomings. Our true strength grows out of our weaknesses. For example, when we come in contact with the death of someone close to us, we may be in despair for a while, thinking that it is nothing but a loss, but eventually the memory of the deceased person becomes our guide, pathfinder, and protector in our own lives. That was first experienced by the disciples of Jesus.
When one door to happiness is closes, God always opens a new door to happiness. But often we are so focused on the closed door that we do not notice the new door. Let’s look closely. If we have sacrificed something, God has always given us something equal or greater. Let us open new doors with great hope. We are no longer in the old tomb, just like the resurrected Jesus.
Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) | Year C April 10, 2022
“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Today’s Passion reading from Luke features two criminals. Legend has it that the name of the criminal who taunted Jesus was Gestas, and the name of the one who repented and put his last hope in Jesus was Dismas. In fact, Dismas is said to have been canonized and his name is listed in the Church’s roster of saints. A canonization is a declaration regarding a specific person that this person has entered into the glory of God with certainty, and is usually done by a papal declaration in Rome, but the only person canonized by Jesus in history was Dismas, who was canonized after his conversion on the cross. This is because Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43), which means that he has certainly entered into the glory of God. Therefore, he is properly St. Dismas.
But he is enviable. For with a single word just before his death, he not only went to heaven, but he even became a saint! Sometimes people sarcastically call those who are baptized just before their death or who have not been converted for a long time and who receive the sacraments of forgiveness or the Eucharist just before their death as heaven thieves, but Dismas’ conversion is not a reflection on the gratitude offered to heaven thieves. It means that one is saved when one believes and that the time of grace is when one meets Jesus. Therefore, if we are lazy and think that if we receive the sacraments before we die, we will go to heaven, we will also lose the chance to receive the sacraments. It is too late to prepare for death when we are about to die. It is too late to prepare for death before you die; we must prepare for it while we are still in good health. It takes 20 years for a person to reach adulthood. Then, let’s spend that many years preparing for death as well. This is because death is the culmination of life.
By the way, what happened to Gestas, the man who had scorned Jesus? Dismas was converted and became a saint. Then, Gestas who cursed Jesus went to hell...? We should not, however, short-circuit things like this. While the Church has declared that certain people have entered into the glory of God through canonization, it has never declared that certain people have gone to hell. Salvation is a mystery. Only God knows how He will bring a person to salvation, and we, as His collaborators, must continue to pray for the sinner’s conversion to the end.
But I see both Dismas and Gestas as two aspects of the same person, rather than two people. We can curse God like Gestas, or we can reflect on ourselves and turn to God like Dismas, and we can do this repeatedly throughout our lives. But at the end of our lives, we want to say, like Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
In closing, I would like to talk about Gestas again. He was told by Dismas, “Have you no fear of God, even though you are undergoing the same punishment? We deserve it, because we are getting the retribution for what we have done. But this man has done nothing wrong.” He then places his last hope in Jesus. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And that’s what he does. Gestas, who was listening to this conversation, being chastised by Dismas, remorsefully says, “Well, I’m sorry too,” and he, likewise, entrusts his last hope to Jesus, saying, “Don’t forget about me, either.” He too was told by Jesus, “You also are with me today in paradise.” Although it is not written in the Gospel, I think it would be in accordance with God’s will for the salvation of all people to read the Gospel in this imaginative way.
Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C, April 3, 2022
“Let the one among you who has not sinned, be the first throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
The scribes and Pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to test Jesus, and they hurl arguments at him. “Moses commands in the Torah that such a woman be stoned to death. So, what do you think about it?” (8:5) Jesus’ attitude at this point is puzzling. Jesus bent down and began to write something on the ground with his finger.” (8:6) Why did he not immediately engage in discussion? Why did he bend down? In fact, in this attitude of bending down, we can sense the deep compassion of Jesus. The woman’s face must have been pale and slumped over in embarrassment and fear of being killed. If Jesus had argued with the scribes right away, he would have had to look the woman in the face. This would have caused the woman more and more embarrassment. Jesus’ crouching posture shows his deep concern for the woman’s feelings of shame by not embarrassing her by keeping his own face down as well.
But when they persisted in their questioning, Jesus raised Himself up and said to them, “Let the one among you who has not sinned, be the first throw a stone at her.” And again He stooped down and continued writing on the ground.” (8:7) Jesus addressed the people, but still did not look at the woman’s face. As proof, Jesus bends down again. In response to Jesus’ words, one by one, beginning with the elders, they leave, and finally there is no one left. At that moment, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (8:10) When they were alone, Jesus finally raised himself and for the first time looked at the woman’s face. And the woman also spoke for the first time. And with just one simple statement, “Lord, no one.” She did not have the strength to say more. But at the same time, in this one phrase, we see the relief of a woman who has been freed from the fear of death.
In fact, I can see Joseph, her adoptive father, behind this Jesus. According to the Gospel of Matthew, “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, did not wish to make a public spectacle of Mary, so he decided to divorce her in secret.” (Matthew 1:18-19) If Joseph had been a “righteous man according to the law” of his time, he would have prosecuted Mary for carrying a child before their marriage. And yet Joseph did not want to cause Mary any embarrassment. Nonetheless, Joseph then followed the command of the angel of the Lord who appeared to him in a dream and took Mary as his wife. Joseph’s “righteousness” was not legal righteousness, but rather, keeping God’s law beyond human law, and God’s law is to protect those who are vulnerable. Jesus, who grew up in Joseph’s footsteps, was a “righteous man,” and as a result, he accepted death on the cross.
Jesus did not question this woman’s past at all, but said to her at the end, and to each of us, “I will not condemn you either. Go, and from now on, do not sin any more.”
Jesus does not question our sinful past. When we meet him, it is the time of grace.
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C, March 27, 2022
“His father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20)
Today’s story of the Prodigal Son is the most beautiful parable in the Gospels depicting the conversion of a sinner. Although the title of the story is “The Prodigal Son,” the protagonist is the father. Through his father, the story shows us that God’s only concern is forgiveness, no matter how many sins or mistakes we have committed.
When the father sees in the distance his son returning home, ashamed of his own misery after having disobeyed his father and indulged in debauchery, he runs toward him, embraces him, kisses him, and holds a banquet for him. In other words, the father already wishes to forgive his son even before his son’s conversion. The story of the son is easy to understand, but what is difficult to understand is the figure of the elder brother. As the brother himself says, he has never disobeyed his father and has worked diligently, but he is angry and refuses to enter the house, saying that his father did not give him even a single young goat to have a banquet with his friends. So, the father comes out and calms the brother down.
By the way, I understand the brother’s point, but you can see that there is a slight contradiction. When the younger brother asked his father for the property he was supposed to inherit, the father did not give it only to the younger brother, but divided it between the two brothers. In other words, the elder brother already had the right to freely use the property. For this reason, the father said, “Son, you are always with me. All that is mine is yours” (15:31). Furthermore, the elder brother made a great mistake. He coldly refers to his brother as “that son of yours. In other words, once he has left home, his brother is a stranger to him and no longer his brother. That is why he is not happy when he comes back. The truth is that both of these brothers have separated from their father. The younger brother left his father out of selfishness. The elder brother left his father out of envy. The father approaches both of them. He “came running” (15:20) to greet the younger brother, and “came out and soothed” (15:28) the elder brother. Indeed, selfishness and envy, exemplified by the brother’s sin, are the two roots of sin, and many sins stem from these two sins. But God, who is merciful, approaches and condones both of these sins.
It would be easy and fun to respond to this parable by saying, “I am selfish, so I treat my younger brother badly,” or “I tend to be a little jealous of others, so I treat my older brother badly.” However, if that is the end of the story, there is not much point. The protagonist of this story is not the younger brother or the older brother, but the father. The main theme of this story is whether we, too, can approach and accept those who have separated from us for various reasons. Certainly this will not be easy. But faith is not a sport. God looks at our efforts, not our results. On the contrary, sports is all about results, and results are everything. But faith is a process, not an outcome. Even if we don’t get good results, may God turn our daily efforts, that is, our desire to reconcile with those who have separated from us for various reasons, into grace. Let us believe in our small daily efforts.
Third Sunday of Lent, Year C, March 20, 2022
“Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” (Luke 13:5).
The Gospel words today relate a story about an incident that occurred at that time that Jesus used as a parable to press for conversion in a harsh tone. Yes, “perish” is a harsh word, but who is going to destroy whom? Paul’s words give us a clue. “Never complain; some of them complained, and they were killed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10). Complaining is a terrible trap that destroys us. The heart attracts what it secretly harbors. It attracts what it truly loves or fears. What the heart does not call does not come. Everything that happens in life is the product of our own heart. What you draw in your mind, what thoughts you have, and what attitude you live with, are the most important factors that determine your life.
In Buddhism, they have the law of retribution. In other words, everything that happens to us always has a cause. It is our daily thoughts and deeds that become causes and bring forth effects. It is the law that if we think something or do something now, it all becomes a cause and will surely result in some outcome. Therefore, what we are now is the result of what we have been thinking and doing.
But today we are going to destroy it together. What are we destroying? It is the wrong us of the past. Jesus met many sinners, but the one thing they had in common was that He never once questioned their past. Even to the disciples who abandoned Him that night of His Passion and fled, the first words of the risen Jesus were, “Peace be to you” (John 20:19), and He made no mention of the disciples’ treachery. This is a happy thing for us. Jesus does not question our sinful past at all. For when we meet him, it is a time of grace. Then let us also destroy the trap of complaint that we have been strangling ourselves with.
The reason we must destroy the trap of complaint is that when Moses asked God for a name, God said, “I am he who is.” (Exodus 3:13) God is the very being that makes the world what it is. The book of Genesis tells us this. “God saw everything that He had made. And behold, it was very good.” (1:31) That is why it is the mission of human beings, created as collaborators with God, to first find the good, not the evil, in everything that exists in the world, and even if there is evil, to transform it into good and to make it grow.
Second Sunday of Lent, Year C, March 13, 2022
“This is my Son, My Chosen One” (Luke 9:35)
Today, let us receive these Gospel words not only as words given to Jesus by His Heavenly Father, but also as words spoken by Jesus Himself as well as spoken to each one of us. By the way, in the general society, speaking of the “chosen” implies that behind the “chosen” are those who have not been chosen. For example, suppose someone was chosen to be a president or a mayor. This means that others were not elected. The reason for this is that the chosen person had the ability and achievements, while the person who was not chosen lacked them. Thus, in the general society, the chosen person is meant to be more accomplished, capable, and popular than the person who was not chosen.
But “chosen” before God does not imply such superiority or inferiority. The fact that someone has been chosen by God at the same time means that you and I have been chosen as well. Choice from God does not exclude others; it means accepting the others and walking with them. For example, Mary was specially chosen by God to be the mother of the Savior. That choice is exactly the same as God’s choice for you to be someone’s mother and father. Our life is a unique life in human history that no one else can replace, and it is a special choice entrusted to us by God, who says, “You shall lead this life” (or, “This is the life you are to lead”). We cannot live Mary’s life. At the same time, Mary cannot live our life. Each one of us has been specially chosen by God. At the same time, this means that a special path has been prepared for us that only we can take, a special way to witness to God’s love. Those who have fulfilled this path are called “Saints” by the Church. A saint is not a person who has committed no sin. No one could be a saint if we called saints those who have not sinned.
There is a phrase that says that we as humans are weak and fragile before God. But at the same time, we are strong. Especially when we discover and develop the gifts that are entrusted to us alone, human beings show unparalleled strength, both spiritually and physically. I felt this strongly while watching the Paralympics last summer and this winter, and was moved by the greatness of human beings. I believe that not a few of them found their unique privilege in their physical disability, tuned their wavelength to the divine voice and power hidden in their hearts, listened to it carefully, and found unlimited power within themselves.
Jesus speaks to each of us today and forever, “This is my Son, my Chosen One”. We are all specially chosen by God. Let us discover the jewel of unlimited potential that God has given to each one of us alone. We are weak in some ways, but we are truly strong when we discover our true selves.
First Sunday of Lent, Year C, March 6, 2022
Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit. Then He was led by the “Spirit” in the wilderness, for 40 days, and was tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1-2).
Jesus retreated into the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where there is nothing. There is only God and ourselves. There Jesus was with God the Father for 40 days before he went out on his missionary work, and at the same time, he underwent a great trial. The season of Lent has begun. Let us also retreat into the wilderness during this Lenten season. But let us not retreat to some actual wilderness, but to the "wilderness of our hearts." In other words, let's retreat into the world of God and ourselves alone in our hearts and meditate on what we need to do now. This does not in any way mean that we should do nothing during Lent. This Lenten season is the time for taking action. Just as the center of a revving engine needs to be still, the center of our hearts needs to be still with God in order to be more active.
Lent is traditionally a time of fasting. After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he fasted in the wilderness. Fasting has been an important religious practice since Old Testament times, and people fasted when seeking God's will or before making important decisions. However, fasting had a pitfall: it was easy to fall into formalism. This put Jesus at odds with the Scribes and Pharisees. Since fasting is essentially an important religious act, it should be directly related to love for God and man. Jesus himself fasted often. However, Jesus never once commanded his disciples to fast. This is because fasting is essentially directly related to love for God and people, and that love is not something that can be commanded or forced upon others. Therefore, the Church has also encouraged both fasting and activities that testify of love for God and people during Lent.
This Lent began with Russia's military invasion of Ukraine. Every day there are reports of the eye-watering devastation. But military victory does not necessarily mean domination of a country. History has proven this. Now, most of the world is against Russia's military aggression and has acted on it, and the Ukrainian people are more united than ever before. On February 24, in the town of Nichesk in the southern province of Cherson, a Ukrainian woman confronted Russian soldiers armed with machine guns in a scene broadcast on the Internet. The woman accosts the Russian soldier, asking, “What are you doing here?” The Russian soldier replied, “It’s pointless to talk to you.” “Put these sunflower seeds in your pocket. When you die, this sunflower will bloom,” the woman said to the soldier with death-defying sarcasm. The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. Since then, people have held sunflowers in their hands as a symbol of resistance in the protests that have been waged around the world. Now, our love for God and man is driving us. Let us, too, each in our own way, look for ways to bring salvation and light to the people of Ukraine, and act on them immediately. Sunflowers will be covering the land of Ukraine again this year.