In his weekly blog post last Friday (just getting to it, sorry), Cardinal Sean O’Malley recalled the episcopal ordination of two new auxiliaries for Boston. In his homily at the ordination Mass he highlighted the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on which day the Mass took place, and the symbolism of the new bishops’ rings.
The scandal of violence and greed made evangelization seem an impossible task, but as the Gospel reminds us, “Nothing is impossible for God.” Suddenly, everything changes. The Mother of God appears. She’s clothed in the sun, the stars on her mantle, the moon at her feet. She comes not as a grand European señora but as an Indian, an indigenous woman. As the tilma that you see here on our image of Our Lady of Guadalupe shows, she is wearing a black belt. This is not to indicate some level of proficiency in the martial arts. This was the Aztec maternity dress. The Virgin is pregnant. She is the woman of Advent, Mary of the Visitation, a living tabernacle carrying Christ to the world.
... Soon, virtually the whole country had embraced the faith, and Mexicans were leaving their homeland to take the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The first Mexican saints died as martyrs in Nagasaki in 1597.
In the early 16th century, the first missionaries arrived in Japan. Soon there were as many as two million Catholics in that country, but a terrible persecution broke out. In many places the Shoguns made what are called fumies, large medallions with pictures of Christ and the Blessed Mother. These fumies were placed on the ground, and the population of a village would be lined up and invited to tread on the fumies. If anyone refused, they were tortured to death. The Church survived underground for 200 years in Japan. People lived their faith in secret, waiting for the priest to return. They lived with one sacrament, baptism, all the while longing for the Eucharist. In 1865, a French missionary, Father Petitjean, discovered these underground Catholics, the legacy of the martyrs.
A couple of years ago, an Augustinian friar from Merrimack, Father Bill Garland, gave me a replica of one of those fumies from the 16th century, which he brought me from a parish in Japan. I was very moved by the story of the early Japanese martyrs who suffered for their new-found faith, but I was also quite struck by the fact that the medallion the martyrs were asked to trample was an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is a reminder that the Virgin’s request to build a Church resulted in missionaries from Mexico going to far off countries to shed their blood and to share our Catholic faith.
The rings that I shall present to our new bishops bear an image of the old Japanese fumie of Our Lady of Guadalupe. When we kiss this image on their rings, we should remember that many of our brothers and sisters in the faith long ago in Japan died rather than tread on this image. In a world where many people are quick to put aside their faith for personal convenience, political expediency or to be comfortably assimilated into the dominant, secular culture, let us remember those martyrs who died courageously with Jesus’ name on their lips to encourage us to live a life of fidelity even in the most hostile circumstances.
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