A reading from Gal 2:19-20
Brothers and sisters: Through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.
REFLECTION: "I have been crucified with Christ;yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me."
On February 6th the Church in the United States observes the memorial of St. Paul Miki and companions.
They were the first martyrs of Japan: Three priests, one cleric, and two lay brothers were members of the Order of Friars Minor; one cleric was of the Society of Jesus, and seventeen belonged to the Third Order of St. Francis. There were lay converts and even children amongst them.
Their histories are all amazing. One that is more familiar to me is St. Felipe de Jesus.
Felipe de las Casas was born May 1,1572. His parents, Don Alonso de las Casas y Doña Antonia Martínez were honorable Spanish immigrants in Mexico.
Felipe was the oldest of eleven children, and from early onset he was very rambunctious. Felipillo, as he was called, got into all sorts of mischief, to the point that his nanny expressed,: "Antes la higuera seca reverdecerá, a que Felipillo llegue a ser Santo", loosely translated to, "It would be easier for the dried up fig tree [in the backyard] to be green again and full of flowers, than for little Felipe to become a saint." Felipillo wasn't cut out to be a saint!!
He was expelled from school, and was not exactly a model of virtue. Every time that Felipe got in trouble his mother would say: “¡Que Dios te haga santo!”, or "May God make you a saint".
Early in his youth he entered the Franciscan order as a novice, but could not endure the life in the monastery. He ran back home.
His father put him to work as a silversmith, and he was very good in this art. However, he just couldn't stay inside four walls for a long time. He went back to his adventurous self.
Around 1590, Felipe, now 18 years old travelled to the Philippines to work as an agent for his father.
Manila was a great commerce center, but also a place full of temptations for a young man. Felipe took on gambling and other activities that were not virtuous. In a manner similar to St. Augustine, he avoided anything related to God in order to enjoy himself in this world. Meanwhile, his mother kept praying for him, so he could "become a saint".
This popular young man was having a great time. But soon he came to realize the emptiness of his ways, and in his heart heard the voice of Christ calling him, and telling him the words of Matthew 16:24: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me".
Felipe left everything behind and joined the Franciscan convent of Santa María de los Ángeles in Manila. He professed on May 22, 1594, and took the name of Felipe de Jesus.
During his formation in the Philippines, he prayed, studied, and took care of the infirm in Manila. This life of prayer and mortification prepared him for his martyrdom.
On July 1596 he was ready to become a priest, but there was no Bishop in the Philippines. Therefore, he and other brothers sailed on the ship "San Felipe" to Mexico, where he would be ordained a priest.
This was a 7 to 8 month long trip that didn't come without its dangers.
Felipe dreamed of being in Japan, ordained by a Bishop there, baptizing and bringing the light of Christ to the people .
The ship crashed off the coast of Japan on October 5. Felipe and the brothers headed to Kyoto to join other Franciscans..
After a few months, the Shogun of the region apprehended and executed all the brothers and priests for the crime of "openly preaching Christianity".
The Shogun's soldiers arrested more brothers, priests and lay people forcing them to walk from Kyoto, to Taiko, to Osaka, and finally Nagasaki. The soldiers picked other Christians on their way to Nagasaki. The left lobe of the prisoner's ear was mutilated to show they were going to be executed.
Felipe couldn't do much. He didn't have the sacred orders, and did not know Japanese. So he prayed, prayed, and prayed.
After a few months walking, they reached Nagasaki. There in the Tateyama hill they erected 26 crosses. Tateyama is the first place Christianity was preached in Japan.
The prisoners were crucified on February 5. They were restrained by the neck, wrists, and ankles. Felipe's restraints were slippery, so he started to choke. He could only say "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." At this, two soldiers hurried to his side and stabbed him on both sides of his chest. He was the first one of the martyrs to perish that day. Most of them preached from the cross, and the children sang psalms while awaiting their crown of glory.
Their bodies hung incorrupted for two months until the Christians of the region were allowed to take them down and give them a proper burial.
Legend says that back in Mexico City, on the same day Felipe died, his nanny all of a sudden started shouting "¡Felipillo es santo, Felipillo es santo!" , meaning: "Little Felipe is a Saint! Little Felipe is a Saint!". Why? The dried up fig tree was green again and full of flowers!
If you ever visit the Basilica of Guadalupe, you will see a little garden with a bronze crucified Franciscan with the inscription- "¡Felipillo es santo, Felipillo es santo!".!"(Felipillo is a saint. Felipillo is a saint) This is located between the new and old basilica on the way up the Tepeyac (the site where Saint Juan Diego met the Virgin of Guadalupe)
Felipe's 80 year old mom was present for his beatification. What a wonderful present for a mother that prayed all her life to God for her wayward son "to become a saint".
We can also pray for our priests to become saints, especially in this month of February. We pray that the priests have an increased love for God, just as St. Felipe's mom prayed incessantly for him "to become a saint".