Dear Sisters and Brothers –
On February 6, the Church celebrated the memorial of St. Paul Miki, S.J., and Companions. In 1597, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. They were victims of the often-repeated scenario across Christian history of secular suspicion of religious activity, especially from outsiders. Among them were laypeople, priests and brothers; they were Jesuits, Franciscans, and Third Order Franciscans; they were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants; old and young. All were united in their common faith and love for Jesus and his Church. A fuller version of their story can be accessed here.
Paul Miki, who was Japanese, a Jesuit and studying to be a priest, is the best known among the martyrs because he preached to the crowds that came to mock the prisoners: “After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men [sic] as a fruitful rain.” St. Paul’s prayers were answered – eventually. At first, when missionaries first returned to Japan in the 1860s, they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves, they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith for nearly 300 years. These faithful Japanese Catholic had taught the Catechism and Latin hymns, as they remembered and passed them down, from grandmothers to grandsons. They surreptitiously held worship services in their homes, led by lay women and men who preached, baptized and heard confessions.
All this of course is far from our lived reality, but I do find some echoes of this spirit in our experience of this last year, when gathering in person has mostly occurred in your homes. We share with our forebears in faith the experience of “Spiritual Communion,” which those faithful in Japan did for 300 years, and most of us have done since last March. (And here I would like to reiterate that in receiving Spiritual Communion, the Risen One is not present in some “knock-off” way. No, he can be fully present in any circumstance, through the grace of his Holy Spirit.)
Our distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday is in keeping with this tradition of the faithful preserving, communicating and living out their faith in adverse circumstances, such as a hostile secular government or a deadly pandemic. As believers, most of you will sign one another in your own homes, marking each other with that symbol that says we know that we are not always right with God or with others and that we want to be different, better than we are; a symbol that declares our belief that God’ grace – when we consciously, open ourselves up to it – can change us.
If you have not yet received your ashes, you can pick them up between 11:15 and noon this Sunday at the Parker Street door or after the 3:30 Mass Sunday afternoon. Please join us for one of three livestreamed Ash Wednesday Masses, at 7:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., or 7:30 p.m. We will incorporate your distribution of ashes into those liturgies, giving you instructions then. For those who wish, we will also distribute ashes in person (sprinkling them on the crown of your head, Italian-style, so there will be no contact) at the Parker Street door for 30 minutes after the 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. Masses only.
St. Ignatius Parish is currently reviewing updated Covid-19 protocols in California following a Supreme Court decision on February 5th that lifts some restrictions for houses of worship. We will continue to put the health of our parishioners first as we consider how to safely open our Church for in-person services. Given that infection levels in the Bay Area remain high and that the new variants are on the rise, we have decided to postpone reopening the church for indoor Masses. We will evaluate this decision on a weekly basis. Please continue to check our website and newsletter for updates. We miss you all and thank you for your patience.
God bless you as we prepare to enter this great holy season of Lent. And, as always,
oremus pro invicem.