Dec 28, 2015

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Homily of the midnight Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord at Niigata Cathedral.

My dear brothers and sisters,
Merry Christmas.

Year after year, We gather together in this Cathedral in the evening of 24 December to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Yes, we also gather again during the daytime on 25th to celebrate the Christmas, however, the most important moment for the celebration of Christmas is in this evening celebration. We all know that nowadays majority of people in Japan celebrates Christmas even among non-Christians in the evening on 24th and that is really fitting for the celebration even though they do not realize the real meaning of it. Let me explain it.

As we see from the Gospel reading this evening, the birth of Jesus took place during the night. It said that "there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock" However, repeating what is written in the Gospel is not the reason of what I am talking about.

The Gospel continues as follows; "the angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them." So it was light. It was bright light shinning in the darkness. It was the bright light which struck shepherds with great fear.

In the first reading, prophet Isiah wrote "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone"

Who are these "people who walk in darkness" or "who dwell in the land of gloom"?

Few months after the massive earthquake and tsunami which hit Tohoku in 2011, I visited the disaster hit area. Toward evening, as there were no electricity in the area, darkness prevailed. There were no house lights nor street lights. Only darkness prevailed. While standing in the midst of this darkness, I started feel uneasiness, anxiety or even fear. I was sure that darkness produced negative energy for those evacuated in the shelters, negative energy which easily destroy people's hope for the future. Negative effects of darkness were what I felt physically that night.

What kind of reality are we living in today? Fear for terrorism. No one knows what will happen next and where that might take place. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail in this world today. In Japan, we are not able to expect bright future with economic development anymore. The reality of fewer kids and aging society makes us wonder about our future. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. On an global scale, climate change has been affecting so many people severely especially in so-called under-developed countries but also us in the so-called developed countries and no one knows clear future of our common house, the earth. Uneasiness, anxiety and fear prevail. We are, therefore, the "people who walk in darkness", aren't we? We are, therefore, the people "who dwell in the land of gloom", aren't we? Many of us are increasingly dominated by uneasiness, anxiety and fear caused by inability to see clear future because we are in deep darkness.

Some months after the first visit to the disaster hit area, I again made another visit to the same town for Caritas meeting. We met in a former hotel building which survived the tsunami and had been used as Caritas Volunteer center. As we finished the meeting, I got out of the building only to be amazed by the sight. The building was a shining tower in the midst of deep darkness. Electricity was provided by a generator in the building and the town did not have electricity yet.

If it were in ordinary town, the light of this tinny hotel was nothing more than one of many lights in the town. Or even, no one would have noticed that there were lights in this building. Just a part of ordinary scenery of the town in the night. However, because of prevailing deep darkness, such ordinary and small light was shining through like the beacon of bright hope, defeating all the uneasiness, anxiety and fear of the people. The small light of the building became the source of hope for many.

Jesus was born as small baby. Hope for whole humankind was just a small light in darkness. That is the reason why the Church celebrate Christmas in darkness in the night. That is the reason why we, just before we started the Mass, had small candle for each one of us in the darkness of this chapel so that we may feel brightness of such a small candle lights. Even small lights can shine through to brighten people's heart in deep darkness. What we need is this small light of hope in all our hearts to overcome darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear.

We are in the Jubilee Year of Mercy now. People living in darkness with uneasiness, anxiety and fear are tend to live in mutual distrust. How can people trust each other while they are not sure about tomorrow's fate? I feel that the mutual distrust may results judgmental tendency among us. Good or bad? Friend or foe? Yes or No? As we are pressed to make judgment in order to be relieved from anxiety and fear, we tend to jump to conclusion. That is the reason why we tend to be judgmental and easily label others that they are good or bad. Generosity, tolerance and joy have no space to survive in such a society. Mercy is forgotten.

We find, these days, in internet and TV shows the heartwarming stories quite often. Why do we love to know these heartwarming stories? Why people love to watch such TV shows? Because, in reality, heartwarming experiences are missing. In the judgmental society, generosity, tolerance and joy disappear and we are hungry for story of love and mercy. Today's world needs mercy of God much more than before to escape from captivity of darkness.

For all of us living in the darkness of uneasiness, anxiety and fear, light has been given. The light is Jesus, the new born baby, who is mercy of God, who is love of God. Mercy and love of God is what we need to light our small candle, candle which brings generosity, tolerance and joy to the world.  


Dec 14, 2015

Opening of the Door of Mercy at the Niigata Cathedral

The extraordinary jubilee year of Mercy has started on 8 December and will conclude on 20 November, 2016. In Niigata Cathedral, beginning of the Jubilee Year was celebrated with Holy Eucharist with number of priests and faithful attended at 11 am on 8 December. Before the Jubilee was announced, diocese had planned a day of Advent recollection for priests on 7 December. Since number of priests who are usually scattered around the diocese were gathering together for the recollection, we decided to organize opening Mass on 8 Dec. so that faithful might feel unity of the Church by being with several priests and bishop for this special occasion. 18 Priests and more than 60 people joined the Mass.

Then on 13 December, Sunday, Mass for opening of the Door of Mercy was celebrated at the Cathedral with more than 120 people. (Photos) I presided the Mass joined by Fr.Ngaji, SVD, assistant parish priest and Fr.Itagaki from Sendai diocese who was with us as a retreat preacher for the parish advent recollection.

We started the Mass from the Parish Hall and made procession to the main gate of the Cathedral which is designated as the Door of Mercy. There are all together 4 Door of Mercy in the diocese, namely Cathedral, Takada parish, Yamagata parish and Akita parish. You are invited during this jubilee year to make a pilgrimage to one of these Door of Mercy in the diocese, enter to the church through the door, go to confession, attend the Mass, receive communion and pray for the intention of Holy Father with special prayer of the jubilee composed by Holy Father himself in order to receive indulgence.

Mercy is needed in today's world more than before where people are living in darkness created by mistrust among each other. Darkness prevails particularly at the time when world security has been challenged by terror or threat of terrorism which, in many cases, produce invisible accumulation of fear. When we don't trust each other then we begin to judge each other. What a judgemental society we are living today. At home in Japan, we have to look around ourselves. Are we not talking about military threat from our neighboring countries as everyday talk? In the country where the phrase "War on Terror" has become so familiar with daily life,such as so in Japan today, it is quite difficult to talk with reason that the retaliation with force only promotes vicious circle of violence. People overtaken by fear have no ear to listen to such admonition. Feeling of mistrust and intolerance prevails in darkness today.

Meanwhile we have to think about what is the main force pushing this country, Japan, to maneuver through global village in modern days. Economy gain? Military ambition? Where is our moral principle? Country which has so-called Peace Constitution should have the leading voice with moral principle to persuade people to come out from darkness of mistrust to create real peace in this world.

But what is the reality? Are we not choosing the way to go deeper into darkness? We need to feel Mercy of God. We need to feel that God unconditionally encompass all of us, no exception, with his Mercy because he loves all of us. Church is, through this jubilee year, trying to be a beacon of hope shinning in this darkness to invite people to be filled by God's Mercy and love. Here in the Church, everyone should find consolation and joy of forgiveness so that we may be able to console each other and share our joy to escape from the darkness of mistrust. "As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.(Misericordiae Vultus 9)"

Holy Father also invites all of us to be witness of Mercy of God as he wrote; "the Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.(Misericordiae Vultus 12)"

So throughout the Jubilee year, we have to try to be witness of Mercy of God through our own words and deeds and also action of our parishes and groups. Then what can we do in this diocese? This is quite a challenge for all of us in this diocese where no particular crisis are happening as such. If we are directly involved in natural disasters or war or refugee crisis or starvation or draught, etc, it would be clear for all of us that what action we should take. But these are, fortunately, not in our case. Then we have to seriously think how we could be witness of Mercy of God or "an oasis of mercy" in this situation? Perhaps, we should better broaden our perspective a bit more. Holy Father wrote as follows; "in this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! (Miseridordiae Vultus 15)" Yes, the today's world is waiting for our action.