In reading the story of St Paul Miki today I was struck by the detail that he and his companions marched 600 miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki where they were crucified. Along the way they were singing the Te Deum.
There is in the story of the martyrs this amazingly supernatural joy. In what other religion is there this strange gift of joy within suffering? It is extraordinary and inexplicable apart from the gift of grace.
What we see in the saints is, on the one hand the innocence of the lamb, and on the other hand the courage of the lion. The saint is full of child like joy, child like zeal, child like energy. The saint wishes no evil on any man, but only good. Like the lamb that he is, he moves forward in simplicity and open hearted love. Here we see an authentic humanity–a humanity that transcends ordinary life and radiates joy and peace and power to all who behold it.
Mingled with this extraordinary gift of joy and simplicity is the courage of a lion. With what courage the little virgin martyrs and the humble priests and simple laypeople defy the authorities. With what fearless steadfastness do they hold to the faith! Here are little people–slight nuns, little girls, old men, teenaged boys, housewives and grandmothers who stare torture and death in the eye and sing or tell a joke or forgive their tormentors with a smile.
Here too is a humanity transformed and a humanity that transcends human comprehension. We can understand the brave soldier who fares forward into battle to overcome the foe. We can understand the meek child who cowers in fear, but in the martyrs we see at once the bravery of the bravest most lionhearted solider mingled with the carefree abandonment and lamb-like innocence of a child.
If only we could evidence the same combination within our much smaller and lesser trials and tribulations. What if, in the midst of our personality conflicts, our petty complaints, our small minded ego wars we were to rise above it with the innocence of the lamb and the courage of the lion? What if we were to make of our own insignificant sufferings a little matryrdom and rise above it with the same grace?
Whenever I celebrate the memorial of a martyr this year this will be my prayer: “Good Lord, give me the courage of a lion and the innocence of a lamb so that I might emulate the martyrs in this little life of mine. AMEN”