Life on the Chrism Trail

Vespers for Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Seminarians of the Diocese of Fort Worth

December 20, 2021
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Luke 18:8

“When the Son of Man comes to earth, do you think that he will find faith in men’s hearts?” This is the antiphon for the Canticle from the Epistle to the Ephesians that we have just prayed in our vespers. This question is asked by Jesus of His disciples in the Gospel of Luke. It is recorded at the end of His parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.

Jesus is speaking to the disciples about the need for persistent prayer and that they should not give up so that they be spared from falling into the sin of apostasy — that is, to abandon the faith and doctrine that He is teaching them in obedience to the will of His Father. Jesus will most clearly teach this faith through the gift of Himself by His death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension into glory. Jesus is clear in His teaching that faith is a grace; that faith is a necessary way of knowing the truth, and that faith is received by us and cultivated by our persistent prayer. Faith is more than spirituality or some vague religious experience. Faith is centered upon the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

“When the Son of Man comes to earth, do you think that he will find faith in men’s hearts?” When we hear the question proclaimed in the circumstances of our individual lives and in the life of the Church today, we might be tempted to think that Jesus is asking this question in a state of exasperation. As if he is saying, “Why am I going through all of this? Is this futile?” Yet, the question asked by Jesus is more truly an articulation of His challenge to us and a clear direction for our ministry of evangelization as the Church and especially for our vocations as priests who are ordained to preach the Gospel. His message is: do not take faith for granted, pray persistently, and learn and come to know better the truth of faith that is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

“When the Son of Man comes to earth, do you think that he will find faith in men’s hearts?” In 1549, Saint Francis Xavier and other missionaries arrived in Japan to spread the Gospel. For 50 years they were welcomed by the Shogun warlords who ruled Japan because the missionaries were seen at first to be a valuable bridge to Europe for purposes of trade and commerce. By 1600, the mood of the warlords had changed, and they began to expel missionaries, to close Japan off from Europe, and to forbid the practice of Christianity by Japanese. Many Christians, missionaries, and native Japanese were willingly martyred for the faith because they had come to know the truth to be even more precious than their lives. As the missionaries were being expelled, they covertly entrusted the catechism to those Christians who would remain behind with the promise that missionaries would one day return to them. Between 1614 and 1639, the only priests who remained were compelled to minister in hiding. They were martyred as they were discovered. In 1639, the persecution began of Christians began to slow down after the martyrdom of Blessed Peter Kibe, the last known priest in Japan. The faith appeared to have been stopped, at least for the time being.

“When the Son of Man comes to earth, do you think that he will find faith in men’s hearts?” In the middle of the 1800s the Empire of Japan began to open itself up again to Europe and the rest of the world for purposes of trade and expansion. In 1865, missionaries from Europe were permitted to come into Japan again even though it remained against the law for a Japanese to become a Christian. Catholic Churches were built but they remained empty, and the missionary efforts were discouraging until Saint Patrick’s Day of 1865 in Nagasaki, Japan. On that day, a group of 15 people gathered outside the empty church pastored by Father Bernard Petitjean, a French missionary. Two women approached the priest in the church and whispered to him the words, “We have the same heart as you.” The priest was taken aback and asked the women, “who are you and where are you from?” They responded, “Urakami, there almost all have the same heart.” Then one of them asked a question that she and her ancestors going back over seven generations and over 225 years had longed to ask: “Where is the statue of Santa Maria?’ The priest showed them the statue of the Blessed Mother. They wept joyfully. They knelt and prayed. Then, the rest of the group began to ask important questions to verify the authenticity of the priest. They had been taught to ask these questions by their parents who had been taught by their parents for seven generations: “Do you believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Mary’s Son?” “Do you have Holy Communion?” “Do you follow the great ruler in Rome?” “Are you married, and do you have children?” “Do you eat meat on Friday?” It was soon discovered that there were roughly 10,000 hidden and baptized Christians in Japan as they came out of hiding and approached the missionaries for the other sacraments about which they had only read.

They wept for joy because their priests had returned. For 225 years they had secretly and to the best of their ability kept the true faith — centered on Christ and the content of the kerygma that had been handed down to them in the tradition of their ancestors. They had believed because of the blood of the martyrs, and they had come to know the truth at its core. They had only Baptism and the catechism. Their catechism had as its primary source a book published by a missionary in Japan in 1603 entitled, Instruction for Martyrdom. This text included Scripture passages and quotes from the saints reaffirming the truth of the faith so that one would not be discouraged and commit apostasy and suffer a more painful death than martyrdom. Both the missionaries and the hidden Christians of Japan found faith when Christ returned through the presence of His missionaries.

“When the Son of Man comes to earth, do you think that he will find faith in men’s hearts?” This question asked by Jesus is asked of us priests and of us seminarians studying to be priests. It’s our patrimony and mission to give our lives so that Christ will find faith in human hearts when He comes to earth. It is our mission that He entrusts to us to pray persistently for the gift of faith, our own and the faith of our parishioners, that we not become indifferent to this precious gift. It’s to us that we teach the truth that Christ taught about faith and its accompanying doctrine so that people do not settle for some vaguely pagan and ephemeral spirituality that merely lulls them into a passive tolerance of heresy and grave immorality offered at the altar of the false god of popularity. To have faith is not simply to have a religious experience as an individual with private opinions. To have faith means to know the truth as revealed by Christ who can neither deceive nor be deceived and as handed on by the authentic teaching of His Church with the guarantee of the Holy Spirit. We mark Advent with candles. Candles give their substance to become light. There is a lesson here for priests and seminarians. We seek union with Christ so that we may become one with Him, to spend our substance to become one with Him as Light, Seed, Sustenance, and Truth. The Son of Man, the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, comes to earth again this Christmas in the liturgies that we shall celebrate. He again asks the question of us even before He asks it of our lay faithful, “Do you think that He will find faith in our hearts?”

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