HOMILY for Memorial of St Lawrence Ruiz and Companion Martyrs
Jesus reveals the kind of Christ he is: one who “must suffer many things”, and in every age and every place, those who are called Christians must follow him in this, in the hope of being raised with Christ.
Today we recall sixteen Christians who followed the king of martyrs to the Cross in Japan. These sixteen, both ordained and lay, are predominantly Dominican saints, but the saint I want to remember especially is one Lawrence Ruiz, the first Filipino martyr after whom I have taken my religious name.
Lorenzo was born in Manila, the Philippines, and he was educated by the Dominicans and hired by them as a scribe. He was married with children, was a member of the Rosary Confraternity, and sacristan at the Dominican church - a church you can still visit - in Binondo, a suburb of Manila.
In 1636, he was accused of being involved in a crime, and if he was found guilty, he would have been killed. Lorenzo feared that the Spanish authorities would be prejudiced against him since he was born of Chinese and Filipino parents, and so he fled to the Dominicans for help. They put him on a ship with Dominican missionaries so that he could escape the Philippines. Lorenzo thought they were headed for Macao, but instead the missionaries were bound for Nagasaki to help the fiercely persecuted Christians of Japan.
Lorenzo, then, was in the wrong place at the wrong time; he had hoped to escape death, but within days of arriving in Japan he was arrested, and 14 months later he died from terrible torture on 29th September 1637. But “for everything there is a season and a time”, and in God’s Providence, this was Lorenzo’s time, and so, he was given the grace to embrace his death at Nagasaki. But there was a crucial difference between the death that awaited him in Manila, and what he endured in Japan.
If Lorenzo had stayed in Manila, he would have been wrongly accused and executed against his will as a victim of injustice. Instead, by God’s grace he gave his life as a martyr with utmost freedom, and died for the truth, for what is right. These are his own words: “Although I did not come to Japan to be a martyr… however, as a Christian and for God I shall give my life”. And the profound freedom, and resoluteness with which he embraced the martyr’s crown can be seen in the answer he gave when he was offered his life in exchange for renouncing the Faith: “Had I many thousands of lives I would offer them all for him. Never shall I apostatize. You may kill me if that is what you want. To die for God—such is my will”.
And so, San Lorenzo Ruiz brought to completion the mission given to him, and indeed to each of us, in baptism: to live and die in Christ.
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