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Homily for Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time, Memorial of San Lorenzo Ruiz and Companion Martyrs, 28 Sept 2022, Lk 9:57-62

“Leave the dead to bury their dead?” What did Jesus mean by that? It was supposed to be his rejoinder to the answer of a prospective disciple to Jesus’ call to discipleship. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Take note, the man did not turn Jesus down. What he said instead was, “Let me go first and bury my father.” His answer was neither a plain YES nor a plain NO but a YES, BUT. “Yes, I will follow you but you would have to wait until I have buried my father.”

At the outset, it is a perfectly reasonable request, isn’t it? Except, of course, if the father was not dead yet. In that case, what he really meant was “Can you please let me wait until my father has died and I have done my filial duty of burying him?” In the Jewish culture, this is particularly applicable especially to a “panganay”, or a first-born son. He cannot afford to leave because he will not be able to claim his inheritance by virtue of his birth right as a first born if he is unable to carry out his duty of burying his father.

If we read between the lines, what the man is actually saying to Jesus is, “Lord, sayang naman. Let me stay muna until I have acquired my inheritance. Then perhaps I can start following you when I have secured my financial stability already.” It’s not really a bad reasoning, is it? It sort of reminds me of that dutiful but spiteful elder brother in the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son.



But Jesus says, “Leave the dead to bury their dead.” Maybe what he really meant was, “Leave the spiritually dead to bury the physically dead.” In plain language, those who don’t bother to pursue their life’s goal and mission are as good as spiritually dead. Especially if they are waiting to bury their parents not really because they love them but rather because they are only eager to get their share of the properties that their parents will leave behind. They are like vultures waiting to feed on carcasses; they are the “dead” who are not just burying the dead but feeding on the dead!

Today we also celebrate the feast of the first Filipino Saint and Martyr, San Lorenzo Ruiz, whom I call “a man of many paradoxes”. I wonder why he was made into a patron saint of catechists. Of course he had been enlisted to join the mission to Japan as a catechist but he was never really able to catechize there because he and his companions were immediately arrested as soon as their boat landed in Nagasaki.

Apparently, Lorenzo was running away because he had been falsely accused of murdering a Spaniard. But the fact that the Dominican missionaries took him in anyway could only mean they believed that he was innocent, and that he could be of great service in the mission, having served in Binondo as a parish escribano or secretary. Maybe he should have been made a “Patron of Parish Secretaries” instead.

The other paradox is, he was running away from imprisonment and death sentence in the Philippines, only to be imprisoned and sentenced to death in Japan. He wasn’t even able to do the missionary work he had volunteered for. Like I said, he and his companions were imprisoned by the Tokugawa regime upon their arrival in Nagasaki on charges of serving as agents of the Spanish Colonial empire.

An additional paradox is the fact that he was a Dominican, a member of the Cofradia del Santisimo Rosario. And yet the most important document that served as a conclusive basis for his earlier beatification and later canonization was produced, not by the Dominicans but by the Jesuits. The document was discovered in the archives of the Jesuit Generalate in Rome. It was part of the testimonies of Jesuits who had witnessed the execution of Lorenzo and companions.

Lorenzo was escaping death in Manila, only to end up in a worse kind of death in Nagasaki. He was a victim of his life’s circumstances. One might say he moved from one kind of victimhood to another. So why should we call him a martyr? Well, in a way, it’s true that he could have simply died as a victim. He could have ended up bitter and regretful and cursed the day he was born. He could have wallowed in self-pity and questioned God. What would happen now to his wife, Rosario, and his three little children in Binondo? He could have called himself a stupid fool for “jumping from frying pan right into the fire”. He could have simply lamented the absurdity, the meaninglessness of his fate. But he chose instead to respond, not as a victim but as a “witness”, which is what martyrdom is about.

I suspect that Lorenzo’s response to Jesus’ call to discipleship actually began only at that moment when he made a conscious choice to make sense of his fate, to give meaning to his death by giving witness to Christ. He had managed to run away from the sure death that awaited him when he was falsely accused in Manila. And yet he would not run away to save his skin from torture and execution in Japan.

Perhaps he had understood what Jesus said in today’s Gospel differently—namely, as a challenge: “Would you rather bury the dead than raise people from the dead?” And so he declared, “If I had a thousand lives, I would gladly offer each one to Him.”

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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