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Homily for the Silver Jubilee of Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada’s Episcopal Ordination



September 16, 2016, at Urawa Church


First Reading: Isaiah 40:27-31
Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-7

I’m deeply joyful and grateful that so many of you are here to celebrate with me the twenty-fifth anniversary Mass for my episcopal ordination. It was exactly 25 years ago, on September 16 in 1991, a substitute holiday for Respect-for-the-Aged Day. Under the great care of Fr. Oka, I was ordained bishop at the auditorium of Urawa-Akenohoshi Girls’ School. The main celebrant was Archbishop Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi. Exactly a quarter century later, I am celebrating this Mass here today at the Diocese of Saitama, then called Diocese of Urawa, as its Apostolic Administrator. I’d like to thank all the priests, especially Fr. Tetsuya Nishikawa from the Archdiocese of Tokyo, for joining me.

Today’s readings are exactly the same as those read at the episcopal ordination Mass 25 years ago. The first reading is from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 40, from which I chose my own motto as a bishop. Usually a bishop is supposed to choose some words from the Bible to express a fundamental attitude toward exercising his episcopal ministry. I chose the following words from the Book of Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord.” (40:31, NIV) They are found in the context we have just heard. At that time 25 years ago I was often wondering what was most necessary to me, and I feel all the more so now. When things go wrong, we can get disappointed, or discouraged, or even “deflated” as often heard these days. Getting deflated doesn’t sound inviting, does it? Because I’m inclined to feel that way, I chose the above motto to take comfort and encouragement from it.

When I was transferred to the Archdiocese of Tokyo, I chose this motto again as its archbishop. Thus I’ve spent these 25 years encouraging myself by saying to myself, “Remember your motto: You’re one of ‘those who hope in the Lord.’ You should know better.”

On this occasion, though belated, I did a little research on the background of this verse and found out that it expresses a faith renewed by the experience of the Israelite people, that is, the experience of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC, or more precisely between 587 and 538 BC. This Jewish experience for the half-century, that of living as captives in Babylon, capital of Babylonia, for those 50 years, brought forth what we now call the Old Testament, and the faith in God the Lord was renewed. During this period Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel called the Major Prophets were active. It was also the period when the Law of Moses including the Book of Genesis was thought to be edited little by little. That is why this Babylonian exile is called the foundation of the faith in the current Judaism based on the Old Testament.

Babylonia was eventually conquered by the Persian king Cyrus, who released those conquered races. Among them were the Jews, who were allowed to return to Jerusalem. In the historical progress they probably encouraged themselves to renew their hope in God the Lord all the time.

Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke, Chapter 15, and it’s an excellent part to show the spirit of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The design of the logo image of the Holy Year exactly depicts this passage: Jesus the Lord is carrying a lost sheep he had found on his shoulders.
Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel describes three parables. Following today’s passage of the lost sheep are the parable of a woman finding a lost coin, and a well-known parable of a prodigal son. These three parables show us how merciful God is. I’m sure many of you have been reading this chapter over and over this Holy Year. I also savored the parables in Luke 15 again on this occasion, and they make me wonder what repentance is. Repentance, or returning to God, actually means opening our eyes to our own values. It is the awareness of how much I’m loved by God, and how precious my presence is to Him. At the scene that the father rejoices in the return of the lost son by embracing him, it was brought home to both the father and the son that each one is so precious to the other.

And this kind of awareness always reminds me of the words from the Book of Wisdom in the Old Testament:

“But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.”
(11:23-26)

We are what God has made us, His likeness, deeply loved by Him. No matter what reality or failure or anything unfavorable may happen to me or someone right next to me, still God treasures us. This is the faith that has been supporting me, and I have been willingly serving God by carrying out the ministry given to me day by day as His beloved. And I would like to continue to do so as long as I can. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for your prayers and support over these years!


[All the Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition (NRSVCE), copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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