For about ten years until this March, I served as a managing priest to Fukushima Church in Kiso Town, Nagano Prefecture. One day, as I was giving a sermon at this church, a small long-legged wasp flew in out of nowhere. Then, without a doubt, the atmosphere in the church changed completely. Until then, only my voice giving a sermon echoed silently inside the church, with the congregation listening. We understood each other even just with an eye contact, and it was a time where we shared the Words. However, with the appearance of the small bee, everything changed. From the expression of the people, I could clearly hear the voices of their hearts crying, “Bee! What shall we do? We’re in the middle of a sermon…” As I heard these silent voices and looked into their eyes, fear close to threat and confusion was evident. And to the congregation, the bee’s buzzing, which could not have been louder than me, was far greater than my voice during the sermon. But even I, who was preaching, felt the same as the congregation. Everything was engulfed by the bee.
Contemplating between my mission and responsibility to continue talking about the Words, I stopped my sermon and said, “There’s a bee, so let us all step outside.” As the nervousness was at once removed within the church, one person opened the window, took a newspaper in one’s hand, and guided the small, yet the powerful bee outside. After the bee was gone, the church retrieved its quiet atmosphere, as it had been prior to the bee appearing, and I restarted my sermon. However, as I continued with my sermon, I was starting to recollect about an incident at Fukushima Church that had occurred to me when I was a child.
As a matter of fact, Fukushima Church is my mother church, and I had been there with my family since childhood. I have taken part in the Holy Eucharist there, but taking part meaning I was running around the church, like that bee, spoiling the mood during prayers. It was just a mess, so I heard. Then, one day, my mother, who just had it with my behavior, took me outside during the Holy Eucharist, and we stayed outside until the service was over. Afterwards, my mother said to my grandmother, “My child is so noisy and he’s going to be in the way of everyone’s prayers, so I’m thinking about taking a little break from going to church.” After hearing this, even I at a young age, knew that this was not looking good. Then my grandmother said to my mother, “What are you talking about? No one more than a child is in need of the Words of God. And the Holy Eucharist is important to children. So, keep bringing your child to church, and there is no need to take him outside during the communion.” Hearing my grandmother’s words, my mother was very surprised, yet a little relieved and said “Yes, I guess you’re right.” As I was looking on to what was happening and from my grandmother’s words, I instantly realized how much the Holy Eucharist is important to my grandmother, my mother, and the people at church. And above all, for myself even as a child, too.
As I overlapped the figure of myself as a child taken outside the church to the bee that was guided outside, I thought to myself, “If it had been Saint Francis, who was said to have preached to the little birds, would he have preached to that bee? I bet he would have done it.”
The story of St. Francis calling all creatures even other than humans as brothers and sisters, and loving and respecting them, hence being able to communicate with animals’ hearts, preach to the birds, and convert the wolf, is exceedingly famous. But when I think back on my grandmother’s words, I feel St. Francis was able to preach them because he understood the heart and words of the birds and wolves.
“It is absolutely necessary for all creatures to be guided by the words of God. Creatures are not to be limited only to people, but also to every creature that cannot understand the words of human beings. If all creatures need to be guided by the words of God, I will even preach to the birds and wolves. Even if the birds and wolves do not understand the words I speak, the words I speak are that of God. I believe in the absolute nature of the words of God, and its greatness in power. If the words are of God they will be understood by all creatures. And if they are the words of God, the birds and wolves will surely feel something. That is why I preach to the birds and the wolves.” So, that’s how he believed it, and that is why he continued to preach to the birds and wolves. And if the bees were here, he probably would have preached them too.
It is important that all creatures continue to be within the grace of God and be showered by words of God. We easily assume that “children do not understand sermons,” “Holy Eucharist is too difficult for children,” or “children might get bored” and as a result, children’s places are outside the church. Are we not letting the children hear the words of God? The words of God and the miracles of the sacrament go far beyond our understanding and imagination, reaching the children in a more clear, certain, and unexpected manner. If the Holy Eucharist is the absolute faith of us adults, it should also be the same for children. However, there are places other than the Holy Eucharist that are easily prepared for children. Looking at this I feel, “For whose sake are the children plucked out of the Holy Eucharist? For children who are bored or for adults who prefer to worship peacefully and quietly?
As Lord Jesus has embraced and blessed the children in the center of adults, we should always have the children be the center of the Holy Eucharist. I hope it becomes a place where “children should be” and “ought to be.”
Revd Joseph Daisuke Shimohara
St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Nagoya St. John’s Church