... in wearing matching red
Published on 27 Jan 2020
This is a story of beautiful and mysterious connections which can only come from one holy source.
At my local church in Osaka Prefecture in Japan, it was announced that a special Mass for Faith Week would be celebrated at our nearby Assumption convent on January 21st. I would attend.
What would I wear?
Does the question sound out of place in the context?
I am neither young nor slim and yet a thought put into the outfit of the day seems to sit well with those who care to notice , and to be sure, it is practically the only topic of conversation addressed to me by the women at my local church.
The 21st of January, more poignantly in French, “Le vingt-et-un Janvier “ as some readers will know, marks the anniversary of the regicidal martyrdom of Louis XVI of France at the height of the French Revolution.
I would wear blood red.
On that day, I arrived slightly early and was accompanied into the little chapel and warmly welcomed by a Filipino Sister who made a place for me next to her. “Sister, I whispered” I’m not in red to show off or stand out, but today is the day King Louis XVI was martyred.” I had imagined that Sister might be unfamiliar with European history. “I didn’t know”, she said.
About a dozen nuns came in in dribbles and drabbles, all in “Assumption plum” with grey or lilac veils. The priest soon entered, in the crimson cassock I recognised from the beatification of the Samurai exile from the Philippines, Takayama Ukon, a year or two ago.
The Mass began with the words, “Today, we celebrate the Martyrdom of King Louis XV1 of France.” We heard that the twenty-first of January was also the feast of Saint Agnes, the virgin martyr and saint of young girls, something I had not known.
Assumption Sister Agnes was one of the congregation, and delivered the first reading. Doubtless in her eighties, she has retained the crystal-clear public speaking voice of years gone by when she was headmistress of the Assumption kindergarten. By divine providence, my daughter had attended that school and was at the time the only Caucasian out of five hundred children. Sister Agnes was ever vigilant that she not be ostracized or bullied for being different. I have photos of my daughter hand in hand with Sister, secure in her love. Sister Agnes was not going to allow one to be sacrificed. Thirty years on, Sister attends the Sunday Mass at our local church and always greets me and asks after my daughter.
As for the King of France, before ever I could read, I would look through my parents’ reference books and stop to contemplate the portraits of French Counter-revolutionary heroes, and a heroine, my baptismal namesake, Marie-Louise, contemporary witness and biographer of the Counter-Revolution.
Over time, I developed a passion, still in me, for the events of this tragic period in French history, the mercy and generosity, the self-sacrifice against all odds, the faith in God and king who would be martyred.
My enthusiasm knew no bounds and at 18, I prepared for university and, bilingual by then, interviewed for a French course at a university in England. “Your aspirations?” the interviewer demanded, “To research the Counter-revolution”, I had replied in French. Rejection followed, and I headed to France.
Osaka is thousands of miles from France and it is hundreds of years since the events in question. Yet by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit had brought me to the intimacy of the convent chapel, the only parishioner among the nuns, in red for martyrdom, to remember and commune.