“Therefore, if we grant you life, will you renounce your faith?” At this point, the Governors, eager to know Lorenzo’s final stand, asked him one last time.
Lorenzo’s answer came without hesitation: “That I will never do, because I am a Christian, and I shall die for God, and for Him I will give many thousands of lives if I had them. And so, do with me as you please.”
In the year 1916, my great grandfather, Don Agapito Nadal Jr, a Spaniard, married Amparo Ruiz from Binondo Manila. They had 7 children. Fast forward to 1980, their eldest daughter, my grand aunt Gloria Ruiz Nadal – Mascardo (Her father in law is Gen. Tomas Mascardo, the rival of Gen. Antonio Luna as seen in the film by Jerrold Tarog, Heneral Luna) was invited to be a part of an association approved by then Cardinal Jaime Sin, which was composed of descendants of San Lorenzo Ruiz. The association was conceived because a martyr was soon to be beatified, and their descendants are to be invited. The parish records of Binondo had been destroyed during the last world war, which made it difficult to retrace the family tree back to Lorenzo Ruiz which is why the association composed of families of the same name who were able to trace their roots from Binondo was conceived. It was only on May 23, after I had just arrived in Arvisu House Jesuit Candidacy, when the eldest cousin of my dad, Sr. Rory Gonzales SFIC, informed me that our family is indeed a descendant of St. Lorenzo Ruiz.
Who is St. Lorenzo Ruiz?
One look in the history books and that is pretty much what you will read below. The facts that I am providing below are all taken from the book, Lorenzo De Manila: The Protomartyr of the Philippines and His Companions, written by Fr. Fidel Villaroel, O.P.
St. Lorenzo’s love for the Church began at a young age. As a boy he was an altar server in the church in Binondo and sometimes Lorenzo would do errands for the priests there. St. Lorenzo also had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Lorenzo grew to maturity, he became a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. It is said that St. Lorenzo venerated the ivory statue of Our Lady of La Naval which is enthroned in Sto. Domingo Church. But on 1636 when St. Lorenzo was in his thirties, his life took an unexpected dramatic turn. He was accused of being involved in a criminal case and so St. Lorenzo decided to escape the Philippines, leaving behind his dear ones, his wife and children (St. Lorenzo had two sons and a daughter).
Fr. Villaroel has this to say,
“This is one of the mysteries of Lorenzo’s life, a moment so mysterious indeed that it can hardly be explained without the special intervention of a providential hand from above leading him towards an extraordinary destiny. Lorenzo tried to escape from the clutches of death in his native Philippines only to find death in a foreign country.”
So how did Lorenzo ended up in Japan?
In the same year, the superior provincial of the Dominicans, Fr. Domingo Gonzales adopted a resolution that “it was a Christian duty to assist the Japanese dying church with some priests, whatever the cost, whatever the risk.” Fr. Domingo thought that they had to obey God, and they should not in conscience abandon the spiritual needs of the bleeding church of Japan.
Three Dominican priests were designated for the mission. Two Japanese who are refugees from persecution who were residing in Manila, volunteered to accompany the fathers and serve as guides and interpreters in the country. One of them is Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz who attended the Jesuit college of Nagasaki and in 1607 entered the Society of Jesus as a brother coadjutor. The five were being readied when all of a sudden, a sixth person was added to the group – Lorenzo Ruiz, our Filipino from Binondo. Fr. Domingo was already engaged in personally handling the transportation of the mission when St. Lorenzo, who was being persecuted by agents of the law for serious charges against him, opened his soul to him and explained to him his case. It was this reason that Lorenzo boarded the boat not knowing that it would be the final adventure of his life.
Presently I am living as a Jesuit Candidate in Arvisu House. It has been a great desire of mine to find the greatest adventure of my life, hence I am searching for it in this Jesuit Candidacy house. It sounded crazy to my friends when I told them I had decided to try. To some it sounded too risky for me to sacrifice the dreams I once had when I was in college. But we are bound to take the greatest risks when we know we are with someone with the same desire as ours.
We know that September 28, today, is the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. But what people almost always forget, is that September 28 is celebrated as the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, and his companions. From 1633 to 1637, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, and his companions shed their blood out of love for Christ in the city of Nagasaki, Japan. St. Lorenzo was not alone in his travel. He was not alone when the deciding moment of his life came. He was with companions, with friends. When St. Lorenzo boarded the boat, he did not know where it was going. He was not aware of the imminent tortures that are about to come to him. He was not aware that what awaits him is the Ana-Tsurushi – a death he had to suffer with the most excruciating pain. The Ana-Tsurushi is a method wherein an individual is hanged upside down with the body buried waist up inside a pit and with the forehead slashed for blood to come out slowly giving the one who is dealt with it a slow and painful death. All this, he was not aware of. But he boarded the boat nonetheless. It was a risk he dared to make. And he was going to go through it with his companions.
We are all called to live like saints. It is a long road, an ongoing process of gradually rising above our imperfections. And I believe that the journey to this holiness is achieved only if we are open enough to allow others to enter in our lives – to be open to relationships and friends. It can be achieved if I we are willing to share the joys and darkness of this life with other people, if we are willing to hope with other people amidst the uncertainties, if we are willing to care enough for other people, if we are willing to listen.
Friendship is very important in living our adventures. This is evident in Arvisu house with my fellow Jesuit candidate brothers. We chart our dreams together. We share to each other stories of where we want to go and what we desire to achieve for God. But I have come to know, as much as befriending others is important, the one true seed to holiness is one that is achieved if we are willing to befriend, most importantly, ourselves. For to do so is to realize that the greatest companion that we have is the God who dwells within ourselves, within our heart.
The manner of death which St. Lorenzo endured was said to be almost impossible to bear unless he was extraordinarily strengthened from above. I wonder what could have been St. Lorenzo’s thoughts as he laid hanging and buried in the dark pit without anything to touch and without anyone to see. What could have been his sentiments in the absence of light? He might have been thinking of his friends, his wife, his children. What memories from his heart resurfaced as he was slowly lowered to the dark pit until emptiness took over? Perhaps he understood more than ever what it means to surrender to God, to be a prisoner of Christ, and simply belong to Him. What was he telling God? Only God knows.
Perhaps St. Lorenzo thought that as the sun set for one last time, how good it was to die a thousand deaths if to live a thousand lives is to hang on the air with nothing but the mercy of God to keep him afloat only to witness a thousand sunrise in heaven. For in this life, St. Lorenzo realized that it is not by how much he gained that he will be measured, but by how much he had given away. And after three days of agony, being hanged upside down inside a dark pit, On September 29, 1637, Lorenzo gave his life to God.
I was once asked by Fr. James Gascon, SJ how I feel about my name, to be blood related to a saint, and how it moves me to continually discern. I take pride in it. It gives me inspiration. The names that I bear are gentle reminders that I am on a journey of total surrender to God just as St. Lorenzo once did. And I go through this voyage with my fellow brothers, my friends, and my family. And I seek strength from the company that I keep in the empty moments – God. For when all else fall away, I am left alone with Him.
It is said that when St. Lorenzo Ruiz was being brought to Nishizaka Hill, the place of his execution, with his hands tied and mouth muzzled, he had a joyful and happy face, that no matter how dark it would soon be, he was ready to die a thousand deaths for God.
I wonder, if I am to die a thousand deaths, how am I to live a thousand lives?
St. Ignatius would say that we must live constantly discerning and choosing what leads us to Christ. Therefore I am called to dare boldly and experience adventures in going places I would normally stay away from, doing the chores I would normally have other people do for me, waking up and sing praises of hymn when I would rather sleep, and most importantly discovering what is true and real; that to give, to reach out, and to share is more than to receive and to take. And as I continue to discern as a descendant of a Saint, maybe all I really need is to live one life with my eyes raised toward God ready to surrender all that I am. This I believe is bound to be the greatest adventure of my life. And it is an adventure I dare to go through with all of you.
*Please pray for more vocations in the Religious Life and pray for all us Jesuit Candidates in Arvisu House. AMDG
 Villaroel, Fidel, OP, Lorenzo De Manila: The Protomartyr of the Philippines and His Companions. Manila: UST, 1988. Print.