Father Michael Suzuki (Mike) is a priest in the Passionist Community here in Japan and is the head administrator of the (Roman Catholic) Fukuoka Mokusou No Ie (Fukuoka Prayer Retreat House) located in Munakata City where we’ve lived since the fall of 1982.
Mike has become a man whom I deeply respect. His love for God is great. He laughs and listens. He serves. He cares. He works hard. He has a heart. He lives and breathes God.
One Christmas Eve, Andrea and I were invited to attend the Christmas Eve Mass that was being celebrated at the Mokusou No Ie. We arrived in time for the beginning of the 11 p.m. Mass. Father Mike was the celebrant, dressed in beautiful priestly garments with belts and stoles. There was also Father Matthew Vetter, who in his old age was still serving God with heart and vigor. Matthew was singing ‘Hallelujah, Amen’ and wafting the golden censor around the altar in preparation for this yearly Christmas Eve Mass.
I had read about and studied the symbolism and spiritual meaning of the golden censor when in Bible school many years ago, but had never actually seen the censor being wafted by a priest. An awesome sight, indeed. As the space around the altar filled with incense, Mike stepped in behind the altar and began reciting scripture from the gospels about the birth of the Son of God. Something that happened centuries, even millenniums ago was made very personal that night. Hymns were sung in unison by the probably fifty people present in the accompaniment of Sister Saito playing the keyboard of an old, old pedal organ. The round chapel was full of Roman Catholic believers; Andrea and I were the only Protestants there. Prayers were offered, scripture read and hymns and praises sung, all in this special evening of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
As it neared midnight, Father Mike announced that The Lord’s Supper would be served. One could see the excitement in the people. The Christmas Eve Mass was to be culminated with this ultimate expression of the Presence of God among the people, carrying us into the very morning of the celebrated day of Jesus’ birth. Even Andrea and I were excited, but…in his announcement of the communion service, Mike had also requested those who were not baptized Roman Catholic believers to please refrain from partaking. We understood completely and sat and watched in awe as the people made a line down the aisle to the altar where Father Mike was presiding over the broken Body and shed Blood of Jesus.
Mike served each individual the Bread, after which they returned to their seats. This was no ceremony, it was an experience for each person there. After each one had been served, a line for receiving the Cup of Blessing was formed down the center aisle. As each person approached to receive, I could hear Father Mike blessing each individual in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Wow! So personal! So real! And we were only observers.
After each person had received his blessing, they returned to their seats. It was then that Father Mike said, “Nils and Andrea, please come forward now and I will bless you.”
We made a beeline* for the front. Dressed in his beautiful priestly garments with belts and stoles Mike said, “Kneel down and let me bless you.” We did as he asked. Mike placed a hand on each of our heads and prayed God’s blessing upon us.
What a Christmas present! Mike then lifted his hands from off our heads, knelt down himself and said, “Now please bless me, Nils.”
* beeline: a straight line or direct route: from the belief that a bee usually flies straight back to its hive after getting nectar — make a beeline for [Colloq.] to go straight toward.