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Martyrs for Jesus the Christ: Keep the Faith

I watched some parts of a movie entitled “Silence.” It’s about Portuguese missionaries attempting to spread and sustain the Christian faith in Japan in the 1600s, at a time when the faith was outlawed and persecution was rampant. One missionary was killed, but eventually another one, the main character, was forced to apostatize (renounce the faith) to literally save the lives of Japanese faithful (and those who previously apostatized) from torture and death.  There’s an underlying theme of God’s silence throughout such hardship, which has lead the main character, a priest, to the edge of despair. Eventually the priest was forced to apostatize and renew his renunciation every so often until the end of his life.

The Church will continue to be persecuted for the simple fact that we’re a counter-cultural force in the world. In my opinion, I’d go so far as to say that if the Church isn’t being criticized or attacked for something, then we’ve failed to live out our duty to Christ. In these modern times the Church and even non-Catholic Christians suffer from one form of persecution or another. You’re lucky if you live in a country where the Church is just being criticized and ridiculed. What’s sad is sometimes the criticism comes from fellow Catholics and Christians; instead of trying to understand each other, we end up dividing each other instead. And there are still some nations where it’s illegal to practice the faith, and so you do so in secret under pain of literal death.

Martyrdom

The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will… even if that center is right smack in the middle of chaos. – one of my friends, Jade S.

The blood of martyrs seeded the faith of the early Church. In one form or another, such has continued to happen throughout the centuries, and still continues to happen in this day and age. This movie got me thinking about how far one would actually be willing to go to keep the faith.

It’s a lot to ask to be a martyr for Jesus the Christ. The experience in Japan, as depicted in this movie anyway, got me thinking that there’s an “easy way” and there’s a “hard way” to be a martyr. Both still involve horrendous pain, but the approach to inflict it can be “very involved.” The “easy way” is you’re subjected to torment. If it’s just you involved, then it makes the decision to die for Jesus relatively easier, because the worst that could happen is that you lose your life – it’s just you, and no one else. The “hard way” is if other people are held hostage: Give up the faith, otherwise other people will die. There’s an element of psychological torment in this latter approach because you somehow become responsible for the life and death of others – you have the power to do something to change that, but it will involve a cost too great to bear.

When it comes to the “hard way” of martyrdom, you lose with whatever decision you make. Strictly speaking, it’s still a grave sin to renounce your faith, even if by doing so you get to save the lives of others. It’s still a sin to not do anything, when you have the power to do something, to save the lives of other people, if you decide to keep your faith instead; in effect here, you’re not just deciding to be a martyr, but you’re also deciding for other people that they will also be martyrs when perhaps such is far from their minds.  Choosing between the lesser evil is, ultimately, still choosing evil.

Obviously, the “hard way” of martyrdom isn’t fair at all, and it’s not surprising to find yourself questioning God’s sense of justice in this scenario. I think it’s worth remembering that Jesus is the Just Judge – He’s NOT the sadistic judge! His sense of justice is still present; I won’t pretend to know and I won’t speculate how He will make the call in this scenario. But what I do know, in faith, is that Jesus’ sense of compassion is also always present, and more than likely so in this particular situation. At the end of the day, what’s important for God is that you do what you do out of great love for Him and the people He loves.

For what it’s worth, although it’s still a sin to give up the faith, the greater evil and hence the greater sin is with the one that subjects you to a situation where you’re forced to sin. Greater accountability rests with those who create unjust social structures that force people to do evil because doing what’s good is condemned.

It’s better to be condemned by the world for doing the right thing and being yourself, even if that means being very different and at odds with the culture to the point of suffering for it, than to be celebrated for doing evil and conforming to worldly standards and expectations. At the end of the day, the only thing that will really matter is God’s judgment on your actions, because whatever you do or fail to do in this world is between Him and you.

God’s Silence

I believe in the sun even if it isn’t shining. I believe in love even when I am alone. I believe in God even when He is silent. – Anonymous World War II refugee

The most distressing thing you can hear is to not hear anything at all from God when you’re right in the middle of Hell.

It’s easy to say that you’re never alone because God is always with us, but in practice it’s utterly difficult to believe that when you need Him to intervene with an evil that’s happening – and especially if it’s happening to you – but you don’t see Him do anything to stop it. Feeling all alone and abandoned, it’s easier to cry out at the top of your lungs that “God is nowhere!”

Despite the seeming silence, God is still with us up to this day and age because He wants to be intimately involved in our lives, if we let Him. Because He is God, He literally has the power to stop evil in this world. If He doesn’t then it doesn’t mean it’s His fault. Remember that His ways our not our ways; He has a purpose in allowing bad things to happen that will ultimately work out to our best interest. Besides, He finds ways to give us good things also, sometimes despite ourselves.

In the midst of evil, God is facing the trials and tragedies of life by our side. In moments of despair it does feel like we’re all alone, but that’s not true. He will never leave us, most especially in the lowest points and saddest moments of our lives. Some good will come out of this, even if we never find out or really understand it during our lifetime. And, really, He doesn’t even expect us to understand His will; it’s enough to know that whatever trials He allows will be for our good, in time.

No student is greater than his Teacher. If we think God is so quiet in the company of so much evil, then we’re not alone: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even Jesus, in His humanity, experienced this same thing (Matthew 27:46). But He had to die because love is sacrificial in nature. Dying for us was the best proof that the Father could show us how much He loved us, even if there was an easier way for Him to do so. Compared to previous times, the Father stayed silent when Jesus cried out to Him to show that He wouldn’t intervene in what had to happen, because out of love for us, He knows His Son’s death for the atonement of our sins had to happen. If there’s ever any doubt that good can somehow come out of this, then look no further than Jesus’ Passion and death on the Cross.

Even in our darkest hours, and most especially during such, He’s actually still there. Being a follower of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that we will escape all the pain in this world, for such isn’t necessarily part of His plan. However what being a follower means is we’re not facing the trials of life alone. And with all the faith we can muster, we can cry out in a loud voice that, instead of saying “God is nowhere!” we say instead “God is now-HERE!”

On a side-note: We cannot expect God to be selectively “noisy.” We can’t expect Him to intervene when someone is doing evil but then stay out of our way when we ourselves are doing something evil. Ultimately this matter also goes down to God’s continuing respect for His gift of free will to us. And God was, is, and will always be consistent.

Man of Weak Faith

I can most relate to that one character in the movie that keeps on going to Confession, because, like all of us, he has a favorite sin. All throughout the movie, he confesses the same sin. This man’s sin in particular was renouncing his faith whenever his life was in peril; he doesn’t need to be forced to do so.

The fact that he keeps on repeating the same sin again and again is not the point. The point is he acknowledges how much he needs Jesus in his life, and despite his weakness, always makes the effort to try and come back. I’m not disappointed that he kept on committing the same sin; I actually admire that he kept on coming back and was genuinely sincere in all his attempts to reform his life. If I can appreciate that, then for sure God appreciates that, too (Luke 15:7). Each time he came back, it became a testimony of God’s infinite mercy and love for His children.

I’m a man of weak faith. I’d like to think that I’ve taken steps over the years to try and grow my trust and confidence in our Lord; I constantly pray for the grace to do so. My faith is not tested with my life, which is a good thing of course, but it’s tested everyday by how much effort I’m willing to exert to be obedient to God’s commands of love. In this day and age, this is the opportunity for people like me to shine as martyrs for Jesus.

But should the terrible day come when I need to pay for my faith with my life, or if absolutely necessary, also with the lives of other people, I honestly don’t know if I can do it. By my own power, for sure nothing will happen. And so on that day, I will look to God, and despite His seeming silence, and with what little faith I can muster, put my hope and trust in Him that He will give me the grace to do what He wants me to do. I hope it never does, but should the terrible day come, I know that this is what He’ll want me to do.

Jesus, I trust in You!

[Editorial note: I also incorporated what I learned from a few Homilies. One of the priests of my parish talked about God being “nowhere” when he eventually realized that He is always “now-here.” A guest priest that celebrated Mass in another parish talked about the Father’s silence during the Passion as an example of why He didn’t intervene. I’m grateful I actually paid attention to what the priests were saying since such have also informed my insights on the matter.]

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Categories: Religion
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  1. September 4, 2017 at 7:24 pm

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