Monday, February 6, 2012

Paul Miki and his Companions

Paul Miki and his companions
In grade school, the nuns would tell us that there was no greater suffering than for one to suffer for one's faith. The example of the martyrs was always lifted up to us. However, as one grows older, and has more to lose, the idea of willing to die for the faith is more complex. Does the faith indeed truly merit losing one's life?
Paul Miki and his companions were martyred for their faith in Nagasaki, Japan in the late 16th century. Some accounts tell us that Miki gave his final sermon from the cross.

In the novel, Silence by Shusako Endo, a Japanese Catholic, the Miki story is told in a broad fictional account and is devoid of some of the piety that tales of martyrdom inspire. Rather, Endo shows how cowardly and complicated we can be when faced with a choice to remain faithful or to be spared our lives.
The Christians in the story were driven underground by the officials of the day. When captured they were told to trample the image of Christ (fumie). In the end, the Jesuit protagonist faces the image of Christ and hears his voice:
" It was not Christ whose face was filled with majesty and glory; neither was it a face made beautiful by endurance to pain; nor was it a face with strength of a will that has repelled temptation. The face of the man ... was sunken and utterly exhausted…The sorrow it had gazed up at him as the eyes spoke appealingly: 'Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here."

Pre-empting Lent, if you are looking for a challenging read for that season, please consider "Silence". Despite the title, it is anything but.