Love as Message
or On Poverty, Potatoes, Persecution, Fumie, Compassion, the SSPX, Porcelain Angels, Mournful Prayer, Mountain Dew, and Why We Should Love Jesus
What are the Japanese peasants looking for in me? These people who work and live and die like beasts find for the first time in our teaching a path in which they cast away the fetters that bind them. The Buddhist bonzes simply treat them like cattle. For a long time they have just lived in resignation to such a fate.
Thus writes the main character in Shusaku Endo's novel, Silence, about two missionary priests who enter seventeenth century Japan to minister to the persecuted Christians there. In this passage, the young priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, meditates on why these clandestine Christians went to so much trouble to preserve their Faith in spite of cruel persecution. In describing their way of life in which all they had to eat were meagre vegetables and potatoes, where they had to eek out a living in some very harsh and ruggid conditions, and where they were taxed almost to starvation by the Japanese nobles, the young cleric came to only one conclusion on why they were embraced by the peasants: because the foreign priests actually cared about them, and no one else did.
(For more insights into the novel, one can read AG's book review of it starting here.)
The strength of this Faith outlasted the persecution of the Japanese feudal hierarchy. In spite of having to step on Christian religious images called fumie (one is pictured above) to prove that they had no allegiance to the Christian religion, these abject people kept the memory of the compassionate Christ in their heart. When the priests returned, they found they were still thousands of clandestine Christians still practicing after centuries of persecution.
In knowing many converts and "reverts", I have found that there is in many a great temptation to "cerebralism". I have discerned this in myself when I first entered the sphere of the Society of St. Pius X: in spite of all the prejudices against them as being fundamentalist, closed-mided, and cold, they were some of the nicest, compassionate, and dare I say it, most Christian people I have ever met. I don't think I would have gone as far with them as I did if they weren't. But even there, I was at first consumed with the fervor of argument. I loved the SSPX and being Catholic because it meant that I had all of the right answers. And they were well-conceived and rigourous answers, answers that absolved me from the errors with which the rest of our society is affected. Only later did I encounter such figures as Dan Monary and Fr. Álvaro Calderón (who, by the way, is still the holiest priest I have ever met). People like them and other Catholics I have met made me think that even with the intellectual rigor and argumentation that surround Roman Catholicism, one has to ultimately be convinced of its truth not just because one sees the logic of it all, but primarily because one sees holiness and compassion in it. In a word, it is because you see Christ in the Church that you believe.
AG has responded to a meme here on why she loves Jesus. Her first reason is very simple: Because my mom taught me to. This reason could be considered a cop-out that we children from pious families can use, but this is not the case. For Mrs. G, AG's mother, does not just pay lip service to her Faith; she didn't teach it by words in order to make sure her children turned out to be "decent members of society". She taught it by deeds:
...when she came back from Communion, and then I’d watch her and she’d kneel down, place the first and second fingers of both hands on her temples, cover her face with the rest of her hands, and bow her head. She would go on praying like this for three minutes or so, and I’d wonder what she was thinking or saying. Then her head would lift and she’d gaze at the tabernacle...
How in the world could my mom clean the house of an ornery elderly woman who was given to making nasty statements about blacks (unware of my mom’s race), and then even come home and make cookies for this woman because she thought the woman would appreciate a homemade treat? What could move her to do that?
Answer: Because she loves Jesus.
Having met Mrs. G., I can say that she is one of loveliest people I have ever met. Even her vast collection of porcelain angels makes her all the more endearing. And I can honestly say that if you want to learn what Christianity is all about, don't just read a theology book or go on Catholic blogs at three in the morning while eating Cheetos and drinking a Mountain Dew. You won't learn real Christianity there. You will only know it by learning from and loving like Mrs. G.
In the end, if we are to be looked at as the light of the world, it is going to be for the exact same reason that the Japanese peasants looked to the Portuguese clerics from a far away land. Our society is so big and cold at times, and many people think that no one cares about them. If only people saw us Catholics as being the most caring, the most compassionate, and the most Christ-like, we probably wouldn't need apologetics. Like the situation in Japan, our Faith could outlast the cruelest assaults. So what then is stopping us? What is stopping us from proving that we can love the more than anyone else?