Fifteen years ago today, Shusako Endo, a Japanese Catholic novelist died at the age of 73.
His novels and short stories are enlightening and disturbing, touching deep themes of faithfulness and images of God. His novel Silence treats the public apostasy but private faith of a missionary in 17th century Japan. He also wrote A Life of Jesus. But the book I most appreciated was his collection of stories, Stained Glass Elegies.
In my reading of Endo, these three quotes have been among the most challenging:
“It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”
“In ‘maternal religion’ Christ comes to prostitutes, worthless people, misshapen people and forgives them. God is not a punishing God, but a God who asks that children be forgiven.”
A Life of Jesus
“A novelist cannot write about what is holy. He cannot depict the holy Christ, but he can write about Jesus through the eyes of the sort of people who stepped on the fumie, or the eyes of his disciples and others who betrayed the Christ.”
Yesterday was the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, but because of ending a workshop and traveling I didn’t get around to posting a quote of this saint who, as a youth, said he would never be poor. But he became an advocate of the poor and founded a community of men and co-founded, with St. Louise Marillac, the Sisters of Charity.
The poor were central for his understanding of faithful Christian life:
“You will find that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the basket of bread. But you must your gentleness and your smile keep. Giving soup and bread isn’t all the rich can do. They [the poor] are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting as you will see. But the uglier and dirtier they are, the more unjust and bitter, the more you must give them your love. It is only because of your love — only your love — that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them.”
Henri J.-M. Nouwen, Dutch priest, spiritual writer, chaplain at L’Arche Daybreak, Canada, died on September 21, 1996.
His writings have been an inspiration for many. Yet many who appreciate his “spiritual” writings may not realize his profound commitment to peace and to the poor and marginalized. As he wrote in an early work, The Wounded Healer:
“It is my growing conviction that in Jesus the mystical and the revolutionary ways are not opposites, but two sides of the same human mode of experiential transcendence. I am increasingly convinced that conversion is the individual equivalent of revolution. Therefore, every real revolutionary is challenged to be a mystic at heart, and one who walks the mystical way is called to unmask the illusory quality of human society, Mysticism and revolution are two aspects of the same attempt to bring about radical change. No mystics can prevent themselves from becoming social critics, since in self-reflection they will discover the roots of a sick society. Similarly, no revolutionaries can avoid facing their own human condition, since in the midst of their struggle for a new world they will find that they are also fighting their own reactionary fears and false ambitions.”
St. Andrew Kim Taegon, Korean priest and martyr, who lived from 1821 to 1846, and Paul Chong Hasang, lay apostle and catechist who lived between 1794 and 1839, are two of the 103 Korean martyrs remembered today in the Catholic calendar
The role of lay people was central in bringing the Catholic faith to Korea. But it is a church that suffered much in the nineteenth century and has suffered also in north Korea in the twentieth century.
St. Andre Kim Taegon, before he was killed, wrote this from prison:
“When he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down….
“Because we have become the one Body, should not our hearts be grieved for the members who are suffering? Because of the human ties that bind us, should we not feel deeply the pain of our separation.
“But, as the Scriptures say, God numbers the very hairs of our head and in his all-embracing providence he has care over us all.”
Dag Hammarskjöld, United Nations Secretary General, died in plane crash, the Congo, 1961. He left behind a journal of his thoughts, later published as Markings. So often we want to do great things – but forget the value of the ordinary acts of commitment in the midst of our everyday actions. As Hammarskjöld wrote:
“The ‘great’ commitment is so much easier than the ordinary everyday one — and can all too easily shut our hearts to the latter. A willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice can be associated with, and even produce, a great hardness of heart….
“The ‘great’ commitment all too easily obscures the ‘little’ one. But without the humility and warmth which you have to develop in your relations to the few with whom you are personally involved, you will never be able to do anything for the many. Without them, you will live in a world of abstractions, where your solipsism, your greed for power, and your death-wish lack one opponent which is stronger than they – love. Love, which is without an object, the outflowing of a power released by self-surrender, but which would remain a sublime sort of super-human self-assertion, powerless against the negative forces within you, if it were not tamed by the yoke of human intimacy and warmed by its tenderness. It is better for the health of the soul to make one [person] good than ‘to sacrifice oneself for [hu]mankind.’ For a mature [person], these are not alternatives, but two aspects of self-realization, which mutually support each other, both being the outcome of one and the same choice.”
September 17 is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J., bishop and doctor of the church. In The Art of Dying Well, he approaches the question of our responsibilities to the poor – as have so many of the saints.
“If anyone would contend that these superfluous goods are not to be given to the poor out of the rigor of the law, one cannot truly deny that they are to be given to them out of charity, for it matters little, God knows, whether one goes to hell for lack of justice or for lack of charity.”
Fr. James “Guadalupe” Carney was US Jesuit missionary to Honduras. He worked with the poorest, accompanying them in their cooperatives and in their struggles for justice. For this he was expelled from Honduras.
After a short stay in the US he went to Nicaragua. There he connected with some Honduran guerrillas, as their chaplain. He accompanied them into Honduras where they were captured. He was killed by the US-trained Honduran army forces, possibly thrown out of a helicopter. It is believed that he died on September 16, 1983.
A community of poor campesinos who have tried to take over land that has been appropriated by rich landowners has taken his name for their community. They, like other communities in the Lower Aguan Valley, in Colón, Honduras, still suffer – not only from the lack of land but also from the violence of the security guards of the large landowners and the military who have killed a fair number of campesinos.
Thus, the words of Padre Guadalupe are still relevant.
“To love Christ really is to try to live as He lived. If I love the poor as Christ did, I, too, freely choose to become one with them, live with them, share their lives, besides trying to use my talents to help and teach them… He freely chose to become one of the masses of poor people of the world, of the eighty percent of the world who ‘have not,’ rejecting the comfortable life of the twenty percent who ‘have’ (even though he loved them too). And he tore into the system and those that held the masses in the bondage of ignorance and poverty….And he was killed for it. To be killed for my following of Christ would be my greatest joy too….”