It may surprise some of our avid readers to know that one of the Vicar’s favourite authors is Shusaku Endo. He died in 1996 and is widely acclaimed as one of Japans greatest writers. In my opinion his novel, “Silence”, is a work of genius. Martin Scorsese, the American film producer, director and screen writer brought it to the screen but watching it is not recommended for the faint hearted! The Queen’s Accession Day, for which we must always thank God, falls on the 6th of February.
That same day commemorates the 26 Martyrs of Nagazaki, Japan, who were executed in 1597. They were all Jesuits and led by a man named Francis Xavier. Sadly, many martyrdoms followed theirs as the Shogun systematically crushed the Church out of existence………………or did they? Well, evidently not because 250 years later a remnant faithful was discovered, still existing in Japan and keeping the Faith. The Church of Christ has an amazing (overly used word I know) capacity for persistent survival.
Shusaku Endo’s novel revolves around the idealistic Jesuit priest, Father Sebastian, who had travelled to support the Christian community in Japan. As a consequence he had fallen into the pit of compromise and fear; the act of apostasy constantly hovered on his shoulder. This same experience can be replicated in the real lives of many Christians down the centuries. Men and women who have had to ask themselves the question, “how do we hold onto the faith in the face of persecution at worst and sheer indifference, apathy and ridicule at best?” Which of the two is the more pernicious is a moot point and open for discussion. But the season of Lent provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon the allied question that Jesus posed to Nathaniel recorded in the Gospel according to St John: “Do you believe because I said I saw you under a fig tree?” What is our Faith based upon and how do we sustain it? What is it that we believe and what difference therefore must it make? To what belief do we dedicate our lives and to what end and purpose? I believe that we can uncover, rediscover, unearth or refresh our understanding of these and many other questions every Lent. A period when we can choose to spend time in prayer, to set time aside for private devotion and to draw ever closer to the central mystery of the Faith, which is also the source of our ultimate joy and happiness.
So how do we do that? Well, we need to put the time in. There is a galaxy of options available online or offline and printed at the fingertips of most of us. We might consider using prayers and reflections on the Stations of The Cross, to listen devotionally to Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion. Maybe to tune in to the community in Taize or some other Christian community such our friends at Mirfield. We might choose to discipline ourselves to read the Gospel of St John once a week. I myself intend to use The Art Of Lent – A painting a Day from Ash Wednesday to Easter by Sr Wendy Becket. But whatever we choose to do I would encourage you all to make proper use of the season. Keeping the Christian Faith is not passive; it is a dynamic activity that requires commitment and endurance. We see it in the life our good Queen and most profoundly so in the Martyrs of Japan with whom she shares her day.