The Japanese Catholics suffered much for their faith over a century before the persecution of the Catholics in Korea. Although martyrdom is an act most of us will never have to face, what would we do in such circumstances? Is there something in life that is more important than life?
Let us suppose you were told that all you had to do was to step on an icon of Jesus, not even well made, and you were told by your captives that it had nothing to do with your convictions, that it was merely a formality, that you would be doing it just to save your fellow Christians from their cruel torture and suffering. What would you do? Wouldn't Jesus be pleased that you would be doing something out of love to save your fellow Christians from horrible torture and death? Jesus lived and died precisely to show us how much he loved us. Wouldn't he look upon such an act as meritorious, even if those who heard about it would be scandalized?
This is the plot of "Silence," a historical novel written by the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo. It deals with the persecution of the Catholic Church in Japan in the 17th century and a Jesuit priest who was sent to find out what happened to the superior of the Jesuits who had stopped sending letters back home concerning his mission. There had been news that he apostatized when captured and tortured.
A monodrama, adapted from the novel, is being performed in parishes here in Korea during Lent, presenting a heady mix of faith and doubt, of love and despair, which will give us much to think about before the beginning of Holy Week.
There is only one actor who takes the part of the priest who went to Japan to get word about the Jesuit superior and finds himself confronted with the same choice of apostasy or martyrdom as the superior, who chose apostasy. But the choice is not a simple one for the priest to make. In the silence that follows his every prayer for guidance--for himself and for the Christians who are being put to death each day because of his refusal to apostatize- he finally hears the God who chose to share human suffering by his passion and death on the cross. "It is to be trampled on by you that I am here." "Trample!"
The play presents you with many questions and the Koreans who see it will have much to think about from their own history with apostasy and martyrdom. The conclusion that Shusaku Endo
presents to us would be considered heretical by many and meritorious by others. There are many that are faced with similar dilemmas in life. It is impossible to see reality as God would; most of the time we see a partial picture and the one that strikes us strongly in the here and now of history.