Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apostates and Martyrs

"Priests call me tepid because my faith life has become cold," the author of the new novel Black Mountain says, laughing. "Tepid is a word without mercy; I would rather have them say you will some day return to the faith." 
The novelist, whose baptismal name is Augustine, has been away from the Church for 40 years. On his mother's side, they have been Catholics for three generations and he was brought up Catholic, an altar boy until high school.
On Oct. 30th he went to Mass for the first time in 40 years. It was right after he had published his new novel, and he did so feeling peaceful and happy, he says. He had planned to write a novel about the martyrs and those who apostatized for some time. Over the years he gathered all the information he could on the persecution and this year lived as a hermit for 5 months at a martyr's shrine. The background of the novel is the beginning of the 19th century, and deals with apostates, martyrs, betrayers, and those who have been exiled. There are no heroes or heroines.
The story brings in two characters to set the plot going: Chong Yak-jong, an apostate, and Hwang Sa-yong, a martyr, who was married to Chong Yak-jong's niece. These two men were illustrious leaders in the history of the early Church. Chong Yak-jong, a member of an intellectually elite family, apostatized after baptism and was sent to Black Mountain Island. Hwang Sa-yong was the martyr who is famous for the 'silk letter' that was intended for a bishop in China, asking for help during the persecution. The story is filled with lower grade public officials, stable men, servants, widows,  seafood merchants, and the like, wih the plot revolving around those who died witnessing to the faith, and those who apostatized to save their lives, though not always successfully.
The apostates intrigued the author more than the martyrs. "I wanted to help the reader understand," the author said, "those who apostatized, who longed to return to their wives and children. But to understand those who suffered cruel flogging and were willing to die? The martyrs. That is scary."
He feels sympathy for those who apostatized and asks us to pray for them. He prays that all will be called to God's bosom. In the Peace Weekly interview, he said the tepids, in particular, will appreciate his novel.                    

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