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Saturday, December 3, 2016

St. Francis Xavier and "Silence"

Today marks the memorial of "Saint Francis Xavier, Apostle of the Indies and Japan":
"In every age since Christ charged the Apostles to go and preach to all nations there have been saintly and heroic men who have journeyed to far lands in order to bring new peoples into the Christian fold. Among those who labored most zealously was the Jesuit, Francis Xavier, named by Pius X as official patron of foreign missions and of all work for spreading the faith. The first great missionary to the Orient in modern times, Xavier planted Christianity in western and southern India, in the then uncharted islands of the Indian Ocean, and in Japan. He died, four hundred years ago, while making a valiant effort to reach the people of China....
"[While at the University of Paris] he had come under the influence of a compatriot and fellow student, Ignatius Loyola, a former soldier who was fifteen years his senior. Filled with a compelling desire to save souls, Loyola had drawn around him a little band of seven earnest men who, in 1534, formed themselves into the Society of Jesus, dedicated to the service of God.[1] Francis was a member of this group....

"Xavier [and his companions]....boarded a ship..., landing at Kagoshima, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, on the feast of the Assumption, 1549....

"Xavier set himself to learn the Japanese language. As soon as he could use it fluently, he began to preach. But not long afterward the prince grew angry with the Portuguese merchants because they had abandoned his port of Kagoshima to carry on their trading at Hirado, a better harbor, a little to the north of modern Nagasaki. He withdrew the permission he had given Xavier and threatened to punish any Japanese who became a Christian. The few converts remained faithful and declared they were ready to suffer banishment or death rather than deny Christ. After a year at Kagoshima, Xavier decided to push on to Hirado, carrying on his back all the articles necessary for the celebration of Mass.

"On the way he stopped to preach at the fortress of Ekandono, where the prince's steward and the prince's wife were secret believers in the new teaching. When he departed, Xavier left the converts in the steward's care, and twelve years later another missionary found this isolated little group still full of fervor and faithfully practicing their religion. At Hirado the missionaries baptized more converts in twenty days than they had done at Kagoshima in a whole year. Leaving these converts in charge of Father Torres, Xavier and his party set out for Kyoto, the imperial capital, on the main island of Hondo. They went by the beautiful Inland Sea to the port of Yamaguchi, and Xavier preached there, in public and before the local prince. The number of persons interested in his message was small.

"After a month's stay at Yamaguchi, where he met with many affronts, Xavier resumed his journey with his companions. It was nearing the end of the year, and they suffered from inclement weather and bad roads. They reached Kyoto in February, and here Xavier found that he could not have an audience with the emperor without paying a large sum of money. Also, the city was in a state of civil disorder, and after a fortnight's stay he returned to Yamaguchi.
Having now learned that evangelical poverty had not the appeal in Japan that it had in Europe and in India, he decided to change his method of approach. Handsomely dressed, with his companions acting as attendants, he presented himself before Oshindono, the ruler of Nagate, and as a representative of the great kingdom of Portugal offered him the letters and presents, a musical instrument, a watch, and other attractive objects which had been given him by the authorities in India for the emperor. Oshindono, pleased with these attentions from an envoy of so great a power, gave Xavier leave to teach in his province, and provided an empty Buddhist temple for his residence. Under these auspices, Xavier preached to such effect that he baptized many.

"Hearing after a time that a Portuguese ship had arrived at a port in the province of Bungo in Kyushu and that the prince there would like to see him, Xavier now set out southward again....

"by the end of 1551 Xavier felt free to take passage on the Portuguese ship back to India, leaving the Japanese converts in charge of Father Torres and Brother Fernandez. He had been in Japan for about two years and had baptized, according to report, some seven hundred and sixty Japanese....

"Within a few weeks of Xavier's death Loyola wrote to recall him to Europe for the purpose of making him his successor, in recognition of his heroic work in the Orient. In 1622 Xavier was canonized, along with the founder of the Society of Jesus...."
How odd that a certain film based on a novel is soon to be released:
"Silence is probably Shusaku Endo’s best-known work in both America and Japan....The novel is set in Japan during the early years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, when Ieyasu successfully purged his regime of all foreigners and Christians, killing thousands and driving many thousands more underground.  Hearing that a leading Jesuit, Fr. Ferreira, has apostasized under persecution in Japan, fathers Garrpe and Rodrigues are sent to verify the reports....Rodrigues is eventually captured....

"Rodrigues endures a long ordeal of imprisonment, transport, and interrogation, constantly expecting torture and possible martyrdom, while watching Japanese Christians suffer and die for their faith.  His guards bring him to watch Garrpe’s martyrdom....Rodrigues is then publicly humiliated, confronted with the apostate Ferreira, outwitted at casuistry by both Ferreira and the magistrate Inoue, and eventually persuaded to trample on the fumie (an image, typically of Madonna and Child, designed by the Japanese authorities expressly to be spit on and trampled in repudiation of Christian faith).  He is then recruited to help in the detection, capture, and interrogation of other Christians and foreigners....

"Silence is a Catholic novel, in one of the several senses that should be distinguished:  the novel itself bears is indelibly marked with the author’s own striving to come to terms with his baptismal faith.  This is not to say that Endo’s writing exemplifies or exalts orthodoxy.  If the conscious decisions of the protagonist Rodrigues are taken as normative, then the work can be seen to prefer apostasy in service of radical pluralism, with a vaguely Jesus-flavored ethos animating secularized service to whatever regime holds power.  Endo himself has pointed out, however, as have various critics, that Rodrigues and Kichijiro both appear to have given the authorities cause to view them as secret Christians.

"No one should recommend Silence as an exemplary Catholic novel without qualification.  Teachers and parents who want to use it should surround it with good instruction in how to read literature as well as sound catechesis.  Those who are prepared to struggle and pray their way through a gripping and tragic confrontation between a faith shaped by martyrs and a world full of collaborators will find much in Endo’s work to recommend it.  Artists should emulate Endo’s mastery of narrative style; and anyone interested should turn from the fiction to the many historical accounts of the Japanese martyrs, and pray for the souls of their kinsmen" (Dr. Peter Epps, 8/14/14).

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