Having been in quarantine myself last Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch the Cathedral Mass online, as you are doing now. Fr Linh, in a very fine homily, preached about our common call to identify with and follow Christ. In doing so, he referenced the movie Silence, based on the book of the same name by the Japanese novelist, Shuzaku Endo. It is a fictional telling of the persecution of the hidden Christian communities of 17th century Japan. As the book recounts, and I understand in an historically accurate way, Christians were ferreted out by state officials by demanding that they trample on a fumi-e, a carved image of Christ.
These Christians were not criminals or terrorists; they were not involved in sedition to topple the ruling class. The trampling of the fumi-e was an insidious ploy by the State to force their own peaceable citizens to comply with the political and cultural ideology of the time. To trample on the image involved making a private act of denial; not to trample, was a public act of betrayal.
For most of us, most of the time, following the narrow path of Christian discipleship does not demand of us to make such dire choices. But it is valuable to be reminded from time to time that taking the Christian path is not the same as following the ways of the world. All three of our readings today are a reminder that Christian discipleship involves taking the narrower pathways that are not the same as the wide boulevards the world would prefer us to travel along.
In Jeremiah’s case, he knew what it felt like to be picked on and harassed for being a preacher of the Word of God. Yet, it was the fire of grace that burned most strongly in his heart, and so he allowed the power of God’s love to seduce him, even while he was derided and ridiculed. St Paul, for his part, urged the Christian community in Rome to model their behaviour not on the ways of the Roman society around them, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ given to them as a holy light to live by.
In the Gospel, we have the follow-up on last week’s story where Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, and God’s Son. His act of faith, however, is not fully secure, because the mention by Jesus of the path of the Cross, leads Peter to immediately seek to avoid this narrow way of discipleship. This would be something of the pattern of Peter’s life. Indeed, he was a man of genuine faith in Jesus, and the first of the apostles, yet throughout his life Peter would need to re-learn that this Christian way – the way of the Cross – is a narrow one to take.
It is a powerful urge to seek the wider, more comfortable paths available to us. It is something for which I am sorely tempted to on a regular basis. (I am very much like my namesake in this regard.) But the way of Christ is not the same as the way of the world, and our path as Christian disciples is to make our way through this world in which we live in a way that does not conform us to it. As our own St Mary of the Cross once put it: Whatever troubles may be before you, accept them bravely, remembering Whom you are trying to follow. Do not be afraid. Love one another, bear with one another, and let charity guide you all your life. God will reward you as only He can… Remember, we are but travellers here.
(To tie up a loose end, a few years back I was speaking with the Pope’s representative in Australia, who had previously been appointed to Japan. He shared with me a story of how he met a small group of Christians from a remote village in Japan, who had held onto the faith over many generations. They had been without a priest or the sacraments for more than a century, and had lost all contact with fellow Christians. Yet these few families could still recite the basic Christian prayers, and their belief in Jesus Christ – while completely unformed – persevered. The paths of discipleship can be narrow, but they are also powerfully fruitful.)
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021