“CAN I BE A SHINING LAMP FOR YOU?” (Jn 5:31-47): 06 March 2008 (Thursday)
The Lord gives a long speech in today’s gospel, as he typically does in John’s gospel, but one line leapt out of the screen when I read it (I was reading the passage from an online Bible). Referring to John the Baptist, he says, “He was a burning and shining lamp.”
My first thought: Can I be the same? I know my shortcomings and my sinfulness, but for some reason, I felt the question from inside me: “Can I also be a burning and shining lamp?”
Even as I ask that question, an inner voice warns me: “There you go again. Watch what you’re getting yourself into.” We all know what happened to that burning and shining lamp. He burnt out! He got extinguished! Just as John the Baptist promised to do, he “decreased” in order for the Lord to “increase.” Only, he probably didn’t know he would go like that: Like a lamp that consumed all its oil in order to give light. Like a candle that melted completely in order to burn.
To be a lamp for the Lord and to give light to others–that’s nice and poetic until you realize that you have to burn yourself in order to shine for others. So, is that something I’m ready to do?
The Japanese author, Shusako Endo, wrote a heartbreaking novel called Silence. Set in Japan in the early 17th century, it tells of a time when Christian missionaries were expelled or imprisoned, and the Japanese Christians were forced to either give up their faith or face a brutal death. To give up their faith, the local Christians needed to perform a simple act: step on an image of Christ–or a fumie. Rather than apostasize, many Japanese Christians perished, true martyrs for their faith.
The main character in the novel is a young priest, Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues, who is horrified to find out that his beloved mentor, Fr. Christovao Ferreira, has opted to apostasize rather than die a martyr’s death. When Fr. Rodrigues is captured, he is made to make the same choice: to step on the image of Christ and apostasize–or die like a martyr.
I’m ashamed to say that I’m really not sure what I would do if I were in Fr. Rodrigues’s place. Immediately a thousand and one reasons come up to justify why I don’t really have to die. Could performing that simple external act be so bad? First of all, I don’t have to mean it, right? Secondly, I’m sure the Lord wouldn’t mind, would he? Certainly he would understand! After all, wouldn’t I be able to serve him more alive than dead? Or would I?
Frankly, I don’t know what has happened to me. There was a time in my life when I would be 100% certain, with no hesitation, that I would embrace a martyr’s death. But now? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve been unable to practice it lately, so it’s tempting to be “practical,” to rationalize and compromise.
Perhaps the most un-poetic, but realistic definition of love is “to give until it hurts.” That’s the kind of love that lasts long after the honeymoon is over. And more than a mere feeling, it’s a decision and it’s work. And it takes practice.
So here’s a Quick Question for you: “What would you do if you were in Fr. Rodrigues’s place? Would you step on the fumie–or choose to die a martyr’s death?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.