Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. I recently watched the film ‘Silence’ directed by Martin Scorsese. It is based on the true story of Jesuit missionary priests who go to Japan in the 17th century only to find a brutal persecution of the Church in full swing. Although the focus of the film is on the priests, the real heroes are lay people who rejoice when the priests arrive and refuse to deny their faith in Jesus despite the terrible suffering they endured at the hands of the authorities. The faith of these people really challenges us and raises big questions. If Christianity was banned under pain of death in this country as it was in Japan at that time, would we want to be baptised? Would we stay committed to our faith, like the Japanese martyrs?
Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord when John baptised Jesus in the river Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended and when the Father declared Jesus to be his beloved Son on whom his favour rests. On the day we were baptised, we too were immersed in the water, received the Holy Spirit and were also declared a beloved son or daughter of the Father. Because this is true, it should make the world of difference whether we are baptised or not. Not only can we call God our Father but he is our Father who has written us into this will and made us inheritors of eternal life. In addition, through our baptism, he has given us a mission to be the ‘light of the world’ and ‘salt of the earth’, and to help make his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
But here is the question. Has our light become so dim that no one sees it? Has our salt become so bland that it’s almost tasteless? In other words, have we Christians become so conformed to modern culture that being baptised or not doesn’t make a blind bit of difference? Is the real enemy of our faith in modern times not ‘dungeon, fire and sword’ but sheer indifference and apathy? Writing in The Irish Times (Sat. 7th Jan. 2017), Donald Clarke stated: ‘Christianity is no longer of any interest….It is no longer even worth rejecting’. For the Japanese government in the 17th century, Christianity was certainly worth rejecting. Much blood was spilled and effort was spent in not only rejecting it but stamping it out completely (which of course it failed to do).
Today’s Feast of the Lord’s baptism is an opportunity for us to choose once again to be a Catholic Christian and to live as a Catholic Christian. In times gone by, we became a Catholic Christian because it was tradition and part of the culture. It was the thing to do. But now, more and more, we will have to decide whether we become Catholic Christians in the first place and remain Catholic Christians as opposed to becoming something else. Either way is a choice.
At Mass this weekend, we renew our baptism promises when we are asked to make a choice. They begin with us rejecting ‘Satan, his works and all his empty promises’ before we profess what we believe and what accept. May this choice we make together this weekend, not be just a matter of form but may be a conscious decision on our part to say ‘yes’ to the love of God that invites us to follow the path of Jesus Christ and to be light to the world and salt of the earth.
May the Japanese and Irish martyrs be our companions and inspiration at this time of our history when the real threat to the future of faith is not persecution but indifference. If the Japanese soldiers who killed those Christians were smarter they would have realised that the best way to eliminate Christians is not to make them suffer. Making them indifferent works far better.