Jul 9 – Memorial for St. Augustine Zhao Rong, priest, & companions
Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600s. Depending on China’s relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.
The 120 martyrs in this group died between 1648 and 1930. Most of them (87) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or labourers, ranging from nine years of age to 72. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests.
The 33 foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese solider who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Paris Foreign Mission Society) to his martyrdom in Beijing. Augustine was baptized and not long after was ordained as a diocesan priest. He was martyred in 1815.
Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonized in Rome on October 1, 2000.
“…the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
In the movie Silence, a young Jesuit priest, Father Rodrigues, travels to Japan in the early seventeenth century in search of his mentor, who was rumoured to have apostatised while he was there on mission. While in Japan, Father Rodrigues is subjected to the same kind of persecution as his mentor, who had not only apostatised but joined the cause of the Japanese authorities. For a long time, the young priest holds firm and refuses to cave in to the pressure. A common technique employed by his persecutors is to threaten the priests with the lives of laypeople if they do not deny Christ. Eventually, Father Rodrigues thinks he hears the voice of Jesus telling him that it is okay to give up on his faith so that others may live, so he gives in to his oppressors and follows the path of his mentor, living to an old age at the cost of his religion.
I have not actually seen the movie. It was a deliberate choice not to do so, even though it has been lauded as one of the director’s best works. I have read commentaries about it, so I have a good idea of the storyline and the key moments of the show. My choice to not watch it stems from a fear of the degree that I would be able to identify with the main character of Father Rodrigues. His fear of death, his lack of resolve in the face of intense pressure, the rationalisation of his sin of apostasy. Most of all, I fear relating to his lack of faith and trust in God.
In today’s gospel, Jesus describes the kinds of opposition awaiting His disciples, ranging from rejection to persecution to betrayal. The disciples face an excruciatingly difficult journey ahead; not only do they have to endure opposition, but they also need their wits to counter those attacks and persevere for as long as they can. While highlighting the challenges of His mission, Jesus reassures the missionaries that He will always be with them, guiding them in their speech and acting through the authority He gives them. He also promises that their reward will be great in heaven.
Jesus’ mission is not only for the disciples who were the first to spread the good news. It applies to every person who professes to be a Christian. By dying to ourselves, we will gain eternal life through Jesus. The question I have been asking myself is – how much of this do I believe? How committed am I to this path? As I observe how easily I spiral into despondency and self-absorbed guilt during times of trial, I wonder if this lack of trust in God is due to an inability to perceive how Jesus is alive in me and how I am loved by Him. I can only pray to be more open to the gift of faith.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
Prayer: Lord, help us to make a conscious choice to follow you and trust in your daily providence, so that we may undertake your mission with sincerity and conviction.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the hope that faith can bring.