Would You Renounce Your Faith to Save Your Family?

If you were threatened with torture and death, would you renounce your faith? I guess most of us would hope we’d have the courage, with God’s grace, to face martyrdom. But what if we were told, “Your family will be tortured unless you deny Jesus Christ”? What would we do? What should we do?

Not so long ago, I headed out the door to walk our dog Nora with my iPod in my pocket. As I approached the park, I started listening to the next podcast in my iTunes feed which happened to be an episode of Bishop Robert Barron’s The Word on Fire Show. The subject of the episode was the novel. Silence. Within a few seconds, my interest had been captured. I wanted to read the book. And so I did.

Silence was written by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo. Here’s the Amazon book blurb:

Seventeenth-century Japan: Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to a country hostile to their religion, where feudal lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. Eventually captured and forced to watch their Japanese Christian brothers lay down their lives for their faith, the priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. Shusaku Endo is one of the most celebrated and well-known Japanese fiction writers of the twentieth century, and Silence is widely considered to be his great masterpiece.

Silence is regarded as a classic novel. It was written in 1966. It has come to the public’s attention once again because in 2016 the film director, Martin Scorcese, made a screen version of the book.

Since reading the novel, I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts and watched a few videos about Silence. And I’ve been pondering the questions I asked at the beginning of this post.

What if someone threatened to torture my family unless I renounced my faith? Could I hold strong if I knew I could alleviate their suffering with a few words? Would I tell myself that God would understand? Surely, He wouldn’t want me to let my loved ones suffer? It would be quite okay to deny Jesus Christ. In fact, it might be the Christian thing to do.

I guess I’d feel responsible for the suffering of my loved ones. Their fate would rest with me. Or would it? In reality, responsibility for the suffering would lie with the persecutors.

Will we ever have to face such a situation? The possibility of being a martyr seems very remote. But who knows what lies ahead of any of us?

“If I were asked to renounce my faith and I refused, and this led to you being tortured, would you understand?” I ask my children. “Would you know I still love you?”

“I guess it depends on whether our faith is strong. We’d need to understand your decision.”

How can we encourage the faith of our children to grow? How can we share a strong family faith? Perhaps it’s important to live our faith rather than keep it hidden within us. We can’t, like the priests in Silence, convince ourselves that it’s enough to be Christians on the inside. No, we need to be witnesses for our children and other people.  As well as making our faith visible with our actions, we should talk about it. Ponder situations. Discuss. Grow in faith together.

And so that’s why I’ve been sharing my thoughts with my family about Silence. It’s why we are discussing the dilemmas faced by the priests.

In case you’d like to ponder Silence too, here are a few resources:

Silence the book by Shusaku Endo

Silence the film directed by Martin Scorsese

Bishop Robert Barron on Silence, the podcast

Bishop Robert Barron on Silence, the video

Martin Scorsese discusses his faith, his struggles and ‘Silence’: a video

Hearts and Minds Podcast by Catholic Answers, episode 84, Sacrificial Love


So have you read Silence or seen the movie? And do you share what you’re reading or watching with your children? I wonder if you discuss and ponder the faith together.

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  1. Reply

    That’s a tough one, isn’t it? I suppose we don’t know what we would do until we come to that moment. I can only trust God that He would show me what to do at the time.

    It seems to me that every time God asked me to do something really difficult, I didn’t understand what it was going to be until I was already in it, and then He was there so it was ok. Looking back I can’t believe I made it through – it was all grace- and I’m so glad I didn’t know what was coming.

    I have heard quite bit about Silence, but honestly haven’t wanted to read it, let alone see it ( I have an almost physical reaction to reading or watching torture) but I’d still be interested to hear your thoughts.
    Wendy from Zoom recently posted…Gospel Dessert: Woman at the WellMy Profile

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      It sure is a tough one! I’m good at looking ahead at possible difficult situations and then turning to God to say, “I’d never survive that. I’m weak so please don’t ever let that happen to me.” I know that with God’s grace I’m stronger than I care to admit. But still… I do hope I’m never tested like the priests in Silence. It’s so easy to judge from the outside and say I’d be stronger than they were, but who knows what I’d do? If they couldn’t stand firm in their faith why should I think I can?

      I haven’t watched the movie so I don’t know how I’d be affected by the torture scenes. I coped with the book okay. It wasn’t an uplifting story but it was certainly thought-provoking. I’ve read a few discussions about Silence online. Some readers feel the priests were right renouncing their faith in a public way. They say that God knows what’s in our hearts and that’s all that matters. I guess it’s easy for us to justify our actions, to modify our way of thinking when we are afraid to do what is right.

      It is indeed amazing what we can survive with God’s grace. Even when we feel God is silent, He is there with us every step of the way. I guess there is more suffering and hard times ahead of both of us but, like you, I don’t want to know. We’ll deal with it, with God’s help, when it arrives!
      Sue Elvis recently posted…Sacrificial Parenting and ChoresMy Profile

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