Back in January, my co-lead and I went to see the movie Silence. We were both back in town for school a whole week early and looking forward to an entire semester of mission prep, so it seemed like a good idea to kick it off with a three-hour-long flick dedicated to the sufferings of the Jesuit missionaries and their converts in Japan.
I’m not going to detail my thoughts about the movie here (although there are many of them), but I do want to mention one character.
In the movie, the Jesuit missionaries come across a native named Kichijiro who reveals from the outset that he is an apostate (someone who renounced their faith, in this case under torture and threat of death). Kichijiro begs for the sacrament of confession from the priests and one of them, Fr. Rodrigues, grants it. All is well until twenty minutes later in the movie, when Kichijiro betrays the priests.
But Kichijiro humbly returns and begs for confession again. Again Fr. Rodrigues grants it.
But Kichijiro betrays Fr. Rodrigues again.
And returns again.
And is granted confession again.
And so on.
Kichijiro’s maddening cycle of sin and repentance eventually lends itself to Fr. Rodrigues’ own prideful downfall. He becomes unwilling to see Kichijiro as human and eventually he gives up his Christ-like ability to forgive. By the end of the movie he has even given up his faith.
Although I could write a movie review/commentary and say something objectively about how Fr. Rodrigues is the movie’s true antagonist, because his pride and unwillingness to forgive degrades the movie plot from triumph to tragedy, at the end of the day I would have to admit – embarrassingly, horribly – I absolutely identify with him. While watching the movie, I didn’t want to forgive Kichijiro either. I thought he was pathetic. I was appalled by his weakness. The sense of “charity” I was so proud of cultivating froze at the thought of continually forgiving someone so wretched.
This kind of thinking got me in trouble this past week on mission when one of our long-term friends – a teenage boy named Vitaly – stole from us.
Now, I might have been fine if a stranger had stolen from us. I might have even been fine if one of the new kids who I don’t know so well had done it, but Vitaly is a boy who has entered into our lives for the past two years of mission. He cooks with us, eats with us, works with us, prays with us, and does basically anything and everything else we do. It hurt my pride that someone we had so deliberately chosen to let into our lives had taken advantage of our generosity and trust.
Now, we weren’t completely blindsided. We’ve known Vitaly is a thief. In fact, he has stolen from the parish before. But this did nothing to alleviate my aggravation. If anything, I was annoyed at the sheer predictability of this situation. Vitaly would steal. Vitaly would come back and ask for forgiveness. Vitaly would receive forgiveness. Vitaly would steal. And so on…
Although losing money is never fun, in the end, the only thing that seemed permanently hurt was my pride. I was offended.
I was offended that Vitaly took advantage of our willingness to forgive. My heart is so small and my willingness to forgive so puny that I was instantly defensive upon seeing it tested. I didn’t have that magnanimous heart that Jesus had and I didn’t like the way that the test of Vitaly’s betrayal revealed it to me.
But, as I sat in my offendedness and nursed my miffed little feelings, I started to realize just how stupid I was being.
St. Josemaría Escrivá tells us to “Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you” (The Way, 452).
The other day I was praying with the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. I was just rounding the second decade when I had a shocking (to me) realization: Jesus intimately knew the hearts of his tormenters. The soldiers and civilians who dragged him along weren’t extras in a Passion play. Jesus didn’t receive cruel blows of the whip from nameless and soulless “bad guys.” He was tortured and killed by those whose hearts he knew and loved just as much as He knows and loves mine.
From the moment these people existed, Jesus knew they would betray and kill Him. From the moment these people existed, Jesus loved them. Despite all that would happen, his deepest desire was to forgive them and see them in heaven.
If a love like that is the example I’m trying to follow, then I have a long way to go.
It’s dawning on me a little more every day that I am here to love everyone I encounter with a love like Christ’s.
Sometimes that love is easy because loving like Christ can look a lot like hanging out and having dinner with interesting people or playing with a bunch of adorable kids. Sometimes that love is easy because people notice you and affirm you and marvel at how great and holy you are. Sometimes that love is easy because everyone (including yourself) is there to tell you that you’re doing an amazing job, that you’re just like Christ.
And sometimes that love is hard because sometimes people are hard to love. Sometimes they’re messy and sometimes they sin and sometimes they let you down and all the time you’re still called to love them, because ultimately we’re not called to love until we feel good. We’re called to love until it hurts.
With this outlook, I can rejoice in these small betrayals and difficulties because it allows me even greater chance to love like Christ loves. I pray that as mission continues, we as a team can grow deeper in this radical love. I hope that Vitaly comes back and that I can welcome him with all the joy of the Father. I hope that everyone who meets me may not see me, but Jesus. May we as missionaries live out each day here in Magadan with ever-greater love!
“No matter how much you may love, you will never love enough. The human heart is endowed with an enormous coefficient of expansion. When it loves, it opens out in a crescendo of affection that overcomes all barriers. If you love Our Lord, there will not be a single creature that does not find a place in your heart.” – St. Josemaría Escrivá
Kaitlin and the Russia Mission Team