An Uncomfortable Silence.

silence

Pax Christi

I
Secular folk simply don’t understand why anyone would bother to take an old book like the Bible seriously let alone be willing to give up ones life for the faith that the Bible creates-out-of-nothing in the hearts and minds of simple folk like you and I.

Perhaps for a good man one might dare to die. But for a wretch? For a thief? For a coward? For an adulterer? Don’t be silly. Our evolutionary instinct to self-preserve puts such an act clearly outside of the bounds of self-interest. Moreover, is there anyone wretched, really?

II
One Toronto critic called the film a failure. A failure! An honest-to-God failure. Why? Because Mr. Scorsese was too thick-in-the-head to recognize that “contemporary audiences” (mind the whiff of chronological snobbery) have trouble picturing faith. Faith, obviously, is not a contemporary virtue. At least not the sort of faith that might lead one to delight in the grotesque forms of self-denial and sacrificial love that Mr. Scorsese forces his viewers to behold. Faith is old and frumpy, inauthentic and unsexy. Best leave that in the past.

I wonder though, are “contemporary audiences” so deficient or was the critics comment a window into her own soul? I’m only asking. Who am I to judge? And if “contemporary audiences” are so deficient, is that the fault of the Director? Should he have made a version of the film more palatable for modern viewers? Are transcendent things—things like Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—meant to be easily discernable and readily available to any critic with an opinion?

III
Once upon a time, Steve Jobs commented on the difficulty of designing products based on focus groups. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said.

Perhaps “contemporary audiences” do not know what they want. Perhaps they need to be shown. Focus groups (and critics) be damned!

IV
As I was reading the reviews this morning I realized that not all newspapers were in agreement as to where to file these sorts of things. First of all, is it a “Movie” or a “Film”? And once that has been sorted, is this “Art” or “Entertainment”?

Now I don’t know much about art but I have been reading Sir Roger Scruton on beauty lately and that’s something to digest.

Likewise, I’m unsure of the difference between a “Movie” and a “Film” though I’ve heard it said that a movie is made by a director for others whereas a film is made by a director for himself. In this regard, Silence is a film. It might not be for you. Perhaps “contemporary audiences” (un)naturally expect that these sorts of things are for them, products for their consumption rather than objects to be contemplated.

V
As a priest, I found myself wondering what it would have been like to be sitting there watching this film as someone who is not a member of the Christian religion.

The critic mentioned above might help us in this regard. The portion of the film that Ms. Taylor found most interesting was the latter third in which Fr. Rodrigues finally meets Inoue (“The Inquisitor”) and has a series of conversations with him. In the same final-third Fr. Rodrigues also meets Fr. Ferreria, the Jesuit who trained and mentored Fr. Rodrigues and others but who has now himself apostatized and is living the life of a Japanese.

According to Ms. Taylor, these two characters provide a lesson in “cultural sensitivity” to Fr. Rodrigues and ought thus to be praise. (It should be noted that Fr. Rodrigues was not a member of the “contemporary audience” and thus was lacking in the sort of “cultural sensitivity” that a good modern Westerner is well versed in. Indeed, a “cultural sensitivity” that is legislated and enforced by the State—just ask Professor Peterson).

But this in an interesting way to speak of these two characters. Inoue in particular, “is crucial to the introduction of a more nuanced approach” to the colonial questions raised by Christian missionary work, we are told. “A more nuanced approach”? That’s a curious turn of phrase to attribute to a man who rained down death and a various assortment of brutal persecutions upon thousands of Japanese Christians.

“Now, Silence opens itself to the relativism of the 21st century – removing itself even further from the faith of the 17th.” Really? Does religious fervor for “the relativism of the 21st century” really look more kindly upon the persecution of members of the Christian religion than it does upon said Christians when they willingly, joyfully even, suffer for their (17th century) faith?

VI
The Christian religion has always been a source of discomfort for those who are not of it (and indeed, for those who are of it as well). There are some fair reasons for this, of course—the history of Christianity is not without blemish. However, at the heart of the Christian faith we have Jesus.

Gandhi famously quipped, what was it, “I like your Christ but not your Christians,” or something like that. Nicholas Kristof recently wondered aloud, “Am I a Christian?” “I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity.”

But this is a load of rubbish.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”
John 1:10-11

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.”
John 19:14-16

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
1 Corinthians 1:22-23

The story of Jesus is not of his coming to a world that “deeply admires” him. But of him coming to a world that deeply despises and rejects him, even unto death. (And in cases where the world does purport to “deeply admire” Jesus, it is likely a Jesus of their own fashioning that they fancy).

Keller suggested that Kristof might not be. A Christian, that is.

VII
Perhaps it is simply easier then to strip the film of its “religious and philosophical trappings,” as some critics suggest. To rob it of it’s particularity and turn it into more of a universal tale of inclusivity, tolerance, the strength of the human spirit, or something more palatable to the “contemporary audience.”

VIII
The face of Jesus appears throughout Silence. Not only on the fumie where it is trampled upon but also as an object of contemplation for the Padres and the Japanese Christians. In one scene, moments before Fr. Rodrigues is finally apprehended by the authorities, he sees his reflection in a pool of water morph, momentarily, into the face of Christ. The theological point here is clear (too clear, perhaps): the suffering of the Christian missionaries and of the Japanese Christians themselves is a participatio Christi, a participation in the sufferings of Christ.

Onlookers might stand aghast, wondering why Japanese Christians would suffer so? Trample upon the fumie, deny your Christ, “it is only a formality.” And for the Padres who would look on who, we are told, have brought this suffering upon the people—how could they standby and watch the terrible suffering inflicted upon these dear people knowing that all it would take to release them from suffering would be for they themselves to apostatize? (Whether or not this would have actually released the Japanese from suffering is another matter)

What is missed in the assessment of critics here is the way in which the Padres and the Japanese Christians were not so much suffering for their faith in Christ as they were suffering with Christ himself. Or rather, confident that Christ himself was with them in their own (inevitable) sufferings.

IX
“We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Romans 8:17

X
I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.”
Romans 9:1-3

It is perhaps this suffering, the suffering of the Apostle, that is the interpretive key to understanding the suffering of Fr. Rodrigues himself.

God be praised.

 

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