Pentecost 2017

Photos of Young Adults smiling, cheering in cap and gown. A great day for them and for their families.  Celebration!  Degrees earned, lessons learned, friendships fostered others abandoned for good or ill -yet, hopefully insights gained about self, others, the reality of relationships. There is a lot to cheer about. And there’s Hope and excitement: What’s next? What’s new? Onward and Forward to the challenges ahead—ready or not!

 

Have they, do we, acknowledge what all events like these encompass?  Or do we just go through the motions, eager to enjoy the dinners planned for the evening or anxiously anticipate getting back to work, or addressing the problems at home in the days ahead?

 

In these, and in each of our lives’ celebrations, faith demands that we ask: Where is God in all of this?  To what extend are we, are they, our families and friends conscious of the spiritual potentials in these and other events that comprise the moments of our lives?  To what extent can we / might we surrender to the moment, be attentive to the present and allow the events of the past these events evoke bring us Wisdom, give us humility and insights into who we are and who we want to be in the days and years ahead?

 

In truth, Graduations, like Confirmations, Weddings, Job promotions / transfers, moving into new apartments/ new homes/ new neighborhoods have the potential to echo the realities of that first Pentecost – a culmination of life experiences with Jesus that give an ordinary celebration profound effects as it did centuries ago for Peter, John, James, the Blessed Mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary (Mother of James) and other disciples—deepening our understanding of who we were, who we are and what we are becoming.  Yes, they have the potential, but what do we do to bring their potentials to fulfillment?

 

On that first Christian Pentecost, the disciples were gathering for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost: The Second Harvest Festival 50 days after the Barley Harvest Festival of Passover–a day of Thanksgiving, rest and celebration.  It may or may not, at that time, have merged the festival with the commemoration of Moses presenting the people with Ten Commandment from Mount Sinai—perhaps a different Feast Day that was combined with that one.  Nevertheless, the disciples had gathered to pray and focus on Thanksgiving –for the simple gifts of life and nourishment, and, for them, gratitude for the Resurrected Jesus and his pledge to be with them always and strengthen them with the Holy Spirit.

 

On that day, as in other days, the disciples hoped for further clarification of Jesus’ story and how they would / could / should understand His Story as foundational to their own.  They didn’t have a guarantee that this would be the day; Jesus hadn’t told them the date.  They had to be present to the Feast they came to celebrate and simply be conscious that God’s Spirit is alive in all good things, and in all times and places.  Do we enter our celebrations—Graduations and otherwise–in the same way?

 

Whether conscious of it or not, our graduates have benefited from the Gifts of the Holy Spirit since birth.  They, like us, were endowed with the Spirit at Baptism and strengthened in the Spirit through Confirmation and every reception of the Eucharist in between and beyond.  Yes, Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Awe of God, Wonder in God’s Creation, Courage, Fortitude, Aptitude for Mercy, Justice with Compassion.

 

The lesson here: How much more could they, could we engage in life’s challenges and struggles if we more consciously and deliberately attend to the Holy Spirit?   All we must do is connect our stresses with those of Jesus and the disciples, relate our vacillating between fear and hope with Israelites in the desert, the peoples of the Scriptures and the Saints who’ve come after, continually learning from them, and, like them, acknowledging our conscious dependence upon God.

 

On this Pentecost, we can take comfort that God’s grace is active in us and our world whether we pay attention to the Spirit or not. Despite ourselves. Jesus walks with us whether we know it or not.  But Scripture, Prayer and Sacrament connect us to the bigger picture, the better picture: our lives are not our own but belong to God and for the service of God. In Churches and in Homes we are the people called to a great awakening in our consciousness for charity toward ourselves and others in all things, to make this a better world, more caring world, a world where others see that discipleship in Jesus does and can make a difference—for everyone.  All for the greater glory of God.

 

GET OUT – a film by Jordan Peele Movie Review by Fr. James DiLuzio C. S. P.

 

Imagine a thriller-comedy combo that is clever, engaging and well-acted that offers intellectual stimulation while it entertains. This is GET OUT by the inspired and multi-talented director, screenwriter and producer Jordan Peele (of the comedy duo Key and Peele).  With wit and irony, Mr. Peele engages us in a conversation as old civilization itself: how Myths and Mindsets are created and how they can negatively impact individuals and culture (PLATO, 5th century B.C.E.) denigrate others beyond the power circle (Fascism, Nazism, American Slavery) juxtaposed with the more empowering concept of Xenophanes (6th century B.C.E.) that individuals and communities are the creators of their own myths and that their imaginations create the gods (and by extension, the culture)  they / it desire or deserve, and often at the expense of others.

 

In tandem with this grand dialogue, the movie explores the many dynamics of violence–physical, psychological, emotional– along with their sexual contingents in funny and ultimately horrifying ways. Wisely presenting all this in the context of what is becoming a more and more everyday situation, Director Peele imbues his narrative involving an inter-ethnic couple* with the natural emotional and psychological dynamics of our age heightened by the devices of psychological sci-fi.  Ingenious!  Sometimes he presents the conflicts with a wink and a smile, other times with outright indignation.  Bravo Mr. Peele for a very fine film! I came away with insights such as the many ways HATRED and PREJUDICE are not only rooted in FEAR but in uncanny levels of ENVY.  Sadly, much of these remain present among the relationships among African Americans and Americans of European and Latin American (and other) descent.

 

As for the particulars: the very fine cast led by Daniel Kaluuya in an affecting performance is well supported by Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitfords, Caleb Landrey Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel and many others.  Kudos to the Casting Director Terri Taylor!  All the other elements of film-making are in fine form including the Music by Michael Abels whose work imbues thrills and humor sometimes simultaneously. The highest honors go to Mr. Jordan Peele, who proves to be a most excellent auteur! He’s made a better film than THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE SKELETON KEY with which GET OUT shares some common genre dynamics.   Moreover, it is a more important film because of its multi-layered themes.

GET OUT reminded me of the recently released I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO documentary by James Baldwin.  In this cinematic essay, Baldwin exposed the many ways America’s achievements, myths and legends degrade ethnic minorities, particularly but not exclusively African Americans, and revealed with both honesty and humility how even the American Dream oppresses us when not confronted with the terrifying, violent realities of our collective history. GET OUT engages us in the same realities albeit in a very different way. It deserves to be seen and hopefully will–especially by the Young Adult demographic that tends to relish the sci-fi and thriller genres. But I would urge other adults attend as well to help keep these themes and ideas in conversation in both public and private spheres. We’ll all be the better for it.

 

*Note: As I am becoming more and more sensitive to the power of words and images, I would like to invite us to move away from using the word “RACE” when referring to different ethnic groups. For in truth, we are one race – THE HUMAN RACE – and our differences are best qualified in terms of Ethnicity, Nationality and Culture. To be explicit: “RACE” is a technical term historically used to distinguish three types of peoples (Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid) but no longer helpful. African-Americans and Asians are as equally and fully representative of humanity in its fullness, grandeur and fallibility as any Caucasian/Anglo/Western/Eastern European.  It’s time to advance our vocabulary.

 

The Shack – a short movie review by Paulist Father James DiLuzio

THE SHACK , movie directed by Stuart Hazeldine

THE SHACK movie effectively brings the best-selling book to the screen.  Its power lies in its presentation of the ways we approach evil through our concepts of God, justice, mercy, hope and everyday living.  In essence, it’s a dramatized dialogue more than a traditional film.  Yet the screenplay offers a traditional narrative arc concerning the novel’s heartbreaking story of a young girl’s abduction and murder and the ways her father wrestles with the spiritual and emotional aftermath. The acting is fine if not always outstanding. Sam Worthington is appealing and relatable as the father and, as always, so is Octavia Spencer in an ingenious stroke of casting in a significant role. I recommend THE SHACK as an engaging experience for Christians and anyone who would like to understand the best of contemporary Christian thought on God and human suffering. Worth your time and your consideration.

ASH WEDNESDAY

by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 

 

Ash Wednesday is the second most popular church day throughout the year–second only to Christmas. “Why?”   Because this day, these rituals expose what everyone knows yet tries to avoid or pretends to forget: Death is inevitable.  Death comes for all — no matter our faith, our politics, our ethnicity or culture. Death reminds us of our common humanity.

 

Ultimately, acknowledging DEATH is the FREEDOM to put our lives, our worries, our anxieties, our prejudices, our fears into proper perspective. To live our lives well, with dignity, morality and charity, we need to be reminded of DEATH. Yes, we need to be conscious of DEATH to be more fully alive.

 

In its opposition to LIFE, to joyful existence, to loving fully, SIN is also death. It is as universally ubiquitous as death — no matter our faith, our politics, our ethnicity or culture, SIN is in evidence. And thus, SIN ALSO reminds us of our common humanity.

 

Acknowledging SIN is also freedom.  When we admit, we are wrong we free ourselves from pride, from having to make excuses, from pretending we’re perfect when we know we are not. Sin exposes our delusions that we are above and beyond the common folk, that we are somehow superior specimens in contrast took our competitors, our classmates, our friends—or, dare we acknowledge, the many ways we may be better than some of our family members. Yes, sin makes evident we are more like everybody else – a truth we don’t often like to admit.

 

Yet, we know that Confessing our sins Is Freedom. The truth we all are sinners frees us from oppressive guilts and insecurities that chip away at our self-esteem– no matter the pride or false bravado we project to others. Identifying our sins frees us from the burdens of hypocrisies, and offers HOPE for change, for growth, for transformation.  Blessed are the meek and humble, indeed, for when we get honest, we get humble and it is humility that strengthens our belief in the God of Jesus Christ, that His Holy Spirit is within us and present and at work in our world.

 

That is the reason we arrived here today.  Drawn to the Church, to renew our commitment to Catholic Christianity in part for the ways it acknowledges the power of signs and symbols.  So, we put ashes on our foreheads, publicly witnessing to THESE FACTS:

1.                 Death is reality

2.                We are sinners,

3.                And that all are dependent on the MERCY OF GOD in whom we live and move and have our being.

 

In addition to these ashes on our foreheads, we return to the Mass which includes the Confession of sin and the Hope and Realities of the WORD and EUCHARIST.  We return to fortify our relationship with Jesus as our Christ and to improve our relationship with others.   That is perfect freedom. This is HOPE INCARNATE.

 

Our RECOMMITMENT TO THESE TRUTHS of OUR Christian Faith invite people of all religions to consider and articulate how their respective faiths and lives witness to a Merciful God.  When this happens, we shed light on to the same realities that death exposes: our common humanity and the need for God.

 

If asked today by others ” Why are wearing ashes on your forehead?” answer plainly and with confidence:  “there’s value in admitting our wrongs and believing in the Loving and Merciful God Jesus revealed.”  This can –and should — and WILL– make a difference. It will change the ways we see ourselves and the ways we treat others daily. This entire Lenten season strives to imprint this truth on our bodies and souls: LORD, JESUS CHRIST, SON OF THE LIVING GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US SINNERS. Making this our continual prayer Is our Freedom and our Hope.

 

Here’s an example of the difference CHRISTIAN Faith can make in our lives:

 

I invite you to imagine you are back in grade school– 3rd or 4th grades– you are 8, 9 or 10. You’ve had a bad day and, on that day, your faith was no consolation to you.  You forgot Jesus was with you, that you could turn to GOD for consolation.  So instead, you turned to another kid on the playground, the one with a dirty shirt, who rarely combed his or her hair, and you picked on him. You teased her unmercifully. Name calling, ethnic slurs and brutality ensue and you left the playground angrier than before.

 

On arriving home, your parent or guardian asked “What was the matter?” You tell what you did. Now that parent or guardian may or may not have been present to Jesus at that moment. If not, if he/she forgot that we are all sinners AND temples of the Holy Spirit equally. So, that parent or guardian screamed, “Go to your room and get out of my sight. I’m disgusted with you.”   And, if that was their response, in retrospect, we can forgive them for it.  After all, we were not in touch with Christ ourselves on that day.  But if they were –ah what a difference!

 

If in a more prayerful mood, our parent or guardian would ask what caused us to act that way.  They would have reminded us that we all make bad choices, hurt ourselves and others but in faith we can turn to God whose mercy inspires us to admit our wrongs and do something about them.   They may have invited us to pray over what happened and discuss how we could put things right.  They would have invited us to look at the choices before us – we could perpetuate the hurt, the guilt, or make changes for the better.  Perhaps the love and mercy they showed us motivated us to phone that other kid and say we were sorry and say that we wanted to make it up to him.  Perhaps we went to his or her house and apologized in person, inviting them to play a game with us or we offered to help with homework.  If that was in your childhood experiences, that would have been an experience of GOD.

 

If this or something like it happened to you as a young person, I am here to assure you that that day was one of the best days of your young life. If it didn’t happen, if your parent or guardian condemned you and did not help you so something about it, if you kept your wrongdoing to yourself and perpetuated it because you felt guilty and ashamed, if you indulged your anger even further, FEAR NOT. For today, with Ashes on your forehead, you can change what you would do TODAY—you can act differently NOW—with anyone you may have hurt or who has hurt you.  You can appropriate the gifts of your Confirmation now: the courage to speak the truth with mercy, with patience and kindness for yourselves and for others because we are all going to die. You can DIE to the Past and be present to God in Jesus Christ right NOW and let God’s tender mercy fill you with grace.  That is the Freedom of Ash Wednesday; the Courage of Ash Wednesday; the Truth of Ash Wednesday and what this season of LENT encourages us to embrace.

SILENCE a Martin Scorsese Film Review by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

There are images and ideas in Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE that are likely to resound in many viewers’ hearts and minds long after they leave the movie theater.  A cinematic rendering of Shusaku Endo’s novel (same title), it is powerful and heartbreaking.  Exposing the atrocity of religious persecution SILENCE’S theatrical release couldn’t be more timely.  In that context, it poses important ethical and spiritual questions that warrant ongoing discussion among religious and secularists alike.  It deserves to find a wide audience.  But viewers be warned: there are benefits and burdens in watching the film.  Scorsese’s devotion to Endo’s book has compelled this director and co-screenwriter to give practically every page of the novel its cinematic equivalent. This may be too much for the average filmgoer in terms of length but more so because of the graphic violence in its depiction of persecuted Christians.

The context of SILENCE is historical: In 17th century Japan, the ruling class decided it best for its national interest to eradicate Christianity from their country. The faith was closely associated with (and at times in complete cooperation with) Western Imperialism, Colonialism, Slavery and various manipulations of international trade.  Worse, the infighting among Christians, between denominations scandalized the Japanese and caused them grave concern.

Prior to the film’s time frame, the Japanese government sanctioned the arrest, torture and execution of Catholic priests to intimidate the Christian faithful.  But the priests’ refusal to recant their faith and subsequent martyrdom strengthened the Japanese Christians and inspired growing number of converts.  In retaliation, officials evolved alternative measures:  mercilessly torturing Christian hostages in front of priests who could only stop the assault by publicly denying Christ. Should the priest refuse to deny his faith, the Japanese continued to subject Christians to excruciating torment, to slow and painful deaths with pastors forced to watch the proceedings.  This is the historical and ethically abhorrent situation SILENCE explores and the implications are mind boggling.

How can a religious leader in conscience dictate martyrdom to his flock?  To do so would be an offence against free will, against personal integrity.  Catholic priests of the 17th and any century would be fully cognizant of the centrality of free will as the divine spark that makes each person in the image of God.   And yet for a priest to apostatize is to betray his life, his vocation and the faith that those poor tortured souls embraced.

Most viewers would know, a steadfast confession of faith under threat of torture and death is a solemn and courageous act. For Christians, martyrdom witnesses to the promises of Christ–the reality of heaven, of resurrection and life in the world to come.  It exemplifies the value of suffering for a greater truth beyond worldly comfort at the same time it personifies personal integrity—confirming integrity as a value to believer and nonbeliever alike.  Delving deeper into this issue SILENCE not only explores the motivations and choices the priests make but asks “What would each viewer do?” If the characters make decisions that do not correspond to the viewer’s own, what then? This is the magnetic power of SILENCE. It is intent in engaging an audience into this segment of world history to ask that very question.   What’s more, the film repeats the insistence of the novel that viewers refrain from judging the priests as much as humanly possible.   The heart of Endo’s novel and Scorsese’s film is a cry toward compassion, not judgment.  In that it is a very contemporary approach to a 17th Century phenomenon, flavoring it with the seasons of this age: tolerance and a strong sensibility of “to each his own.”

I have spent hours wrestling with these questions about martyrdom, apostasy, courage and human weakness and the mystery of suffering and have written a short essay about it.  If you would like to wrestle with me, I invite you to read that piece featured on a separate page of my blog. (It follows immediately below.)   If you prefer to grapple on the issue on your own, here is the balance of my assessment of SILENCE as a film:

In addition to the power of its story and the ways it evokes important issues of our day, SILENCE offers stunning visuals indicative of the masterful eyes of director Martin Scorsese.  His vision is achieved in collaboration with the excellent cinematography by Rodrigo Presto, Production Design by Dante Ferretti and Art Direction supervised by Wen-Ying Huang.  All the other disciplines Set Decoration, Costume design, Makeup and Special Effects are equally first rate.  The performances by the mostly Asian cast are stunning. Issei Ogata as the Japanese Inquisitor is repulsively chilling, a master of understatement, irony and cunning. Tadanobu Asano as the Interpreter evidences contempt for the Christians without going “over the top” and even offers subtle suggestions of empathy or is it mockery?  His nuanced impersonation makes it hard to say and makes his performance captivating.  Best of all, Yosuka Kubozuka is excellent as the conflicted coward Kichijrio, the tortured soul who alternately betrays and seeks reconciliation with the Church with astounding regularity.

The priests are portrayed by Liam Neeson (Ferreira), Andrew Garfield (Rodrigues) and Adam Driver (Garupe).  Each man approaches his respective role with honesty and conviction but unfortunately, not consistently.  Only in certain scenes do they project the full force of the war between faith and doubt within their characters.  Andrew Garfield has the hardest job in the central role and thus his strengths and weaknesses as an actor stand out above the rest. Adam Driver, in a less expansive role, comes across best.  It may be that the opening scenes don’t give either Garfield or Driver sufficient opportunity to express the kind of deep faith that would motivate them to go to a country where their people are tortured.  As is, the important expository scenes are handled without much emotion and both actors appear noncommittal, or just plain passive.  This makes their inner turmoil harder to express in subsequent scenes, although, ultimately, I think both succeed in satisfactory if not always inspiring ways.  Taking the film in its totality, these early scenes prevent the movie from becoming a great artistic achievement. Perhaps the weight and gravity of this undertaking (or financial or time constraints) brought director Martin Scorsese to neglect the importance of these moments, or perhaps the script (credited to Scorsese and Jay Cocks) failed in this regard.  One thing’s for sure, SILENCE needed stronger scenes expressing the young priests’ devotion at the onset.  Perhaps evidencing their early encounters with Father Ferreira in seminary and /or their decisions to be ordained could have moved this movie into the realm of perfection.  Still, it is a very fine film and the rest of the script and most of the direction is excellent.  Unquestionably, SILENCE deserves to be seen.

A Spiritual Reflection on SILENCE a Martin Scorsese Film by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

There are images and ideas in Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE that are likely to resound in many viewers’ hearts and minds long after they leave the movie theater.  A cinematic rendering of Shusaku Endo’s novel (same title), it is powerful and heartbreaking.  Exposing the atrocity of religious persecution SILENCE’S theatrical release couldn’t be more timely.  In that context, it poses important ethical and spiritual questions that warrant ongoing discussion among religious and secularists alike.  It deserves to find a wide audience.  But viewers be warned: there are benefits and burdens in watching the film.  Scorsese’s devotion to Endo’s book has compelled this director and co-screenwriter to give practically every page of the novel its cinematic equivalent. This may be too much for the average filmgoer in terms of length but more so because of the graphic violence in its depiction of persecuted Christians.

The context of SILENCE is historical: In 17th century Japan, the ruling class decided it best for its national interest to eradicate Christianity from their country. The faith was closely associated with (and at times in complete cooperation with) Western Imperialism, Colonialism, Slavery and various manipulations of international trade.  Worse, the infighting among Christians, between denominations and nationalities scandalized the Japanese and caused them grave concern.

Prior to the film’s time frame, the Japanese government sanctioned the arrest, torture and execution of Catholic priests to intimidate the Christian faithful.  But the priests’ refusal to recant their faith and subsequent martyrdom strengthened the Japanese Christians’ faith and inspired growing number of converts.  In retaliation, officials evolved alternative measures:  mercilessly torturing Christian hostages in front of priests who could only stop the assault by publicly denying Christ. Should the priest refuse to deny his faith, the Japanese continued to subject Christians to excruciating torment, to slow and painful deaths with pastors forced to watch the proceedings.  This is the historical and ethically abhorrent situation SILENCE explores and the implications are mind boggling.

How can a religious leader in conscience dictate martyrdom to his flock?  To do so would be an offence against free will, against personal integrity.  Catholic priests of the 17th and any century would be fully cognizant of the centrality of free will as the divine spark that makes each person in the image of God.   And yet for a priest to apostatize is to betray his life, his vocation and the faith that those poor tortured souls embraced.

Most viewers would know, a steadfast confession of faith under threat of torture and death is a solemn and courageous act. For Christians, martyrdom witnesses to the promises of Christ–the reality of heaven, of resurrection and life in the world to come.  It exemplifies the value of suffering for a greater truth beyond worldly comfort at the same time it personifies personal integrity—confirming integrity as a value to believer and nonbeliever alike.  Delving deeper into this issue SILENCE not only explores the motivations and choices the priests make but asks “What would each viewer do?” If the characters make decisions that do not correspond to the viewer’s own, what then? This is the magnetic power of SILENCE. It is intent in engaging an audience into this segment of world history to ask that very question.   What’s more, the film repeats the insistence of the novel that viewers refrain from judging the priests as much as humanly possible.  The heart of Endo’s novel and Scorsese’s film is a cry toward compassion, not judgment.  In that it is a very contemporary approach to a 17th Century phenomenon, flavoring it with the seasons of this age: tolerance and a strong sensibility of “to each his own.”

Our age of Enlightenment notwithstanding, Christianity continues to uphold the martyrs as among our greatest heroes.  In imitation of Christ on the Cross, each martyr exhibits a willful surrender to God, to faith and personal integrity, refusing to get co-opted into the violence of the world.   In contrast, the world honors secular heroes for their physical prowess, a Spartan grace that outwits and overpowers their enemies by fighting fire with fire, sword with sword, blade with blade to the point that, in modern cinema, whoever has the better machine gun wins.  The context of the martyrs, of course, is quite different.  They are held hostage by their captors with no recourse to anything but their faith.  Yes, God is silent, but that is because God will not manipulate human beings, deferring (as God has from the beginning) to each person’s free will, allowing the consequences of each choice fall where they may. In honoring her martyrs, Christianity redefines “hero” and overturns Western Civilization relentless recourse to violence.  No wonder the Japanese feared a Christian influence.  Yet even Western Civilization questions the principle that “might makes right,” and for centuries its poets and philosophers have asked “What Price Glory?”  Homer’s ILLIAD, in fact, after highlighting both bravery and bravado of the Trojan War heroes, ultimately asked: “What are we fighting for? For riches, for power, for control of land and resources? Yet all men die.”  The modern, existential response is “we live and die for nothing, so live your life as you see fit.”   The Christian response is “we live for God. We are not afraid of death.  This life is but a stepping stone unto eternity as per the promises of Christ.”

The many martyrs in SILENCE are presented as truly heroic figures.  But the central narrative focuses instead on three individuals who compromise their faith—one out of weakness and fear, the others out of compassion for the tortured souls crying out in painful delirium before them.  Moreover, Endo and Scorsese suggest these priests may have apostatized because they believed Jesus Himself would have had them save lives rather destroy them. After all, Jesus did not insist his apostles be martyred alongside him.  That comparison, however, would not be a fair one for it would mitigate the primacy of Christ in the story of salvation. Instead, there is irony in the fact that because the Apostles and other disciples fled in fear, Christianity survived because only the Apostles and other faithful disciples would witness the Resurrection—the crowning glory of the Christian faith. Likewise, there’s irony in the fact that the small but significant Catholic faith in Japan exists today, in part (and only “in part,”) because its ancestors denied their faith, stepped on the fumie (an icon used to reduce Christianity to “vapor”) renouncing Christianity to survive. But these apostates, too, would have experienced a dimension of Resurrection through the forgiveness of sin and eventual return to the Christian community as the character Kichijiro (expertly portrayed by actor Yôsuke Kubozuka) repeatedly makes clear.  Indeed, many of the Japanese apostates would be forgiven because although they renounced their faith publicly, they became “secret Christians” until that time Japan allowed freedom of religion. Of course, eventually new missionaries would be allowed into the country, and fresh converts of new generations emerged with no connection to their Catholic ancestors other than spiritual ones.  Complicated, isn’t it?  Add to this, the film does not arouse any feeling of anger or hatred toward the Japanese persecutors.  Beyond their ethnicity and culture is a sense that these men simply represent the world and the abuse of power evident in every time, in every place. The officials justify their actions with worldly logic that sounds rather rationale in alarming, matter of fact ways. Consider the ways violence and killing are reported and discussed in the public arena today.

Let’s look again at the “fallen,” characters in SILENCE more closely.  Kichijiro is a central figure identified as a coward and apostate early on. He not only represents apostasy but prefigures choices two priests will make, choices the film scrutinizes in depth. But, as noted, the film is equally interested in the reactions of its viewers. SILENCE asks all: “How do you respond to those who regard life itself as the ultimate value–one that supersedes faith?”  The story questions the human penchant for judgment and condemnation of those weak in faith, those who doubt and refuse to be martyred. It’s as if Endo and Scorsese were asking every Christian:  How literally do you take Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the plain: “Stop judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven?”  (Luke 6:37) And consider these words of Jesus: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12:10)

Biblical scholars and Church tradition concur on this latter passage’s meaning: to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is not to “curse God and die” but rather to insist that God’s forgiveness toward humanity – the work, the dynamism attributed to the Holy Spirit –is limited or does not exist.  To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to assert that God’s forgiveness is somehow not available or not true.  In short, to refuse forgiveness, to deny its application and its benefits to all, in all circumstances, puts a person in the position of not receiving it or benefitting from it.  In the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, the words of absolution spoken by the priest to the penitent are: ‘God, the Father of Mercy, through the death and resurrection of His Son, sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”  The plot presses further into this tenet of faith:  To what extent do Christians (and all viewers) believe in a merciful God?

Religious sensibilities often hold apostasy (denying one’s faith in public) as among the greatest of sins.  Most religions acknowledge and revere the courageous acts of the martyrs at the same time they acknowledge the choice for martyrdom rests in free will–each person’s capacity to achieve a perfect integrity, synthesis of faith fully integrated and manifested in body as well as in spirit.  To this must be added a capacity for suffering and infusion of God’s grace that alone empowers the glorious impossible.  Moreover, both the reality of human frailty, fear and weakness and the mystery of grace as that which is not bestowed on a recipient because of his or her virtue or “strength of will” maintain Christianity’s recourse to reconciliation and forgiveness which are foundational.[1]  Similarly, SILENCE invites us to expand our notions of a merciful God, insisting that God offers redemption to all.

Throughout SILENCE the narrative evokes the character of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. Judas, who, within a different context, and with implied but no clearly stated motives, handed Jesus over to religious authorities who in turn, handed him over to government officials who exercised their power to crucify him.  In despair, Judas hangs himself—a decision that indicates that Jesus’ death was not Judas’ intent.  Still, for centuries Christians have highlighted Judas as the one unforgiven soul, patron of betrayal (13th Century poet Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy places those guilty of betrayals in the lowest strata of hell–furthest from the realm of God).  Yet in an almost contradictory way, Judas is also the representative of all who despair and /or commit suicide.

Even though the biblical and traditional treatment of Judas over the centuries belies it, Christian doctrine in many ways affirmed God’s all-encompassing love, asserting God as a God of mercy, bountiful in forgiveness—perpetuating our Jewish roots. Sometimes, however, Christian practice deferred more to tradition and culture than to doctrine when the “sins of Judas” were committed by others.  For centuries, suicides were refused the rites of sacramental funerals and burials; betrayers and apostates were condemned to hell along with heretics.  Vatican II, however, institutionalized a move toward compassion that had taken hold of the faithful much earlier, surrendering the judgment of the inner workings of a person’s heart and mind to God alone. Offering great comfort to the bereaved relatives and friends, the Church officially welcomed suicide’s victims to Christian funerals and burials in Catholic cemeteries, and excommunications have become extremely rare.  Furthermore, theologians have debated the fate of Judas with an emphasis on compassion citing sporadic discourse on Judas’ betrayal and death from Christian writers through the centuries. SILENCE urges its audience to place the story’s protagonists-and Judas himself—in the light of that truth, exposing centuries of prejudice and condemnations justified by what can only be appreciated in hindsight as misguided righteousness.

SILENCE, of course, focuses on Judas’ betrayal (not his suicide) and keeps our responses to its characters’ betrayals front and center.  Whatever the distinction between faith in the heart and faith on the lips, does Jesus’ acceptance of suffering on the Cross insist we accept suffering, too?  Or does his cross and resurrection which offer the blessed assurance that love and forgiveness are inseparable entities within God’s essence assure salvation even to those who choose a form of humanism over faith?  In that sense, God never demands or commands suffering. Only this world does. And suffering is often the consequence of insisting on truth, remaining faithful to one’s faith and convictions.  But, the film asserts, so do the betrayers suffer, so do the weak, the fallible and the fearful. As God silently allows the consequences of every human action to play themselves out, SILENCE puts the responsibility on us to conform our wills to the compassionate Jesus who forgives the repentant thief crucified alongside him on Calvary.

In an interview at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, University, Scorsese said he continually asks himself: How does one express and live true Christian life in a hostile world?  He believes that the truth of Christianity is in our behavior. . . The tribal medieval thinking (i.e. “be faithful or die”) is mitigated by people living their faith in fallible human terms.  The result is that no one is damned for life, there’s always hope[2] – implying that people of faith must be ever patient with each other as the God of the Bible evidences relentless patience with God’s people.

Also at Fuller Theological Seminary, CA, a round table discussion by professors highlighted the insights of Makoto Fujimura, a Japanese convert to Christianity, director of Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts.  As author of the book SILENCE & BEAUTY (a commentary on Shusaku Endo’s novel), Makoto is convinced that a listening stance and compassion toward the sinner are the central ways Christianity must manifest itself in the present age.[3]

There is great truth in those statements, but also an invitation to expound on related topics such as limits on human freedom, personal accountability and responsibility toward others.

Without those, emphasis on compassion alone presents quite a dilemma.  It seems to diffuse the integrity of a staunch, uncompromising faith, the sacrifice of the martyrs and excuse us from enthusiasm and courage in living out our faith.

For that reason, Bishop Robert Barron of WORD ON FIRE fame, takes umbrage with the film.  He sees it yet another example of Hollywood’s preference for ambiguity regarding faith and religion. The Bishop bemoans the fact that many producers and directors often cast faith more as problem than source of inspiration in their work. His YouTube includes scenes from the film and spoilers but you may wish to check it out to keep that part of the conversation alive:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Th7Tiz1cEk&t=1s

Bishop Barron’s sensibility of “weakened Christianity in films” addresses other aspects of what it means to be Christian.  Some say Vatican II has whitewashed evangelization–the directive to share our faith in Jesus Christ with those of other religions and those who have none.  The film’s emphasis on God’s Mercy could be interpreted that no one need risk his or her life to share the Gospel. Vatican II rightfully asserted that God loves all, forgives all; all religions have validity and share in God’s goodness.  Moreover, diversity among peoples must be honored as it mirrors God’s grandeur in Nature, and respects the God-given gift of Free Will. In that sense, there is no need for all to be one in one universal Church, one faith in Christ. True faith, whatever the faith, must be satisfied to cultivate humility and reverence for Religious Pluralism.

For all that, the Gospel compulsion to share “Good News of Jesus Christ” remains. We need to address the cultural compulsion to make people of faith “Anonymous,” exposing the myth that insists for the sake of peace we need a world of “Anonymous Christians, Anonymous Jews, Anonymous Buddhists, Anonymous Muslims, Anonymous Hindus,” etc. The myth does not acknowledge the loss of hope, of vision, inspiration, of morals and ethics in such a world.

Respecting diversity, perhaps the Christian obligation to evangelize means promoting religious discourse in the public square.  For starters, that would give Christianity greater acceptance if not credence in today’s secular culture: No proselytizing, no arguing who or which is “more right,” no encouraging much less insisting on conversions. As Christians engage in religious dialogue, we witness to Christ through loving service, cultivating commonality on essential truths found in all religions thus building trust and solidarity in which God’s spirit thrives.  What better way to exemplify our trust in Providence and God’s gift of free will –the Divine Spark in every human being.

JESUS: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give hislife as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45

“I am among you as the one who serves.  Luke 22:27

Thus, in imitation of Christ, we can serve others by confirming their goodness and affirming our shared values.  We serve others inviting heartfelt conversation on ethics—the ways to respond to one another when we might harm ourselves and others, addressing problems together without focusing on blame.  We serve others by listening to the importance of their faiths or philosophies or the reasons why they rejected faith or organized religions.  The more we invite others to highlight commonalities among all faiths, the more we let Providence open proper paths for us to share our Christianity. In this way, more people would welcome us to share our faith because we cultivated a comfortability in listening to them share theirs.   Essentially, we will have become more conscious of the fact that evangelization is God’s work, not ours—as it was from the very beginning.

Even with this more humble, patient approach to faith sharing, there are no guarantees that this “new evangelizers” will avoid arousing conflict in the public square or be free from persecution.  Western Humanism prefers the privatization of religion because of the violence shrouded in religious discord in the past.  Christian overtures toward humble faith-sharing could alleviate these fears and reveal faith’s ability to inspire hope and reconciliation.  Discussing SILENCE in churches, homes, at work, schools, universities and other venues is but one accessible entrée into just that kind of witness.

The film SILENCE offers a topic to which many can relate and all religions address in some shape or form: the ways we treat the fallen, the broken–from the good person who makes a terrible mistake, to the hardened criminal, the coward, the bitter and disillusioned, the ignorant, misguided and the scorned. SILENCE inspires a compassionate stance toward all. But it also invites us to explore topics such as the evils of religious persecution and the importance of personal integrity and courage and the principle of non-violence.

I trust your response, and mine, will not be one of silence.

 

[1] The early 4th Century Donatist controversy brought the Church to insist that the sacrament of Christ’s forgiveness must be available to all, including those who have denied their faith. The Donatists who maintained that there were unforgivable sins, were condemned as heretics.   See http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Donatism

[2]  https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/conversation-martin-scorsese/?utm_campaign=scorsese-silence-qa&utm_medium=homepage-tile&utm_source=fuller-dot-edu&utm_content=scorsese-and-callaway

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64tkI0PI2Do&t=1s

 

In Memoriam: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

I grew up listening to my Mom and my Aunts’ fascination with Debbie Reynolds. When I was in Fifth Grade my grandparents took my cousin and me to see THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN at Radio City Music Hall for our August birthdays. When Debbie/ Molly was in danger of drowning during the titanic disaster I cried because I so much equated Miss Reynolds with my Mom and Aunts who followed her career (“How could that Eddie Fisher have left her for Elizabeth Taylor! Bad Eddie. Good Debbie! ) Debbie in MOLLY BROWN will always be a favorite of mine because of the empathy Debbie evokes in the role and the fact that the story is ultimately about the need for acceptance and belonging — a very catholic sensibility. Plus the dancing in the HE’s MY FRIEND number in the film’s Third Act Is sensational and always makes me smile. It’s a great expression of Joy and life’s energy And makes me want to dance. (follow the link. The best dancing starts in at 1 min. And 30 seconds!). I thought I might marry a woman like Debbie Reynolds one day (or was it Molly Brown I wanted?) but I ended up focusing on the bigger theme of Catholicity for my life. All the same, may Miss Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher (reflection below) sing and dance with the Angels who I trust will lead them to paradise! God bless them!

 

 

PS: the above video always inspires me.  Of course, I only get to dance at weddings!

Carrie Fisher: Her memoir WISHFUL DRINKING was hysterically funny, poignant and sad as was her one-woman show that featured the same material. I saw WISHFUL DRINKING on Broadway and later almost bumped elbows with Miss Fisher in a New York Barnes and Noble Bookstore. She was a very gracious and humble lady. Her candor about her bipolar disorder and its challenges and the traps and illusions of fame offer some powerful “down to earth” insights for people of faith and “nones” alike –for those of us in the baby-boomer generation like her and the generations beyond. May the angels lead her and her Mom Debbie Reynolds to paradise.