Category: Persecution


AMDG

360946-jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx‘This is a spiritual & cultural artefact’ – was how a producer at the BBC described Scorsese’s recent adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel ‘Silence‘.   A work of historical fiction, i.e based on real characters, about the Jesuits in Japan.  Having seen the film about a month ago, I tend to agree, although the cinema was fairly empty and I notice there is no ‘awards buzz’ about it – I think it will grow in stature and popularity.  I hope it will slowly acquire cult status, it doesn’t have the feel-good, crowd pleasing appeal that LaLa Land has ( and surely people need that in our fragmented times) …. but it has a depth and leaves a ‘haunting’ imprint that will mature over time. Like an artefact it will stand the test of time.

If you think about explicitly Christian films that have gone mainstream, all have differing levels of depth. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in its own way a masterpiece – has the force of a sledgehammer and I would place it in the Key Stage 3 RE category.  Roland Joffe’s The Mission, slightly more complex interweaving of theology / politics/ ecclesiology maybe would be GCSE, (Key Stage 4) Level.  But Scorsese’s Silence – is certainly A Level (KS5) material – with all its glorious and infuriating ambiguities. Leaving scope for discussion and meditation.

landscape-1482951700-martin-scorsese-silence-religion-on-filmHere in Manchester – many of the students are divided by it, and fascinating discussions ensue.  Some get hung up on the priests apostasy and a sense of betrayal from that, without taking into fact the incredible commitment and self-offering that have got the missionaries their in the first place. In a similar way many of the reviews are polarised.  The more secularised, the less they ‘get it’ – including one absurd review accusing it of ‘torture porn’ (I actually thought the film wasn’t as harrowing as I was expecting). It is as though the sheer fact that you can believe in something enough that you are prepared to die for it. is inconceivable to the more superficial reviews.  Many people (even the usually prescient Robert Barron)  seem to fixated on the ‘apostasy’ element. Which I think misses the point of the film (and the novel).  For me Kichijiro is the main character in the film – and it is God’s Mercy for him , through sacramental confession, this is the most powerful aspect for me.

silence-00977A former student sent me a wonderful email which expresses it like this, “I found myself really focusing on more in the film was the mercy of God, which I think is and should be the big focus within the film and book. The question: How much should I forgive my brother? Seventy seven.  Is something I often thought about when watching this film especially when witnessing Kichijiro continuously plead for confession. For me Fr. Rodriguez and Fr Ferreira are insignificant as for me really the true Christian is perfectly embodied in Kichijiro. As he is what a christian really is: a sinful and weak creature totally dependent on God’s mercy. Interestingly Kichijiro does not really seem to care about human respect or his reputation as seen by his continuous grovelling and humiliating display of weakness before the priest. To me I think the book and film do a great job in showing this about Kichijiro and the mercy of God; but seem to overlook it and get a bit too obsessed with somehow trying to justify someone’s apostasy.    The real question I think is how much are we willing to accept our weakness and plead for forgiveness

Maybe this is echoing Scorsese own life – as revealed in this fascinating interview with the America Jesuit James Martin,  his sense of rejection at a crucial age when he wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary. He was asked to leave the seminary, and ‘crushed’ in his own words,  and then his ‘pilgrimage’ slowly and painfully from the outside and back to God (?) . Jim has also written a very good  reflective piece on common questions people struggle with after Silence.   So is Silence really about about the Silence of God or the Deafness of Man? .

 

 

 

AMDG

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11

Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is  a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence.  Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies ….  things can change however.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue  to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

gress-CZESTOCHOWA-650x340A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day  celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

AMDG

During these weeks we are following the story of Ezekiel in the readings at mass.  Some of the readings and the violence of God are very challenging, especially at a time when our news bulletins are full of stories of religious violence.   A sign of a good preacher is not to avoid the challenging readings but to tackle them face on.  Last week we had an excellent reflection from Karen Eliasen – one of the team at St Beuno’s.  Karen has given me permission to share it on the blog.  

Ent. antiphon: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.”  

Karen Eliasen, St Beuno’s

80All this week, and next week, we have readings from the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel himself comes across as many things: he’s part prophet, part priest, part visionary mystic, part plain old madman. But however we label him, Ezekiel is above all someone who is in continuous dialogue with God. The whole of the Book of Ezekiel bristles with passionate exchanges between God and this mad prophet. Mostly these exchanges are about people doing wrong, and about what God is doing about people doing wrong. In today’s reading, we encounter a terrifying God, terrifying because he is furious at his own people, and he’s furious because his people are doing wrong. And so in his fury, God commands death for them. “Kill and exterminate them all,” God shouts to a group of armed men. God commands death for his own people, and the command is carried out; all is destroyed, and Ezekiel is witness to this:  Jerusalem is laid waste, the Temple is burnt to the ground, the people are starved, slaughtered, hauled into exile. These are the events that Ezekiel is writing out of – extreme, drastic events of unimaginable violence. And it is such events that Ezekiel and God are having their passionate exchanges about. God’s people are doing wrong; but what kind of a God then makes everything, everything – come to such an end? Will God not show pity, will he not show mercy, at all? Ezekiel, like God, is angry; but he is also concerned about God’s seeming lack of mercy.

Now we might easily convince ourselves that this merciless God lunging out at us from the pages of Ezekiel has little to do with the God of the Gospels. Here is what Jesus in today’s Matthew Gospel has to say about people doing wrong: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone” … talk it over, and if that doesn’t work, go and tell the community. And if that doesn’t work … well there is a cool, calm, and collected legal system in place to deal with it. Dealing with people who do wrong is not to be fuelled by the fury of a great armed anger, but by law. At least that’s how it is if you are a human being. But what if you are not a human being. What if you are God? What if you are Ezekiel’s God? This is not a God different from Jesus’ God. The God who is at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is the same God who is at the crucifixion of Jesus. And this same God is Lord not only of death but Lord also of life. For we all know very well that Ezekiel’s God not only commands death, he also promises us life – he promises us new hearts and rivers flowing with living waters, he promises his people a covenant of peace, of shalom. Just like the God of the Gospels, who is there at the crucifixion, does.

3_11_2010_christians_iraqSo when we find ourselves far from shalom, even find ourselves in extreme and drastic circumstances far beyond law, when it feels like our whole world is being undone, what about God then? How do we, like Ezekiel, even begin to exchange words with God then? What is our prayer then? Scripture has one hope: we can cry out. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we can cry out. That’s the very prayer we heard in the entrance antiphon today– did you catch that plea right at the beginning of Mass just now: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.” Let us not forget the cries of those who seek God –  including ourselves.

Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22; Mt 18:15-20