June 8, 2017
My brothers and sisters,
*Spoiler Alert: This reflection is about the film Silence. Will comment upon film content.*
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of and discussion about Martin Scorcese’s film, Silence. It is a film that is, cinematically, beautifully made—but, ultimately, absolutely infuriating and verging very much on heretical. My heart withered upon watching it, and even more so, upon the neutral commentary of the priest assigned to lead the post-film discussion.
I will not spend much time discussing the plot, besides to highlight the primary character. Rodrigues is a Jesuit priest who, when jailed for secretly ministering to the Japanese with his priesthood in the anti-Christian Japan of the 1600s, betrays his faith by stepping on the face of Christ in an icon placed before him. This act saves him, as well as other Christians, from torture—and he lives the rest of his life as a Buddhist, his gaze and heart dead to that which makes life worth living.
It is this dynamic, of betraying Christ for the sake of earthly life, that so fundamentally distorts the essence of the Christian faith, of the reality of the Christian faith, the reality to which our entire faith points to: God does not just exist “beyond this life” but exists immediately present to us right now; we exist because of him and in him; he never changes, and we do not get to choose when we want to assent to his existence and our intrinsic dependency. Jesus himself tells us—and, boy, he is not joking—that, “…whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). The entire history of the early Church, of the contemporary Middle Eastern Church, is written over by the blood of martyrs. Who are we to forget? Or, worse, consider ourselves exempt from it?
If we do not understand that the purpose of our relationship with Jesus here, on this earth, is to pave our way to Heaven; if we do not understand that Heaven begins here on earth, and we enter it with every Eucharist, with every moment touching the Holy Spirit in infused contemplation; and if we do not understand that the Church exists so much beyond our immediate time, our immediate place, into the past and into the eternal—then we have not understood our Christianity whatsoever. We are not made for this world. We are made for God—God yesterday, God today, God now, God always. To deny Christ and his name for the sake of peace here, comfort here, painlessness here, is to deny everything about our true origin and our true destiny.
Spiritual theologians write rather universally that God demands our faithfulness to the grace of martyrdom, were we ever to be asked for it. What they write about the martyrs is beautiful: in martyrdom, those who let the Lord carry them through the moment of life-being-taken are united to him in what is called the prayer of union. Those who die martyrs die knowing experientially, immediately, without darkness and with a foretaste of glory, that the Lord has asked of them a specific act, and that they will refuse him not. They cannot, for he is Love, he is King, he is the Almighty and the Alpha and the Omega. He is, as St. Catherine of Siena so beautifully wrote, and we? We are not.
A prayer: Jesus, you are my way, my truth, my life; your name is the name by which I live, and your person is the one in which I find my identity, my destiny, my history. Give me everything I need to proclaim your name with faithfulness, into all darkness, unto every end of the earth. Amen.
Let me know if you’d like to join the Apostles’ Fast, June 12-28:
Blow, wind of God, with wisdom blow until our minds are free
From mists of error, clouds of doubt, which blind our eyes to Thee
Burn, winged fire, inspire our lips with flaming love and zeal
To preach to all Thy great good news, God's glorious commonweal.
Spirit of the Living God – Audrey Assad