Sunday, 26 January 2020 12:16

Scorsese film identifies interior struggles

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It’s Oscar time!

I imagine that this note is surprising, coming from me. I do not see many movies. Regular readers of this column know that I am more into books than films. I am the type of person who, when I see a film based on a book I’ve read, find the film to be something of a cheat.

But, staying with the topic of the silver screen, I note that director Martin Scorsese has been nominated. You would think that, given my ethnicity, I would already have seen The Irishman. But, no.

I did, however, recently see Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence, which I enjoyed greatly and which I recommend to adults. It premiered in Vatican City in November 2016 and was released in the United States the following month.

When I say “enjoyed,” I qualify this by stressing that the scenes of torture are hard to watch. So, you’re wondering, what sort of film is this?

Silence is based on a novel by the Japanese Catholic author Shusaku Endo (1923-1996) about the work of Portuguese Jesuit priests in Japan in the middle of the 17th century. We remember, of course, that the Jesuit order was founded in the 16th century, and that such well-known early Jesuits as St. Francis Xavier traveled to south and east Asia to bring Catholic Christianity to many lands. The particular Jesuit missionaries portrayed in the film have smuggled themselves into the country and seek to serve people who are already Catholic, while the Japanese authorities coerce such people to deny their faith.

We keep in mind that religious identity (Buddhism) in Japan at this time was synonymous with national identity (as we find in many countries to this day), and that adherence to “foreign” religions was a proof of disloyalty to the nation.

The main drama of the film involves “inquisitors” who identify groups of citizens as belonging to the foreign faith, and who coerce these people to carry out an act of rejection of Christianity. The particular act involves treading on a Christian religious image.

One thing which the film portrays is a certain cynicism about religion in general on the part of the “inquisitors.” They instruct the people that their interior dispositions do not matter. Outward conformity is their aim. They tell these Catholic Christians that they need tread only lightly upon the image, and they profess that they really do not care about their belief or lack of belief.

The interior dispositions of people in the “silence” of their hearts: this is the fundamental drama. Silence displays, as well as any cinematic artwork can, the interior struggle to be true to one’s faith in Jesus in the face of fearsome opposition. Can I perform an outward act of rejection of faith and remain true to what I know is in my heart?

Our visible displays of faith have meaning only if they are rooted in something genuine and dynamic which our God has worked within us. You and I, first of all, make our visible statement of faith by being present and participating in Sunday Mass. If we have an empty feeling when we gather for worship, we must allow the worship itself to be God’s means of working conversion in us. God gives us his healing Word and the eternal nourishment of the holy Eucharist. We must be present so that these gifts will strengthen us to witness to Jesus, crucified, dead, entombed, and risen.