Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thoughts on Silence

Ironically - or providentially?- the priest at Mass today spoke about the need for silence in our noisy world. But this was not what Shisaku's Silence is about. Darwin, if I had read your post before, I might of said, beware, this is a frightening book, but now I see you've already read it!

So the silence of the title isn't the quiet, listening silence our priest was advocating, but the silence of Christ in the face of fear and distress. This book is a frightening one because of the inhumanity of the Japanese rulers, the mistakes of the priests, but mostly because of God's unwillingness to speak so we can hear: We are all like Thomas who want to touch and see and hear God. How do we sustain our faith in his absence? And do we have the fortitude to suffer with and for Christ? The perseverence of the persecuted Japanese believers in the face of martyrdom also speaks a condemnation: would I be silent or speak up for God? Would I perform a physical action like spitting or trampling on an image, convincing myself that it doesn't mean anything about my faith, in order to save my life? Even though our faith believes in incarnation and that actions and words have eternal significance? Does the Fr. Rodrigues really hear Christ say, "Trample" - is the humiliation of his renunciation his true path to salvation, rather than success at his mission and dying a martyr's death? Does the priest convince himself that he will renounce his fall later, like the slinking Kichijiro who follows him around, or does he accept his humiliation? Or would I have the humility to accept humiliation? How do the priests stand to watch the suffering of their converts?

In the forward and in the book, mention is made of how Christianity didn't suit the climate of Japan. But the author remains a Christian and writes of his beliefs - did the blood of these martyrs feed his faith? How else then can Christianity take root? I just read in The Seven Story Mountain about how difficult it is for Christianity to take root in India because of the comfortable living of the missionaries. That is not the case here. Missionary work is not my calling, I like to think, but perhaps I'm sticking my head in the sand. I also don't like to think that suffering is my calling.

Time for bed. I did skim the last 2 books of the Aeneid. Got to love the warrior girl, Camilla?, and her tribe. The men don't seem to surprised by her; I seem to think scenes like this one kind of derail feminist theory, because here are women doing what they want or think they should do and not being berated for it. And there are all these powerful queens around.

But the final battle seems kind of disappointing. Aeneas barely defeats Turnus after the goddesses get out of the picture. What kind of heroic founder is Aeneas after all?

Other thoughts?

13 comments:

Otepoti said...

Our increasingly down-trodden and underfunded Public Library coughed up a copy of "Silence" for me, so - hurrah! I'm in business again, and now that the miserable winter school holidays are over (how do homeschooling mothers do it?) I may find the time to do some thoughtful reading again.

Confession - I flagged the last part of the Aeneid - but I did pay $2 overdues on it at the same underfunded library, so that may help them.

Guys, are your libraries worse than they used to be? Ours has lost the plot entirely. Fewer books, fewer services, and, heaven help us, a coffee machine.

mrsdarwin said...

Our library has a pretty good selection (I checked out Silence there) but my main beef is that they've put computers with kids' games in the children's area. My daughters make a beeline for these computers and want to play on them the whole time we're at the library. Grr.

Betty Duffy said...

"The perseverence of the persecuted Japanese believers in the face of martyrdom also speaks a condemnation: would I be silent or speak up for God?"

I thought about this while I was reading, and I have to say that it seems in light of respect for life teachings that God's will might be to be silent. I've always been troubled by the idea of martyrdom, probably because I would be Kichijiro for sure--but it also seems like such an unnecessary loss of life. Does martyrdom really inspire others to live their faith more profoundly, or does it inspire, as Endo implies, a variety of pride? I tend to think the latter.

"Does the Fr. Rodrigues really hear Christ say, "Trample" - is the humiliation of his renunciation his true path to salvation, rather than success at his mission and dying a martyr's death?"

I think it is his salvation. His fear of aspostasy is a form of vanity--that he does not want to be the dregs of his Church. I was moved by the quote, "It is to be trampled on by you that I came."

I'm thinking about the other questions too, but this will do for now--my battery is low.

Our library stinks. But inter-library loan works if one has MUCH patience.

Betty Duffy said...

Ach! I think I might be a heretic! I don't discount ALL martyrdom, but the martyrdom represented in this book was at the expense of other lives. Father R's unwillingness to apostasize took away the free will of others to choose martyrdom.

mrsdarwin said...

After pondering the silence of God for a while, I thought of how Jesus called out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Which means that he too also heard the silence of God, but held fast, even though he, like Father Rodrigues, could see the sufferings of Christians through the ages, for HIM.

I also was struck by the point that the apostasies of the Fathers meant that, after Japan was closed to outsiders, there were two priests in the country, at least one of whom continued to carry on a sort of ministry. God brings good out of evil.

Emily said...

Sometimes it seems like the greatest temptation is for the peaceful, happy life of wellbeing. Sometimes I wonder if it's easier to suffer for Christ when you're a peasant living under a harsh dictator with nothing but your life to lose, that it is to give up luxuries and small comforts and ego when everyone else has them. Why live a life of privation and persecution when you can live happy? Easier to be a comtemporary Buddhist. So how do we answer the call to evangelize when Christianity calls for humility and suffering? What did the priests say to the Japanese to convince them of their faith? Was it the promise of Heaven or did the converts hear Christ's call in their hearts?

Mrs. Darwin, I second your complaint about computers in the kids area. If my 7 yr old isn't begging to play instead of reading books, my 3 and 5 yr olds are banging on keys and breaking them. But I'm happy to report that Biloxi does have a pretty nice library with lots of new donated children's books. Haven't even checked out the adult section as right now I have piles of books laying around my house that I can't decide what to do with. I need to get rid of some but every time I pick one up to put in the give away box, I have a moment of fondness and weakness and reason to hold on to this book comes up -- even on duplicate copies. Some books you need a paperback and a hardcover. . . Help. If someone wants to come to my house and take some books while I'm not looking, I probably won't notice.

Betty Duffy said...

Per your point on the peaceful easy life, I thought it was notable that Kichijiro, in another time and place, without persecution, would have been a peaceful happy Christian. I wonder about the idea that there are the weak, and the strong--or maybe the sensual and the prideful. Each fault having different manifestations under pressure--but nevertheless, persecute someone, and they have to face their root sin or be damned. It's interesting that both Kichijiro and Fr R apostosize, and yet, I really don't think that Father R's was a grave sin, where Kichijiro's probably was.

Betty Duffy said...

Mrs. D, I'm having logical problems with the idea that Christ felt the silence of God while knowing at the same time that he WAS God, and that people would suffer for him. Not that I have an issue with the idea, just that I'm having trouble grasping it. It seems that in the fullness of his humanity, he would have to be blind to the future persecution of Christians. In my mind, the NOT knowing combined with the silence of God increases the significance of his Sacrifice.

Betty Duffy said...

Emily, your question of what the priests might have said to convince the Japanese to accept martyrdom is a good one. I puzzled over the zeal of the missionaries throughout the book. It does seem that the missionaries' willingness to undergo martyrdom themselves makes their point for them where language and culture might be barriers. Their song about going to paradise, as well, seems to point to an emphasis on eternal reward.

Emily said...

Thanks for the book choice, Mrs. D. I didn't know Donna Tartt was Catholic. It's always kind of exciting to find contemporary writers who are Catholic, fallen away or not, and see how that Catholic worldview thing plays out in fiction even when unintended. The faith runs deep under denial sometimes (not that Tartt is in denial...)

And so on denial - BD, I might have to disagree with your assessment of Kichijiro and Fr. R's depth of sin: does Kichijiro really have full knowledge of what he's doing? Meanwhile, Fr. R does; he has to decide whether or not to sacrifice the bodies of his converts by encouraging martyrdom or risk their souls by apostasizing. He finally chooses to save their bodies - led by Christ's words? - and sacrifice his pride. Wasn't the missionary zeal prideful initially - the desire to win souls complicit with the desire for the glory of his own soul?

Bur I will agree, Betty, that those last words of Christ are hard to figure. The best explanation I've heard was a homily about how the last words reveal Christ's final humiliation; he fully takes on our humanity and our suffering by being cut off from God. Not sure of the theology of this. But the idea of alienation as the ultimate privation/suffering seems to complement the idea of love as the ultimate good. It is a hard scripture to figure.

Betty Duffy said...

"does Kichijiro really have full knowledge of what he's doing? Meanwhile, Fr. R does; he has to decide whether or not to sacrifice the bodies of his converts by encouraging martyrdom or risk their souls by apostasizing. He finally chooses to save their bodies - led by Christ's words? - and sacrifice his pride. Wasn't the missionary zeal prideful initially - the desire to win souls complicit with the desire for the glory of his own soul? "

Does K have full knowledge? I think he does. His drinking in the beginning of the story points to a wounded spirit (sorry for that cheesy term), and his bestial prowling about and groveling seem to imply that he is a man overcome by his own perpetual weakness--the slave to sin.

On the other hand, as you mention, Father R. does sacrifice his initial pride, makes himself a sacrificial apostate in order to relieve the suffering of his fellow Christians. Father R at the end makes note of how he came to know Christ in a new way--through acceptance of his weakness, and his knowlege that only Christ can absorb and mend his suffering, rather than Father R's ability to find and save Japanese souls. I think that he feels the loss or sacrifice of his martyrdom, and his preisthood. Which to me, points to the idea that sanctification often means sacrificing what is most difficult for us to sacrifice. Would Father R ever have accepted his own weakness if he'd been a missionary success?

Emily said...

Good point BD. Can I beg the excuse that I read it last year? Am I wrong in remembering that he seems to live out the end of his days in relative quietude, hardly seeing himself as a priest anymore when K comes for confession - a sign that he accepts his sacrifice completely and literally? So hard to give up what we really love!

mrsdarwin said...

I think that Kichijiro does have full knowledge of what he's done (and will do again, presumably) and that he hates himself for his weakness. He is faithful, in a way: he follows Fr. R all through his ordeals, and stays near him after he apostacizes. Wasn't his name in the list of Fr. R's household?

Emily, poking around I find that Donna Tartt is a convert, though I think she converted before she wrote (or finished; the process took forever) The Secret History. Anyway, there's a great passage where the professor, afraid that one of his students is going to convert, calls the "Roman Church" a "worthy foe".