Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I haven’t seen the most recent movie directed by Martin Scorsese, “Silence.” It has been called his “masterpiece.” I haven’t wanted to see it because I am told that it is extremely violent. It offers a graphic depiction of Japanese Christians being tortured and even martyred. One film critic says of the movie: “Silence is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment, only a set of questions and proposition, sensations, and experiences. So, at least for right now, I’ll pass.
I did, however, read the book by Japanese author Shusaku Endo on which the movie is based. The story is inspired by historical fact, but relies on fictional characters. It is set in 17th century Japan during a period when the island nation isolated itself from European influences, especially Christianity. The story is about two young Jesuits who embark on a dangerous voyage from their homeland to Japan, their purpose being to locate an older Jesuit priest for whom they had enormous respect. Their mentor had risked his life by ignoring the prohibitions of the Japanese government, stealing into the country in hopes of converting the people to Catholicism. Somehow, word had gotten back to Europe that the elder priest had apostatized. It was rumored that he rejected Christ.
Their motive might well be one of the questions which lingers at story’s end. While it is inferred that they hoped to disprove the accusations and possibly rescue him, it could be argued that their purpose was confrontational. One thing is clear: During their search, they were determined to minister to those Catholic Japanese who they encountered, and they continued to evangelize as well.
The story is extremely complicated. If I ever do muster the courage to see the film, I will take this week’s Scripture passages with me. What the Church proclaims on this 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time might well help to answer lingering questions and enlighten those who are stymied by the complexity of the drama.
For example, as the story unfolds, we find one of the younger priests in desperate circumstances. His plight, as well as that of the Christian community he has grown to know, seems beyond hope. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, he is totally depleted. Unwavering in his commitment to his mission and ministry, he is unable to comprehend why God has not answered his prayers and somehow intervened. God’s apparent silence fuels within him feelings and emotions which echo the passage from Isaiah: “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
Even the reader/viewer can’t avoid praying that God somehow steps in to offer relief from the unimaginable suffering. The thing is, the young priest seems to have expectations as to how God should respond. And so, he fails to hear God’s assurance: I will never forget you. Our Old Testament Reading reminds us that God is constantly mindful of every detail of our lives. God NEVER forgets or abandons us. We just need to be patient…and silent, so that we can hear what God is saying.
It seems that there are many similarities between the young priest and St. Paul, who, in our Second Reading, describes himself as a servant of Christ…a steward of the mysteries of God. They differ, however, in that Paul is very conscious of the futility of judging others…or even himself. The young priest, on the other hand, is constantly judging. Certainly, he judges the Japanese authorities, finding them cruel and barbaric. He judges the culture, traditions, and even beliefs of the country, finding them in need of “saving.” He judges the strength of faith of the Christian community with which he had interacted, holding some in the highest regard, while being harshly critical of others. There comes a point in time when he stands in judgment over the priest he came to find. And, in the end, he judges himself. In a way, throughout much of the story, it seems that he is even judging God.
Unfortunately, he never sits in “silence,” listening to evidence. Some might find his judgments hasty or even questionable. Most important, however, he totally disregards St. Paul’s admonition: Therefore, do not make ANY judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.
Finally, we turn to the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. The plain meaning, obviously, is that we should not be materialistic, fretting over our worldly needs. But, if we delve deeper, don’t we find that Jesus is urging us to trust God in all things, and at all times…even those times when we think God is silent? Simply put, the lesson here appears to be: Stop worrying. God has a plan! One might well argue that the young priest placed his plan over God’s.
Next Wednesday, we begin our preparations to engage in another Story…The Passion of Jesus Christ. No part of this story is fictional, and it is truly God’s masterpiece. The story of The Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection is truly a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell! But, at the end, we find ourselves in Paradise. And, while there are most definitely questions, propositions, sensations, and experiences to be had in this cosmic drama, unlike the story of missionary work in Japan, The Passion is filled with promise. In fact, the entire purpose of the Passion is so that we might live in hope. Still, in order for us to better understand and appreciate THIS STORY…we need to prepare.
Next Wednesday, we begin Lent 2017! The three traditional pillars of the Season are PRAYING, FASTING, and ALMSGIVING. It might be of benefit to add a fourth…SILENCE. If we allow ourselves just a few minutes each day for 40 days to sit in SILENCE, we might find that God has something to say to us. Rather than judging our spiritual progress by what we “give up” or “how much we give” or “how many prayers we say,” it might serve us well this Lent to permit ourselves the gift of SILENCE. It’s in SILENCE that we are better able to hear God speak. We might just hear something wonderful! We might hear God praising us for our willingness to listen.