"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, February 24, 2017

Poem: “The Festubert Shrine” by Edmund Blunden

Continuing on with last year’s poetry read, Max Egremont’s Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew, I came upon this wonderful poem by Edmund Blunden.  I wrote about Egremont’s book last May while posting a on an Isaac Rosenberg poem.  I had never heard of Blunden, but apparently a poet of some renown both during and after the war.  He was a friend to the more well know Siegfried Sassoon. 

Blunden entered the front in 1916 shortly before a planned spring offensive.  Egremont describes Blunden’s arrival.

The western front was now full of rumours about the coming offensive.  Constant activity was thought to be vital and officers led parties to reconstruct damaged trenches, repair wire and bury the dead.  This was what Edmund Blunden found when he arrived in France in May.

Blunden was already a poet of immense fluency.  One long pre-trench poem, finished in March, was a disquieting account of cruelty’s consequences called “The Silver Bird of Herndyke Mill.”  A dark atmosphere threatens an English churchyard, stream and wood in the kind of Georgian scene that always inspired Blunden.  Early in 1916, with artillery rumbling from across the Channel, death must have seemed near, even in tranquil Kentish fields.

After some training in the camp at Etaples—where a sergeant major was killed by a faulty grenade—Blunden joined his battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment at La Touret, not far from Béthune.  It could seem idyllic until heavy guns and mines exploded, let off by both sides.  Festubert was within reach, where Sassoon and [Robert] Graves had been at the end of 1915, and Blunden looked for the local orchards, finding a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, a peaceful place away from the guns.  Like Sassoon, he went off on a course; then saw the La Bassée canal, a Red Cross barge on it, the rich summer landscape and the now ruined village of Cuinchy, near the treacherous brickstacks.  He was close to Neuve Chapelle by the end of June.  (pp 113-4)

That chapel in Festubert became the subject to this poem.  Some more background before you get to the poem.  Festubert is a little town in northern France and was the focal point of The Battle of Festubert in 1915, the year before Blunden stumbled on the chapel.  The town was destroyed but the chapel, despite taking on projectile fragments, survived, and Blunden apparently taking a diversion looking for apple orchards stumbled upon it and found it would make a fine subject for a poem.  And so now you are ready to read the poem.

The Festubert Shrine
by Edmund Blunden

A sycamore on either side
In whose lovely leafage cried
Hushingly the little winds —
Thus was Mary’s shrine descried.

“Sixteen Hundred and Twenty-Four”
Legended above the door,
“Pray, sweet gracious Lady, pray
For our souls,” — and nothing more.

Builded of rude gray stones and these
Scarred and marred from base to frieze
With the shrapnel’s pounces — ah,
Fair she braved War’s gaunt disease:

Fair she pondered on the strange
Embitterments of latter change,
Looking fair towards Festubert,
Cloven roof and tortured grange.

Work of carving too there was,
(Once had been her reredos),
In this cool and peaceful cell
That the hoarse guns blared across.

Twisted oaken pillars graced
With oaken amaranths interlaced
In oaken garlandry, had borne
Her holy niche — and now laid waste.

Mary, pray for us? O pray!
In thy dwelling by this way
What poor folks have knelt to thee!
We are no less poor than they.

I doubt Blunden was Catholic—perhaps he was high Anglican—or if he was even religious, but the appeal to the Blessed Mother is moving: “Pray, sweet gracious Lady, pray/For our souls.”  I particularly like the image of the stone front scarred with shrapnel.  He refers to it as “War’s gaunt disease,” as if it were the remnants of a pox.  The final image of poor folks kneeling, and he and his fellow soldiers being just as poor reduces the gallantry of war to resignation.


I’m going to count this as a Faith Filled Friday post in addition to a poetry.  Blessed Mother pray for the war dead.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Plans for 2017

Well this is certainly late, and frankly I’ve been wondering whether I should even bother providing reading plans for the year given I deviated dramatically last year from my beginning of the year plans.  But I will.  Two works in my annual goal were left unfinished: Adrian Goldsworthy’s Julius Caesar and Max Egremont collection of  WWI poetry in Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew.  I’m about two thirds deep in both books, but I’ve been reading the Julius Caesar biography for three years now. 



The planned reads I never got to start make quite a list: Herta Müller’s The Hunger Angel, Thomas Berger’s Crazy in Berlin, D. H. Lawrence’s novella, The Virgin and the Gypsy, Volume III of Victor Hugo’s, Les Misérables, titled “Marius,.” the third novel in Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy under the heading Parade’s End, titled, A Man Could Stand Up, William Faulkner’s Old Man, Gertrude von Le Fort, The Wife of Pilate, Dante’s third part of The Divine Comedy, Paradisio, Pam Johnson-Bennett’s non-fiction Think Like a Cat, Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter and Lawrence Rainey’s The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot’s Contemporary Prose, an annotation and commentary to T. S. Eliot’s great poem.  That amounts to four novels, three novellas, two works of non-fiction, and two works of book length poetry with commentary.  Add to the unfinished works and you’ve got an annual goal all in itself.

It’s not like I didn’t read enough last year.  I read nearly the amount I normally do.  The problem is I belong to a couple of book clubs now and the books selected come out of a vote, and what’s selected is usually out of my control.  And so I had to put off planned reads.

So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to march down the list above, completing last year’s list.  I’ll have to add works that get chosen from the book clubs but I’m going to limit my participation to them and try to focus on what I want to read.

In addition to those listed above, I’m going to continue reading through the Bible.  On the Old Testament side, I’m up to Wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach.  On the New Testament I’ll be completing Paul’s Epistles.  In the past couple of years I’ve read Romans and the two Corinthians.  This year will be the Letter to the Galatians, Letter to the Ephesians, Letter to the Philippians, Letter to the Colossians, First and Second Letters to the Thessalonian, First and Second Letters to the Timothy, Letter to Titus, Letter to Philemon, and Letter to the Hebrews.  It sounds like a lot but many of those works are very short.

I’ll be aiming for two short stories a month as always, and I will also try to sneak in another play of Shakespeare I haven’t read yet.


Some of this I’ve already begun and even completed.  I’ll try to blog more on my readings.  I feel so guilty about dropping that.  I’d hate for my blog to disintegrate.  Well, here’s to another year of reading.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

My 2016 Reads

Completed: First Quarter

“Master and Man,” a short story by Leo Tolstoy.
Interior Castle, a non-fiction book on spirituality by St. Teresa of Avila.
“A Cup of Cold Water,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
Feline Catastrophes, a collection of humorous anecdotes by Victor S. E. Moubarak.
“In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” a short story by Tobias Wolff.
To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel by Harper Lee.
Prayer for Beginners, a non-fiction book of devotion by Peter Kreeft.
“Saint Dymphna,” a short story by Mary O’Connell.

Completed 2nd Quarter:

“A House of Gentlefolks,” a short story by Evelyn Waugh. 
The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times, a non-fiction book by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B.
White Fang, a novella by Jack London.
The Book of Psalms, (Psalms 51-100) KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
“Hallelujah, Family,” a short story by Ludmilla Petrushevkaya, translated by Anna Summers.
“Wingstroke,: a short story by Vladimir Nabokov. 
“A House of Gentlefolks,” a short story by Evelyn Waugh.
“Miles City, Montana,” a short story by Alice Munro. 
“The Cabuliwallah,” a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. 
“1933,” a short story by Mavis Gallant.
“The Man Born Blind,” a short story by C. S. Lewis. 
“After the Storm,” a short story by Earnest Hemingway.

Completed 3rd Quarter:

Saint Dominic, a biography by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, O.P.
“Clair de Lune,” a short story by Guy de Maupassant. 
“The Crucifix across the Mountains,” a personal essay by D. H. Lawrence.
“The Woman In White: Emily Dickinson and Friends,” an essay by Joyce Carol Oats.
“The State of Grace,” a short story by Harold Brodkey.
The Book of Psalms, (Psalms 101-150) KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, a non-fiction book of Christian devotion by Romano Guardini.

Completed 4th Quarter:

First Letter to the Corinthians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul the Apostle in both the KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Silence, a novel by Shūsaku Endō. 
“Unzen,” a short story by Shūsaku Endō. 
“The Stampeding of Lady Bastable,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“The Jesting of Arlington Stringham,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
Second Letter to the Corinthians, an epistle from the New Testament by St. Paul the Apostle in both the KJV and Ignatius RSV translations.
Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, a novel by Thomas Mann.
“The Demilitarized Zone,” a short story by Anthony Doerr.
“The Flying Stars,” a Father Brown mystery short story by G. K. Chesterton.
 “The Red-Headed League,” a Sherlock Holmes short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“In a Grove,” a short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.
“Clay,” a short story by James Joyce.
Two Gentlemen from Verona, a play by William Shakespeare.
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, a non-fiction book on writing by Virginia Tufte.


Unfinished Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew, a book of history and collected poetry by Max Egremont.


I’m late on summarizing last year’s reads.  Really late.  On balance I would say this was again not a great year for reading, perhaps just short of average.  But more importantly I was distracted from my plans.  I don’t think I read half of what I planned to read at the beginning of the year.  Two reasons I think.  First the Thomas Mann novel Buddenbrooks taken up in May but not completed until the end of summer was so long that I did not plan accordingly and once I fell behind it destroyed the pace and plan I envisioned.  Second belonging to Goodreads book clubs forces one to accommodate the poll winner for the reading selection,  I don’t get to decide all the time.  Before I summarize, if you wish to read my beginning-of-the-year plans and the quarterly updates for 2016 you can find them here:


As you break down my reads you will find twelve full length works, six books of non-fiction, five books of fiction, and one play, maintaining the one book per month goal I set out every year.  The fact that there were more works of non-fiction than fiction is not typical of my reading patterns, but I think this may have been a function of being part of a Catholic Book Club on Goodreads, where the book selections tend to be Catholic devotional works or about Catholic theology.  There were four such books on the list: St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, Peter Kreeft’s Prayer for Beginners, Jean-Charles Nault’s The Noonday Devil, and Romano Guardini’s Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God.  I have to say I thought the Kreeft book and the Guardini book were so-so.  I didn’t dislike them, but I didn’t think they were that insightful.  Interior Castle is a great classic and well worth the read, and Nault’s book on acedia—a complicated emotional state of boredom, sloth, and inertia—is fascinating and perceptive.  Nault makes the case that acedia is what drives people to lose devotion and perseverance, both in religious life and even every day activity, and Nault points out is particularly problematic in today’s hyper distracting world.  It’s a rather heavy read, but interesting.

Another non-fiction work, also with a Catholic subject was the biography of St. Dominic de Guzmán by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy.  This read was not associated with the book club but was something I did to honor the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Order of Preachers.  And the last non-fiction book I read was my annual read on the art of writing, this year being Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.  Tufte’s book is a magnificent work.  It goes through every possible sentence structure and their rhetorical implications.  I meant to post some of the grammatical points here, but unfortunately I haven’t been so consistent in my blogging.  Perhaps on occasion I still will post something from this wonderful book.

The four full length fiction works were all outstanding and all four classics.  Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird from mid-20th century American South dealt with issues of racism through the eyes of a young girl.  Jack London’s White Fang is an early 20th century American novel from the point of view of a wolf-dog as he goes from wild to domesticate.  Shūsaku Endō’s Silence is a 20th century Japanese historical novel set in the 16th century of Catholic persecution.  And Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks is an early 20th century German epic set in the 19th century of a family’s decline.  I immensely enjoyed all four novels.  The fifth fiction work, Feline Catastrophes, is Victor Moubarak’s humorous collection of anecdotes—somewhere between short stories and jokes—centered on the house cat and the trouble he causes.  Victor you may realize is a frequent reader of this blog.  As with his many other publications, Feline Catastrophes, was a fun read.

The one play I read was one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, Two Gentlemen from Verona.  While the plotting seemed a little awkward and the character’s conversions too convenient, the play was still enjoyable and worthwhile, least of all for Shakespeare’ language.   It was a play obviously where he was learning his craft, but his poetry had already developed into the Bard that he would be.  This play checks off another of the ones I’ve read from the Shakespeare opus.  That makes 28 plays read of Shakespeare’ 37 officially credited plays.  I’m getting there.

I also made headway on my track through the Bible.  From the Old Testament I read Psalms 50 through 150 both in the KJV an Ignatius RSV translations, and from the New Testament I read First and Second of Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, also in both translations.  That puts me about half way on the Old Testament and significantly through the New.

I completed 22 short stories but if you add the two essays I’ve listed, which are about short story length, I read 24 short works this year.  That’s spot on the two per month I set as a goal.  I guess that’s not too bad.  Both essays were well worth reading, but Lawrence’s “The Crucifix Across the Mountains” is exceptional, a classic.  Not only was D. H. Lawrence a great novelist, great short story writer, and great poet, but he was a fine essayist as well.  “The Crucifix Across the Mountains” starts out as a travel essay where the author traverses across the Alps from Germany to Italy.  But near Innsbruck the author comes across a series of crucifixes, and as he goes from mountain to mountain he encounters more crucifixes.  The essay is a contemplation of art, Christ, and death.

This year I’ll rate the short stories as either exceptional, good, ordinary, or duds.  Of the duds there were two: “The Man Born Blind” by C. S. Lewis and “The State of Grace” by Harold Brodkey.  Lewis’s story was a posthumously published work and I suspect it was never refined, if it ever meant to be published.  It felt more like a sketch than a complete story.  Brodkey’s story was boring and depressing and was supposed to have all sorts of Freudian significance, which in today’s age is meaningless.  Six stories I considered ordinary: “Saint Dymphna” by Mary O’Connell, “Clare de Lune” by Guy de Maupassant, “The Jesting of Arlington Stringham” by Saki, “The Flying Stars” by G. K. Chesterton, “The Demilitarized Zone” by Anthony Doerr, and “Clay” by James Joyce.  The one surprise to some in those six I think would be Joyce’s “Clay.”  It’s about a spinster who going on a visit to the family of a man who she nursed when he was a child, forgets the cake she bought for the occasion on the train ride because she became flustered when a drunken man flirted with her.  It was well written but the lack of sympathy the author displays for the woman made it feel harsh and pitiless, and the theme wasn’t exactly profound.  I’m probably not with the majority, but I don’t find James Joyce that great a short story writer. 


Nine stories I’d rate in the good category:  Tobias Wolff’s “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” Ludmilla Petrushevkaya’s “Hallelujah, Family,” Vladimir Nabokov’s “Wingstroke,” Evelyn Waugh’s “A House of Gentlefolks,” Alice Munro’s “Miles City, Montana,” Rabindranath Tagore’s “The Cabuliwallah,” Mavis Gallant’s “1933,” Shūsaku Endō’s “Unzen,” Saki’s “The Stampeding of Lady Bastable,” I could probably distinguish a couple of those in a very good category (Gallant’s and Petrushevkaya’s ) since I had a hard time deciding if they were exceptional.  What’s notable about this group is just how international the group of writers are. 

Four stories I’d rate in the exceptional category: Leo Tolstoy’s “Master and Man,” Edith Wharton’s “A Cup of Cold Water,” Earnest Hemingway’s “After the Storm,” and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove.” “Master and Man” is a story of rich landlord and a peasant caught in a blizzard; “A Cup of Cold Water” is about a poor, young man in love with a rich lady but uses his last pocket money to save another lady.  “After the Storm” is about a scavenger who finds a sunken vessel after a hurricane and tries to steal the valuables.  “In a Grove” is a series of testimonies to the police about a murder, each account varying and telling us something about the witness.  When you add up the accounts you get to the heart of the murder.


As I do every year, I give a prize to the best short story read in that year.  First the honorable mention and runner up is…drum roll please… Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove.”  Akutagawa is early 20th century Japanese writer known as the "Father of the Japanese short story.”  I had never read any of his stories, but was totally impressed with “In a Grove.”  The sequencing of accounts, varying and conflicting with each other, creates a complex situation where truth is distorted through perception.  Finally, the winner is…more drum roll…Tolstoy’s “Master and Man.”  This was an incredible story about a selfish landlord who faced with death of the peasant under him freezing to death saves him by using his body warmth.  While doing he has a mystical experience of meeting Christ, but while keeping the peasant warm he is exposed and dies.  The landlord maybe master over the peasant, but the Lord is master over him.  You can find both those stories on line if you want to read them.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: Compassionate Blood by Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P

For those looking for a devotional book to read for Lent, the monthly Catholic magazine, Magnificat, has put out a devotional this season, Compassionate Blood, written by Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. Fr. Romanus using the thoughts and words of my dear St. Catherine of Siena creates a meditation on Christ’s Passion.  Here’s what the ad blurb says:  

“What do we learn from this description of the suffering Christ? What does Catherine teach us about the transformation that brings the world stillness on Good Friday from noon until three o’clock?

“The answer is simple: We discover that because of his enormous love, Christ’s sufferings and death cause the transformation of all that exists, the transformation we call Christian salvation….
The transformation that Catherine announces is one that creates in those persons who remain united with Christ a new ground for love, a new sort of loving…. The transformation affects both our persons and our actions.”

Father Romanus Cessario, O.P.
Senior Editor of Magnificat

Of course given St. Catherine is my patroness, as soon as I saw the flyer in this month’s edition of Magnificat I went and ordered it right away.  It just came in the mail today.  Flipping through the pages, it looks like a great little read, especially if you’re looking to learn something about St. Catherine’s theology.  And remember St. Catherine of Siena is one of the doctors of thechurch.  It’s 86 pages not including the footnotes and about the size of a well-constructed paperback.  Here’s an image of the book.





You can order it here  for $9.95, three dollars off the regular price.  I don’t know when the sale ends, so hurry if you are interested.  March 1st is Ash Wednesday, and if you order now it should arrive before then.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Faith Filled Friday: Day of the Massacre of the Innocents

In the Gospel of Matthew, shortly after the Magi leave the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, King Herod as a result of the Magi telling him of the birth of a future King, orders the massacre of all the male infants, and thereby ordering the massacre of the innocents.  Christian Pro-life advocates have always connected the massacre of the innocents with today’s abortion culture.  Today (January 27th) is the 44thannual pro-life march on Washington D. C. and, perhaps as you read this, I will be for the second year marching myself. So if you catch some of it on TV (EWTN usually broadcasts it) you may catch a glimpse of me. 

I try not to be political on this blog, but pro-life to me is not political.  It is humane, it is moral, it is Christian, and each child in the womb is a reflection of Christ and especially the Christ child.  Every abortion is the ultimate no to God.  Having an abortion, assisting in an abortion, advocating an abortion is the most heinous sin imaginable. 

I found it interesting that the Russian Orthodox Church this year was able to persuade the city of Yaroslavl in Russia to not perform any abortions on the commemorative day of the massacre of the innocents.  From BBC News:  

A Russian region has banned abortions for one day after local religious leaders called for the biblical account of the Massacre of the Innocents to be commemorated, it's reported.

The Russian Orthodox Church diocese in the city of Yaroslavl declared 11 January a "day of silence without abortions", and said it had the support of the region's health department. Abortion is legal in Russia and the cost is covered by the state.

"The event is dedicated to the memory of Bethlehem children slaughtered by King Herod, who wanted to kill the newborn infant Christ," a statement on the diocese's website reads. "On this day it is forbidden to carry out abortions in all state medical institutions in Yaroslavl Region," it says, adding that state officials and the Church want private clinics to follow suit.


LifeNews also picked up the story and added this other bit of information: 

The Yaroslavl diocese simultaneously plans a “Candle of Memory” event to commemorate the children whose lives ended not only under the reign of King Herod, but also due to abortion, RT News stated.

What is amazing in the LifeNews article is it says that 70% of pregnancies in Russia end in abortion and that 72% of the population are against any bans to abortion and that only 4% of the population are against abortions in all circumstances.  Goodness, no wonder they have a population problem there, but in addition they have a moral deficit there.  So the clergy there are fighting the good fight. 


If I haven’t turned you away with my pro-life advocacy by this point, you probably are a supporter.  Pray then with me for the end of abortion across the world.  The little innocents have no voice and no power.  We need to speak up for them.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Silence, by Shūsaku Endō, Part 7: In Response to Meg Hunter-Kilmer

There has been a mixed reaction to the movie Silence in the Catholic blogosphere, which came to me as a bit of a surprise.  The same issue that has riled up some toward the movie also applies to the novel.  The issue is whether the protagonist of the novel/movie, Sebastian Rodrigues, the Jesuit priest, is right in apostatizing at the climax of the novel in order to save the innocent Christian peasants from being slowing tortured and martyred.  I’m sure you can find articles and blog posts around the internet to read both sides of the issue.  I’m not going to search and link them here.

But I did come across a piece by Meg Hunter-Kilmer on the Catholic e-magazine, Aleteia, “More than apostasy: What we’re not talking about with “Silence.”  Ms. Hunter-Kilmer was a bit dismayed that the focus of the general discussion was only on the apostasy. 

There’s so much more in this film, as indeed there was in the book, so many moments of powerful faith and challenging rebuke, that to evaluate it all on how the director views Fr. Rodrigues’s apostasy is beyond unfortunate.

I sympathize with those viewers who are concerned with Scorsese’s apparent approval of apostasy as an act of compassion. I even understand that Rodrigues’ failure ultimately colored the whole film for them. There is a danger, for weak souls, that blithe acceptance of this action could lead to moral relativism and utilitarianism. But the fall of the hero doesn’t make the entire movie worthless, particularly not when you see how tortured he was afterwards.
  

So Ms. Hunter-Kilmer put together a series of questions about the movie and most apply to the novel.  I can’t answer about the movie, but I do want to answer those questions that pertain to the novel.  Meg’s questions will be indented here and my response will follow.

1. I don’t understand Rodrigues’ choice. This isn’t because I’m more virtuous than he is. It’s because I find it easier to endure other people’s pain than my own. I judge Rodrigues more harshly because he caved to a temptation that I don’t struggle with. How often do I do the same with real people?

He didn’t cave to a temptation.  He acted in mercy to save the tortured Christians.  He was more than willing to die.  He was actually looking for his “glorious martyrdom.”  But the Japanese authorities turned the table on him.  They put his Christianity to an existential crises: Refuse to act in mercy or deny Christ. 

2. Every time I recommend this book to someone, I tell them, “It reads like the Stations of the Cross.” I see Rodrigues persevering because he connects his suffering to Jesus’. But Ferreira calls this identifying of his pain with Christ’s arrogant. Is it possible for suffering to be redemptive if it isn’t united to Christ’s in that way? At what point does identifying with Christ become arrogant?

What was arrogant was that Rodrigues came to Japan and insisted on administering the sacraments against the government’s wishes.  The arrogance was twofold: His subversive infiltration and seeking a “glorious martyrdom.”  That was at the root of all the peasant’s suffering.  Remember Kichijiro asks why God has brought this on them.  It started with Rodrigues deciding to sneak into Japan. 

3. After his apostasy, Rodrigues was obviously miserable. Why didn’t he ever recant? Surely there must have come a point when there was no longer danger that others would be killed for his faith. Was it pride that kept him living that life, an attempt to convince himself that he’d done the right thing? With the final shot of the crucifix he’d kept for so many years, Scorsese implies that he maintained some sort of faith in the midst of all his actions to undermine Christianity in Japan. At first that shot gave me hope, a feeling that, in spite of the apostasy he’d felt compelled to commit, he really did love Jesus and long for him. But the more I thought about it, the more his life seemed a betrayal. It’s one thing if he convinced himself, as Ferreira seemed to, that the Gospel wasn’t true. But to work against the God he loved, to do it day after day for decades? That seems to me far more vile than the initial moment of failure.

The novel doesn’t ever get into why he doesn’t recant.  He is a broken man, and one presumes that the same trial would be put to him: the martyrdom of innocent peasants at the expense of his pride.  It should be pointed out that Rodrigues is not just a second version of Ferreira.  Ferreira developed into a satanic character.  Rodrigues becomes like Kichijiro, cowardly but Christian in his heart.

4. Most orthodox Christians, I think, would assert that the “voice of Jesus” telling Rodrigues to trample wasn’t really a locution but a temptation or a mental breakdown. How can we discern that in the moment? Ignatius himself tells us that God won’t call us to do something objectively wrong, which brings quite a lot of clarity in this situation. But when it’s more gray even than this, how can we know which is the voice of truth and which the voice of the world, the flesh, and the devil?

I think it depends how you read the novel.  Was the apostasy warranted at the expense of providing mercy?  Endo is bringing Rodrigues to an existential crises.  Most existential crises involve life and death.  Here Endo brilliantly applies existentialism to Christianity.  He places two vital commandments in conflict with each other: Matt 10:33, “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” against Matt 25: 40, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Rodrigues’ choice is to act in mercy or apostatize.  Which commandment supersedes the other?  If you believe the voice that tells him to apostatize is Christ speaking, then the right choice was to act in mercy.  If you don’t, then the right choice was to let the innocent peasants die.  My personal feeling is that one always acts in mercy, for blessed are the merciful. 

5. Most stories of martyrs depict them as dying joyfully and those who look on rejoicing that they’ve been found worthy to suffer for Christ. This film has quite a lot of agonized sobbing, even when one man is (mercifully) beheaded rather than killed in some incredibly slow and painful way. Is this a function of Scorsese’s fundamental failure to understand the faith? Have we over-romanticized martyrdom and this is more realistic? Is there a cultural component that I’m missing?

I haven’t seen the movie.  Let me add here that this existential crises is the only time I have ever heard it being put to Christians.  Most martyrs are asked to apostatize or die.  Here Rodrigues is asked to apostatize or let others die.  The outline of the novel is actually based on an historical event.  Ferreira and the character of Rodrigues (who in real life was called Giuseppe Chiara) existed and apostatized.  Endo imagined the details. 

6. In the scene in which the villagers were drowned, these men who had been depicted as dirty and repulsive, true savages, became dignified. When Mokichi sings (was it some version of the Tantum Ergo?) after 4 days of near-drowning, he reminds me what it is to live and die for Christ. For that scene alone, there’s a lot I would forgive this movie.

In the novel they are singing a Japanese Christian hymn: “We’re on our way, we’re on our way,/We’re on our way to the temple of Paradise…”  The true hero of the novel are the Christian peasants.  Rodrigues may be the protagonist, but he is no hero.

7. After his first interview with Rodrigues, the interpreter walks out of Rodrigues’ cell and makes a comment about Rodrigues’ arrogance, following it with a declaration that he would fall. It was all I could do not to pull out my phone and write that quotation down word for word. That idea transformed how I viewed martyrdom and, honestly, how I view myself. It had me looking up confession times and prepared me for confession better than any examination of conscience I’ve ever seen. Those who are humble don’t have so far to fall, so perhaps some of it is just that the devil puts less effort into them. But more than that, their faith is built on Christ. Rodrigues’s faith, sincere as it was, was shored up by his awareness that he was strong and brave and educated. Had he been weaker, Christ could have been stronger in him.

That’s a good observation. 

8. Who would you rather be on Judgment Day: Rodrigues or Kichijiro?

Both are sinners.  Both are human. 

9. Ferreira claims that the Japanese aren’t capable of accepting the Gospel, despite the 300,000 converts made in 50 years. It’s worth discussing this question, the central one of Endo’s life, of how inherently western Catholicism is and what can be done for more authentic inculturation. What struck me more, though, was his insistence that the Japanese hadn’t truly embraced Christ, only their false, nature-worship understanding of him. And yet they died for him. I think that to have that strength they must have known him. Even if they didn’t, even if they were worshiping the sun and calling it Jesus, is that enough? Does God demand doctrinal accuracy or are our best efforts enough?

Ferreira is manifestly wrong.  You have to remember that this is an historical novel, so we the reader know the history.  Christianity survived the 250 year persecution and when the oppression stopped they were still Christians.  Endo’s point is the Holy Spirited obviously guided the outcome.  Rodrigues’ clandestine effort was unnecessary and therefore presumptuous and prideful.  It didn’t trust in Christ.  One needed the Kichijiro’s and the martyrs, the cowardly and the courageous.  Both contributed to Christianity’s survival.  The historicity is very important in shedding light on the events within the novel.

10. Even at the beginning, Rodrigues told the villagers to trample on the image, yet he held out for months. Why did he hold himself to a different standard? Is it okay that he had higher standards for himself or did that lead to his downfall? How can we be merciful to others while striving for sainthood without falling in the same way?

Good questions and I can’t answer any of them.  All I can say is that Rodrigues’ lack of humility caused the events.  Pope Francis today might say that Rodrigues was pushing cultural "colonialism."

11. The hunger the villagers had for the Sacraments puts me to shame. Their joy at the coming of the priests, despite the risk they knew it brought, their desperate need to confess their sins–all this reminds me how much I take God for granted. See how they love him!

I believe that was chapter three in the novel.  That is among the most beautiful chapters of all Christian literature. 

12. Rodrigues’ act of apostasy is an obvious one and most of us would recognize (at least intellectually) that nothing justifies apostasy. But are there smaller acts of apostasy in my life that I’ve justified because they’re motivated by compassion or prudence or convenience? Are there certain actions that I recognize are inherently evil, or do I think that sometimes the ends justify the means? How has this impacted my opposition to abortion or torture? Have I compromised on something small and seen it snowball? What venial sin do I need to cut out in order to be safe from mortal sin in the future?

Personally I think refusing to aid the suffering was the greater sin.  I’m no theologian but I put to you the parable of the Good Samaritan.  One of those who passes by not aiding the dying man is a priest who avoids helping the wounded man because it will contaminate him and he will not be able to perform his liturgical functions.  That is almost a comparable example to Rodrigues.  To not act in mercy because of a legalism strikes me as Pharisaic. 

13. If you’ve read The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, compare Rodrigues and Greene’s whiskey priest. What does the juxtaposition of those two characters tell you about pride and sanctity?

Both are flawed men.  Greene thought Silence was the greatest Catholic novel.  I don’t recall the whiskey priest being prideful like Rodrigues.  I thought the whiskey priest couldn’t resist his temptations.

14. What were the differences between Rodrigues and Garrpe? If their circumstances were reversed, would Rodrigues have died a martyr and Garrpe an apostate? Or was there something that separated them even before that? Do you think you could endure what Rodrigues did and remain faithful?


I don’t think Garrpe’s character is developed enough to answer that.  I don’t know how I would react in Rodrigues’ situation.  I think I would act the same.

Questions 15 and 16 don't really apply here.

17. The title of the film refers to the silence of God in the face of human suffering. Does prolonged silence from God weaken us in the face of such suffering? It didn’t in Mother Teresa’s case–why not? How could Rodrigues have reacted differently to this silence? How could you?

In the novel, I believe God’s silence is only imagined.  Even Rodrigues says at the end He was always speaking.  The silence of the title I believe refers to the 250 years of Christians in Japan living their faith secretly in silence.  It is an historical novel, first and foremost.

So for those that have read the novel, how do you feel about the apostasy?