In Defense of Silence

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To quote The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Silence shows both sides of this statement.

People who are familiar with the movies from Martin Scorsese are familiar with his themes on guilt, redemption, pride, morality. And usually these themes are portrayed in a gritty, dramatic, and even tragic light. There’s a controversy surrounding Silence because many people, including Bishop Robert Barron, mistakenly believe that the movie promotes apostasy. They forget that the story is historical fiction and that the story arc of Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues isn’t a heroic journey, but a tragedy.

Spoilers for Silence ensue.

I think people forget what a real tragedy is supposed to do. Many people love watching shows like House of Cards, How to Get Away with Murder, and Suits which all have villainous protagonists and the show essentially sides with them even as they endure lots of drama. The protagonists of these shows are not to be admired or imitated or even mourned over if they ever lose the power they gain.

A real tragedy, however, can be found in plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth and even in characters such as Iron Man, who lost his friends and loved ones due to his own hubris and paranoia. The character of Sebastiao Rodrigues is an authentic example of a tragic hero. We aren’t meant to imitate him, but mourn him and learn a lesson from his bad judgment.

In traditional tragedies, the central character has a tragic flaw. Macbeth’s is ambition, Othello’s is jealousy. Sebastiao Rodrigues’s flaw in the movie is implied to be vanity. There’s a moment in the movie where Fr. Rodrigues sees his reflection in the water and sees Jesus’s face as his own. His old mentor, Fr. Ferreira, berates him for daring to compare himself to Christ. Now while having a God complex is never a good thing, I think that Fr. Rodrigues was just trying to act in persona Christi. He had such a devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus that touched my heart.

I think Rodrigues’s real tragic flaw was an interior struggle with a spiritual darkness. This darkness only grew as he watched the defenseless villagers offer themselves up to protect him, to the point that many of them are tortured and eventually die for their beliefs.

When I looked up the era that the novel took place in, I learned that at the time, there weren’t many saints or texts outside of the Psalms that talked about spiritual darkness. It’s possible that Rodrigues didn’t know how to deal with the darkness because he never learned of anyone else who dealt with it. I’m also surprised that Psalm 88 isn’t mentioned, as I think that the Psalm captures Rodrigues’s interior struggle.

In his video review of Silence, Bishop Robert Barron compares the apostate priests to soldiers who defect to the enemy. I think what Bishop Barron forgot, however, is that many soldiers in real life suffer from PTSD. I think that the psychological torture Rodrigues was put under led to him developing a spiritual PTSD. He let himself be consumed by the darkness and apostatized out of a distorted attempt at heroism. 

Rodrigues and Ferreira suffered a fate worse than death as a result of their apostasy: they became what they hated the most and make sure Christianity is not brought into Japan anymore. They are mocked by the children and are ordered to take on a new name. They also take a wife, but it’s never shown if they have any relations with the women they ended up marrying.

It’s shown that even after he apostatized, Rodrigues is still put under great scrutiny. He never completely wins over the trust of the Japanese overlords. In the end, Rodrigues’s entire identity as a Christian completely eradicated as he is given a Buddhist funeral and buried under the name that the Japanese overlords gave him. The only evidence of the man he once was is the crucifix that is shown in his hands as his body is burned.

I don’t think that these events glamorize or promote apostasy. Rather, they show the consequences of sin, in this case, the apostasy: separation from God and loss of self. The film shows the brutality of martyrdom, but giving into spiritual darkness is equally tragic.

I highly recommend Silence to those who want to see a good example of a modern tragedy and I think it’s even a good film to watch for Lent because of its look into spiritual darkness. Just bring tissues and ice cream. You’re going to need it.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for those who apostatize and struggle with spiritual darkness.

Image is used for editorial purposes only.

Finding Ourselves in the Silence

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It’s hard for me to be quiet for long. Although I don’t like noisy, crowded rooms, I love having my music around so much that my headphones are practically glued to my ears. I hate making small talk, but if the conversation centers on Doctor Who or Buffy, I’m more than likely to talk someone ear off. There’s a calm to the quiet, but it’s still unsettling to my modern mind, which is so used to having some kind of background noise.

Gaining an appreciation for silence is something a lot of religions seek out. Elizabeth Gilbert practiced an intense Buddhist meditation called Vipassana while staying in the ashram as a way of practicing detachment. Vipassana requires just sitting in silence and not shifting the body once you’ve sat down. Practicing this particular meditation helped her gain an appreciation for the idea of being less talkative and neurotic.

Catholicism has its own appreciation for silence and has its own form of silent meditation. Sure we have praise and worship, Liturgy of the Hours, and a million litanies, but the Church also offers Adoration. I love the silence of Adoration. More often than not, though, I tend to use Adoration to dump all my thoughts in the presence of God. I pray a Rosary and then babble on in my thoughts.

Eventually, the calmness of the hour I spend in Adoration finally sinks into my heart. There’s a great freedom in letting go of your thoughts and focusing more on God’s presence. Vipassana doesn’t allow for thoughts of God because some Buddhists consider God to be “the final object of dependency, the ultimate fuzzy security blanket, the last thing to be abandoned on the path to pure detachment.” Liz Gilbert preferred her “Slumber Party Theology.”

Neither of these philosophies hit the mark. There’s a beautiful paradox in the way that Catholics detach themselves from worldly things and surrender themselves to God. It’s not becoming dependent on a warm and fuzzy imaginary friend. God is not safe, after all. The Pharisees and Romans didn’t crucify the Son of God because he was telling everyone what they wanted to hear.

Mother Teresa explains this better:

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.

When we are silent in the presence of God, we become less of ourselves and more like Him. An interesting thing I observed about Eat, Pray, Love is that although Elizabeth found the happiness she sought from her mid-life crisis, there were times that she came off as a tad pretentious and self-centered. She never liked the idea of Christ being the only path to God. Sorry, lady, but it’s right there in black and white in John 14: 6 “ “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I understand that some people will probably find that concept of only one way restrictive. But letting God into our lives and allowing us to lose ourselves in Him paradoxically brings out the best version of ourselves. Having a life in Christ doesn’t mean that everyone becomes a cookie-cutter copy of each other. You just have to look at the community of saints to see that in that “one path,” there is diversity. Bishop Robert Barron compares it to light being fractured through a prism into an infinite number of colors. Instead of many paths leading to one way, finding ourselves in God leads to a more beautiful life.

There’s a song by Matt Maher called “Empty and Beautiful” that captures this spiritual journey of God finding us and how emptying ourselves into Him leads us to finding True Beauty.

Firefly Month: The Fear and The Silence

Bushwhacked doesn’t really raise any moral issues aside from “What is the measure of a non-human” and how the crew of Serenity chose to deal with the dead bodies they found on an abandoned ship. Said dead bodies were of families that were attacked by Reavers.

The main theme of this episode is fear. Simon is afraid of getting in the spacesuits and being out in space in general. Jayne is afraid of the dead bodies. River, burdened with the power of mind reading, feels the residual fear of the families that got attacked by Reavers. And the sole survivor of the ship turns out to have a lot of psychological trauma, so much so that he becomes like the monsters that attacked him. The episode plays out like a thriller or creature feature, with the same air of suspense that makes your skin crawl. 

Later on, the crew runs into the Alliance, who are on the lookout for Simon and River. As the Alliance men search the ship, we find out that Simon and River are hiding on the outside of the ship in space suits. Someone pointed out on the Firefly TVTropes page that while Simon was completely terrified of being out in space, River was staring out in wonder and awe because out in space, there are so few minds for her to read. She is actually more stable staying on Serenity with its small crew than if she stayed on a planet with millions of people because in the emptiness of space, her mind finds peace. It reminded me of something I read in high school about how silent rooms and empty spaces are great places for meditation.

But this idea of contemplative, silent prayer isn’t just something from New Age or Buddhism. Silence is valued very much in Catholicism. A homily from Catholic Online goes into more detail about it.

And while we’re in a Flashback Friday kind of mood, here’s a clip of one of what Father Benedict had to say about silence:

Mother Teresa, of course, is the most famous advocate of silence:

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.

The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

I hope that today, you’ll find an hour for silent prayer. You can spend it in Adoration or out in a quiet place. See how the silence affects you.

Screenshots belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy and are for editorial purposes only.

 

Lent Day 38: The Voice In the Silence

“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Many a Catholic identifies this as a refrain to a familiar psalm.

But what is God’s voice? We can’t exactly hear it!

Maybe the reason we can’t hear it is because we’re not listening to it. But we’re not the only ones. There’s a famous passage about Elijah trying to find God in 1 Kings 19: 11-12

‘Then the Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12after the earthquake, fire—but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.’

The last four words in this verse are more well known as “a still small voice.”

Mother Teresa said that “In the silence of our hearts, God speaks.”

Holy Week is a period that consists of more silence than celebration after Palm Sunday. The readings are more solemn and many people spend time meditating on Jesus’s passion and death.

But how can we distinguish God’s voice from other voices, even in the silence of our hearts?

It starts by knowing what God would say. 9 times out of 10, what God wants is pretty much the opposite of what the world says would make us happy. And Satan, Father of Lies that he is, tries to make us think that he is God’s voice by offering us everything we think we want on a silver platter.

Tucker Max, famous for being the epitome of frat boy dreams everywhere, says “The devil doesn’t come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns. He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for.”

While God wants to give us what makes us happy, a lot of the time, what God wants to give us is not something we expect. It’s often the last thing we expect. Think of all the Bible stories you know. It usually starts with a reluctant hero who at first thinks he can’t, but decides to do God’s will anyway. Okay, that’s also part of the Hero’s Journey, but you get my point. There’s a reason why people always say “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

Today, I want you to spend time in silent meditation and I pray that you hear God’s voice during this Lenten season.