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Silence: the surrender in sacrifice

Author: Rachel Mannix

Silence: the surrender in sacrifice

Martin Scorsese’s new movie Silence, about Jesuit missionaries in Japan, asks us to tread the line of doubt and faith and to never be sure we've found safe footing, says Rachel Mannix.

Be in no doubt, film director Martin Scorsese’s new Hollywood adaptation of Silence, the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō, is painful.

Both the depictions of physical torture and the utter torment of impossible moral decisions inflicted on 17th century Japanese Christians can be at times heart-wrenchingly unbearable.  It is not a stretch for the mind to think of our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East in these moments.

There is a reason though why Padre Rodrigues, a Jesuit missionary from Lisbon, is the protagonist of the tale and not these brave, martyred villagers.

While they fit our idea of what it is to die for Christ, Endō and Scorsese have chosen a more subtle focus by exploring the spiritual journey of several apostate priests.

“What you must do, do quickly.”

The danger of drawing a parallel between Jesus and ourselves in our suffering is that we lose sight of him as our Saviour.

For Rodrigues, played by British actor Andrew Garfield, to suffer for God is to be like Christ. Rodrigues believes that the salvation of others is his own cross to bear.

If Rodrigues, sent to free persecuted Christians, is Jesus then Kichijiro, his pitiful Japanese guide, is Judas Iscariot. Rodrigues condemns him with a fearful mistrust and in his heart begs his betrayer to carry out the betrayal quickly, as he imagines Jesus did in the gospels.

We can be forgiven for understanding the words that passed from our Lord to Judas at the Last Supper to come from desperation for his trial to begin and be done with as soon as possible.

But what Scorsese astutely draws out from the novel is that instead this was an act of immense love. It wasn’t to minimise Jesus’ own suffering but to release Judas from the burden of guilt: “What you must do, do quickly” John 13:27.

The surrender in sacrifice

Silence is not the story of a noble missionary bringing salvation to a foreign people, or being rewarded with martyrdom for his unwavering faith under relentless pressure.

But when Rodrigues reaches breaking point, it is Jesus that meets him with tenderness and calls him to let go of his struggle, because the purpose of Christ’s death is to shoulder burdens for us.

Deeper than that, letting go is the ultimate self-sacrifice for Rodrigues because it requires renouncing his faith. It is not his steadfast and public declaration of his Catholic beliefs that will save the Japanese but the relinquishing of it, and that surrender into lifelong silence is ultimately a sign of his trust in God.  

The concept is nuanced and I wonder if it will be lost on people who have not intimately experienced the loving nature of Christ or fully understood His sacrifice of love.

Nonetheless the poignant lack of soundtrack, the breathtaking landscapes and the challenging yet inspiring displays of courage are a beautiful and truthful rendering of this profound novel.

 

  • Silence, starring Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver, will be in cinemas on New Years Day. To book tickets and download resources for your parish or prayer group such as discussion guides and poster images, go to: http://silence.damarismedia.com

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