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Posts Tagged ‘Silence’

— 1 —

Yeah, spending an hour or so here. Older Kid has an exam, and it’s his only one today, I had to drive (I usually don’t in the mornings, but other kid in the carpool didn’t have an exam this first period), it makes no sense to go back home, so here I am. Coffee shop? Well, I don’t drink coffee, and I didn’t feel like spending $4 on a mug of tea, so here I am with my Diet Coke.

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I’ve got an article on the novel Silence over at Catholic World Report. It’s intended to help folks who are reading the novel for the first time. I had said a couple of weeks ago I would do a study guide, and I would still like to do that, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen. I have a book manuscript due February 1, and really, every spare minute I have needs to go to that, especially with the holidays here and the next couple of weeks about to vanish, in work terms, like smoke. It’s weird how that happens, and it happens every year: mid-December, I’m thinking, “Eh, I’ve got almost two months to finish this,” and then I wake up one morning, it’s early January and I’ve got like three weeks. 

But I will say that if you want a deeper look at the novel, consider finding Silence and Beauty by Japanese Christian visual artist Makoto Fujimura. It’s a meditative read, and really helped me understand the novel and the Japanese cultural context out of which Endo wrote.

— 3—

I read an annoyed tweet from a priest about Silence, objecting to “why do I have to read a book that celebrates apostasy?”  Of course, Silence doesn’t do that, although it’s not hard to see how it could be interpreted that way, which is why it’s a good discussion-starter and conscience-pricker. Secondly, who says anyone has to read anything? Today everyone on my social media feeds is talking about the new Star Wars movie and I could NOT care less, but I feel no compunction to enter into the fray, and don’t feel annoyed about it. I just do my own thing. Not a problem, not a reason to get annoyed.

I think a great part of staying sane in this era of information is just understanding that people are different, have varied interests and yes, obsessions, and just because a substantial part of subcultures you bump up against over the course of a day are really interested in something..doesn’t mean you have to be..or that you have to disparage them for their interests.

— 4 —

Bambinelli Sunday came and wentBambinelli Sunday came and went. I haven’t had time to do a comprehensive search of who did what, but my sense is that it’s continuing to grow. We did it at the Cathedral of St.
Paul here in Birmingham, and it was very nice.

It’s pretty amazing, and I’m actually sort of proud. As I said to Ann Engelhart on the phone the other day about it, We did this thing. It’s a little tradition that is spreading, bit by bit, and something we did has inspired a lot of it over on this side of the ocean. She gets most of the credit, because the book was her idea, and I’m grateful!

Vatican Radio report on Pope Francis’ blessing of the Bambinelli.

They’re even doing it at the National Shrine in DC – “wrong” Sunday..but that’s okay! I’ll take it!

 

— 5 —.

My younger son, the pianist, is a scholarship winner and member of the honors ensemble of his arts academy. In return for the scholarship, they are asked to play in a few special recitals through the year. Over the past couple of weeks, he played in two at a local retirement home/assisted living facility. He had two pieces, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I have a bit of the latter on Instagram here. That is one of the few secular Christmas songs that I like, mostly because of the historical context – written during World War II, with the original “narrator” of the song understood to be a soldier serving overseas. When you get that, that last line…I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams…just might *get* you a bit. And when your son is playing it for an audience of 80-90 year olds who’ve hobbled from their rooms with their walkers, bringing a lifetime of family, home, children and memories with them, and probably not much more time to go…yeah.

— 6—

Speaking of Memento Mori, this is last week’s estate sale shot. The house was filthy, in terrible shape, making me wonder, as I always do in such situations, if the person living there had been just stubborn and not ever wanted any help (that happens), had alienated everyone who might help (that happens) or had been basically abandoned by those who should have been around to help (that happens too). As usual, the experience confirms my determination to not let that happen

Because you can’t take it with you. Any of it. Not even your hair.

— 7 —

Still looking for a Christmas gift? I have some copies of Bambinelli Sunday, Be Saints and The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days. I think that’s about it. Go here for information.

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It is apt that people are starting to talk about Silence around the time of the feast of St. Francis Xavier, who introduced  Christianity to Japan in 1549. Here is a good, short summary of the two years he spent there. 

You can read in more detail about his time in Japan here, in the old biography and letter collection I cited in the last post. The chapter to which this link will take you contains the biographer’s summary as well as a letter from Francis Xavier to the Society back in Goa…which is well worth your time.

As I noted in the previous entry, Francis Xavier’s mission method encompassed all of the works of mercy – which is the traditional Catholic way of evangelization. These days, the a_xavier_2006sp2“instruct the ignorant” part of the works of mercy is often ignored, downplayed or disparaged, for various reasons: The specifics of religious truth are too complicated, are an obstacle to the Big Picture Truth that Jesus Loves You, or maybe even actually aren’t that true at all – not in the sense of being false but in the sense of not mattering very much, all things considered. 

But Francis Xavier, S.J., put “instruct the ignorant” front and center when it was called for – as in when those he was seeking to bring to Christ lived out of false belief systems. For him, understanding their beliefs and then relentlessly tearing them down was an essential work of mercy. Yes, he accompanied them….pointing out their errors and inviting them to the fullness of the truth with every step he took alongside them.

First, Xavier’s detailed explanation of the mission field that he found: his take on Japanese society and culture, and in particular religious practice. What he found was a system of sects, whose members were called bonze. The beliefs of these sects were rooted in Chinese beliefs and had evolved into an elaborated eternal life insurance profit-making scheme.

(Forgive the formatting – I cut and pasted from the text at the archive.org site and don’t have time to reformat. Basketball game.)

At the 
same time, the bonzes and the bonzesses, when preaching to 
the people about these laws, persuade them that profane per 
sons, occupied with worldly business, are unable themselves to- 
observe these five precepts ; but that they themselves are ready 
to make satisfaction for all the evil or inconvenience which 
may happen to them in consequence of breaking them, on con 
dition of the people giving them convents, yearly revenues, and 
money for all necessary uses : in short, of paying them every 
kind of honour and homage.

Xavier found the Japanese to be highly intellectual and interested in engaging in theological conversation – so that is what he did.

We used to preach twice a
day, and after the sermon there was always a good long dis
pute concerning religion. Thus we were continually occupied
either in preaching or in answering questions. Many bonzes
were often present at the sermons, and a great number of
others, both of the common people and of the nobility. The
house was always full of men, so full, that at times some were
shut out for want of space. Those who asked us questions
pressed them so well home, that the answers we gave enabled
them thoroughly to understand the falsehood of their own laws
and founders, and the truth of the Christian law. After dis
putes and questionings for many days, they at last began to
give in and betake themselves to the faith of Christ.

And when you read his account of the discourses, what you discover is…not much has changed. Human beings still fall into the same errors we always have, and we also have the very same questions about faith.

Xavier’s angle with the bonze – the weakness in their system he discerned – was that they had no Creation account or philosophy.

The Japanese doctrines teach absolutely nothing concerning 
the creation of the world, of the sun, the moon, the stars, the 
heavens, the earth, sea, and the rest, and do not believe that 
they have any origin but themselves. The people were greatly 
astonished on hearing it said that there is one sole Author and 
common Father of souls, by whom they were created. This 
astonishment was caused by the fact that in their religious tra 
ditions there is nowhere any mention of a Creator of the uni- 
verse. If there existed one single First Cause of all things, 
surely, they said, the Chinese, from whom they derive their 
religion, must have known it. For the Japanese give the Chinese 
the pre-eminence in wisdom and prudence in everything relat 
ing either to religion or to political government. They asked 
us a multitude of questions concerning this First Cause of all 
things ; whether He were good or bad, whether the same First 
Cause were the origin of good and of evil. We replied that 
there exists one only First Cause, and He supremely good, with 
out any admixture of evil.

And he answered their very natural questions about God’s timing: If this is so great and so true…why is this the first we’re hearing of it?

Before their baptism the converts of Amanguchi were greatly 
troubled and pained by a hateful and annoying scruple that 
God did not appear to them merciful and good, because He had 
never made Himself known to the Japanese before our arrival, 
especially if it were true that those who had not worshipped 
God as we preached were doomed to suffer everlasting punish 
ment in hell. It seemed to them that He had forgotten and as 
it were neglected the salvation of all their ancestors in permit 
ting them to be deprived of the knowledge of saving truths, and 
thus to rush headlong on eternal death. It was this painful 
thought which, more than anything else, kept them back from 
the religion of the true God. But by the divine mercy all their 
error and scruple was taken away. We began by proving to 
them that the divine law is the most ancient of all. Before re 
ceiving their institutions from the Chinese, the Japanese knew 
by the teaching of nature that it was wicked to kill, to steal, to 
swear falsely, and to commit the other sins enumerated in the 
ten commandments, a proof of this being the remorse of con 
science to which any one guilty of one of these crimes was cer 
tain to be a prey. We showed them that reason itself teaches 
us to avoid evil and to do good, and that this is so deeply im 
planted in the hearts of men, that all have the knowledge of 
the divine law from nature and from God the Author of nature 
before they receive any external instruction on the subject. If 
any doubts were entertained on the matter, an experiment might 
be made in the person of a man without any instruction, living 
in absolute solitude, and in entire ignorance of the laws of his 
country. Such a man, ignorant of and a stranger to all human 
teaching, if he were asked whether it were or were not criminal 
to kill, to steal, or to commit the other actions forbidden by the 
law of God, and whether it were right to abstain from such 
actions, then, I say, this man, so fundamentally without all hu 
man education, would most certainly reply in such a manner as 
to show that he was by no means without knowledge of the 
divine law. Whence then must he be supposed to have re 
ceived this knowledge, but from God Himself, the Author of 
nature? And if this knowledge is seen among barbarians, what 
must be the case with civilized and polished nations ? This 
being so, it necessarily follow that before any laws were made 
by men the divine law existed innate in the hearts of all men. 
The converts were so satisfied with this reasoning, as to see 
no further difficulty; so that this net having been broken, 
they received from us with a glad heart the sweet yoke of our 
Lord. 



One more:

The bonzes are persons of acute mind, and are very fond 
of studying, especially what relates to the future ; they are fond 
of considering what will happen to them, what will be their 
end, and all questions of this nature. There were some of the 
bonzes who, in the course of their meditations, had come to 
believe that there was no way of saving souls in their system. 
They argued in this way : It is necessary above all things that 
there should exist a single origin of all things ; now, in their 
books there is not a word on the subject, for there is a won 
derful silence in them all as to the creation of the universe; 
and therefore if any of their predecessors were acquainted with 
this first principle a thing not confirmed by any authority, 
written or traditional they must have kept the knowledge to 
themselves and hid it from their descendants. 

Now, men of this sort were wonderfully delighted with the 
divine law. One of them embraced the faith of Jesus Christ 
at Amanguchi, after being many years in the university of Ban- 
dou, where he had a flourishing reputation for learning. Before 
we came to Japan he had thought of becoming a bonze; after 
wards he changed his mind and married. The reason he as 
signed for this change was, that he had seen the falsehood and 
emptiness of the Japanese religions, and therefore did not be 
lieve in them at all, but he was bound to pay his homage to 
the Author and Creator of the universe. Our Christians were 
overjoyed at his accession, for he was and was thought to be 
the most learned man of the city.

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I’m over at Catholic World Report with yet another article on Women and the Reformation. Just a bit of what I wrote in the Catholic Herald piece is repeated there. Most of it is new.

Part of what I wanted to communicate in the piece concerns the Reformation narrative most of us have absorbed. It’s a false narrative, people.

Reading A Short Chronicle will open the eyes of anyone under the impression of the Reformation as a movement that coursed along powered only by the finer spiritual sensibilities. If Geneva came under the power of the Reformation at this moment, it did so less because of “seekers” finding a spiritual home, but because the citizens were threatened and bullied, a destructive battle was fought, and the Catholics lost.

But then to get to the women – when you engage with this material, it really gets you thinking, not only about the distant past, but the recent past and the present.

Plus, do get over there and read about Jeanne de Jussie and the Geneva Poor Clares, and, if you want to read more, her Chronicle is well worth your time and even your money. As I read it, I couldn’t help but envision it in cinematic terms – it could be an intense, riveting film in the right hands.

— 2 —

Speaking of persecution of Catholics, as you probably know, Scorsese’s adaptation of Endo’s Silence is due to be released in a few weeks. I don’t imagine those of us in flyover country will see it until after Christmas, but here’s the trailer. 

I’m thinking that this film will inspire many to read the novel, either as individuals or as part of a book group, and so to help out, I’m going to be pulling together a study guide over the next week. I’ll have a page for it over at my website, and then will put it together as a downloadable document free for anyone to use. So look for that!

Beginning to talk about it a bit here…

 

— 3—

Alabama store in Jerusalem

Isn’t this crazy? An Alabama – themed shop in Jerusalem. (That’s Father Mark of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word). Here’s the story – the owner studied engineering at UA and lived in Tuscaloosa for ten years before returning to Jerusalem..

 

 

— 4 —

Check this out – a great resource from the Rector of our Cathedral, Fr. Jerabek: 

I am pleased to announce the release of a resource I developed several years ago, now to a wider market. It is a basic bilingual catechism (Spanish/English). This resource meets a pastoral need that I have encountered over and over again: in working with Latino immigrants, I have found that a very large number of them have little formal education in the Catholic faith. Many come to the Church as adults to make their first communion — some, even, to be baptized! When faced with pastoral situations such as this, it is helpful for the pastor or catechist to have a basic resource to put in their hands: something that can be a sort of “springboard” for learning what is needed for sacramental preparation and personal spiritual growth. I have also found that many individuals who already have their sacraments enjoy this resource for “brushing up on the basics” of their faith.

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— 5 —.

One of my favorite blogs is A Clerk at Oxford – check out her post on an 10th-century Advent homily:

This brief fragment is full of rhetorical flourishes and ornamental prose which it’s difficult to convey in translation; it would be very effective when read aloud, as homilies are of course meant to be. There’s a particularly lovely string of parallel phrases describing Christ: ealles folces Frefrend, 7 ealles middangeardes Hælend, 7 ealra gasta Nergend, 7 ealra saula Helpend ‘all people’s Comfort, all the world’s Saviour, all spirits’ Preserver, all souls’ Helper’.

— 6—

Feast of St. Francis Xavier coming up tomorrow. St. Nicholas this week – you still have time to do some preparation -check out the St. Nicholas Center! 

And, Catholic institutions…please stop having “Breakfast with Santa.” Please.  It’s so much better, and not hard to have Breakfast with St. Nicholas instead.

Also, I’ll be in Living Faith a couple of days next week – check out the website, where they post the devotionals on a daily basis. 

— 7 —

Still hankering for a family devotional? Get this one instantly for only .99!

And don’t forget…Bambinelli Sunday.  It’s coming…

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Over the next few weeks and months, we will be hearing much about Shusaku Endo’s great novel Silence, and, of course, of Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, which was screened this week in Rome.

This is a novel that is very easy to misunderstand, and I am very interested to see what Scorsese does with it. By saying “easy to misunderstand,” I am not suggesting that there is only one way to “understand” or interpret the novel, though. Not at all. I do think that Silence Endothere are unquestionable misinterpretations, however, and most of them come out of a lack of awareness of the Japanese, particular Catholic, as well as personal context  out of which Endo was writing.

In other words, you can’t fruitfully read Silence if your only frame of reference are 2016 culture wars and ecclesiastical and theological divisions. Silence is not about that. So forget it.

So yes, I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks – this very short piece I wrote years ago for Ligouri still stands up. As I say in the beginning, it was so short because that was the mandate from the magazine – write 540 words….oy.

Anyway, what I am working on is a study guide for the novel. I am doing this just for myself and anyone else who is interested, and I’ll make it available as soon as I finish it – hopefully next week. It will be amended once I see the film, but I did want to put something out there sooner than that. I’m sure that many parishes and other groups will be using Silence as a group study focus over the coming months, so I just wanted to join the fray and put what I hope will be a helpful resource out there. It will just be a free download – no signing up for mailing lists required!

Anyway, this is accidentally pertinent. In doing all that reading for women and the Reformation, I came across this really interesting article in a book on early modern women and religion. 

“Women Apostles in Early Modern Japan, 1549-1650” by Columbia Theological Seminary historian Haruko Nawata Ward tells stories that we don’t usually hear, as our focus on Japan during this period is, naturally enough on martyrdom. You can probably access much of the article by searching Google Books – since you probably don’t want to pay $150 for a copy..

Anyway, Ward uses documents from missionaries to tell the stories:

Working in the difficult environment of Japan, and always understaffed, the missionaries relied heavily upon laity in the work of evangelization. They quickly recognized women’s contributions and the importance of collaborating with women in their shared apostolic mission. …

…The best known of these was Naito Julia, a former abbess of a Buddhist nunnery, who was inspired by Jesuit missionaries and established a society of Christian women catechists called the Miyaco no bicuni (Nuns of Miyako). Women catechists’ success in converting people is well documented by the Jesuits; however, because of their success the government banished the Miyaco no bicuni from Japan in 1614. The Jesuits continued to record the history of these women, who became contemplatives, during their exile in the Philippines until 1656.  ….Women catechists of Julia’s society took the three vows of virginity, poverty and obedience under the supervision of two Jesuits. Following the Jesuit model, these women were active evangelists, preachers, teachers catechizers, baptizers, pastoral leaders, and religious debaters. 

The details of the community’s life were recorded by Jesuit Juan de Salazar after the group had been exiled to the Philippines. He felt it was important to preserve their history.

Usually she taught non-Christians Christian doctrine, catechizing them so that they would be converted to our holy faith and be baptized, and at the same time, she attended to the teaching of Christians, instructing them so that they would be ready to confess and receive the holy sacrament. And she was so busy with these holy ministries that regardless of her deep desire to retreat so as to make the [spiritual] exercises of our father Saint Ignatius, she was seldom able to obtain them from the fathers of our Society because they were continuously sending her to evangelize in various kingdoms, cities and private houses where our own could not go. 

Moreover, the Jesuits granted Julia full authority to baptize on their behalf. Salazar explains that Japanese noblewomen of the highest rank would not speak with men, not even Buddhist clergy. Julia opened the door for the conversion of these women: not only was she a noblewoman of royal blood which allowed her access to other noblewomen, but she was also gifted with intelligence, prudence, and versatile knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and was thus able to differentiate “false” Buddhist teachings from the “true” teachings of the Catholic faith. Julia was apparently very successful at this task: “Convinced by the reasoning of Lady Julia, many ladies of Japan with their daughters and families accepted our holy faith and received baptism by her hand because we [the Jesuits] were not able to administer it. 

Incidentally, traditional barriers between the sexes throughout Asia were a major reason that Protestant denominations began sending women as missionaries to the continent during their great missionary century, the 19th.

This cultural reality also sheds light on the purpose of female “deacons” in the early Christian church. There is certainly ambiguity about this role as it was lived out in the Church, but what is consistent is that it was not at all the sacerdotal diaconate related to the presbyterate and episcopacy, and existed so that women could be ministered to in certain ways in a culture in which the taboos against male and female interaction outside the family were strong.

In 1613, Julia and her companions were arrested, publicly humiliated (stripped naked in public) and tortured. They would not renounce their faith, so the shogunate expelled them from Japan. They arrived in Manila in 1615, and lived there, in a different way of life: enclosed now, rather than active, but dedicated to prayerful support of the Jesuit missions.

The Society saw to it that the women received adequate donations to sustain themselves, noting that they ‘only cared about the greater glory of God and obtaining the greatest happy progress for the Province and our Society of Jesus, whom they, like a sweetest mother, keep i the most intimate part of their hearts.’ 

She tells the story of many more, some martyrs and some beatified and canonized. As I said, I read this article in an anthology, but Ward has a book on the subject Women Religious Leaders in Japan’s Christian Century, 1549-1650.   

As I keep saying in my very boring way…if you want to stay sane in the Crazy Present Moment…read history. It helps. It really does. 

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