The most anticipated film of 2016 is due to release on December 23rd, and your humble writer cannot wait.
For those who have not read Shusaku Endo’s Silence, I cannot more highly recommend the book. Centered in 17th century Japan, it revolves around two Jesuit priests who are compelled to go find their mentor after rumors of him renunciating the Catholic Faith are brought back to Lisbon.
The central theme of the book — and what actually happened in Imperial Japan — is that Japanese Catholics are force to trample upon an image of Christ as a sign of their rejection of the faith. Those who refuse are killed by cutting their foreheads and being hung over a pit, thus slowly bleeding to death.
The book is almost Greek in its tragic sense, and in the very closing parts of this eminently readable book, Christ finally breaks His silence to Fr. Rodrigues in a remarkable exchange — one that offers tremendous insight on the role of suffering:
I, too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. It was on the face of the man who has been ever in my thoughts, on the face that was before me on the mountains, in my wanderings, in prison, on the best and most beautiful face that any man can ever know, on the face of him whom I have always longed to love. Even now that face is looking at me with eyes of pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. “Trample!” said those compassionate eyes. “Trample! Your foot suffers in pain; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason I am here.
— Shusaku Endo, “Silence” (1966)
The contrast reminds me of the movie Ran — a Kurosawa film made in 1985 that is an adaptation of King Lear. At one moment, the primary character of the film finally dies after reuniting with this son… only to have him assassinated by forces loyal to another son fighting to control his dominions. Lord Ichimonji’s palace jester lashes out at the cruelty of the world, and is corrected by one of Ichimonji’s retainers:
Enough! Do not blaspheme! It is the gods who weep. They see us killing each other over and over since time began. They can’t save us from ourselves…
Endo’s lesson is that Christ suffers with us, the same as Buddha suffers with Kirosawa’s Ichimonji. Human freedom enables the possibility of suffering, not its actuality. Yet in that trade, it also enables the possibility of tremendous good as well. It is the human urge to control — to bring things whole, to mimic the Holy Spirit by imposing our own spirit — that creates suffering and evil in this world, if for no other reason than because we are terribly imperfect.