During the period of lockdown, I have often used the intervals of time at the weekend to watch films on Amazon Prime. I confess that my favourite genre is romantic comedy, as I find its light-heartedness relaxes me the most. Admittedly the regular watching of that genre can become a bit repetitive, so I sometimes seek out films with deeper and more challenging themes.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence very much fulfilled that description. It is an epic historical drama based on a novel about the persecution of Japanese Christians in the 17th century. It focuses on two Jesuit (a Roman Catholic religious order) priests who journey through Japan on a quest to find their missing mentor. Although I am not Roman Catholic, the Jesuits are very close to my heart. As a postgraduate in Nottingham (in year after I left Trinity Hall), a Nigerian Jesuit priest lived on my corridor. We became good friends with our shared love of theology and Arsenal Football Club.
In and throughout Silence the Japanese authorities ask Christians to renounce their faith by stepping on an image of Christ. This raises the question of whether one could or should appear to renounce one’s faith but still maintain an inner devotion to God? And what relationship and balance should there be between private and public faith for Christians when facing persecution and martyrdom?
Money is promised to those who would inform the authorities of those who adhered to the Christian religion, but thrice the amount to those who would report priests. As someone from a low-church background where the priest would hold a relatively unimportant role, I was impressed by the film’s depiction of how the Japanese underground churches’ valued the two priests. This is partly because of the necessity of the priest for conducting the Mass. I and many others share their longing to receive the consecrated bread and wine (again). Churches may be able to share fellowship via Zoom and that has been a profitable experience, but there is something more radical about sharing the communion table with others. For Christ’s call to share in his body and blood are an invitation to anyone and everyone to become part of his welcoming, diverse and outward-looking family. As theologian-poet Rachel Mann puts it:
“By sharing in this food, we are formed into a community that is not self-centred, but that lives for others.”