Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why Catholics Cannot be Silent about Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ -

In the history of the Church, many martyrs died for the Faith. Starting with Saint Stephen the Protomartyr shortly after the Resurrection, they were the first to be remembered, venerated for their public witness and raised to the altars with the title of saint. There are also those who denied the Faith under pressure. They are forgotten and buried in the dark recesses of history.
The modern world has a problem with martyrs. People cannot understand the glory of their witness for Christ. Modern man would rather try to find some justification behind the anguished decision of those who deny the faith.
Such is the case of Martin Scorsese’s latest film “Silence.” It is a tale about this second category of non-martyrsof whom Our Lord said: “But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt: 10:33)
Curiously, early reviews of “Silence,” have been negative—even by liberal media hostile to the Church. The consensus is that Scorsese’s attempt to propose for general admiration one who outwardly denied the Faith has fallen flat.
Perhaps it is because human nature finds such denials distasteful. Even the director’s talents, Hollywood special effects and media publicity cannot overcome it. Scorsese’s tortuous attempt to justify his tormented protagonist proves tedious and unconvincing.
Hollywood’s Teaching Authority
“Silence” is based on a 1966 novel of the same name by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo. The plot revolves around the fictional character of a Portuguese Jesuit priest in seventeenth century Japan at the time of a violent anti-Catholic persecution. The film represents a “struggle of faith” in which the priest must choose between the lives of his flock and his Faith. In the face of his trials, he finds God is silent to his entreaties, hence the film’s title. Finally, Christ Himself supposedly breaks the silence by interiorly telling the priest that he might outwardly deny the Faith by trampling upon His image to save his flock.
Such a shallow story so contrary to all Church teaching would usually pose no threat to Catholics who are firm in their Faith. However, Hollywood has tragically assumed the role of a teaching authority to countless American Catholics. Thus, the principal lesson taught by the film—that outwardly denying the Faith can sometimes be justified and even desired by God—does pose a danger to the many uncatechized that might mistake Hollywood script for Scriptures. Any silence about “Silence” might be misconstrued as consent.
It is not the case to review the film or explore its convoluted plot and subplots. Such films are nothing new; they are simply means to reinforce certain false premises that undermine the Faith. It is far better to address the false premises themselves and, especially as it applies to modernity’s woeful misunderstanding of martyrdom.
Martyrdom Is Defeat
The first false premise is the modern assumption that life is the supreme value. This is a terrible premise since if there are no values worthy dying for then there is no real reason worth living for. In a materialistic world that adores life and its enjoyment, martyrdom represents failure. Those who renounce the Faith and martyrdom are winners. Those who don’t are losers.
The message of fictional accounts like “Silence,” is that life is to be worshipped to such extent that even God must be made complicit in inspiring the apostasy that saves the lives of the faithful. However, such accounts are indeed fiction; they ignore the historical reality of what happened.
The Historical Record
The historic record of the Japanese martyrs is one of the most glorious in Church history. It is a burning rebuke of modernity’s idolization of life. Tens of thousands suffered or died at the hands of cruel executioners. If tales are needed to inspire authors, let writers tell of the courage, heroism and constancy of these Japanese martyrs, young and old, male and female, religious and secular, who joyfully gave their lives for Christ and earned for themselves the crown of eternal glory. If villains need be found for their stories, let them find them in the cruel governors and judges who condemned the Christians to death.
In 1776, Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri wrote the book, Victories of the Martyrs, which has one large section that tells incredible stories of the Japanese martyrs. He speaks of a Japanese Christian named Ursula, for example, who upon seeing her husband and two young children martyred, cried out: “Be Thou praised, O My God! For having rendered me worthy to be present at this sacrifice, now grant me the grace to have a share in their crown!” She and her youngest daughter were then beheaded.
Indeed, any priest who would save the lives of his flock by renouncing his Faith would be reviled by the Japanese faithful for both his denial and depriving the flock of the crown of martyrdom.
If there is any silence in Scorcese’s “Silence,” it is that silence which ignores the dauntless courage and supernatural joy found in the Japanese martyrs and missionaries whose witness was so superior that their enemies were defeated by their arguments and resorted to killing them. Their martyrdom was their victory, not their defeat.
Acts Have No Meaning
A second premise is that outward acts have no meaning. Acts mean whatever the person determines them to be. Such a premise is typical of postmodern thought that would “deconstruct” acts from their natural meaning and context.
Thus, any benefit or inspiration can justify an act that signifies the denial of the Faith, since acts have no fixed meaning. Indeed, the theme of the film shrouds the outward denial with the good intentions of the protagonist’s concern for the safety of his flock.
Again, this shows a profound misunderstanding of the idea of martyrdom. The word martyr itself means witness—an external manifestation of Faith to others. The postmodern interpretation of the martyr’s dilemmas questions the notion that there can be witnesses that are so firmly convinced of the truths of the Catholic religion that they gladly suffer death rather than deny it. The “meta-narrative” of the great deeds of the martyrs is no longer valued. Even the idea of truth is relative. All must be reduced to the level of personal experience.

“There are also those who denied the Faith under pressure. They are forgotten and buried in the dark recesses of history.”
Again, such an interpretation runs contrary to the historical reality that was centered on the notion of objective truth. Those who persecute the Church hate this truth and the moral law taught by Christ and His Church. They especially hate the public witness given by Christians because this witness denounces them for their sins and wickedness. All they asked of their victims was an outward sign of denial. For this reason, persecutors often preferred to force Christians to deny the Faith than to take their lives.
Historically, that is why those who persecute the Church are always willing to offer honors, offices and benefits to those who renounce the faith. They will always give Christians an excuse to stop being witnesses. This includes those “good intentions” to diminish the sufferings of family, relatives and fellow Christians. However, this is only a pretext. Indeed, what they want to destroy is the witness that haunts them and calls them to virtue. They want renegade Christians to make their denial public to discourage the witness of others.
Thankfully, their efforts are often frustrated by the constancy of faithful Christians that moves others to conversion. They do not understand Tertullian’s encomium that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church,” (Apologeticus, Ch. 50).
The God of SilenceThe final false premise comes from a naturalistic understanding of the world in which people do not grasp how God works in souls. The secular world assumes God’s natural position is one of silence. When secular writers are forced to imagine the action of God upon their characters, they portray it as a purely personal matter based on feelings and emotions inconsistent and outside the logic of divine law.
This is perhaps the greatest misunderstanding of the Faith. Modern authors create their own god of silence and believers outside of the life of grace.
Such a combination leads to absurd characterizations like that of “Silence.” Martyrdom cannot be based on emotion or feeling since it involves surrendering man’s greatest natural gift—life. This is something so difficult that it is beyond human strength to achieve. Martyrdom must entail grace, which enlightens the intellect and strengthens the will to allow Christians to do that which is beyond human nature. God’s grace would never allow a person to deny Christ before men.
Martyrdom—The Fruit of Grace
That is why Saint Alphonsus states that it is a matter of Faith that, “Martyrs are indebted for their crown to the power of the grace which they received from Jesus Christ; for he it is that gave them the strength to despise all the promises and all the threats of tyrants and to endure all the torments till they had made an entire sacrifice of their lives.”
Saint Augustine further states that the merits of the martyrs lie in being the effects of God’s grace and their cooperation with grace.
In other words, God cannot be silent in the face of martyrdom as Scorcese’s “Silence” film affirms. His justice will not allow a person to be tempted beyond the capacity to resist. He is intimately involved in those facing martyrdom. He gives them grace—a created participation in divine life itself. Facing martyrdom without grace is impossible. While God may allow for trials, He is never silent.
Catholics Cannot Remain Silent
And that is why faithful Catholics cannot remain silent in the face of Scorcese’s “Silence.” Scorcese’s film is a tragic denial of God’s grace in a world in dire need of it. In these days when Catholics are being martyred, Catholics need to know that God is never silent. They will never be put in a situation where God betrays Himself. He will always be there when needed.
The secular worldview is so narrow-minded and asphyxiating, but alas so prevalent. Today’s obsession with self permeates the culture to the exclusion of God. It is little wonder that so many would think there is “silence” on the other side of martyrdom. It is largely because they find emptiness in their own lives. They cannot imagine the action of God and His grace.
Amid the frenetic intemperance of the times, the agitated crowds ironically do not seek out God where He is always found—in the silence of their own souls.
Why Catholics Cannot be Silent about Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ -: Why Catholics Cannot be Silent about Scorsese’s ‘Silence’

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My 2017 Resolution: Four Reasons For an Internet-free Sunday -


New Year’s resolution time is here, and I am again tempted to be overly ambitious.
In moments of passion, I find myself wanting to make extreme changes to my habits that I know will not survive the first week of the New Year. Upon reflection, I have resolved to do something that is both possible and practical this year: Make my Sundays Internet-free.
I chose this resolution because, like most people, I am frustrated by how the Internet tends to waste countless hours of life. Whether it be emails, websites or social media, there is always the obsession to spend an extra nanosecond to deal with the latest notification that quickly stretches into an hour.
In response, my overambitious side tells me to break off my connections with the web. And yet I know that this is impossible because so much depends upon these connections both socially and professionally.
However, what I can do, and I suspect many others can also do, is curtail my exposure. Hence, my resolution to spend my Sundays Internet-free. I really do not need to be connected on Sunday. The world will survive quite well without me online. A mutual separation is quite in order. And so I propose to cut myself off completely. That means neither a peek at a screen, nor a jot or title of text. The break must be total.
For this resolution to be effective, I must outline the reasons why I am doing it.  When the passion of my pledge passes, those reasons need to be handy to steady me in my resolve.
And so, the first reason to spend Sunday Internet-free is to because it is the Lord’s day. The day is not mine; it is His. It is only right that on this day dedicated to God we spend time thinking, praying, praising and giving glory to God. In the frenetic intemperance of our days, people do not stop to address God. They do not listen for God’s words. God does not text message. He is to be found in the silence of our hearts. An Internet-free Sunday is a good beginning to increase in the love of God.


The second reason to spend Sunday Internet-free is because it is traditionally a day of rest. It is proper that we step outside the frantic rhythm of our daily rat race and take time to reflect, rest and regenerate ourselves for the week ahead. The body is not a machine that can be constantly in motion. It needs time to stop and disconnect. One excellent way to disconnect is to literally disconnect by observing an Internet-free Sunday.
Sunday should also be a time together with others. It is the perfect occasion for people to visit and converse. There is no substitute for such face-to-face contact. In our individualistic age, where everyone is tethered to their machines, it would do us all good to look up from our devices and get together with others to quell our insatiable thirst for community.
Finally, I believe that true culture can only come from those who engage in leisure and take the time to contemplate the meaning of life. The failure to seek or even desire a psychological repose leads to much anxiety and stress. Many have come to disregard tranquility, recollection, and true leisure in favor of the exhaustion of constant activity. An Internet-free Sunday can be a time for those proportional spiritual pleasures—joys like conversation, art, and silence—that are part of a culture and need to be developed.
One is forced to admit that an Internet-free Sunday is hardly something that will radically change the world, but it is a good beginning. It is something practical and doable. It will have a good effect upon me and those around me. Why not give it shot?
And if I fail? I can always push the reset button and try again.

My 2017 Resolution: Four Reasons For an Internet-free Sunday -: My 2017 Resolution: Four Reasons For an Internet-free Sunday

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Sexual Revolution’s Unhappy Result: Self-Marriage -

With everyone marrying anyone, it would seem only a matter of time before someone would end up marrying no one. Leave it to the postmodern imagination to open up absurd frontiers in non-marriage. Marrying no one is now an option.
Officially, it is called sologamy. It consists of a person marrying one’s self. It sounds bizarre, but the fact is that these same-self “marriages” are now happening, although not on a mass scale. People—mostly women at this phase—are holding public ceremonies in which they say “I do” to themselves, and celebrate, complete with ring, wedding dress, cake and reception. Predictably, trendy writers, artists and life coaches, who already live in an unreal world, are the ones not tying the knot.
Marketers have even latched on to the trend. There is an “I Married Me Self-Wedding-In-A-Box” kit that can supply lonely self-spouses with ceremony instructions, sample vow formulas, fake certificates and other materials. It is to be supposed that the photography would be taken care of with selfies. As for the legality of the act, there is nothing to “legalize” since this ultimate private fantasy only exists in the imagination of the one-ple (not couple).
A Logical Consequence
As crazy as sologamy sounds, there is something terribly consistent and logical about its appearance on the “define-your-own-marriage” scene. It is a fitting metaphor to represent the failure of the promises of the Sexual Revolution to make people happy. It is a lonely indication of just how extreme individualism can go when given free reign.
Indeed, once one ventures outside the bonds of a traditional indissoluble marriage as defined by the Church, every other bonding has something of sologamy since self-gratifying unions eventually become narcissistic.
The Autonomous Being
The solitary march down the aisle toward sologamy is part of a long process toward moral chaos inside liberal society. It is the fruit of modern individualism, which declares each person is an entirely autonomous being. Individuals are told that they are the sole architects of their freedom and destiny. Their principal purpose in life is to engage in an inebriating pursuit of self-interest.
This myth dominated American society until the sixties and still lingers on in other forms today. There seemed to be no limits to what one could achieve alone.
The Need for Social Institutions
In the beginning, modern individualism worked around the complications of human nature that are contrary to its basic premises. It had to deal, for example, with the reality that no one is an entirely autonomous being.
In fact, all individuals are social beings that need other people. People naturally crave society. They tend toward God, their creator. There are certain social bonds and institutions (like marriage) that form and shape the individual and anchor the person to reality. People need those strong ties to religion, tradition, family, custom, or moral law so as to keep society in balance and provide the social capital that makes a nation prosperous.
Modern individualism never fully acknowledged such realities, but rather lived off the rich social institutions from which it sought freedom. It was much more these institutions that helped individuals achieve greatness than the sheer power of the individualist will. America had just enough social capital before the sixties to build a vibrant economy and sturdy social fabric.
A Constant Tension
However, there was ongoing tension between the liberal myth of individualism with no limitations and the traditional model with its natural restraining social institutions. In theory, Americans preached the desirability of pure individualism without restrictions. In practice, they clung to the family, church, and other social structures that gave their lives meaning.
Regarding marriage, the American ideal before the sixties was traditional marriage since it contributed substantially to the desired prosperity. At the same time, the pre-sixites culture already started eroding the foundations of marriage with the gradual promotion of divorce, promiscuity and contraception.
War on Restraint
The Sexual Revolution shattered the uneasy peace between restraint and unrestraint. A new more radical postmodern individualism exploded onto the scene.
The modern individualist knew how to use restraint to advance self-interest. The postmodern individual knows how to destroy any institutions that hinder self-gratification.
Above all, this individualist became the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong. This attitude was infamously reflected in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which read: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
The Imagination Gone Wild
The tragedy of postmodern individualism is that it goes beyond reality and degenerates into fantasy. The old individualism chafed under the restraint of the natural external structures of tradition, custom, or community. At least it stayed inside the logic of the real world and natural vice.
The postmodern individualist seeks to destroy the internal structures—logic, identity, or unity—that impede instant gratification. This can be seen in the blending and blurring of distinctions and “genders” that has so destroyed certainties. This trend can be found in the deconstruction of identity, as individuals now find the “right” to self-identify as anyone or anything that they desire at the moment. Finally, postmoderns avoid all that is reasoned, structured, or systematized by escaping into fantasy, dreams and ecstasy found in the experience of drugs, bizarre sexual promiscuity or online fantasies.
Once, these internal structures come crashing down, there is no limit to the absurdities that can be imagined. Hence, sologamy.
The Tyranny of the Unrestrained Self
There is a particular tragedy associated with the fantasy of self-marriage that makes it so symbolic of individualism’s failure. It is an extreme expression of a denial of all contingency. Each person becomes a world unto himself. Society becomes at best an occasion of what Sherry Turkle so expressively called being “alone together.”
With sologamy, the individual reaches the sad conclusion that there can be no happiness with another. Indeed, many who self-marry, do so only after a string of failed relationships, which they blame on the tyranny of others. They mistakenly believe they can live happily ever after only with themselves.

But such happiness is yet another illusion. It is only a matter of time before the person will experience a greater tyranny: the tyranny of the unrestrained self. Eventually, the lonely self-spouse will meet in the mirror the tyrant responsible for all past failures. The person then will embrace the nihilism that so marks postmodern life bereft of meaning and purpose.
The appearance of sologamy underscores the rejected beauty of sacramental marriage. The Church protects marriage from the tyranny of self by uniting two individuals who generously give themselves to each other until death. The Church sanctifies a fruitful and uniting contingency blessed by God, from which children are born and society is built.
The Sexual Revolution promised happiness and has delivered loneliness. By “doing your own thing,” people thought they could reach personal fulfillment. They are now finding a sad and empty celebration of self.
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The Sexual Revolution’s Unhappy Result: Self-Marriage -: The Sexual Revolution’s Unhappy Result: Self-Marriage

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Humility Is Compatible with the Rich Dress of One’s Office

Written by Father Francis Spirago
Saint Francis of Sales, the bishop of Geneva, while on a journey during Lent, went to a church that was attached to the monastery of Capuchin friars. He arrived at sermon time; the preacher had taken ostentation in dress as his sermon’s theme and was inveighing vehemently against prelates and ecclesiastical dignitaries who, instead of setting an example of humility, wore splendid garments.

When the sermon ended, the bishop went into the sacristy and summoned the preacher. Once they were alone, Saint Francis said, “Reverend Father, your discourse was edifying. It may also be true that we who are in authority in the Church are guilty of sins from which the inmates of the cloister are exempt. Nevertheless, I consider it highly unwise to say such things as you did on this subject from the pulpit to the common people. Moreover, I wish to call your attention that for many reasons it is a matter of necessity that the princes of the Church should keep up an appearance befitting their rank. Besides, one never knows what may be hidden beneath a silken robe.”

Saint Francis unbuttoned the upper part of his purple cassock, and let the monk see that he wore a ragged hair shirt next to his skin.

“I show you this,” Saint Francis added, “so that you may learn that humility is quite compatible with the rich dress of one’s office. From henceforth, see that you are less harsh in your judgements and more prudent in your speech.”

If the dignitaries of the Church were wretchedly dressed, they would lose the respect due to themselves and to their office. Therefore it is not only permissible, but obligatory upon them, to dress in accordance with the official rank they hold.

From Father Francis Spirago’s Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating the Catholic Catechism (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1904), 187-188.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Invisible Army That Occupies America | The Stream

The Invisible Army That Occupies America | The Stream: Over the past few decades, America has been invaded by an invisible army of ten million men — solutions need to be found quickly.