Betrayal, Silence, & Waiting

In Silence, Shusaku Endo’s novel about Jesuit missionaries in Japan during the 17th century, there comes a point where the story shifts abruptly from first person to third.

At the end of Chapter 4, Kichijiro betrays Fr. Rodrigues and hands him over to his captors. The reader then finds a sudden switch from Rodrigues’ points of view to a third party account of his experiences at the onset of Chapter 5:

While he was being dragged here children and adults alike, dressed in rags, had kept staring at him with glimmering eyes like animals from between the thatch-roofed huts. (79)

Certainly, this literary tactic is not unheard of and not even unusual. But it is always deliberate on the part of the author, and therefore worthy of examination.

In W.H. Vanstone’s book, The Stature of Waiting, he discusses this very literary style as it plays out in the Gospels of Mark and John. Leading up to Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of Judas, his life and works are described with Jesus as an active initiator; with phrases like, “He asked,” “He rebuked,” “He began to teach,” etc. When Jesus is handed over to the soldiers, this active language halts. “From this point onwards,” Vanstone writes, “Jesus is, in a grammatical sense, the subject of just nine verbs, whereas He is the object, direct or indirect, His ‘action’ is either negative or indecisive […] Jesus is no longer the one who does — He becomes the one who is done to.” (22-23)

In the Gospels and in Silence, this perspective shift, in the very least, heightens the meaning of arrest or captivity.  When we read Silence with this overlay borrowed from the Gospels (though I do not know the intentionality there on Endo’s part), we also see Rodrigues’ captivity as a rendering of Christ’s experience on some level.

Beyond these literary outcomes, the general idea of a movement from active to passive, illustrated in both texts, is worthy of a deeper look. This can be done in our own lives. Our society demands and rewards action from its members. Perhaps more than ever, partly at the hands of technology, we are faced with a culture that has little to no regard for contemplation or stillness. While reflecting on Christ’s ‘handing over,’ I considered the possibility of virtue that lies in a more passive state of being.

It is, perhaps, in the midst of betrayal or hardship, that we are most often forced to face our alone-ness, to be met with a disorienting state of passivity, to find ourselves faced with inaction and a loss of control. These are some of the most uncomfortable moments that we face. But they are also full of opportunity for new depth in our faith.

Our passive waiting is played out in Advent and in Lent. There is immense value in our waiting, and additional value to be found in a state of stillness, however disorienting it might seem. Let us know the state of “being done to,” as Christ did. 

For in these moments, suddenly, anything could happen to you.

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Our Need for the Sacramental Life

When I encounter Christians who are unfamiliar with the reasoning behind the sacraments or rituals of Catholicism, I try to explain that one needs all the grace one can possibly get. These vessels bring about new ways of receiving grace, new communication lines to reach God. These sacramental acts, amazingly, bridge an inescapable gap: the vast space between the limitations of our human bodies and minds and the Kingdom of God. On our own, we cannot reach a vantage that offers a view of the mysteries of God. But perhaps our earthly selves can participate on a higher level than we are normally confined to through the sacramental life offered by the Church.

This is why I’ve come to understand that Catholicism is the only law that can liberate us. Catholicism provides a way to break free from our many confines with the slim chance that, if prepared and prayerful, we might come to untouched territory: complete newness in experience and relationship with God. These moments, I believe, are just a taste. They come and go, and often are not present. Our habits in the tradition of the faith scaffold us along the way, though, preparing us for a chance encounter that is anything but chance after all.

For those who see sacramental ritual and life as esoteric at best and blasphemous at worst, I say it is the opposite. Recognizing the need for the sacraments is an act of humbling oneself. It requires accepting an incredibly human state and need for translation and illustration — arguably, quite a bit of extra work just for the chance to get a little closer to experiencing the mysteries of our faith. Who are we, after all, but mere humans? Who are we to suggest that we don’t need all the help we can get?

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The Great Secret of the Christian

The stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears… yet, He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomats are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained his anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet, He restrained something. I say it with reverence: there was, in that shattering personality, a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when he went up the mountain to pray. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when he walked upon our earth. And I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

This is the wardrobe into Narnia. This is the door out of our agonized world of spiritual darkness where ignorant armies clash by night. This is the joy the New Testament speaks of in the strangest way anyone has ever spoken of joy. It is the joy of Christ. That came in the most unlikely time and place in all of history: Calvary. It is the secret of Him who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. Despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of God. This is the joy that conquered Hell on the cross. The joy that was the door Christ saw behind the cross; the cross-shaped door whose other side is a crown. The death-shaped mask worn by the Lord of Life.

The only adequate answer to our century of genocide, the triumph of the principalities and powers of wickedness in heavenly places, and the threat of a Brave New World and the abolition of Man… is the secret that frees us into this gesture of relaxation. That is the culmination of the great dance. The smile on the face of God.

In conclusion: optimism or pessimism about our future? About the third millennium? Will we reach the joyful cosmology, or will we not? I have no crystal ball anymore than you do, but we have clues. So my bottom line is optimism. Because, apocalyptically decadent ages elicit Saints. Suffering elicits courage, compassion, heroism, martyrdom. Evil elicits Good in response. Bad times make Good people…as mountainous pressures make diamonds or as fire tempers steel. I think we should have great hopes for our society. For if she emerges from her present crisis, she will be stronger than ever before.

In merely American terms, look at the wars we have fought and the war we are now fighting. Defeating British economic tyranny in the Revolutionary War only gave us political independence. Defeating slavery in the Civil War gave us only personal freedom for all. Defeating fascist totalitarianism in World War II gave us only a free world. But defeating moral decadence and confusion and the joyless cosmology and reductionism would give us joy and moral strength and clarity and perhaps even holiness.

For the more dangerous the enemy, the more precious the victory.

Either we will build Gothic cathedrals again from a restored faith, or we will build the Tower of Babel again from a restored apostasy. And Lewis, like all prophets, gives us the roadmap and the clear choice between the two roads of Life or Death, Joy or Misery …and the mosaic simplicity of the challenge. Choose Life. Please do. Please help save the world. Please be a Saint.”

This excerpt comes from a powerful lecture titled “The Cosmic Dance,” prepared by Peter Kreeft. 

The Blood of Martyrs

I was on my way home with friends after a weekend in Wenatchee, where a group had come together to celebrate our friend’s decision and coming departure to become a Catholic priest. Upon dropping off said friend at his current residence, the rectory at St. Benedict, he kindly gave us a quick tour of his new home, introduced us to two other men undergoing a similar process of discernment, and showed us the private chapel in the rectory. The tour of the rectory made his journey all the more real and tangible for me, and I dove into a deeper state of reflection. It was with this mindset that I entered the chapel at Seattle University that same evening at 8 p.m., where I joined my little sister, a freshman at Seattle U, for Mass.

We were fortunate to hear the words of Fr. Steve Sundborg that night, the University president, who proved to be a worthy vessel for what was an unexpected but galvanizing message. As he prepared to offer his homily, Fr. Steve’s presence took on a somber tone. He began describing the events of November 16, 1989: six Jesuit priests in El Salvador were murdered, along with their housekeeper and her daughter. The killings took place at the campus of Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in San Salvador. The victims were gunned down by armed men who were members of the Atlacatl Battalion, “an elite unit of the Salvadoran Army.” Several of the Jesuit victims were associated with liberation theology — a stance that countered the army in its effort to serve the poor majority in Latin America. That night, “some of the victims were found with their brains scooped out, a gesture of warning to intellectuals and academics.”

This horrendous series of murders rightfully shook the Jesuit community, and Fr. Steve recounted his own experience upon hearing of the attack. Early in the morning 26 years ago, as he sat in a Jesuit communal hall eating his breakfast, he saw a young Jesuit priest run into the hall weeping, bearing the news of the tragedy. Fr. Steve went on to share how the lives of these martyrs has galvanized the Jesuit community since then. Each year, Jesuit campuses commemorate the tragedy through a service or memorial gesture. For Fr. Steve and so many Jesuit priests in particular, the killings reinforced a personal commitment to their work. He referenced a phrase once established in the year 197— the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.

Re-discovering the Rosary

For years, I have kept my favorite rosary underneath my pillow. I hold it and use it at least once a day; and yet, despite its proximity, I haven’t prayed the rosary in a very long time — until this week.

My rosary is one of my favorite possessions. It is one of the few belongings I have that I can never replace. It was given to me a few years ago by a friend whose faith I continue to admire. The white ‘Hail Mary’ beads are made out of an illegal material, found in Beijing, but that is another story. The reddish-pink ‘Our Father’ beads are coral, brought back from Hawaii. The in-between beads are garnet; a red-purple semi-precious stone.

When I received this rosary, it came with these words:

“I hope that when you have a bad night and all seems lost, you can reach under your pillow and find a weapon or even just a shield to grasp until the torrent subsides. I have never known a more powerful thing than my own rosary. May yours help you keep yourself and those you love safe forever.”

Up until now, that is what I have done. I’ve reached under my pillow countless times to simply rub the soft white beads, run my fingers around the coral beads, and trace the shape of the cross as I name my fears or ask God to protect me and my loved ones. I’ve become so familiar with the feel of the rosary, but I haven’t activated the power of the rosary as it was intended originally.

This week, as I described my anxieties and my faith experience to a friend, he recommended the power of praying the rosary. He told me of a few situations when praying the rosary unraveled answers for him in unexpected ways. After our meeting, I considered this advice for some time, wondering a bit why I hadn’t used the rosary in a traditional sense — I had hardly thought of doing so. I finally reached under my pillow for my rosary this week and began to pray until I fell asleep.

The next morning, on my way to work, I passed by the office of the friend who had given me my rosary. He saw me walking by, we waved, and I pulled the rosary out of my purse, held it high for him to see from the street below, and did my best to convey gratitude through a smile.

That same evening, as I was walking in the dark to my bus stop, I passed by Christ Our Hope – the Catholic church hidden in the midst of chaos and city life in downtown Seattle. I walked past the church and then turned around. I walked into the church, dipped my fingers in the baptismal font, took a seat in front of the crucifix on the altar, and picked up my rosary. I sat there for about 35 minutes and I prayed the whole rosary. I looked up at Christ on the cross intermittently, some ‘Hail Mary’s’ were more thoughtful than others, I lost track of time, my mind wandered to those I wanted to help the most, and I ended my time with a final prayer for a friend.

I am just beginning to re-discover the rosary and its power, but reflecting on it as a resource in my faith in the past few days alone has already provided value for my journey. As I’ve thought about the rosary this week, I’ve also come across countless testimonies from people who have relied on its power as a portal to God through Mary and through prayer. These accounts bolster my desire to surrender my human longing for control and give myself more deeply to prayer.

An Imagination for God

The function of imagination is not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders. – G.K. Chesterton

Now, perhaps more than ever before, I long for closeness with God. I want to see the face of God, I want to rest in His security, I want to feel the strength of His presence. I want to be in love with God. But how can closeness with a silent, faceless, invisible being come to exist?

I have a tendency lately to create bad patterns where I think of one thing that causes me pain by default. To deal with this, I’ve set up a process through which I picture Jesus interacting with me anytime I begin to let the evil thoughts in. I imagine Christ with an expression of amusement, as though He is saying, “Why are you doing this again, little one?”

I have another image, of God the Father’s hand, large enough that I fit inside His palm, as though my physical body is a trinket inside a dish. I turn to this in times of weakness, stress, or loneliness.

The former image reminds me that I want friendship with Christ. I yearn for His companionship as I sort through my journey in the Shadowlands.

The latter image reminds me that even though I may feel overly capable in my human self at times, I have a natural need for God. This image reflects a father/child relationship and a type of security that only God could ever provide. No human person could create that sense of impenetrable safety and tenderness.

Closeness with God is something I constantly long for; a type of greed that I feel on a daily basis. A dear friend reminded me this week that this type of “rapture love” with God is a gift from Him, not an outcome of our own human work. Anytime I feel a poignant closeness with Him, it is a gift given out of His love that only He can provide. I possess no ability to control when I receive this gift. The only option is to approach love as a verb: keep working, keep praying, keep showing up, keep listening. Through this love in action, the gift of closeness with Him will be revealed, just as the greatest human love is received by giving of oneself.