In the Martin Scorsese film Silence, based on the book by Shūsaku Endō, the Jesuit protagonists face a terrible choice: to renounce their faith and trample on the image of Christ, or to let their flock of Japanese faithful suffer torture and death.
In saving their flock in the temporal realm, did they not risk losing them for eternity? Did they not betray those who had already been tortured and killed? The pagan Japanese have traditionally understood dying for honor, as in the practice of seppuku. The real-life Japanese martyrs understood dying for God and the eternal salvation of others. Christian martyrs have always held it a privilege to die for the Faith, participating in the redemptive death of Christ.
The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. After Christ’s example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.
– St. Paul Miki
Let us turn to the example of Mary, our Mother.
Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother. If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!
– Venerable Abp. Fulton J. Sheen, Calvary and the Mass: The Sanctus
She knew, better than anyone else will ever know it, that the greatest of all griefs is to be unable to mitigate the suffering of one whom we love. But she was willing to suffer that, because that was what He asked of her.
– Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
Unlike Peter, who remonstrated with Jesus after He said He had to suffer and die, Mary quietly accepted this sword which pierced her heart. She watched in silence as her beloved Son, bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh, was mocked, cursed, defiled, falsely accused, scourged, spat upon, and crucified, with a crown of thorns jammed cruelly onto His poor head. All through the torture of the One she loved best, she never said a word against God. She trusted in His plan of salvation, though it tore her heart to shreds.
That suffering silence was the silence of a strong and virtuous woman who trusted completely in the foolishness of God, which is far above the wisdom of men. Unlike the priests in Silence, Our Lady held fast to the Word of God, the pearl of great price, the Way which leads through death to everlasting Life. Let us imitate her when we see our loved ones suffering, and stay close to Christ.
…the secular establishment always prefers Christians who are vacillating, unsure, divided, and altogether eager to privatize their religion. And it is all too willing to dismiss passionately religious people as dangerous, violent, and let’s face it, not that bright.
– Bishop Robert Barron, “Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ and the Seaside Martyrs”
…our world doesn’t know what to make of the Resurrection or indeed of miracles and the supernatural. And so a veil of deep silence falls over them. This, in fact, is the deepest silence in the film: that the Resurrection is not even alluded to. And so, ‘Silence’ is left with a naturalistic tale wherein the most noble goal is to alleviate and reduce suffering. This is unsurprising since the very notion of redemptive suffering makes no sense and is a scandal without the theological virtues.
– Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., “Initial thoughts concerning Scorsese’s ‘Silence’”
From that time Jesus began to shew to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the ancients and scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and the third day rise again. And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto Me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men. Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall find it.
– Matthew 16:21-25
Only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the word and, inseparably, woman of silence. Our liturgies must facilitate this attitude of authentic listening: Verbo crescente, verba deficiunt. (“When the word of God increases, the words of men fail.” – Augustine).
– Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini n. 66
As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows. It recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.
– Vicki Burbach, “Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go”
…martyrdom is a gift from God that is born of profound charity. It is a specific and glorious sharing in the life of Christ… Martyrdom is the crown of a life lived with ardent love for God and the people of God.
– Bro. Edmund McCullough O.P., “Life and Martyrdom”
Also see: Taylor Marshall, “The Seven Sorrows of Mary are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit”;
Joshua Bowman, “The Last Words of 30 Saints”.