Martin Scorsese was vaccinated with “a Catholic imagination,” writes Fr. Andrew Greeley (1928-2013). For Scorsese this means that the use of Catholic images and themes in many of his films is “not a matter of choice but of necessity.” The Catholicism of the films, Greeley emphasizes, is not churchy. Sorrow for sins plus redemption “is worked out not in church.” The quest for holiness occurs in the messy world itself. For Scorsese and for others with a Catholic imagination, it is down-to-earth ordinary life that “hints of what God is like.”
Two clarifications: 1.) Not all Catholics use a sacramental imagination and likewise a non-Catholic might have an analogical or sacramental take on the world and on God. 2.) To have a Catholic squint on things, a filmmaker or another type of artist, or anyone else for that matter might not be exemplary in every way, on every day. Scorsese, for example, has been married even more times than Donald Trump (who, by the way, is representative of the individualistic worldview). Scorsese admits he has sinned. But, he says, “I am a Roman Catholic; there’s no way out of it.”
Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, is a historical drama set in 17th century Japan. It is based on a 1966 novel of the same name, written by Shusaku Endo. Paul Elie, writing in New York Times Magazine (11/27/16), summarizes the plot, details the production process and connects the new film with Scorsese’s Catholic imagination.
On the surface the film is about Jesuit missionaries. But its lesson is not churchy, just as its setting is not inside church institutions. Further, the film’s protagonist does not work things out by rising above the entanglements and obligations around him. Instead, he moves deeper into limitations and only thereby—as some moviegoers might conclude—does he experience freedom.
Elie tells us that in 1988 Most Rev. Paul Moore (1919-2003), Episcopal bishop of New York, recommended Endo’s novel to Scorsese. From then until now, almost 28 years later, it was Scorsese’s passion to put the story onto the screen. Despite financial, legal and technical complications, Scorsese felt obligated (or more accurately, felt called) to complete the project.
A new edition of Endo’s novel is available from Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; www.actapublications.com) for $16. The same publisher has two reflections on the novel: Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura ($26) and Faith Stripped to Its Essence by Patrick Reardon ($12.95).
Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free printed newsletter. Its next edition will feature a reflection on Silence by Greg Pierce.