Silence is a film about two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century who go to Japan to find out about the priest, Fr Ferreira, who had been in charge of the mission there but who was said to have abandoned the Christian faith under torture.

Their guide is the only Japanese they can find outside Japan who himself, we discover, ran away after he had denied his faith under the threat of torture while the rest of his family were killed. After a secret crossing of the China Sea they meet some Christians who welcome them with joy but the guide soon betrays one of them, Fr Rodrigues.

Then his trial begins. After decades of accepting the missionaries the authorities had decided that the Christian faith is a foreign influence that cannot grow in “our Japanese swamp.” It had to be rooted out. But they found that torture and death didn’t work. It only emboldened the Christians. So they devised a way to get the priests to abandon the faith and so demoralise the faithful. Rodrigues is told the Christians will be horribly killed if he does not deny his faith by trampling on an image of Christ. And there are scenes where some are killed to emphasise the threat. Totally unnerved he goes through an agony of questions; how can my belief be justified if it leads to the cruel death of others? What does it mean to be loyal to the faith? Has it to be so absolute? Can there not be exceptions in certain circumstances? And to all his questions, God is silent.

Up to this Rodrigues had been steady in his resolve that nothing would divert him from facing martyrdom, if it should come. But when he is faced with this dilemma, he wavers and he denies his faith. He saves the lives of his fellow Christians but questions linger in the air. He and Ferreira spend their last days working for the Japanese, identifying anything that might be a Christian symbol smuggled into the country.

It is tough viewing and puts in sharp relief our easy assumption that we know what faith is. Few of us are so tested. Few of us endure the ‘silence of God’ as those two far off missionaries did. Thomas had his doubts relieved at the time but perhaps later he too endured the silence, as we now know Mother Teresa did. Faith stretches the human mind and heart as nothing else does. As we rejoice during Easter time we do so in the knowledge that this silence may come to us too.

23 April 2017              Easter Sunday 2 A

Acts 2:42-47                1 Peter 1:3-9               John 20:19-31


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