Happy Australia Day Monday, Jan 25 2010 

Australia

I interrupt my self-imposed exile from blogdom to wish the world a warm greeting on this, my homeland’s national holiday. Australia Day commemorates the first landing of Captain James Cook and the First Fleet at Sydney on 26 January, 1788.

This was not the first arrival of humans, nor even the first arrival of Europeans, but it was the event which marked the beginning of Australia’s modern history. For this, we celebrate. Thanks be to Almighty God who brought my parents to Australia, where I was raised in relative comfort and privilege. Not just in always having a spacious house, new clothes, wholesome food and luxuries like a car, television or computer; but also that I was raised a native speaker of English, a cradle Catholic free to learn and practice the Faith, the receiver of a world-class education at the state’s expense (even now in university), and have always received free or heavily subsidised medical care.

Happy Australia Day.

My Christmas was wonderfully spent with my extended family in San Diego, California. I returned to Japan just before the New Year, and suffered horribly from the effects of extended travel and probable gastrointestinal viral infection. My thesis work is coming along, and please God I will be finished in time. Once that’s out of the way, I expect to return both here and to Flickr with belated stories (and photos) of my trip around California and my upcoming trip around Japan. Until then, pray for me!

I read a book that made me hate Japan. Sunday, Jan 3 2010 

It was the famous “Silence“(沈黙・ちんもく)by Shusaku Endo(遠藤周作・えんどうしゅうさく)published during the 1960s. The (historical) story follows the Portuguese Jesuit, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (whose name rarely appears) on his journey towards and through Japan during the time of intense persecution under the Bakufu (military rule of the shogun). This persecution lasted 260 years, and was so severe in its systematic cruelty that it surpassed even England’s successes against Catholicism.

Silence made me hate Japan for two related reasons. The first is Endo’s masterful presentation of Rodrigues’ sufferings as a priest in exile, watching the misery of his flock. The bakufu interrogators torment and murder the simple Christian villagers they find; not to break their faith, but to crush the faith of the captured priests. The villagers themselves are of no consequence, the sole application of their lives (in the eyes of the interrogators) is to be a tool wielded against the foreign priests. Several passages of the book are Rodrigues questioning the silence of God, asking Him why He permits these children of His to suffer endlessly at the hands of the wicked, first in their lives as ordinary Japanese peasants (already unimaginably harsher than the life of European peasants of the same time) and then moreso under the persecution of Christians.

This exploration of the sufferings of a priest, the manipulation of his love and self-sacrifice by fiends struck me to the core because I see in myself the same ideals and aspirations that sent Rodrigues to Japan. I am not a priest, and I have not given anything of myself that every good priest in the world has already given, but this is what I hope for my life and the thought that this could be so nefariously trampled sickens me.

The second reason is the simple fact that Japanese narratives are characteristically different to Western narratives in that good does not generally triumph over evil. Formed by the nihilistic philosophy of Buddhism, Japanese culture does not demand the ultimate victory of good and in fact tends to promote the expectation of suffering. Silence is truly a Japanese novel about a Westerner (and not the opposite) wherein good is slowly worn down, beaten down by evil… and ultimately defeated. I read on and on, through the chapters, the epilogue, and even the appendix hoping to find redemption but discovering none. This story left me gaping, grasping for the victory of good which I knew was necessary and right, but could not find. How could evil triumph, in any novel? How could evil triumph over a Catholic priest, especially in a novel written by a Catholic? It was disorienting, it was wrong.

But Endo was not just any Catholic novelist, he was a Japanese Catholic. And he made me hate Japan.

I hate “the holidays” Monday, Dec 14 2009 

Ok, so I’ve been in the United States and America for under two days and I’ve already had my sickening fill of “the holidays”. The shopstaff greet you “happy holidays”, Old Navy advertises “holiday cards”, all channels at all hours constantly play “holiday movies”. It’s utterly saturating, and the lengths to which they go in avoiding the word “Christmas” are unbelievable. Holiday cards, carols, traditions and trees simply don’t exist.

As an Australian I get a lot of American television, and thus had heard of the “war on Christmas” – as well as the credible claims that this was just the hallucination of “red under the bed” reactionaries. Now that I’m here though, reading the billboards and seeing the ads, I’m utterly convinced. There really is a war on Christmas.

Santo Niño, have mercy on us.

Minor jubilations Wednesday, Dec 2 2009 

Sunset

When I was a teenager I went with some friends from school on a day trip to the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney. We were organising members of the school’s “Christian society” called Students Alive (or “STIVE”). At the time I felt rather awkward, because my friends were awe-struck by the majesty of God’s creation, while I (in typically inept cradle Catholic style) just boggled at them, thinking “what’s so great about trees and rocks?”.

That was about seven years ago, and since then I have become a sort of man. (more…)

Angels defend us! Saturday, Nov 21 2009 

People don’t really believe in angels these days. The popular media is flooded with images of fat, laughing babies with useless little wings and sparkly harps sitting idly on clouds. As far as anyone is concerned, angels turn into fairies when they grow up, trading in their flab for sex appeal.

What they certainly don’t believe is that angels exist, they serve God (or satan) and are unimaginably powerful. In my English class this week we somehow came to talk about the phenomenon of “Shinigami” arising in Japanese popular culture, and how it is drawn not from Japanese spiritual traditions but a misunderstanding of the artistic representation of Death in European culture. From here I explained that angels are usually imagined as described above, but then drew a simple representation of the angels as described in Revelation: tall, robed figures with a halo, six of wings and (from Genesis) a flaming sword. Then I explained that even this was just a representation, since angels (like God) are spirits without bodies.

Now we come to the question of guardian angels. (more…)

Kyoto Wednesday, Nov 18 2009 

I went there at the weekend, with ten friends from Yamanashi and twenty Brazilian-born Japanese from all around Japan. It was without question the most enjoyable weekend I’ve had in Japan, though my one regret is that I wasn’t able to attend Mass.

I took about 1000 photos, of which I considered 300 or so worth publishing. See them over at my Flickr page.

A name, a seal Sunday, Nov 8 2009 

Inkan

When I first arrived in Japan I was surprised at the number of things I could do without this stamp. We had been told that to open a bank account, buy a cellular phone, pay our bills and register for classes we would need to make an 印鑑 “inkan”, the engraved name stamp used as a signature in East Asian countries with a Chinese cultural heritage.

It turns out that in recent years, Japanese companies have become a lot more accommodating to foreigners and their handwriting. Japanese family names tend to be only between one and three characters long (the common Suzuki is 鈴木) and fit very easily onto that little wooden stamp. My name on the other hand becomes seven characters in Japanese, nearly impossible to write. Other foreign names have even more syllables, prompting the Japanese post office (which provides insurance plans and savings accounts), major telephone providers and government offices to accept signatures in lieu of the stamp.

Really though, if you’re coming to Japan wouldn’t you want to get one of these cool looking stamps instead of just using your boring old signature everywhere? That’s how I felt, and so my Japanese friends came to the rescue with a home-grown solution. Ateji!

(more…)

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine! Saturday, Oct 31 2009 

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints. This is the day we commemorate the entire communion of saints, of which we ourselves hope to have an eternal part. Today is an especially important feast for several reasons – the two that press on my mind right now are catechesis and intercession.

For catechesis, this is the day when best to explain to children or Christian neophytes just what we believe saints are. We do not believe they are a sort of pseudo-Christian pantheon, with patron saints merely replacing pagan gods. (more…)

Pope Benedict: The Great Unifier? Thursday, Oct 29 2009 

Fr John Zuhlsdorf of “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” has for years now described the Holy Father’s work and philosophy as a “Marshall Plan”. This has always irritated me a little, since the original plan was named for George Marshall and thus this new one would rightly be styled the “Benedictine Plan”. Nevertheless, even the slowest of friends and enemies alike are starting to realise the overall consistency of this pontificate. Pope Benedict was initially lauded for his conspicuous warmth to the Eastern Orthodox Christians, particularly Russia and Greece. He then set firmly the practice of offering the Most Blessed Sacrament only on the tongue, to kneeling communicants at all his Masses. Shortly after he took the initiative entirely upon himself to recover for posterity the Mass of heredity. Two years later, acting again on his own initiative he dispensed the four illicitly consecrated bishops of the Priestly Society of St Pius X (“SSPX”) from their excommunications. He went to America and Australia, fortifying the youth in their struggle to find and sustain a Christian identity in an increasingly idolatrous world. He went to Africa and prayed with the people struggling just to live. Then last week, he stunned the world by welcoming the Anglicans back home.

For such a long time, each of these steps have seemed like isolated gestures – “Pope goes to Africa, holds the line against condoms” or “Pope welcomes holocaust denying bishop back to church” but it has now become abundantly clear that above all else, the Holy Father’s utmost ambition for the Church is unity. What confuses people is that he does not see this unity as being merely amongst all Christians who happen to be alive and vocal at the moment, but rather as a true unity both horizontally and vertically.

(more…)

Political branding and the New Media Monday, Oct 19 2009 

I have lately rearranged my leisure time to include more reading, especially for my beloved but long neglected blogs. Over at his blog Fr Powell OP has posted on an 8 minute video exploring the continued use of the Obama campaign logo during his presidency. These two things gave me pause to consider just how “the internet” has turned the game around when it comes to the dissemination of information, the considerable production values achieved by virtual “nobodies” and the impact that new technologies have had on popular philosophy.

Let’s start with Fr Powell. (more…)

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.