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.

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…)

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.

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Treasure in heaven Monday, Oct 12 2009 

A few years ago I met Br Paul Rowse, OP. This year he has professed Solemn Vows, and I believe is to be ordained deacon in December. Please pray for him and all the Dominicans of our province.

At that time (in illo tempore…) we were enjoying a lighthearted conversation when something came up, to which he replied “I have nothing in this world”.

It was a phrase which I have never forgotten. So simple, so easily misunderstood by children of this age (like you or I), and yet perhaps the single best reflection on the grace of evangelical poverty. It is to me a particularly appealing aspect of religious life, which no doubt surprises my friends (who see me surrounded by expensive gadgets, and well know my love of the latest computer, the greatest camera, the finest clarinet). The willingness to let go of material objects as objectives, and use them instead as mere tools for reaching the final objective, is true feedom.

All this came back to me before Mass today. This time it was in Portuguese (celebrated by a magnificent Jesuit missionary) so I did my best to participate by absorbing the readings in preparation. The first is from Wisdom (7:7-11, RSV-CE)

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her. I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases. All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth.

With a rush my heart was lifted to the clouds, a swirl of memories joining the gratitude of the moment. This passage describes better than I ever could one of the reasons I want to give the government of my own life back to God and serve him as a Dominican friar. To praise him in the Office and the Mass with my brothers, to bless his people with the most precious sacraments, and to preach his glorious love and the splendour of his eternal truth. The mere thought of these things fills me with an anticipation, an eagerness I can’t describe.

But beyond these, to contemplate in this life the mysteries by which I hope to be enfolded in the next. I have tried so many other things, and I simply cannot imagine a better way to use the gift that has been entrusted to me – myself.

Happy Anniversary, Americanos Sunday, Jul 5 2009 

I probably have far too much exposure to English over here. My perusal of blogs has had a noticeable impact on my linguistic immersion (after three months I should be a lot more comfortable with Japanese), and I suspect it’s because I spend so much time here reading… in English. On the other hand, there are no basilicas, no processions, no Eucharistic adoration, and sometimes not even Mass. If I didn’t have superb blogs like those of the New Liturgical Movement, WDTPRS and such I would either go mad or develop the liberalist infection.

And so, thanks to the many valuable, well written blogs from America, I have been totally unable to escape the fact that today is your celebration – it is 4 July, Independence Day.

Congratulations! Truly a day to celebrate the remarkable achievements of America for the sake of the world. Even now, where old Europe fears to commit her sons, she will gladly pay to send yours in her stead. American blood still pays for European security.

But as every year, I have been reading that America is “the best country in the history of the world” etc, and frankly I really must chime in. (more…)

Miraculous mechanical messiah merits remarkable robotic resurrection Sunday, Jul 5 2009 

So it happened – the successful popular revival of that late 20th century icon, the Transformers franchise. I’ve just watched the sequel moviefilm and despite the surprising criticisms, I found it excellent.

To get it out of the way, I’ll say that I actually sat back and noticed the almost unending action. The movie starts off with wire-fighting robots, explosions, and the “BOO YA!” moments form a consistent basis of the film. There were a few sexually charged scenes and some rough language, though of less crude standard than found on a typical American television programme. What really intrigued me though was the political and almost philosophical commentary that was going on.

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Japanese Arms Wednesday, Jun 3 2009 

I started this entry last week while procrastinating. I have for several weeks now found the arms of the ordinary of Yokohama to be quite interesting, and set out to translate the explanation of the imagery given in Japanese. Unfortunately, I’m not yet skilled enough to follow through. Instead, I started digging around the CBCJ site and looking at the other arms. Here are the arms of Bishop Umemura of Yokohama (my local diocese, suffragan of Tokyo).

Anyone who has seen a few “coats of arms” (which shouldn’t be uncommon even for Japanese) would immediately recognise the, er, contemporary style at play here. I thought this was just a one-off, until Fr Selvester over at Shouts in the Piazza (a magnificent blog focussing on ecclesiastical heraldry) posted the Arms of now-retired Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun SDB, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong. (more…)

Out of the frypan… Monday, Jun 1 2009 

…and into two tests in one week. Tomorrow is a usual fortnightly progress test (my intensive Japanese course covers one textbook chapter per day, four days a week). Wednesday is our day off, and Thursday we are being tested on all material to date. 25 chapters, including all grammar forms, vocabulary, and of course kanji.

I also need to prepare my second methodological analysis. The first one was (I think) a success, based on observation of the five “groups” of Catholics in Kofu – Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, and Filipino. Truth be told the Spanish and Portuguese groups may well be the one group of “Latin Americans”, but they attend separate Masses and have their own priests.

I think the next analysis will be survey-based, and very simple. Perhaps I will compare the level of catechesis amongst typical Kofu Catholics with non-Catholic Japanese, and Australians (both Catholic and non-Catholic). I’ll have to write very basic questions so the meanings are strictly defined in both languages (and understood by non-native speakers). I’ll also have to consider assessing the attitudes of non-Catholic Japanese towards Catholics and Catholicism, compared to that of non-Catholic Australians.

In the meantime, here is a piece of news from last year. Apparently this Spanish-speaking fellow lost something in the moat around the Imperial Palace and went to fetch it. Here we see his mighty weapons employed against the Japanese police: rocks, water splashes, a traffic pole, and nakedness (blurred to preserve custody of the eyes).

Procrastination… Friday, May 29 2009 

…is from satan. He will even happily turn our attention to doing good deeds if it will affect the greater evil of neglecting pressing duties for the sake of things that can wait.

As an example, I have today begun a project I’ve had in mind for a while. As mentioned earlier, a lot of people are finding this blog while searching for information about Catholic parishes and things in Japan. At the moment I don’t have much up at all, and what there is can’t be easily found (buried in comments), even my own searches have turned up very few online resources for English speaking Catholics in Japan. There are a precious few sites with essential information in broken but usually understandable English (Mass Times for 外人). The site linked in that entry is buried deep in subsections, links circularly, can’t be easily navigated, and can’t be easily found with a straightforward search in native English.

Of course, I can’t complain if I’m not willing to use my own abilities to fill the need. (more…)

Quick update Thursday, May 28 2009 

Apologies dear reader. My blogging habits still haven’t settled. However, it’s worth noting that a lot of the time I comment on my flickr uploads in a way akin to twitter, so it’s certainly worth clicking the left sidebar to see my flickr photostream from time to time. I’ve found it to be a lot less troublesome commenting on my photos that way than trying to illustrate coherent blog posts with them.

This weekend another major assignment is due for UTS, so I’ll probably write a big, deep post here in a fit of procrastination. I’ve been meaning to write about last Tuesday’s birthday outing for my friend Fay (we went to “kaiten (revolving) sushi” and karaoke, both firsts for me) as well as our trip to a small town in Yamanashi which is the centre of the local traditional paper manufacturing industry (I made a lamp!).

I’ve noticed a steady stream of people clicking through to this blog looking for information on various elements of Catholic life in Japan, which I haven’t yet got around to publishing. I will do my best to get to Tokyo soon and record what I can.

Please pray for me everyone, so that I can focus well and produce some decent work for my taskmasters back in Sydney. The current assignment will probably be on how the five different Catholic communities (divided by language) in Kofu worship, and developing my research methodology. 2500 words!

PS: Also updated the UTS Yamanashi blog with some more details in the finances, university, and residence sections. Feel free to take a look and leave suggestions!

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