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.

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…)

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…)

I Love Catholic Philosophers Thursday, Jun 4 2009 

There’s a great thread going on the Catholic Answers forum about the Thomist understanding of Truth and Falsehood. It is called “Calling all Thomists!“. Here’s an excerpt from the second post:

It is true that man has in his mind a concept that you called sock, which he or she invented. But when he actualizes a sock in reality, man is not truly actualizing an objective reality that is “Sock”, but rather that which best resembles the “idea” of that sock. So the objective reality of a sock is relative, thus enabling another person to convert it in to mittens; however the idea of a sock is still distinct from the idea of mittens, as in, you truly have an idea of that which you named sock. But there is no such thing as a objective truth that is “sock”, as in, something that exists for the purpose of going on your feet. The very thing that makes it a sock is only true in terms of it serving your subjective purpose.

Did you get that? Don’t worry, neither did I. Still, I love the fact that people can sit on the internet for hours and essentially debate the question “what is a sock?”

“Thomism” is the school of Philosophy based on the work of St Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar from the 13th century. Called the Angelic Doctor, he is the father of Scholasticism and arguably the most important mind of the second millenium (equalled by St Augustine, the most important of the first). I wonder if any of us will live to see the finest mind of the third.

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!

The value of Sunday Thursday, May 21 2009 

In an earlier post I called the Sunday evening Mass the “Last Chance Mass”, and said that for the most part, people who attend this mass do so because it lets them engage in leisure on Saturday night without having to worry about getting up for Mass on Sunday morning. Now, if I were a big and prominent blogger this comment would have immediately brought about protests from people calling me out for my lack of compassion towards people who can’t avoid working Saturday nights or Sunday mornings, etc. The fact that I acknowledged them immediately afterwards wouldn’t have made a difference.

Over the weeks I have come to a better appreciation and understanding for this preference of the Church for Mass on Sunday morning. (more…)

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