In Jesuit publications, filmmaker Scorsese talks about his faith

IMAGE: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano, handout

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — In two long interviews with Jesuit
publications, director Martin Scorsese described his new film
“Silence” as a major stage in his pilgrimage of faith, a pilgrimage
that included flunking out of the minor seminary, investigating other religions
and recognizing that the Catholic Church was his home.

Growing up in New York, “I was extraordinarily lucky,
because I had a remarkable priest, Father (Frank) Principe. I learned so much
from him, and that includes mercy with oneself and with others,” Scorsese
told Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the journal La Civilta Cattolica.

“This man was a real guide. He could talk tough, but he
never actually forced you to do anything — he guided you. Advised you. Cajoled
you. He had such extraordinary love,” the director said in the interview,
published Dec. 9.

A day earlier, America magazine released an interview with
Scorsese conducted by Jesuit Father James Martin, who also provided advice
during the making of “Silence,” a film based on the novel by Shusaku
Endo. The book and film are a fictionalized account of the persecution of
Christians in 17th-century Japan; the central figures are Jesuit missionaries.

Scorsese had wanted to make the film since reading the book
in 1989. Actually making the film, he told Father Martin, “it becomes like
a pilgrimage. It’s a pilgrimage. We’re still on the road and it’s never going
to end. I thought it would for a little while, but once I was there, I realized
no. Even in the editing room, it’s unfinished. It will always be unfinished.”

The film is set for a Dec. 23 release in the United States.

In the interview with Father Spadaro, the 74-year-old
Scorsese said, “When I was younger, I was thinking of making a film about
being a priest. I myself wanted to follow in Father Principe’s footsteps, so to
speak, and be a priest. I went to a preparatory seminary but I failed out the
first year.

“And I realized, at the age of 15, that a vocation is
something very special, that you can’t acquire it, and you can’t have one just
because you want to be like somebody else,” he said. “You have to
have a true calling.”

One thing he always wondered about Father Principe and other
priests, he said, was “how does that priest get past his ego? His pride?”
and focus on the needs of his parishioners. “I wanted to make that film.
And I realized that with ‘Silence,’ almost 60 years later, I was making that
film. Rodrigues (one of the main Jesuits in the story) is struggling directly
with that question.”

Scorsese told Father Spadaro that while he would not
describe himself a regular church-goer, “my way has been, and is,
Catholicism. After many years of thinking about other things, dabbling here and
there, I am most comfortable as a Catholic.”

“I believe in the tenets of Catholicism. I’m not a
doctor of the church. I’m not a theologian who could argue the Trinity. I’m
certainly not interested in the politics of the institution,” the director
said. “But the idea of the Resurrection, the idea of the Incarnation, the
powerful message of compassion and love — that’s the key. The sacraments, if
you are allowed to take them, to experience them, help you stay close to God.”

Father Spadaro asked Scorsese if, like Father Rodrigues, he
ever felt God’s presence when God was silent.

“When I was young and serving Mass,” the director
responded, “there was no doubt that there was a sense of the sacred. I
tried to convey this in ‘Silence,’ during the scene of the Mass in the
farmhouse in Goto. At any rate, I remember going out on the street after the
Mass was over and wondering: How can life just be going on? Why hasn’t
everything changed? Why isn’t the world directly affected by the body and blood
of Christ? That’s the way that I experienced the presence of God when I was
very young.”

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