Martin Scorsese and Pope Francis Talk About Faith, Violence and the ‘Wisdom of Tears’

Earlier today (Oct. 23) in Rome, famed film director Martin Scorsese asked a question of Pope Francis, drawing on the Catholicism of his own childhood in New York and asking what older people can do to help young people maintain their faith “in this maelstrom.”

Have a look:

The Q&A came during an event for a new book called Sharing the Wisdom of Time, by Pope Francis and others, edited in English by Loyola Press and coinciding with the current Vatican synod focusing on young people.

Scorsese referenced the violence and suffering he saw on the streets as youngster and how that contrasted with the message of Christ, imparted through a favorite priest at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in the part of Manhattan currently called SoHo.

Interestingly, though Scorsese was asking about helping young people keep their Catholic faith — something he’s struggled with in his life and through his movies — the pope didn’t directly address that issue. Instead, he went for something a bit deeper in human psychology.

From Crux:

“Today we see more cruelty,” said Francis, answering a question posed by Scorsese.

“People act with more cruelty … cold cruelty, calculated to ruin someone else’s life. One of the forms of cruelty in this world that touch me in this world of human rights is torture. Torture is our daily bread, and it seems normal. No one talks about it. Torture is the destruction of human dignity.”

Francis said the key is in teaching young people that cruelty is the “wrong path,” helping them to have the “wisdom and gift to cry in the face of so much violence, cruelty, [and] destruction of human life. To cry is human and Christian.”

The pontiff suggested “empathy, closeness, non-violence, tenderness, all human virtues that seem small but are capable of putting an end to the most violent of events,” Francis said.

Scorsese’s relationship with Catholicism has been constant (he once was in minor seminary) but unsteady. In recent years, though, he seems to be drawing closer to the faith of his childhood.

In 2017, at a Catholic media conference in Quebec City, Canada, he appeared in person to answer questions from Paul Elie (who wrote this profile of Scorsese for New York Times Magazine) after a screening for attendees of his 2016 film Silence, about the cruel oppression of Catholics in 17th-century Japan (and the apostasy of a Jesuit priest, played by Andrew Garfield).

In late 2016, Scorsese said to the U.K. Catholic Herald:

“[Catholicism is] always in you,” he shrugs. “My search for faith has never really ended from when I became aware that there was such a thing as faith and started to look at how it’s acted out in your daily life. It’s in Mean Streets and it’s in Taxi Driver and it’s in Raging Bull, ultimately. And then The Last Temptation of Christ was a major step for me in trying to come to terms with these themes, these ideas of the Incarnation of Christ – what does it really mean?”

In the evening, after the Q&A, Scorsese joined the conference attendees at Mass, and later also at a dinner, where he accepted an award. Considering that, at the time, Silence had been neither a financial nor critical success, and the event wouldn’t change either of those — and that the journalists at the conference weren’t allowed to participate in the Q&A — I wondered that Scorsese made the trip all the way to Quebec City.

But, perhaps there was a deeper motive than just continuing to promote a movie, connected to Scorsese’s lifelong search to confirm faith. Click here for an extensive exploration by Catholic World Report of faith themes in Scorsese’s work (including the very controversial The Last Temptation of Christ) — which often, as Silence did, center on the theme of doubt.

From the Catholic World Report piece:

Yet what I call Scorsese’s “faith and doubt triptych” ultimately does affirm faith. This is consistent with Scorsese’s own attitude to his faith. In an interview published in Antonio Monda’s book Do You Believe?, containing interviews with famous artists and intellectuals, the filmmaker is asked if he considers himself to be a lapsed Catholic.

“Maybe ‘lapsed’ is too strong a term, and then I don’t know who can call himself both lapsed and Catholic,” Scorsese responded. “But what I meant is that I am not strictly orthodox, and in many ways I feel I haven’t respected the requirements of the Christian message. And yet I think that my Catholicism is part of my innermost self, and I’m sure it will always be that way.” When Monda asks Scorsese if he believes in God, he replies: “I don’t think I can give a precise answer. I think that my faith in God lies in my constant searching. But certainly I call myself a Catholic.”

It’s certainly paradoxical to consider oneself a Catholic and yet not be able to affirm a belief in God. On the other hand, remaining in a place of public doubt, or “constant searching,” can allow a person to give themselves permission to ignore Church teachings and live life according to their own inner dictates, while still maintaining an outward connection to faith.

There is value in the search for faith, but there is greater value in finding it — even if that means you might have to change your life. Maybe Scorsese could make a movie about that.

Image: YouTube screenshot/Catholic News Service

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions

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