August 14, 2022: My Dear Parishioners,
On August 9, 1945, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. In an instant, the bomb killed 70 thousand people. The A-bomb, nicknamed Fat Man landed directly on the Catholic stronghold of Japan, the Urakami district north of Nagasaki. God’s inscrutable providence allowed the fog of war and other factors confused the pilot and the result was that the heart of Catholicism in Japan became ground zero, killing almost 70,000 people among whom were 8000 Catholics, including many worshippers inside the Cathedral of Urakami praying for peace. Among the survivors was Nagai Takashi, the then Dean of Radiology at Nagasaki University. This man, again by Divine Providence was allowed to survive in order to embody hope for a decimated city and nation. Nagai Takashi was born on 3 February 1908 in Matsue, a village located in Shimane. His father, Nagai Noboru, studied Western medicine and worked as a medical doctor in a local hospital. Nagai Takashi’s mother Nagai Tsune was a member of an old samurai family. Takashi grew up with the teachings of Shintoism. After graduating from high school, he entered in 1928 at the age of 20 years Nagasaki Medical College. Here he became imbued through and through with atheism. Two years later, he returned home to be with his mother dying of a stroke. By God’s grace, he was able to grasp in her last gaze the evidence of something that was eternal. From that moment the grip of atheism on him was beginning to loosen. He became convinced that there was something in man that does not die. At the same time, Christianity fascinated him. In order to learn more about this religion, he rented a room with the Moriyama family whose ancestors were local leaders of the “hidden” Christians during persecutions.
From 1933 to 1934 Nagai served as an army physician in Manchuria invaded by the Japanese in 1931. Moriyama Midori, the only daughter of his host family in Nagasaki, sent Takashi a Catholic Catechism. The barbarism and brutality of the Japanese imperial army soldiers distressed him, and he quickly became disillusioned with science and progress as the only hope of humanity. Takashi subsequently studied the catechism. Upon his return to Japan, he converted to Catholicism and was baptized on 9 June 1934 taking the baptismal name Paolo. He married Moriyama Midori in August of the same year.
After confirmation in 1934, Nagai became a member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and served the medical needs of the poor of Nagasaki. He was called up to serve in Manchuria again in 1937. Now, as Catholic, he no longer saw the Chinese as his enemy. He tried to save as many Chinese prisoners as he could. He received his doctorate in medicine in 1944. One year later, in June 1945, he was found to be suffering from chronic myeloid leukemia and was given three more years to live. Two months after this diagnosis on August 9th the second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. By the grace of God Nagai survived the atomic blast while working in the university hospital. Although he suffered from a severed artery on the right side of his head, he was able to help his colleagues in medical relief work for the victims. Nagasaki had become a total wasteland: 70,000 people died immediately charred or skinned alive. The Catholic neighborhood of Urakami where Christianity had survived 3 centuries of persecution completely vaporized. And the great Cathedral was no more. When Takashi returned to the ruins of their home on the 11th of August, he found a few remains of his wife’s charred bones next to her rosary. Apparently, she was praying the Rosary when atomic blast incinerated her. The children happily survived, because they were staying with relatives on the countryside outside of Nagasaki. Six days later the emperor of Japan declared the unconditional surrender to end WWII.
At the Requiem Mass for all the dead in front of the ruined cathedral, Nagai Tashaki spoke of the meaning of the death of so many Catholics: the tragedy of Nagasaki and the sacrifice of so many Christian lives was the oblation of a pure sacrificial lamb for the end of a horrible world war. This last act of war was the main impetus that forced the emperor to agree to an unconditional surrender. The destruction of Catholic Urakami was an act of atonement for the sin of waging the bloodiest conflict in human history.
God allowed something else happened: two months after the blast, in the morning of October 15, 1945, Nagai saw for the first time a blade of grass grow back and some ants reappear in the atomic desert. He then realized that life was still possible. He decided to move back to the atomic wasteland that was the Christian district of Urakami. He built for himself a little hut in the middle of this no-man’s land. His cancer had flared up and now he was bedridden. And yet, he was filled with incredible energy. Under a sheet canopy made of metal Nagai lay on his bed – either writing books or receiving visitors - among whom were war veterans and people who had lost loved ones and who themselves had fallen ill from radiation exposures. Although he made a fortune from the royalties of his books he chose to stay in his hut in the middle of the atomic wasteland and gave away all his money for the rebuilding of Nagasaki. Friendships with others and communion with God sustained him in this last stretch of his earthly journey. He named his hut Nyokodo – the place of friendship with the Lord- a place in the heart of a decimated landscape that used to be the Catholic district of Urakami.
Although he had lost everything in the blast, he never harbored hatred for America, being himself a fervent nationalist, but Christian first! His person and his life became an incredible witness of hope in the midst of despair, and his courage compel his fellow citizens to remain steadfast in the rebuilding of the destroyed city. Helen Keller surprised him with a brief visit on October 8, 1948; he had an audience with the emperor of Japan while the latter was in the area on May 27th, 1949; Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy of Sydney also made the trek to his hut on behalf of Pope Pius XII, who actually wrote him twice. The reason for his popularity was simple: he was able to inspire others with hope – something he had received wholly from the God he worshipped. It was incredible for his visitors when they looked at him: here was a man who was living in a city which was completely destroyed; he had nothing anymore; he owned nothing anymore; his wife was killed in the blast; and he himself was dying of cancer and could not leave his bed. And yet every morning he got up he thanked God. This is what he wrote in one of his books: “As soon as I wake up, the first thought that occurs to me every morning is that I’m happy. Beating within my chest is a heart of a child. The life of a new day awaits me.”
What Nagai Tashaki has proved is that the power of faith becomes the substance of hope and this hope can bring back even an obliterated city like Nagasaki. Faith can illuminate the path towards the future, even if one is walking through the valley of death. Nothing is more powerful than the conversion of heart. For Nagai, the forces that change history are the same forces that change the heart of a man.
In 1950 Nagai Takashi received a gift of a rosary from Pope Pius XII. This rosary never left Nagai’s bed until he died holding it on 1 May 1951. (Sourced from the internet and other places)
August 7, 2022: My Dear Parishioners,
Seen from the perspective of eternity, the goods of heaven are the ones that really matter. Unfortunately, we are too bound to the earth and beholden to the requirements to this earthly life. Our innate feeling is that wealth and possessions have the power to give us greater security and tranquility. Only slowly do we come to the realization that a serious illness is enough to wipe out the illusory power of things we own. Everyone, rich or poor, strong or weak, is equal in the face of misfortune and suffers in the same way. We find this summarized in the beautiful passage of today’s reading “Vanity of vanities!” Truly, life does not consist in the things we have. It’s a sobering message. But that message by itself represents a dead end - if that were all I have to go on, I would despair!
Fortunately Qoheleth is only a prelude to the saving message of the Gospel! Thank God we have Jesus and His Gospel! Jesus makes us understand that God is a Father: in addition to life and the means to live, God our Father gives Himself to His children. Jesus helps us understand that life, this life, makes sense because we have God as our Father. The reason why we work and toil and labor and strive from morning to night every day is because we know that, at the end of the day, God will see to it that what we have accomplished will not be in vain, that our efforts and our labors are not gone when we are gone, that our attachment to our families and friends is not going to be frustrated – families and friends for whom we would gladly give our lives, and that, ultimately, life is not absurd because love is stronger than death! Because God is ultimately the Guarantor of all that is!
July 31, 2022: My Dear Parishioners,
Our Blessed Lord asks us to always pray and He has given us the perfect prayer with which to pray without fear to the Father - the Our Father!
But what if I don't pray often enough? What if I can't yet relate to God as my Father? What if praying seems awkward to me, for I hardly ever ask for things from anybody, much less from God? Well, there will be times when there is nothing you could do! And then you pray! And prayer is prayer! And prayer in a desperate hour is true prayer, because God is the One initiating it in the heart of the casual believer! Yes, God does listen to prayers by an occasional prayer too! A woman suddenly found herself in a terrible situation: her husband suddenly collapsed in urgent care: his body was overwhelmed by sepsis shock and he was at the point of death. It all happened within just a 24-hour period. The nature of septic shock is that it happens rather quickly: all of a sudden, the body, overwhelmed with the toxins from bacteria, can no longer maintain normal blood pressure, which may lead to organ failure and eventual death. But the family of victim is also in shock! And so, out of the blue, completely unexpected, this woman was confronted with the terrifying prospect of losing her beloved husband after 24 years and three children, with whom she had shared every decision, every concern, every anxiety. And now, he was just lying there with eyes closed as if ready for the other world! In an instant, she saw flashing before her eyes the agony and the sorrows of being left completely alone in this world. And so, she did the one thing that came to her at the moment: she prayed like she had never prayed before. She called upon her favorite saints, she said many Rosaries and chaplets, she begged God and made outlandish promises she had never made before – just so that her husband recover! And he did! After the ordeal was over, she told her priest, “Father, I was never a very devout catholic, and my prayer life was quite minimal. And yet, in those desperate hours in the ICU with him being unconscious and teetering between life and death, I prayed like a child begging her father! And never once did I felt ashamed about coming to Him although I had not been the best of daughters to Him. I did not once feel l like a hypocrite because I was coming to Him when I actually needed something. I didn’t have time to feel embarrassed, to explain my actions, to justify my asking Him for help! I was forced down on my knees because my husband might not make it, and I had no one else to go to! And so I prayed like I had never prayed before!
I knew God put those words of prayer in my heart with which I could beg Him. God wanted me to know He is my true Father. He wanted me to ask Him for help – especially now, when my husband at death’s door and I was feeling so helpless! Now, I have begun to understand how He is Father to me. Now, I have begun to understand how there is only one thing necessary. Now, I have become certain of this truth: God is truly Life of my life. Because that Who God is, there is nothing that could stop from coming to Him! From the most trivial things to the most serious concerns, there is nothing I cannot share with my Father!”