March 2, 2010
At the offertory of every Mass we offer ourselves and our lives in union with Christ, the perfect Victim, to our heavenly Father. Lent is a time to consider deeply our own sufferings and those of Our Lord, asking God to purify us and to make us whole in His good time.
One who captured this spirit of unity with the Lamb who was slain and who brought peace to his suffering fellow citizens was Dr. Paul Takashi Nagai, who survived the bombing of Nagasaki. The bishop of the area announced plans for an open-air Requiem Mass to be held next to the ruins of the Cathedral of Maria in the suburb of Urakami, Ground Zero. Crushed into rubble by the blast and then consumed by a raging fire that evening, the once beautiful cathedral called to mind the book of Revelation as Nagai pondered what he would say at the bishop’s invitation to speak at the Mass. Looking at the fallen and blackened timbers as he sat in the rubble, he suddenly knew the message had to be the redemptive dimension of suffering and death.
On November 23, 1945 he faced his burned, bandaged, emaciated and demoralized fellow parishioners who had gathered to pray for their dead in the ancient sacred liturgy of the Church. This is what he said:
On the morning of August 9, a meeting of the Supreme Council of War was in session at Imperial Headquarters, Tokyo, to decide whether Japan would surrender or continue to wage war. At that moment the world stood at a crossroads. A decision had to be made…peace or further cruel bloodshed and carnage.
And just then, at 11:02 A.M., and atom bomb exploded over our suburb. In an instant, eight thousand Christians were called to God, and in a few hours flames turned to ash this venerable Far Eastern holy place.
At midnight that night, our cathedral suddenly burst into flames and was consumed. At exactly that same time in the Imperial Palace, His Majesty the Emperor made known his sacred decision to end the war. On August 15 the Imperial Rescript, which put an end to the fighting, was formally promulgated, and the whole world saw the light of peace. August 15 is also the great feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is significant, I believe, that the Urakami Cathedral was dedicated to her. We must ask: Was this convergence of events, the end of the war and the celebration of her feast day, merely coincidental, or was it the mysterious Providence of God?
I have heard that the atom bomb…was destined for another city. Heavy clouds rendered that target impossible, and the American crew headed for the secondary target, Nagasaki. Then a mechanical problem arose, and the bomb was dropped further north than planned and burst right above the cathedral… It was not the American crew, I believe, who chose our suburb. God’s Providence chose Urakami and carried the bomb right above our homes. Is there not a profound relationship between the annihilation of Nagasaki and the end of the war? Was not Nagasaki the chosen victim, the lamb without blemish, slain as a whole burnt offering on an altar of sacrifice, atoning for the sins of all the nations during World War II?
We are the inheritors of Adam’s sin… of Cain’s sin. He killed his brother. Yes, we have forgotten we are God’s children. We have turned to idols and forgotten love. Hating one another, killing one another, joyfully killing one another! At last the evil and horrific conflict came to an end, but mere repentance was not enough for peace…. We had to offer a stupendous sacrifice…. Cities had been leveled, but even that was not enough…. Only this hansai [holocaust] in Nagasaki sufficed, and at that moment God inspired the Emperor to issue the sacred proclamation that ended the war. The Christian flock of Nagasaki was true to the Faith through three centuries of persecution. During the recent war, it prayed ceaselessly for a lasting peace. Here was the one pure lamb that had to be sacrificed as hansai on His altar…so that many millions of lives might be saved.
Happy are those who weep; they shall be comforted. We must walk the way of reparation… ridiculed, whipped, punished for our crimes, sweaty and bloody. But we can turn our minds’ eyes to Jesus carrying His Cross up the hill of Calvary…. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Let us be thankful that Nagasaki was chosen for the whole burnt sacrifice! Let us be thankful that through this sacrifice, peace was granted to the world and religious freedom to Japan.
Our large and small sacrifices this Lent are expiation for our sins and those of the world. We cannot know at this time how God will use what we freely offer, but in the next world we will see all those who were lifted up because of them. Dr. Nagai’s words are timeless as truth is timeless. Lord let me always bless you and never complain about anything for the rest of my life!
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