Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Dr. Takashi Nagai was a Japanese doctor born in 1908. He specialized in radiology and moved to Nagasaki. There is a large Catholic community in that city. It was there that St. Paul Miki and his companions were martyred. The young physician rented a room in the house of a Catholic family. The interaction with the family, their Christian witness and the writings of Blaise Pascal led him to an encounter with Jesus Christ and to embrace the faith of the Church. Because of his exposure to radiation, he developed cancer. On August 9, 1945, he had already been diagnosed with cancer, yet was still working and was in the hospital going about his business. As we know that is the day when an atomic bomb, more powerful than the one that destroyed Hiroshima, levelled the city of Nagasaki. It caused the greatest devastation in the Catholic neighborhood, Urakami, where the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is.
The explosion and its wave also reached the hospital where Dr. Nagai, already a cancer patient, was working. His biographer and the doctor himself in his book entitled “The bells of Nagasaki” tell us that after the initial shock he stood up. He was wounded. Inside the hospital there were wounded persons and dead people everywhere. He walked to the door of the hospital and saw the city devastated. He looked towards Urakami, the neighborhood where he lived with his family and immediately realized that his beloved wife had perished.
The devastation surrounding him and the certainty of the death of his wife filled him with incomparable pain and feelings of desolation. It was at that moment that he remembered the words of the Lord proclaimed in the Gospel this Sunday: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” He immediately went back inside the hospital and took care of the wounded. He eventually became the lynchpin of the reconstruction of Nagasaki. He died with fame of sanctity in 1951. He is being considered for sainthood.
The experience of Dr. Nagai clearly illustrates the meaning of the Gospel passage, the way in which we ought to understand the apocalyptic message of the Lord in the fragment proclaimed this Sunday. Jesus does not seek to instill fear in us. He does not want us paralyzed by terror. He wishes to remind us that the true horizon of our existence is eternal life, communion with Him. Every good thing that the world has to offer is passing. Suffering also passes away. Love remains. Death is not the end of the journey for us, but the threshold to eternal life. The love of God, love incarnate, is victorious over death, has destroyed the power of sin. That is the love we have encountered. Jesus Christ alive is in our midst and invites us to live with Him and for Him, building communion here and now, in the ordinary affairs of life, wherever Divine Providence may have placed us.
We do not stand still looking up to the heavens with nostalgia. We do not let fear of death paralyze us. In the face of setbacks, difficulties, injustices and human suffering we seek an increase of grace lest they obliterate us. Following the example of Dr. Nagai, we must continue to work with great diligence to build up the Kingdom of God, generously serving our brothers and sisters, tearing down hatred, building fraternity, literally rebuilding society.
It was exactly two years ago, in November 2019, that Pope Francis visited Nagasaki. Remembering the Japanese martyrs, he told us: “We want to follow in their path, to walk in their footsteps and to profess courageously that the love poured out in sacrifice for us by Christ crucified is capable of overcoming all manner of hatred, selfishness, mockery and evasion. It is capable of defeating all those forms of facile pessimism or comfortable indolence that paralyze good actions and decisions. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, they are sadly mistaken who believe that, because we have here no lasting city and keep our gaze fixed on the future, we can ignore our responsibility for the world in which we live. They fail to see that the very faith we profess obliges us to live and work in a way that points to the noble vocation to which we have been called.
Our faith is in the God of the living. Christ is alive and at work in our midst, leading all of us to the fullness of life. He is alive and wants us to be alive; he is our hope. Each day we pray: Lord, may your kingdom come. With these words, we want our own lives and actions to become a hymn of praise. If, as missionary disciples, our mission is to be witnesses and heralds of things to come, we cannot become resigned in the face of evil in any of its forms. Rather, we are called to be a leaven of Christ’s Kingdom wherever we find ourselves: in the family, at work or in society at large. We are to be a little opening through which the Spirit continues to breathe hope among peoples. The kingdom of heaven is our common goal, a goal that cannot be only about tomorrow. We have to implore it and begin to experience it today, amid the indifference that so often surrounds and silences the sick and disabled, the elderly and the abandoned, refugees and immigrant workers. All of them are a living sacrament of Christ our King. For “if we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified””
Indeed, with St. Paul we acknowledge that the love of Christ impels us, spurs us on, shows the way. Even though the effects of his resurrection are not fully manifest, the day is half spent, a new day is dawning announcing the victory of Christ. It is true, there is suffering and evil in the world. There is still darkness that will dissipate when He comes again in glory and majesty becoming all in all. In the meantime, we who are his disciples, must become light for the world, as Dr. Nagai, whose life the Church is examining to canonize him, was in his own time. Incidentally, some of us in the parish are praying so that there may soon be a miracle through his intercession, and he may become a saint so that his life and work may become widely known and his example may inspire many. To him, to St. Joseph and to the Blessed Mother we ask to intercede for us that overcoming our wounds, miseries and fears, we may bear faithful witness of Christian life even in the most difficult of circumstances, in those places where there is nothing but hopelessness and despair. In so doing, we will contribute to dissipate the darkness of sin and death, expediting the coming of the Kingdom of justice, peace, truth and freedom that Jesus Christ inaugurates and brings, because He Himself is that Kingdom already present in our midst.
Fr. Roberto M. Cid