Homily — Good Friday 2017

Homily — Good Friday MMXVII 4/14/17

In my Palm Sunday Homily this year I talked about a book I recently read about the beginning of World War II, for our country at least; and in this my Good Friday homily, I’m going to talk about another book I recently read, about the end of World War II.

The book is called A Song for Nagasaki, and it’s all about a man named Takashi Nagai, who today is still considered a great hero by the people of Japan, and who currently is being considered for Canonization by the Church (I highly recommend reading the book, it was one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read).

Nagai grew up an atheist, and graduated from medical school the top of his class. In the early years of World War II, Nagai served as a military doctor. Like many young Japanese men of his day, Nagai went on Saki binges, and paid visits to the Geshia girls for hire.

But at the same time, he felt drawn to Christianity, and by Divine Providence he ended up teaching radiology in Nagasaki, the home of the biggest Catholic community in Japan, living in the home of a very devout Catholic family, converting to the faith, and marrying a devout Catholic woman.

On the morning of August 9, 1945, Dr. Nagai was at the college hospital he worked at, his wife was at home, and his children were out of town with their grandmother, when the Atom Bomb dropped on Nagasaki, immediately killing his wife but sparing all his children.

The concrete hospital was a half mile from the epicenter, but the bomb still killed 80% of the staff and patients, destroyed all the hospital equipment, and created a tornado of window glass and debris inside and outside the building.

Dr. Nagai found himself alive but buried under the rubble, and bleeding profusely from his head which was very cut up by the flying glass.

He was rescued by a nurse, and going outside with the few doctors and nurses still alive, they looked down the hill the hospital was on, and saw the giant mushroom cloud, the dead bodies everywhere, and the total devastation left by the nuclear bomb as far as the eye could see.

Then a few minutes later, they saw something even more distressing: badly burned and wounded people began pouring in from the city below, hoping to get help from the hospital, many of them crying “Mitzu! Mitzu!” Water! Water!

One of the nurses later said that the entire medical crew almost mentally broke down at that point, they were all themselves badly wounded and shell shocked, with no medical equipment whatsoever, and here were hundreds of victims looking to them for help.

When suddenly, Dr. Nagai did something: He yelled to a young doctor “Quick! Find a Hi no Maru — a Japanese Flag.”

The man couldn’t find one among the rubble; So then, Nagai took a white sheet, cut it into a rectangle, and pressed his badly bleeding head into the center of it, and they had their Japanese Flag, a solid red circle in the middle of a white background.

Nagai mounted the flag, and everything changed. As one of the nurses recounted 42 years later “Suddenly we had a headquarters to rally around, a center that put order back into the picture.” The medical crew helped the wounded, one by one, and managed to get through the worst ordeal mankind has ever experienced, by centering themselves around that flag which Dr. Nagai made with his own blood.

And today, we recall that day when, in the midst of this chaotic world, filled with violence, and hatred, and injustice, Our Lord Jesus pressed a wooden Cross to his broken body, which was bleeding from head to toe from the scourges, the crown of thorns, and the nails,

and saturating that Wood with his precious blood, Jesus placed that Cross in the center of His Church.

And now in the midst of this chaotic, violent, unjust world, we Christians find our “headquarters to rally around”, our “center that puts order back into the picture”.

Through the Cross of Christ, we can find strength to get through any ordeal this world can throw at us.

The Cathedral at Nagasaki was also destroyed, and three months after the bombing in November of 1945, the bishop had an open air Mass for all the victims, and asked Dr. Nagai to speak at it. After praying deeply about it, what he ended up saying was very provocative.

Nagai said that day: “On August 9 at 11:02 am, an atom bomb exploded over our suburb. In an instant, 8,000 Christians were called to God . . . At midnight that night, our cathedral suddenly burst into flames and was consumed. At exactly the same time in the Imperial Palace, His Majesty the Emperor made known the 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 (our) 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 it, 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?”

While many in the congregation and those who read it afterwards found Nagai’s speech very moving, others were furious that he would be so insensitive as to say it was the will of God that their loved ones perished. But Nagai continued to give the same message to his fellow countrymen in the many best selling books he wrote, until his death in 1951, saying it was the only way he as a survivor was able to find peace.

And perhaps there’s a lot of truth in his words. For every year in Japan there’s a ceremony on the anniversary of the two atomic bombings, one in Nagasaki, and one in Hiroshima.

A person who attends both is quoted as saying that the one at Hiroshima is “bitter, noisy, highly political, and anti-American. its symbol would be a fist clenched in anger. Nagasaki (in contrast) is sad, quiet, reflective, non political and prayerful. it does not blame the US but rather laments the sinfulness of war, especially nuclear war. its symbol: hands joined in prayer.”

And perhaps that is the difference between those who do not accept the Cross of Jesus Christ, and those who by God’s grace come to embrace it: one is a fist, clenched in anger, the other are hands, joined in prayer.

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