Observations on How Religion Rolls Back Superstition

Many watching Mayoiga have no doubt discerned that the characters are stupid.  Not that this sort of thing is rare in the horror genre, but here it should be pointed out that much of their stupidity derives from their superstitious ideas, which plainly comes forth in that most believe Masaki to be a ghost.  What is a ghost?  The soul or spirit of a deceased person.  It is in the nature of ghosts to be immaterial, and so they can’t be touched and don’t need food, which explains why Our Lord had St. Thomas the Apostle touch His wounds and why He ate fish before the apostles after His Resurrection.  I might add that one cannot tie up or wound ghosts either, as the protagonists of Mayoiga were able to do to Masaki.  The point of the above is that no Christian would take seriously the contention that Masaki was a ghost, but particular nonbelievers, lacking the education provided by the Faith, are more susceptible to superstition in this matter.

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The concept of religion guarding against superstition sounds odd to us: we’re trained to think of religion as promoting superstition.  Even in the days of Plutarch (c. 46 – c. 120 AD), the Romans were held to be superstitious by the Greeks because of their fervor for religion.  There are even some Catholic superstitions, which often base themselves on certain acts or rituals guaranteed to gain the object of our prayers.  In reality, there are several elements which much be present for a prayer to be effective, such as humility, devotion, confidence, necessity for salvation, and the will of God.  Believing a pious practice will obtain one’s prayers may increase one’s confidence and devotion, but without the other three conditions, one’s prayer will not be answered.  Sometimes a prayer to a lesser saint is more effective because one’s devotion to that saint is greater; but, as George MacDonald wrote, God would “instead of being a merciful Savior, be the ministering Genius of our destruction” if He answered every prayer exactly as we wished it.  Not everything we want advances our salvation or is in accord with God’s will.

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Favorite Anime of 2015

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You probably won’t be surprised that my favorite anime of 2015 was none other than Arslan Senki.  The only other anime I rated at four and a half stars was Eden of Grisaia.  Very few anime have parodied the harem genre so well.  I especially loved the hero’s resemblance to Sousuke Sagara of Full Metal Panic! and the show’s finale was nothing short of amazing.  However, Arslan Senki‘s quality animation, fascinating setting, and equally intriguing characters gave it the edge over its competitor.  Also, as an enthusiast for all things medieval, the realistic depiction of chainmail:

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The Four Loves in Shingeki no Bahamut

I was delighted to learn that JP of Beneath the Tangles and Japesland was convinced by one of my articles to give Shingeki no Bahamut another look.  As I have another article on this show up my sleeve, I might as well give him and my other dear readers some more ideas to chew on from this Christian fairy tale.  At least, it has convinced me that it is such, but my readers may easily disagree.  After all, the Christian symbolism feels overwhelmed by pagan dualism and mythology.

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However, we have the example of Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis that Christian truths can be reaped from a pagan world.  I have already mentioned how Shingeki no Bahamut tells the truth about demons and temptation.   The present article will discuss how the show points to human love having a divine origin–not only the love of man for God, but each kind of love C. S. Lewis ponders in his book The Four Loves: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Agape.

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An interesting thing about Christian theology is its emphasis on relationship, which has its foundation in God: “…God is love” (1 John 4:8).   The two things which characterize God’s relationship to his people are loving-kindness and faithfulness.  One becomes sanctified by maintaining a relationship with God, i.e. remaining in a state of grace, which enables one more and more to love as God does.  The Trinity itself can only be explained through relationship.  After all, everything the Father is, the Son is; everything the Son is, the Holy Ghost is; and everything the Holy Ghost is, the Father is.  The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  Not three Gods but one and the same God.  But the Father is begotten of none and does not proceed, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which Himself is the infinite Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

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In a similar way that love is at the core of the mystery of the Trinity, our relationships and loves are how people define us.  People develop certain expectations of us from the company we keep, our parents, our beloved, and our relationship to God–in other words, our four loves.  Shingeki no Bahamut stresses its focus on the four loves through the four significant relationships of the show: Amira and her mother (affection), Favaro and Kaisar (friendship), Amira and Favaro (eros), and Jeanne and St. Michael (agape).  (Of course, few of the hallmarks of romance are apparent in Amira and Favaro’s relationship; but, most would agree that more would have followed had Amira been able to live beyond their parting kiss.)  Each one of these relationships is maintained despite the many factors threatening their dissolution.

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The immutability of these bonds imbue each with a divine aspect.  Death cannot sunder the bonds of Amira and her mother, Amira and Favaro, nor those of Jeanne and St. Michael.  St. Jerome commented once, “A friendship which can end has never been real.”  And the betrayals threatening to break Favaro and Kaisar’s friendship are resolved by the end of the show, and we can look forward to more of their antics should a sequel be indeed forthcoming.  Love transcends death, which shows love as one of the qualities which demonstrate man’s divine image and likeness.  The divine cannot die.

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Which brings up a flaw in this show’s mythology: its St. Michael, who is called a god, does in fact die.  How can the divine die?  The fact that he dies and that there is an afterlife in which he says that he shall still love Jeanne seems to show that the series acknowledges a God greater than the gods!  Of course, central to Christianity is the story of a dying God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only his human body died on Good Friday, which his divinity could raise up again on Easter.  It is impossible for the divine, pure Being, to die.  So, does the mythology of Shingeki no Bahamut in fact recognize a “God of gods”?  That’s a question for another time.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

At any rate, this is a most cursory look at the topic.  If only Lewis’s The Four Loves had been more foremost in my mind, I might have been able to make more of it!  But, I hope that this idea adds more pleasure to your enjoyment of a truly fine series.

Jinbee Tsukishima as a Model of Sainthood

The more I read the Mushibugyo manga and watch the anime based on it the more fond of it I become. One of its greatest moments occurs in chapter 33 of the manga–covered within episode 8 of the anime. Our hero, Jinbee, discovers that Mitsuki has abducted Haru, his love interest, in order to draw him into a trap. Once Mitsuki has him inside a cavern crawling with giant bugs and lined with debris and buildings from a destroyed village, Haru finds a way to escape her bounds. But, Mitsuki still intends to crush both of them by bringing down the house on them–literally dropping houses from the cavern’s ceiling! Rather than lament his predicament, Jinbee quickly hits upon the plan of using the houses as a means to ascend to the top and escape! Not only does he not utter a single lamentation for his situation, but he even excuses Mitsuki of any wrongdoing–claiming that she must be being manipulated somehow!

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How many lessons this short chapter holds for a Christian! Those of you familiar with the series know that Jinbee and Haru are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their very simplicity allows them to act without hesitation. Curiously, intelligence can actually produce barriers to right action. Dostoyevsky’s underground man states that a truly intelligent man would never do anything. A man of action must be stupid. Why? The intelligent man tends to overanalyze and complain because their very intelligence allows them to see more difficulties. The knowledge of these difficulties stymies action. In Jinbee’s case, on the other hand, he seizes upon what he considers the best course of action and follows it without hesitation.

Great Idea

Some of the best Christian saints were also some of the simplest people. Sure, Christ has need of intelligent people, and the ranks of the Doctors of the Church are filled with them. Also, few religions have placed the same emphasis on learning as Christianity. However, when God needs something done, he often turns to the simplest individuals. Once God showed St. Francis of Assisi a room filled with thousands of swords and spears, and told him that he should win as many swords for God. The next day, St. Francis immediately bought some armor and set about to raise a company of soldiers for the Crusades! Fortunately, another dream that evening described that St. Francis would be responsible for raising spiritual warriors rather than Crusaders to the Holy Land. Like the good and single-hearted man St. Francis was, he returned to Assisi and set about creating the foundations for the Order of Friars Minor.

Happiness in Struggle

Neither St. Francis nor Jinbee allowed the struggles to daunt them from achieving their purpose. Haru also immediately consents to the plan of house climbing. If we take houses to symbolize temptations and difficulties, should not their ascent indicate walking the royal road to paradise? Temptations and obstacles ought to be met with cheer because overcoming them causes growth and sanctification. God permits temptations and obstacles in our lives so that we can triumph over them. As much as it may appear to the contrary, God would never permit temptations so great that we could never overcome them. We have no reason to be angry with God for the difficulties in our lives–though God is understanding of our frustration.

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For that matter, we should avoid becoming angry at the people who place stumbling blocks and temptations before us. As Mitsuki sends houses crashing down on him and giant bugs after him, Jinbee claims that she must be being forced against her will. Flabbergasted by these excuses and the cheerful attitude of Haru and Jinbee–they essentially treat the attempts to kill them as a game, she vehemently asserts her malevolence, which produces more resolute denials of her wickedness from Jinbee. In a like fashion, Christians should make excuses for the people that wrong them and remember both that Christ died for that person and that their enemies possess the spark of divinity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

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Lastly, we cannot ascend to heaven on our own strength. No one is saved alone. At times, we must like Haru accept help; at other times, we must like Jinbee help others for the increase of our charity. John Donne puts it very well in his seventeenth Meditation:

…for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

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But, other people and our own efforts can only help us along so far. Our good deeds and patient suffering increase our merit and fortify our good will, but God Himself must draw us up to heaven as heaven is so far above our deserts. We often sin and must have recourse to God in straightening out our crookedness or indeed even infusing supernatural charity back in our souls after we do a grave wrong. And, we might say that that ever-present need of God’s salvation is symbolized by Jinbee’s associates breaking into that chasm to rescue Jinbee and Haru from Mitsuki, who would surely have killed them had not the warriors of Mushibugyo dropped in at the right time.

To the Rescue

Sometimes, samurai anime can be remarkably fruitful for contemplation!

New Page: Suggested Spiritual Reading

My dear readers, I decided that it would be worthwhile to include another page on my website.  Titled “Suggested Spiritual Reading,” it lists various books which have enriched people’s souls for a long time–some for over a millennium.  I’m curious whether you think that it’s a good list and what works you would wish to see on it.  Also, I wonder how you think about my division of the books of the Bible depending on their difficulty.  Did I rank some books too high and others too low?

As always, thanks for reading!

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Kisara’s Revenge: Right or Wrong?

Here’s one last article on Black Bullet and the Spring season of 2014.  Like most of you, Kisara’s utter obliteration of her treacherous brother took me by surprise.  I thought that she would let him off with the loss of his legs, but I suppose cutting off a limb is always the prelude to giving the killing stroke–whether one is considering Japanese or Western martial arts.  Anyway, the parricidal villain got what he deserved.

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Or did he?  Kisara laughs maniacally after his death and claims that she is evil and that only evil can eradicate evil.  These two claims strike one as shocking, especially for someone from a culture where filial piety is so esteemed.  (And no, evil cannot eradicate evil.  Only justice and mercy can.)  When one takes that into account along with the traditional belief that the victims of murder will not rest in peace until they have been avenged, I’d say that most Japanese would think badly of her had she not killed Kazumitsu Tendo.

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So, whence arises the idea that she did wrong?  I am tempted to think Kisara’s words as purely rooted in the emotion of the moment.  To a person of integrity, killing is always ugly and painful even if justified.  Or does she feel that she ought to have left Kazumitsu’s punishment to the authorities?  But, one has already seen the degree of corruption in both the police and the government, and Kisara no doubt took this into account when she undertook extralegal means to avenge her parents.  Using a duel to execute a murderer is hardly ideal, but neither is Black Bullet‘s society.

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I’m pretty sure this did not enter into Kisara’s mind at all, but in the spirit of this blog let’s ask this question: was it unchristian to kill her brother?  The Faith does recommend mercy.  Kisara could have stopped short of killing him at least, right?  But, four things must be taken into account when judging this matter: 1) Kazumitsu thinks nothing of taking human life–even the lives of his parents; 2) merely maiming him does not prevent him from continuing to use his political power or influence to cause grave harm; 3) the corrupt government might acquit in a trial, thus allowing him to continue to take human lives or endanger society for his own ends; and 4) Kazumitsu would no doubt be using his power to eliminate witnesses should he be arraigned.  I think that there exists a hierarchy of compassion in Christianity and prudence partially governs how mercy is given.  As the Glossa Interlinearis, a 12th century Biblical gloss by Anselm of Laon, states: “Justice and mercy are so united that one ought to be mingled with the other; justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice profusion…” (Gloss to Matt. 5:7).  Permitting Kazumitsu to live in society places the life of a murderer above his potential victims.  To have compassion on the murderer in this case is to lack compassion for the innocent.  Giving the lethal blow to Kazumitsu falls more under Katsujinken (“the life giving sword”) than Satsujinken (“the murdering sword”).

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If anything could have rendered Kazumitsu’s death a moral wrong, it would be if Kisara had arranged the duel in the belief that she was doing wrong.  It is possible to render something objectively right evil by having the wrong intention.  For example, giving money to the poor in order to be praised by others or telling truth for the purpose of delighting in another’s pain on hearing it.  The ugliness of the deed certainly struck her after the fact, but she did not have any doubts about whether she should fight Kazumitsu beforehand.  The preparations before the duel evince her sense of righteous indignation.  But, if there be any truth to Kisara’s belief that she’s evil for avenging her parents, it could only be because she undertook the revenge believing that she was doing wrong.

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You couldn’t be more wrong, Kisara.

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Nevermind, you could be.

But, what do my dear readers think?  Was Kisara’s action laudable filial piety?  The only way to stop a dangerous malefactor?  Erroneous vigilantism?  Or wrong because Kisara acted against her conscience from the beginning?

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Lynn Okamoto and Reversing a Trend

Since the early twentieth century, Eastern ideals have flowed into the West as Western technology has flowed into the East.  And so, we have authors like Herman Hesse and Rainer Maria Rilke whose works bear a decidedly Eastern influence.  In particular, the 60’s and 70’s saw an increased interest in Eastern religions, especially Hindu, Zen Buddhism, and Taoism–my personal favorite.  People jaded with the rampant materialism in the West highly regard these traditions.  As for Christianity, that bedrock of Western civilization, it has come to be looked at as the cult of the unsophisticated.  Some people are so convinced of Christianity’s provincialism that they are blind to the spiritual richness of the Church: the writings of the Church Fathers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bonaventure (I especially recommend him to curious Buddhists), St. Thomas Aquinas, and so many others.

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The attitude that the Christian faith lacks relevance and that Western culture is vapid makes Lynn Okamoto stand out among mangaka.  The title of his first major work, Elfen Lied, derives from a poem by Eduard Mörike, a Lutheran pastor and writer of the 19th century German Romantic movement.  And Okamoto’s works are imbued with themes found in traditional Western culture, e.g. original sin, free will, spiritual warfare, salvation by grace, and distrust of the government.  Might I also add that themes of alienation, initiated by Karl Marx and expanded on by writers like Camus and Kafka, are boldly painted in both Elfen Lied and Gokukoku no Brynhildr.

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Someone has obviously just threatened Papa’s life a moment ago. The only thing which can make Nana go berserk!

So, I just wished to mention one Japanese author whom I think is very much in tune with Western values and culture.  This is interesting because of that trend I noted before of many–perhaps the majority–of Westerners believing that the East has more to offer to men’s hearts and souls.  Have you noticed any other Japanese mangaka, novelists, or even screenwriters who display a similar interest in the West?  Especially in showing that they think Christianity contains enough vitality to be relevant to modern man?

Day Three of 10 Days to 300: Wings of the Honneamise

Royal Space Force: Wings of the Honneamise is one of those films which reminds me of why I got into anime in the first place.  This film cannot be considered as less than a masterpiece–worth five full stars!  I am grateful to John Samuel of Pirates of the Burley Griffith for recommending that I watch The Right Stuff before watching this feature.  One sees that Wings of the Honneamise owes much to this earlier film which concerns the rush to break the speed of sound and the space race.  (Can I add that it is amazing to see Fred Ward, Ford Harrison, and Ed Harris looking so young?  Pretty soon, I’m going to sound like my parents: “Is that so-and-so?  Ah, he looks so young in that movie!”)  But, whereas The Right Stuff concerned freedom, being who you are, and having the courage to brave any obstacle; The Wings of the Honneamise studied the divisions between people and asked the question of whether these divisions can ever be mended.  I must warn you that there are spoilers ahead, but, like anything worthy of being considered a masterpiece, one’s enjoyment of such a work actually increases by knowing the themes running through this kind of work.

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At any rate, the world of the film is very divisive: man and woman, nation and nation, civilian and military, rich and poor, secular and religious, and city and country are sharply contrasted.  Each side only considers their own advantage and refuses to take the point of view of the other.  A particular triumph of the film is how they were able to focus on the larger problem through the relationship of Shiro and Riquinni.  They meet one evening as Riquinni passes out religious pamphlets.  He decides to see her the next day under the guise of talking about religion.  Nevertheless, she inspires him with the idea that going into space is a holy mission for which he has a special calling.

That's a picture to boost an astronaut's confidence!  There was a similar scene in The Right Stuff.

That’s a picture to boost an astronaut’s confidence! There was a similar scene in The Right Stuff.

The begins a process of reconciliation between the two which frames the story of the Royal Space Force’s struggles in making the first successful launch into space.  You might say: “What do you mean by reconciliation?  Reconciliation happens after one or two parties have been wronged, right?”  But, according to Riquinni’s religion–just like in Christianity–there has been an Original Sin from which all the suffering and division which human beings now experience may be attributed.  Riquinni and Shiro both suffer from its effects:  one is too high and the other is too low.  Shiro is a secular, rich, and military man.  Riquinni is a religious, poor, and civilian woman.  The first part of their reconciliation occurs when Shiro starts to listen to Riquinni’s religion.  The second follows shortly as he pleases Riquinni by telling her that he is a soldier who doesn’t kill.  (As if there is something wrong with a soldier that kills the enemies of his country.)  As a matter of fact, he even begins to study her holy book.

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But, the problem is that Riquinni wishes to remain high–so high that Shiro can’t reach her, as was pointed out in her batting away his hand when he went to hold it.  I am reminded of Samuel Johnson’s quote: “A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner on his table than when his wife speaks Greek.”  Events come to a head the night after Shiro helps Riquinni pass out some pamphlets.  Shiro is thoroughly stressed by negative media coverage, protests, and all the other hurdles those in the Space Force endure.  He goes to her for hugs and kisses and gets the usual hospitality, which depresses him as he lazes about on the floor.  Idleness ever sows harmful ideas in one’s head, and Shiro sexually assaults Riquinni as she changes for bed.  Fortunately, the attempt is foiled by Riquinni bashing him on the head.

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The next day, he sheepishly apologizes to Riquinni, who responds that he must forgive her; otherwise, she could not live with herself.  Shiro is nonplussed, but I think that she more wants his forgiveness for her other-worldliness and coldness than for bashing him on the head.  In his last attempt to visit her, he’s about to return to base without having seen her.  Riquinni steps onto the train’s boarding platform as Shiro steps up into the train.  They see each other and bid each other good bye as the train departs.  One might wrongly view this as a final separation, but it actually marks their reconciliation: Riquinni has come down and Shiro has climbed up.  Riquinni will still be there when Shiro returns from space.

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As war breaks out between Shiro’s land and their greatest enemy, Shiro risks his life to get into space.  While in space, he leaves a message for mankind.  Essentially, he hopes for reconciliation between all peoples, but only God can bring this about.  He calls prayer the humblest and noblest action a man can do, because one reveals one’s utter need of God and trusts in Him.  People are helpless in the face of ignorance, sin, and division, but God can solve all of these problems.

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So yes, your life is not complete until you have seen this film.  Stay tuned for my review of Wolf Children!

Inuyasha and Beating the Devil

Inuyasha stood as my third favorite anime, but finishing Inuyasha: The Final Act gives me no choice but to bump it back into second place ahead of Code Geass.  Yes, the final installment of the series was enough to cover for any faults in the first several seasons.  The whole series focuses on the battle between good and evil.  Such shows and books are a dime a dozen, but Inuyasha parallels reality closely enough to catapult it to greatness.  In particular, Naraku very nearly captures the attitudes and wiles of the devil, and Inuyasha and his friends show how to beat the devil.

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#1 Good always wins.

This is the first and most important rule.  One must always act with this truth in mind lest one be taken down by despair.  Even if we are plagued with defeats, we must remember that an All-Powerful and All-Merciful God desires to hand us the victory which He won for us, and so we have great reason to hope, do penance, and continue doing good.  Naraku in particular tries to fill Inuyasha and his friends with despair.

The only thing to do is to keep fighting without believing the evil one’s lies.  As St. Anthony of the Desert (from whom I draw many of these maxims) said, Christ has defeated Satan so that the devils are powerless–they can only threaten.  They are no more than playthings for us Christians no matter how frightful they appear.  Christ always is ready to give us the power for victory, unless too much pride prevents his grace from being efficacious in us.  But these very falls provide reason for humility and allow for us to be victorious through God’s grace later.

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#2 Evil is best fought by the greathearted virtues of faith, hope, charity, and courage.

We see this especially in scenes like Sesshoumaru unhesitatingly entering the insides of Naraku, who has become a giant spider, in order to save Rin or Inuyasha jumping into the underworld to save Kagome.  Also, the utter reliance Kagome places in Inuyasha offers us a great symbol of faith: she does not fear falling into dark abysses, knowing that Inuyasha will save her.  We Christians should also not fear the darkness, knowing that we not only have a powerful savior, but an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Savior.

Evil cannot be conquered by excessive anxiety or worrying.  This is the fault of scrupulous people.  (Yours truly is guilty as charged.)  If we have excessive worry in our hearts, the devil will play upon these fears until we cannot perceive real goods or begin to fall into more vices.  Yet, if our hearts are filled with faith, hope, charity, and courage, all hell breaking into pandemonium cannot scare us.  Hence, it is important to fight evil with the greathearted virtues.

St. Anthony the Abbot doesn't look scared at all, does he?

St. Anthony the Abbot doesn’t look scared at all, does he?

#3 Remember Mercy and show mercy.

We are all weak and fall often.  Therefore, it is important to show mercy to one another, and to hope for mercy–even though all mercy is unmerited.

This is exemplified by things like Kagome forgiving Inuyasha for wounding her–the lover forgives her beloved.  In a similar way, the Church is the Beloved of God, who is more infinitely merciful than any human lover; and so, we have full reason to hope in receiving God’s mercy.  Then, we also have Sesshoumaru’s forgiveness of Sango for attempting to cut down Naraku by cutting through Rin in order to save Miroku.  Fortunately, Rin is not cut down, and Sesshoumaru completely overlooked Sango’s sin, for which she confesses to deserve punishment.  Though there is no forgiveness scene, the fact that Sango has three children at the end proves that forgiveness must at least have been tacitly given.

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#4 Even though we fall, don’t surrender.

Consider the mistakes Inuyasha and the gang made above.  They do not excessively grieve over their faults as to stop trying.  Rather, they continue to fight and refuse to give in to despair.  Miroku and Sango are particularly anguished by the prospect of the wind tunnel devouring Miroku; but, refuse to give in to despair, even though they come very close.

We are only human beings, not angels after all.

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#5 The devil lies and ought not to be heeded, even when he speaks the truth.

The devil is “the father of lies.”  Therefore, he ought never to be heeded.  Even when he speaks the truth, it is so that he can twist it to his own deadly purposes later.  Thus, Jesus Christ even silences the devil when he truly calls Jesus the Holy One of God.

In the same way, Naraku constantly lies or uses the peril of the situations to induce despair.  Sesshoumaru is perhaps the best at picking up on Naraku’s lies, especially where he quietly ignores all the illusions Naraku places before him of Rin.  (Indeed, silence and a calm mind are two great weapons in the fight against evil.)  And Inuyasha has this great line: “I’m sick of listening to you!”  In the same way, we should ignore the evil one and live our daily lines focused on doing good and our duty.

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#6 Though victory is assured, the struggle will take a very, very long time.

Inuyasha ran for a good 56 volumes, 193 episodes, and four movies in toto.  The struggle against evil in our lives and against our own vices will continue until death.  But, we must imitate Inuyasha and his friends in fighting this battle with perseverance and magnanimity until all our vices are pulled up by the roots.  Our Savior wishes this very thing.

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#7 Evil is small-hearted, mean, essentially nothing, and for nothing.

Kagome beautifully brings this out in a speech toward the end of the final battle.  Naraku lives merely to destroy.  He destroys relationships, friendships, families, and lives; but, for what?  No benefit ever accrues to him except that hollowest of pleasures: the delight in seeing another’s pain.  In the same way, the devil is the hater of all good and so truly deserves to be despised.

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However, Kagome’s speech brings out a very sad point: Naraku, while still a man, desired to be loved by Kikyo, but he gave in to despair and envy, which allowed him to be possessed by demons.  There are even hints in the show that a part of him wants to be good and to love others.  Rather than follow these good impulses, he actively strives to eliminate them.  These choices resulted in him becoming the evil creature that he is.

Hence, though we can gaily trample upon the devil and his designs, we should pity and pray for our fellow men who have fallen so low.  Remembering that if not for the grace of God, we ourselves would be in the same sorry state.

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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and the Problem of Pride

One of the things which I admire about anime is that when one feels like one has seen the same plot a million times over, the same characters ten million times, and the same school classrooms a hundred million times over, a show will surface to blow one’s expectations and remind one why anime was so appealing in the first place.  This little one season show, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, stands head and shoulders above most anime for the profundity of its message.  I feel an eternal debt of gratitude toward Marlin-sama of Ashita no Anime for intriguing me enough to pick it up.  Among its themes, the refusal of its heroine to acknowledge her dark past and believing that she should be loved less if the hero discovered it reminds me of the folly of pride which believers can enmesh themselves in relation to God.

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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has an interesting portrayal of pride in the mind of Yuuko, the ghost for whom Niiya, the protagonist, falls in love.  She has a light side which has expunged all the memories of suffering, bitterness, and hatred which she suffered in her past, and a dark side which remembers only these painful moments and can only feel these negative emotions.  This split is so complete that they appear as different persons.  We, dear readers, similarly have darkness and light within us; but most of us, however much we may minimize this darkness, never fall into that greatest temptation of pride: to cast off this dark side from our consciousness and to distort reality to the extent that we consider ourselves angels.

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But, Yuuko does have more of an excuse than most of us.  After all, she was sacrificed by superstitious pagans so that an epidemic might cease. (Perhaps superstitious is an unneeded modifier.  Can one truly be a pagan without being superstitious?  Oh, well.  That’s a question for another blogger.)  Nor was this a quick death: she was left to die alone of suffocation or of starvation in pitch blackness while suffering the agony of a broken leg at around 15 or 16 years of age.  All of this while thoughts of envy toward her best friend and hatred toward those who abandoned her there swirled in her mind.  That’s a memory I’m sure most of us would desire effaced!

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Yet, we are not walking according to the truth if we disown our suffering, evil thoughts, and dark deeds.  And do we not own our dark side more truly than than our good side?  After all, we cannot maintain the least virtue, perform a single good deed, or have one good thought apart from God, who aids us by His own divine life.  On the other hand, we can do all sorts of sins on our own and would even plummet into utter vileness if not prevented by His grace.  St. Philip Neri once remarked as he saw a condemned man passing him on the road: “There goes Philip Neri but for the grace of God.”  Nor is this arrangement unfair: how many sins have I myself committed despite receiving the grace to will otherwise?  How many times have I consented to sin without lifting up a single prayer so that I might will good instead of evil?  Or did pray, but never wanted to form the wholehearted will to shun what might be more delightful to the senses or sweeter to my ego?

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At any rate, Yuuko further compounds her darkness by believing that Niiya won’t love her if she has any darkness or suffering in her.  This is not true: we are all loved by the people in our lives in spite of our defects.  How much more ought we trust that God loves us in spite of our wickedness?  As believers love to repeat, God’s love is unconditional.  Even in the midst of mortal sin by which we deserve to be sent straight to hell, God does not cease loving us and strives to turn us to repentance.  Yet, I believe people growing in goodness are more susceptible to this form of pride than outright sinners.  Somehow, the delusion intrudes that God loves us because of our good deeds rather than simply because He made us and thought it delightful that we should be with Him in paradise forever.  Then, we start forgetting our wicked deeds or minimizing them under the delusion that God somehow loves us more infinitely for being good!

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Yuuko’s desire to forget her painful past becomes so extreme that she further effaces her memories of Niiya.  You see, Niiya had absorbed the dark side’s, Shadow Yuuko’s, terrible memories and Yuuko cannot help reliving them when she touches Niiya.  Therefore, she blocks Niiya’s presence from her vision.  Even though she strongly desires to see him again and stays in the same vicinity as him, she cannot see him.  At last, the only way that they can communicate is by writing notes to each other in a notebook.

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Is this not rather like a Christian who in his mad drive to forget the memory of his sins even avoids the sight of a crucifix?  I think it no accident that in one episode we see two images of a cross: one made by Niiya and Kanoe’s shadows crossing and the other one of light.  For, the cross is painful because we see our sins in the wounds of Christ, but these very wounds bring us in the light of Christ’s presence.  And Niiya and Yuuko exchanging notes is rather like how a Christian soul, when frustrated at not feeling God’s presence, will turn to the Scriptures–all the while yearning for the embrace of the One who loves her.

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Then, that beautiful scene occurs in their club’s room, the Paranormal Investigation Club.  Niiya takes a bat and begins shattering everything in the room in order to get Yuuko’s attention.  Furthermore, his actions bring Shadow Yuuko into focus for Yuuko at the same time.  This is reminiscent of St. Augustine’s Confessions:

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

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In this scene, we find that Niiya wishes especially to speak to Shadow Yuuko and embraces her, saying that he loves Shadow Yuuko too, because Yuuko and Shadow Yuuko are the same person.  In the same way, though Jesus hates the least speck of sin in our souls, He loves us entire.  He wishes to love us in pain as well as in joy, which is so plainly figured in the cross as Jesus endures all the pain caused by pain and suffering in our lives out of pure love for us.  The confession of love by Niiya allows for both halves of Yuuko to come together, forming Yuuko into a complete person.

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Since God loves us as a complete person, there is no need to attempt hiding our sinful selves from Him.  Rather, let us contemplate the Crucifix in which we clearly see our sins in the holes in Christ’s hands and feet, the pierced side, the crowning of thorns, and the anguished expression on His countenance, knowing that it is through means of these wounds that we are bound to Him forever.

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Speaking of forever (Big spoiler coming!  If you’re the kind of person who absolutely cant’s endure them, don’t read on!), I expected Yuuko to disappear in the last episode–the natural end for ghost stories like this.  And indeed, with her regrets being solved and the integrity of her person, she does disappear for a while, leaving Niiya in great sorrow.  Does this not remind us of how we desire heaven, where we shall be reunited with our loved ones and love shall endure in perfection forever?  It seems, however, that Niiya’s last kiss produced a new regret in Yuuko: she now desires many more kisses.  Truly, love is never exhausted!  Since this is a love story first and foremost, Catullus 5 powerfully comes to mind:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
to be worth just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
we must sleep a never ending night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
we will mix them all up so that we don’t know,
and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
how many kisses we have shared.

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Suffering and Christmas

Well, this blog has been full of the Christmas spirit, hasn’t it?  To tell you the truth, I think that sweetpea616 succeeded more in immersing herself in the Christmas spirit than I did–and she’s pagan!  At any rate, I think that it will be worthwhile to write about how suffering relates to the holiday of Christmas.

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I can already hear someone asking: “How can suffering possibly relate to such a joyous holiday?  What a morbid, moribund, and melancholy person!”  (And I can tell that this speaker does not know me personally.)  But do not forget that the colors green and red symbolize the Christmas holiday.  Green obviously symbolizes rebirth and renewal–and how did Christ accomplish our rebirth?  By pouring out His red blood on the Cross.  Verily, He was born in order to die.  We Christians celebrate the Invincible Love of God in sending His only Son so that Jesus Christ would redeem us through a painful death upon a cross and give us new life by His Resurrection.  In the same way, Christians are baptized into the Passion of Christ and reborn into His Resurrection.  Since “the disciple is not above his master” (Lk 6:40), we must suffer many things and courageously bear the cross God gives us so that we may be steadily transformed into the image of Christ until we reach that perfection which God has destined for us in Paradise.

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The Church calendar seems to reinforce the idea of suffering even in the midst of this joyful time of year: the day after Christmas we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephan, the feast of the Holy Innocents today, and tomorrow recalls the murder of St. Thomas à Becket.  Only St. John the Evangelist seems not to fit in until we remind ourselves that he suffered a white martyrdom.  How could it be otherwise?  In support of this idea, we have all the suffering John endured in spreading the Gospel and his gospel itself, which enters more fully into the divinity of Christ than any other gospel.  John’s gospel evidences his suffering because no one can understand God so fully without meditating on and participating in Christ’s sufferings daily.  How much grief must have filled St. John’s soul in recalling those three interminable hours at the foot of the Savior’s cruel cross?  To always have before his eyes the visible memory of Christ’s wounds and the sorrowful last words of Christ ringing in his ears?  And on the thirtieth, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family: after Christ’s whose sorrows are meditated on more frequently or were more severe than St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s?  These two saints have more glory in heaven than all the rest because they both played a larger role in Salvation History and suffered more greatly than all the other saints combined.

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So, suffering, doubts, anxiety, grief, and pain do not seem out of place this time of year.  In my case, I lack a certain talent to suffer–if I may call it so.  Suffering has the propensity to make us focus inward, to disregard the people around us, and overly seek consolations for oneself–anything to cause us to forget or diminish our pain or angst.  But, the talent or skill which one should strive to attain is to ignore our miserable condition and manifest joy to the world–especially around Christmas.

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The most memorable scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the meeting of Jesus and His Mother on the Way of the Cross, demonstrates this attitude perfectly.  What does Our Lord say to His Mother?  After being insulted and beaten constantly, being mocked, unjustly condemned, scourged, crowned with thorns, and even to this point being shown every form of contempt and disdain?  “Behold, I make all things new.”  This carries the idea that Christ’s attention was focused mainly or even purely on the good his sacrifice would do humanity rather than all the evils humanity was pouring on him–even though these sins pierced His Heart like the crown of thorns did His Brow.  Rather than indicate any pain, He joyfully boasts of the salvation He brings to the human race.  For, not even an ocean of sin can extinguish the Love of God.

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Remember what the red and green symbolize when you look next time at a Christmas wreath.  There is joy because Our Savior has come to restore the human race; on the other hand, He restores it through His Sorrowful Passion.  Neither pain or sorrow is out of place in this holiday nor ought one to forget the Passion of Our Lord in this or any season.  So, one must rejoice in spite of suffering, since Christ has come to save poor sinners–us–and these very sufferings, especially when we strive to suffer with love, bring us closer to Christ.  This quote from G. K. Chesterton seems appropriate here: “He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.”

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Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

Excuse the French title, dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be assured of its grammatically correct nature. (It’s so nice living next to a former French teacher. I’ll have to try my best to benefit from this propinquity in order to master French before he leaves us next semester.) Beginning to watch Hell Girl again and reading George MacDonald’s Weighted and Wanting have prompted me to write this article. Both works have certain Christian themes—especially this novel of George MacDonald, who was also a great influence on C. S. Lewis—which helped to highlight the other reason to read fiction: repentance.

First, I shall summarize the basic premise of Hell Girl, the eponymous young heroine of which is also known as Enma Ai. Enma Ai was cursed with the eternal duty of aiding those who were seeking revenge by dragging their tormentors to hell. The sufferers contact her through a certain website called the Hell Link, at midnight—merely typing in the name of their tormentor. She appears to them holding a doll with a red string, pulling which string seals this contract: she’ll send their tormentor to hell with the catch that the person who initiates the contract must also go to hell upon their death. (A surprisingly large number of people agree to such terms.)

You wouldn’t have guessed, but this girl was one of the most eager to pull the red string.

This premise provides us with some great scenarios for character study, a favorite genre of the Japanese. As I mentioned in the prior article on fiction, character study aids us in understanding other people. On the other hand, it is a more useful tool in bringing us to understand ourselves—especially in cases where we cannot see our faults. How can we repent unless our shortcomings are present to us?

That’s unrepentant for you.

Hell Girl excels at bringing to light various faults, particularly since all the episodes employ modern settings with commonplace situations. This makes it highly probable that we shall find ourselves in one of the antagonists. (As I did in episode ten of the second season. Despite its edifying nature, watching how Tetsuro Megoro’s lack of constancy led to his demise was rather painful to watch.) People often possess faults of which they are unaware or faults in which they have justified and excused themselves for so long as to produce hardness of heart, i.e. they no longer see a need to change. By holding fictional characters with the same faults before our eyes, our identification with them will hopefully reveal how we have gone wrong and the necessity of our repentance. Otherwise, we shall be like the tormentors in Hell Girl, claiming our innocence despite the heinousness of our offenses and dying with final impenitence on our souls. (From which, may God preserve us!)

So says the detective who used his position to stalk and harass a high school girl, attempt to murder her, actually murder his partner, critically wound the girl’s father, and is presently attempting to finish the job.

It is interesting to note that all the antagonists are offered the opportunity to own up to their guilt: final impenitence in grave sin—at least, according to the Catholic Faith—is the only way to be damned. Perhaps, Ai would be unable to fulfill the contract should the sinner admit his guilt. One imagines God intervening on behalf of the repentant lest such a one be eternally damned. We never know if such would be the case, because no one ever repents in the show at that point; though, I do remember a few rather inoffensive people being condemned—perhaps to cast doubt on Ai’s role as the savior of the oppressed.

The last thing they see before falling headlong into perdition: flowers.

Weighted and Wanting so far is less drastic in the consequences for people’s faults, which tend to be various forms of worldliness and vanity. But, the fault of mine with which I am reminded in this work recalls part of a lecture given at my old Alma Mater by the renowned Dr. Justin J. Jackson (if you care to hear give a beautiful convocation speech, click here):

“And how do we treat our families?”  When no one ventured to give an opinion, he replied for us: “Horribly!”

Needless to remark, no one gainsaid this opinion. But, does this shock any of my dear readers? Is there not a tendency to fear offending our families less than offending our friends, because forgiveness is so readily available? Instead, we ought to be less inclined to offend our family members due to their readiness to forgive us.

n.b. this is George MacDonald, not my former English Professor.

George MacDonald portrays the elder brother in the Raymount family, Cornelius, as suffering from this defect in regard to every member of his family save his father, who governs how his children shall inherit his property. Cornelius enjoys deriding his sister Hester at most every opportunity, though Hester isn’t perfectly innocent of this defect herself, and, on the whole, treats his friends and business associates better than his family. Yet, Cornelius is rather intelligent in a way: if we treated our friends the same way as we treated our family, we should only have the latter left to us. However, one cannot be too hard on oneself: the members of our families often take our good will for granted, increasing the chances of us sinning through impatience or wrath itself!

Illustration from one of his works. MacDonald was most famous for his fantasies.

So, one walks into the confessional with more offenses against one’s family than against one’s friends. But, cognizant of this fault and with the help of God’s grace, we can work to overcome it. Having been patient with the defects of my friends and associates, we can attempt to apply the same patience to the defects of my family members. Depending on the vision of George MacDonald, Cornelius’s lack of respect for his family and inability to consider this a fault may lead to his downfall.

Therefore, the next time one feels moved to deride another person or even a fictional character for their faults, one ought to first consider how oneself may be guilty of the same fault.

Prayer Maxims from a Novice

A sense of inadequacy comes over me each time I attempt to write the next article on prayer.  Either too many important things are left unsaid or I ramble about trifles.  My ineptitude has convinced me not to go forward with that series of articles lest I warp someone’s mind.  At least the article on prayer’s necessity was posted, because praying itself is the most important thing we can do.  Even if one is making every possible error, God can lead a person who prays to right these faults.  But, I do realize that some of my dear readers were waiting for the next three articles.  In lieu of them, please accept this little collection of unoriginal maxims and explanations of them from yours truly.

  • Begin in thanksgiving, proceed in contrition, lift your voice in praise, and end in humility.

One should always consider one’s littleness when approaching God, our utter reliance on Him, and how great He is.  By thanking Him, we acknowledge our reliance on Him.  By sorrowing over our sins, we recognize that all the grace He has given us was completely unearned, realize His unfathomable goodness and mercy in pardoning our sins, and understand that He treats us so much better than we deserve.  By praise, we offer a fitting, though by no means adequate, return for His goodness and meditate on God’s greatness.  By keeping mindful of everything above, we humble ourselves and please God through our efforts to be humble.

  • Worldliness chokes prayer.

We draw toward those things about which our minds contemplate.  Always thinking about one’s daily life or those good things which we desire cause these things to follow us into our prayers, making prayer difficult or impossible.  Striving to consider God as the last end of our work and leisure and avoiding excessive desire for pleasurable goods makes prayer easier.

  • A simple mind speaks many prayers.  A complex mind can pray but one word.

As noted in the prior maxim, always seeking God makes prayer easy.  Such a person may complete devotion after devotion with ease and recollection.  (Though, it is generally inadvisable for most people to engage themselves in many devotions.  Stick to a few for your daily regimen and perhaps celebrate feast days as they come.)  Often, someone who is very busy, bombarded with temptations, or immersing himself in pleasurable goods will find that he can barely pray.  In such a state, it is best to unite oneself with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) by repeating the word “God” or “Jesus.”  (The Catholic Catechism does say that the Holy Name of Jesus is the basis for all prayer.)  By constantly repeating this word, all our other concerns or desires fall from the mind until it becomes pure enough to pray at length.

  • Neglect not your mother

In giving St. John the care of His mother, Jesus also made her the Mother of all men, and she, after God Himself, is most solicitous for the salvation of all men.  Also, if God especially hears the prayers of good men, how much more will he hear prayers uttered from the Immaculate Heart of Mary which never knew sin?  How foolish we would be not to beseech her intercession before the throne of Jesus Christ!

  • The names of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael are on the tongues of all.  After them follow those who bear our own names, and lastly those whom our personality and experience select.

Among the saints, everyone should seek the assistance of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael.  Then, one will feel closely attached to those who bear their own name.  Afterwards, one makes acquaintances among the saints through their spiritual reading and experiences, choosing the ones which most appeal to them.  Each person may decide the degree to which they venerate these saints, but short prayers expressing one’s needs are sufficient–especially concerning the virtues one lacks or needs help in perfecting.

  • In spiritual darkness, the friends of God offer lamplight to the soul.

God sometimes withdraws his tangible presence from souls in order to purify them through suffering.  Even though we live, move, and have our being in Him, it sometimes happens that we find it difficult to perceive God, and our prayer time is completely arid.  God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we are capable; however, during this period of darkness, he allows the saints to offer us some consolation.  In the same way, the souls in Purgatory are deprived for a time of the vision of God, but consoled by St. Mary, St. Joseph, their guardian angel, and others.

  • Contemplatives may have a dozen devotions, but a few are sufficient for those leading an active life.

Most of us, leading very busy lives, do not have the same amount of time for prayer and contemplation which is available to religious.  However, many people are drawn by either love of God or the delight they find during prayer to continue adding devotions, the multitude of which will eventually cause them discouragement and loss of discipline in prayer once they hit a point of spiritual dryness.  Saying the rosary, often saying brief prayers to Our Lord throughout the day, praying short prayers to the saints mentioned above, and reading a few chapters of the Bible everyday should be sufficient for most.

Of course, if you’re not married and you find delight in prayer and little delight elsewhere, the religious life’s probably for you.

Guiseppe Moscati. Doctor, University Professor, and Saint.

  • Prefer sorrow to joy in meditation.

As human beings, we often fall into sin.  Jesus had to pay for all of these sins in His Passion, so it behooves us out of gratitude to often meditate on His sufferings.  By considering the pain which our sins cause Him, we are less inclined to repeat them.  Also, Jesus looks with great mercy on all who meditate on His Passion with feeling and pours forth many graces on them.  It is a good thing to meditate on our goal, Heaven, but not as much as the Passion.

  • Fill the morning hours with prayer.

One mistake people make is that they reserve most of their prayers for the end of the day.  It is much more profitable to perform our devotions in the morning so that our minds are focused on serving God from the very beginning.  Of course, some people’s schedules do not admit that, but say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary before preparing yourself for work.

  • Invoke God constantly throughout the day.

This practice prevents us forgetting that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and the next.  Using these brief invocations causes the thought of God to be constantly on our minds, which prevents us from falling into sin or missing opportunities for good works.  One can use any of these ejaculations or lines from certain litanies.  The author tends to use: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” or “Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on me!” or the one beginning “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.” or “Dearest of Mothers, pray for us!” or “Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

  • Do not neglect spiritual reading.

You are what you eat, and reading offers food for thought.  Only reading worldly books causes the soul to become worldly.  But reading spiritual books keeps us mindful of what is of true value.  The Bible ranks highest on the list of books to read followed by The Imitation of Christ, The Rule of St. Benedict, and various other works.

  • Do not vow to say prayers.

If one vows to do anything for God, He will expect us to fulfill it.  While a priest or religious vows to recite the Divine Office, I don’t think that a layman–since the business of the day may prevent him from praying or meditating to the extent which he would like–ought to vow anything, lest one sin through negligence.

Well, I hope that these maxims provide a little guidance for everyone.  Of course, the Philokalia in particular and several other devotional books, like St. Francis de Sales’ The Introduction to the Devout Life, have more thorough advice and proverbs for you to follow.

 

Kenshin as a Christ Figure

Recently, the desire to write about how Kenshin Himura of Rurouni Kenshin fulfills the role of a Christ Figure has been swirling in my mind.  I am unfamiliar with another article delving into the similarities between the two, though several forum goers and bloggers have touched on this idea.  The two published articles I have read which discussed Kenshin’s character, Brian Camp’s in Anime Classics Zettai (every otaku should own this book) and another one in Otaku USA, both remark on the extreme nobility of Kenshin’s character.  Here’s a quote from Brian Camp’s article: “In fact, Kenshin is so likeable and perfect that he runs the risk of being a little too abstract to be entirely plausible, but it’s the small human moments with the others that bring him down to earth and anchor the series in a kind of reality” (324).  In a similar way, Jesus Christ stands infinitely above everyone, but loves the company of little children and performed that most human of miracles at the wedding feast of Cana.  (Might as well point out here that Kenshin also loves children very much and often plays with Ayame and Suzume, Dr. Gensai’s granddaughters.)  The more I consider the similarities, the more I am convinced that Kenshin Himura was not based principally on Kawakami Gensai, despite Nobuhiro Watsuki’s claim that he based Kenshin on this assassin of the Meiji Era.  The physical design of Kenshin’s character may have been, but not his personality.

One might as well start with the most apparent connection: they’re both wanderers.  Kenshin wanders Japan, while Christ wandered Israel.  Of course, we run into the difference that the former traveled in order to learn and hide from his notoriety, while the latter, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, went about publicly in order to teach.  But, you can say that they were both impelled by humility: Christ humbly obeyed the will of His Father and imparted spiritual wisdom from his meek and humble heart; on the other hand, Kenshin, as a mere man who may be mistaken about his opinions, prefers to learn and encourages others to find their own way.  Interestingly, the main topic on which they preach is repentance.  Kenshin, a sinner like the rest of us (Few people will create a Christ figure who’s entirely flawless, after all), usually confines himself to elaborating on why he goes about repenting; but, to certain villains who are obviously in need of repentance, he’s quick to advise them to practice it themselves.  The Heart of Jesus, infinitely good and perfect and therefore having no need to repent himself, constantly advises others to repent so that they might find happiness.

Happiness itself is another theme about which both often speak.  One might say that the ultimate goal toward which the advice and teachings of these persons is happiness; however, the philosophy of Kenshin tends toward Epicureanism.  Oddly enough, this Epicurean form of happiness, at least shares a few features with Christian happiness, such as disinterest in wealth, hatred for the world, and a clear conscience.  The poverty of Rurouni Kenshin‘s heroes, the disdain shown by all toward the millionaire Takeda Kanryu, and Kenshin’s lecturing Misao about the wrongness of theft–even when one is in poor circumstances–stand as sufficient examples of idea of wealth’s unimportance.  Especially in Kanryu’s case, where his downfall makes it evident that “Wealth is useless on the day of wrath, but virtue saves from death” (Proverbs 11:4).  As for hatred for the world, the series has several examples of people who become corrupted through their desire for power, whether it be through physical strength or political power, and the time when Kenshin refuses General Yamagata’s offer to make him a government official show how much the characters wish to remain unstained by the world.  Most of the villains who disturb Kenshin’s idyllic life at Kamiya dojo have a lust for power, and desire for power always leads to a bad end.

The necessity for a good conscience is perhaps shown most clearly in the duel between Kenshin and Soujiro.  Soujiro becomes angry with Kenshin because he thinks that Kenshin is deluded in his desire not to kill.  Because delusion is a sort of disease, it truly ought to make Kenshin an inferior swordsman.  According to Zen Principles, any sort of delusion or anything which would disturb the purity of one’s mind should prevent the execution of good swordsmanship–especially the superior kind which Kenshin possesses!  But Soujiro’s frustration at the idea that he himself might be in the wrong prevent him from overcoming Kenshin, who believes himself to be in the right.  I suppose that it would be superfluous to provide examples of how Jesus advises us not to serve mammon, to avoid worldliness, and practice virtue in order to maintain a clear conscience, right?

Then, we have Kenshin’s vow not to kill which reminds me of this verse: “The Son of Man did not come to condemn the world, but to save it” (John 3:17).  In a similar way, none of Kenshin’s antagonists die by his hand, but rather by their own refusal to turn from their evil deeds.  The two best examples being Jin-e Udo’s suicide and how Shishio’s stubbornness works his own death.  As St. Faustina avers in her diary, whoever goes to hell, goes there by their own will, not because Jesus Christ wishes anyone to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

And in the second season, is not Kenshin’s journey to Kyoto reminiscent of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem?  Even the true object of the journey is rather similar: just as Christ wished to put the old man to death in us so that we may have life in Christ, Kenshin wishes to put the man slayer side of himself to death.  Also, Shishio is pretty much Satan, whom Christ defeated by His passion and death.  Then again, Kenshin’s friends constantly remind us in this arc especially how he tries to carry everyone’s burdens on his shoulders, which–though it stands as manner he resembles Christ–is actually a fault in his case.  Only God can bear everyone’s burdens.

A picture of Kenshin from his days as an assassin in the Meiji Revolution.

But, this is my favorite line exhibiting the similarity between the two because many are apt to miss the connection, but it really slams the fact that Kenshin is a Christ figure on one’s head.  Sanosuke says: “Kenshin isn’t using the weak as food to feed his power like you [Shishio] are.  He’s willing to protect their happiness and become food for their power.”  This is about as inspired a line as one can find in anime.  (Surprisingly, it is not found in the manga.  I checked.)  Essentially, this is Eucharistic imagery!  Shishio, like evil, consumes those who fall prey to him; on the other hand, Kenshin is being described as food for the weak, and Christ feeds us weaklings with His body and blood each mass so that we remain in Him so “that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  If not for Christ offering Himself as food for us, we should all fall to sin.

Well, I hope that this little discussion of how Kenshin’s character compares to Jesus Christ will deepen your experience of the show!

Advice on Prayer: Introduction

Well, dear readers, I’d like to give a little introduction to the series of articles which will be posted here.  For a little while, my thoughts dwelt on why so many people either fall away from the Faith or become lukewarm.  In the modern world, things like fear of man (aka human respect), being brought up in a religiously ambivalent environment, and either having a poor religious education or being seduced by secular ideologies tend to be some of the most prominent culprits.  But, greatly influenced by St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s The Great Means of Salvation, the greatest error of those who have fallen away is that they did not persevere in prayer.  Of course, you might be better served by reading that wonderful work; but I must warn you that, besides encouraging the Faithful to pray, this book is a work of Counter Reformation apologetics, including many arguments against the Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s theologies.  If you would be put off by all those arguments to which St. Alphonsus adds the backing of several Fathers of the Church, stick with my series of articles.  Despite being written from a Catholic perspective, they should prove useful to all Christians and even other Monotheists.  My articles wish to show:

1) The Necessity of Prayer

2) How Not to Pray

3) What to Pray

4) Troubleshooting, or How to Overcome Certain Obstacles in Prayer

Feel free to pick and choose from the advice I give.  For example, however much I should wish it, Protestants are not going to pray to saints.  (Though, might I encourage you to speak to your guardian angel sometimes?  God did provide them with the mission of watching over us, and they deserve some acknowledgement!)  Also, I might just plain be in error on some points, so listen to the advice of someone older and wiser if possible.

Devout persons, people who barely practice religion, those in a state of doubt, and those who would like to believe form my target audience.  For those who are happily atheists, agnostics, and apathiests, please do read the first article then consider whether you arrived at your respective conclusions rightly.  If yes, read no further.  If no, read on.  And comments about how I could improve my arguments will be greatly appreciated.  But, the main thrust of them will be that people are saved sola gratia, “by grace alone,” and that “Prayer is the key which opens the Heart of God” (Padre Pio).  I hope that you enjoy these articles!

Who is Your Apostle?

Both a passage from the Revelations of St. Gertrude and the fact that today is the Feast of St. Matthias (the Apostle who was chosen after Pentecost to take the position which had been held by Judas Iscariot) combined to give me the idea of this post.  While conversing with St. Gertrude, Jesus Christ told her (oh, if that sounded rather unexpected, be sure to read my little review of the work) that it had come to his attention that she had no apostle.  Thereupon, he presented St. John the Evangelist as her patron, and we are treated to a wide variety of revelations about how his purity and love of God and neighbor earned him many special joys in heaven.  Which reminds me of another passage where St. Gertrude asked Jesus what he was thinking about.  He responded by saying that he was thinking of how to reward St. Gertrude’s every good deed, good word, and good thought a hundred times over in heaven.  To think that in exchange for seventy years of toil, we gain an eternity of rest where we shall be rewarded infinitely above our deserts!

To return to the topic, reading this passage inspired me to have a devotion to St. Bartholomew.  (Thoughts about the greatness of the saints’ charity have inspired another digression.  Think of how great the difference must be between even the least saint in heaven and those of us still struggling down here.  How eager they are to listen to us and help us despite our wretchedness!  Imagine a shabby beggar approaching a richly dressed duke and asking the duke to petition the king for him.  Not only does the duke not turn the beggar away, but even directly makes his way to the king.  Further, he brings the beggar’s petition before the king and even asks the king to consider it as a request directly from him.)  I had long been attracted by those character traits of St. Bartholomew visible in the short passage where he features in the Gospel of John (John 1:43-50): his cheerfulness, simplicity, honesty, and wholeheartedness.  Also, one seems drawn into the joy with which Our Lord greets him: “Behold, a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile.”  Then, the life of St. Bartholomew in the Aurea Legenda in which he converts an Indian kingdom from paganism by forcing the demon in the main idol to destroy this idol and all the other idols in the temple, and then having an angel present the demon in chains to the converted king is rather awesome.  Unfortunately, the king’s brother took offense at this, and–depite St. Bartholomew also defeating his idol–has St. Bartholomew flayed alive.  The chronicler also mentions that some people say he was flayed alive in Armenia, which is the most accepted version.  Needless to say, the king and his priests meet a bad end.

So, my question to you, dear readers, is whether you have a favorite apostle?  The reason may be because you value his intercession and/or are attracted to his character.  Did you decide on this only through scriptural accounts or did you look at other material?  St. Paul is a valid option too, by the way.