Messy Jesus Business Rabble Rouser, Amy Nee-Walker, recently wrote the following Scripture reflection “Being Bread for Life: A Sacrifice Pleasing to the Lord” for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and posted it on the Catholics On Call blog.
In today’s readings, John the Baptist is prodded past the point of despair through miraculous nourishment in the desert, St. Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus to be “imitators of Christ,” who, as Jesus iterates in the Gospel of John, is “the bread of life.” Meditating on these readings on August 9th 2015, I am moved by how poignantly they contrast to the events that happened on this same date, 70 years ago.
On August 9, 1945, the U.S. detonated their second nuclear bomb, “Fat Man,” on the heavily populated city of Nagasaki. An estimated 73,884 people were killed, another 74,909 continuing to labor under the misery of loss of health, land, resources and beloved friends, family and community. Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, brought home this seemingly distant tragedy, writing, “vaporized, our Japanese brothers [and sisters] – scattered, men, women and babies to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York, on our faces, feel them in the rain.”
In a new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard further personalizes the story of those who suffered through and survived the massacre at Nagasaki by focusing on the lives of five Hibakusha (the name given to survivors of the bombings). She tells of Taniguchi Sumiteru who, at the time of detonation, was a 16-year old boy, riding his bicycle to deliver mail throughout the city. The bomb destroyed over three square miles of the city in which Taniguchi lived and worked. It was 17 months before he could sit up, having had the skin melted off his back and arms. Because of lying face-forward in bed so long, his chest too began to rot away. After four years Taniguchi was finally discharged from the hospital. As doctors and nurses did the excruciating work of repairing his body, he is reported to have cried out, “Kill me, kill me!” preferring to die than to endure the pain any longer.
As I read the lament of Elijah in the wilderness, “This is enough … take my life!” I hear the wails of young Taniguchi and those who thought it better to have died than survive the pain of their injuries or the turmoil of radiation sickness and cancer. Yet, just as Elijah was ordered to eat and endure for the sake of those who remain, so the Hibakusha, like Taniguchi, endured their bodily and emotional trauma and engaged with life that they might be representatives for those from whom life was irrevocably stolen.
Nuclear weapons, and the radiation they emit, wreak havoc on bodies, poison waterways, and seep into the soil, sowing seeds of destruction for generations. It is a death that strikes heavily and spreads deeply, infecting the sources of life for the present and the future. The U.S. is the only nation that has used nuclear weapons as an act of war and continues to be a leader in nuclear munitions and in further development of nuclear armament and technologies.
What then are we are called to as we approach the Presence who is revealed in the Word, in prayer, in the Eucharist? What are we called to if not to be bearers and sharers of that presence; to be bread for the hungry, to proffer nourishing life in resistance to a culture that cultivates death? St. Paul, notorious for his tendency toward convoluted prose, manages to write quite plainly and eloquently in his letter to the Ephesians:
“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
“And so be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.”
This Christ, very much a man with all the fears and pains that accompany life within the flesh, willingly proclaimed himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven.” “The bread that I will give,” he said, “is my flesh for the life of the world.” In this, Jesus fully acknowledges that to give bread for the nourishment of life in the world would come at a personal cost and he was willing to give it, sacrificing even his own life.
What does it mean to be followers of one who rejects self-preservation, one who would choose that his own body be broken, his own flesh be consumed for the sake of giving life to others, rather than ever being an instrument of harm?
On August 6, 1985, in a radio message to the people of Japan, Pope John Paul II said of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
“Such a tragic destiny is not inevitable. It can and must be avoided. Our world needs to regain confidence in its capacity to choose moral good over evil … One must affirm and reaffirm, again and again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable.”
Elijah, after being roused from despair, continued to be a prophetic voice in the name of God. The Hibakusha bore the trauma of horrific wounds and unhealable memories and went on to be a voice for those who lost their lives as well as a healing presence for those who survived. Jesus overcame death by willingly accepting it so that we all might discover the way to peace and to life abundant.
How do we walk on amidst these truths? For today, I sit in prayer with the presence of the Spirit; I hold the generations who suffer from reckless, destructive war-making—as well as those who suffer from my own careless interactions and complicity in social evils—in my heart. I ask that I might be transformed and become a true image-bearer of the compassionate, forgiving, nourishing, healing Christ.