Servant of God Dr. Takashi Nagai was born in 1908 in a small Japanese village. He spent the first half of his life as an atheist. In medical school he spent his time studying, he was a good student, but he also liked drinking and carousing. He would later write that it always seemed like something was missing in his life.
While still a medical student he was called home one weekend because his mom was dying. He was at his mother’s bedside as she died. He wrote down his experience saying, “I was so sure there was no such thing as a soul. But my mother’s eyes told me that the human spirit lives after death. I could not but believe this.”
In medical school Takashi discovered the writings of Blaise Pascal, a famous Catholic Scientist who passionately believed in God and prayer. Takashi was intrigued. Here was a man of science who believed in God. But Takashi fretted, “How do I pray to a God I don’t even think exists.” Providentially the next semester he rented a room from a Catholic family. The Moriyama family had been Catholics for 300 years. The atmosphere of joy in their home touched him.
When the Moriyama’s daughter, Midori, came home for Christmas she invited Takashi to Midnight Mass. At that Mass Takashi felt instinctively that there was a living presence within the community. There was something more in that Church, something more he couldn’t see. The author that Takashi loved reading Blaise Pascal once wrote, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Takashi wanted to believe.
In a very short time he graduated from Medical school, was baptized, and married to Midori, this was 1934 and they lived in Nagasaki. Takashi was a radiologist and in those days radiologists died very young due to radiation poisoning. In the early 1940s Takashi was diagnosed with Leukemia, it was predicted that he would die very soon. In a dream he was inspired to ask a Fr. Maximilian Kolbe to pray to God for him. He’d met the future saint a number of times when Kolbe was a missionary to Japan. His prayer was answered. Takashi lived another 10 years.
On August 9, 1945 Takashi was at work in the hospital that was the day an atomic bomb was dropped 700 meters from where he worked. He was badly injured. But still he was able to find his home. It had been totally destroyed; he found his wife’s charred bones and in her hand was a melted and mangled rosary. At her funeral a month later he gave a speech filled with faith, he compared the victims to a sacred offering to obtain peace.
The following year he wrote a book entitled the “Bells of Nagasaki” it was a best seller and was made into an award winning movie. In 1948 he planted 1000 cherry trees at the site of the bombing; some of them still live today. On May 1st 1951 Takashi died. His last words were, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, into your hands, I entrust my soul.” And to his children he said, “Please pray.” Today Takashi Nagai is on the path to canonization, an atheist who moved from unbelief to a deep Catholic faith.
The scientist and author Blaise Pascale, who inspired Takashi Nagai, once wrote, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Eucharist. It is said that only 30% of us believe that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. It’s my prayer today that the other 70% of us would be drawn to the light of Eucharistic faith, because there is enough light for faith.
St. Thomas Aquinas once said something very interesting about the Eucharist, “Sight, taste, and touch in Thee are deceived; the ear alone most safely is believed; I believe all the Son of God has spoken: Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.” Do we believe Jesus’ words at the Last Supper and John chapter six or do we believe our human senses? Do we believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus because he told us, or do we believe our own senses?
Now sometimes to bolster our faith a Eucharistic miracle is given to us. In 1996 there was a priest in Argentina who at the end of the day was walking through his church making sure everything was in place before locking the doors for the night. But as he walked down one of the aisles he noticed on the floor a host. Someone had dropped a Sacred Consecrated Host onto the floor. The priest took the host and placed it into a cup of water. The cup was then placed into the tabernacle. Over the next few days the host would dissolve. And after it had dissolved into the water the entire contents of the cup would be poured into the ground. And so the priest placed the cup of water with the Sacred Host into the tabernacle.
He went out of town for a few days and he forgot all about the incident. When the priest got back to church a few days later and looked into the tabernacle he saw something that didn’t make sense. The host, instead of dissolving into the water looked very unusual. It hadn’t dissolved at all; instead it was fleshy in appearance and blood red in color.
The priest took the transformed host to a friend who was a histopathologist. A histopathologist is a scientist who is specialized at examining microscopic tissue samples. They are experts at identifying tissue samples and disease processes. They know how to make a diagnosis based on a microscopic tissue exam. The scientist was told nothing of where the sample came from.
The histopathologist reported that the tissue sample was that of cardiac muscle, it was heart tissue. And the sample was taken from the part of the heart that initiates the beat, the beat that gives life to the heart and body. The sample was also infiltrated with white blood cells. The white blood cells were there because the heart was suffering. The scientist said he sees this type of white blood cell infiltration in people who are beaten severely in the area of the chest.
This is not the only Eucharistic miracle where the host has been transformed. In all the many Eucharistic miracles, where human tissue is present, it’s always distressed heart muscle that is found, the heart, that ancient symbol of love.
On this great Solemnity of the Eucharist may our faith deepen in our Eucharistic Lord and like Servant of God Takashi Nagai may we follow where He leads. In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and may we all want to believe.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher Ankley