We conjure all Christians throughout the world to strive all they can to know their Redeemer as He really is… You must look upon it as a chief part of your duty to engrave upon the minds of your people the true knowledge, the very likeness of Jesus Christ; to illustrate His charity, His mercies, His teaching, by your writings and your words, in schools, in Universities, from the pulpit; wherever opportunity is offered you. The world has heard enough of the so-called “rights of man.” Let it hear something of the rights of God.Pope Leo XIII, Tametsi Futura Prospicentibus (1900)
My grandfather and I sometimes have discussions on the subject of religion; during one of them, he shared his experience with Catholic education to me. In those days, Catholic schools everywhere, from Indonesia to New York City followed the curriculum of one St. John Baptist De La Salle; priests and nuns taught students not only on subjects like math, science, or reading/writing, but also gave them the gift of the Catholic Faith through the rigorous study of catechism, daily Mass, and a strict enforcement of morals. Such schools were seen as among the best across the district because of this attitude. My (Vatican II sect) high school, on the other hand, although hosting Catholic externals, operated much like a public school. Never once did I see a priest or daily Mass being said inside the edifice. Religious education focused on extolling non-Christian faiths (Nostra Aetate, you happy?), and 99% of my graduating class would repudiate their Catholic Faith. I wonder if the aforementioned saint would be cringing if he hears the quality of today’s Catholic schools, which although claiming to profess Christ, threw Him out to appease modern authorities.
Make no mistake; Our Lord himself wasn’t joking when he emphasized how difficult it would be to live as a Christian in today’s secularized world: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Matthew 19:24). Recently, I was pondering on Little Witch Academia, a show about a girl named Atsuko (hereafter Akko) Kagari and her quest to become a witch, where we see too her ideals on magic being challenged by others, ranging from classmates to British politicians; one can take home a few things with regards to being a modern-day Christian from her arc.
AKKO AGAINST THE WORLD
Diana: You’re a fool to think anyone here respects Shiny Chariot’s magic…
Akko: Nonsense! She was the greatest witch ever, her magical shows were renowned by all!
Diana: Sure, she was popular for a time. But it’s been ten years since she was last seen, and no one’s bothered to find her since.
Akko: You’re wrong! She gave me a dream and purpose!Akko and Diana’s first conversation, episode 2
Prior to the events of the anime, Akko watched a magic show hosted by her role model, Shiny Chariot, whose mantra became her own: “A believing heart is your magic”. Upon entering Luna Nova Academy, Akko shared this dream of spreading her joy and love of magic to everyone, an optimism which never died within her throughout the series. Unfortunately for her, roadblocks came in her way; like her ineptitude at all things magical, and worst of all Shiny Chariot was regarded as a pariah by her peers, much to her horror. These included:
- Diana Cavendish, a magic prodigy who, alongside her friends Hannah and Barbara look down upon Akko’s idolization of Shiny Chariot and her beliefs as “childish”. Since their first conversation in episode 2 (quoted above), Diana has constantly challenged her viewpoints, believing that it is hard work, not mere ambitions alone, that drive success, and tries at every whim to get Akko to grow up out of her own fantasies. This, coupled with her magical prowess, spurs Akko’s jealousy, and prompts her to start a rivalry with her.
- Andrew Hanbridge, a member of the British aristocracy, who in episode 6 shares the belief of his father that magic is outdated, and initially intends to shut down Luna Nova Academy. At their first conversation, he shares the belief that “magic will disappear soon”, believing it to be useless with the advancements of science, and even challenges Akko to change his mind, which she fails miserably at. Ironically enough, his family is acquainted with Diana’s, who wishes also to see a magical restoration.
- Professor Croix Meridies, the magical equivalent of a modernist heretic, whose philosophy is “magic must reinvent itself for the modern times”. Her abilities impress many at Luna Nova, but deep down she wishes to use magic to push her own catastrophic agendas. She harbors a resentment for Shiny Chariot following an incident during their youth, and wants to tarnish her legacy in the eyes of others.
Akko persists in her want to spread the love of magic, and the gospel of Shiny Chariot to all, but in order to do this, it becomes apparent to her that she must change from within. Her character is prone to certain faults; she is impatient, hotheaded, and does not take kindly to harsh criticism. The only people who are there to encourage her in her goal are her friends Sucy and Lotte, as well as her mentor, Professor Ursula Callistis – who we learn in episode 16 as, unbeknownst to the former, Shiny Chariot. Outside of her small circle, she is all alone in her quest – Akko, contra mundum; against the world. The turning point comes in episode 11, when, during a visit to the Blue Moon Abyss’ spirit, she is tempted with a very attractive proposal: to become like Shiny Chariot, at the cost of her own soul. Realizing that her personal ups and downs is what drives her, she rejects the offer, proclaiming that success will come from within her, and not on a silver platter.
Akko: I won’t give up on becoming like Chariot! No matter what I have to endure, I’m going to work hard and become an amazing witch! Just like Professor (Ursula) told me: dreams can’t be grasped alone, but only through practice, day after day, will you find yourself where you want to be!Akko’s resolve established in episode 11
Through the Seven Words of Arcturus, a crucial item for resolving her faults, this leads to her magical abilities improving, as evidenced by her taming of a vengeful Vajarois, her adventure in Finland and her support of Constanze’s battle machine during the Wild Hunt. In turn, this begins to affect those around her positively, even her former doubters. First is Diana, who, during an excursion to her family home, runs into Akko, where she not only admits her admiration for Akko’s persistence and optimism; later she reveals, much to the latter’s surprise, her own true feelings about Shiny Chariot; her former critic would turn to her best ally for encouragement. Andrew would later denounce his past skepticisms, and encourages the British government to support Akko and her friends when going up against Croix’s weapon of mass destruction. Lastly, Croix, who in episodes 22-24 manages to get Akko to doubt Shiny Chariot’s message, faces a change of heart after witnessing Akko’s spectacle, and reforms her magical duties to the service of good in the end.
LOSING A SENSE OF THE SACRED
Akko wanted to live the ideals of Shiny Chariot, even amidst a world that derided her, refusing to compromise her ideals; a task that many Christians often face amongst today’s secular whims. On the subject of compromising faith and worldly ideals, St. Paul writes:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.St. Paul to the Romans, 12:1-2
Akko’s world saw magic as an outdated tool, and the subject of public mockery, as seen in The Enchanted Parade. Even today, in countries with a Christian majority, the Faith is often found denigrated much in the same way as above. See for yourself:
- Secular discouragement of religion. Akko grew up in a world when magic was awesome, and Shiny Chariot was her proof for this. Fast forward several years later, and she arrives at a completely different world where her ideals are regarded as worthless, and even out-of-date. So too does secular society with its treatment of Christianity, where religion is de facto discouraged. Think I’m exaggerating? After 1965, Sunday Mass attendance, religious vocations, and the number of baptisms and Christian marriages have been on a steep decline – even in staunchly Catholic places like Quebec (Canada), Ireland, Spain, and Italy; and among those who profess this faith, the average person is unaware of terms like the Real Presence, the Immaculate Conception, or the Ten Commandments. Yet, you can deny science and claim to be a gender that you’re not, fight for the right to kill an unborn child, and keep Christmas and Easter commercial; but as soon as you attempt at professing Christianity publicly, you become the target of derision.
- Open skepticism. Diana, Andrew, and Croix are no strangers to questioning Akko’s ideals on magic, and have challenged her in these numerous times throughout the show. Here, the Internet is home to large swaths of resources attempting (and failing) to disprove Christianity. Users on social media sites like Twitter also openly encouraging others to question the existence of God, the historicity of the Bible, call on Christian beliefs to “get with the times” or pinpoint the “evils” that Christians did throughout history, ignoring that that these were done in spite of what Christ taught. Some will even pull out Bible quotes out of context to “prove their point” and jive at Christians, proudly proclaiming their ignorance like a “medical expert” who got his knowledge by screening WebMD.
- Emphasis on humanism. I know of a very intelligent person, who graduated with honors from my high school’s advanced placement program, who rejected God because, in their words, He didn’t play a role in her life. Yes, the same God who brought her into this world, helped overcome her darkest moments, and bestowed the talents she was gifted with; somehow He wasn’t involved with that. This is humanism at its finest; the idea that man, not the divine, is what ought to be exalted, and seems to be the emerging ideology practiced by many people, even if they’re not aware of it; this trait can also be seen in Little Witch Academia, especially when characters discuss the merits of the supernatural against that of science.
CONFORMING THE WORLD TO CHRIST, ONE AT A TIME
But just because the world can be cruel to Christ is no reason to lose our Faith, but rather we should strive to remind others of His presence without being asked to by them. Akko managed to change the perspectives of many through her practices and strong faith in her ideals; so too can Christians achieve this in several ways, including but not limited to:
- Praying to overcome doubt. In St. Mark’s Gospel, we read a story about how a father of a sick child cried out to Christ to cast away his unbelief, so that his child could be healed. Of course, there are times when our faith can be shaken, such as when we see other professing Catholics act out in a manner unworthy of the name, or if someone provides proof of the “falsehoods” of the Faith. In any case, I find that praying the words of St. Mark 9:24, “I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief” a good first step.
- Studying the Faith from reputable sources. Just as how you would study a scientific paper to understand how the physical world works, so too should you learn the Faith from theologians’ works. In my life, I’ve found that taking a lunch break or two to read some books and dissertations on Catholic dogma have helped me to get a better understanding on what we believe, and how to respond against typical arguments from non-believers. I recommend looking at pre-Vatican II dogmatic theology books, such as James Cardinal Gibbons’ Faith Of Our Fathers, Fr. Joseph Deharbe’s Catholic Catechism or the complex theology manuals by Frs. Ludwig Ott or Michael Muller.
- Making an honest effort to change. All the knowledge of the Faith won’t be enough to get you to Heaven: “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.” (St. James 2:26) Like they say, your behavior will affect the way others act around you; and so you should be careful that how you speak and act, whether it’s on Twitter or in public, is representative of your Christian identity. It also helps to take notes from spiritual books; apart from Sacred Scripture, classics like Fr. Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction To The Devout Life or Fr. F.X Lasance’s guides for young boys/girls are helpful resources for living Christ in the modern world.
- Going on the offensive. We should use every opportunity possible to profess the Faith through evangelization, and help others see the true Catholic teaching on particular subjects, no matter how controversial. However, we ought to carry this out with respect and gentleness, if we are to reach them; much unlike the Vatican II sect preachers at Anime North who bullhorn their way to the crowds. Additionally, rather than have to answer question after question of misinformed positions by others who don’t understand the faith, it is we that should try to convert them; study their arguments, and question them openly to try and get them to change their minds. Questions like, for the Protestant, “Explain how true Christianity was founded some 1500 odd years after Christ?”; “Where do the origins of humanity come from?” for atheists; and for the Modernist even, “If truth can change, how can I be sure what you’re saying is the truth?”, are some good starting points when faced with objections.
Akko: These people need Shiny Chariot. Once they see her show, they’d laugh and get all emotional. And then, the world will be at peace!
Andrew: No doubt, that’s quite ideal, far better than what we’re facing right now.
Akko: I must say, you’ve come to accept magic far more than you did before, haven’t you?
Andrew: I’ll admit, my opinion of you has improved over time. But let me be frank with you – you say you want to spread happiness to others with your magic. But you can’t get there if you just rely on Chariot to do it. Don’t you think you should take action first?
Akko: You’re saying I should do it? No, you’re right!Akko vows to change the world, episode 22
The title of my post is based on the Latin phrase, “Athanasius contra mundum” – in reference to St. Athanasius, the Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, who pastored his flock during the Arian crisis of the 4th century – the biggest crisis to affect Christendom until the Protestant Revolt a millenia later. In his day, many bishops succumbed to the heresy of Arius, an apostate priest, who flat out denied the divinity of Christ. St. Athanasius fought tooth and nail to defend Christ’s divinity, and for his many works he suffered a lot, being exiled numerous times from his patriarchal see and often left alone to fend for himself against the attacks against his position and person; hence, Athanasius contra mundum; him against the world. Yet he was emboldened by his struggles, and ceased not to write treatises defending the Catholic understanding of the Trinity, and practiced an asceticism with some monks sympathetic to his cause. In the years after his death, his position would triumph over that of Arius, who for his blasphemies (literally) ended up crapping himself to death. His story is quite representative of the many conflicts between Christianity and worldly expectations; one among those of Sts. Thomas More, Louis IX, Catherine of Alexandria, and many others.
For Akko, her gift was the one that Shiny Chariot gave to her a long time ago: bringing happiness through magic. She fought to ensure that its legacy would live on, and made sure to practice it wholly, gaining many allies to her cause. Traditionalist Catholics can learn a thing or two from them – rather than let the world conform us to their ways, we should let Christ be an example in our lives, and through Him, influence others to do the same.
Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.St. Athanasius