Today is the feast day of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the famous Catholic bishop of Sant’Agata de’Goti, moral theologian and founder of the Redemptorist congregation of priests. I find the selection of this date for this type of post rather fitting, because of a particular incident related to him. Two months ago, I came across one of his well-known spiritual treatises, titled Uniformity With God’s Will – which explained, in 21 pages and 7 chapters, the secret to achieving Christian perfection: by striving to align our will with that of God’s. By increasing the desire to follow Him within ourselves, and making sure to do whatever He asks of us in the midst of the world, no matter what obstacles may come along our way, the great saint and Doctor of the Church assures the very same theme that previous saints have expounded: that we will be able to love God better, and uplift our bodies as instruments of His will unto others. Very rarely is such a message expounded these days – in contrast is the hedonistic maxim “Let do what thou wilt become the whole of the law” – which often lends itself to self-destruction, leads nowhere, brings a fleeting satisfaction which requires constant refilling, but yet is one that is so often conveyed out to many poor souls.
After reading the book, it became an instant favorite of the spiritual works I’ve read, alongside Fr. Ferdinand Joret’s Dominican Life, Fr. Francis X. Lasance’s The Young Man’s Guide, Thomas A Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, and St. Francis De Sales’ Introduction To The Devout Life, because of how straightforward and applicable its points were. Not only that, but some of the things I’ve read there also were made present, albeit implicitly, through some characters that I’ve come across in anime. For this reason I decided to, in lieu of my usual St. Pius V Corner posts, temporarily replace it for the next seven months with a section dedicated to exploring characters who fulfilled each of the chapters’ main points in their on-screen lives. Originally, I intended to make this a one-off version of a St. Pius V Corner issue until I otherwise decided; whether or not this will end up being a yearly thing or not, I leave up to God alone, in the same spirit of St. Alphonsus.
The very first character who I will examine is Sakura Kinomoto, the lead heroine of Madhouse‘s magical girl series Cardcaptor Sakura, which aired from 1998 to 2000 simply for the reason that she was the first character I thought of after reading Liguori’s book. In the following sections I will demonstrate how she fits the bill to the theme of first chapter, named Excellence In This Virtue.
The greatest glory we can give to God is to do his will in everything. Our Redeemer came on earth to glorify his heavenly Father and to teach us by his example how to do the same. St. Paul represents him saying to his eternal Father: “Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not: But a body thou hast fitted to me . . . Then said I: Behold I come to do thy will, O God.” Thou hast refused the victims offered thee by man; thou dost will that I sacrifice my body to thee. Behold me ready to do thy will.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, Chapter 1.5
SAKURA KINOMOTO: CHARACTER INFO
Sakura Kinomoto is an 11-year old girl who lives in the quaint town of Tomoeda, with her father Fujitaka, a history professor at the local university, and her older brother Touya, whose speciality consists of working an amazing 30+ part-time jobs and highlighting Sakura’s anger problems by calling her “kaiju”. As is typical of most anime protagonists, she is the daughter of a single parent; her mother, Nadeshiko, died a few years after she was born, but in spite of that she holds her in high esteem thanks to her father’s legacy of her. She is best friends with her classmate, Tomoyo, the wealthy daughter of a major fashion company, and is madly in love with Yukito, Touya’s best friend, with whom she shares many of her treats, aspirations, and adventures with. On the surface, she’s the average 11-year old, who’s part of the cheerleading squad at school, hates homework (especially math), and loves cute things and rollerblading; she enjoys the prospect of living a normal life, unaware of the hidden magical power that she possesses.
In terms of personality, she is a cheerful, happy girl who enjoys the things life has to offer, and can be described as very responsible, carefree, and an all-loving heroine who despises none, and is despised by none, in particular her classmates Chiharu, Naoko and Rika. However, she is also prone to bouts of gullibility (especially with Yamazaki and Eriol’s bluffs), faint-hearted (do NOT mention anything about ghosts while she’s around) and short-tempered (when someone insults her at a very high degree, like Touya).
One day, while rummaging through her father’s basement study, she accidentally unlocks a secret book containing the 52 Clow Cards – magical items which allow her to control various elements and use them to her advantage – and in doing so, releases them out into the wild. In addition, she also meets Keroberos, the guardian of the Clow Cards, who awakens from his long, deep slumber, and becoming aware of the cards’ disappearance, consecrates Sakura to become the new Cardcaptor, with the mission to recover all the cards and restore peace to Tomoeda. At first, Sakura is hesitant to embrace the new role, but over time with Keroberos’ mentorship, slowly adjusts to her new profession.
That being said, her new role is not without its own difficulties and crosses to bear. She now has to juggle between her educational and social duties; appearing as an ordinary school girl by day, and then into a wand-wielding heroine by night, often assisted by Tomoyo and her relatively modest line of battle outfits. Episode 8 and onwards see her bout against Syaoran Li, a mixed British/Chinese boy and his cousin Meiling for control of the Clow Cards, and her having to put up with his initial hostility towards her. Her double life puts her at unease with her brother, who can, as the audience sees, detect magical phenomena and occasionally stresses her out as she realizes the weight of her duties to Tomoeda. As her collection of cards grow, her magical tolerance levels also decline; later episodes show her exhausted after each battle. Nevertheless, she proves herself to be determined at excelling in her role, and will do anything to preserve the Clow Cards’ integrity as well as act as Tomoeda’s hidden defender.
SAKURA’S INVISIBLE SPELL: AN ACT OF ACQUIESENCE TO GOD
Sakura: I know I shouldn’t cry. I know everything will be alright, that’s for sure.
Light Card: …Ever since the seal was broken, I’ve always resided inside your heart. I came out because you realized that I have been with you this whole time, instead of succumbing to despairing… worry not, for no matter where you are, as long as if you have your invisible spell – no one, not even Yue, will be able to touch you.Sakura realizes the importance of her invisible spell
The major reason why I chose Sakura to start off this segment can be traced back to her very own “invisible spell”, which has granted her the assistance to overcome the various trials and tribulations she goes through over the course of the series. It’s one sentence long and consists of some very simple advice: “Everything will be alright” (in Japanese, “zettai daijoubu da yo”). Originating in episode 40 of the series, when Sakura encounters a vision of the future while visiting the Tokyo Tower, which has been the object of her dreams since the show’s inception, its effects are first seen two episodes later when, during a school play, the whole stage is blacked out, leaving Sakura alone; as the darkness begins to consume her, she recites this mantra, which immediately leads her out of the dilemma, and back to reality.
In reciting her invisible spell, Sakura putting her trust not in her own abilities or intellect, but rather in something else: the hope that the future will lead to brighter things for her. Each time she activates this mantra, she wills herself to see the end of her struggles in a victory, and to never let herself give in to despair. Equivalently for us, it’s to make an act of faith that whatever comes our way, God has ordained it so for a reason, and we ought to embrace His plan instead of subverting it, for it is pointless to presume to control the things that are beyond our reach.
Indeed, when one seeks to do God’s will in their lives, nothing else becomes more pertinent, but to do things for His glory. It is to live the same words of St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer: “God, grant me the grace to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change that which can be, and the wisdom to know the difference”. To uniformly join our will with that of God’s is the ultimate act of Christian perfection that one can seek; a vocation which transcends that which is comprehensible to our own selves; for when we do this, we humble ourselves before Him and increase our love and dependence on Him, rather than yearn for what we cannot have. Of course, this is not to be taken as a sign of laziness like “let God provide and I’ll just sit back and watch”, but rather as an encouragement to amend ourselves and live according to how He intends us to, a theme which St. Alphonsus explicates throughout the first chapter.
The pure and perfect love of God they enjoy there, consists in uniting themselves perfectly to His will. It would be the greatest delight of the seraphs to pile up sand on the seashore or to pull weeds in a garden for all eternity, if they found out such was God’s will. Our Lord himself teaches us to ask to do the will of God on earth as the saints do it in heaven.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, Chapter 1.9
UNIFORMITY WITH GOD’S WILL IS TO LIVE HIS MESSAGE IN WORD AND DEED
Even before Sakura’s invisible spell was introduced her journey as a Cardcaptor is a living example of it in action. At the start of the series, Sakura is intimidated with the idea of this new post of hers, becomes annoyed with having to juggle between her social life and her duties as Cardcaptor, and tries to wiggle out of the deal despite Kero’s insistence:
Sakura: I can’t become a Cardcaptor. I’m just a normal school girl and nothing more, what more can you ask of me?
Kero: Hold up, I seem to recall you were the one who scattered the cards?
Sakura: Well, excuse me! That was YOUR job, and you slept through it for decades, and suddenly it’s MY fault?Sakura and Keroberos’ first banter, episode 1
Furthermore, in her first encounter with Syaoran, he is quick to express scorn towards her lack of magical prowess, even though it was her who caught the “Thunder” card:
Syaoran: You call yourself a Cardcaptor, yet it clearly appears you’re unsuited for the role. In any case, you might as well quit while you can.Syaoran rebuffs Sakura, episode 8
But what happens in the end? For one thing, Sakura begins to embrace her role as Cardcaptor, and make it a crucial part of her identity. Her resolve to defend her family and friends from the effects of the Clow Cards gone amok, and her willingness to go out of her way to do such – even, as episode 39 shows, at the cost of her own health – a sign of her inner selflessness and determination to will good in all things. Not only does she successfully manage to collect all the Clow Cards into her possession and transform them, but she learns to become more independent, reliable, and stronger as her magical abilities begin to far surpass those of her peers. She ends up seeing how wonderful her calling is, and comes to love it unconditionally in seeing how well she turned out.
Her journey also sees her gain a closer bond with new friends – not only Keroberos and Yukito in his true form as Yue, but successfully softens the hearts of apparent rivals Meiling and Syaoran; in other words, capitalizing on the words of Christ: “But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you….” (St. Matthew 5:44) Especially with the latter, he develops greatly throughout the series with her, going from a stern rival, to acquaintance, and then as boyfriend, cementing them as one of my favorite anime couples with a dynamic akin to Bl. Charles of Austria and his wife, Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma.
Sakura: Kero, when you first met me, you mentioned that… a great catastrophe will be fall the Earth. Is it going to be an apocalyptic one?
Kero: No, definitely not! But depending on who you are, the definition of “apocalyptic” might vary.
Sakura: I see. In that case, I’m going to collect all the cards so that no one can get hurt, especially the ones I love.
Kero: I trust you’ll succeed in that. I have faith in you, Sakura, and I know that as long as if you have that goal in mind, everything will be alright.Kero approves Sakura’s motives behind being a Cardcaptor, episode 25
Sakura’s life reflects the very same motto that she would later come to know: “Everything will be alright”. By embracing the role, over time she begins to reap the good fruits from it, and it’s apparent that she doesn’t regret the whole journey. It is also the same for those pursuing Christian perfection: by putting our trust in God, doing His will without reprove, and leaving our lives in His hands, we grow to love Him more and are assured that “Everything will be alright”.
Perfection is founded entirely on the love of God… and perfect love of God means the complete union of our will with God’s.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, Chapter 1.1
So goes what St. Alphonsus teaches, with the Biblical advice of King Solomon: “Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence. In all thy ways think on him, and he will direct thy steps.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Cardcaptor Sakura contains a valuable lesson on not just conforming, but also unifying ourselves with what God desires of us. We must look upon him as a friend who we can confide in, and who will show us what is the best for us. Just like Sakura, who puts trust in her invisible spell, which in turn inspires her to accept her solemn duty as Cardcaptor, and in turn becomes a better individual who loves what she has been called to do; such also is the result of one who follows through with an excellence in practicing this virtue: peace of mind, a true contentment on their state of life, and a refined outlook on God’s love for us.
We cannot offer God anything more pleasing than to say: ‘Take us, Lord, we give thee our entire will. Only let us know thy will and we will carry it out.’ If we would completely rejoice the heart of God, let us strive in all things to conform ourselves to his divine will. Let us not only strive to conform ourselves, but also to unite ourselves to whatever dispositions God makes of us.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, Chapter 1.13-1.14