In Sacred Scripture, Our Lord counsels numerous times on the importance of putting the principles of God first, over our own. One such instance is in St. Matthew 19:16-26, where a rich young man approaches Our Lord to seek out his advice on how to achieve everlasting life. Having kept all the commandments of the Old Law since his youth, according to his testimony, Our Lord gives him a test to see where his true loyalty lay: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” The man leaves Him without saying no more – and Christ exposes the man’s primacy of his earthly possessions, and not God. Now, while it is not evil to seek out these things, such as money or lawful entertainment, the Church Fathers – from St. Augustine to St. John Chrysostom, emphasize to this chronicle this very lesson: those cannot detach themselves from an inordinate (that is, excessive) desire for this will have a harder time achieving Christian perfection.
It is through the latter that one can find true happiness, as St. Alphonsus Liguori concludes in the third chapter of Uniformity With God’s Will. Constantly chasing after goods has the end result of a never-ending cycle of despair, determination, and euphoria until one becomes numb to it, and gradually the goal begins to lose its initial attraction. But with God, he writes, we have true and everlasting joy, through a three-fold benefit of a Father who loves us unconditionally, and, desiring our salvation, strives to keep us in His care and Divine Providence; a Son whose love and ministry is so great, even to the point of His death and resurrection; and a Holy Spirit who continues to enlighten us in the path of righteousness and, through the Sacrament of Confirmation, gives us a conscience that “All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them.” (St. Matthew 7:12) Anzu and her homeless companion Yassan’s journey in the 2018 anime series Hinamatsuri is reflective of this prose.
Our Lord assured his apostles: “Your joy no man shall take from you . . . Your joy shall be full.” He who unites his will to God’s experiences a full and lasting joy: full, because he has what he wants, as was explained above; lasting, because no one can take his joy from him, since no one can prevent what God wills from happening.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 3.8
ANZU / YASSAN: CHARACTER INFO
In the second episode of Hinamatsuri, we are introduced to Anzu, a girl with telekinetic powers who comes onto Earth in an egg-shaped pod with one sole purpose: to defeat her blue-haired rival, Hina. She’s proud, cocky, and rebellious; what’s more, she has contempt for authority and is not afraid to show it. Following her defeat, she lives a life of debauchery, frequently stealing from Utako and her fellow storeowners, thus engaging in a game of cat-and-mouse with them. Her thievery is shown to have cost the businesses almost 40,000 yen, and she becomes aware of how futile this lifestyle can be. Suddenly, she is called upon by a man in an alley who helps her to escape from her pursuers, much to their chagrin and annoyance. This is Yassan – the de facto leader of a homeless community residing in a city park.
Though Yassan’s appearance is limited in Hinamatsuri, what we can know about him can be seen through the impact he has left behind on Anzu. Unlike the hot-headed, cash-hungry Utako, he is kind, soft-hearted, slow to anger and does not place much on the things of this world. He’s willing to understand others in their difficulties and will do whatever it takes to set them on the right path, and lead them to a better life. Whereas the other members of his community aren’t that open to allowing Anzu to stay in the park with them, fearing civil repercussions, he remains level-headed in reasoning with them, and encourages them to enjoy what they can now and not worry about what is to come. The way he treats life is bound to have a major interior impact on Anzu in her later appearances.
Thanks to his tutelage, and the eventual support of his community, Anzu learns various life skills such as how to earn money and fending for herself, which in turn helps her to understand the value of hard work, the importance of self-sacrifice and servitude to others, and a contentment for life as it is. Slowly but surely, she transforms from the brash, egotistical fighter she was at the start, into a mellowed-out, gentle and diligent shell of her former self. Even when she is tearfully separated from Yassan and the others following their forced eviction from their shelters, and moves to a new family complete with a free inclusion of a house food, room and hot bath, she continues to follow the legacy of Yassan’s teachings within her, and dedicates to living to keep their memories alive inside of her throughout her works and in all situations.
FINDING HAPPINESS IN THE SIMPLE THINGS
If souls resigned to God’s will are humiliated, …they want to be humiliated; if they are poor, they want to be poor; in short, whatever happens is acceptable to them, hence they are truly at peace in this life… This is the beautiful freedom of the sons of God, and it is worth vastly more than all the rank and distinction of blood and birth, more than all the kingdoms in the world. This is the abiding peace which, in the experience of the saints, “surpasseth all understanding.” It surpasses all pleasures rising from gratification of the senses, from social gatherings, banquets and other worldly amusements; vain and deceiving as they are, they captivate the senses for the time being, but bring no lasting contentment; rather they afflict man in the depth of his soul where alone true peace can reside.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 3.3-3.4
Recognizing that material goods, human achievements and praise are but a mere moment as with derision and the toil of work, St. Alphonsus teaches that those who put God above everything, and shun the chase of the former, earn a powerful ability of sorts: an unshakeable, happy disposition for facing the world ahead of them – for God is eternal, and the shares of His merits are forever; unlike the see-saw ride of those who constantly seek out temporal pleasure. He details this through two stories with beautiful morals nonetheless: the first being a farmer whose crop yield was more than his neighbors, on account of his not being bothered by the types of weather that came his way, as he recognized these as coming from God. At first glance this seems rather unbecoming, for who wouldn’t want to do everything they can to maximize their benefits, but that sorely misses the point St. Alphonsus tries to make: that far more important is it to seek Him and to accomplish his will in us, rather than to make ourselves masters in this world. His will alone gives us the comfort we need to get through this day.
After Anzu’s life change, one notices that she becomes less bothered by the effects of her meager lifestyle. In episode 10, she meets with Hitomi, a girl she met earlier in episode 4, and ponders on how to spend the 5000 yen she received from her parents as an allowance. Hitomi takes her to several places as suggestions – a bowling alley, a karaoke bar, and a coffee shop, only to receive a humbling response from Anzu each time:
Anzu: Anyways, they told me to have fun and spend (the 5000 yen) however I wanted. However, I don’t know how to.
*Hitomi takes her to a bowling alley*
Hitomi: You roll up the ball down the lane, and try to knock down as many pins as you can. Whoever scores the most points wins.
Anzu: But can’t I just gather sticks at the park and knock them down with a regular ball?
*Hitomi takes her to a karaoke bar*
Anzu: I can just sing in the bath if I wanted to sing.
*Hitomi takes her to a Starbucks knockoff*
Anzu: You know you could just drink water from a park, right?
Hitomi: (to herself) Maybe you don’t need to spend your money for yourself after all…Anzu and Hitomi’s discourse in episode 10
Similarly – for those who live for fulfilling God’s will, one does not need to have a fancy job, the latest gadgets, or even a multitude of awards to trigger their happiness, but whatever provisions He provides is enough for them. It’s a trait that she adopts from her time with Yassan, whose entire appearance is highlighted by this attitude. For example, he not once in the series complains about the difficulties of his homeless lifestyle, and he’s happy enough with making an adequate salary through the work most others find grudging, and equally delights when he’s sharing a simple beer with the other members of his community. Anzu realizes this, and in suggesting simpler alternatives to what people like Hitomi could afford, she highlights one of the defining aspects of her character: a humble outlook towards life. She reflects the state of a such a person who St. Alphonsus describes as truly content with their life as God provides for them.
UNIFORMITY WITH GOD’S WILL IS TO FIND PEACE IN SPIRITUAL, RATHER THAN TEMPORAL GOODS
Solomon, who tasted to satiety all the pleasures of the world and found them bitter, voiced his disillusionment thus: “But this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.” “A fool,” says the Holy Spirit, “is changed as the moon; but a holy man continues in wisdom as the sun.” …today he laughs, tomorrow he cries; today he is meek as a lamb, tomorrow cross as a bear. Why? Because his peace of mind depends on the prosperity or the adversity he meets… The just man is like the sun, constant in his serenity, no matter what betides him. His calmness of soul is founded on his union with the will of God; hence he enjoys unruffled peace.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 3.5-3.6
Two different types of adjectives are used to describe the various states of poverty: on one hand, effective in the sense of a person with little to their name; but also an affective one, which seeks detachment from a desire for such goods. The latter type is absolutely necessary for one to practice, if they are to experience happiness with God; for to renounce worldly desires is a gateway to rejecting the sins of pride, envy, gluttony, wrath, and all the negative associations that can come with hardcore clinging to them, and allow us to embrace the love of God more intimately and reflectively. In Scripture it also says: “Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) By de-emphasizing this attachment, we, in a sense, become dead not in a physical sense, but mentally to the trends, and emerge alive spiritually to a life of perfect uniformity to the will of God. Both characters are living both forms of this poverty, but even more important is their disposition against seeking more than what they have on their sleeves.
St. Alphonsus demonstrates this point by ending the chapter with a story told by Fr. John Tauler, a 14th-century Dominican priest and theologian, on his encounter with a beggar, who shares his reflection on his current state of affairs – in the hopes that he may learn how to achieve Heaven:
Fr. Tauler: “Good day, my friend.”St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 3.10
Beggar: “Thank you, sir, for your kind wishes, but I do not recall ever having had a ‘bad’ day.”
F: “Then God has certainly given you a very happy life.”
B: “That is very true, sir. I have never been unhappy. In saying this I am not making any rash statement either. This is the reason: When I have nothing to eat, I give thanks to God; when it rains or snows, I bless God’s providence; when someone insults me, drives me away, or otherwise mistreats me, I give glory to God… because I am accustomed to will unreservedly what God wills. Whatever happens to me, sweet or bitter, I gladly receive from his hands as what is best for me. Hence my unvarying happiness.”
F: “Who are you anyway?”
B: “I am a king.”
F: “And where is your kingdom?”
B: “In my soul, where everything is in good order; where the passions obey reason, and reason obeys God.”
When I first read this story, I immediately thought of Anzu and Yassan, and hence chose them to be the subject of this post. Not just because their plight was of similar circumstances as described above, but because of their happy temperament all throughout their lives. Anzu learns from Yassan’s example not just how to make a living or to avoid getting into trouble with others, but most importantly, how to find peace within herself. Already when she first met him, she was a troubled girl who had lost her way, and can’t stand to get things without them falling into her hands easily. Her biggest concern is the length of walking, the pouring heat and the heavy bag she carries filled with junk. Yassan, on the other hand, highlights even bigger concerns:
Anzu: How much longer do we have to walk?
Yassan: About another two hours. But that’s the price you pay for being homeless and all.
Anzu: Why do I have to do all this? This is just stupid!
Yassan: Is that what you think? I won’t twist your arm, but do you really want to go back to your old life (of crime)? Ask yourself this: do you think you can live forever like this?Yassan admonishes Anzu for not embracing the discipline of hard work
One can see the feeling of conflict that resides within Anzu during this discourse. She’s not just crying, but she’s also convicted by his message. She wants to survive in this new, unknown world that she’s stranded in, but it seems she isn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve it. She’s annoyed that all the work she did is enough to get her four cup noodle packets. The reaction she displays exactly is the one that St. Alphonsus warns against regarding those who glory in their possessions, but give no regard to the spiritual life. In contrast, Yassan already has what he needs most, even if it’s a bit meager than others: a home, clothes, a community – and, needing nothing more than that, he encourages her to do likewise. Taking that message to heart, she learns to embrace her poverty, lose herself from her old ways, and instead seek happiness not dependent on materialist views, but through thankfulness for what she’s got.
The fruits of such can be seen through her gradual character progression. Unlike Hina, who used her powers for somewhat selfish reasons, such as making money for show, or manipulating others to buy her food, she rarely uses her powers in public, but rather prefers to use her human abilities for anyone other than herself – a stark contrast to the girl we initially saw in episode 2. Despite having the appearance of a child, her wisdom is that of an adult thanks to the experiences and the lessons she’s learned from people around her. When she’s given an opportunity by others to make her life better, such as the 40,000 yen grant from Nitta, she buries that desire and decides to use it to help the homeless folks out. When everything goes well, she’s happy; if things don’t go the way she hoped, she finds a way to be happy through smaller victories – like making a coupon for a free shoulder massage for her parents.
At the end of the day, it’s all thanks to Yassan’s wisdom that she’s become a better person, saying at the end of episode 6 how he and the others meant more to her than anything else in the world. We then see Yassan’s final appearance in the series, where he talks with fellow homeless cohort Shige, and expresses joy that Anzu has finally found peace with herself. Such too is the person who loves God above all, and hence why St. Alphonsus called the beggar who had nothing to lose but his soul, “richer than the mightiest monarch”: fortified by Him alone, he becomes, in the eyes of the Dominican cleric, an exemplary model of virtue and companionship with His Creator.
Anzu: Yassan wasn’t the only one who taught me to do things. Everyone else lent a hand to such as well! Shige taught me how to sell magazines, … where to find cans, and the others taught me how to build a house.Anzu thanks Yassan and the others for her change of heart and mind
Poverty in goods is one of the many means to achieving spiritual perfection, but it’s not the only path to be taken. Whether or not one chooses to live a life of poverty for love of God, as is the case of St. Francis of Assisi and his female companion, St. Clare, or loses the desire for any material affection or glory, and instead give thanks to God for what they have now, both can be rest assured that they’re doing Our Lord a favor, serving Him well as His earthly ambassadors. Folks can learn from Anzu and Yassan’s conversations in the series that it’s not how much you have that determines who you are: but rather how you make good use of those items, that make or break your character. Both characters chose to live simply, and put others’ needs first. In embracing this same attitude of hers, free from the inordinate desire of making ourselves as rich, comfortable or as validated as possible, it may hopefully become a path to fulfilling what Our Lord writes as the first, and greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” (St. Matthew 22:37)
Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world, which passes like a shadow; do not let false delights of of a deceptive world deceive you.St. Clare of Assisi
Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, but only what you have been given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.St. Francis of Assisi