The fifth chapter of St. Alphonsus’ Uniformity With God’s Will is more or less an expanded version of the second chapter, which describes the book’s central idea: that the various circumstances of our life make up God’s plan for us, and that we must be ready to accept whatever comes from Him. While the previous four chapters explored this from a theoretical perspective, this chapter takes on a more practical layer as to how one can achieve this goal for matters both beyond and within our control. It’s one thing to understand what this concept of uniformity entails from a general view; but as the old adage goes, “practice makes perfect” and the esteemed Bishop of Sant’Agata de Goti overlays this principle to several different situations to help us better understand it. One of these is by analyzing the point of view from one dealing with personal issues.
Such defects can come in various shapes and sizes, be it physical or mental. It’s often associated with things like not being able to do as athletically well as other peers, or needing more time to understand a certain concept than average. However, in the case of this week’s character, the hero Saitama from One Punch Man, we see his battles not only against the various monsters that he fights, but also an internal one – where he seeks to reconcile his own doubts toward his (mind you, extraordinary) abilities.
In times of great heat, cold or rain… famine, epidemics and similar occasions we should refrain from expressions like these: “What unbearable heat!” “What piercing cold!” “What a tragedy!” In these instances we should avoid expressions indicating opposition to God’s will. We should want things to be just as they are, because it is God who thus disposes them.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will chapter 5.1
SAITAMA / ONE PUNCH MAN: CHARACTER INFO
One Punch Man focuses on Saitama, an average-looking bald guy who is capable of incapacitating his opponents with a single punch: nothing more, and nothing less. Three years ago, he was a salesman who was down on his luck. On his way home from another failed interview, he came face-to-face with Crablante, a giant humanoid crab who was bullying a child that had played a prank on him. He decided to step in to intervene, and successfully defeated Crablante, and from that day forward, a new identity was born within him. He proceeded to enroll himself in a rigorous self-training regimen which consisted of doing 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and running 100 miles every day in addition to living in extreme heat conditions for three years straight; despite the seemingly average training it wound up with him becoming the strongest superhero in existence, who could rival Superman or Goku.
Starting from the first episode, Saitama doesn’t hold back from showcasing to us how awesome he is. Every adversary that is unfortunate to come across him, such as subterranean creatures, talking gorillas, or cone-headed Communists wind up getting beaten by his feats of unparalleled strength and thus cancel their plans for world domination. He befriends Genos, a cyborg who becomes his disciple, and together they enroll in the prestigious Hero Association tasked with the goal of protecting their alphabet-soup inspired city, and in the second season meets King, a member of said group (and, unbeknownst to him, a hero made out of sheer luck). When he’s not out to defend his city, Saitama has shown himself to be a very laid-back individual, enjoying little slices of life such as playing video games or trips to the grocery store.
You might be thinking, “What seems to be the problem with him? He’s a hero who’s got a super-strength unrivaled by anyone.” Even though he is superhuman, one thing that he does not lose is his sense of humanity. One of his most famous catchphrases to describe his motive is “I’m just a guy who plays a hero for fun”; referring to his humble background and reflecting on his valorant standard of justice. The crux of his issue concerns his sense of self-worth and seeming lack of purpose in life; in that regard he sees his powers not as a God-given treasure, but, in a surprise twist, a bodily defect.
THE PLIGHT OF THE STRONGEST HERO
Saitama is so strong, that instead of telling everyone, verbally or visually, about this fact, he actually brags about how empty it has him feeling on the inside. After defeating the first two villains of the show, the aptly-named Vaccine Man and the colossal Beefcake, he resumes his normal life and serenades us with a contemplation of his current state of affairs:
There’s no sign of evil withdrawing from this world… I’m not sad about that, but something’s been bothering me lately. Every time I fight, I grow further away from feeling any emotion. Neither fear, tension, joy or anger fill me up as they did before. I gave everything I got to acquire this power, yet I feel I am missing something essential… something human.Saitama reflects on his current state of life
Later on in the episode, he has a dream sequence where he is seen fighting a group of subterranean-dwelling fiends, and singlehandedly takes them on in an epic fight like he’s never had before – proclaiming proudly that this is the moment he has been waiting for. Just as he’s about to take on the fearsome-looking final boss of his dreams, seemingly recovering his fighting spirit and motivation, reality wakes him back up to the sound of those same monsters from his dream. However, once he knocks out one of their generals, they retreat and leave a white flag of surrender, leaving Saitama dumbfounded and once more, disappointed with the results of his bout.
His initial monologue and his difficulty in accepting what his powers led to reminded me of a discourse from Our Savior himself: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” (St. Mark 8:36) For three years, he worked tirelessly to improve in strength, and now having reached that point, he finds his job too easy, and as such everything boring and he’s interiorly unmotivated. The context of this can be further understood a few minutes later when he defeats the third opponent of the episode, a human-car hybrid named the Super Custom YO649Z Mk. Hybrid II, and laments that he was able to win in one punch once again. What he has in with his sense of justice and responsibility to his people, he dislikes how his life is unfolding, and the fact he has no one to truly call as a worthy adversary.
This lamentation is one of the things St. Alphonsus warns against. This whole time Saitama wants an opponent worthy to be called his rival to respark his life and give it meaning. The two that come closest to matching this is Boros, an alien who he faces in the final two episodes and requires an extra punch to obliterate, and Speed-Of-Sound Sonic, a vagabond from episode 4 who he defeated with an inadvertent punch to the groin; both are fleeting meetups. Instead, the Catholic response, according to St. Alphonsus, opts to dismiss an inordinate attachment to those thoughts of alternate sequences, and instead turn to Him to guide us on how to make what He has provided to us, to our advantage.
In matters that affect us personally… let us always say: “Do thou build up or tear down, O Lord, as seems good in thy sight. I am content. I wish only what thou dost wish.” …(W)hen the devil proposes certain hypothetical cases to us in order to wrest a sinful consent from us, or at least to cause us to be interiorly disturbed… (f)or example: “What would you say or what would you do if some one were to say or do such and such a thing to you?” Let us dismiss the temptation by saying: “By God’s grace, I would say or do what God would want me to say or do.” Thus we shall free ourselves from imperfection and harassment.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 5.3
UNIFORMITY WITH GOD’S WILL IS TO USE WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US WELL
After joining the Hero Association at Genos’ recommendation, Saitama hopes that this role will help him to regain his sense of identity. Despite facing multiple monsters, and jumping from his lowly C-tier ranking to the S-tier level reserved for the most powerful heroes, this is still not enough to satiate his needs. He begins to doubt what his strength really means for him, and how they affect his self-image as a superhero. Enter King, a fellow S-tier hero who shares his interests in video games, and becomes his friend in the second season. Although King is not as gifted in his powers as Saitama, he lends an open ear and an affinity for wisdom through a conversation from episode 9, serving to answer his persistent question of why Saitama feels that way toward his powers.
King: Friend, why do you look so down?
Saitama: You know… I just have a lot on my mind.
King: I see…. that’s not like you however. You’ve got a strength that many people would die for.
Saitama: Well, that’s the problem. I’m not getting any stronger. You see, I’m way too strong. No matter who I fight, I gain nothing from it. There’s no excitement, no feeling, no gained experiences from it. I’m still at the same level as I was before it.
King: Isn’t it really awesome to have that much power within you though?
Saitama: No… it means there’s nothing left for me to take on. Here I am, fighting monsters day in and day out, but I’m so bored of it, and I can’t help but feel so alone.Saitama poses his problem to King after the tournament
Coming right after our bald-headed protagonist unsurprisingly wins a martial arts tournament, he revisits, to the season’s only saving benefit, his dilemma from the first season. Driven by a motivation to confront the hero-killing villain Garou, he becomes dejected afterwards because he didn’t pick up anything new from that endeavour. King then offers to give Saitama several opportunities for a change of pace in his life – a camping trip, finding a new hobby, or joining various gatherings to meet new friends. Unfortunately, he misses the mark here: Saitama’s loneliness, in this sense, is spiritual than physical as the former originally believes.
In response, he tells Saitama that perhaps his powers aren’t what’s causing him to have these negative thoughts about himself; maybe it’s his disposition towards them isn’t right, and corrects him with some advice (which he admits to himself as taken from a manga):
King: If you want a change of scenery, you need to find your own way there… You’re mistaking strength as the destination; but I doubt the path of becoming a hero ends so easily.
Saitama: Is this some kind of lecture? You sound like some kind of a wise guy.
King: It’s not fights and glamor you should go after, but rather you should use that strength to battle with courage, to benefit society. That’s what defines a hero, and I’ll say, Saitama, you’ve got a long way up to get there.
Saitama: Of course…
King: Saitama, you’ve still got a lot of growth to undergo, and to say otherwise is arrogance and shallow-minded. The pursuit of the ideal still remains: to be the ultimate hero, it takes more than combat prowess, an unflinching sense of justice, or the courage to overcome hardship. That part… is on you to figure out for yourself.King opens Saitama’s mind on what it means to be the ultimate hero
In other words, King doesn’t believe Saitama’s power is holding him back, and that he should appreciate, rather than bemoan them, exhorting him to make use of them in another way. I can think of one that’s been sorely neglected in this anime: mentoring his pupil, Genos. We have in the latter a hero with near-equal strength as him, and quite possibly the best friend the latter could ever ask for. He would consider it an honor to fight alongside, and even spar against someone of his caliber. Moreover, Genos himself has proven to be not just a formidable fighter, capable of holding his own ground, but also loyal. Even when Saitama is ridiculed by the public, or faces mistreatment because of his appearance or what he did, he has someone who professes an undying, apostolic loyalty to him, vowing to always remain his disciple and to let nothing reduce his opinion of him. It would behoove Saitama best to use his experiences for to teach his student and friend, and maybe there he can find some solace.
Because Saitama viewed his gift from a negative perspective, it breeds his disposition towards life and his duties as a superhero, making him perceive them to be a flaw rather than as otherwise. He proves that negativity breeds contempt, and makes one less appreciative of God’s role in shaping us – which St. Alphonsus mentions is a poor methodology to follow. Instead, he advises this, and another thing to consider:
Let us not lament if we suffer from some natural defect of body or mind; from poor memory, slowness of understanding, little ability, lameness or general bad health. What claim have we, or what obligation is God under, to give us a more brilliant mind or a more robust body? Who is ever offered a gift and then lays down the conditions upon which he will accept it? Let us thank God for what, in his pure goodness, he has given us and let us be content too with the manner in which he has given it to us. Who knows? Perhaps if God had given us greater talent, better health, a more personable appearance, we might have lost our souls! Great talent and knowledge have caused many to be puffed up with the idea of their own importance and, in their pride, they have despised others.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will chapter 5.4-5.5
The last statement is worth reflecting over. Suppose if you became either a millionaire, a genius, or an uncontested winner at everything you do. Realize also that the end goal of the Catholic Faith, of which is the greatest gift from God, is the perfect, and sole means by which we attempt to gain salvation. Knowing this, and putting the former into consideration: would you say that you’d still be able to remain in the state of sanctifying grace, and not jeopardize it thanks to changing circumstances? Would you still be able to keep Christ in the first priority, or end up idolizing yourself and put Him on the backburner? Not easy things to consider, that’s for sure; and for some, it might just be impossible to uphold.
This statement goes hand-in-hand with Liguori’s second point. God has his reasons for withholding from us certain qualities, because He knew the harm it would cause us; corporally or spiritually, and does not want to see us there. For Saitama, it applies as equally. He implicitly desires to be weaker to feel again the adrenaline rush from a big fight, and thus bring back meaning to his role; like what other C-tier heroes such as Mumen Rider face. What he ought to consider, rather, is how much of a nuisance his life would be without his abilities, how much stress he would put on himself without some of those powers he wrongly views as drawbacks, or the friends he wouldn’t meet because of them. In that sense King and St. Alphonsus both agree that what Saitama perceives as flaws are actually a blessing in disguise; the latter just doesn’t see it that way yet.
Our individual strengths and weaknesses are something which God has granted us, to sanctify ourselves and to direct their use to what He desires. Even if we do not have much of them, or are doubtful about them, that’s no excuse to postpone us from fulfilling our Christian duty or to despair. St. Alphonsus speaks of those who had fewer than what most of us have, yet still excelled in virtue: St. Joseph of Cupertino being one such example. He had the miraculous gift of levitating, and would go into such trances often that his Franciscan confreres had to restrain him to prevent further occurrences. Despite his strong piety and a zeal which surpassed others in his monastery, he wasn’t the brightest student, nor the most well-tempered and had bouts of social awkwardness. Nevertheless, his Christian charity, humility and contentment with what he had in abilities made up for those faults, and is proof of what St. Alphonsus says in the following remark: that those with fewer gifts than us, might end up being our superiors in Heaven.
How easily those who have these gifts fall into grave danger to their salvation! How many on account of physical beauty or robust health have plunged headlong into a life of debauchery! How many, on the contrary, who, by reason of poverty, infirmity or physical deformity, have become saints and have saved their souls, who, given health, wealth or physical attractiveness had else lost their souls! Let us then be content with what God has given us. “But one thing is necessary” and it is not beauty, not health, not talent. It is the salvation of our immortal souls.St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 5.5