Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime #6: Ryota Hiiraga/Joseph Bartrich

I apologize if this week’s edition of Uniformity With God’s Will In Anime seems like a repeat in theme of the second one, especially considering the characters’ circumstances. Tied to this are the main points of Chapter 2 of St. Alphonsus’ eponymous book and the second half of the fifth chapter are basically a repeat of each other. While the fifth can be said to be a more detailed version of the ideas specified in the former, the message is loud and clear on what we are to do: they maintain the importance of uniting our wills to God in the best and worst of times, with the notion of physical sickness being brought up in at some point in both chapters. In this sense can Konno Yuuki, from Sword Art Online II and the characters of this week’s post, Ryota Hiiraga and Joseph Lucas Bartrich from the final episode of Vatican Kiseki Chousakan be also spiritually linked to one another.

Both stories focus on a sickly individual who despite the difficulties brought on by their predicament, are determined to live and find a meaningful purpose in life. Aside from the depth in which one is explored than the other, the main difference between them is that Yuuki’s arc was viewed along the lines of an individual perspective: how she handled her sickness, her early life and what drove her to live the life she wanted. On the other hand, Ryota and Joseph focus less on the sickness itself, and more on what they did during that time, and their rapport shows a few notes about a Christian’s proper response to their physical infirmities.

Many times it will happen that proper medical attention or effective remedies will be lacking, or even that the doctor will not rightly diagnose our case. In such instances we must unite ourselves to the divine will which thus disposes of our physical health.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 5.12

CHARACTER ANALYSIS: RYOTA HIIRAGA / JOSEPH BARTRICH

“Behold I will send my angel, who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

Vatican Kiseki Chousakan has taken us through a whirlwind of fast-paced mystery thrillers where its main characters, Frs. Joseph Kou Hiiraga and Roberto Nicolas explore the world to verify alleged miracles and bring the truth into the light. Unlike in the last 11 episodes however, they are sidelined to make way for Ryota, Fr. Hiiraga’s younger brother who suffers from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer; but moreover, a supposedly dark past. After his older brother leaves for college, and eventually pursues training into the Roman Catholic priesthood, Ryota begins to experience a series of harrowing visions involving hooded figures which manifests themselves in the following days through their deaths. First his best friend Danny dies, followed by his mother, and several other patients in the hospital he was staying at.

It is during a trip that he runs into Joseph Lucas Bartrich, a deceased former patient, and presumably his assigned guardian angel, who provides an It’s A Wonderful Life-style walkthrough of spiritual guidance. After being diagnosed with a brain tumour, he befriends a young, soon-to-be Fr. Roberto Nicolas: described as a quiet loner who preferred to spend his days under the shade of a tree. The two grow a friendship, sharing their love of literature and Joseph’s expositioning of moral lessons on life. This proves influential in causing the latter to shed his fears of the world and amend his ways. Unfortunately, Joseph’s medical condition grows worse, requiring him to go to into intensive care, which means that he will never see Roberto again, and thus in their final parting he thanks Roberto for everything that he’s done, and expresses gratitude for the life he’s lived.

Following this ordeal, Ryota calmly prepares to accept his death as his cancer begins to overwhelm him, but is unexpectedly saved at the last minute by the rogue Modernist Fr. Julia Borje. His survival, and his mystical encounter with Joseph make him realize the meaning behind the misfortune he has experienced, not as a curse but a divinely-ordained espousal for him. From this, a few lessons intertwine with the fourth practical point of Uniformity With God’s Will‘s fifth chapter, which I left as a second part due to its expansive content.

SICKNESS IN BODY, PURITY OF SOUL

Ryota and Joseph mystically discuss the musings of life in the library

Ryota first meets Joseph after stumbling upon a hidden book in the library, which had a golden bookmark linked to it, with the following words written in Italian: “My dear friend, with what emotions are you spending your days with now? I hope you are happy.” These words are life-changing as we will later see, but also make a good point for advice. For a long time Ryota had been miserable, lonely and scared after being unable to jostle with all the death around him. Now, confined to a hospital due to a terrible illness, his misery becomes compounded and his will to live completely shattered. Yet here he is, reading this message telling him to be happy no matter what he is going through!

St. Alphonsus Liguori writes, similarly, that those who are sick should not dispose themselves outwardly as if they were on the verge of clinical insanity. Instead, in a way he says that we should take it easy, follow appropriate medical advice, and most importantly, unite ourselves with God even more, with greater cause of hope in Him to deliver us.

Certainly, it is more virtuous not to repine in times of painful illness; still and all, when our sufferings are excessive, it is not wrong to let our friends know what we are enduring, and also to ask God to free us from our sufferings. Let it be understood, however, that the sufferings here referred to are actually excessive. It often happens that some, on the occasion of a slight illness, or even a slight indisposition, want the whole world to stand still and sympathize with them in their illnesses.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 5.7

He continues with saying that compared to the pain that Jesus Christ endured in the moments leading to His Passion on the Cross, the setbacks from our sicknesses are nothing; why then, he surmises, do we make excuses to wail agonizingly when Our Lord said nothing – not even a single word of respite – when He was cruelly mocked, scourged, and made to walk with a heavy cross through Jerusalem? Such as He made this example for us to follow, we ought to do the same instead, and offer it up for His sake – similar in tone to the message in the bookmark, which is later revealed to be one of Joseph’s handiworks.

“Amen, amen I say to thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not.” (St. John 21:18)

To their credit, Joseph and Ryota never complain about their bodily ailments in the episode, even though it renders them vulnerable. Although they realize the gravity of their situation and the many opportunities they’re losing out on – in Joseph’s case, his entire childhood – they don’t spend their days brooding over it in excess. This is manifested throughout the episode with their calm and collected manner of conversation and self-reflection, as well as the stern, emotionless look they carry in their faces. In their discussion, they mutually confide in their shared reaction towards the first word of their health diagnoses:

Joseph: The day I was told that I had a brain tumour, and thus not much time to live, I didn’t cry or get angry. I felt strangely calm, as a matter of fact. It was almost as if I just slammed a lid on all my emotions, and decided not to let the fear and hopelessness overwhelm me.

Ryota: Yeah, so did I…

Joseph: I shut my heart away and decided to let myself be alone to experience this. Nobody was to know about the pain I was going through.

Joseph tells Ryota about the day he found out about his tumour

These two boys did not want the whole world to know about their pain, an attitude which St. Alphonsus firmly discourages in another part of the same chapter. What they found in solace were the best weapons one can use to keep under control regardless of any situation: prayer and private contemplation of God’s will. In doing these things, they can be fruitful in helping us realize His bigger plan for us, and give us much-needed, divinely-assisted comfort during the worst of these instances, as opposed to worsening things via frustration at one’s current state of affairs. For Ryota and Joseph, this all becomes clearer as the episode progresses.

UNIFORMITY WITH GOD’S WILL IS TO KEEP FAITH IN GOD AND GROWING IN VIRTUE, NO MATTER WHAT

“Make sickness a prayer, for there is none more powerful save for martyrdom!” (St. Francis De Sales)

Most astonishingly, the anime makes it known that Joseph and Ryota’s strong faith in God is kept without diminution to the end. Instead of seeing their sicknesses as something negative, they begin to see an opportunity out of it to intensify their practice of virtue, approach God in humility and ponder His will. Their hearts’ conditions, overflowed with this stirring belief, is made manifest in that they sanctified their body and soul through acts of faith, hope and charity, which they accomplish in their own unique way.

Joseph’s faith in God is expressed in his first meeting with Ryota when he quips, “Are you feeling hopeless and lost about your state of life? I was like you when I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. But fear not – God has a plan for you”, and takes him to a window where Roberto is shown sitting. Joseph is convinced that his time in the hospital was ordained by God so as to meet Roberto, and leave a profound mark on his world. Having done that, in his final discussion with him, he passes onto Roberto a golden crucifix that had been gifted to him by his grandmother, a sign of encouragement to walk with God always; after disclosing that his end is near, he tells his friend not to be distraught, expressing his joy at having accomplished his goal, and sermonizes Ryota to find one for himself.

Joseph: (in flashback) It’s a miracle that I even lived to be sixteen. Roberto, don’t be sad. I’m not scared to die, because I was happy to have met you. May God be with you, my friend.

Ryota: (end of flashback) Was that the last time you spoke to him?

Joseph: Yes… In my final moments, I gathered every book I enjoyed and left bookmarks in them for him to read. One day, I’m sure he’ll stumble upon these books and see my thoughts; from there that’s how we will continue our conversations… I know that my time with Roberto was the vocation I sought, and through him I was able to overcome my fear and despair. That’s why I want you to find your own vocation as well. I pray this will help you to receive a rich life.

Joseph’s final sermon: a treatise on the importance of fulfilling Christian duties

In Ryota’s case, he first tries to cope through by praying for other patients’ souls, namely those near death. He can be seen sitting in his wheelchair, by the bedside of his fellow neighbour, hands clasped in prayer as he commended their souls to God, imploring His infinite mercy towards their soul. He sought to put God above all in a life of prayer at the same time when others his age were playing games or travelling the world with their families. After meeting with Joseph, hearing his testimony, and being near the point of death himself, he revises this goal to include passing the prayers of the deceased to those who survived because of them, that may be assured of their everlasting memory, and protection from above.

Joseph became God’s instrument to bring Robert out of the depths of his pain and save his soul from a worse fate.

This is another takeaway we can gain from this particular scenario. More often than not, we forget that just as important as it is to seek out remedies to either reduce the intensity of our pains, there still remains the higher obligation to cultivate our faith in God, and like Ryota and Joseph do in this story, whenever possible and with whatever capacity we have, do good works for His greater glory. This is not to say that we should avoid any opportunity to use medicinal prescriptions to our advantage when available – like the Baptist who presumptuously proclaims “I have been covered by the blood of Jesus!”, but another reminder of the Christian’s want of eternal bliss. Once more turning to St. Alphonsus:

Sickness is the acid test of spirituality, because it discloses whether our virtue is real or sham. If the soul is not agitated, does not break out in lamentations, is not feverishly restless in seeking a cure, but instead is submissive to the doctors and to superiors, is serene and tranquil, completely resigned to God’s will, it is a sign that that soul is well-grounded in virtue.

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Uniformity With God’s Will, chapter 5.14

Vatican Kiseki Chousakan uses this plot device to ferment Ryota and Joseph’s Christian attitude towards life. Because of their dispositions, Joseph was able to save the soul of one person – which is a true, heroic act of charity worthy of Heaven, for Roberto would later become a devoted Christian and soldier for the Church of Christ, while Ryota, finally found the peace he sought from his morbid thoughts, and instead fostered his vocation to instill hope in others, and neither does sickness trouble him any longer. God, in this story certainly blessed their young hearts with the knowledge of His will, and allowed their fruits to come forth and emphasize how genuine they are in their faith; not just as a mask for LARPing, but for their sanctification.

The last time we see him, he hugs his elder priest-brother, tears stemming from his eyes, but not before gifting the now-Fr. Roberto from his vision with his old friend’s bookmarked notes, a sight which leaves him in tears, and make him realize that maybe the real miracles were not just supernatural ones, but also the overlooked, yet everyday occurrences happening in our very midst; like Ryota’s for example, as even the things we see as small acts of charity can have a great impact in the eyes of God.

Ryota: Now I know exactly why God put me in this position. He doesn’t want me to just pray for the dying, but to help pass on their prayers to others. I want to not only find my own vocation, but to help others grow one as well. That’s my purpose… and it’s all because Joseph showed me the way.

Ryota makes a renewed profession of his vocational goal

CONCLUSION

St Camillus de Lellis by Pietro Pacilli 1753 CE at St Peter's Basilica in  Vatican City | Vatican museums, Sacred art, Statue
A statue of St. Camillus of Lellis in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

In times of sickness, we must remember the example of the saints whose faith in God did not waver in the least, but on the contrary, inspired them to manifest their trust in Him even further; or the Holy Souls in Purgatory who, though constantly cleansed by God’s merciful fire for unspecified periods of time, continue to long for His blessed realm. Indeed, Our Lord does not send us trials so that we can recoil in misery; nor, as St. Alphonsus states, were they sent as a hindrance from our religious duties. Perhaps, He does this to help us be mindful of our human condition and that of others, understand His mercy even more, and thus rise in fervor with acts inspired by love of Him. Such was the example displayed by both Ryota and Joseph, who despite their terminal diseases, led the way in acknowledging God’s control over their lives, and followed His lead.

As for a real-life example, we have St. Camillus of Lellis, a one-time soldier, former gambling addict and failed Capuchin novitiate who nonetheless reverted to the Faith with the help of his spiritual director, St. Philip Neri. Shortly after becoming a Catholic priest in 1584, he found his vocation in serving the sick and dying in Rome. He then founded a religious congregation known as the Canons Regular, Ministers to the Sick (Camillans for short) who, bearing a red cross on their cassocks, spent their days giving adequate healthcare to people from all walks of life, from beggars to soldiers in battle against the Ottoman Turks, for which his group was formally recognized by Popes Sixtus V and Gregory XV in 1586 and 1591. All this he did while sustaining an incurable leg wound from his soldiering days and later, chronic abdominal infections that ailed him for the rest of his life – but did not mind for love of God and charity to his neighbour; a testament to his strong-willed fighting spirit.

Ultimately, the main lesson is that no excuse ever justifies losing our faith in God; sainthood is still an open route achievable in spite of our illnesses. Rather than submit to the temptation to froth at these afflictions, all the better it is to view them as a special grace from above, and who knows – it might just be the kick-starter we need to become more intimately attached to the Divine Will, and make clearer our path to Heaven.

The happiness to which I aspire goes beyond any satisfaction that can be found here. Therefore, I regard with extreme joy whatever pains and sufferings may befall me here.

St. Camillus of Lellis

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