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The Conversion of St. Paul

Lt. Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, training to lead the assault on Pearl Harbor. (Source: Wikipedia)

Let’s face it: the world does not understand Christianity, not when Paul was still Saul, and not now. And it may never. For as we hear from St. John in his Gospel, “The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” While the light might not present itself as bright as it did to Saul, it shines nevertheless, and it continues to work miracles, and one of the greatest modern miracles was that of one Mitsuo Fuchida, a Captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, most famously known as the pilot who led the first wave on Pearl Harbor on Decemer 7th, 1941. He was fortunate enough to survive the Battle of Midway, alive but wounded, assigned to spend the rest of the war as a staff officer, in offices and away from battle.
And in God’s mysterious ways, Captain Fuchida was almost struck by a different kind of blinding light, for he was working in Hiroshima, and was called to Tokyo the day before the atomic bomb dropped. As we know, Japan wound soon surrender unconditionally to the Allies. As a biographer wrote:

After the war, Fuchida was called on to testify at the trials of some of the Japanese military for Japanese war crimes. This infuriated him as he believed this was little more than “victor’s justice”. Convinced that the Americans had treated the Japanese the same way and determined to bring that evidence to the next trial, in the spring of 1947, Fuchida went to Uraga Harbor near Yokosuka to meet a group of returning Japanese prisoners of war. He was surprised to find his former flight engineer, Kazuo Kanegasaki, who all had believed had died in the Battle of Midway. When questioned, Kanegasaki told Fuchida that they were NOT tortured or abused, much to Fuchida’s disappointment, then went on to tell him of a young lady who served them with the deepest love and respect, but whose parents, missionaries, had been killed by Japanese soldiers on the island of Panay in the Philippines.

For Fuchida, trained under an intense version of the Bushido, or the Samurai Way, such a thing was mind-boggling. How could that young missionary lady forgive the ones who killed her parents? Such a thing called for vengeance. Not to avenge your parents’ murder would be an unforgivable act of cowardice and weakness. And thus began Fuchida’s quest to understand these baffling Christians. His curiosity only became more intense when he was handed a pamphlet about Jacob DeShazer, a member of the Doolittle Raid over Japan, who was captured and tortured by the Japanese. But instead of becoming bitter, DeShazer became forgiving, for it was in his cell that he his heart was finally opened to God’s mercy. Fuchida was finally able to procure a Bible, and then he understood. Not long after, DeShazer and Fuchida, who would’ve been mortal enemies only a few years before, met for the first time. As friends… no, as brothers in Christ.1

Now, while almost no one in the world follows the Samurai Way, forgiveness and repentance for one’s own sins are almost incomprehensible. In our society, what is our first instinct? Well, we don’t get to do frontier justice any more, and so we will sue them, WE WILL MAKE THEM PAY FOR WHAT THEY DID TO US! And, if we are at fault, do we not try to give legal boilerplate explanations, or very weak and insincere apologies, just enough to protect ourselves?

Well, as St. Paul found out, when we first repent, when we finally see the light, when those first stirrings of the Holy Spirit work within us, we might be more than a little frightened. Then, and only then, might we start realizing just what a horrible thing we might have done. Yes, it might be frightening when we meet our former enemies, when we seem weak before them. But if your enemy is a Christian, a true Christian, then you begin to understand something wonderful. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote, “Repentance is not self-regarding, but God-regarding. It is not self-loathing, but God-loving. Everything you feared, everything you hated, perhaps even if you hated yourself for your former way of life, your sins, all those things fall away like so many scales from your eyes. Your universe has changed, because God is now at the center, and you finally realize His love for you, a love that cannot only forgive all, but bless you and strengthen you even more richly with His gifts than you thought possible.
But, you might think, I know God has forgiven me. I have been the worst of sinners. Let me sit here alone in this corner, afraid of God and man. If that is the case, then you have not let God forgive you. You still hold on to some strange and outdated warrior code, that you feel you have dishonored. What Saul, now St. Paul realized now, after experiencing the baffling mercy of God and His followers so personally, was something that Cardinal Wyzzynski once said. Quote, “The greatest weakness in an apostle is fear. What gives rise to fear is the lack of confidence in the power of the Lord. This is what oppresses the heart and tightens the throat. The apostle then ceases to offer witness.” My brothers and sisters, I find it hard to believe that any of us have been as guilty as Saul of Tarsus, or perhaps Captain Fuchida were, in attacking their sworn enemies with such zealotry.

Three things are absent in a heart that knows it has been forgiven by God. Hatred, vengeance, and fear. Leave unholy trinity of things behind, for they belong to Satan! Forgive your enemies, for God has forgiven us for our sins against His infinite holiness. Release the infernal chains of vengeance from your heart and fly free toward the Heavens. But most of all, be not afraid. Go forth, go out into the world, proclaiming the Good News as our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel, as he told St. Paul, as He told Captain Fuchida, proclaim Him, in word, deed, and action, with every fiber of your being that God loves so much. You may not be a samurai or a zealot, but I can guarantee you this: once you surrender to God, you will win the fight that matters, the fight for your own soul, and perhaps that of your own enemies. No, strike that. You will win the fight for your own soul, and for that of your new brother or sister in Christ.

1: Mitsuo Fuchida, “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary,” The American Catholic, posted December 7, 2008.