Well, what a time! I´m 27 this year, and as I start to resemble more a seinen protagonist that a shōnen one, I know I want to be both, and I have for a long time. Long before I first watched Erased four years ago, the hope that a balance of both adventure, wonder, innocence, and hope, and stability, strength, wisdom, and community may be present was a constant in my conversation with God.
For me (and for many of you, no doubt) this has been a time of soul searching, discernment, and readjusting under God, of “considering in the heart.” In my case, the dilemmas of adulthood, Christian life and manhood, the difficulties of life, sin, immaturity, and the “by the sweat of your brow” element you find in every work. And the pace, the discoveries, and the challenges keep getting faster. Specifically, these past few weeks—this whole year, in truth—have been such a whirlwind for me, my family. and my friends, professionally as well as personally, that I’ve oddly started to relate to this meme our writer Samuru brought to my attention:
While the fight continues, one step at a time, I think it may be appropriate to share an important part of my journey that I have discovered (or rediscovered) during this time of quarantine. Last Sunday (from when I write), Catholics everywhere celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body of Christ, in which we celebrate the Eucharist. It is usually a time of public, joyful celebration with public processions, beautiful colors and burning candles, but this year, due to the quarantine, most of us around the world have celebrated instead in a more intimate way.
To prevent the spread of the virus, public Masses have been closed in León, by decision of our Bishop, until the quarantine de-escalation began last month: Since my First Communion at nine, I had never spent so much time without receiving the Eucharist. I have traveled around the world and lived in different places of Spain, yet it was always there for me, like a patient and loving osananajimi.
And, as tends to happen in good osananajimi stories, other people casually made me realize that I had been taking things for granted, things that I should not have. I needed to think about things I had never thought about before, and I began meditating on it in my prayer and then reading about it, trying to listen. What follows is a humble attempt to explain what the Eucharist is, for me and for my tradition, and the testimony of the Real Presence in my life.
Satoru and the living memorial
Let´s go back to Erased, the anime that got me hooked to the genre, and the show about which I read my very first article at Beneath the Tangles, Annalyn Corner´s Satoru Purposed Revival. Satoru Fujinuma is a man with a hole in his heart, afraid to look into the void. At 29, the abandonment by a half-remembered father and a particular, also half-remembered act of rejection, a sin of indifference as a child leading to a feeling that “no good comes from getting involved with strangers”, blocked his way. I sometimes feel like a meaningless, noisy world I cannot keep up with is falling upon me: Satoru feels the same way. He had dreamed of being a hero as a child, but now feels separated from his past and from others. The void feels like it wouldn’t be filled, ever. He has no hope.
Satoru is a decent person who does some good deeds sometimes out of a vague sense of duty. He sacrifices things and tries to save others, but that doesn’t seemed to give him purpose, or make a change in his situation. As his perceptive coworker Airi discovers, he is separated from them by something akin to a thick membrane. The thing is, the essential bond with life, with himself and with others, has been severed by that choice, by that sin of his, and he knows of no way to restore it. He is afraid even to try, and the thought of the extraordinary happenings in his life are a nuisance.
In the end, the problem, like mine, is sin and its wounds in the world: He has chosen a path of indifference where there could have been potentially saving grace and love, and there have been tragic, irreparable consequences. Deeply ingrained into his heart, this knowledge weighs him down.
I´m similar to Satoru in some aspects. While I have never given up in hope as completely as he did, there are moments of hopelessness that feel similar to his own approach. Satoru´s life changed when he (spoilers ahead) receives a second chance to go to 1988, to his childhood, to where things mattered, and for an opportunity to choose what he had not chosen, to live in sacrificial love, so that would bring new life, to save the abused Kayo Hinazuki.
The story of Kayo Hinazuki, the lonely, suffering girl in his class, is secretly in the center of his own. She was his vocation, his mission, his chance. If she was not saved, any other time he traveled to would be affected by her loss, and the seed of darkness would bring its ultimate fruit in the form of the loss of Satoru’s mother and his own destruction, he having been framed as the killer. But, if an act of love replaces the previous act of indifference, if the plan works to the end through his cooperation with the mysterious force that had brought him there, she would be saved, and the effects would also cut through time and space. He tries his best. And he fails.
So, when darkness was about to engulf him once and for all, he called for a new chance to save Kayo, himself, and everyone, and the power he called the Revival responded. Like Satoru, I have come to learn that there is a moment of love that transcends every single time. It is Christ´s loving sacrifice on the Cross, around three of clock of the year 33 A.C., where the eternal and infinite love of the only God entered into contact with the evil of the world, of every human heart, triumphed over it, and redeemed. And it does so in a way that can be freely accepted and received by any human being, anywhere. This is the “living memory,” a sacrifice which can reach through time.
I know, and I have also come to feel, that only Christ can fill the void in my heart, infuse in me new, sacrificial, loving life, connect myself to Him, to others, and to myself, and give my life purpose and wonder. In my own life, I accept the sacrifice of Christ by faith, hope, and love in a twofold way: the first is that I receive Him when I let Him channel His love through me, and everything in my life becomes an offering, a part of Christ loving offering to His Father. That is St. Paul´s “spiritual offering.” This moment in time is connected with the Fountain of infinite love at the Cross, and to eternity and glory. And I receive Him also when I go to the living memorial of His Passion, where a priest asks for the revival in the name of the Church, and then I eat the Holy Eucharist, like the Apostles in the Last Supper.
The two ways intermingle, and explain one another. I want to make clear that I am not speaking in metaphorical terms: I literally think this is the case. But why?
Midoriya and the story of the Eucharist
Yes, I keep coming back to it, but Boku no Hero Academia is so good! This time, there will be major spoilers concerning the purpose and nature of One for All, the extraordinary superpower inherited by Izuku Midoriya. The story we are told of in the Bible is one that not only matches my life experience, but is also similar to the backstory of BNHA superhero society. Just as wonder and endless possibility were followed by corruption and despair, violence and dominion under All for One when the superhuman society was born, in the real world, Genesis and Eden were followed by the Fall and further sin under the devil and his angels.
There, the powerless brother of the villain was given by random chance a generous, hopeful power that he then handed down from generation to generation, so that one day his brother would be defeated and the people saved. Here, the Providence of God chose old Abraham and the small and powerless nation that was his offspring, and revealed to them a miraculous hope they needed to be faithful to and hand down. One day, the world would be saved from evil through it. Our Lord, much more than All Might or Midoriya, sees the ugly duckling, the Abels of this world, and will not allow evil to have the last word.
Just as in BNHA, partial triumphs of good against this or that evil, while being signs of hope, were not enough. A hero was needed who would be able to develop a personal bond of sorts with (almost) everyone, with each person. That person was Yagi Toshinori, All Might. In the real world, we needed Christ to come among us from Israel, become our hero, save us, and develop such a bond with each one of us (and unlike poor Toshinori, He can).
Just as the powerless Deku could not be a hero and save others, or even himself, from villains, I could not have saved others, or even myself, from the evil I hate with all my strength. And, just as All Might established a personal bond with Midoriya, giving him the power to save, which was his vocation and his deep identity, taking him to a new life and a new world previously beyond his reach (Plus Ultra!), Christ chose to give me the power to love with His own sacrificial, saving love, which is the true life, the door to the world beyond, and my deep calling.
All Might taught Midoriya, and he became more of a hero. Christ gave me His Word, and helped me, gradually living it “from the inside.” All Might made it possible for Midoriya to join the U.A., his school, where he was a teacher and other superheroes grew and fought, and gave him common friends and resources; God gave me the Church. There was a promise, an explicit alliance, intimacy and friendship.
But there was also a decisive moment in which All Might gave Midoriya a hair of his for him to eat. Midoriya had imagined something with more grandeur, but this was the way. All Might´s DNA and One for All were in it, and He was giving himself to Midoriya in a sacrificial way, for he his power would gradually diminish after that.
And so, One for All started to change Midoriya for the better. It did so without destroying his own personality and traits, but making him become himself more fully instead, just as light brings the true colors of a vitral. Toshinori gave himself to Midoriya, and thus established a personal bond which could never be erased, a bond quite like the one between brothers, or between father and son, but unique in its kind. Afterwards, Midoriya needed to change and adapt, not because the gift was defective, but because he was a defective recipient, unable to handle all the power of One for All.
Christ likewise gave Himself to me in the Eucharist. It was also a sacrificial gift, given in the night of His Passion, His Last Supper. He had announced, much to the scandal of his contemporaries, that this new life which knows no death required He Himself as food to be sustained. And He gives Himself again and again, each in an unique and intimate way, and thus created this bond, to which I need to adapt, because I want it to be the center of my life, just as One for All is at the center of the world of BNHA and the story of Midoriya. Being united to Him by accepting His gift and letting His love act through me also makes me more of myself, as any true love does. That is what the Eucharist means in my life. But, why food? That gets us to…
Hachiken, animal sacrifice, and the Last Supper
For centuries, the sons of Abraham, for a long time a people of nomad shepherds, sacrificed some of their precious animals as commanded by the Old Law, and the most precious of all was the lamb: White, gentle, pure and without defect. Silver Spoon, a well-loved tale about maturity and growth we have commented on a number of times here, has at the core of the first season (spoilers ahead) a similar situation: Yugo Hachiken, the city kid who is learning about farm life, has to consent to the sacrifice of the precious piglet he has help to grow, Pork Bowl, causing puzzlement, amusement, and worry at equal rates in Yezo Agricultural High School with his unique decisions concerning the matter. But he is serious. He wants to deal with it in a proper way. It is important.
The Bible tells us that animal sacrifice in Israel was also a serious matter, and done in different ways. They would sometimes offer it in sacrifice of holocaust, and therefore lose it to God. Other times, it was a sacrifice of communion, and they would both eat from the banquet. There are many kinds of food, just as there are in Yezo: Apart form the lamb, which was the purest sacrifice, many other animals and plants were used, and Melchizedek used bread and wine. Hachiken remains conflicted, but makes a decision. He will cooperate in the sacrifice, then buy Pork Bowl and organize a banquet for him and his friends. He feels that this is his way to give the sacrifice of something dear to his heart its proper meaning.
From the very first chapter, Hachiken is learning that the life he knows is often sustained by hard work and painful sacrifice, even at the most basic level, food. For him, Pork Bowl is a symbol of that, and other characters have their version of these dilemmas. Old-fashioned farms may go out of business, but new farms are less kind to animals. To be a veterinary and heal, you need to be prepared to kill.
The youngest member of the Hachiken family is learning to become a mature man, capable of sacrificial love, to help and sustain others, without changing who he is. This way, he can be eventually free of the shadow of his strict and demanding father. In Egypt, Moses received an special sign related to the banquet and to communion: Israelites were to have lamb for the Easter supper and mark their doors with its blood, so they would be protected and eventually freed from slavery. The blood of the lamb all the people were to eat symbolized (and purported) their new, freer life. Thus, it was spilled over the Ark in the moment of the Alliance at Horeb: That was the Blood of the Alliance, the sign that this new life would be freely lived in union with God.
When His own sacrifice of immolation was near, Jesus, Whom the Baptist called the Lamb of God, celebrated His last Easter Supper. It was the sacrifice of something infinitely precious, of Himself, Man and God. It was a banquet of communion for his friends and others, a sacrifice that would sustain our new life in Him, the true life lost by Adam and Eve and turned into slavery, just as food does this to our own natural life. So He took bread and wine, and said: “Take and eat; this is my body…Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The Disciples were then told to relive this as a memorial.
I believe that I need this constant communion with God and others in the banquet, both physical and spiritual, or only spiritual, when the physical is not possible. I need it to mature. I need it to sustain, enjoy, foster, and repair this new life I´m living, just as I need the food I eat to sustain my physical life. The Catholic tradition believes that Christ gave Himself to us, fully, body, blood, soul and Godhood, in that moment, in order to give us the new life brought by His sacrifice, and make us able to truly live in His love. How may this work? Stay tuned.
Kastro and the workings of the miracle
Despite its reputation, Hunter x Hunter may just not be my cup of tea. The characters are pleasant, even interesting, but remain trapped in absurd, unending tasks, I find every fight bonkers, and the world is so inconsistent I can´t even. Yet, I will give it this: It knows how to explain the rules of these crazy powers in a very instructive way. I will be taking advantage of that.
If you have watched the show, you may (or may not) recognize this guy above as Kastro, the powerful fighter of floor 200th at Heavens Arena, who defies the jokeresque Hisaoka, the weirdo serial killer Hunter who seems to be the major antagonist of the series. You see (spoilers for chapters 31 and 32 of Hunter x Hunter, 2011), he had this crazy power called “double” or “doppelgänger” he used to multiply himself, so there are two Kastros in the fight, one of them invisible (yes, I know).
While I think this is a terrible idea, the elaborate explanation concerning how he does the “what if there were two of me?” thing makes it useful for me. See, the Kastros are not simply clones, because they think and speak at the same time. The original Kastro remains where he is, but the second moves and acts, occupying a physical position in space, like an avatar. The presence of the second Kastro is weaker, in the sense that he will disappear if damaged, and any damage he suffers does not affect the first Kastro, but otherwise is him. Properly speaking, it is an extension of his body in the form of a second body which he uses to be fully present in two places at the same time, and fight more efficiently.
Going from the comical to the serious, the Catholic tradition concerning the Real Presence, and I with it, believes something similar concerning Our Lord. Just as the Heavens and the Earth were created through His words, so the miracle of the Eucharist happened when He said the words aloud. What He held were visually bread and wine, but really His body and blood. Yet, there were not two Christs, just one.
Just as His human body was not altered when this happened, He remains now in Heaven, resurrected and glorious, yet extends His physical presence to the Holy Host and the Chalice. Just as His body was not affected in any way when the Apostles ate and drank, He is not affected by anything done to the Host or the Chalice, yet He is present. After the bread and the wine appareances have been digested, or if they are burned, destroyed or decomposed, He simply ceases to be there.
Bodily present in many places at the same time, He comes to each of us, personally, to awake and sustain life in us, to make us understand that He wants to establish a deep, unique, and intimate bond, to remain with us to the end of the world. This is the way He has chosen to fight His battle in each heart.
Edward and the deep meaning of the world
Edward Elric, our last shōnen protagonist today, is another character to whom I can totally relate. He has a good head, and uses it to tackle the underlying structures of his world and get what he wants while being a good support for his brother, his hometown, and his childhood friend (yes, yes, the osananajimi). It is fun to watch a character poke around a world like that, gaining experience and wisdom, a world not unlike that of Hunter x Hunter, a world that is a competition for knowledge, power, and the wonder these bring. This world is defined by a sharp logic, an underlying principle, manifest in matter and in the animal kingdom: That of equivalent exchange, ultimately embodied by the Truth, the ironic god of Alchemy, who is regarded in the series as “God.”
The very first chapter of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sets this mentality against the religious way of thinking. It is not difficult to identify the swindler Father Cornello, founder of the Church of Leto, who promises miracles, everlasting life, and the resurrection of dead loved ones, as a reference to Roman Catholicism. Even his name is a reference to Pope Cornelius, persecuted by the Emperor Decius in a very Amestris-like scenario. When the Elrics defeat him, it is as the knowledge and strength gained by investigation is set against faith and the deep desires of the heart. The miracles of Cornello were only alchemy.
By means of equivalent exchange, stimulus and response, you can operate the world. You may even learn to defy its rules. You may be able to take anything, if you are willing to pay the price. You could even defy death. That is the logic of the world, of the flesh. The winner takes it all. The men of Babel wanted a tower which could reach Heaven. Eve saw the fruit of Eden, and it looked good to eat, and she desired to acquire the wisdom it would bring her. Edward and his brother Alphonse wanted their mother to live again, no matter what.
And therefore, all of them broke the rule and called tragedy upon themselves, using their powers in a way that would ultimately hurt them. Because the thing is (major spoilers for the entire plot), the alchemy the Elrics practice is fundamentally corrupted, while the deep desires of Cornello´s followers heart were not. It was born from the sinister disposition to sacrifice others and get something in exchange, the “love of the self, to the point of disdaining God,” corrupting the previous, inner logic of the world, one of deep Truth. Of Justice. Of giving and receiving beyond any equivalent exchange. Of Love. And every power must be at the service of this Love, or it will be worthless.
Christ voluntarily taking flesh and sacrificing Himself on the Cross is the manifestation of this generous principle. Edward voluntarily surrendering his Alchemy is like an echo. And as in their cases, the sacrifice costs absolutely everything. It requires freely choosing a life of small humiliations, lost power, and simplicity with a small group of people. There is no way we could be capable of such a perfect offering. But when you participate in the sacrifice of another, in logic of deep alliance, you can go beyond yourself. Edward shares the sacrifice of those around him, and ultimately, of his father. Likewise, I hope to participate in the sacrifice of Christ, and thus be saved from the darkness within, from alchemy unbound, from the price, the equivalent exchange, of my own sin.
The final dialogue between Edward and Winry is one of the most memorable of the entire series. In his tsundere-like way, Edward shouts: “Equivalent exchange! I will give you half of my life if you give me half of yours!”, and she refuses and replies that she will give him her entire life. He is caught offhand, she gets embarrassed, then he laughs in amazement. This is it. The door to a richer, primal world.
Christ choose to become vulnerable, to put Himself in my hands. Mine, personally. He did so through a community, the Church, so that I would experience real communion. He is giving Himself to me fully, out of love, so that I can live. He knows that this is the true life, that I will only live, be happy, able to love Him, myself and others, if I respond without holding back, giving Him everything I have. That, because it is the deep meaning of man and world in a Creation where God is Love. So, to make this manifest to me, He thought of the Eucharist. And, well, I cannot be more stubborn than Edward, can I?
Erased and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood can be streamed on Netflix. Silver Spoon, Hunter x Hunter (2011) and Boku no Hero Academia can be streamed on Crunchyroll.