The Worst and the Best

(The Nationalist, 04 August 2006)


A blinding blaze of light, intensely white, shone out in the morning sky, dazzling and radiant. All who looked towards it were blinded. Almost immediately came a sound louder than anyone had ever heard. Simultaneously came a shock wave which demolished buildings over a radius of three kilometres. Fires started over a wide area. About 75,000 people died almost immediately. The death toll eventually exceeded 100,000. The place was Hiroshima, Japan, and the date was 6 August 1945.

A blinding blaze of light, intensely white, shone out in the morning sky, dazzling and radiant. Three men stood as it were in the light, suffused by it, radiant, transfigured. Three others stood near it, overwhelmed yet unharmed, oblivious of anything else. They brought away with them a life-long memory of a transforming experience. They knew that, in a way beyond their understanding, they had had an experience of God. The place was a mountain in Palestine, the time nineteen centuries before Hiroshima. The event is recalled each year in the Christian calendar on 6 August, and is called the feast of the Transfiguration.

One of the three eye-witnesses later wrote about the experience, saying, ‘We saw his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour”’. The eye-witness’s name was Peter, and the person of whom he spoke was Jesus.

One experience brought death and destruction, the other, light and life. One brought memories of suffering and pain, the other, of an experience of joy beyond imagination or description. One still casts its shadow over the earth, its name burdened with the fear of possible future repetition – indeed it was repeated, three days later, at Nagasaki – the other remains forever a symbol of hope.

There has been a strange sequel to Hiroshima: in Japan today, its survivors are outcasts. No one wants to admit having been there, or even having a relative who was there. But the other was a place of which the eye-witness said, ‘It is good for us to be here’.

One survivor of Hiroshima was Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a Basque Jesuit, who went on to head the Society of Jesus in his later years, and who wrote, ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything’.

Another survivor was a Japanese Catholic doctor, Takashi Nagai, whose wife was killed at Nagasaki. He wrote of his experiences in a book called The Bells of Nagasaki, a triumph of the human spirit over the worst of man-made evil.