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The mystery of suffering and illness is just that -- throughout life, a puzzle to us; and believe it or not, there is some debate about it in Catholic circles.

Many see it as a simple eventuality of life on earth: this planet is a temporary place and the body is designed, after a time, to release the spirit. It gets ill. It decays. All of us are here temporarily.

Others see illness as a manifestation of evil, and spirits can cause an array of maladies. True enough. There are those who go so far as to see it all as a work of the evil one.

But that there is redemptive suffering seemed exhibited by the nun in Japan who received the Akita revelations.

This is Sister Agnes Sasagawa -- who first saw supernatural manifestations in a chapel at her convent in 1973 (in this city across the island from where the tsunami recently struck) and heard the Blessed Mother despite being deaf since shortly before the experience. As Francis Mutsuo Fukushima writes, in Akita, "On March 16, 1973, she lost her hearing. In the morning, there was a phone call from the mother house of the Akita convent. She went to answer the call putting the receive to her ear. She heard the bell, but in the next instant, when she placed the receiver on her ear, she realized that she had lost her hearing completely and found herself plunged into total silence.

"Dr. Katsuro Sawada of Niigata Rosai Hospital diagnosed her deafness as 'incurable' and completed legal document formalities for her, so that she could start receiving the government's medical allowances for the handicapped. Sister Agnes later said she felt her heart to be strengthened when she calmly thought she would offer up the suffering of her deafness for the love of God in accordance with the Holy Will of God."

"I think God allowed her to lose her hearing to help her concentrate and meditate upon the Word of God only, and not the words of humans beings, to prepare her soul for her upcoming encounter with the Marian apparition during which she received Divine messages," said a priest.

Could the devil have caused this? Yes. But if so, Sister Sasagawa's response, it would appear, turned the tables on him. In a word: purification. We can do this also by fasting (indeed, voluntary penance can sometimes avert what otherwise might be necessary for our sanctity).

It was certainly a mysterious illness and reminds us of the maladies of saints like Padre Pio. While her hearing returned -- miraculously -- when after the trial she heard the phone ring (it was the bishop, who was shocked to hear her!), the ailments mentioned by a doctor named Tadahiko Yasuda apparently occurred in the 1990s -- two decades after the revelations. To take this extremely enigmatic case a step further, let's hear from Yasuda -- who noted:

"The physical illness of Sister Agnes Sasagawa was beyond any efforts to explain it scientifically. It was a mystery for me, and I accumulated experiences by diagnosing more than 200,000 patients over the past thirty years. She is special. Her body's temperature was very low and blood pressure was also very low. She took only a small amount of water and beverages. I have not seen such a patient in my career as a doctor. Her invalidity was also beyond the reach of scientific explanation." As it happens, Sister Sasagawa also went blind for a period (from August 29, 1992 to October 2 of the same year). This too, said the doctor, "is beyond any scientific explanation."

Added the doctor: "When I think of her case, it revives the memory of a passage from Blaise Pascal's Pansees. Pascal said, 'we had better bet on an assumption that God exists and we live by that assumption.' When I feel like accepting Pascal's recommendation, I regard what happened to her and her physical conditions as something resulting from a supernatural intervention. I have a feeling that God's Hand was working behind her physical conditions and behind what happened to her."

[resources: Akita]

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