With God’s Grace And A Little Help From My Friends

When I was a newly minted Marine, fresh out of boot camp and on my way into life, I was certain that I could lick it. Everything was possible, and all would be right in the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my world would be just fine. I realized that I was no all-powerful genie, but I had complete confidence in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. The winner, which I knew I was, would take all.

This delusion persisted for quite some time.

It wasn’t until much, much later, see, when I had a sneaking suspicion that all was not right in my world, that I started to come to my senses. But early on? I was a young man in a hurry, and my buddies and I used to enjoy singing our own praises.

We had neat slogans we would use that connoted our superiority, such as “Non-hackers need not apply,” or “If you can’t hack it, pack it!” I had no problem making statements like these, because I knew that I could most definitely hack it.

The really amusing thing is, after all that self-congratulatory back slapping and self-aggrandizement, I didn’t really have much to show for it. For such a young man in a hurry, I seemed to be seriously heading nowhere, and fast.

Ironically, when I was trying to prove the falseness of Catholicism, by reading as much as I could, searching for ammunition, I was confronted with stories of guys just like me who fell in love with the Church. I didn’t plan it that way, but that is how it unfolded. I’ve written about how some of these long dead Catholic guys, like Blaise Pascal and Thomas Merton, helped to make a convert out of me.

In my case, Merton’s conversion story especially resonated. Not because of his being a successful writer or professor of English. And definitely not because he was a literary genius. I’m not like that at all. It was the hell-raiser side of him that resonated. I was just like that, if not more. Heck, given half a chance, I bet I could have made Thomas blush, or at least stand back in wide-eyed amazement, at the latest stunt I had pulled.

But by the grace of God, I snapped out of it, just like Merton and my buddy Blaise. I was led to realize that Frank’s plan was heading to oblivion, and I gave up trying to be the master of the universe and decided to let God handle that task.

Nowadays, I need help to stay on my new course. I thank God for the Church and Her Sacraments, because I need to avail myself of every one of them to survive in this world, and make it to the next one. I recently met some new friends and surprisingly, the same discovery had occurred to them. They too must have read this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”

Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.

 

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

And the beautiful thing is, they too saw Catholicism not as some interloper of Western Imperialism, but as what I see, which is Truth. I’m writing now of my two newest Catholic comrades: John C.H. Wu, and Lou Tseng-Tsaing. Henceforward, I’ll refer to this pair simply as John and Lou.

Just the other day the public library called to notify me that John’s autobiography Beyond East and West had arrived and was ready for pick-up. It was 5 minutes before they closed on a Friday when I got the message on my phone. My weekend was chock-full of activities too, so I had to wait until after lunch on Monday to pick up the book. Over the weekend, instead of reading about John’s life, I discovered the story about his friend (and mine), Lou, and I shared with you his amazing story.

I have to say that I’m still reeling from the effects of what I learned about my new friend named Lou. You may believe that Lou isn’t like you and me. And you would be right, because he’s not, at least not in terms of casual appearances, talents, or abilities. He outclasses me in all of those categories by a mile. But underneath all the success, and political power, it turns out that Lou is just like you and me.

Lou was born into a Protestant Christian family, and then became a Catholic (just like me), all before he became the Premier of China (not like me). He then lost that post, but continued serving his country as a high-level diplomat. He met a beautiful Catholic girl from Belgium while on assignment in St. Petersburg. He feel in love and married her in the Church. You may be thinking that is why Lou became a Catholic, just for the sake of convenience.

Well, I don’t know for sure, because I haven’t read his autobiography yet, but I get the feeling that his conversion wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t that simple for me, I can tell you. I fell in love with a beautiful Catholic girl too, and got married in the Church just like Lou did. But I didn’t become a Catholic until almost 19 years later.

Neither one of us, though, were so utterly devoid of spirituality that we just said, “Oh, whatever, I’ll just become a Catholic, no big deal.” I’ve got to hand it to Lou, though. He came around to the idea of Catholicism way ahead of me. That he wound up renouncing the world, to become a Benedictine monk, speaks volumes too.

Lou was also able to discern early on that his Protestant roots, although necessary to his eventual conversion, were not enough to sustain him. And he was a smart cookie, my friend Lou. He was friends with John, too. John, you may recall, was a smart, accomplished, legal scholar, attorney, and jurist. He wrote the first draft of the constitution that would eventually pass muster as the law of the land for the Nationalist Chinese government. He translated the New Testament and the Psalms into Mandarin, whereas I can barely order anything in a Chinese restaurant without looking like a complete doofus.

It’s another weekend now, and I’ve been reading Beyond East and West, which is John’s autobiography. Guess what? He was a hell-raiser too. But he realized he had a big empty feeling inside, despite wealth and worldly success. He had a hole in his heart that Confucianism alone could not fill, nor Taoism, Buddism,  or Methodism, either.

John writes of a crazy, mixed-up world in China, which is something you may find surprising. Doesn’t the East hold out a promise of alluring tranquility? Describing himself he writes,

Intellectually, I wobbled between skepticism and animal faith; morally I was a full-fledged libertine. I sneered at what I could not understand; I gave rein to the wanton appetites of sense. A slave to the world, I made myself an apostle of liberty. A well with no water in it, a cloud driven before the storm, I thought myself a clever man.

Wow. After reading that statement, looking at the photograph below is a lot like looking into a mirror. Because despite all appearances to the contrary, John and I looked exactly alike. On the inside, anyway.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04545510194367389333 Stefanie

    While taking care of my Dad this summer (which I am calling 'The Summer of Patients and more Patience'), I read "A Song for Nagasaki" by Father Paul Glynn. It tells the amazing atheist-to-Catholic-conversion story and post-nuclear life of Nagasaki radiation scientist Dr. Takashi Nagai. It was my first introduction to a 'far East' view of Catholicism. Our Friend Blaise also mightily assisted in his conversion. The love story between Takashi and his Catholic wife is so beautifully told. On August 9, she was one of the victims of the bomb. He later found her melted rosary in what had been their kitchen and found comfort that at such a moment, she had spent the morning in prayer, waiting and working.Oh, to be in the company of such saints! One doesn't feel worthy to be called "Catholic" in the same way they defined it.Thank you, Frank, for sharing your new friends, Lou and John.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16021781602272064901 Allison

    Stefanie: What a blessing you must be to your dad.I will need to add Fr. Glynn's book to my reading list. It sounds awesome.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14664864341946607447 Terry Fenwick

    Here I am – Pollyanna again.This is the best yet. It is so about GOD and how He puts the fish back in the water until it is ready to be caught. Patient GOD, Great Fisherman GOD. When He woos you and woos you in life, and when you are ready to be caught, you, yourself, finally put the hook in your own mouth and tug on the string – He draws you in! He's gotcha! Such a perfect picture – the Great Fisherman and the Fish that did not get away. What a catch you are and the best part, Frank? You know it – you know it was all GOD's work and you know the struggles – you now know you are as good as all of HIS catch. GOD'S own – like Pascal, Wu, and Merton – your friends – friends now in High Places – but your buddies. You know from where you came, the struggles to get away – but you know it was Grace and a Little Help From Your Friends that brought you HOME!That is how GOD will use you here on this site and everywhere you go – just frank Frank with a story of being chosen and finally choosing to respond. I love this story. It is a convert's story for sure but not only; the Angels, Saints and all the heavens enjoyed it. I enjoyed it in Half Moon Bay!Did I mention this is terrific?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    All, thanks for the comments. I'm just back in from baseball field parent/player work day. Stefanie, I'll have to add that book to my list as well.Terry, many thanks for your kind words. Like I've written about before, my great idea to prove Catholicism was false really back-fired…nicely, I might add.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10566533905159791882 HEATHER KING

    I once read a piece on USMC bootcamp and identified completely with the laggard–apparently there's one in every platoon–who just couldn't get on board with being turned into a killing machine. FTA they called such people: Failure to Adapt…Christ did not "adapt" very well either, I'm thinking…which is one of the reasons he's so able to "get on board" with our weaknesses, doubts, and waffling….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Heather,Thanks for reading. Not all are called to be Marines. As I told Webster once, I used to be 9/10ths "Marine." Now, it is more like 1/100ths, but it is an important part of my experience.Now, as for labeling Marines as "killing machines," that is a little demeaning, wouldn't you agree? Some people just feel more comfortable riding on the subways with guys like me sitting next to them. Or walking down dark alleys. ;)