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.
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.