For Thoughts Like These from John C. H. Wu

I’ve been reading one of John Wu’s books. I first received it via Intra-library loan through my local public library.  But it is so good that I coughed up the dough to buy my own copy as well.  It’s worth the cost, trust me.

I wrote about how John is a reformed hell-raiser, which is one of the reasons I like him. He lays it all out for us in Beyond East and West. In Part One, it is his personal story. He covers his family background, where he went to school, his rise, his becoming a Christian, his being befriended by Justice Holmes of the U.S. Supreme Court, his falling away from Christianity, his decent into depravity and his conversion to Catholicism.

In Part Two, he describes the three main religions of China: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddism. He then relates how these three belief systems prepared the foundation for his conversion to Catholicism. He discusses at length his falling away from Methodism, his descent into a kind of pantheism, and in the winter of 1937,  his encounter with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which led him and his family to Rome.

His story is one that takes place during cataclysmic upheavals in Chinese society.  For example, the building of the new Nationalist Chinese Government after the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty; the Second Sino-Japanese War, and the fall of Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists to the Communist armies under Mao Zedong. Did I mention he and his wife had 13 children, despite all of the silliness going on in China at the time? John has pluck.

Below are a few of his thoughts that struck me as worthwhile to share. After reading these, you will be able to understand why he was called “the Chinese Chesterton.”

From Beyond East and West by John C.H. Wu

It is not fair to Christianity to call it “Western.” Christianity is universal. In fact, the West has something to learn from the East, for on the whole, the East has gone farther in its natural contemplation than the West has in its supernatural contemplation.

To take just one instance, the average Buddhist in China knows something about the three stages of Absention, Concentration, and Wisdom; while the average Christian has no idea of the three ways, the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive. The spiritual education of the Christian is sadly neglected. As I told a group of Carmelite Fathers in Rome, the East has entered upon the contemplative stage before its time, while the West has lagged in the stage of discursive reasoning too long. The East is a thief, while the West is a son who does not resemble the Father. The son will have a great deal to learn from the thief. My talk delighted the Carmelites so much that Father Gabriel took notes of it and made an article out of it.

I entirely agree with Frank Sheed that “the real job of the moment is to re-Christianize the world- beginning with ourselves, of course, but not postponing the rest of the world til our own Christianization is completed.” And the great paradox is that unless the West recognizes humbly its own need of re-Christianization, the East will not be Christianized so easily. It is most gratifying to see the importance of the mystical element in religion is being more and more recognized in the West. It is to be hoped that the mysticism of the saints will gradually leaven the whole lump of Christendom.

It was Count Hermann Keyserling who said, “The Chinese are men of long, and we of short, breath; for us mobility, for them quiescence, is the normal condition.” There is a great deal of truth in these words. But it is not exactly “quiescence,” but rather a slow tempo of life that a Chinese likes. Any hurried movement is disconcerting to him. In this, again, I am a Chinese of the Chinese.

For instance, I have always taken delight in serving the Mass whenever there is no altar-boy. But I feel more at home in serving a priest who says the Mass slowly. I know slowness or quickness has nothing to do with the sanctity of the priest. I hear St. Francis Xavier said a pretty quick Mass. But there is no denying that I prefer to serve a priest who says every word distinctly and slowly, and waits patiently for your “Deo gratias.” The first time that I ever was able to give all the responses was when I served Mass said by Father Donald Hessler, who is a man of long breath.

But whether long breath or short breath, Love is all. In dealing with the Orientals, one cannot too much emphasize that God is more motherly than a mother. The Chinese respect the father, but love the mother. One of the things that attracted me so strongly to St. Thérèse of Lisieux is that she knew well the maternal quality of God’s love. As she said, “I had long felt that Our Lord is more tender than a mother, and I have sounded the depths of more than one mother’s heart…Fear makes me shrink, whereas under love’s sweet rule I not only advance-I fly.” When I read it, I said to myself, “How Chinese she is!”

There is in the bosom of every Chinese a secret pride, which can only be melted with the fire of love, but cannot be uprooted by a surgical operation. You may rough-handle him, you may beat him to his knees; but you can never win his heart by such means. On the contrary, his knees may kneel, his heart will ever rebel. But if you treat him nicely, he is too sensible to take advantage of your kindness and generosity. We must remember that he belongs to an old nation rich in experience and worldy wisdom. You can only make him generous by being generous yourself.

One of the reasons why I feel so much at home in the Catholic Church is that most of the priests and sisters I have met have been so motherly to me. I have gone to confession to many priests of many nationalities and orders. Whether they are Chinese, American, French, English, Italian, German, Swiss, Indian, or Belgian, I have only heard one voice, the voice of a mother. Whether they are Jesuits, Dominicans, Maryknollers, Lazarists, Scheuts, Benedictines, Sulpicians, Carmelites, Passionists, or diocesan priests, I have only experienced one wisdom, the wisdom of a mother. There is unity without uniformity, there is diversity without division.

In the confessional, the Father is there, the Son is there, the Holy Spirit is there. The forgiveness is there, and so is the medicinal grace. I have heard some superficial critics of the Sacrament of Penance saying, “You Catholics go to Confession in order to sin more.” Nothing of the sort! I will relate one experience.

When I was in Chungking, I fell into a certain sin, and I went to confession to an old benign French priest. The very next day, the same temptation came and I fell again. I felt some hesitation in going to confession again. But I steeled my will and acted as my own policeman; I put my hand on my shoulder and dragged myself along to the same divine tribunal.

I thought the Father must be awfully upset and would give me up for hopeless. But he was very mild and counseled me to rely on the Grace of God and be patient with myself. A wonderful thing! The same temptation has never come back again in all these years. To say that one goes to confession in order to sin is just as absurd as to say that one goes to the hospital in order to get sick.

Presently,  I’m sinking my teeth into a book by one of John’s friends. It is Lou Tseng-Tsiang’s Ways of Confucius and of Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09109041935161633001 William a sinner. Most unlearned. The Least of all the faithful…

    I would love to read his Book beyond East and West. I hope they reprint it. My local library does not have a copy and I don't want to shell out over $60 for a used copy…

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

    @William: My local public library had it to me within a week via Intra-Library loan. Give that a shot. The book is rich, very rich, and John Wu's story is very uplifting. I hope it get's republished as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09109041935161633001 William a sinner. Most unlearned. The Least of all the faithful…

    Very cool. I will try it…Thanks…

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/UnboundedEducation/ Michael F. Sarabia

    I thought I was the only one that believed Christianity is for the West, Only.Now I see how wrong I was and how little I understood Universal Christianity.I was lucky to have the book for many years and read most of it, donated to school library in penance for my sinful ignorance.


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