Yesterday I introduced you to my latest Catholic friend, John C.H. Wu. I promised at the end of that post that I would explain what prompted John to swim the Tiber. Truthfully, I should have said “who” prompted him, not “what.” Blame it all on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “the Little Flower.” It is all her fault that my new friend John became a Catholic.
Around the year 1917, when he was 18 years old, John had made the first leap towards Rome when he became a Methodist, in Shanghai mind you.
Now, did John do that all on his own? Or did his family become Methodists together? I don’t have the answers to these questions. Not yet, anyway. But John is a pretty smart guy. He may have just figured out something was missing in Confucianism and when he met the Methodist missionaries who introduced him to Christ, he thought he had solved the riddle.
But, “Dr. Wu soon discovered the inconsistency and confusion of its vague theology, founded on the free interpretation of the Bible, and its appalling lack of unity and certainty.”
Way does this sound familiar to me? Because the same thing happened to me too. I’ve written about it at length in this space. I can just picture John as a model of the young, smart, and brilliantly gifted legal scholar. Because that is what he was. Much like the young legal eagle who asked Our Lord, “And who is my neighbor?” I bet you that John would have made a first-rate Pharisee as well. But instead, he basically threw in the towel on Protestant Christianity. Too many holes,
His mind, slowly but inevitably, wandered away unsatisfied and darkened by the shadow of uncertainty and doubt. He drifted dangerously towards atheism. But when his faith was at its lowest ebb, God’s merciful hand lifted the veil and brought light to his soul.
And that is where St. Thérèse came into the picture. Forgive me, but I have permission to call her Little Terry, and I’ll be doing so for the rest of this post. According to my sources,
A short pamphlet on St. Thérèse casually picked up gave him the key to the hidden treasures of a Faith which knows no doubt and brings human souls in loving confidence into the arms of God as into the arms of a most tender mother. Then followed the reading, also casual, of (Cardinal) Newman’s essay on the Infallibility of the Pope and the Church. This banished all his final doubts. It soon became evident to Dr. Wu that a Church which had produced an Augustine of Hippo, a Dante, a Pascal and a Thomas Aquinas, was the only logical and traditional inheritor of Christ’s Church. His entry into it was a foregone conclusion.
Now you can understand why I really enjoy John’s company. I followed roughly the same path as he did. Pascal? Check! Blaise and I are drinking buddies now, for crying out loud. And much as I wound up doing, John started reading deeply the Scriptures, and the works of the giants (see list above) and much as I did, he realized that it was time to put on his trunks and swim home.
In my case, it was Blaise Pascal that kicked me into gear. But for John, it was Little Terry. Take a look about what John writes about how he was introduced to her,
I heard the name of Thérèse of Lisieux for the first time at the home of my dear friend, Mr. Yuan Kia-hoang, a most zealous Catholic. In the Winter of 1937, I was living in Mr. Yuan’s house, and I was impressed by the way the Yuans recited their family Rosary. Seeing a portrait of Saint Therese, I asked him, “Is this the Virgin Mary?” He told me that it was the “Little Flower of Jesus.” “Who is this Little Flower of Jesus?” I asked. He looked surprised and said, “What! You don’t even know Saint Therese of Lisieux?”
Doesn’t this guy Yuan know who he’s talking too? I mean, by this time, John had written a draft of the constitution for the Kuomintag, known as “the Wu Draft”. But you know, despite all of his extraordinary talent and abilities, his deep intellectual capacity, and his high standing in society, what I like best about John is his humility. It cuts me to the quick when I realize how far I have to go to be as humble as John is. He reminds me of my favorite Desert Father. Boy, I’m glad I met John so I can continue to learn from someone who doesn’t just talk the humility “talk,” but one who actually walks the walk as pretty as you please. Here’s what happened next,
Then he gave me a French pamphlet entitled “Ste. Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jesus,” which contained a short account of her life and many specimens of her thoughts. Somehow I felt those thoughts expressed some of my deepest convictions about Christianity which I happened to entertain at that time. I said to myself, “If this saint represents Catholicism, I don’t see any reason why I should not be a Catholic.”
I said the same thing to myself when I read Pascal’s Pensées. Webster said the same thing when he read Father Martin’s My Life With The Saints. And I’ll admit to you here that when the light bulb went on for me, it worried me a lot. But I got over that when I remembered the following words of Our Lord,
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18: 3).
But even children know that they need someone in charge to take care of them. An authority figure, like parents. And you can bet your next meal that John understood the need for authority as well, legal scholar and expert practitioner that he was. In the meantime he had the following bright idea,
Being a Protestant, I was free to choose whatever interpretation suited best my own reason, and her interpretation was exactly the right one for me, and that made me a Catholic!
Look at John’s mischievous smile! See how simple it is? Of course he didn’t stop there, he saw the whole conversion through, and just as importantly, he never looked back. And as it turns out, John’s conversion was an answered prayer for his friend and host too,
When I confided my decision to Mr. Yuan, he almost fainted with joy, for, as he told me afterwards, he had been praying for my conversion for ten years! God answered his prayers in his own house. And the most remarkable thing about it is that no one could ever have foreseen the circumstances that led me to live with his family by that time.
No one except the Holy Spirit, that is. And another gift from Little Terry was that John’s wife converted too. And with no prompting from her husband, I might add.
Ever since my first acquaintance with the sweet Saint, my love for her has been growing. She has taught me how to love Jesus and how to love our Mother the Blessed Virgin. In a most miraculous way, she has converted my wife.
Stand by for a minor miracle. I’ll be getting out of John’s way now,
One day my little daughter, “the little Teresa,” was sick. The doctor said that it was a very serious case of pneumonia, and that it would take at least nine days for her to recover, during which period we had to be extremely careful. Being a most competent and honest doctor, there is absolutely no doubt that his diagnosis was right. So we were frightened; especially as my wife was on the point of delivering another child, and if she were to nurse the girl for nine days, she would be likely to collapse under the weight not only of the physical labor but also of the mental ordeal.
As for the girl, her fever was running high, and the doctor told us that it was just the beginning and everything depended upon later developments. After consulting my wife, I rang up Father Maestrini, requesting him to come to us and baptize the girl. He did so. Soon after, my wife knelt before Saint Therese with the sick baby in her arms, and prayed in deep earnestness. I could not hear her words. When she rose, I asked her what she had said to the Saint. She answered, “Oh, I just told her that Lan- hsien is too hard to bring up; I am not fit to be her mother, so I begged Saint Thérèse to be her mother.”
Wait a second, pass me the tissues please! Whew, that’s better (but keep them close by).
Next morning, the doctor came again and, taking the temperature of little Teresa, found that it was a little below one hundred! It had been a hundred and five on the previous day! Then he examined the lungs, and found the pneumonia gone! The only words he uttered were, “Wonderful! Wonderful!”
I told him what had happened and asked him whether he would be willing to certify to my story if I were to write it out in detail someday. He said, “Certainly!” The story is too long to tell here. What interests me just now is the story of the conversion of my wife.
Big deal? Uh-huh, especially when you consider that there were no antibiotics available at this time. Remember?
Some time ago, my wife met Madame H. H. Kung, and, as their friendship grew, the nobility of the latter’s character impressed her deeply and opened her eyes to the beauties of Christianity; but it was Saint Thérèse who confirmed entirely her faith in Christ. As for me, my only function is to teach her the Catechism. I never have wanted to impose my own Faith upon my family, but God loves us so much that He has condescended to be the Host of our humble home.
During my life God has showered one honor after another upon my head; it is beyond my power to requite Him in the slightest degree. But as if all His other blessings were not enough, He has given me the supreme honor of supping with us day in, day out! Now I have learned the art of prayer from my wife. I simply say to Jesus, “I am not able to pay my immense debt to God; pay it for me!”
Little Terry has that effect on people. She enchanted John, she enchanted Thomas Merton, Me, Webster, and countless others as well. But that is enough for today. John and I will be back with another installment soon.