For All the Meanings of the Word “Catholic”

My God isn’t too small, but I sure am. For the longest time I was a modern pharisee, so sure that I knew everything I needed to know about God and my own salvation. Then I walked away from worshipping God for the longest time, because my little mind “got it” about God and I didn’t really care about what your opinion, or any churches opinion for that matter, was about Him.

I waited a long time to be called home to the Church. But when I started to hear the call, the reasonableness of becoming a Catholic had a lot to do with that very word “catholic.” Let’s take a look at the word and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Here is how the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word,

Definition of CATHOLIC

1:
a) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the church universal
b) often capitalized: of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it
c) capitalized : Roman Catholic

2: comprehensive, universal; especially : broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests
— ca·thol·i·cal·ly adverb
— ca·thol·i·cize verb

Examples of CATHOLIC,

(She is a novelist who is catholic in her interests.)
(a museum director with catholic tastes in art.)

Origin of CATHOLIC

Middle English catholik, from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French catholique, from Late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, general, from katholou in general, from kata by + holos whole — more at cata-, safe

First Known Use: 14th century (maybe in English, but I think St. Ignatius of Antioch used the term to describe the Church back early in the 2nd century).

Related words to CATHOLIC

Synonyms: all-around (also all-round), all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized

Antonyms: limited, restricted, specialized, technical

Looking at the citation, definition #1 jives with what historically may be ascertained about the Church. She is, after all, a world-wide Church with parishes practically everywhere. She traces her leadership lineage from Pope Benedict XVI, all the way back to St. Peter, who was given the Keys of the Kingdom by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bear with me for a minute because my mind is very small. The universe, however, is (we think) infinitely large. Guess what? The Catholic Church claims all of that space as her domain too. Remember the keys? That’s why someone from the Vatican Observatory can say that the mere thought of extraterrestrial life shouldn’t spook you.

That is, unless your mind is too small and you believe that God only exists on our planet, or maybe not even at all. That’s not to say that, God willing, ET couldn’t come here and ruin our lives either. Remember what was done to the Native Americans by other human beings? Or what the Egyptians did to Israel, or the Babylonians, or the Romans? Free will can be painful.

Maybe you’ve never given this much thought. I know I didn’t for the longest time because I was too busy getting and spending and such. Conquering the world for me and mine, while giving mere lip service to serving God. That sounds harsh now that I read it, but it is true.

Let’s move on to definition #2 which pertains to the small “c” version of the word.

comprehensive, universal; especially: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests.

Now this definition is what gets to the heart of why I am Catholic. Because now that my little mind has been pondering our Triune God more and more, this second definition jives with the characteristics of God Himself. Comprehensive? Check! Universal? Check! Broad in sympathies? I’m counting on it! Broad in tastes and interests? Well now that you mention it, of course He has broad tastes and interests, most of which I have ignored all my life and many which I have never even considered. Consider the variety of life He created, people of every race and origin, 15000+ types of trees, and thousands of different kinds of flowers and hundreds if not thousands of different kinds of spiders (yuk!) even.

Consider that He became a human in order to save every man, woman, and child, and maybe even the animals (St. Francis of Assisi preached to birds!), in every clime and place. In every land, every nation, north, south, east and west. Because He is beyond mere points on a compass.

This weeks readings from the letter to the Hebrews practically scream this from the very first words in that letter(and I still didn’t get it) as you can see here,

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through the Son, whom He made heir of all things and through whom He created the universe, who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and who sustains all things by His mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, He took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.(Hebrews 1:1-4)

And here,

It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. Instead, someone has testified somewhere:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under his feet.”

In “subjecting” all things to him, He left nothing not “subject to Him.”(Hebrews 2:5-8).

For the longest time I ignored this salient fact, this truth, which has been staring me right in the face in the phrases “all things” and “nothing not” all this time. Others have missed them as well, which explains why the Church defended Christianity from the Arian, Donatist, and all the other heresies as well. And it explains why Our Pope could say this back when he was a Cardinal,

Just as the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy [in the great religions] neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured.

And it explains why sometimes we trip each other up when one persons idea of orthodoxy (example: can I do yoga and still be a Catholic?) conflict with another’s ideas on orthodoxy (example: you may only receive the consecrated host on the tongue). All of which is way above my pay grade (able-bodied seaman, if that) and leads me to say “thank God for bishops!”

Maybe I understood all of these ideas about God and the Church only in theory, but not in practice. I’m certain I was lacking them in actual practice when I had stopped worshipping altogether. But I was, and still am, humbled to discover that the Catholic Church has been, and still is, engaged in a “practice makes perfect” exercise that has stood the test of time despite Her slips and stumbles along the way.

Look, even the synonyms of the word “catholic” describe Our Lord and His Church (all-around, all-purpose, general, general-purpose, unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unspecialized), even as the antonyms(limited, restricted, specialized, technical) continue to describe me when I stumble, which is often. And this helps to explain why the words denomination, narrow-minded, and sectarian do not describe Our Lord and His Church, but the antonyms of these very words do.

I came across these thoughts the other day that helped bring me full-circle on better understanding the Church and her mission,

Therefore, that Catholicity, which at first did but mean the collection of traditions from all parts within the Christian Church, came to mean what it was inevitable in the nature of the case it should, from the first, actually imply,—the bringing into one and gathering together of all the strongest facts and experiences of religion,—all elements in the religious idea wherever found which could prove their fitness by survival or their vitality by their growth or this ” richness” by their capacity for a deeper interpretation;—all “truths of religion,” outside the Christian Church as well as within it. In this manner and on a basis of the deeper expediency, begun but not completed, attempted not achieved, a Catholic Church has alone any chance of becoming “Humanity grown conscious of itself.”

Remember the two greatest commandments? St. Francis de Sales reminds us of them in the ninth meditation in his Introduction to the Devout Life,

Consider that Jesus Christ, enthroned in Heaven, looks down upon you in loving invitation: “O beloved one, come unto Me, and joy for ever in the eternal blessedness of My Love!” Behold His mother yearning over you with maternal tenderness—” Courage, my child, do not despise the Goodness of my Son, or my earnest prayers for thy salvation.” Behold the Saints, who have left you their example, the  millions of holy souls who long after you, desiring earnestly that you may one day be for ever joined to them in their song of praise, urging upon you that the road to Heaven is not so hard to find as the world would have you think. “Press on boldly, dear friend,”—they cry. “Whoso will ponder well the path by which we came hither, will discover that we attained to these present delights by sweeter joys than any this world can give.”

You can call me grasshopper,  but I’ll be taking this saint’s, and all his millions of saintly friends, advice from now on. To be continued…

Update: Monsignor Charles Pope on the width of the Church.

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Because God Became Man (Despite His Flawed Human Ancestors)

This day is just beginning, but I can’t let it go forward without mentioning yesterdays’ Gospel reading. It is from Chapter 1 in Matthew and it is the genealogy of Jesus. Here the gospel writer goes to great pains to show that Our Lord and Savior is indeed descended from the line of King David.

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling with portraits of Our Lord’s earthly ancestors. After reading this post, you may think that earthy is a better description of them.

I work in an archive and many of our patrons come to our repository in order to research their family history and genealogy. It is a fun hobby for many, and though some pursue it in order to prove they are related to famous founding fathers or so they can join patriotic groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, etc., most just want to know where their families came from.

Who are my forefathers? Were they like me? In this land of immigrants, when did my family arrive here? Were they good people? Were they famous, or rich, or generous? Am I descended from royalty, or from scoundrels? The riddle of how you came about waits to be solved, because the cast of characters in your background is both deep and wide. Interestingly, many lose heart when nothing special turns up, or they discover their great-grandfather was a horse thief and they are repulsed. Oops!

Our Lord’s genealogy has it’s share of wonderful peculiarities. Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his human line has some very interesting characters, let me tell you. Some have even called Our Lord’s human ancestors a veritable rogues gallery. Forget horse thieves, how about some liars (Abraham, Isaac), adulterers (David), murderers (Manassah), fornicators (Judah), polygamists (Solomon), and harlots? They are all here.

Let’s look at Manassah for example. This is from the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Manasseh, also spelled Manasses, king of Judah (reigned c. 686 to 642 bce). During his long and peaceful reign, Judah was a submissive ally of Assyria. In the course of his reign there occurred a revival of pagan rites, including astral cults in the very forecourts of the temple of Yahweh, child sacrifice, and temple prostitution; hence, he is usually portrayed as the most wicked of the kings of Judah.

Sheesh, that’s right! He even sacrificed his kids to Moloch. And you thought it was bad nowadays? Good news though. By the grace of God, Manassah repented and turned things around. Whew! You can read all about it right there in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33.

And how about the ladies in the line, huh? Strange enough that women are included at all, given the patriarchal society of the Hebrews. Maybe the gospel writer hopes to clean up the reputation of this line a little bit with a brace of impeccable women? Not hardly. First up, we get the Gentile woman named Tamar, who seduced her father-in-law in order to get pregnant. Whaat?! That sounds like something out of an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, doesn’t it?

See, that was after her first husband, a fellow by the name of Er, “greatly offended the Lord; so the Lord took his life.” Gulp! So Judah (see list above) orders Er’s brother Onan to do his duty and “unite” with Tamar so she could have children. Onan, “spilled his seed on the ground”, offending the Lord and he lost his life too. Which led her to dress up like a hooker, get Judah drunk and seduce him. I can’t make this stuff up, folks. Go check out the story in Genesis, chapter 38.

Next up, we have Rahab the harlot, so you know what she did for a living. Did I mention she was into espionage as well? And she too was a Gentile, a Caananite. So much for the racial purity aspect of Christ’s human lineage. Now, Rahab aided Joshua and his men when they spied on Jericho. So she was a hooker and a traitor? Yep. Picture Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, hiding a couple of spies on her roof and you get the picture right. When the ruler of Jericho asked her to send out the men, she lied and said they were already gone. They didn’t bother to go in and check (they probably didn’t want to be seen in Rahab’s digs). Again, go read about this episode in Joshua Chapter 2. She too is in the cloud of witnesses though due to her faith. You don’t believe me? See Hebrews chapter 11.

And then there is Ruth, the impeccable woman out of this bunch. And again, not Jewish (how can this be?!) Anyway, she married a nice Jewish fellow name Boaz, and lived happily ever after. She had children and had a son who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, so she is David’s great-grandmother. There is a tiny book all about her in the Old Testament, and you should take a look at it. The filial piety practiced by Ruth is the kind that Wu Li, SJ, and my other Chinese Catholic friends, are very comfortable with. And that goes for me too.

Last, but certainly not least, we round out this list of femme fatales with “the wife of Uriah”, you know, Uriah the Hittite? That was the good soldier whose wife David slept with, which makes this next lady none other than Bathsheba. All kinds of wreck and ruin came about as a result of her and David getting together. She gave birth to Solomon, who I mentioned earlier as the future polygamist and polytheist.  Get all the details on David and Bathsheba in good ol’ 2 Samuel, chapter 11.

I don’t think you need any more examples from me regarding the incontrovertible fact that God works His Will through us flawed human beings whether we see the big picture or not. God promised a Messiah, and I would wager that many of the people on this family tree had no idea that all along God’s Will was working through their lives to bring about the Incarnation. Is it any wonder that Mary, would exclaim, “how can this be?” Because aside from being a virgin, she knew her family line was a train wreck. Maybe even more so than yours or mine.

In my favorite Old Testament book, Qoheleth put it best when he writes,

God made everything fitting in it’s time; but He also set eternity in our hearts, though we are not able to embrace the work of God from beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And Our Lord speaks volumes when He says,

Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.(Matthew 9:13)

Maranatha, Lord Come!

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For Help Reading Maps Correctly

Jesuit map of the world, 17th century (Public Domain).

I have a friend who can’t understand why I enjoy being a Catholic.

From discussions I have had with him, it appears that he believes I am now enslaved by an organization that is run by a tyrant who bears the title of “Pope.” I reckon that his libertarian tendencies bristle at the very idea of submitting to an authority, even if that authority is ordained  and conferred by Christ Himself.

Now before you go and start thinking Frank is using hillbilly colloquial speech by using the word reckon, let me put on my Anu Garg hat and have a look at this particular word. Here is what the Merriam Webster Dictionary says about it,

Reckon transitive verb
Definition of reckon
1
a: count <to reckon the number of days days till Christmas>
b: estimate, compute <reckon the height of a building, etc.>
c: to determine by reference to a fixed basis
Example-

the existence of the United States is reckoned from the Declaration of Independence
2: to regard or think of as: consider
3
chiefly dialect : think, suppose < I reckon I’ve outlived my time — Ellen Glasgow>

intransitive verb

1: to settle accounts
2: to make a calculation
3
a: judge
b: chiefly dialect: suppose, think
4: to accept something as certain: place reliance reckon on your promise to help.

I hope you can see from this that using the word reckon in a sentence is not something that only hillbillies from Tennessee do. Because surely you can see that this word has many different meanings, and shades of meaning. And notice the reference to the Declaration of Independence, which for the purposes of this post fits where I’m going to the “T.”

There is another use of the root word reckon that may help shed some light on where I’m going with this post as well. This word is really a phrase that has to do with the science of navigation. Let’s take a look at Merriam Webster again,

Dead reckoning noun
Definition of Dead Reckoning

1: the determination without the aid of celestial observations of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made, and the known or estimated drift
2: guesswork
— dead reckon (verb)

First Known Use of Dead Reckoning: 1613

Dead reckoning is nice, and all, but you wouldn’t board an airline flight if you thought the pilot was just taking the plane up for a spin without any detailed flight plan to get you where you were going, would you? And lookee there at the second definition of the word. In the navigation business, guesswork can get you killed.

Now, I’m removing the scholarly and erudite looking Anu Garg hat and putting on my Tennessee hillbilly “common sense” hat to say that this here fancy phrase-word means nothin’ more than “flying by the seat of your pants.” Heck, you might even be plumb lost, “but yer jes too proud to stop at the gaas stayshun to ask that feller for directions, I reckon.” See?

What’s that? You can read a map all by yourself you say? You don’t need any help reading maps? Well, I would really like to believe that about you but my own experience has been different. I almost never get lost, geographically speaking. Just ask my wife. And I’ve spent an awful long time in the map room too and I love reading maps as well. But in my practical, real world experience of actually navigating out in the field as a Marine? I know that some people read maps wrong. Dead wrong.

And they were reading the same maps that I had, too. I can’t even remember how many times I have had to point this out to lost Lieutenants, Captains, and sometimes even Majors, when I was out in the field in the Marines. And to PFC’s, Lance Corporal’s, and even Sergeants sometimes too, as they were learning land navigation skills. And this assumes you are using current maps that were drawn and printed recently. True story time. This may shock you, but I even knew a Captain in my artillery battery who got lost routinely(!) even when he was using GPS. I kid you not! So don’t argue to me that the latest technology will absolutely guarantee that you will make it to your intended destination.

Now, what if the map you are using today is ancient? You know, like you are using one that looks something like Blackbeard’s treasure map, or the one from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book Treasure Island. You can see that there is an X that marks the spot of the treasure but not much more detail than that.

Well, if I were you, and I found a map like this, I would track down and find the guy who buried the treasure who, as it turns out, is also the same guy who drew the map, and I’d say,

Lookee here, I can’t make head nor tales of where in the world this here treasure is from a readin’ your map all by myself. Show me how to read this map and take me to the place where “X” marks the spot.

That is where the Catholic Church comes in see? She made the map, and she knows where the treasure chest is. Sure, I can read that Treasure Island map too, but it’s lacking in a few details, or didn’t you notice? How long have you been reading that map and you didn’t notice this?! Now, the Church knows where the treasure is buried, because She was there when the chest was put into the ground. And She was there when it ascended up into Heaven too.

She knows that the treasure resides in each and every one of us now, so the map isn’t a geographical one, see, but an internal one. As G.K. Chesterton explains so well,

The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

Now back to my friend, who has a “give me liberty, or give me death” bent that would make even Patrick Henry seem squishy on the concept of freedom. Free will is a wonderful gift from God. Knowing that you can’t read maps and need help navigating is another one of those gifts. But wait, there is more.

In my little mind, the knowledge that Christ himself founded the Church and put a human being in charge of it while She is here on earth gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. The kind of feeling I get when I think of my mother comforting me after the time when I had gotten lost at the county fair one year when I was little. When she found me, she gave me the biggest hug ever, and boy did I need that too! And to me this is similar to the kind of feeling I got when I was in the Marines and was serving under a great Commandant, or good commander. It is a feeling of confidence and joy that I am in good hands, even if the mission I was involved in might lead to my physical death.

Allison recently wrote a post about her search for answers about the Kingdom of God. I don’t know if my freedom loving friend thinks about the fact that this kingdom is not a representative democracy or not. But to be clear, it’s called a Kingdom, because there is a King. He is a wise and wonderful King, and a benevolent one too. But most certainly He is a King, and if I pledge my allegiance to Him, which I have, then I do so with full knowledge that I will have to do what he asks of me. I am submissive to Him, otherwise, I’m a rogue and a traitor.

This duty to obey requires discipline and grace, and in my short experience as a Catholic, the Sacraments of the Church, and Her teachings, which are God’s teachings (as you can easily discover), are what provide me the means to stay the course without getting lost. And I will continue to read maps to my hearts content. And I’m very happy because on this ship, I don’t have to decide everything either. Thank God!

The Church is the Ship and I have complete confidence in Her Captain’s ability to navigate the shoals of this world until the day His Majesty decides to come back aboard Her and brings us into port.

Semper Fidelis,


Update: Mark Shea on “Herding Cats On Sola Scriptura.

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For Thoughts Like These from François Nepveu, S.J.

I love discovering devotional works that bring the Catholic perspective on Christianity directly onto the center stage. That’s what this book by Jesuit Father François Nepveu does.

Translated from the French by Henry Coleridge, S.J. (poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s brother), it is entitled Of the Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, And the Means of Acquiring It.

Father Nepveu presents us with the motives for loving Our Savior. What follows is the first motive he describes, which is pretty straight-forward and right on the mark.

We Should Love Jesus Christ: Because He is Loveable.

Everything that is beautiful, and everything that is perfect, is naturally loveable. Everything that is infinitely beautiful and infinitely perfect, is therefore infinitely and necessarily loveable. Hence it follows that the Blessed, who see clearly the beauty and perfections of God, love Him so necessarily that it is out of their power to refrain from doing so. They would love Him infinitely if they were capable of an infinite love.

Were we then to study more often, were we to know more perfectly Thy perfections, O Jesus! Should we not find ourselves under a sweet obligation of loving Thee, since Thou dost contain in Thyself all perfections, created and uncreated, human and divine, spiritual, absolute and relative, and consequently all that can not only satisfy our minds and win our hearts, but even please our affections, and captivate our senses, in a word, all that can attract our love?

Is it not, then, wonderful that in spite of so many reasons for loving Thee, we can possibly avoid doing so? Jesus is God. He possesses, therefore, infinite beauty, infinite goodness, infinite power, holiness, wisdom, and, in a word, every perfection to an infinite degree. Thus, then, my soul, thou canst find in Him wherewith to Satisfy thy desires, however vast, however ambitious they may be; wherewith to fill that immense craving of the human heart which cannot be filled with any created or finite good. What then dost thou seek for elsewhere?

But Jesus is also man. In taking a body and a nature like ours, He makes these beauties and perfections of His—all divine as they are—material, sensible, adapted to our weakness, and proportioned to our faculties. How, then, can we refuse to love Jesus, or excuse ourselves from doing so, though we be ever so earthly, material, or attached to the objects of sense? For we have in Jesus, as the object of our love, something which is both divine and human, spiritual and sensible; something which can, consequently, satisfy our minds, our hearts, our reason, and our senses, and attract at the same time our veneration, our love, our admiration, and our tenderness.

How comes it, then, that the effect upon us is so often different from this? What are we to think or say of this strange marvel? Only that there is something in the malice of man, and in the insensibility of his heart towards Jesus, as incomprehensible as there is in the goodness and beauty of God.

God became Man, says St. Augustine, in order that man, who is composed of two such different parts, one altogether spiritual the other altogether material, finding in a God-Man all that was wanting to make the happiness of both his own natures, should not be obliged to divide his heart, and thereby to divide his love, between God and the creature; but that, finding in the Humanity of Jesus a holy occupation for his affections, pleasure for his senses, satisfaction for his mind, and enough to content his heart, he might place all his joy in Him, and find his happiness in loving Him. What then!

If one touch of beauty, if the smallest trace of perfection found in a wretched creature, can dazzle our eyes, take possession of our minds, and allure our hearts with a kind of enchantment; what strange sort of enchantment is this of which we speak, that the accumulation of every beauty and all perfections, divine and human, spiritual and material, all of which are found in Thee, most lovely Jesus, is unable to satisfy our mind, win our heart, or earn our love? Is it madness? Or blindness? or insensibility? Or, rather, is it not all three at once?

For, indeed, how is it conceivable that, while we can no more help loving that which is loveable, than help seeing that which is visible, yet Jesus, Who has done everything to make Himself beloved by us, or rather, is Himself alone worthy of love, should be about the only one unloved by us! Unloved! Rather, Who is neglected, scorned, forsaken!

It is this pitiable blindness which the Prophet foresaw and deplored in those touching words—”Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and ye gates thereof, be very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have done two evils. They have foresaken Me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water”(Jer. ii. 12, 13).

This is what happens daily, when we forsake Jesus, infinitely lovely, to run after creatures, the possession of which never contents us, and the love of which, far from making us happy, makes us miserable and even criminal. This horrible confusion and strange insensibility which no one can comprehend, and which yet we see every day, touches to the quick those souls who are penetrated with the love of our Lord. We ourselves should bitterly lament it, if we had not ourselves a share in this insensibility.

This thought, that a God infinitely lovely should not be loved by men, so inconsolably afflicted the Saints, such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa, and St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, as to cause them sometimes to sigh for death, and to cry out in their holy transports of zeal, love, and suffering: “Love is not loved, Love is not loved!”

Oh, sons of men! How long will your minds be so blinded, and your hearts so weighed down by earthly things, as to have no wish to see the One True Beauty, and to love the One True Love! Thus it must be, my sweet and adorable Jesus, till Thou Thyself, Who art the Light of the World, shalt so enlighten, elevate, and fortify our minds as to render them capable of knowing Thee; until Thou shalt so detach, purify, and warm our hearts as to render them capable of loving Thee; until Thou shalt not only make known to our minds Thy Beauty, but also make our hearts sensible to the power of its charms, so that we shall confess that there is none but Thee Who art beautiful, and perfect, and lovely, and that consequently Thou only dost deserve our love.

Have a look at the rest of the book here.

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For Purgatory, Thank Heavens

—Feast of All Souls

When I was straddling the fence on whether or not I should become a Catholic, I never had a problem with Purgatory. It just makes the most sense to me, not that my personal opinion about this doctrine means anything.

I’ll admit that I thought I would have a big problem with it at first. Because, you see, it isn’t mentioned specifically in the Bible (along with many other details). But where did all the people who died go, for example from the Old Testament times? Assuming that all the people who had died before the Incarnation were just, ahem—out of luck, is ridiculous to me. And that was before I knew the doctrine of purgatory very well.

And praying for the dead? Well, once the books of the Bible tossed out by the reformers were put back where they belong, that was no longer an issue either. Like this from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 7:36-37,

And stretch out thy hand to the poor, that thy expiation and thy blessing may be perfected. A gift hath grace in the sight of all the living, and restrain not grace from the dead.

I just ran a quick search over at the handy-dandy YIMCatholic Bookshelf of the word “purgatory” and came back with references to 175 different books. You’ll find everything from St. Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory(only 67 pages, so give it a look) to the Manual of the Purgatorian Society.

Below are some thoughts I want to share with you from an American named John L. Stoddard. Back in 1922, Stoddard wrote Rebuilding A Lost Faith, By An American Agnostic. It’s 246 pages of top-notch conversion story.  But I’m only going to share Stoddard’s thoughts on Purgatory with you because in many ways, they mirror my own path to understanding this doctrine. Like Stoddard, the crux of the matter for me hinges on authority. Either you believe that, heads, the Church has the authority to teach this doctrine or, tails (like Martin Luther), you don’t. Guess which side of this coin I side with?

I’ll let Stoddard take it from here,

From Chapter XV, Purgatory and Indulgences

THE difficulty in regard to Papal Infallibility (See chapter XIV) having been overcome, I turned to consider the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory and the Sacrament of Penance. My feelings in respect to this will best be shown by the following extract from a letter which I wrote about this time to a Catholic friend.

“My Dear Francis:

“I find no special difficulty in the Catholic dogma of Purgatory. On the contrary, the idea of a state of purification, appointed for those souls who, though redeemed by Christ, are nevertheless still unprepared to pass at once into God’s presence, appears to me logical and even comforting. I think that every soul who feels his own unfitness for the Beatific Vision (and who does not feel this?) must wish for such a state of preparation, even though attended with a cleansing punishment. The lack of this idea in Protestantism leads, I think, to an objectionable feature in their system,—namely, the altogether improbable and presumptuous supposition that the soul of some monster of depravity can straightway enter the society of heaven, provided only that he says, at the last moment of his ill-spent life, that he repents and believes in Jesus as the Son of God. Christ’s Divine insight into the soul of the penitent thief, who hung beside His cross on Calvary, could justify, of course, His promise to him of an immediate entrance into Paradise; but that was a solitary instance, upon which one can hardly build much hope.

The statement, often loosely made, that, since ‘Jesus paid it all, all the debt I owe,’ a hardened criminal is thereby rendered instantaneously fit for Heaven, is dangerously demoralising. The Bible assures us that ‘there shall in no wise enter into the heavenly City of God anything that defileth, or that is defiled,’ and the acquisition of a pure character is not the affair of a moment by means of a death-bed repentance. I never shall forget the description in a Chicago paper, many years ago, of the hanging of a negro, who, on the night before his execution, was said to have repented of a peculiarly atrocious crime, and ‘knew that he was saved.’ The report was heralded by the flaring headline ‘Jerked to Jesus!’

This blasphemous alliteration probably did less harm, however, than the sensational story, which accompanied it, of the negro’s ‘edifying remarks’ which preceded his death. The idea of such a wretch going at once to Heaven was revolting to a sense of justice and even of decency. No Catholic would have supposed such a translation probable, or, save for a miracle, possible. We know, of course, nothing of what the purgatorial state may be, through which the soul must pass, to reach the sphere to which God calls it; but that some place of purification must exist for those who pass into eternity with no sufficient spiritual preparation, appears to me just, necessary and consoling.”

To this my friend replied as follows:—

I well remember the crudely blasphemous headline which you quote. It had a great success, and was accounted ‘clever,’ though I am sure its ribald, vulgar character shocked all in whom a consciousness of the dignity of life and of the majesty of death remained, even though they had no positive Christian faith. There is little, if any, analogy between the case of the wretched negro and that of the penitent thief, for the latter was redeemed by his humility and faith. He did not ‘know that he was saved.’ He confessed his guilt in a supreme moment, and admitted the justice of his punishment. Whether or not the grace given him by our Lord was the only one ever offered him, we are not told; but to this opportunity at least he did respond, and by a single aspiration expiated with his dying breath a life of crime.

That the consoling doctrine of Purgatory should appeal to you does not surprise me. There is hardly a religious system of antiquity in which some similar provision is not found. It was left for the ‘Reformers’ of the sixteenth century to reject this immemorial dogma of the Church. When they denied the sanctity of the Mass and many other sacramental features of Catholicism, the doctrine of Purgatory went with the rest. If the souls of the dead pass instantly into an eternally fixed state, beyond the efficacy of our intercessions, then all our requiems, prayers and similar practices are vain. But if, on the contrary, we believe in the Communion of Saints,—that is, in the intercommunion of the three-fold Church,—militant on earth, suffering in Purgatory, and triumphant in Heaven,—then we on earth can influence, and be influenced by, the souls who have crossed the border.

Few, indeed, quit this life in a state of purity and grace which warrants their immediate entrance into Heaven. Still fewer, let us hope, are those to whom the blessed refuge of Purgatory,— that half-way house of our dead,— is closed. I cannot conceive how Protestants can believe as they do on this point, nor is it astonishing that their rejection of Purgatory has been followed, in the case of many, by the elimination of a belief in Hell; for the latter doctrine, taken alone, is monstrous. In fact, all Catholic doctrines are interdependent; they stand or fall together. You cannot pick stones out of the arch, and expect it to stand, for it will not do so. Purgatory is one of the most humane and beautiful conceptions imaginable. How many mothers’ aching hearts has it not soothed and comforted with hope for some dead, wayward son!

Soon after receiving this letter, I read the following words from Mallock:—”As to the doctrine of Purgatory, time goes on, and the view men take of it is changing. It is fast becoming recognised, that it is the only doctrine that can bring a belief in future rewards and punishments into anything like accordance with our notions of what is just and reasonable; and so far from its being a superfluous superstition, it will be seen to be just what is demanded at once by reason and morality.” My attention was at this time also called to the fact that the idea of Purgatory is no longer confined exclusively to Roman Catholic Christians. At a recent General Convention of Episcopalians in America resolutions looking towards prayer for the dead were defeated by only a very small majority.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church in reference to Purgatory states that there is such a place, in which souls suffer for a time, before they can be admitted to the joys of Heaven, because they still need to be cleansed from certain venial sins, infirmities and faults, or still have to discharge the temporal punishment due to mortal sins, which is as yet uncancelled, though the lasting punishment of those sins has been forgiven and removed through Christ’s atonement. Furthermore, the Church declares, that by our prayers and by the acceptable sacrifice of the Mass we may still help those souls, through the merits of Christ.

Beyond this statement the Church’s formal doctrine does not go; but it is not an article of Catholic faith that there is in Purgatory any material fire. It is generally believed that souls in Purgatory suffer spiritual anguish from the fact that they then feel acutely, as they could not do on earth, the perfect happiness from which they are for a time excluded, while they must also understand the enormity of the sins which they committed against their Heavenly Father and their Savior.

The entire story is here.
*****

What follows now are a few thoughts from Saint, and Doctor of the Church, Alphonsus Liguori, on our duty to pray for the faithful departed souls in Purgatory. This is from the Introduction to the Manual of the Purgatorian Society. With a book title like that, it’s got to be good!

The practice of recommending to God the souls in Purgatory, that He may mitigate the great pains which they suffer, and that He may soon bring them to His glory, is most pleasing to the Lord and most profitable to us. For these blessed souls are His eternal spouses, and most grateful are they to those who obtain their deliverance from prison, or even a mitigation of their torments. When, therefore, they arrive in Heaven, they will be sure to remember all who have prayed for them. It is a pious belief that God manifests to them our prayers in their behalf, that they may also pray for us.

It is true these blessed souls are not in a state to pray for themselves, because they are so to speak, criminals atoning for their faults. However, because they are very dear to God, they can pray for us, and obtain for us, the divine graces. St. Catherine of Bologna, when she wished to obtain any grace, had recourse to the souls in Purgatory, and her prayers were heard immediately. She declared that, by praying to those holy souls she obtained many favors which she had sought through the intercession of the saints without obtaining them. The graces which devout persons are said to have received through the holy souls are innumerable.

But, if we wish for the aid of their prayers, it is just, it is even a duty, to relieve them by our suffrages. I say it is even a duty; for Christian charity commands us to relieve our neighbors who stand in need of our assistance. But who among all our neighbors have so great need of our help as those holy prisoners? They are continually in that fire which torments more severely than any earthly fire. They are deprived of the sight of God, a torment far more excruciating than all other pains.

Let us reflect that among these suffering souls are parents, or brothers, or relatives and friends, who look to us for succor. Let us remember, moreover, that being in the condition of debtors for their sins, they cannot assist themselves. This thought should urge us forward to relieve them to the best of our ability. By assisting them we shall not only give great pleasure to God, but will acquire also great merit for ourselves.

And, in return for our suffrages, these blessed souls will not neglect to obtain for us many graces from God, but particularly the grace of eternal life. I hold for certain that a soul delivered from Purgatory by the suffrages of a Christian, when she enters paradise, will not fail to say to God: “Lord, do not suffer to be lost that person who has liberated me from the prison of Purgatory, and has brought me to the enjoyment of Thy glory sooner than I have deserved.

For all the answers on Purgatory (and on Indulgences) that you want to know, but are afraid to ask, click on the hotlinks you just passed over. You’ll be glad you did.

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Because of Opinion Polls (Not!)

The latest research numbers are out showing (once again) that the average Catholic in the pews in the United States, is morally sick, spiritually lame, and theologically lazy. How in the hell did I wind up surrounded by such a motley crew? How did I slip into this program? Why would I join this outfit?!

Well, I was called is all I can figure.

For forty years they wearied me, that generation. I said: their hearts are wandering, they do not know my paths. I swore in my anger: they will never enter my place of rest—(Psalm 95).

Swearing and anger? Uh-oh. And that’s God talking, through David. And no, this scripture reference wasn’t initially directed at the Vatican II generation, but does it kind of fit? Or doesn’t it fit every generation?

Dateline Palestine, the years 31—33 A.D. Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who answering said to them: An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. (Matthew 12:39)

and again later,

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. And he left them, and went away.(Matthew 16:4)

Why would I join this Church when seemingly the vast majority of the crew doesn’t believe in Her teachings? Because here’s a news flash for you: I’m not worried about the other crew members.

I’m not concerned with what they say or what they do. I definitely don’t care one iota for what the latest research out of Georgetown University (the institution that willingly covered up all evidence of their Catholicity when President Obama gave a speech there) has to say about Catholicism at all. I’m sure they mean well, but Mark Twain said everything I need to know about these kind of studies.

“They” say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Well, “they” shoot horses don’t they? How could I join such a Church? Because when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church, the sum is definitely greater than the parts. Squeaky wheels make a lot of noise, in the U.S. and elsewhere, but seemingly they don’t come to Confession to get oiled.

I didn’t convert to Catholicism because of my wife, or my next door neighbor, my best buddy, or because it is the most popular place to be seen on a Sunday in town. I became a Catholic because Truth hit me like a bolt out of the blue and knocked me on my kiester.

Hey Frank, how do you know it was Truth?

Because I had been running away from Truth pretty much my whole life, at least since I was old enough to leave home. Maybe you believe in your own infallibility. Maybe you believe the tall-tales you tell everyone about yourself. Maybe you believe you don’t need to go to Confession because you’re sinless. Maybe you don’t believe Christ is present in the Eucharist at all, because you are all grown up. Maybe that’s why you believe it is okay to abort babies too, and…

Frankly, I don’t care what you believe. I don’t care how unpopular, or popular, the Church is. And in case you haven’t noticed, the Church doesn’t care if you don’t like the Truth either.

I take that back—the Church does care! She cares so much that she won’t change the message just to make it more palatable to you. She cares so much that she is not going to sugar-coat the Truth for you. She cares so much that She leaves the evidence all over the place: here, and here, and here, and here, and in the Communion of the Saints. But She won’t be taking account of tracking polls, and if She starts, I am out of here (unless the Pope make an ex cathedra announcement)!

How does one answer the riddle of Catholicism? Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions today is that the laity doesn’t have to lift a finger in order to be saved. Maybe a lot of those in the pews think that this is their priests responsibility and not their own. My buddy John Wu hit this nail right on the head when he wrote,

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.

What did St. Paul have to say about this?

So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.—(Philippians 2:12-16)

Riddle me this: what other institution on the planet, either in the past, present, or future ever was formed for the sole purpose of saving souls? How many institutions give you so many avenues to salvation via the Sacraments, because Christ knows that you need them all? And though She won’t sugar-coat the Truth for you, She still forgives you like the most loving and merciful of mothers? Completely forgives you, in such a way that not only does it transform you, but you want to willingly change, because you know you need to. You know that you want to be a son or daughter of God, and that you need Grace to transform you, because you will never measure up to this standard on your own.

Reading surveys like these are as meaningful to me as the best places to retire surveys, or the most driver friendly states surveys. I’m not retiring anywhere, or moving anywhere based on these silly reasons anytime soon. And if I do have to move, I likely won’t be doing so because some survey tells me this place is heaven or that place is hell. That assumes some measure of control of my environment, a measure of control that I know I do not have.

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, known around these parts as “Big Terry.” She knew about horses too, because her horse threw her as she was crossing a river once. Soaked to the skin she looked up to heaven and said, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

Evidently, she was told to get back on her horse and ride. Maybe we should do that too.

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Because of Thoughts Like These by Blaise Pascal

—Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

About a month ago, Webster wrote a post about awaking from a long, bad, dream. Blaise Pascal woke me up from a long slumber. His was a shrill alarm too, much like the one on the clock by my nightstand right now. But unlike that one, Blaise’s alarm didn’t have a snooze button. That’s because I had been snoozing for most of my adult life.

Before I bumped into Blaise, I had been sleeping in my shoes, so to speak. My conscience tried to arose my soul from its slumber from time to time, but mainly my ego just kept hitting the snooze button, ten minutes at a time.

The ironic thing is that when I started reading Blaise, I did so with the intent to find evidence of the errors of Catholicism. That lasted for maybe 20 pages. This mathematical genius, who died at 39 years of age in 1662, had deep knowledge of scriptures as well as deep insights into the human condition. And yet, he could explain his thoughts simply and lucidly. In other words, he could tell it like it is.

The selection below is from Chapter XXI of his Thoughts On Religion. It is a long chapter, and the selection below is only the last quarter of it. But it should suffice to show you the decibel level of Blaise’s klaxon. Like my friend John C.H.Wu reported in his life story in Beyond East and West, up until this time I had thought that I was a clever man. After reading this, being by the grace of God in the right frame of mind, I realized that I had been merely sleep walking.

Blaise wrote this in the mid 1600′s, and yet it seemed as fresh as this mornings cup of coffee. And it had the same stimulative effect.

The Strange Contrarieties Discoverable in Human Nature, with regard to Truth and Happiness, and Many Other Things.

Isn’t this lead-in to the chapter provocative? Contrarieties. Now if that isn’t a word for Anu Garg, there aren’t any.

The civil war between reason and passion has occasioned two opposite projects, for the restoration of peace to mankind: The one, of those who were for renouncing their passions, and becoming gods; the other, of those who were for renouncing their reason, and becoming beasts. But neither the one nor the other could take effect. Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to disturb the repose of those who abandon themselves to their dominion: And the passions live, even in the hearts of those, who talk the most of their extirpation.

“Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions…” And Blaise is saying that this is the role fulfilled by Mother Church, as you will see shortly. That turns the world’s perception of the Church upside down, doesn’t it? Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they have a home. But what of standing on our own two feet?

This is the just account of what man can do, in respect to truth and happiness. We have an idea of truth, not to be effaced by all the wiles of the sceptic; we have an incapacity of argument, not to be rectified by all the power of the dogmatist. We wish for truth, and find nothing in ourselves but uncertainty. We seek after happiness, and find nothing but misery. We must needs desire both truth and happiness, yet we are incapable of both. This desire seems to have been left in us, partly as a punishment, and partly to remind us whence we are fallen.

For a brief period of time, I was a stock-broker. Blaise just described 95 percent of my clients. Which should come as no surprise, given the raw humanity of the markets in motion. Manic-depressive swings up and down, ad infinitum; a game that virtually no one has a definitive lock on. Which, again can be seen in war, politics, sports, etc., etc. So Blaise counters with these thoughts:

* If man was not made for God, why can he enjoy no happiness but in God? If man was made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

* Man is at a loss where to fix himself. He is unquestionably out of his way, and feels within himself the remains of a happy state which he cannot retrieve. He searches in every direction, with solicitude, but without success, encompassed with impenetrable darkness!

By the time I read this, I had come to realize this was true. The world had been grappling with this since the beginning of time, as Blaise explains with elegant simplicity here,

Hence arose the contest amongst the philosophers: some of whom endeavored to exalt man, by displaying his greatness; others to abase him, by representing his misery. And what seems more strange, is, that each party borrowed the arguments of the other, to establish their own opinion.

For the misery of man may be inferred from his greatness, and his greatness from his misery. Thus the one sect demonstrated his misery the more satisfactorily, in that they inferred it from his greatness; and the other the more clearly proved his greatness, because they deduced it from his misery. Whatever was offered by the one, to establish his greatness, served only to evince his misery, as alleged by the other; it being more miserable to have fallen from the greater height.

And the converse is equally true. So that in this endless circle of dispute, each helped to advance his adversary’s cause; for it is certain that the more men are enlightened, the more they will discover of human misery and human greatness. In a word, man knows himself to be miserable. He is, therefore miserable, because he knows himself to be so. But he is also eminently great, because he knows himself to be miserable.

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A judge of all things, and yet a worm of the earth; the depositary of the truth, and yet a medley of uncertainties; the glory and the scandal of the universe. If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and press him with his own inconsistencies, till he comprehends himself to be an incomprehensible monster.

Not a pretty picture, that. The preceding chapter had ended with the following thoughts,

Without Jesus Christ man is, of necessity, in vice and misery: With Jesus Christ man is released from vice and misery. In him is all our happiness, our virtue, our life, our light, our hope : Out of him there is naught but vice, misery, darkness, and despair; and we can discover naught but obscurity and confusion, whether in the divine nature, or in our own.

I couldn’t have agreed more, because deep down in my soul, I knew this to be true. And in the 28th chapter, Blaise told me emphatically where I needed to go in order to come into the light,

It is the Church, together with Jesus Christ, to whom She is inseparably united, which obtains the conversion of all those who are in error. And it is these converts, who subsequently aid their Mother, to whom they owe their deliverance.

The body can no more live without the head, than the head without the body. He that separates from the one, or the other, is no longer of the body, nor a member of Jesus Christ. All virtues, all mortification, all good works, and even martyrdom itself, are of no worth out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church.

Because Blaise knew what Our Lord meant we He said,

And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

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For Thoughts On Death by Robert Bellarmine

—Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine
Today we celebrate the feast of the saint whose portrait you see here. You can read all about his life elsewhere. What I’m interested in is what this Doctor of the Church has to say about death, and as a consequence, his thoughts on life.
I’ve shared Blaise Pascal’s thoughts on death before in this space. Yeah, Frank, we noticed and could you please talk about something else?! Sorry, but I just had a loved one pass away very recently, so death is on my mind. And who better than St. Robert Bellarmine to instruct us on this subject?

It turns out he was a great orator, someone whom Catholics, and Protestants flocked to hear speak. Truthfully, I know next to nothing about him except that he died on this day back in Annos Domini, 1621.I could spend a lifetime reading the works of the Doctors of the Church and still barely scratch the surface of the writings of all of those of the Church’s ranks  who are now at home in the Church Triumphant.

But lately, I’ve resolved that I will make an effort to familiarize myself with the writings of those who have gone before us and are in the Communion of the Saints. Especially on their feast day. As such, I invite you to tag along with me now and read the preface to one of St. Robert Bellarimine’s easier to find essays.

[Read more...]

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From the Treasure Chest: “Difficulties of Private Interpretation”

Alec Guinness (as Chesterton’s Fr. Brown) stands in for Fr. Bampfield

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a lengthy essay by Reverend George Bampfield entitled “Cannot.” Yesterday, I posted a little note on the Bible, and today Reverend Bampfield will help me explain something else that helped me decide to become a Catholic. I don’t know what Father George looks like so I have borrowed Sir Alec Guinness in the role of Chesterton’s Father Brown as a proxy.

The reason, or answer if you will, is right there in the title of this new Bampfield gem that I discovered today, by searching the YIM Catholic Bookself with the word “scripture.” I think you will enjoy what my friend Father George has to say on this matter. [Read more...]

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Because of Catholics like the “Chinese Chesterton”

Today I want to introduce you to another man from China named Wu, who also became a Catholic. His full name is Wu Jingxiong, or Wu Ching-hsiung. As he spent much of his life in Western countries, he did what many do and adopted an Anglicized form of his name: John Ching Hsiung Wu, or John C. H. Wu for short.

Earlier this year, before summer started, I happened upon the story of a Chinese painter and poet who became a Catholic, way back in the year of Our Lord 1681. His name is Wu Li and I wrote several posts about him, his art, and his poetry. He eventually became a Jesuit Priest and spent the remainder of his years serving Christ as a missionary to his native land.

It was an exciting discovery, for me anyway, to find a convert to Catholicism whose decision to become a Catholic made my own decision to join the Church look like a cake-walk. There I was,  thinking that my swimming the Tiber had been the biggest step that anyone could have ever possibly taken. But from a cultural perspective, living in a nation founded on Christian principles, it can’t begin to compare to the decision Wu Li made to become a Catholic. Unlike Wu Li, though, John is a modern convert to the Church, having been born in the year 1899 and passing on to eternity in 1986.

John had already made the leap to Christianity, as a Methodist, 20 years before he entered the Roman Catholic Church, so he was a bold pioneer who stepped aside from the norms of his own culture early on. Again, I’m humbled by stories of courageous, audacious actions of converts like these. See what the Holy Spirit can do? So how did he wind up becoming a Catholic? That’s where the story gets good.

But first, the biographical information that will help you understand my new friend better.  I am indebted to the work of Li Xiuqing, editor-in-chief of the Journal of East China University Political Science and Law for her paper on the college life of John, as well as to Nicholas Howson of the University of Michigan School of Law for translating it. Howson’s commentary appears in italics below.

John was born in 1899 in Ningbo, China, a little town south, and across the bay, from Shanghai. Details of his youth are lacking, but he wrote of them and when I get my hands on one of his books, I look forward to learning more. He studied and graduated from the Suhzou University Law School with an L.L.B in 1920, and then went on to obtain his J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1921. Yep, you read that correctly, one year later.  Because he was a “young man in a hurry,” see? I know the type. Howson writes the following,

John C. H. Wu is one of the giants of post-Imperial Chinese law, philosophy, education and religion, who visited at law schools and universities throughout the United States and Europe — including Paris (1921), Harvard (1923 and 1930) and Northwestern (1929). He engaged in a long correspondence with Justice Holmes between 1921 and 1935, founded “Tianhsia Monthly” (1935) as a bridge between Chinese and Western culture, and served as Vice Chairman of the KMT-era Legislative Yuan’s Constitutional Drafting Committee starting in the early 1930s. In fact, he is well-known in China and Taiwan as the principle drafter of the 1946 Chinese Constitution, largely based on his June 1933 draft constitution (still described in Chinese as the “Wu draft”).

Whaat?! Yes, he wrote a government’s constitution. Like Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Morris, et al., wrote the U.S. Constitution. And he corresponded with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well. He was getting pretty well known. Did I mention he later became Chief Justice of a district court in China too?

In January 1927, he was appointed by the Jiangsu Provincial Government to sit as a judge on the new “Shanghai Provisional Court”, a court with jurisdiction over all controversies in the Shanghai International Settlement, except those cases where the defendants were citizens of the Treaty nations. (As he exulted to Justice Holmes at that time, “I shall try to Holmesianize the Law of China!”) He was later promoted to Chief Justice and then President of the same Court.

Soon he tired of this position and left it to further hone and polish his legal expertise by heading to the United States for a few plum assignments.

He resigned from the Court in the Fall of 1929 to return to the United States as a Rosenthal Lecturer at Northwestern Law School (Winter 1929) and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School (Spring 1930). By the Fall of 1930 he had returned to Shanghai, where he practiced law until the Japanese invasion.

And from what I gather, he became a wealthy and very influential lawyer during that short time—and disenchanted, nay, with an empty feeling inside as a result. Surely there is more to life than this. It is time for a saint to intervene. More on that further on, but first, let’s round out his career.

After 1937 John Wu rediscovered his early Christian faith, only now as a Catholic and not a Methodist, and went on to an equally rich career as a Catholic intellectual and leader, translating the New Testament and the Psalms into Chinese, and serving as Chinese minister to the Vatican in 1947-8. (He later, in 1961, completed a still popular English translation of Laozi’s Taoist classic, the Tao Teh Ching (Classic of the Way).

He kept busy, huh? It’s humbling to me to think of translating a menu at a restaurant into English, but John translated the entire New Testament and the Psalms into Mandarin. Gulp! And my friend Jonathan Chaves informs me that his translation of the Tao Teh Ching is excellent. And he was the Chinese minister to the Vatican too? Sheeeeesh. What more can this guy possibly have accomplished? Well, there was revolution brewing back home, see. Surely that tripped him up.

In February 1949 he returned from Rome to Shanghai and was asked by the Guomindang Prime Minister Sun Fo (Sun Yat-sen’s son) and Acting President Li Chung-zen (Chiang Kai-shek having “retired” to his home of Ningbo, prior to his transfer to Taiwan) to be China’s Minister of Justice. The appointment was never formalized with the collapse of the Sun Fo cabinet, and in March 1949 – after a final, melancholy, interview with Chiang Kai-shek at their shared hometown Ningbo – John Wu departed China for the last time. After the 1949 Revolution, he was a long-time professor at the University of Hawaii and later still Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Wow. Have you seen the movie Field of Dreams? “Hey Rookie—you were good!” This guy was a secular superstar if there ever was one. And then he became a Catholic and, to use a baseball term, he kept hitting long balls over the fence. I mean, Mao Zedong came to power on the mainland and John left China and settled in the United States none the worse for wear. At least that’s how is seems. Of course there is probably more to the story, much more.

That’s enough for the particulars though, wouldn’t you say? Not quite, because there are a few more things to cover. According to Dr. Karl Schmude, of Campion College in Sydney, Australia, John was given the sobriquet “the Chinese Chesterton” by “a Chinese-Australian lady whom the Australian author and publisher Frank Sheed met in Sydney in 1944.” Sheed published one of John’s books about Catholicism entitled Beyond East and West and I can’t wait to read it.

John authored a number of books. As mentioned above, some were related to his cultural heritage, like his translation of the Tao. Others concerned his profession as a lawyer. After his conversion to Catholicism, his writing career flourished as a means to explain his conversion to others and as a way to explore the common ground between Confucianism and Catholicism. In fact, he wrote another book that I look forward to reading entitled From Confucianism to Catholicism.

Here is a list of his published works,

Jingxiong Wu, Juridical Essays and Studies

Some Unpublished Letters of Justice Holmes

The Art of Law and Other Essays Juridical and Literary

Essays in Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy

The Science of Love: A Study in the Teachings of Thérèse of Lisieux

Justice Holmes to Doctor Wu: An Intimate Correspondence 1921-1932

From Confucianism to Catholicism

Beyond East and West

The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love

Fountain of Justice: A Study in Natural Law

Justice Holmes: A New Estimate

Cases and Materials on Jurisprudence

Chinese Humanism and Christian Spirituality

Sun Yat-sen: The Man and His Ideas

The Four Seasons of T`ang Poetry

Zhongguo zhe hsuëh [Chinese philosophy]

The Golden Age of Zen

*Translations*

Jingxiong Wu, Tao Teh Ching

Not quite as prolific as Chesterton, you say? Sure, but John was a law professor for his day job, remember? That can take up a little bit of your time too. Anyway, I think I’ve covered the basics of what you need to know about my newest friend in the faith for one post. I’ll delve more into the particulars of John’s “rediscovery of his Christian faith,” and what led him to Rome, in a post tomorrow.

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