For Thoughts On Being a Christian by the “Chinese Chesterton”

For Thoughts On Being a Christian by the “Chinese Chesterton” August 31, 2011

All wisdom is from the Lord God, and hath been always with him, and is before all time. —Sirach 1:1

I came across the following thoughts in my friend John C.H. Wu’s book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. Author Frank Sheed called John, a Benedictine Oblate, “the Chinese Chesterton.” The following selection may help you understand why.

I have shared John’s conversion story here before.

What I enjoy about his writing is that he synthesizes the thoughts of many great Christian and Catholic saints, from both scriptural sources as well as from their own written works, with those of other writers from Chinese tradition. Lao Tzu, and Confucius, for example.

John, see, agrees with these thoughts penned by Jacques Maritain, who reminds us that,

All truth belongs of right to Christian thought, as the spoils of the Egyptians to the Hebrews. “Whatever has been well said anywhere belongs to us who are Christians” — because according to that saying of St. Ambrose, which St. Thomas (Aquinas) delighted to quote, “every truth, whoever said it, comes from the Holy Spirit.”

And of St. Paul, who inspired by the Holy Spirit writes,

I became all things to all, to save at least some (1 Corinthians 9:22).

John was an accomplished lawyer and had served as a judge too. So when it comes to the subject of justice, he has a practical leg to stand on. Here are his thoughts, and the thoughts of others, on how mercy is actually justice fulfilled,

from Chapter Five: The Practice of Fraternal Charity,
Mercy as the Fulfillment of Justice

When one realizes the great mission of a Christian, one’s heart cannot help leaping for joy and awe. To be a Christian is to be another Christ, and to be another Christ is to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to give sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, and to announce the acceptable year of the Lord.

When I think of the saints, I am often reminded of the following verses of Psalm 83:

Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee,
When he has pilgrimages in his heart.
Passing across a parched valley, they shall make
it a source of wells.
And the first rain shall clothe it with blessings.
They shall go from strength to strength:
They shall see the God of gods in Sion.

Like another Christ, they pass through life doing good.

Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity uttered this prayer: “May I be another humanity added to His own!” I think it is not far from the truth to say that this has been the wish of all the saints throughout the ages, and their lives have been marvelous fulfillments of this single wish.

But this does not mean that their wish has been fulfilled by dint of their efforts alone; the grace of God has aided them. God had mercy on them for their mercifulness to others, and this is why their mercifulness has blossomed forth into such splendid flowers and borne such rich fruits.

Even in this life, only the saints are happy, because they alone have found the home for their souls during their very pilgrimage. The more they love others, the more they are loved by God. They alone enjoy the life of prayer which is “a bath of love into which the soul plunges,” as St. John Vianney of Ars puts it. “God holds the interior soul as a mother holds the the head of her child in her hand to cover it with kisses and caresses.”

Although externally they may suffer all kinds of hardships and afflictions, internally they are being renewed every day. I can never forget this supremely beautiful expression: “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they pour into your lap.” But who are “they?” Not human beings, but the Holy Trinity! The source of their blessings is inexhaustible. This is why it can truly be said of the saints that,

The more they live for others,
the more they have;
The more they give,
the more they receive
(Lao Tse, 81)

There is a great deal of wisdom in the proverb: “To give to the poor is to lend to God.” In fact, Christ has expressly indentified Himself with each and every one of our neighbors, so that to serve our neighbor is, not figuratively but actually, to serve Christ Himself. In the remarkable words of St. John Chrysostom, every neighbor of ours is a living altar of Christ,

This altar you can see everywhere, in the streets and in the market-place, and at any hour you may offer sacrifice thereon; for it too is a place of sacrifice.

To him,

the stone altar is august because of the Victim that rests upon it; but the altar of almsgiving is more so because it is made of this very Victim. The former is august because, though made of stone, it is sanctified by contact with the body of Christ; the latter, because it is the body of Christ.

A similar idea is expressed in the Chinese proverb, “it is better to be kind at home than to burn incense in a distant temple.” In the Buddhist classic, The Dhammapada, I have found an aphorism which it is well for us to take to heart,

The thoughtless man, even if he can recite a large portion of the law, but is not a doer of it, has no share in the priesthood, but is like a cowherd counting the cows of others.

The subtle and organic relations between love of God and love of our neighbor have been brought out in The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, is which God is reported as saying to the saint,

I require that you should love Me with the same love with which I love you. This indeed you cannot do, because I loved you without being loved. All the love you have for Me you owe to Me, so that it is not of grace that you love Me, but because you ought to do so. While I love you with grace, and not because I owe you My love.

Therefore, to Me, in person, you cannot repay the love which I require of you, and I have placed you in the midst of your fellows, that you may do to them that which you cannot do to Me, that is to say, that you may love your neighbor as of free grace, without expecting any return from him, and what you do to him, I count as done to Me, which My Truth showed forth when He said to Paul, My persecutor, “Saul, Saul why persecutest thou Me?” This He said, judging that Paul persecuted Him in His faithful.

This is one of the highest flights in the firmament of Christian mysticism. The lesson is clearly brought home to us. That to be just to God, we must be merciful to men. Our fraternal charity is the fulfillment of our filial piety towards God. When a mother sees her children quarrel with one another, what is more natural than for her to say, “My dear children, if you love me, don’t quarrel like this, for it rends my heart to see you hate each other.”

Now the heart of God is more merciful than the heart of a mother. Did He not say through Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet not will I forget thee (Isaiah 49.15). How indispensible the practice of fraternal charity is to the attainment of union with the will of God.

This is clearly brought out by St. Teresa of Avila in her treatment of the Fifth Mansions, which seem to me to correspond to the Beatitude of mercifulness. She says,

When I see people very diligently trying to discover what kind of prayer they are experiencing and so completely wrapped up in their prayers that they seem afraid to stir, or to indulge in a moment’s thought, lest they should lose the slightest degree of the tenderness and devotion which they have been feeling, I realize how little they understand of the road to attainment of union. They think the whole thing consists in this.

But no, sisters, no; what the Lord desires is works. If you see a sick woman to whom you can give some help, never be affected by the fear that your devotion will suffer, but take pity on her. If she is in pain, you should feel pain too. If necessary, fast so that she may have your food, not so much for her sake as because you know it to be your Lord’s will.

This is true union with His will. Again, if you hear someone being highly praised, be much more pleased than if they were praising you; this is really easy if you have humility, for in that case you will be sorry to hear yourself praised.

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