You may remember my friend named Wu Li, SJ. I introduced him to you in a post a few years back.Wu died as a Jesuit priest in Macau in 1718.
There is something about departed Catholics and me. I’m like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, or something. Except I don’t really see dead people. But I make friends with them so maybe they might be saints.
You see, this isn’t the first time I’ve been befriended by a Catholic who is no longer with us. The first time it happened, it was my buddy Blaise Pascal shaking me awake. Once he got my attention, he was like Mariano Rivera and his splitter. Like Mariano, he has only one pitch, but it is unhittable. So I stopped trying to beat him, and figured I would just run away. But Blaise wouldn’t allow it.
I thought I was running away, but it turned out that Blaise had just shoved me toward the next long-departed Catholic that I would call friend: Thomas à Kempis. After I got to know Thomas, I realized quickly resistance was futile. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And I was all for joining them because we all had the same thing in common: a deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ. He is who He claims to be: the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Then I met Thomas Merton, and I couldn’t get to the Army of the Lord’s recruiting office fast enough.
Since I became a Catholic, I have been meeting great people left and right. Some are here on the planet with us, some are not. But many of them are alive with the love of Our Lord and Our God. And all of them are alive to me.
Which brings me back to my friend, Wu Li. I wasn’t looking for any more friends, thank you very much. But, like when I was in the Marines, sometimes you make a friend from “out of nowhere.” A person who, back in the civilian world you might not have even given the time of day to.
That must have been how Wu felt about me. For some strange reason that I cannot comprehend, this genius of a painter and poet befriended little ol’ me. And I count myself blessed as a result of his kindness. And he wants you to know him too because, ultimately, his conversion to Catholic Christianity proves the veracity of the Way. Wu is saying, “If you think it feels good to be my friend, surely being called ‘friend’ by Christ is even more amazing!” And, I think I can speak for Wu, this is the realization of the depth of love that God has for us; that He became one of us and as such provided the path to allow every one of us to become like Him.
That fact of our faith is enough to leave me speechless and awestruck. I suspect it had the same effect on Wu. After hearing of the Heavenly Learning from the Jesuits who shared it with him, I imagine he sat down on a rock to ponder it all. And as he thought about it, he remembered his near-misses with Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. He pondered how all of those where good in some ways, but still lacking in others. So at 49 years of age, he came to believe that the Way was what these others weren’t–he came to believe that the Way, the Truth and the Life were the real McCoy.
Much later, long after the honeymoon period of his conversion was over, he sat down somewhere and wrote these lines. With these few words, Wu speaks volumes.
Human life, disorderly!
Men grieve at poverty, low station,
not that they lack the Way!
So hurried, the parting of death;
it waits not for teeth loosening,
head turning completely bald.
Branching out chaotically,
detours lead astray;
men stay confused so long, not just
because of hair turned frost.
Confucian scholars too quite often
fall into this trap,
and yet they mock the Heavenly Learning
for deficiency in right reason.
They only seem like wandering sheep
who’ve lost the road back home;
one never sees them find the Way
by following repentance.
Time is running out —it flies faster than an arrow;
no matter whether short or long,
there’s no escaping death.
If you do not accord a hairbreadth
with what is transcendent by nature
when your coffin is covered over
your sin will go on forever!
Today, for whom am I ringing my bell
from one village to the next?
Ten years I’ve been stumbling along,
tirelessly in motion.
How can I get a thousand hamlets, ten thousand villages,
all to turn themselves towards the Way,
to gain new life from death?
That is the question, isn’t it? Like many Christians before him, and many after, Wu Li just kept spreading the Good News.
He just kept working to save souls because he had found the Truth and wanted to share Him with others.
And so must I.