Blason   Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval

21150 Flavigny-sur-Ozerain


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October 23, 2002
Our Lady of Holy Hope

Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

Europe's strength is found not in her armaments, nor in her knowledge—it is found in her religion... Observe the Christian faith. When you have grasped its heart and its strength, take them and give them to China.» These words from a Chinese diplomat, Shu King-Shen, to his disciple, Lu Zhengxiang, at the beginning of his career, would lead the latter to total consecration to Christ in monastic life, under the name of Dom Lu.

Lu Zhengxiang came into the world in Shanghai on June 12, 1871. His father, Lu Yong-Fong, belonged to a well-to-do family. In 1854, he married Ou Kin-Ling, and from their union was born a little girl, who soon died. It wasn't until seventeen years later that the home would have a second child, Zhengxiang. In giving birth to him, the mother contracted dropsy, which would take her away eight years later.

A step

Lu Yong-Fong, a religious and honest man, was a Protestant catechist. Every morning, on his way to work, he would distribute tracts as well as Bibles for the London Missionary Society. His son received baptism in this Protestant environment, where he tried out Christian charity for the first time. Protestantism was for him a step «without which,» he would later write, «I believe that I would not have been able to arrive at Catholicism. I retain profound gratitude for the kindness I received from these missionaries.» Indeed, the Christian communities separated from Rome, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, suffer from deficiencies, for they are deprived of the unity desired by Christ and do not possess the fullness of the means of salvation. Nevertheless, they «have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church» (Decree on Ecumenism, no. 3).

After having received private instruction in the Chinese classics, Lu Zhengxiang entered the School of Foreign Languages in Shanghai at the age of thirteen and a half. At this school he above all learned French. When he was 21, he entered a school for interpreters linked to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1893, he was sent as an interpreter to the Chinese Legation in Saint Petersburg, Russia. There he met a teacher who persuaded him to devote himself to a diplomatic career. This teacher, Shu King-Shen, was completely immersed in Confucian wisdom.

«Confucian doctrine,» wrote Dom Lu in 1945, «is essentially the traditional wisdom of the ancient kings who began the history of China, in the third millennium B.C. The documents of this wisdom were edited and published by Confucius in the sixth century B.C., and form our Chinese classics. China has lived and still lives by this philosophy and this teaching; the nation owes to it the harmony of its political spirit and of its government traditions, which are directly based on the principle of family life...» Confucius (551-479 B.C.) admitted the existence of God, the Supreme Being, and believed in Providence and in the immortality of the soul, although he remained completely silent on the destiny of the soul beyond the grave. He limited himself to giving his disciples practical rules of social and political morality. This is why, over the course of the centuries, Confucianism has split into numerous groups.

Filial piety

«We owe our parents,» Dom Lu continues, «everything which has enabled us, through God's creative act, to become and to be human persons, endowed with the ability to know, judge, and love, endowed with freedom. The first and most constant of our duties is therefore gratitude towards our parents. Through a provision of God's kindness, the entire Chinese race has known, practiced, and celebrated filial piety, from before the distant era in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob founded the people for whom, centuries later, Moses would become the law-giver, and from whom Jesus would be born... Among the commandments of God given by Moses, the first which concerns our duty towards others is precisely the precept of filial piety. The Hebrew law-giver attached to the fulfillment of this precept the promise of permanence on earth—the permanence of families, of society, of race.»

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that «[t]he fourth commandment ... shows us the order of charity. God has willed that, after Him, we should honor our parents to whom we owe life... We are obliged to honor and respect all those whom God, for our good, has vested with His authority» (CCC, 2197). Two reasons can motivate us to venerate someone: this person's excellence, and the benefits received from him or her. It is for this reason that we must revere God before all others, as He is infinitely perfect and a universal benefactor. Secondly, we must venerate our parents and those who hold legitimate authority over us. Then come the other members of our family and our society.

Filial piety is, above all, an inner feeling. Nevertheless, it carries exterior manifestations of respect and obedience which are the normal expressions of dependence. It likewise extends to one's «fatherland,» the very word coming from «father». The fatherland is a moral and civic community formed by men and women united by the same heritage of blood, land and culture. Much more than an instinct of putting down one's roots, patriotism is an attitude of intelligence and will, a commitment to the common patrimony, to keep, increase, transmit and defend it. Christian patriotism rejects exaggerated nationalism, which aims at making the national interest an absolute. The deification of the fatherland or of the state is a pagan theory. Healthy patriotism, on the contrary, is united with awareness of the universal solidarity of mankind, and is not to be confused with this false internationalism which denies all differences in the human community, and thus in the fatherland itself. Jesus Christ Himself had a fatherland (cf. Lk. 4:23-24).

Can one govern without God?

«My vocation was to be a politician,» Dom Lu confessed. «Chinese political philosophy posed a very deep question—could we govern man if we did not aim at studying the government of men as it is exercised, with admirable providence, by the Creator? Could we truly govern, if we did not aspire to assimilate God's supreme principles and methods of government, such that they might become our own, and that we ourselves might be the worthy representatives of the Creator's authority... You will say to me, 'This is religion!' I don't deny it. But I answer: 'This is politics!' And this is the only politics worthy of the name. This is superior politics, and true politics, which every man of government has the rigorous duty of state to begin learning, like a humble disciple.»

In Beijing at the beginning of the twentieth century, the power of the Manchurian dynasty was decaying as a result of favoritism and incompetence. Lu Zhengxiang's superior, Mr. Shu, wished for a rejuvenation of his country, in the spirit of the founders of Chinese civilization. Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, caught his respectful attention. He was struck by the existence of a worldwide spiritual government (the Papacy), which dates back to the Founder of the Christian faith. «Observe the customs of the most eminent officials from European countries,» he recommended to his disciple. «When the moment arises, be ready to replace the men in Beijing, to begin a new construction in China.» In Beijing, to which he had just been summoned as a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Shu was a victim of his own patriotic self-sacrifice. For having drawn the government's attention to the reforms to be undertaken immediately, he was accused, judged, and beheaded (1900), then, six months later, gloriously but uselessly rehabilitated, cleared of his «crime.» «What good does it do to serve such a bad government?» asked Mr. Lu... But, considering the moral necessity to remain faithful to his master's task, he wrote, «All hesitation before responsibility is retreat.»

«My bags are packed!»

Heaven then offered the young diplomat the comfort of a romantic interest. In Saint Petersburg, he made the acquaintance of Berthe Bovy, daughter and granddaughter of Belgian officers. She had received an excellent education from the Sisters of Providence, and she taught French in high Russian society. The two young people's liking grew to deep love, and led them to marriage. In Brussels, the Bovy family did not understand: «A Chinese man!» In the Chinese Legation, they understood even less: «You are ruining your career! If you follow through with your plans, you will not be able to remain in the Legation.»—«That's what I expected... My bags are packed.» But the Minister did not want to lose the services of this valuable associate.

Mr. Lu saw farther. He had met and chosen an insightful, French-speaking European woman, a Catholic of high moral values and perfect tact. She was not a citizen of a great Power, but of a small country, which was quite a different matter for a diplomat. The wedding took place in Saint Petersburg in February 1899. The couple enjoyed perfect marital harmony, but, to their great disappointment, God did not give them a child. In the comforting environment of his home, Mr. Lu reflected on that which constitutes Europe's strength, its Christian faith: «From the point of view of the man of action in search of good,» he wrote, «I have observed and considered the Holy Church, having for my rule a principle that Jesus Christ Himself gave us: by its fruits may you judge the tree (cf. Mt. 7:20).... I have recognized the quite clear superiority of the Holy Roman Church, which retains a living treasure—the spiritual life which flows from Jesus Christ on the Cross, a life manifested and distributed to the faithful through the channel of the seven sacraments... The Mass and the sacraments alone command observation, reflection, and respect...

«How has Christianity, which has grown in the Western world and has penetrated it to the point of being an integral part of it, succeeded in attracting a man from the Far East?... The unity, the universality, the disinterested ambition of the Catholic Church find their mainspring in the origin of this institution. I would like to say to my fellow countrymen: read the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles. Read the history of the persecutions of the first centuries of the Church and the Acts of the martyrs. Take all the pages of the history of the Church. You will conclude that it is an utterly superior and unique social development. Perhaps then you will ask yourself the question, 'Has the Creator revealed Himself?'... How civil authority must do everything in its power to see that such a fruitful institution may flourish in the heart of nations!»

These reflections by Mr. Lu are in harmony with the recent words of Pope John Paul II: «My greatest concern for Europe is that she retain her Christian legacy and make it fruitful... The Old World needs Jesus Christ so as not to lose its soul, so as not to lose that which made it great in the past and which, in itself, arouses the admiration of other peoples even today. Indeed, it is by virtue of the Christian message that the great human values of the dignity and inviolability of the individual are affirmed in consciences, as well as those of freedom of conscience, the dignity of work and of those who perform it, the right of each person to a dignified and sure life, and thus participation in the earth's possessions, which God has destined to be shared among all men» (February 23, 2002).

The influence of example

At the beginning of 1911, Mr. Lu confided to his wife: «I promised that our children would be Catholic. Since we don't have any children, what would you say if I became Catholic?» Berthe was delighted. On October 25, 1911, Father Lagrange, who had blessed their marriage twelve years earlier, officially received the diplomat's profession of the Catholic faith. «My wife never raised the question of religion with me. It was enough for her to be what she was—a true Christian. This discretion brought me to want to join the Catholic Church even more, the doors of which I would have forbidden myself to enter had she pushed me there.»

At the same time in China, the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen progressed quickly. At the beginning of 1912, following personal intervention by Mr. Lu, the Emperor abdicated. The provisional Parliament offered the diplomat the portfolio of the Foreign Ministry. This date marked the beginning of an eight-year period in Beijing, during which he exercised the greatest responsibilities, even that of Prime Minister. He took advantage of this situation to establish official diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See.

«Become a disciple...»

In December 1920, Mr. Lu retired for good from the political scene. Two years later, his wife's health necessitated his return to Europe. They moved to Locarno, in Switzerland, where Mrs. Lu was shortly thereafter stricken with congestion. Quite soon it became evident that the illness would be long and without hope of recovery. While caring for his wife, Mr. Lu remembered the suggestion that Minister Shu King-Shen had made to him thirty years before: «When you have finished your career, choose the oldest society among those in which is found the Church you will have joined. If you can, enter it; become a disciple and observe the interior life which must be its secret...»

Mr. Lu tried to make his wife understand the fatal nature of her illness. At this time appeared Elisabeth Leseur's Diary and Daily Thoughts, published by Father Leseur, her husband, who, after his wife's death, had become a Dominican. Mr. and Mrs. Lu read it out aloud to each other. «For fun, I sometimes gave my dear invalid the name 'Elisabeth': 'You are a true imitator of Elisabeth Leseur... I don't know if I could become a Father Leseur someday...' She smiled: 'Why not? With divine grace and your willingness!...' After sharing these confidences, both of us yielded to the vocation that God had clearly assigned us.» Mrs. Lu died on April 16, 1926.

Having confided his desire to his wife's confessor, Mr. Lu received from him direction towards the life of a regular Benedictine Oblate. A Regular Oblate participates in every aspect of community life, but is not bound by monastic vows. Mr. Lu went to Saint-André Abbey in Bruges, Belgium, where the Abbot advised him to become a full monk and then to go on to the priesthood. Thus, on October 4, 1927, he donned the Benedictine habit under the name of Brother Pierre-Célestin. In 1932, he made his solemn profession, but feeling weary, he believed, with his Abbot's permission, that he should forgo the long years of study necessary to enter the priesthood. Nevertheless, on May 3, 1933, one of his friends came from Shanghai to offer him a chalice, a gift from twenty of his former colleagues from the Chinese diplomatic corps, all non-Christians. «But, I've given up on becoming a priest!»—«We will be very disappointed,» his friend replied. Discerning the hand of God in this step, he began his studies, not for him, but for the Church and his country. On June 29, 1935, he received priestly ordination.

However, the thought of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every day terrified him: «For me to dare approach the Almighty every day!... It'll kill me...» But, after an illness that made him think, Dom Lu made this confession: «Our Father Saint Benedict says in the Rule that God is a Master and that He is a Father. I have remembered that He is a Master; I forgot that He is our Father. During this illness, the Lord deigned to enlighten me. Since I am offering the Mass to God our Father, I will not be afraid of celebrating it anymore!» Indeed, Saint Benedict says, quoting Saint Paul, that the monks should remember that they have received the spirit of adoption of children, by which we cry out, Abba, meaning Father! (Rm. 8:15; cf. Rule, ch. 2).

Mr. Lu had entered a Benedictine monastery in Belgium, his wife's fatherland, with the goal of opening up a new avenue to his people, linking them to the Church founded by the Son of God made man. The particular importance of his career and vocation encouraged Pope Pius XII to confer upon him, on May 19, 1946, the title of honorary abbot. This elevation was the sign of a more intense apostolate. For Dom Lu, the East suffered because it had in large part not yet known the Messiah. The West suffered because, having known Him, many had strayed from Him. «The problem of international relations is not, first and foremost, one of political order—it is, above all else, one of intellectual and moral character,» he wrote. «At its base, this problem is that of links and separations that the relationships or differences between civilizations establish between men.» This is why he pleaded for works promoting encounters between Christian and Chinese culture.

The meeting of East and West

At the time of his priestly ordination, his friends who were Chinese diplomats addressed this tribute to him: «Mr. Lu knows the Chinese way of life, and now, he is becoming a priest in the West. He will bring about in himself the fusion of the East and the West in the moral realm. He will prove that in the West, no more than in China, material civilization does not have precedence over spiritual civilization. And thus will he also work to spread justice and peace in his country.» This message agrees with the words of the Holy Father in Poland, June 3, 1997: «There will be no European unity until it is based on unity of the spirit... The foundations of the identity of Europe are built on Christianity. And its present lack of spiritual unity arises principally from the crisis of this Christian self-awareness... For without Christ it is impossible to build lasting unity... How can a 'common house' for all of Europe be built, if it is not built with the bricks of men's consciences, baked in the fire of the Gospel, united by the bond of a fraternal social love, the fruit of the love of God?» (Address for the Thousandth Anniversary of the Death of St Adalbert).

At the end of 1948, serious illness brought Dom Lu to the point of death. Shortly before his passing, he said, «Only a few hours more... to see Our Lord! To see Our Lord! What happiness!» His confessor suggested to him, «This is the hour to offer your suffering with Jesus on the Cross.» He nodded his assent, the last expression of his thoughts before a long agony. On January 15, 1949, at 11:50 A.M., the day and hour of the twentieth anniversary of his religious profession, he breathed his last, at the age of 78. But for those who love God, death does not exist—it is nothing more than a passage from life on earth to eternal life.

In his posthumous book, The Encounter Between the Humanities and the Discovery of the Gospel, which he left merely hand-typed, can be read this passage, where the filial piety dear to Confucius finds itself greatly elevated by the eyes of faith: «At the hour of His final agony, Jesus' strength of soul was magnanimously revealed in His filial piety towards His Father and also for the Virgin Who had carried Him in Her Womb and Whose Child He had remained. The testament through which He entrusted His Mother to the disciple whom He loved is a testament of filial piety. Can Mary not regard as Her children all those who are regenerated in the blood of Her Son?»

May Our Lady grant us too the grace of a filial attitude towards Our Father in Heaven! This attitude is manifested in a proper reverence for elders and superiors, and is the source of divine blessings, according to God's promise to Moses: Honor your father and your mother... that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you (Dt. 5:16).

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

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