A native of Beijing, China, Wenxuan Yuan is a Ph.D. student in the University of Notre Dame’s department of theology. Ms. Yuan spent the first 23 years of her life in Beijing and became Catholic at age 14. She earned her bachelor’s degree in classics from Renmin University of China in 2013, a master’s degree from University of Notre Dame in 2015, and a master’s from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2017. Upon completing her studies, Ms. Yuan plans to pursue a career in academia.
Good evening, everyone. My name is Wen. I am from China, and am currently studying for my PhD in theology at the University of Notre Dame.
I was born to a family in China that was not Catholic, but when I was about five, I visited a Catholic Church and was struck by the beauty of it. In the courtyard of that church stood a blackboard with a bible verse from the book of Revelation: “Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One: I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!”
Of course, I did not fully understand the significance of these words, but I could not stop thinking about them, and I kept visiting that church again and again. When I was 14 years old, I eventually decided to become Catholic.
Since then, the Church truly has been a ‘home’ for me — but not always in a typical way. Why?
For me, one character of a home is the intimacy shared between the family members. But, since I was an extremely shy person, during my first four years in the Church, I never talked to any other Catholic, nor did I attend any events in my parish. Every Sunday I attended Mass quietly, watched people talking and laughing after Mass, but then spent most of my time reading spiritual writings in the parish bookstore. That was not what you typically do at home!
However, I would still call the Church ‘home’ — because I know that the intimacy between the people comes not from “after-Mass talk” but from the Communion in Christ to which I belong; I know that the beautiful spiritual writings in the bookstore were part of the Church’s living tradition, to which, again, I belong. Therefore, I saw the Church as a home from the very beginning — and I am grateful for all the grace I have received through Her.
For me, taking up the faith meant living a new life.
One of the most overwhelming truths I’ve learned from my life in the Church is that nothing falls out of God’s Providence. Inspired by the simplicity and purity of lives of the saints, I decided to be more careful with not only my deeds but only my thoughts.
Before, I would congratulate a classmate on doing well in an exam, but in my heart I might be super annoyed and would say,“why not me?!” But as a Catholic, I couldn’t play that game any more. I try to do everything out of love of God and of man. This is a tough battle, and probably a life-long one, but in fighting I find a freedom I never had before: For the first time, I have nothing to hide in my heart — both good intentions which God has granted me — and even wrong intentions, which I would simply admit to be wrong, and try again to fix. God has become my light, and therefore I am no longer afraid of the light.
My life in the Church has also changed my relationship with people. I learned that all people are created by God — in His image — and therefore deserve my love. I have to admit that sometimes I find difficult to see or ‘feel’ Christ in some people. However, God puts His own Love in me; that Love drives me to approach these ‘difficult’ people, and I actually have become friends with many of them!
It is such a transcendent experience to be driven by a Love that goes beyond my understanding! This also reminds me of the mystery that the Divine Artist can use any brush to paint his portrait on people’s hearts, even a little paintbrush like me!
You might have noticed that here I am quoting from St. Therese, who is my favorite saint. While reading her autobiography, I am always impressed by her practice of little hidden acts of virtue. For example:
— she folds the mantles forgotten by the sisters
— when it comes to daily necessities, she chooses the inconvenient ones for herself
— even once, when a sister kept making noise in the church, she struggled to bear it with patience and even tried to enjoy the sound as if it were music!
Unsurprisingly, the kind of problems St. Therese had to deal with turn out to be timeless. When I feel annoyed or offended, I always ask myself, what would St. Therese do with it? Then, I would remember her heroic battle of charity and self-sacrifice, which encourages me to do the same.
Another thing I learned from St. Therese, which I think is very relevant for the Church today, is the importance of praying for priests. I am blessed to have encountered some very holy priests in my life, who corrected faults, guided me through spiritual desolation, and who still keep me in their prayers!
Since it is hard to overstate how much a priest can do for a soul, I believe all faithful should try their best to support the priests’ works. St. Therese describes a beautiful vision of the church, in which priests preach by word and deed, and people like her shelf assist priests with prayers and sacrifices.
At this time and at these meetings — I think it is especially important for the faithful, especially young persons, to pray for the shepherds of our Church. Likewise, I encourage our shepherds — our priests and bishops — to help walk with us in our faith journeys. Affirm our desire to be holy by the witness of your lives! Encourage our holiness through your example! Let us grow in holiness — this journey back to the Lord — together!