A prominent figure within the Chinese Catholic Church
once wrote in one of his books that "seeking to survive within a crevice" is a kind of wisdom for the Chinese Catholic Church to deal with officially atheist China.
Moreover, amid all the commotion caused by recent rumors of an imminent Sino-Vatican agreement
on the appointment of bishops, some figures on the Chinese mainland and overseas who favor such a deal have used the metaphor of living inside an ever-shrinking birdcage.
At present, every bishop recognized by Beijing must belong to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association
, which is at odds with the underground Catholic Church. The Vatican is now in talks with the government of President Xi Jinping on some appointments, which pundits say could eventually lead to Rome officially recognizing seven illicitly ordained bishops aligned with Beijing. The use of analogies and metaphors like "in a crevice" or "birdcage" remind me of the story about a house owner who raised a dog in the gap between two walls. Over time, the dog was only able to wag its tail up and down whenever it heard its master approach. Later, even though the dog was given more space to move about, it was still only able to wag its tail up and down. When it noticed other dogs swinging their tails from left to right, it considered this behavior abnormal. While this may sound a bit far-fetched, consider the real-life anecdote of my elder sister's dog.
Thank you. You are now
signed up to our Daily Full
She raised the animal on the roof of her home, a shelter the dog soon became accustomed to. Then one day it vanished and never came home again, and my sister was never able to figure out exactly how or why. Or how about this one? Some time ago, a short video clip was doing the rounds on the popular messaging app WeChat. It showed a chick that had been raised by a mother duck, and had learned to walk and act exactly like a duck instead of a chicken — much to everyone's amazement. Now let us return to the topic at hand, and see how these anecdotes relate to Catholicism in China, where many believers may feel as though they are trapped in a crevice given the state's tightening restrictions on religion. When something becomes habitual over a long period, for example when you get used to living by the rules within a "crevice," with very little if any freedom afforded to you, then you may naturally start to view the kind of freedom you can see outside the crevice as being strange and abnormal. Habits are important. Good ones often lead to self-growth and new achievements, while bad habits can draw people into the abyss of depravity and sin. If you are accustomed to making friends with the rich and powerful you are likely to become afflicted by the arrogance of officialdom and the tendency to resort to flattery and that kind of behavior, and not dare to speak up for justice or show people the truth of what you believe. On the other hand, if you keep your head down, stare at your phone all day and refuse to take a firm position on matters, you may find yourself drowning in a sea of information that merely wastes your time and worsens your eyesight. When somebody gets stuck in a rut or accustomed to a daily routine, it can be hard to accept change and start speaking about the subject of faith. China is currently in the throes of a political conspiracy that wants to change the meaning of Catholicism. The state often uses coercive means to normalize "abnormal" beliefs, which over time begin to feel like the way things should and have always been. The inevitable result is that you get used to it and feel like you are walking along the right path, even though you may be headed for a spiritual precipice. At all times it's important to stay vigilant against the sinister intentions of the ruling power. Going back to the reality of the Chinese Catholic Church today, pro-government voices who favor the principle of "seeking to survive within a crevice" often find themselves trapped between two "walls." One wall is the truth of the Catholic faith and the church's Code of Canon Law, while the other is the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its policies regarding religion. When they remain "opposite" one another, those stuck in-between must do what they can to survive. Such a reality tends to favor opportunists, who either flatter both sides to survive or cave to the stronger force. In such a situation it can be hard for people to maintain the integrity of their faith. On the flip side, it is easy to lose the courage to testify on behalf of the Lord, to lose the spirit of daring, and to make sacrifices at the expense of the truth. Chinese who support the government but also want to see it strike a deal with the Vatican are starting to live under the delusion that they can earn the keys to both the secular world and the Kingdom of Heaven, which is like trying to reach the summit of faith without passing the cross! In China, the church and the government must show mutual respect and cooperation to build a strong society together. The church the is supposed to save souls from sin, damnation and the eternal suffering of hell while the government should help people with their material needs and protect their human dignity. Under this arrangement, the church should be driving people away from sin and toward law-abiding behavior to help strengthen the fabric of society. But the government must do more than just feed and clothe its people. It must guarantee their basic human rights and freedoms — especially religious freedom — so they can keep pursuing their spiritual growth. If China can foster such a relationship between the church and the state, it would bring great benefits to the well-being of the Chinese people as a whole. As Chinese Catholics pray for this day to come, we can but seek God's grace and hope that He allows it to happen soon. Peter Lui is a journalist in China who writes about Catholic affairs.