Journey HomeReading Time: 20 min - Published: Sep 23, 2017
This is the story about my journey home.
I hope that as I share what I have learned and experienced, I do not wave an air of superiority. As most things in life, I never would have imagined myself being in this position. Becoming Catholic was not the plan I had for myself, but it is where I have found myself in the pursuit of being with Jesus. The reason for sharing my story is 1) to give glory to God, and 2) to give an honest account about why I am where I am. This, above all, is a story about how Jesus has met me; and in His infinite love & grace, He has given me a home in the Catholic Church.
The beginning does not start at my own existence, but that of my parents. I am a 2nd generation follower of Jesus, as well as a second generation Taiwanese immigrant to America. My parents encountered Christ and became “born-again” Christians after they immigrated to the States. Their faith was formed and informed by those who planted churches for the Chinese Diaspora across the Midwest — mainly the Southern Baptist Convention. I was born into this environment: newly Christian parents navigating parenting, following Jesus, all in the midst of a Southwest Ohio context as non-White immigrants.
One of my great childhood moments that has been related to me was my preschool self, running around the playground asking fellow peers if they were Christian or “Kettering”1 (I couldn’t even pronounce Catholic correctly!). How a young child can draw such a distinction I do not know, but I did. And from elementary school to high school, I was fully submersed in a Protestant/Baptist/Evangelical/slightly Fundamentalist/Left Behind sensationalist world (and it was mostly White of course). I couldn’t name anyone who taught me this explicitly, but I could toe the party line: “Catholics believe a lot of wrong things, but it is possible for Catholics to be saved” and “most Catholics are ritualistic and nominal and don’t really have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
But in this all, my own hypocrisy did not hit me until when I turned 16. Despite being a poster boy at my Christian schools, I knew how to play the game. I could memorize Bible verses, sing harmony to worship songs, even organize my friends to pray and evangelize in online video games. I did not have a true personal relationship with Jesus. I lived a double life. Now, to be clear, I do not blame others for this — it is merely an observation. And it is too small to only write a sentence on how many tears and prayers that my mother shed for me. It was at this time in my life that the Lord gave me the opportunity to befriend three amazing young women: Abigail, Lydia, and Rachel.2
These friends loved Jesus. Like, seriously, loved Him. They skipped lunch to pray. They wanted to spend time in Scripture. I didn’t actually think that anyone my age actually wanted to pursue Jesus like they did. And (in hindsight, key to my story) they also came from Catholic and Reformed Episcopalian traditions. I was so attracted to their faith. I was also so confused — despite such liturgical backgrounds, their faith was more living than the Pentecostal kids! Yet through their faith and encouragement, I began a journey to not simply inherit a deposit of faith, but to pursue and invest in relationship with Christ.
I read the Gospel of Luke with my own eyes, with fresh eyes, with the question, “who is this Jesus that I say I follow?” Safe to say, I was blown away. The Jesus of the Holy Scriptures did not seem like the Jesus that I knew or had grown up with. This Jesus was a radical, world-changing revolutionary; the other Jesus was a Savior with a vision of Manifest Destiny. It opened up my eyes for my assumptions of following Jesus to be challenged. Following Jesus wasn’t about being American, or having a magic genie to give me what I wanted, or for “fire” insurance, but to be in relationship with Him.
Cairo : Kairos
In 2013, I had the opportunity to go to Cairo with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship with the Global Urban Trek, which is a summer program that embeds students to live and learn among the urban poor in a non-American context. This was a tumultuous time in Egypt as the Second Revolution was underway which led to ex-President Morsi being put under house arrest with a military coup. It turned out that this time was extremely tumultuous for me as well, upending my worldview.
While in Cairo, our team lived among Coptic Christians in a garbage village. The dynamic of the team led to some deep and challenging conversations around faith. The dynamic of the faith of our hosts also did the same. The Coptic Church is a part of the family of Oriental Orthodox churches which branched off from the other churches in 451 AD over the Council of Chalcedon. I was struck by two pieces: that they seemed so “Catholic” and that they seemed so “Charismatic.”
One activity we participated in was taking severely mentally and physically handicapped youth to a Liturgy (the service of Eucharist). There was lots of chanting and lots of incense. I sat next to a young man named Samaan. He was barely responsive to human communication, he could not feed himself, he could not use the restroom on his own. I asked God two questions: “How does he experience You? What does it look like for Him to be faithful?”
It was during this time that an outpouring of the Holy Spirit came upon our team. Jasmin, one of our staff and a gifted woman of God, was the conduit. Naturally, the spiritual fervor increased. But then, so did our faith. The Holy Spirit was real and alive and working. Having grown up in a (functionally) Cessationist environment, everything began to be flipped on its head. I was surrounded by prayer in tongues which I had put away as dangerous and even Satanic. I saw a Coptic priest cast out a demon and simply walk away without viewing the fruit, as if the expectation was that God was at work.
The trip came to an abrupt end as we were whisked back to the States due to safety concerns. Immediately on our return, American news blew up in our faces — George Zimmerman had been found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Many of my teammates, including those who were African American, displayed anger and grief that I did not understand. Growing up, I had been quite disconnected with any African Americans. I did not count any among my friends and any thoughts or opinions of them were formed by my predominantly White, Republican, Evangelical upbringing.
I remember one conversation I had with a teammate. I fixated on the “Stand Your Ground” laws, and that George Zimmerman was technically not guilty because of it. I talked about Trayvon like he was simply some pawn in a hopeless game of life. “It was unfortunate that he died. Maybe he should have been more careful. Maybe some laws should be changed. But the past is the past, why shouldn’t we all just move forward? This would have happened no matter what Trayvon’s race was.”
A staff worker asked us to place ourselves in the shoes of Trayvon. Through the Holy Spirit, I did. And I began to feel the fear of some unknown person following me. And then I saw him as the face of my friends — some headline about them being shot for defending themselves against an aggressive stranger. I saw my racism staring back at me; I broke down in sorrow and repentance. How often had I ignored the pleas of black brothers and sisters simply to feel justified about myself? How often had I trampled over grief with a desire for facts? I wasn’t sure where to begin, or how to do it, but I knew that I needed to listen, to learn, and to act. I knew that I needed to affirm and see with the eyes of the Creator how beautiful and valuable the lives of black people are.
There are those moments in life that we reflect upon and recognize have drastically altered the course of our life. Going on the Trek was a Kairos moment; it was an “appointed time in the purpose of God” for my life.
After graduating from college, the aftereffects of Cairo began to unfold. I wrestled with my faith, ethnicity, and church community with what it meant for me to live faithfully to Christ. I decided to be a part of a non-denominational multiethnic fellowship that operated out of a Chinese church, but I felt a tension in my spirit.
I love liturgy. It nourishes my soul, it reminds me of what is important. I have used this analogy — if following Christ is indeed a relationship, then I may not always feel like loving Him, but I know that I want to. Liturgy helps my heart catch up to my mind. It helps me stay rooted in the reality that I desire to grow closer to Christ.
I had different opportunities to visit Anglican churches, and quickly fell in love with the rhythm of worship.3 I referred to myself as a ‘Closet Anglican’ as I also felt that I should not just leave my current church. As time went on, I felt more and more restless — I knew my days were numbered in a nondenominational church.
I cannot explain exactly how I came to believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I do. It is experiential and filled with faith. It was, as most things, a journey and process. I started with having no real notions of Communion, other than only baptized believers should receive it and Jesus said we should do it. Then I began to believe that it was possible that Communion was more than symbolic. Then, as I visited various Anglican churches, I began to feel this spiritual thirst and hunger for the Body and Blood of Christ that I could not explain. Two final experiences were formative for my faith.
I was encouraged by my former InterVarsity supervisor, Sriram, to visit Eucharistic Adoration. This is the practice of sitting before the Eucharistic Host in contemplation and prayer — it is sitting before Jesus and adoring and worshipping Him. My friend Corina guided me into my first time participating. Sitting in the pew, then kneeling, I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to think. But I prayed and I reflected: “what does it mean if Jesus here, present in the Eucharist?” My tears (how often the Lord teaches me in this way!) flowed as I realized that although I went to adore Christ, He in fact was adoring me. He was loving me.
Sometime after this, in meditation and prayer, I realized the answer to my Question in Cairo: Samaan experienced Christ through the Eucharist. In the breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine, there is common across human experience that is exercised, regardless of mental or physical capability. “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matt 4:4). Indeed, and Jesus is surely the Bread of Life for which we pray to the Father:
Give us this day our daily bread.
A parallel journey following Cairo was around my understanding of chastity. The Kairos moment of being filled with the Holy Spirit was also a deep moment of confession and cleansing by the Lord. Freedom was sweet. However, like so many who have lived in a prison for too long, I also became a recidivist. My inability to practice freedom and my unwillingness to call my sin what it was derailed me from walking faithfully after the Lord. In my stumbling, I caused others to stumble. In my failing, I fell back to the default of a double life I knew all too well. I was not a man of integrity as I lived without true repentance and accountability.
Coming to the understanding and realization of my sexual addiction meant that I could not, cannot, live a “normal” life. Maybe in the distribution of all men, most could watch certain things, participate in certain activities, think certain thoughts — this didn’t mean that I had any right or privilege to the same. Learning to walk and live in freedom was (and is) a war, with the Holy Spirit guiding me one step at a time. But what did it mean for me to walk in freedom from sexual addiction?
The definition of being sober given by support groups was to “only have sex within the covenant of marriage.” But I felt a tension as my upbringing was filled with empty echoes to “wait for sex” or “save it for marriage” which had only fueled a distorted desire for marriage. The seemingly unrefuted Evangelical myth was that sexual desire was something to just bottle up until the context of marriage. This left me with two questions: what was sex supposed to look like in marriage, and did single people live an incomplete or less fulfilled life?
In the context of marriage, sex was surely recreational — but not simply pleasure seeking, as (I knew all too well) self-sex is where the domain of sexual addiction thrives. It must require service and care for an other, thus having a unitive function as well. And obviously, sex could also be procreative. But were any and all sexual activities permissible in marriage?
I began to unveil a broken message of sexuality echoed throughout many Christian circles that did not teach life-long submission of our bodies and sex lives to Christ. A toxic form of masculinity gave the sense that anything should be permissible with your wife in marriage and even seemed to question if anything could be non-consensual after marriage. This thinly veiled form of objectification and pornography was clearly self-serving. Furthermore, the denial of procreative potential displaced the responsibility for men to practice self-control and to (literally) be self-giving with their sexuality. Even within the covenant of marriage, should I not continue to require boundaries on my sexuality?4
For single people, “it is good for them to remain single” (1 Cor 7:8). Yet as much as Evangelical churches raved about Paul, his teaching felt constantly glossed over: “Ring by Spring” is a familiar refrain heard throughout Christian universities, many preachers and teachers use examples and jokes focused on the married life, and any young single adult churchgoer knows the routine questions by church members about dating and marriage. The reality is that the pagan fantasy of “everlasting love” is dispelled by the Christian vows, “till death do us part.” What if a life of chastity and celibacy was indeed the full life? What if this life was esteemed in high regard and was how a church was centered? For is not the life of a single person the life of all of us to come? One who lives in singleness is in fact an eschatological sign for us all. And the call for chastity is a requirement that I must practice at all times, in all seasons of life.
The Road through Rome to Assisi
I grew up in America.
This sentence is innocuous enough. But underlying it is a tension that I have felt my whole life and have continually tried to make more sense of. I never quite felt Taiwanese growing up and also never felt truly American. Nevertheless, I adopted what I believed was American culture going into college — however, my Kairos summer inaugurated my journey of realization that I truly was not and could never be White.
Any American is by default a hyphenated American. There is no default experience and there are broad and varied cultural expressions. But my background masked this reality and primed me to believe that Western Christianity, particularly White Midwestern American Christianity, was the faith that would save the nations. And even as people began to share the truth that our Jesus was not White, but a Middle Eastern Jew, no one spoke of the tokenism that simply said “but He wasn’t like the rest of them.”
I love being a token. In my pride, it gives me the opportunity to translate and bridge cultures. But in all of of this, I rarely asked what Jesus was redeeming from my mostly Hoklo Chinese and aboriginal Taiwanese roots. I fell into the great American Fantasy that whitewashes the past with eyes only on the future.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to visit Rome with some dear friends, Matt and Elizabeth. As we explored the city, one site particularly stood out: the Pantheon. Clearly Roman architecture, the Catholic church was a former Roman temple. In our conversation, the topic of temples of other faiths came up and I realized a profound thought I had never considered — could a Buddhist or Hindu temple be transformed into a church? Could a culture’s architectural and artistic style be kept while following Jesus? The Christian faith had been contextualized to the Romans — could the same happen with the Chinese?5
Three discoveries within the Catholic Church affirmed the answer to me. The first was the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the Diocese of Dali of Yunnan Province in China. It is difficult to describe the beauty of seeing a place of God that is built in a traditional Chinese architectural style. It speaks to me that my culture can in fact contain space for Christ.
The second was visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. at the suggestion of my friend Crystel. Within the Basilica, there are smaller chapels dedicated to Marian apparitions to cultures all over the world. The most impressionable moment was seeing an image of Our Lady of China. To see both Mary and baby Jesus stylized and identifying with me made me feel that my skin tone, my ethnicity was indeed a worthy representation, reflective image of God.
Finally, I came across a recording of a mass at the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic parish in Philly for a World Prayer Day for China. In the processional into the church, a Chinese lion dance lead the way before the priests and the cross. The colors and twirls of the dance, the rhythmic beat of the drum, the fanciful two-person costumes, all served to symbolize the casting away of evil. During the service, they sang a song of confession that carried the melodic intonation of traditional Chinese music. Upon hearing the voices lift up pleas for mercy in Mandarin, I began to tear up.
From Rome, we traveled to Assisi. If there is a place that is a thin space between heaven and earth, it is truly Assisi. It exemplifies itself as the city on the hill, shining bright, drawing pilgrims near to its glorious peace. To an American, old is determined to be around 250 years ago. How then can I even begin to describe a place that has been steeped in prayer for over 800 years?
I had read a biography of St. Francis to familiar myself. This man was crazy (most saints seem to be). The more I learned, the more I felt in awe — here was a man who desired so deeply for the Church to live to its true nature yet was deferential to the leadership and polity of the Church. He deeply loved the least of these. He was so fully Catholic and loved Jesus to the point of receiving stigmata to more identify with Christ. And alongside of him, St. Clare began an new order that cloistered in prayer. They did not believe their actions to be in vain, but literally transforming the space through prayer.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
My assumptions about a shallow Catholicism were thoroughly shattered.
Returning to the States was a rude awakening with 2016 election cycle. The likes of Russell Moore were voices crying out in the wilderness, trees falling with no one to hear them. The Moral Majority revealed its hand which was never far from the surface — a betrayal of Christian faith to jingoism, capitalism, racism, and xenophobia. Evangelicalism’s fruit, unfortunately, was the most charismatic preacher, not necessarily the most thoughtful theologian; the prosperity gospel was always merely on the doorstep. Populist tendencies meant attraction to comfortable messages and the right to schism and declare anathema at the slightest disagreement. My spirit longed for a course correction; my spirit longed for a deeper rootedness.
I already had great respect for Pope Francis. His unique and unexpected election inspired to me that the Holy Spirit was at work. That he took the name of St. Francis engendered even deeper respect. His humility as a leader and spiritual authority drew me to him, and in this season was singing melodious good news and leading the Catholic Church towards an invigorating, corporeal reality. He embodied Jesus: denouncing fear, embracing mercy, emphasizing the preferential option for the poor, and the need for evangelization of the true message of hope. This is the gospel that my America so desperately needed to hear.
Tying together all of these experiences, there were four spheres of tension that I wrestled with.
Charisma & Liturgy: I believed that the Holy Spirit continues to work through miraculous gifts, including (but not limited to) tongues, healing, and prophecy. I also believed that liturgy is extremely helpful and necessary for growth closer to the Trinity.
Context & Hierarchy: I believed that the Church should seek to contextualize itself to the ethnos, as redemption of the ethnos is not simply culture erasure, but renewal. I also believed in apostolic succession and the importance of the hierarchy and Tradition of faith, which is guided by the Holy Spirit.
Social & Personal: I believed that social action is important — that the Kingdom is breaking in here and now yet not fully realized until Jesus returns. I also believed that following Him demands a certain level of personal morality — that I should seek always to be chaste.
Universal & Deep: I believed that faith should truly be ‘universal’, or accessible to all, and that the Eucharist is formative in this way. All living people, including Samaan, are able to fully receive and participate in relationship with Jesus. I also believed that faith should have the reality of constant growth to new depths of relationship with our Savior, in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi and the communion of saints.
Where could I be fully me and grow more into the Chris Hsu our Lord created?
A final story: one day in February, I decided to do some research. I started with the writings of the early church Fathers on the Eucharist and Theotokos, then moved on to seeing what the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had to say on Black Lives Matter, and finally looked up Charismatic Catholics (where a renewal happened in Pittsburgh!). I felt encouraged. As I stood up and walked into the kitchen, I suddenly found myself prostrate with my spirit crying out with joy. Through the tears and tongues, I heard Christ relate to me, “Chris, you have a home here. This is the community you have been looking for.”
I can exercise various spiritual gifts and participate in liturgy. I can fully be a Taiwanese American follower of Jesus and be under the headship of the Pope and lineage of bishops. I can pursue social justice and pursue chastity. I can receive the Eucharist and spend time in Scripture, meditation, and prayer. These beliefs are truly Catholic; and following Jesus through this lens of Holy Tradition is a beautiful multi-dimensional experience. How can I not say yes to Jesus’ invitation to come home?
The journey thus far has not been perfect by any means, with many trials, failures, and rough patches along the way. But to my friends who have been a part of this journey, asking tough questions and allowing me the same privilege, thank you. To all the people in my life, especially women, who have been like our Blessed Mother, pointing me to Christ, thank you. May we all continue to journey homeward together in the unity of the Holy Spirit for this adventure is not over. As C.S. Lewis has said, “Come further up, come further in!”
Ten years after making that personal decision to follow Jesus, I find myself with another critical opportunity. I do not see the Catholic Church as perfect; I do see it as a messy family that is adopting another beautiful mess. I close with this prayer which is said in unison at Mass before approaching the Eucharist:
I am not worthy, that You should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
- Kettering is the name of a suburb near my hometown.
- I mean, with such Biblical names like that, it should have been pretty obvious!
- Attribution of the term ‘Chinglican’ to Justin Tse.
- A lay Catholic theologian goes in depth: http://www.catechism.cc/articles/marital-foreplay.htm
- This question was disputed for over 200 years with the Chinese Rites controversy, specifically over ancestor veneration, filial piety, and Confucian values.