The “Chinese River”

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Among various metaphors that Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira used to describe the journey of the human being on this earth, the one he called “Chinese river” holds a special place of prominence.

As is known, due to the irregular topography of China, its waterways follow particularly winding paths. Sometimes, the tributaries even seem to be returning to their source, when, in reality, they are only bypassing obstacles and gathering momentum to discharge into the main river and follow their course towards the sea.

Something similar happens in our lives, pervaded by apparently unsolvable impasses, if not distressing stagnation in a veritable “valley of tears”, as the Salve Regina prayer reminds us.

Sometimes we mistakenly think that rapid straight-line progress along the river is synonymous with success along the path we have chosen; in the end, however, we may find ourselves at a dead end… In this regard, St. Augustine warned: “Bene curris, sed extra viam – You run well, but off the path.” It is no use to run much; we need to run on the right track. Indeed, in the activist world in which we live, we are tempted to think that our success is measured by the intensity of action – or feverishness. However, choppy waters do not reflect the heavens above! What is more, the noisiest machines are generally the least productive…

That said, in our daily navigation, we do not always know if we are on the right track. How should we proceed? Even amid the storm and with Jesus “sleeping” in the boat, we must trust that He has the rudder in His hands (cf. Mk 4:35-41).

The Lord allows us to go through misfortunes precisely to test us. At these crossroads of life, let us not be like the disciples who, in the midst of that storm, cried out: “Teacher, do You not care if we perish?” (Mk 4:38). Jesus’ answer sums up what our state of mind should be in crisis situations: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40). We need, first of all, courage and confidence.

In fact, the Saints were forged in docility to the designs of the Most High and in the certainty that He was guiding the ship of their lives. For some theologians, the essence of holiness does not consist simply in the constant practice of virtues or in the state of perfection – although these are fundamental conditions. Rather, it is summed up first of all in abandonment to Divine Providence or, in other words, in the conformity of our will to the divine will. After all, as the Apostle stresses, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” and, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:39, 31).

This was precisely the attitude of the holiest of creatures: Our Lady. Faced with the impasse created by the Angel’s annunciation, with the Redemption of all mankind hanging in the balance, Mary entrusted herself entirely into the hands of Providence: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Confidence in God must be such that, if necessary, the “Chinese river” can even be detained, as the Red Sea once was, to protect the chosen people. Let us not forget, however, that the waters also “returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained” (Ex 14:28). Thus will the Chinese rivers continue to follow their course in history.

Editorial of the Heralds of the Gospel magazine, #186.

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