“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:4-5).
My dear friends, what do you make of these quoted texts? I guess you answers are as diverse as anyone can imagine, all chiefly conditioned by our historical, religious, academic and even contextual baggage we carry along with us. That’s just alright, in fact up to just a month and few days ago my approach and interpretation of the above texts were very “normal”, I mean, like that of many of you (of western background). Things have changed my dear friends. I see things in a rather “strange” way. Is this the “new birth?” Is it the “dying of a grain of wheat…?”
Now look at this:
a. New food and company
As soon as we arrived we realized that something was amiss. The dinner was prepared with rich food indeed and since we were so tired and hungry due to the long traveling, this was not a bad idea. But now the problem was that I never saw neither folk nor knife on the table. There was only a spoon (for soup) and the famous chopsticks. Now the question in my mind was: “how on earth was I to enjoy this rich food using these miserable sticks that I didn’t know how to use”? Well, this was just the beginning.
Two days later the Rev. Bishop so kindly invites us for a great dinner prepared in honour of our coming. This was in a lovely restaurant and the best food was ordered special for such occasions. While I was still busy taking photos of the lovely arrangement of the table, I got the shock of my life; the main dish of the day just arrived, I mean a huge fresh uncooked fish, right in front of us. The various delicacies accompanying it were no less strange. The joy in the faces of the guests was evident. Now what was I to do? Well, your guess is right, since they say that “when you go to Rome, do like the Romans do”. Indeed a “New Birth”.
b. “New baptism”
As if that was not enough, just a day after the Bishop asks us to go to his office for an urgent agenda. Believe you me, the urgent agenda was that we had no names in Taiwan, a very risky situation. We were to be given new names, Chinese names. This is important for any official purpose and for the normal life activities. It was right at this moment that I understood the question Nicodemus asked Jesus: “How can a man be born when he is old?” (as in the above text). And the response of Christ to him too made sense to me immediately: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (see the above text). After being given the new names, the confusion was even worse: why was I given this name, what does it mean, how is it written? Well my dear ones, it’s all about a “new birth”.
c. Renaming of the Congregation
Life was now getting back to normal after those first shocking moments when from nowhere another agenda sets in. This time it was even more serious; we have to get a name for our Religious Congregation. To be honest with you, this sounded rather ridiculous to us at the beginning. How on earth are we going to give a new name to a congregation with over 113 years of existence? What does it mean “a new name”?
Well, to plain truth is that to maintain the name “Consolata” in this Chinese context would mean missing the point right from the start. This word means nothing to these people and so we have to get a name that says something describing the “Consolata” in a way it will be locally understood and owned by the people. Oh, another shock!! At this stage the only text that could console my curious mind was: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24 as quoted above.)
My dear friends, these are just but a few interesting details that have welcomed us in to the “new birth”. Indeed we fondly remember the words of the Superior General while addressing us sometime before our departure from Rome: “Asia does not need us; we need Asia in order to become more missionary”. These words really had no sense to us then, but today things are different. I think he was just being prophetic. We have to undergo a “NEW BIRTH!!!”