Chinese Philosophy and Marian Spirituality

Mary and Joy in Chinese Philosophy: A Marian Spirituality


There are three main currents in Chinese Philosophy, namely: Confucianism, Taoism (Daoism) and Zen Buddhism. The spirit of joy seems to run through all of these three principal Chinese religions and, above all, joy is a desire of every human being. Each tradition has its own way of expressing what joy is. In this article, first, the main characteristics of joy will be given. Second, I will draw from a Christian perspective of joy and apply it to how the Blessed Virgin Mary is a witness of joy.


Confucian Joy

For the disciples of Confucianism, joy is an attitude of peace of mind. It is the result of a perfect development and discipline of ones personality. It is the challenge to be a noble person. It is a frame of mind, which essentially comes from the good nature of a human person who practices justice, humility, law and order (rites), and wisdom. Confucianism seeks harmony, which leads to perfect joy and which is expressed in four basic human relations such as, the relation between parents and children, teacher and students, husband and wife, and employer and employees. The goal is to be a noble person so that any love relation can be repaid by love (the golden rule). The main source of joy is perseverance (piety) in discipline and in practices of ones duties in human relationships. In other words, to do what ought to be done with a sincere heart.


Daoist (Taoist) Joy

For Taoism (Daoism), joy is above all a union with the spirit in nature (cosmic), to be one with the cosmos, where one finds the source of spirituality and mysticism. It is called Qi, breath and is the way to attain indifference-the goal of human life. A human person does not depend on prosperity or diversity. Freedom from attachments is joy, a perfect freedom. It means harmony between Heaven (spiritual beings), persons and earth (nature) and brings joy if one strives to live it. It is the spirit of Qi, breath that gives harmony, peace and makes love possible.


Joy in Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism is seen sometimes as a pessimistic way of life. Many rules are based on ascetic practices, such as not eating meat or living things, hours of bodily postures and exercises and alms begging. One has to discover, by practicing silence and concentration, to calm down the stirrings of evil and greed that prevent a person to find joy and peace. In doing so, a person can reach emptiness, Nirvana, where the desire no longer exists. Death is considered as a re-awakening or a great return to another stage of life, a process of re-incarnation. The end of life can be a reward for good deeds or a punishment. But the cycle of life keeps going on until Nirvana is reached, a total emptiness, a joy.


Christian Joy

Christian joy is based on the personal experience of the Triune God whose love is gratuitous. God the Father is the Creator, the giver of life, God the Son is the Redeemer, who emptied himself, and God the Holy Spirit is the breath, Qi , the Sanctifier. Charitable deeds (love for others), penance (self) and prayers (God) are among the principal practices taught by Jesus, the Son of God, who came as a human being and taught how to love God and the neighbors. Joy is promised and given to the disciples who follow Jesus. Many saints including St. Francis of Assisi understood the meaning of Beatitudes (happiness) as a way to joy. By embracing poverty, St. Francis, left everything and found joy. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a witness of joy par excellence by her program of life filled with living faith, strong hope and universal love.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of humanity regardless of religion, race and social status is a witness of joy because her joy is not only a sentimental feeling, but an encounter of a Person, Jesus, Living God, not an ideology. In the Gospel narratives, she expressed joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, her life program by living out the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love.


Mary, a witness of Joy in faith, hope and love

In this section, we will draw out Mary's joy expressed in her program of life which is well defined in Pope Benedict XVIs three encyclical letters namely: Deus Caritas Est, 2005; Spe Salvi, 2007; and Caritas in Veritate, 2009. Consequently, we will witness the Blessed Virgin Mary's joy actualized in her life of faith, hope and charity. In Mary's school, we turn to our inner self and ponder, how I can be a joyful Christian filled with living faith, christian hope and burning charity.

1. Mary's joy expressed in her program of life.

Mary is a woman of our race who expresses her whole program of life in the hymn of the Magnificat (cf. Lk 1:46) in joy. My soul magnifies the Lord. In these words, Mary shows us her life not setting herself as the center, but leaving space for God, who is encountered both in prayers and in service of neighbor. Mary's holiness, her greatness, consists not in the fact that she wants to magnify God not herself, (cf. Lk 1:38, 48) I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done. Father Raniero Cantalamesa, a Capucin priest and preacher of the Pontifical Household commented on this phrase as follows:

St. Paul says that God loves the one who gives with joy (2 Cor 9:7), and Mary said yes to God with joy. The verb with which Mary expresses her consent, and which is translated as "fiat" or "let it be done." In the original Greek it appears in the optative mode (genoito), which is used to express a desire and even joyful impatience that a certain thing should happen. Actually Mary did not say fiat in Latin or genoito in Greek. As a Jewish woman, the language spoken and corresponds most closely to this expression is amen. When a Jew wished to say to God, yes so be it, he said amen. Amen is a Hebrew word, the root of which means to be solid, to be certain; it was used in the liturgy as a response of faith to the Word of God. With amen one recognizes what has been said as firm, stable, valid and binding. Its exact translation, when it is a response to the Word of God, is this: so it is, and so be it. Furthermore, Jesus is the amen personified. The Amen says this and through him all other amens that are said in the world are taken to God. (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20) Mary, as well, after her son, is the amen to God made person. (Cantalamesa's third Advent Sermon, Dec.12, 2009)

Mary knows that she will only contribute to the plan of God for the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God's initiatives. Her cause of joy is in her yes to God, knowing that God is with her, close and present in her life events from the first moment of Annunciation to the Pentecost and far beyond.

2. Mary, a woman who believes.

"Blessed are you who believed," (cf. Lk1:45) Elizabeth greets Mary in the Visitation scene. Mary believes in the Word of God, the promise of salvation. Pope Benedict XVI described her as a woman of faith because in the song of the Magnificat, Mary sings a testimony of faith, a portrait of her soul so to speak. Her faith is entirely woven from threads of the Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God, with ease, Mary moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God. Here we see how Mary's will is one with the will of God. Since she is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate. (cf. Deus Caritas Est # 41)

3. Mary, a woman who hopes.

Mary believes in Gods promises and awaits the salvation of Israel. She belongs to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were looking for the consolation of Israel (cf. Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, for the redemption of Jerusalem (cf. Lk 2:25). Through Mary's yes, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history.

Pope Benedict XVI sees how Mary, the Star of the Sea (a title given in the eighth or ninth century) is the Star of Hope for us today. Benedict continues to write that our life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for stars that indicate the route. The true stars in our life are people who have good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by-people who shine with his light and so guide us always in our way. Mary is that star of hope. With her yes, she opens the door of our world to God himself, she became the living Ark of Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us. (cf. Jn 1:14)

Mary is also called the Mother of hope. Her certitude of hope in the darkness of Holy Saturday made way toward Easter Sunday. The joy of the Resurrection touched her heart and united her in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. Mary was in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of the Pentecost. The Kingdom of Jesus was not as they might have imagined. It began in that hour, and of this kingdom there will be no end. Mary, Mother of hope remains in the midst of the believers from generation to generation.

4. Mary, a woman who loves.

Mary is a woman who thinks God's thoughts and wills God's will. Thus she is a woman who loves not only with her mind but most of all with all her heart. She loves with God's heart. In the Gospel readings, we sense her quiet gestures of attentiveness in the infancy narratives. We see her delicacy with which she recognizes the need of the newly weds at Cana and makes it known to Jesus. We see her humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus' public life. Knowing that her Son must establish a new family, the Mother's hour will come only with the Cross, which will be Jesus' true hour (cf. Jn2:4, 13:11). When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross, (cf.Jn19:25-27) later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they wait for the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14).

In sum, faith, hope and charity go together. When Pope Benedict summarizes these three virtues, he seems to echo the life program of Mary, and at the same time invites us to learn from her. Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's Mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given us His Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty: God is Love. (cf. Deus Caritas Est # 39) Through Mary's intercession, she protects and obtains for us the strength, hope and joy necessary for us today. (cf. Caritas in Veritate #79)


Selected Bibliography for Mary and Chinese Religions:

Chua, Celia, Are Chinese Religions open to Religious Experiences? AM.A. in Mission Studies, Research, St. Paul University, Ottawa, 1974
Chua, Celia, The Theology of Qi and Marian Spirituality, Published in Chinese, Fu-Jen Theology Journal, Taipei, Taiwan, 2002
Kwong, L.K., Qi Chinois et Anthropologie Chretienne, L' Harmattan, Paris, France, 2000.
To Rhi Anh, Eastern and Western Cultures-Values Conflict or Harmony?, EAPI (East Asian Pastoral Ins.) Publication, Manila,Phillipines, 1975
Wu, C.H., Joy in Chinese Philosophy of Harmony, translated by chu, Ping-Yi, Hua Hsin Cultural and Publication, Taiwan, 1986

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