The Old Open West

By the time I finished lunch on Sunday, it was already 5 o’clock in the afternoon in Tianjin. I had traveled with some work colleagues two hours Southeast from Beijing to open our Commercial Tradecraft training for the local staff on Monday morning. After checking in to hotel and meeting with one of the trainers, I finally got lunch in the mid-afternoon.

If not for the Holy Spirit nudging me to check online for local Mass times, I would not have discovered St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Tianjin. It is only a 25-minute walk from the St. Regis Hotel. The last Mass was at 7 o’clock.

St. Joseph's Cathedral in Tianjin
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Tianjin

I used good ol’ Baidu Maps to help me get there. I sat down in time to join over fifty Tianjin Catholics pray the rosary in Mandarin. The image of Christ’s Mystical Body came to mind and I felt closer to the Chinese people than I ever felt in my life. I felt affection for them like a forefinger might feel for its neighbor, the thumb. We are part of the same body, and the Holy Spirit is the soul that unites us. The parishioner two rows ahead of me is oblivious to my presence, just as any cell in my body is oblivious to another cell. Yet, if such a cell could feel gratitude, it would be grateful to share the nourishment of Christ’s Body and Blood in just another hour. As the cells of my body rejoiced from the Shabu Shabu hot pot I ate for lunch, so will the souls of Christ’s Body cry out in happiness from the Eucharist placed on our tongues.

View of the Altar Inside the Tianjin Cathedral
Statue of St. Joseph (left pillar); Statue of St. Therese of Lisieux (right pillar)

The devotion and liturgy washed over my senses, and I felt my soul lifted up in anticipation. Eyes and stomachs are thrilled but patient with all the fanfare that goes into a formal, fancy reception. The liturgy is more than just public worship, it’s a feast for the soul!

I was sharing this with all these Chinese Catholics, and their devotion was both familiar and different. Familiar in that I know they were praying the Hail Mary in Chinese. Different because the cadence and rhythm was like the Buddhist chants I’ve heard at temples. I appreciated it all the same. One Body, many parts… and I was about to see how Our Lord fed His Flock in Tianjin.

The Mass was in Mandarin. So, I followed along using “The Word Among Us” from the Kindle app on my phone. The readings in Tianjin on this 25th Sunday in Ordinary time are the same in English as it is in Chinese: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; and Luke 16:1-13.

The first two readings were about the rich taking advantage of the poor. Christ seemed to challenge me in the Gospel to be more than just the shrewd steward who partially forgave the loans of his master’s debtors in order to make friends before getting fired. Christ wants us to be like the prodigal father that He talked about in the parable He told the crowd just before this one.

I couldn’t follow the priest’s homily in Chinese, but I admired his delivery. The parishioners sang and responded. I heard women’s voices as well as the rich timber of men’s voices from the pews. I prayed for the parish, and I prayed for the Chinese people.

During Communion, people walked up and kneeled in front of the Communion rail. Several priests walked left and right to give the Sacrament. The image reminded of blood cells gathering and clumping up near the heart. We were being fed, much like our blood cells are fed with oxygen when they return to the heart. Here, we return to our pews and will our souls to the will of the Holy Spirit. We pray with His love, but cooperate by bringing our intentions. Our Lord involves us in the work of salvation. How cool is that?

I felt so blessed to go to Mass at the Tianjin Cathedral. It’s also known as 老西开教堂 (lǎo xīkāi zhǔtáng) or “Old West Open Cathedral.” Beautiful art and statues.

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