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Companions in Mary, St Paul and Matteo Ricci

We continue with the story of Daniel Lindbergh Lang, a 24-year-old from North Las Vegas, who is serving with the Catholic St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society in this part of Asia. In this fourth story, he reflects on the Saints’ walk with him, marking particularly the recent Feasts of Matteo Ricci, Servant of God (May 11) and Our Lady of Fátima (May 13). 

MAY 20, 2022

It was a Sunday afternoon (May 8), and I felt inspired after a prolonged adoration. I remembered Christ’s light led me to my confirmation St Paul. I felt touched by St Paul’s humility to seek others’ prayers to intercede for him. I encourage you, as you read how Saints have touched me, to consider your relationship with the Saints and how they may be seeking you, too. 

May 8 through May 13 tend to challenge me annually since Mum’s death in 2017. Amid the challenges, however, I feel deeply graced. For as St Paul wrote, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses … For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). In these particular reflections, I will describe moments with St Paul, Servant of God Matteo Ricci and Mother Mary as well as how they have accompanied me with Christ. 

Through getting to know St Paul, I learned that Saints call us. My earliest memory of encountering a Saint whose story left an impression on me was when I was in my third grade around age eight. This likely occurred less than a year after my first communion. I read about how Saul was a murderer blinded off of his horse, who saw Jesus, totally changed, and became Paul, a good man. 

I felt amazed to encounter St Paul again 10 years later under the name, “Paul of Tarsus”. My secondary school’s Advanced Placement World History textbook featured a section about him not long after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.

At age 15, I realized that Paul, who lived two thousand years ago, traveled throughout the mighty Roman Empire to spread Christianity. Much later in the textbook, I felt delighted by the culturally-sensitive missionary efforts of Matteo Ricci from the Society of Jesus. Upon reflection, I felt that my initial surprise at these missionaries was God’s first spark in me toward a missionary vocation.  

By the age 18 in my first year at uni, searching for patron Saints of writers and public relations practitioners like me, I could hardly believe that St Paul the Apostle emerged again! After months of wrestling to determine my confirmation Saint, my ultimate ‘choosing’ him felt more like ‘accepting’ him. For even though we consciously selected the Saint to whom we felt most connected, I had felt even from the start of my discernment that Paul had seemed to recur for me the most. 

I experienced what felt like my first miracle for about a month following confirmation. Each time I heard someone mention St Paul or Paul the Apostle, I felt as though someone addressed me by my full name, “Daniel Lang.” I identify unconsciously with his name. Whether in conversation or during the homily, I found myself turning my head when I genuinely thought people called my own name to get my attention. Since confirmation, I spent parts of the year getting to know St Paul better by reading his letters, praying, journaling, talking to other Catholics confirmed with his name and venturing into Fr Jim Martin’s “My Life with the Saints”.  

May 13, 2017, the afternoon of my mother’s funeral, I felt in awe to learn that Mum’s funeral would coincide with an auspicious day. The presiding Deacon Dan said that special day would be the 100th anniversary Feast of Our Lady of Fátima. The feast celebrated an apparition of Mary, Mother of God. The concurrence of the feast day brought Mary to the top of my mind. I recalled having seen that my mum had kept Marian images around the house.Though Mum hadn’t spoken of our Blessed Mother May, I wondered if Mary inspired Mum. Although Mum had her ‘tiger mom’ moments, Mum loved too with a selflessness that I felt Mother Mary must have loved too. 

At Mum’s funeral I both physically perceived that I had lost my mother and spiritually understood that our Blessed Mother was always watching over me. While I at last witnessed my earthly mother’s dead body in a casket, I felt consoled as though having been adopted by our Blessed Mother in Heaven. I thanked God and Mary for her care. 

The month after Mum’s death, I felt surprised by another among the “cloud of witnesses” in Heaven (Hebrews 12:1). For the first time since high school, I encountered Matteo Ricci, SJ. I had not realized I would see his legacy mentioned on public plaques and museums in Shanghai and Guangzhou. I realized that even though  I wound up encountering for the first time since high school Matteo Ricci, SJ, both in Shanghai and in Guangzhou. Both cities featured historical sites to honour the missionary. Learning about early encounters between the East and West led me to feel as though having discovered on this side of our globe the precedent for cross-cultural exchanges that led me to exist. This year, I also felt amazed to learn that May 11 marks the passing of Matteo Ricci. 

I continued to get to know our Blessed Mother when I returned from China, as our diocese welcomed the Our Lady of Fátima Pilgrim Virgin Statue. The next year, I embarked on the World Youth Day 2019 pilgrimage to Panamá, getting to know Mary and her “Yes” to our Lord. I remembered closing my eyes during a liturgy of the Eucharist and feeling as though immersed in the presence of many when the presider said, “And so, with all the angels and Saints, we sing…” Since World Youth Day, the rosary has become and remained for me a meditative way to spend time with God and with Mary. 

In the three years since Mum’s death, I have noticed sometimes while praying that I can imagine Mother Mary as a young adult, an enthusiastic companion to accompany me to go deeper in comprehending God’s love. Furthermore, after years of praying Vespers at my uni parish  – Our Lady of Wisdom, her Magnificat has become my go-to prayer to put to words my joy toward our Lord. In preparation this spring for mission, I’d even gotten to better know her spouse, St. Joseph, by his March 19 feast day.  

By his feast day, Ash Wednesday had passed, and the Church began celebrating Lent. During this time, the mission worked out when I would fly to this part of Asia. As it happens, the Thursday that I would finally board planes to head back to Asia was also the night of Chrism Mass. 

I had the opportunity in Vegas to attend my first Chrism Mass. Before Mass, I spotted Deacon Dan, who’d presided over Mum’s funeral five years agoearlier. I greeted him and shared with him my life since my mother’s passing. Before Chrism Mass, he blessed me ahead of the mission. 

On mission, Mother Mary, St Paul and Matteo Ricci, have continued to recur both in my lived experiences and in my prayer life. I found references too to the work of Matteo Ricci, as I saw in Shanghai and Guangzhou five years ago. I realized this spring that the eve preceding Mothers’ Day celebrates Our Lady of China! And being on mission, I have come to identify so much more with the missionary vocation of St. Paul. I encourage you to take to prayer how God has been calling you too through His Saints. 

Next week: Lang’s reflection from his life on mission in this part of Asia. 

Previous weeks: 
God’s authorship, spanning generations and places
Chinese ancestry, Mum’s death and first journey to Asia
From Vegas to Asia – Daniel Lang on a mission for God