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Lúcás (Yiu Sing Luke) Chan, S.J.: Bridge-Builder

Lúcás (Yiu Sing Luke) Chan, S.J.: Bridge-Builder

By: James Keenan, S.J.

In the beginning of each of his two books, Lúcás refers to building bridges. He begins his first book, The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Biblical Studies and Ethics for Real Life, with “A schema for bridging biblical studies and Christian ethics” and he introduces his second book, Biblical Ethics in the Twenty-first Century: Developments, Emerging Consensus, and Future Directions,” with the overarching notion of “building bridges.”

Lúcás (Yiu Sing Luke) Chan wrote about building bridges because he was a bridge builder. The man whose spiritual and intellectual formation, began in Hong Kong and ended in Milwaukee, had built bridges as he moved to England, Singapore, Cambodia, Macau, the Philippines, the U.S., Ireland, as well as Italy and Germany.

I would like to reflect with you today on Lúcás, the bridge builder: what bridges did he build, how did he do this, and what lessons can we draw.

As a moral theologian Lúcás built the bridge between biblical theology and Christian Ethics. Lúcás’ argument was clear and critical: if someone wants to do biblical ethics they need to have the competency of a biblical theologian who can tell us what the scriptural text means and the competency of a moral theologian who knows how to think through the contemporary ethical application of the meaning of the text. As Dan Harrington noted in Lúcás’ first book on the ten commandments and the beatitudes, Lúcás makes the argument, but what is more remarkable, he “performs it.” He takes each of the ten commandments and the eight beatitudes, tells us what each means and how each can be applied by a virtue. For instance, on the second beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Lúcás shows us that the grief Jesus is addressing is not over what a person has lost, but rather whether a person empathizes for another’s loss. The second beatitude follows from and is deeply connected to the first: the blessed are those mourning for the poor in spirit, for those in the community who are struggling. Lúcás writes, “Such is the lot of the disciples of Christ- when our brothers and sisters suffer, we cannot help but mourn.” (171) Then, after describing the meaning of the text, Lúcás proffers solidarity as the contemporary virtuous application of the second beatitude. For this reason, Harrington called Lúcás’ book, “a manifesto for the double competencies of a biblically based ethics.” In America magazine, Harrington called Lúcás’s work, “a milestone.”

Lúcás not only built the bridges between Christian ethics and biblical theology, he became recognized as its bridge builder par excellence. Just this month, John Collins and Gina Hens Piazza, two biblical theologians and the editors of the forthcoming Jerome Biblical Commentary, arguably the most relevant and revered commentary in the English language, invited Lúcás to write a 26,000 word essay, “The Bible and Ethics.” It was for this reason too that David Schultenover, the editor of Theological Studies, invited Lúcás to write this year his Moral Note on “The Bible and Theological Ethics” and that Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church commissioned him to edit an international collection entitled, the “Bible and Catholic Theological Ethics.” It is hard to think of any other theologian who dedicated himself so completely these past ten years to building the bridge between moral theology and the bible: he pioneered the field.

Lúcás built other bridges. He wrote and spoke around the world on the bridge between Christian and Confucian ethics. He and I, for instance, wrote an essay on it for the Jesuit, Macau-based Chinese Cross Currents. He constructed this bridge out of the virtues and he knew how important these bridges were. For instance, at Berkley when he gave a major lecture on Christian and Confucian ethics, he concluded his power point lecture with a series of photos of bridges, the last being the Golden Gate Bridge.

He also built bridges between the Old and New Testaments, by teaching us that the ten commandments and the eight beatitudes are the two moral pillars of our religious tradition. For this reason we chose these two readings for his funeral today in Milwaukee and for his memorial mass in Hong Kong.

He also bridged those scriptures together on concrete urgent issues by focusing, for instance, on the Gospel command to welcome the stranger, today, the immigrant, and by proposing a biblical male role model, the Old Testament figure, Boaz, who welcomed Ruth and Naomi, as a hospitable role model. That study of Boaz appeared in his first published article nearly ten years ago, entitled, “A Model of Hospitality for Our Times.”

Most of all he built bridges among us. In this congregation today, there are his Irish friends, his Cantonese friends, his Boston friends, his California friends and, most importantly, his new found Milwaukee friends. He has friends everywhere: consider the memorial services. While we are here today in Milwaukee at this funeral, Boston College friends celebrated their memorial mass last week, the Irish Jesuits and Trinity College had its memorial mass earlier today, the Boston Cantonese parish has their memorial on June 6th, and the community in Hong Kong will celebrate their memorial with Cardinal Tong on June 8.

Because of his bridge building among us, we are not isolated but connected. Many of you know me through Lúcás, as I know you. He ushered us across bridges to meet one another, such that, we know the judge from Tennessee, Stephen; the Cantonese driver from Boston, Anna; the Burmese classmate from Manila, Titus; the Italian Professor from Berlin, Antonio; the Irish friend living in NYC, Nial; his department chair, Bob; his Irish spiritual father from Hong Kong, Fr. Hurley; his Yale mentor, Margaret; the counselor from Marquette, Mike; his Slovenian friend from tertianship, Damjan; or his sister Vita or brother Charles and Vincey and their children, Siobhan and Padraig.

He was never shy, exclusive or private with his friendships. Rather he shared us with one another and became himself the bridge to bring us together. And even if we knew one another before knowing Lúcás, he helped us to become better friends as he supported our own commerce with one another. We are friends today, because of the bridges he built.

With each of us this bridge builder has been faithful. Fidelity marked Lúcás’ life and will continue to be the mark we know him for. Each of us knew him as our faithful friend; for me, no one was so faithful, more faithful. He has been faithful to his students, friends, family, fellow Jesuits, and colleagues. I dare say each of us can tell a story of how this bridge builder helped us over our own troubled waters and I want to add, I am sure that some of us can confess that we have sensed even this week his own care for us as we have mourned for him.

I have, at least.

In this he is like his mother, who called her friends this past week, to see how they were doing, bringing them the consolation of the resurrection while also, unbelievably, telling them a joke. She, like him these days, is a veritable comforter.

How did Lúcás become such a bridge builder?
As a bridge builder, Lúcás was a natural explorer willing to go ahead of

others, to scope adventurously the new terrains he wanted to link. As anyone who journeyed with him knew, he explored with boyish excitement the lands that he found. As Joshua McElwee wrote in his tribute in the National Catholic Reporter, when we went on a safari this lover of cats, wild about the prospects of seeing lions, kept telling our driver, “Go, Go, Go.” Not only would he see these lions, he thought, he could photograph them. When we found two lions coupling, Lúcás was so delighted that he made a video!

On another trip, when as the chaplain of a cruise I went with him to the artic circle, he asked daily at every port, are there any polar bears here. Invariably the reply would be, “I certainly hope not” a reply that exasperated him, every step of the way.

Wherever he went, this explorer was a humble, grateful guest, able to appreciate the places he went and the people he met. In his memoriam of Lúcás in America, George Greiner refers to Antonio Autiero’s suggestion for us to see Lúcás’s photography as a way of seeing and understanding the people and places he newly encountered. When he would send us his photos, we would see these places as new; we would see them with surprise, curiosity, and happiness. To see a photo of Lúcás’s is to discover a place that Lúcás truly enjoyed. Unless the picture was of a person, and then you saw how much he loved the person.

It is precisely through his photos that Lúcás gave and gives thanks. You can see the gratitude in them. And, this bridge builder naturally shared those photos with us, to further fortify our connectedness among one another.

Like any bridge builder he was also fearless. We were flying back from a European conference that he helped organize and we hit awful turbulence. I was terribly anxious, as were plenty of other passengers. Not Lúcás. Lúcás had on his head set, listening undoubtedly to Sandy Lam, snapping his fingers and singing along. I said, “Lúcás, aren’t you afraid that we could crash?” He lifted an ear of his set and asked “what?” “Aren’t you afraid that we could crash?” “If it happens, it happens,” he said and went back to singing and shimmying with Sandy.

Another time, on the safari, he and I stayed in the tent closest to the wilderness. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by the sound of fairly large animals snorting and braying loudly just outside our tent. I got out of bed, went to his cot, shook him to tell him what was happening. He moaned, “They are not in the tent, go back to bed.”

Like any bridge builder, he was not just fearless and adventuresome, he was also focused and exacting with details. To watch Lúcás prepare a class, crop and post photos, organize a conference, edit a volume, or lead a pilgrimage was to encounter a bridge builder meticulous in executing his responsibilities. Any colleague knew that having Lúcás on your team was having a true worker.

What are we to learn from this?
Lúcás understood himself as a bridge-builder who was first and foremost a

Jesuit priest. He loved his priesthood, wherever he was or went. For instance, because of his humility only his Cantonese friends would know just how dedicated he was to ministering to them. From 2006 to 2012, for instance, he developed 15 different talks of moral instruction for the Cantonese communities across North America. With these talks, he went to Cantonese Catholics in Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco (twice), Atlanta (4 times), Houston (4 times). In Boston alone, besides presiding regularly at St. James parish, he gave six sets of talks. This intrepid traveller flew hither and yon to minister to Chinese Catholics in need.

Despite all that he did, Lúcás never seemed badgered by his incredible workload. On the contrary, he drew energy from it. For instance, this summer he was going to be hosting a first ever major Pan Asian Conference for moral theologians, editing the international volume of 25 contributions, teaching a course in Bangalore, and studying German while researching there.

He was, like the way he walked or the way he presided at mass, buoyant, a significant quality for any bridge builder. You could feel the lift in his gait or hear it in the first joke in his sermon.

I think this buoyancy came from a holy playfulness that animated his life. He loved life, waking up with more energy than anyone I knew, greeting the day with vigor and gratitude.

His playfulness was incredibly endearing. He never took himself seriously; on the contrary he made others laugh at him so that they could have some joy. Look there at that wonderful picture of him in green vestments (see attachment): it’s Lúcás’ first mass and he’s laughing away pointing to his friend Jim Gould who had been presiding with Lúcás but had noticeably fallen asleep during Lúcás somewhat long homily. Instead of being embarrassed or angry, Lúcás was laughing about himself in front of the whole congregation.

But we must conclude our thoughts on him for now.

18 months ago was a very hard time for him. He was invited to apply for a teaching position in Hong Kong, he accepted the invitation, returned and interviewed, but after waiting nearly four months, he did not get the position. Then, at Lúcás’ request, his provincial made Lúcás available to the Gregorian University in Rome, but in an hour came the reply that there were too many moral theologians at the Gregorian. Then another European Jesuit school recruited him, but the very day he arrived there, was the day they learned of their own financial difficulties and they could not offer him a job. He wondered about his ten years’ of work and about his future service to the church. Then Susan Wood, the chair of theology at Marquette University, learned about his situation and invited him to talk with Fr. Provincial about coming to Marquette University.

Lúcás the bridge builder came to Marquette as the grateful guest. He worked hard, learning lessons about undergraduate teaching and university collegiality. Within weeks he was very happy here. He was enjoying his colleagues and his Jesuit community, winning research grants, loving his students, while teaching medical ethics and Christian discipleship and preparing new courses on virtues and vices and biblical ethics.

For those of us who have known Lúcás, many signs of his being at home here were incredibly relevant. He loved his Jesuit community and his friends therein. And, he also loved the new residence. Each of us got photos of where his new room was located. He also loved his colleagues within the Theology department. He told many of us stories about those of you within the department and within the community.

You should know, though, that just this month, he did something that most of us who accompanied him these years, were delighted by. Three weeks ago, while in Boston with the Cantonese community, he went shopping with Ceci and Anna, and bought clothing, professionally appropriate clothing, so that he could finally look like a true professor! Those of us in Boston realized that the intrepid traveller had finally found his new home, a place in which he would settle. Look at the happy photos of him at your commencement last Sunday (see attachment), standing with his Marquette colleagues and friends and see the face of a sojourner who had arrived, crossed if you will, the finish line.

And, in fact he did.

But, now as before, he goes before us again, building bridges for us. He has not left us, he never will, he is just ahead of us, building bridges.

We know by our shared faith in Jesus Christ, by the consolation of the resurrection, and by our own experience of Lúcás’ long term fidelity and joy, that what he began with us will never come to an end.