A few days ago I told to some friends in Famiglie per l’accoglienza the story of a man I met when I was in mission. It was 1948 when Mei Bei Bei arrived to Taiwan. He was following Chiang Kai-sheck’s army that was fleeing from the Chinese motherland, and from the fury of Mao Zedong’s army. Mei Bei Bei left in China his recently married wife, who was pregnant, convinced that he would soon embrace her again. Mei Bei Bei and his comrades were convinced that victory over the Communists was imminent, and that their fall would result in order being restored. But the years kept passing and the distance that separated him from his wife only increased. Many other soldiers were in the same situation as Mei Bei Bei, so the Taiwanese government declared that anyone who desired, was free to marry again without fear of being punished for bigamy. There were many who took advantage of the new decree and got remarried, but not Mei Bei Bei, he continued to wait for his wife, even though many were saying he was mad: “You are young, why don’t you get remarried?”. A few years later, Mei Bei Bei found a job near our parish as a truck driver. It was in this setting that he, who didn’t know a thing about Christianity, for the first time met someone who told him: “You are right to remain faithful to your wife; you are married forever!”. He asked to be baptized because he had found someone firm in supporting him in the hope he carried. In the 80’s the political situation improved and his wife was finally able to reach her husband. For the first time, Mei Bei Bei was able to meet his son, who was now in his thirties. They lived together as husband and wife for three years; during this time, they discovered that she was seriously ill and Mei Bei Bei accompanied her all the way to her death. Mei Bei Bei died two years ago, at the age of 99, on the feast of The Exaltation of the Cross.
Why do we remain fascinated by this story? Because it reminds us that Christianity is a love that is total and without reservations, it also reminds us of the great difference between Jesus and the world: Jesus takes seriously our desires and he tells us that a love that is totalizing and forever is possible, when everyone else says that it’s only madness. Christian spouses are called to be a sign in the world of the desire that every man and woman carry. The task of the Christian is to sustain the hope of a love that is forever.
What about priests? Who asked them if the sacrifice of not getting married was just? Cardinal Giacomo Biffi said that there is actually not much difference between a man who gets married and a man who becomes a priest: the priest says “no” to three billion women on the earth, the man getting married says “no” to three billion women minus one… the difference is microscopic! It is a joke, obviously, but it’s true that on one’s wedding day, when the bride says “yes” to the man in front of her, she is also saying “no” to every other man in the world. She is simultaneously saying three billion time “no”. The same is true for the groom. But what dominates the hearts of both spouses is only that “yes” they are saying to the one they love: the center of their focus is not the sacrifice, or what they are leaving behind, but only the unconditional affirmation of the other.
For a priest it’s the same; the moment he embraces definitively the vocation, his thoughts are not turned to what he is renouncing, because his sole interest is that great “yes” he is saying to Christ who asks that his life be conformed to His.
Christianity is an enormous “yes” to life, to its meaning, to its beauty; a “yes” without reservations, that accepts sacrifices which others would see as crazy, to the point of no longer fearing death, not even martyrdom.
When we think of everything the Son of God lived because of the Incarnation, we can see that His will, His freedom to choose, was not determined by the sacrifices of assuming our mortal condition, but by His love for the Father, this love extended until it embraced each one of us. This is Christmas, the memory of that “yes” that is certain, unique, and without reservations, making each small “yes” of ours reasonable and full of meaning.
(The image is by Marc Chagall, Les Amoureux de Vence, 1957).
 A private association of families who host, either on a temporary or permanent basis, people who need a family.