Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions
This first native Korean priest was the son of Korean converts. His father, Ignatius Kim, was martyred during the persecution of 1839 and was beatified in 1925. After Baptism at the age of 15, Andrew traveled 1,300 miles to the seminary in Macao, China. After six years he managed to return to his country through Manchuria. That same year he crossed the Yellow Sea to Shanghai and was ordained a priest. Back home again, he was assigned to arrange for more missionaries to enter by a water route that would elude the border patrol. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded at the Han River near Seoul, the capital.
Paul Chong Hasang was a seminarian, aged 45.
Christianity came to Korea during the Japanese invasion in 1592 when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers. Evangelization was difficult because Korea refused all contact with the outside world except for an annual journey to Peking to pay taxes. On one of these occasions, around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly a dozen years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were 10,000 Catholics. Religious freedom came in 1883.
When Pope John Paul II visited Korea in 1984 he canonized, besides Andrew and Paul, 98 Koreans and three French missionaries who had been martyred between 1839 and 1867. Among them were bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay persons: 47 women, 45 men.
Among the martyrs in 1839 was Columba Kim, an unmarried woman of 26. She was put in prison, pierced with hot tools and seared with burning coals. She and her sister Agnes were disrobed and kept for two days in a cell with condemned criminals, but were not molested. After Columba complained about the indignity, no more women were subjected to it. The two were beheaded. A boy of 13, Peter Ryou, had his flesh so badly torn that he could pull off pieces and throw them at the judges. He was killed by strangulation. Protase Chong, a 41-year-old noble, apostatized under torture and was freed. Later he came back, confessed his faith and was tortured to death.
We marvel at the fact that the Korean Church was strictly a lay Church for a dozen years after its birth. How did the people survive without the Eucharist? It is no belittling of this and other sacraments to realize that there must be a living faith before there can be a truly beneficial celebration of the Eucharist. The sacraments are signs of God's initiative and response to faith already present. The sacraments increase grace and faith, but only if there is something ready to be increased.
"The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land" (Pope John Paul II, speaking at the canonization).
Unity in plurality
By Fr. Roy Cimagala
Last updated 00:53am (Mla time) 08/19/2006
BECAUSE our society is getting increasingly pluralistic, it's good that we all learn how to keep a sense of unity and solidarity among ourselves as we deal with one another in all our diversity.
This necessity is a natural consequence of our human condition. It is due to our being at once both body and soul, spiritual and material, individual persons and social beings, living both in local and global, temporal and eternal, natural and supernatural orders.
But it's also a condition that we need to work on, to foster and even defend if need be. It doesn't come about automatically. We need to realize keenly and constantly that it's a duty incumbent on everyone to fulfill. Neglect in this duty can only spell disaster for all of us sooner or later.
For this purpose, we need to learn very well the art of dialogue and effective communication among ourselves in the different levels of our lives -- from the individual to the social and cultural, to the universal.
This dialogue has to be done always in the context of an abiding awareness of the requirements of our unity and our legitimate plurality and diversity among ourselves.
This can be achieved if we make an effort to know more deeply what makes us one. This is basically a matter of educating everyone in a sustained way about the common good, or what is truly good for all of us.
This way, we can have an idea of what are the permanent elements of this common good that should bind all of us, irrespective of race, culture, creed, gender, etc., as well as of the changeable elements that give rise to our legitimate differences.
These permanent elements can be the fact we are all creatures and children of God, we are all persons and not things deserving of unconditional love whatever may be our actuations and station in life.
These permanent elements can be that we have a universal moral law and set of basic human rights and duties to rule us, that we live in the same world, and that despite our differences we are actually responsible for one another.
With respect to the changeable elements, we would know which are legitimate and which are not, precisely when our knowledge of the common good goes all the way to the ultimate causes and goals of our life.
For this purpose, we need to go beyond our individualistic tendencies and parochial mentality, cultivating attitudes and habits that enable us to be flexible and to acquire a more universal outlook even if we continue to be defined by local conditions and factors.
Thus, we need to polish and refine our manners, always being open-minded, eager to listen to all, respectful of everyone regardless of social status, discerning of what are essential from what are not, willing to make sacrifices, etc.
We also need to have a certain detachment from our views and opinions, in order to facilitate a better consideration and discussion of issues. When opinions become dogmas, we have a formula for becoming divided.
We need to study the sciences, including philosophy and theology, to broaden our minds and hearts, and to attain a more sublime knowledge of the truth, goodness and beauty.
This will help us to see more things, and to see them more analytically. This will also help us to integrate and synthesize these things, thus leading us to capture the more universal values as we face an ocean of varying options and opinions, each one with its relative value.
Of course, what is even more basic and indispensable is when we pray, when we strive to dialogue always in the presence of God. This will infuse us with an uncanny sense of what will work and what will not work for a fruitful dialogue.
This is the challenge we face now. But I must say it concerns more our leaders, both in the Catholic Church and in society -- our priests and bishops, our parents and teachers, our public officials and politicians.
Fr. Roy Cimagala is chaplain of the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise in Talamban, Cebu City. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Strength in weakness
By Fr. Roy Cimagala
Last updated 03:29am (Mla time) 07/22/2006
A PASSAGE from St. Paul says it all: "For when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cor 12,10). He reiterates it in another letter: "The weak things of the world has God chosen, that He may confound the strong." (1 Cor 1,27)
This is divine logic. Christ himself consistently showed this throughout his earthly life -- from birth down to his death on the cross. The saints through the ages have tried to follow that example.
We have to understand that this logic is meant not only for God but also for us. And I would say it is meant especially for our leaders, clergy, politicians, teachers, people in the media, in the arts, or all those who have great impact on society.
The strength more proper to us is not so much physical as spiritual, not so much intellectual as moral, not so much in terms of talents or natural endowments or worldly accomplishments as our living identity with Christ.
Our true strength has its source not in nature but in God himself, in such a way that with St. Paul we can also say: "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me." (Phil 4,13)
There is divine strength in what we, and the world, usually consider as weakness. We should always bear this truth in mind, so that whenever this weakness comes to us in whatever form, we quickly would realize we have a golden opportunity to derive divine strength from it.
No amount of physical limitations, health problems, financial difficulties, no amount of painful conflicts and failures in whatever endeavors we undertake, should weaken our conviction about this truth. On the contrary, they should reinforce it.
We have to learn to welcome and embrace hardships, our general attitude toward them being more supernatural than merely human. In this way, we avoid the dangers of anger, bitterness, discouragement, despair, sadness. In short, we can avoid the Devil, who is clueless about the wisdom of the cross.
Thus, we have to learn and cultivate the appropriate attitude and virtues to allow God's grace to work in us. These could be humility, obedience, simplicity. A certain detachment from things in general is always helpful. These could be the art of passing unnoticed, of thinking always with purity of heart, of speaking and writing with tact, charity and refinement, of acting with rectitude of intention, all driven by love -- for God and for others.
The consequences would be immediate and obvious. We will experience a greater capacity to see things more objectively, to judge things more properly, to do things more effectively.
There will be palpable joy and peace not only on our faces, but also in all our behavior. Our feelings, emotions and passions are held in check. They don't rule us. Rather we rule them according to the dictates of faith and charity.
We will have greater capacity to be more recollected, to be more prudent and discreet. In fact, what in the book of Isaiah is said can be applied to us:
"The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and godliness.
"And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ear." (11,2-3)
These are all possible with God's grace and our cooperation. Imagine what goodness and transformation for the better we would all have if we learn to derive strength from weakness, how to be strong when we are weak!
* * *
WE have to be reminded of this virtue, indispensable not only to achieve personal integrity but also to attain a certain level of social harmony.
Now that we are growing into more complex socio-political life, we all the more need to be sincere -- with God, with others, with our own selves -- to achieve authentic personal and social development.
At the moment, we seem to be drowned by an ocean of data and opinions, while truth
is left out in the cold. This situation has been with us for so long that we already consider it normal.
Everyone is claiming he is sincere in his views and cites all sorts of info and other pieces of evidence to support what he says.
While these claims are good, sincerity actually goes far beyond these purely subjective affirmations. It goes far beyond simply reporting what took place or what we see, feel or know. True sincerity is never cold and callous.
Sincerity is love for the truth. It presumes a certain living as contrasted to a formalistic relationship with how one understands truth to be.
This is the source of the problem. Truth to many is just what we see, feel or know. Or it's what we studied, researched on, what we learn from other sources. Truth is seldom considered to have anything to do with God, who is Truth Himself and the source of all truths.
When sincerity is not actively linked to God, then what we have is a very precarious, even dangerous kind of sincerity.
It would be a sincerity prone to pride, arrogance, and pursuit of self-interest. It would be sincerity devoid of charity, compassion and mercy. It would be a divisive sincerity, susceptible to be easily manipulated and to lead to self-righteousness.
It would be a sincerity that serves the tricks and wiles of human malice, sowing intrigues, creating contentions, fuelling loquacity and rash judgments.
We have been amply warned about these caricatures of sincerity in the gospel, but sadly these are what we are seeing around us these days! And in abundance.
Authentic sincerity is always a function of a living relationship with God. It is a sincerity that always upholds the truth in charity. Humility, simplicity and refinement always accompany it. Prudence and discretion temper it.
A truly sincere person considers his statements as a living part of his continuing dialogue not with men only but with God mainly. He lives a sincerity that makes him realize he has to make changes and conversions in his own self first before he can expect these in others.
It is a sincerity that is patient, willing to make sacrifices and to suffer for the truth. It is always accompanied by some kind of interior struggle against the constant enemies of the soul that also are the enemies of truth: pride, selfishness, vanity, etc.
These vices distort truth and reality. And when left uncorrected, they can build a culture that actually harms and demeans humanity.
To be sincere, it is indispensable to be prayerful. Truth cannot be handled simply relying on our good senses. It can only be handled properly with God, and prayer is our constant contact with God.
There are other requirements of sincerity. But I think that the most basic, the most indispensable, is to pray. Everything else has to flow from it. Otherwise, we would just be tossed and fro in an ocean of so-called "truths" that are none other than self-affirmations detached from the source of Truth.
This is something we have to understand well.
Have you heard about the story of a nun who possessed a pair of eyes so beautiful they drove a male admirer nuts? The nun allegedly decided to gouge out her eyes and presented them to her admirer so he wouldn’t bother her any longer. What about the story of another nun who prayed so hard to God that she’d grow a beard so she wouldn’t be similarly bothered for her beauty? What happened was she indeed grew one! And how about the one about yet another nun, I suppose, who sliced off her two breasts to get rid as well of a male admirer pestering her for that shapely part of her anatomy? She placed her sliced breasts on a plate and, after several years, she came to be known as that patron saint who holds a platter of two bells, the breast totally obscured as some other instrument.
I gathered these freakish stories from different sources that recount the lives of saints past. While these women literally took great pains to fight off vanity, perhaps in accordance with Qoheleth's (Ecclesiastes') admonition ("vanity of vanities; all is vanity"), today’s women, and especially so, men, do the opposite of taking great pains to augment their vanity.
I am vain myself and I’m the last person who would condemn efforts at making oneself pleasing to the eyes. Even the Bible itself has some passages that can be used as an excuse to keep oneself arrayed in jewels and steeped in perfume all the time. Indeed, while there are Biblical passages that extol beauty that comes from within (wear the cloak of compassion, deck yourselves with love and kindness, etc.), there are also passages that gush at the loveliness and regality of certain women, indicating levels of feminine refinement impossible to achieve without the right blush-on, mascara (henna?), face powder, conditioner (aloe?), and other ceauty accoutrements.
I wonder why such courageous nuns never made it to feminists’ list of heroes considering their targets were lascivious men, the arch-enemy of militant sisterhood the world over. The greater motive of those sainted women, as I see it, must be to keep their focus on loving God, not to explicitly condemn vanity. Anyone or anything distracting them from their Lover must be dealt with immediately at all cost. It just so happened that essential parts of their femininity got tragically maimed in the process.
Ah, but I’m probably deluding myself. What’s the definition of vanity in the first place? If it is about being overly conscious about how we look, then it must be vanity, especially when it hinders us from doing what we ought. Whereas if it’s just a matter of wanting to feel good about oneself or wanting to be charitable to one's neighbors, then it ceases to be vanity.
But where do we draw the line? When is 'overly' overly? What if it’s a matter of wanting to actually please and attract others, particularly the opposite sex, and not just to avoid offending them? Is it bad to want to look our best? When does self-love start to become really selfish? Is it wrong to love ourselves at all? Is it only natural to want to be attractive, particularly to the opposite sex? Isn’t it but right that before we can love others, we should feel good about ourselves?
Apparently the answer to all these questions is yes. These questions, however, can be put to the test if we are suddenly met with physically disfiguring events in life. Like, if you grew a zit the size of a lemon that left an ugly scar, would it affect your self-esteem? If you met someone with no legs nor arms, would he be a lesser person than Cindy Crawford or Brad Pitt? Would Mother Teresa be credible if she were clad in a revealing Prada suit and high heels, sported a Piaget watch with obscene studs of diamonds, and bathed in Estee Lauder?
Perhaps the wisdom in vanity lies in staying minimalistic, in the usage of the barest essentials. Besides, who needs cosmetological finery, correctives and augmentation when the aura of beauty from within is more than enough to make us radiate, dazzle and scintillate?
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