Monday, August 24, 2009
Korean Funerals and A Catholic Missioner
Many years ago during the first years of getting inculturated
( Inculturation is a term used in Christianity , especially in the Roman Catholic Church, referring to the adaptation of the way Church teachings are presented to non-Christian cultures, and to the influence of those cultures to the evolution of these teachings. Wiki)
in the ways of Korea there were times I had difficulties in accepting what I saw. Especially at funerals, I can recall having the Mass at Church and walking to the grave with the casket and the funeral party and being so annoyed with the shenanigans of the pallbearers that I returned home: the pallbearers refusing to move until someone gave some money or some cigarettes. This happened on other occasions, even after I said I would leave if they did it again, they persisted. This "no shenanigans" became a condition the family agreed to before I went to the grave.
Another difficulty was seeing the table with food that was prepared for the deceased. This was part of the old traditional way of Korea. I can sympathize with those on both sides of the polarized issue among the missioners, first in China and then Korea with the so called "worship of the ancestors". To simplify the whole thing in a few words does not do justice to what was involved but the missioners did see what they saw. The ones dealing with the educated in the cities would accept what was being done as cultural and civil respect for the deceased, considering the original intent of the rites; those in the country would see it as superstitious. It wasn't until 1939 that the rites were allowed with certain conditions.
In our own veneration of the saints and statues in certain areas of the world there are many who are very superstitions in what they believe and do but we do not do away with the veneration that Catholics have for the Saints. Abuse does not take away use. This made the whole issue very difficult for the Church to decide.
In my own period of growth in Korea there came a time when I could see the "fooling around" on the way to the grave as a beautiful tribute to the deceased. It would only be someone who was advanced in years and who lived a good life. It was cathartic and bringing a little humour into the very sad situation of death. There are many things that start out not being what we would like but over the years we begin to see what is being done with different eyes.
There are still many areas of Korean life that are unknown to me and many things that I have difficulty understanding but that is also true of my own culture. Having the ability to speak another language exposes one to another way of doing things, enabling one to see other possibilities: humbling one, for what he sees may not be all that there is to see.