Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Learning From Those That Preceded Us

On one of our retreats some years ago we heard about the watermelon man. The small village was going to have a new pastoral worker. He was young and saw that there were many problems in the village. It did not take him long to see how superstitious they were and in one particular case were afraid of a watermelon patch on the outskirts of the village.

One day when he was passing the watermelon patch he gathered a number of the villagers entered the patch and began eating the watermelon. From that day on they were afraid of him.

He was not able to function any more in his capacity.

Another man came and started to live with the people daily . Went about his pastoral work and began to gain their respect. After a good period of time as they were passing the watermelon patch he got the group to join him and very nonchalantly took one of the watermelons, broke it open, started eating and gave it those with him, from that time on the fear of watermelons disappeared.

This is a very simplistic telling of a teaching story that has ramifications in a great deal that we do. I have heard stories of priests who when on an assignment have decided to get rid of some of the statues in the church,without any consultation, and had great difficulty with the congregation from that time on.

A priest in Korea after being assigned to a new parish decided to get rid of the imported furniture that he had in his bedroom. He was very much for living the simple life and the virtue of poverty. This prompted many of the Catholics to get very upset and showed it in their relationship to the priest. We can discuss at length, I am sure, if what he did was really living the life of poverty.

Missioners can make many mistakes in a new culture and even lose the respect of the people. They told us when we went to our first assignments not to change anything for 6 months. The older priests also told us to keep our mouth shut for 6 months. I often wonder why these very wise positions are no longer considered to be warranted. It was telling us bluntly, find out what the lay of the land is before you begin expressing your opinions on the work or make changes in your parishes. In the postmodern world there is no blue print for our actions, so no need to worry about the opinions of others. Yes, that may be true but it will save much time and energy if the past can be a sign post to the future. Life is easier on the shoulders of those who preceded us.

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