Monday, November 2, 2009

The Place of Death in the Korean Psyche

Today is All Souls' Day in the Catholic World. In Korea the praying for the dead is an important part of the culture. It is part of the Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist and Catholic conviction that those who have died are still in some way connected with us. The Protestant Church for the most part does not pray for the dead: seen as not Scriptural by some of the Reformers. This seems to be changing somewhat. It is acknowledged that the Jews at the time of Christ did have temple prayers for the dead. Would Jesus and the disciples have abstained from those prayers?

The Koreans remember their dead on many other occasions but especially on New Years and Harvest Festival Days. They also count 105 days from the winter solstice to Han Sik Day when they go to the grave of their ancestors to eat a cold lunch, refurbish the grave site, pray and have their rites.

The Church like the Koreans has a tradition that keeps the dead in mind and heart. It was a trajedy that when Catholicism was introduced to Korea the missioners did see much superstition tied up with the rites and they were prohibited; however we should remember the respect and praying for the dead was still a very important part of the Church's teaching and liturgy. The early Korean Catholics continued to have great respect for the ancestors but expressed it in a different way.

Living in Korea it was natural to have been changed in many ways, and one way is the feeling for the dead. They are always with me. On a trip to the States, on arrival and leaving, I make it a point to go to the grave site of my parents. Just the other day a family from Incheon came here to pray for their parents who died in Hwanghae-do, North Korea - our island faces N.K.

It seems so natural to want to pray and remember the dead. In the 2nd Book of Maccabees the passage 12:38, even if the book is not considered canonical by the Jews, shows they prayed for the dead and this was carried over by our first Christians. There is something very natural in wanting to remember and pray for those who have died. To be remembered in prayer, after death, is also a wish of many of us.