Monday, June 21, 2010

In the recent Pastoral Bulletin, a priest reminisced on his days in grammar school and the times he refused to eat rice cakes. It was the custom when there was a family ceremony in the village to offer a dish of rice cakes to the neighboring households. Since the priest's mother was an old Catholic, she would refuse the cakes that came from shamanistic practices or from ancestral memorial service rites. Even at school he would tell his friends, "Our house goes to the Catholic Church; we don't eat that kind of rice cake."

As a boy he was very much interested in what was done at these services and would ask his non-Catholic friends for information. This interest remained with him even when he entered the seminary, became a priest, and went on to Rome for studies.

During his studies, he took an interest in inculuration and did a lot of reading and translating in this area. On his return from studies, he taught in the seminary and continued with this interest and was happy when the Church approved the rites for the ancestors.

However, he mentions a number of problems with the ceremony. In many families, when they hear that others are having the rites for the ancestors, there is often bickering. The Church has said the rites are good, but it has not said that you have to have these rites for the dead. It is here that we have misunderstandings. Some take it so literally that they want to go to the Confucian books to find the correct way to set up the table, what foods to prepare, and how to bow.

The priest reminds us that the Church has not given permission for the Confucian rites. When we have a rite according to the Confucian world view, these views are different from our own, and we are bound to have problems. Inculuration is important but there should be much thought given to what we are doing, and the Church should have guidelines for what is permissible.

And there are such guidelines on what may and may not be done. Over the years, however, the guidelines tend to be forgotten, or we lose interest and simply go along with what others are doing. The Catholic view of the afterlife is different from the Confucian, and without making allowances for these differences our understanding is bound to be affected in some very important areas of daily life: suffering, moral principles, beliefs, relationships, views on material goods, dealing with crises, death, and appreciating the beauty of the life. These are all important issues and how they are understood will affect our value system as followers of Christ; this could be changed by what we do in the rites for the dead.