Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chong Yak-yong

"Your good points can be listed on a few pages. If we listed your hidden faults it would require  too many books to count. You know the four books of ancient China and the works of Confucius, but can you be shamed by the virtuous deeds that  are contained therein?"

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times begins his column with this epitaph that Chong Yak-yong (his popular pen name was Dasan, 1762-1836) prepared for himself on returning to his hometown after 18 years of exile. His life as a scholar and writer was coming to an end  and he was preparing for death.

The columnist doesn't tell us much about Dasan since most Catholics would be familiar with him. He is one of the outstanding scholars in  Korean history and a leader in the "Practical Learning" school of philosophy. A man whose vast learning has helped Korea develop as it has. And a man who spread the Social Gospel in his books without knowing it.  Because of his Catholic faith he was ostracized by other scholars and almost killed a number of times. He did apostatize but  returned to the faith in his later years. His older brother is Saint Chong Yak-jong, and he was the brother-in-law of the first Korean Catholic  Yi Sung-hun and the uncle of Saint Chong Ha-sang Paul.

He was a great scholar but embarrassed at not living what he believed. He confessed on his 60th birthday that all his life was one of sin and regret. The columnist wonders, when we talk about Dasan, whether this admission of moral  weakness and regret for how he lived his life are the qualities that attract us?

His contemporaries  have given us little information but it is not difficult to surmise that he was a person with great introspection and repentance. He did  not hesitate to blame himself in order to prevent himself from repeating his faults and finding true repentance. A saint for him was not one who never did anything  wrong but a person who repented and reformed. The columnist brings to mind Peter, the head of the apostles, who teaches us a great deal with the humiliation that followed his betrayal.

All of us often do what is wrong, and  repentance should be the inevitable result. Without this repentance, a repentance like Peter's, our community will not have the sustenance to grow; we will be building on sand.

We often see this within and outside  the Church, when the only thing considered expedient to avoid the crisis one has to face is to resort to excuses and rampant regrets. Usually the higher the position and greater the reputation the less the embarrassment for the mistakes being made. However, Scripture tells us that without  sincere regret and sorrow for what was done, new life is not possible.

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