Friday, December 20, 2013

A Cardinal's Hobby

Books have for thousands of years been an important builder of culture. They have done much good but also much harm, but that is up to the reader to discern. They live in most cases beyond the life of their creators and have influenced many. They build on what has preceded and often give rise to what will follow. Recently, Catholic papers and even the secular press have reviewed the latest book by retired Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, his 52nd published book: Dialogues of Jesus that Open Wide Closed Hearts.

His motivation for writing this book, he said, is to share with others what he has learned from books that have enriched his life. Before his ordination, he promised, along with another deacon, to write a book a year. The other priest has since died but he was also a well-known writer. Cardinal Cheong has kept that promise with this latest book which contains his commentary on the words of Jesus in the dialogues of certain passages of the Gospels.

Jesus received many questions that were intended to entrap him, questions concerning the woman caught in adultery, working on the Sabbath day, the Samaritan woman, proof for his authority, and the like.  With these as a starting point, the Cardinal employs them to help us understand the background of each incident, and the truth being conveyed. What comes before and what follows each incident is also included in the commentary.

Despite a busy schedule, before retiring at the age of 80,  he was busy writing in various forms: books and essays, and on many subjects: canon law, doctrine, spirituality. The example of a busy cleric who continued to publish a book a year is a living example of how to make a hobby something very profitable for the Church and for oneself. No one within the Church has had such a record of having published a book a year, since ordination to the priesthood--in his case 52 years ago.

The cardinal goes to bed early and gets up at 3:00 in the morning, giving him three hours before Mass to do his writing. This seems to be  his only hobby or interest, outside of his work as pastor of the diocese. The retirement age for bishops is 75, but he continued until his 80th year when the pope finally accepted the resignation.  Bishops are required to submit their resignation to the pope upon turning 75. There were only two others who were older than Cardinal Cheong. As Cardinal emeritus he will have more time to write, and as long he enjoys health; we will certainly be seeing other books coming from his hand each year.

At the present time, the Church of Korea does not have any Cardinal as ordinary of a diocese, so they will be looking forward to one being appointed at the next consistory. Cardinal Cheong mentioned that he felt one of his duties was to help facilitate the unification of the country; the other was to foster a culture of life. The cardinal has mentioned in interviews: "I had asked for permission to go to the North but the authorities would grant it only on the condition that I bring a very substantial donation with me. It was a figure that my diocese could not afford, so I did not go. It must be known that one can enter the North only if one is bringing significant aid." 

It has been for all concerned a very bumpy road with the North, but nonetheless the Church of Korea continues to work for unification of the country, along with its tireless fight to make the culture of life for our Catholics a practical alternative to the present cultural practice, and with some  success. The new ordinary of Seoul, Archbishop Yeom Soo-jung, continues to stress the importance of these same objectives.

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