Friday, February 28, 2014

"For Me There Are Two Heavens"

30 years ago here in Korea 103 Catholics were canonized. At the canonization a priest asked what seemed to be a strange question considering the nature of the event:  "What meaning does this ceremony have for those who have  been dead for many years? " A columnist in the Peace Weekly, who is a close friend of the priest, explores the meaning of the priest's words. At first the words were not understood but over the years he began to understand their meaning: the saints are not being canonized for their benefit but for ours.

This year, 124 of the earliest martyrs will be beatified and, hopefully, Pope Francis will be here for the ceremony; we will know, he says, by the end of March. What meaning does this ceremony have for us? They already have the glory of heaven, he points out. At the canonization or beatification we are only making public what has already taken place.

So what is the meaning to us? He gives us two answers. First, they are our Korean ancestors, persons we can be proud of. Second, we don't want to tarnish their image by the life we are living. We desire to follow their example, living in a way that will be worthy of those who came before us.  And what are the ways we can use to follow their example? Pope Francis has given a way in a recent talk at Mass.

The Pope said not to stand still, encouraging us to keep on walking the life of faith by living with with faith, hope and charity, living like lambs and not like wolves. The columnist understands the Pope's words to mean that we are not to divide our lives into two worlds, separating our daily life from our faith life. They are not separate and should be lived as one life. And lastly, to live our lives with joy, which will naturally occur, he believes, when we live happily.

And how do we live happily? He cites the example of Simon Hwang Il -kwang (1757-1802). He was a member of the lowest class in the Korean Joseon society of that  time. He was a butcher  and considered an outcast, but once he entered the community of faith he was treated like a brother, even by the noble class of society. There were no reservations in their treatment of him which brought a great deal of happiness into his life. He described how he felt:  "For me there are two heavens, the one here on earth and the one that will come after death."

The words of Simon should make us think about the society we are making. Is the breaking down of walls separating us from others an ideal we strive to attain? Or are we satisfied with the polarization of ideology, education and class? Is this just too much of an ideal to have any real merit in our daily lives? We as Christians can easily see the way Jesus related with others no matter their place  in the society of the times. There is always something we can learn from the other, and something we can give the other that will enable us and the other to  grow. But when this door is closed we are hindering the way our society can mature and be open to the  joy that God is offering us.

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