Sunday, February 23, 2014

What the Korean Martyrs Can Teach Us

In one of  Korea's  best selling novels an American is walking on a country road, sometime before the Korean War, when he sees a Korean couple: the man is riding a donkey, the woman walking behind him, puffing. The American asked the man if he knew about the 'ladies first' custom. The man said it was not Korean custom.

After the Korean War, the American returned to Korea and on the same road he met something quite different from what he had seen before the war. The woman was riding a donkey and the man was walking quite a distance behind. Things really have changed in Korea, he murmured to himself. But when he heard the reason for the change, he was stunned speechless.  After the war many still-unexploded land mines were thought to be in the area, and the man was being careful by having his wife go first. In the past, this thinking was expressed in the  short phrase: the domination of man over woman.  In  View from the Ark in the Catholic Times, the columnist, with tongue in cheek, says the men are making a big fuss over the changes.

One humorous story making the rounds, she says, among the many now being heard, is the one about a department store for husbands, where women can go to select the perfect marriage partner. You start on the first floor and proceed from there to the upper floors, each floor having better quality "merchandise" until arriving finally at the top floor, the fifth. 

One day, two women entered the department store. On the first floor, the welcoming sign said that the husbands on that floor had jobs and were good to children.  This was not bad, the women agreed, but they wanted to see what was on the second floor.  Here, they were told the husbands make a lot of money, are good to children and were also good looking. On the third floor, the husbands, besides having the qualities of the husbands on the first two floors, would help in doing the household chores. The husbands on the fourth floor had the qualities of the husbands on the other floors but also possessed romantic personalities. The two women, still not satisfied, were now set for seeing what 'jackpot' awaited them on the fifth floor, feeling their high expectations were soon to be realized. The sign on the fifth floor said: "Better to live alone. You want too much."

The columnist reminds us that women in the patriarchal society of the past greeted Catholicism with great hope: Before God all were equal. This teaching was felt by many as freeing the souls of our women. In the new list of those to be beatified, 24 of the 123 are women. She feels we need more stories telling us about our women martyrs.

One of these martyrs is Kang Wan-suk (Columba) who  was a leader in the early years of the Church in Korea. She was subjected 6 times to the leg-screw torture (a twisting of the legs with two sticks inserted between them). They wanted to find out where the Chinese priest Fr. Chu Mum-mo was hiding. She never uttered a word. When she heard of his death, she wrote her reminiscences and gave it to a Christian, but this has been lost. She died by beheading at the age of 40.

In Korea today there is of course no fear of dying like the martyrs but we can live, she says, with the same spirit of humility and emancipation.  Before blaming another, she urges us to look deeply at ourselves. And as a seeker after truth give thanks for everything, helping those who are struggling in our society. Isn't this the proper way, she asks, to live the spirituality of the ancient martyrs in each day of our lives in the 21 century?

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