Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Meditation on the Beginnings of Christianity In Korea

In 1777, King Jeongjo was beginning his reign as a reformer in the Joseon Dynasty. His rule of 24 years was too short to make any great improvement, but his efforts have been praised; he also had a premonition of some dark times in Korea's future. In the Pastoral Bulletin for priests, we have this introduction to history and the writer's thoughts on the beginnings of Christianity in Korea.

These  years in history were filled with turmoil. In China the rule of Emperor Qianlong and expansion, but also saw the beginning of decline. In England, we had the industrial revolution;  France  was ripe for the cultural revolution, and the new country of the States was proclaiming independence. We were surrounded by war. 

It was the year of 1777 in winter that young  scholars met together at a Buddhist Temple in Yeoju Province to  study about Catholicism from books they received from China. They came from a distance,  ragged, but with a gleam in their eyes. 

In a time of upheaval, the learned are looking for answers. Confucianism influenced them to study  ways to make sense of what was going on in the world. The books they possessed  were from the West and translated into Chinese, and some of  them had to do with Catholicism. With the meetings, we have the beginning of the spread of Christianity without the help of  clergy: a story with which we are familiar..

These scholars found in Catholicism a new light. They did not see Catholicism as something to change society but a frightful new teaching. An example is Paul, Yun Ji-chung. When his mother died he  performed the funeral ceremony according to the Catholic rite which was the wish of his mother, instead of the Confucian rite, and he burned the ancestral tablets. Not to follow the Confucian customs on the occasion of coming of age, marriage, funeral, and ancestor worship was asking for trouble.

Refusal to go along with what society was asking was tantamount to attempting to overthrow the society, a way of acting that was seen as revolutionary. You were putting your life on the line. This was no exaggeration, and for 100 years we had  the persecution that gave us about 10 thousand  martyrs.

What is the face of Catholicism now in Korea?  Are we showing society a new road to follow? Or is it rather the church itself doesn't know what to do? Jesus said that he was the way the truth and life, and only through him can we go to the father.

Do we think we can be Christians by going in search of money and power? Do we think that more knowledge will get us to our goal as Christians? He concludes that  we are intoxicated with our power. 

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