Thursday, December 17, 2020

Individualism and Social Evil


In a column of the Catholic Times, a priest recalls a recent visit to a mission station. (Mission stations are distant areas of a parish, where a priest does not reside and the mission station leader has a liturgy of the word on Sundays when the priest is not present. Priests visit once a month or more often to say Mass and take care of the sacramental needs of the parishioners)

A grandmother had filled a cart with turnips from her garden to make kimchi and brought them to the mission station. It was a rural road and the woman was quite old but it was no problem for this grandmother. 

The turnips in the handcart were so entangled, no one would know how many turnips were loaded, but it seems that the woman who had loaded the turnips thought there were enough to distribute to the believers at the mission station.

After the Mass was over and leaving the chapel, the woman who brought the turnips acted as if the turnips were not her own and another woman came forward from the parishioners and prepared to distribute the turnips to the believers.

The woman who began distributing the turnips seemed to know the number of turnips in the cart, and the number of people who came to Mass. She called each believer by name, telling them to take the turnip as she ran back and forth from the cart to the believers.
Some persons were given only one, others two, and others three or four. The priest watched the scene carefully from the corner of the courtyard. He didn't know what criteria she was using but in his understanding, she was giving the right amount of turnips to all the church members who came to Mass that day.
What was surprising to him were those who received only one were satisfied with one, those who received two were satisfied with the two receiving it with laughter, and those who received three or four were all satisfied. No one compared what they received with another. No one went to the handcart desiring more turnips.
Those who brought the turnips from their field to give to the believers and those that received all looked satisfied. The priest was seeing this for the first time, but it was clear that the mission station community was familiar with this kind of giving. This sharing from the abundance of one to what others lacked was a way of life in this community. The turnips would be returned by other members with something different. It was clear that gratitude awakened gratitude in the hearts of others.
He was reminded of the life of the Korean ancestors in the faith who risked death and kept the faith. The fellowship in those ancestral villages was strong. They lived together in God, prayed together, farmed, and shared together. He had now seen a living example of this kind of life.
He was able to meditate on the spirituality of these old Catholic villages that he had only heard and read about in the past. He felt that what he saw that day would linger a long time in his imagination and thoughts. He hoped it would bring about a change in his own desire— concerned for his own needs.
In June Pope Francis said: "Now more than ever the claim to focus everything on ourselves is illusory — to make individualism the guiding principle of society has proved to be illusory." 

Individualism is one of the structural sins in society with which we as Christians need to do battle. This radical individualism is something that is maintained from within by our own understanding of who we are. I make my own meaning and everything is my personal choice. I decide who I am. This is prevalent in society and contrary to our Christian relationship to God and others.

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