Friday, May 29, 2009

2-22-2009: 7th Ordinary Time (B)

Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24-25/Psalm 41/2 Corinthians 1:18-22 /Mark 2:1-12
When Jesus draws the crowd that fills the house pictured in today’s gospel, the sons of a paralytic man cut a whole in the roof so to situate their father close to Jesus in the event he might be healed. He was healed, revealing Jesus’ power of course; but it can also serve to remind us of the importance of good help. Without the efforts of his sons the man would have remained a paralytic, suggesting that even divine healing entails mundane things, like the ingenuity of ordinary folks who know how to maneuver the crowd.

Years ago when living at the Korean parish in Flushing I came into the parish office looking a bit tired. The young man who worked there (a simple and humble person) thought I looked too tired and ushered me straightaway into his car and took me to a nearby herbal medicine store. This was a first for me: I was in strange and unfamiliar territory. We walked up the backstairs and into a small curtained room where they sat me across from a Chinese doctor who, for the good part of twenty minutes, did nothing but feel my pulse. He then wrote a prescription in Chinese characters and the young man who had brought me gave it to the Korean gentleman outside who began to fill the prescription with all kinds of pungent smelling herbs, powdered deer antlers and who knows what else. As we drove back I suggested the young man not tell anyone about our adventure since I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t be looked on as a superstitious stint or worse.

A few weeks later our parish was visited by Stephen Cardinal Kim, the Archbishop of Seoul (a personal friend of the pastor who would visit a good number of times over the years). Cardinal Kim was quite famous and very well-respected in the Korean community. Hundreds of people would come to pay their respects during his brief visit. One day I returned home to the rectory only to find the crowd spilling into the street waiting to see the cardinal. Once again the young man from the office helped me by doing a little crowd control, ushering me through the throng to the middle of the living room so I might meet the cardinal. As the crowd parted before us I saw the cardinal sitting at a table across from the same Chinese doctor I had met a few weeks before in the back room of the herbal medicine shop. He was quietly feeling the cardinal’s pulse as the cardinal was talking with people. I felt a bit embarrassed for doubting the good intentions of the young man in the office who had just wanted to share what he understood as a very good thing while I (from cultural ignorance) had been very skeptical.

This past Monday Stephen Cardinal Kim Su-hwan died at the age of 86 in Seoul, Korea. There have already been enormous crowds coming to pay their respects in the frigid cold outside Myongdong Cathedral. Cardinal Kim had been an extraordinary figure in Korean history, aligning himself courageously with the pro-democracy movement during Korea’s history of cruel dictatorships. In this he won the respect of all Koreans, Catholic and otherwise.

Although Cardinal Kim had come from very humble origins, he rose to the highest rank in both church and state. As a soldier in the Japanese army (Korea was a colony of Japan until 1945) he would learn English in a prisoner-of-war camp during WWII and later would study in both Tokyo and Germany. At the time of his elevation in 1968 he was the church’s youngest cardinal; he would eventually help elect two popes. There is a story (perhaps apocryphal, though I think not) which claims that after the dictator, Park Chung-hee, was assassinated, many influential people sought - and were nearly successful - in making him President of Korea.

Yet, for all that, Cardinal Kim was humble enough to visit us in Flushing and patient enough to let a simple young man, who answered phones in a church rectory, suggest he let a stranger take his pulse and prescribe some healthy herbs to eat. The best gifts are often picked for us, C.S. Lewis once wrote, by hands not our own. Our well-being (but another word for salvation) might best be found when we entrust ourselves to the direction of others – especially those good at crowd control.

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