Ascension, Rembrandt, painted 1636
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
The Ascension is celebrated on Ascension Thursday, 17 May, in Scotland and the USA, and on Sunday 20 May in England & Wales, Ireland and the Philippines. I'm not sure about other countries. I won't be posting Sunday Reflections for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.
Gospel Mark 16:15-20 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)
Jesus said to the Apostles, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.
The story of how Koreans heard the Gospel is unique. As a Columban, I have a special interest in Korea since we have been working there since 1933. Some of our priests died there during the Korean War (1950-1953). I have visited the country three times, in 1971, in 1988 and in 2002. Korean Columban priests and lay missionaries have been assigned to the Philippines and Columban priests and lay missionaries from the Philippines have been sent to Korea.
Envoys from Korea to Beijing came across some of the writings of Fr Matteo Ricci SJ there They brought them back to Korea to study them. Then in 1784 Yi Sung-Hun, a Korean nobleman, was baptized in Beijing, taking the name Peter. He and others brought the faith back to Korea and within ten years there were 4,000 Catholic Christians, without any priests. Eventually some priests of the Paris Foreign Missionaries were able to enter the country secretly.
Four severe persecutions of Catholics took place, in 1801, 1839, 1846 and the last in 1869, in which people of all social backgrounds and from every age group were martyred. One of those martyred in 1869 was the paternal grandfather of the late Stephen Cardinal Kim, Archbishop of Seoul. His grandmother was also sentenced to death but because she was pregnant was spared. The infant in her womb became the father of the Cardinal.
Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan (8 May 1922 - 16 February 2009)
But today’s Gospel makes it very clear that we have to make a choice. If we accept the Gospel, believing it to be God’s own word, and are baptized, we will be saved. If we believe that the Gospel is God’s own word but reject it we will not be saved. The last words of St Andrew Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest, echo this: This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him.
St Andrew Kim Taegon (21 August 1921 – 16 September 1846), first Korean priest.
Faith is a gift. There are many good persons who live by the truth but who have not received the gift of faith. In the Solemn Intercessions on Good Friday we pray for the Jewish people, for those who do not believe in Christ and for those who do not believe in God. In the prayer for those who do not believe in Christ the priest prays, Almighty ever-living God, grant to those who do not confess Christ that, by walking before you with a sincere heart, they may find the truth and that we ourselves, being constant in mutual love and striving to understand more fully the mystery of your life, may be made more perfect witnesses to your love in the world. [Emphasis added].
In the prayer for those who do not believe in God the priest prays, . . . grant, we pray, that, despite every harmful obstacle, all may recognise the signs of your fatherly love and the witness of the good works done by those who believe in you, and so in gladness confess you . . . [Emphasis added].
The witness of the writings of Fr Matteo Ricci SJ and that of the Catholics he met in Beijing led Yi Sung-Hun to ask for baptism. His witness in turn to his own people led many not only to accept the Catholic faith but to witness to it by accepting humiliation and death itself during the four persecutions that took place. Here is an example from Asian Saints by Francis X. Clark SJ. St Columba and her sister St Agnes were martyred in 1839.
Kim Hyo-im (Columba) was one of the outstanding Korean martyrs. Her mother and six children converted to the Catholic religion. Two of the six, Columba and Agnes, resolved not to marry. In a trial the officials therefore asked: ‘Why are you not married?’ They replied: ‘Because we want to worship God, the Creator of all things, with clean body and heart, and save our souls’.
Tortures followed. For example, to make her indicate where Catholic were hiding and where Catholic books were kept, they twisted her legs, burned her body with heated charcoal, penetrated her skin with needle-like instruments. The police chief finally used a method which was unthinkable even in pagan lands.
They stripped Columba and Agnes of their clothes, took them from the jail for women, threw them into a prison of criminal men, allowing the prisoners to do anything they wanted. Although for two full days this continued, a power from above protected Columba and Agnes; no man approached them. Later Columba vehemently complained to the chief judge about this treatment: ‘You can kill us, but you have no right to do that kind of thing to us’. The judge agreed, and punished the police responsible. The officials attempted three final beatings to force her to deny her faith, without success. They then cut off her head.
The first canonization outside of Rome in modern times took place in Seoul on 6 May 1984 when Blessed John Paul II canonized a representative group of 113 Korean martyrs, out of more than 8,000 killed during the persecutions. Their feast day is 28 September.
Beethoven’s Halleluiah from Christ on the Mount of Olives. Bupyeong Methodist Church, Seoul.
Columban priests who died as a result of the Korean War
Fr Anthony Collier
Father Tony was born in Clogherhead, County Louth, Ireland, 20 June 1913. He was killed by North Korean soldiers on 27 June 1950.
Fr James Maginn
Father Jim was born in Butte, Montana, USA, on 15 November 1911 but grew up in Northern Ireland. He was killed on 4 July 1950.
Fr Patrick Reilly
Father Paddy was born in Drumraney, County Westmeath, Ireland, on 21 October 1915. He was killed by North Korean soldiers on 29 August 1950.
Monsignor Patrick Brennan
Monsignor Brennan was born in Chicago, USA, on 13 March 1901. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1928 and joined the Columbans eight years later. He became Prefect Apostolic of Kwangju in 1948. He and Frs Cusack and O'Brien, below, are presumed to have been massacred along with many other prisoner on the night of 24 September 1950. Monsignor Brennan, who had also served in China, was awarded the Soldier's Medal for bravery as a US Army chaplain in Europe during World War II.
Fr Thomas Cusack
Father Tom was born in Ballycotton, Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland, on 23 October 1910. He was killed with Monsignor Brennan and Father O'Brien.
Fr John O'Brien
Father Jack was from Donamon, County Roscommon, Ireland, and was born in 1918. He perished along with Monsignor Brennan and Father Cusack.