I broke my fast and dietary restrictions with absolute class last weekend. The wife and I indulged in shellfish and seafood pajeon and washed it down with a nice bowl of chilled rice beer. It was a fantastic return, but my digestive system has been a little slower to accept the changes. On top of that, I attended a Democrats Abroad Han River Cruise on Saturday night. The wife was out with some of her colleagues, so it was a great chance for me to meet some like-minded souls and socially break free from the isolation that Buddhism provided. It was a lot of fun.
Going to bed on Saturday night was interesting. The secular joys of Sunday had already been dashed and my typically lazy mornings now seemed more like a chore than a gift. I woke up at about 7:30am and hopped in the shower. For the first time this year, I got to spread the suds around with the morning sun blazing through the small street-level bathroom window. Weather this year has been torturous. It goes from balmy to frigid to windy to drizzling within minutes and every weekend seems to be plagued by unfortunate forecasts. I guess this morning was an exception and what a fine day to turn the corner and warmly welcome the new season, a new month and, of course, a new religion.
The church I had picked out was close. It took us about five minutes by scooter to get there. There's nothing classier than sporting nice threads on an increasingly beat-up motor scooter. We arrived at the church to no fanfare. There was no one outside. The silence was magnified by the surrounding pines and ginkgoes which masked the church from the surrounding listlessness of Seoul apartments. As we approached the massive doors, we came across a statue of Mary with a kneeler in front of it. I didn't realize that I was supposed the cross myself. My wife knew though, so I copied her. I ended up copying her a lot.
Once inside, we learned that the service times had changed and they now started at 9:30am. We were only a few minutes late though. The English service, however, didn't take place in the grand sanctuary. No sir, we were pushed down to the third basement level. It was okay down there. I'd say there were about sixty people in there; some Korean, but most were English-speaking Caucasians. Since we were late, we had to sneak in and grab a seat in the back. To make matters worse, we couldn't find any programs.
Being program-less in a Protestant service isn't much of a problem for me, but this was a Catholic service; my first one. I was lost. I could listen and observe, so it wasn't too bad for the first time. I will say this, Catholics seem to spend most of their time in that sanctuary observing rules and regurgitating old rites. Some were long and others were short. I could pick up a few things though. I could add my Presbyterian "and also with you" endings in there a couple times and I had been to an Episcopalian church once before and was aware of the "trespassers" and "debtors" swap. If the service style taught me anything, it was the fact that I have A LOT of studying and memorizing to do before next weekend.
I plan to head to the church --Or do I call it a Parrish?-- this week for a little one-on-one time with the priest. Sounds hot, right? Kidding. He seems like a good enough guy. I believe he is Korean-American and even though he doesn't know it yet, he is somewhat responsible for my journey into Catholicism. I'm also scouting out another priest --Or do I call him him father?-- at another church in the Seoul area. On top of that, I believe that my wife and I are heading on a church retreat next weekend. It sounds like a God-fearing weekend full of Catholic loving.
After the service (which I'm getting to), we went to the bookstore and stocked up on Catholic trinkets and books. I bought the Good News Bible with Deuterocanonicals and Apocrypha supplements. This is what they suggested to me. We also picked out a fashionable and tasteful crucifix and some hip catholic jewelry. Interestingly enough, they wouldn't let us leave until the items purchased were blessed by a priest. The ladies in the store were frantically scurrying around trying to locate a man of the cloth. They eventually succeeded. A stocky Korean man wearing a cassock emerged from a busy herd and looked down at my bag. He smiled at me, and then waved his hand over my purchased. It was very pagan looking to me, but he then ended the motion by crossing himself. I just stared at him. I wasn't sure if I needed cross myself or bow or just smile. I opted for the last one because in all honesty, I just don't know the rules yet.
Of course, I was mostly eager to hear the sermon. That's where the message was sure to stand clear and maybe I would get to hear a real Catholic sermon. However, I did not get such a thing. The sermon sounded just like every Christian sermon might. They talked of love mostly. Since I did not have a program, I don't know what scripture was being referred to, but that doesn't matter just yet. The main point was how do we love our enemies. The priest kept on asking "how", but he never offered any solutions. This was frustrating. He told a story about Ghandi who was once asked about why he studied Christianity so much, but never converted. Ghandi said (and this is what the priest said), "I like your Christ, but I don't like your Christians."
Well, that goes without saying. People are notorious for ruining religions, but then again, religions can certainly ruin people. I like what Ghandi said and I also appreciate what the priest was saying about love. Here's my issue: The priest recognizes that Christians are having a hard time following the Bible and how Jesus lived. He also said that God would never ask us to do something that was impossible. However, if he's quoting that sort of Ghandi quote and saying that Christians need to be more loving, then I'd like him to offer some advice.
The message is pure, but the delivery and follow through seem weak. Love is universal, but if Christians are still getting it wrong at this point, how about a sermon that doesn't end with "how"? If I must seek the guidance of Christ, then I wouldn't a modern-day twist that ends with "try".