The following homily was delivered by Rev. Mincheol Kim, SJ during the High School unit’s Mass for Peace and Unity on the Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine (Jesuit cardinal, Doctor of the Church, and good friend of Galileo the scientist) last 16 September 2015 sponsored by the Face to Faith Committee. Rev. Mincheol is from South Korea and was ordained deacon last 5 September 2015. He taught High School CLE in Xavier for two years.
Hello, everyone! When I was CLE teacher, I had to teach about peace. Because ‘peace’ is the one of the core concepts in Catholic Social Teaching. But, just because you used to teach it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can easily talk about it. “Peace” — it is just a one-syllable word, but how difficult it is to appreciate its meaning, not to mention, to practice it! Good thing is though, that we have the Holy Gospel, so that we can have a reference. So, let us take a look at today’s Gospel, just a few sentences; it reads: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
You might say, “This is too difficult to understand.” “How can we practice it?” Actually, I had exactly the same feeling, because I expected of Jesus the clear-to-understand, and easy-to-practice instruction about peace. But, on the contrary, he is posing to us another difficult challenge, which is to catch his intention of saying so: why does he say it like that? Well, instead of giving the answer right away, I’d like to share first about the experience of Korean history as I had it as a citizen. By doing so, I hope, we can have a sort of clue for going into the meaning and necessity of peace.
What do you know about Korea? Yes, we have K-pop, Gangnam Style or Kimchi, or other exotic places for tourism like Jeju Island etc. And what else…? Maybe what Korea is best known for internationally is its being divided into two ‘different’ countries, like the North and South Korea. Yes, for some reasons, we have not been friendly to each other. Many times, we had to go through the turbulent situation like military engagement. No doubt, peace is the most urgent issue for the Korean people.
For example, most recently, last August, North and South Korea apparently almost went up to the point of having a war, making people of Korea, as well as of the world, worry about the security situation. It was triggered by the explosion of a land mine, critically injuring two South Korean soldiers. The South Korean Army accused North of secretly planting the land mine in the pathway inside the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone), a kind of buffer between the two armed forces. But North Korea denies it.
It is not that this kind of conflict happened for the first time: in 2010, a South Korean military ship, Cheonan, sank after the torpedo attack, killing 46, injuring 56 on board. As usual, South blames North, and North denies it.
And of course, there have been a lot more serious conflicts, not to mention the Korean War itself in 1950, which was recorded as one of the most brutal wars in the modern day. So many people were killed and displaced from their homes. Mere statistics and numbers cannot show the pains and sorrows that they had to go through. Sometimes, I ask myself, who would be the most afflicted victims of this extraordinary and absurd war system. Of course those who lost their own lives and their loved ones will come as the first. How can we duly describe their loss and despair in words?
Meanwhile, this war system imposes other kinds of inflictions on the people. For example, the huge amount of money is being wasted to purchase the weapons of mass destruction and killing, and to maintain the unnecessarily big size of the army. That could have been used for a better purpose such as social welfare for the people in need or even environmental protection etc.
Or I have to mention the so-called ‘macho culture’ that draws on the military system. Often times I heard that Koreans, especially men are too strict and aggressive, and when they are working, they focus too much on the efficiency and result itself, and they don’t care about the people and their emotions. We can’t deny that, because of the duty of military service for all men in Korea, more or less we are affected by this culture. I am afraid I also showed this tendency when I worked here…
All these things, I think, contribute to a ‘culture of absurdity’, as I’d like to call it. This is the culture wherein the injustice is ‘justified’ by another injustice, making the injustice look ordinary and acceptable or at least inevitable. It’s the absurdity by which a nation, divided into two, is waging a war with itself, killing its own people just because of the difference of idea. It’s the absurdity that makes people care no more about the root causes of the conflict, so let some corrupt politicians and militarists take advantage of the situation to fill up their own greed.
Who do you think will benefit from this absurd system: South? North? Or both…? But definitely not the people! It’s always been the ordinary people who suffer most from the absence of peace – the culture of absurdity.
Going back to the Gospel of today, how does it shed light on the meaning of peace? How can we restore and build the peace? We have seen already the words of Jesus challenging. But I think, that is exactly the point that Jesus tried to show radically. Given all these atrocities happening in the world, that is how we are asked to react. Is it to avoid the conflict? No, it is to challenge the absurd.
The important thing is how to challenge it. It’s neither by giving in to the injustice nor by answering with another injustice. That would be succumbing to the absurd system again. Instead, when Jesus says, “Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” he wants us to see that this is God’s way as it is, not the human way. He tries to teach us who God is, and how God treats us whenever we turn away from Him. He is not imposing on us; He is not retaliating against us. Instead, He waits for us; He even let us hurt Himself. Why? Because He loves us, not as we should be, but as we are. And that sheer love never ends, never compromises, and never ceases to give its whole to us, as we witness and remember through the life and death of Jesus Christ. That is how our Savior Christ conquered the absurdity, the evil system of the world, finally and permanently to bring peace for all.
So, my dear Xaverians, let us remember this: just like North and South Korean people who suffer from the absence of peace, we ourselves in our daily lives may have already become the victims of the culture of absurdity without our knowing it. For example, some of us might already be experiencing the difficulties like bullying or broken families, etc., and those things affect the whole community we belong to. The most important thing is to discern who or what is real evil to us. Bullying or broken families itself might not be a difficult-to-handle evil. The real evil instead is what keeps us in that sorrow and despair or helpless cynicism coming them, making us cease to love our people, ourselves, eventually our God. If we don’t challenge this evil, this absurdity any more, peace in its truest sense can never be with us. So, my friends, let us challenge together this absurdity by loving, not hating each other. Not easy it may be, but we can do it. This I am very sure, because I believe Jesus our Lord, our friend, has already loved us, when he appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection, saying “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.” Amen.