– Maria Kwak
First, a bit about myself. I am a native of Seoul, South Korea and now pursuing a master’s degree in History and Heritage Studies at University of Saint Joseph since September, 2018. My family had been Catholic since the 18th century, surviving a number of persecutions. I spent my formative years in New Zealand and Canada. My first pilgrimage to Lourdes, France in 2008 was a life-altering experience, which led me to take another spiritual journey to Seville, Spain. There I wrote Fell in Love With Andalusia (2014) dedicated to the UNESCO World Heritage sites and cultural heritage in Andalusia. An encounter with sisters at 13th century monastery Real Monasterio de San Clemente established by the Order of Cistercians made a profound influence on my spiritual awakening.
I arrived in Macau as a pilgrim, and since then, the Lord has lighted up my life with grace to alter my path towards the study of history at my current university, Saint Joseph’s. At times when we feel lost or are lost, God presents us with a new direction in our lives. By surrendering my daily life in the hands of God despite the vulnerability I had to face, the resolutions came in the midst of darkness. And this act of surrender not only brought about resolutions but also the inner strength to embark on a personal mission.
My first research was on the development of Macau’s churches and I discovered the central role of the Diocese of Macau in developing Macau’s social infrastructure and the welfare of its citizens. The Jesuit priests not only prayed but took responsibility for the city’s safety well before the government took shape and we are the inheritors of their devotion. As much as our lives are challenged today, their lives were challenged by the restrictions and limitations arising from the era. I sincerely hope that we will embrace their faithfulness to God and continue to remember in our prayers those who have willingly sacrificed their lives. Being one of the inheritors of our antecedents myself, I have started looking for ways to contribute to the community. The founder of Opus Dei, Josemaría Escrivá (canonized 2002) taught the importance of standing out from the crowd by becoming a competent professional in one’s chosen realm.
Upon reading the last issue of O Clarim, I have been encouraged to to write an article in response to some of the issues discussed in the Youth Forum. The future of our church is in the hands of those who have just started learning to walk their own paths towards to God. I hope that our identity as faithful Catholics may flourish from having a strong faith in our souls.
Our mission as Christians is to live for God, creator of heaven and earth. As Christians, our belief grows on the basis of the teachings of the Apostles. In the Creed (from the Latin ‘credo’) which means ‘I believe,’ we confess by saying ‘I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth.’ One of the fundamental differences between believers and non-believers is our approach to life’s challenges. However, we can be challenged or expected by peers, friends and family members to provide an evidence or proof of our faith. In today’s world, we are called to prove our faith with visible actions. Sometimes, there are situations when we ourselves cannot give proof to those who challenge us and an incapability to meet such demands sometimes leads us to a feeling of frustration, vulnerability or pressure. Growing up in a family and society with various beliefs and philosophical ideas, I realized that these feelings often only reside within us when we care too much about how we are perceived by others. This again, may be the natural consequence of living in the world of materialism. Jesus himself was ridiculed. As explained by the bishop, we must strive to preserve an image of Christ within our lives. And the purpose for our coming in contact with others who may have different beliefs is only to strengthen our faith to God.
During my retreat, I have learned to enjoy the silence through meditation and the time spent alone in prayer. Through the silence, we are able to receive the vision and encouragement from God with regard to what one should do with one’s life at a personal level as emphasised by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of Jesuits. It is equally important to affiliate ourselves to Catholic communities, however there are tasks and missions that we must find within ourselves. Reading the Scripture can be a starting point that leads to silence and contemplation in our daily lives.
While sitting in Largo de Santo Agostinho one day, I started reading about Saint Augustine whom we call Doctor Gratiae in Latin, meaning the ‘teacher of grace’. His teachings emphasise the significance of the divine grace of Christ which leads human beings to freedom. The retreat was challenging yet proved to be an astonishing experience to integrate my faith through feeling liberated. A quote by Saint Augustine deeply changed my perspective and attitude towards daily lives: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Author of Confessions, the Saint who lived during the times of Roman Empire described his sinful youth which led to his conversion to Christianity. From a historical perspective, it is considered as the first Western autobiography ever written, highly regarded as the inspiration for medieval Christian writers. Many of us may find this book relevant in understanding ourselves and finding appropriate answers to questions in life, especially the youth.
A modern Jesuit theologian John Hardon explains that the Sacrament of Penance “is a divinely instituted means of giving us peace of soul.” In a cultural context, the purpose of confession as a ritual can be a way to reduce one’s anxiety. The benefit of confession lies in helping us to lead our lives in peace. However, I agree with the idea of feeling embarrassed about making a confession. On one occasion, I made a confession at a church where I would not be recognised because I was emotionally challenged by the feeling of embarrassment. Upon my confession, I realised that it actually takes a lot of courage to be able to make a confession, especially when one feels burdened by the gravity of the sin. Moreover, we need to understand that confession is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, in which we are reconciled and receive absolution for the sins we have committed. When we truly understand the purpose of confession, the feeling of embarrassment diminishes. And last but not least, let us remember to trust the confessors of the church who are under strict obligation to keep the words they have heard in confessions to themselves. This is an act of grace from the Christ that we must be grateful for. In the coming issues, I hope to share some of my insights on being a Catholic woman in a society driven by materialism and Confucianism.