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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finding a Church for Easter: A Stand-Off with a Priest

It was a full day. Saturday it was. Everything was sparking forth vibrancy. The ethereal sky and the kinetic, bustling city of Seoul that beckoned me. I even had vibrant dreams the night before and wrote them all down in a notebook. 5 full pages they were. Everything seemed awake and dazzling. I made it to the heart of the city to search for something and ended up going for a ride in a police car, (but i'll relate this story later) for now, I'll talk about after this particular day had passed and night had set in, my wanderings for the day, up ancient fortress walls, into frenzied art university alleyways and such, were at a close, and i made it to Mass at a Catholic University. It was 8 o clock in the evening and the thinking was that I would go to an ancient, high church for Easter. At first, I thought I'll go to an Orthodox service. But, my explorations of the city had me near this Catholic college, so I thought, I'll just go here.

I think I was the only foreigner packed in there. I towered above a bunch of the short parishioners. All the Koreans were crammed in their seats. Holding candles for the service. Older women wearing white shawls on their heads, which I thought was more Orthodox than Catholic. It was interesting being in a Catholic church where probably a large portion of them had been converts. I mean, I guess...that's the case. Because Christianity is still relatively new here. Such a phenomena is not too uncommon with Protestants. But with Catholics, I don't think I've been anywhere where whole generations of the parish were not Catholic that stretch back probably centuries into ancestors marriages and dusty vaults.

Anyways, I sat through the service. Staring at the ceiling, this church didn't have the majestic roof scaling up into space like alot of cathedrals. It was high, but flat with no decorations. But still, there was an air of importance or grandeur even. The singing from the chorus bordered on the sublime. And let me admit, that even though I didn't understand hardly a word, I wasn't as bored as I have been sitting through other Catholic masses. There was something, a sort of presence of something very peaceful.

I have this friend, a sort of mentor who, is a Benedictine. And I guess, i sort of think that since he often tells me about Catholicism and I've accompanied him on trips to this monastery where we've prayed with the monks, I guess, I thought that I was now "in" with the whole Catholic thing. I once asked my friend about a Protestant taking the Eucharist and he said its not really allowed. But for some reason, this point and discussion of ours seemed sort of foggy. At least the recollection, or the conviction of it wasnt strong enough for me to find fault with taking Mass with a bunch of Catholics. So, when I went forward in the procession to take of the Body, my conscience was sure in its deliberation. And then the priest suprised me, right after handing me the wafer, he asks, "Are you a Baptist?". I think I just nodded. Because I thought he was talking to me in Korean or maybe Latin, and I just thought maybe the "bless, my son" or whatever it is that they say sounded like, "Are you a Baptist?" So I slightly bowed, (the custom here for respect) as though i was thanking him for the Bread. But he immediately ripped the wafer out of my hand and said again, "Are you a Baptist? I uttered back "No! No!" and I took the wafer. I know. I know. It was instinct and I wasn't thinking. Besides all these people were standing in line behind me. I was standing in front of the whole church, near the little nuns that sat right there probably watching the whole thing. It wasn't until I was in the middle of stammering out that I am not a Baptist, that I realized what he meant. -That he didn't think that a Protestant should take of the Eucharist.

Technically, I told the truth. I am not a Baptist. But, why doesn't he ask what he meant? "Are you Prostestant?" or better yet, "Are you Catholic?" But I had the Bread, so I just ate it and walked out of the Church. Feeling, like maybe I shouldn't be here if its such a big deal. So, I didn't take the Blood. And then I got to thinking, and I don't know if I should feel ashamed of what happened or annoyed with him. I mean, what if I was holding the chalice at my home church in Birmingham, AL and some short, olive-skinned man with a big nose wanted to take Communion, or just a Mexican came in and I said, "Are you Catholic?" and I jerked the Chalice away from his lips? Or what if some rough looking dude with skull tats all over his arms and a heavy metal T-shirt came in and I did the same, but asked, "Are you a Satanist?" I suppose, I could interrogate everyone, "Are you an agnostic? Are you sure about that?" Of course, with this priest his hunch was heading in the right direction. I am not a Catholic. But he didn't know that. I mean, what if I were Catholic, for all he knew I could've been a German one, or Irish, or perhaps Polish. What then? If he asked, "Are you Catholic?" What? You have to be short and have darker skin to be Catholic? I think I would've been offended. I'm sorry, I just don't feel all that convicted that me and another Christian have to agree full-heartedly on the issue of transubstantiation to share Communion with each another. So I left sort of put out about the whole experience. I wrote my friend about it, he said that his opinion was that I was in the wrong, and then mentioned among many things, something about George Washington not taking the Communion with the Church of England because he had fought a war with its head the King of England. Anyways, I left and I don't think I'll go back to a Mass any time soon seeing how I'm not one of them.


Anonymous JamesBrett said...

sad story. i took communion once in the catholic church -- in macao, china. i didn't know i wasn't supposed to at the time.

and to be called the "catholic" church -- meaning universal -- they sure are a bit exclusive...

10:16 PM  
Blogger Brian Harrison said...

So I was just relating this story to some of my co-workers, also foreigners. And one of them brought up a point that I had hitherto never considered which probably was the truth. The priest was not asking if I was "Baptist". But probably asking if I was "baptized". Which makes the situation even more incindental. Of course, he probably meant it as a Catholic baptism. Which would mean that I still fell outside as a proper candidate to take of the Eucharist. But..it makes my answer all the more quirky. For I affirmed with a very resolute "No! No!" and protected the wafer from it being ripped out of my hand from his snatching. So, he must've thought, i was a complete nonbeliever stealing the Bread from his blessing. I can't help but think that's just a little bit funny. So here I am accidentally causing sacrilege on the other side of the world.

3:43 AM  

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