Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13; Luke 8:19-21
The first in the series of proverbs we read today says, Like a stream is the king’s heart in the hand of the LORD; wherever it pleases him, he directs it. In 1777, the river of mercy that is the heart of Christ the King began trickling into Korea. While visiting China, a small group of aristocrats happened upon some Jesuit literature. They brought it home and as they studied it, God worked his way through their minds and into their hearts.
The second proverb says, All the ways of a man may be right in his own eyes, but it is the LORD who proves hearts. The Lord took twelve years to prove the hearts of the Korean faithful. In 1789, a Chinese priest stole into Korea on a mission to introduce the people to the Gospel. Imagine his surprise when he discovered an underground Church of 4000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest.
The third proverb says To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. These people, hungry and waiting for Christ, did what was right: They read Scripture and evangelized. When the missionary came and provided what they craved – a taste of the sweetness of the Lord in the Sacraments – they flourished. In just 7 years, 6000 more Koreans were baptized.
The fourth proverb warns us that Haughty eyes and a proud heart – the tillage of the wicked is sin. If the Korean ruling class was anything, it was proud. The God of the Christians had the audacity to see everyone as equal. Their haughty eyes could not envision a world where elites, workers and slaves could be friends. By 1801 a vicious persecution began; it would last for the next 65 years.
The fifth proverb says that The plans of the diligent are sure of profit, but all rash haste leads certainly to poverty. Diligent well describes the young Korean boy Kim Taegon who at age 15 embarked on his plan to become a priest. He traveled 1300 miles to attend a seminary in China and was ordained the first Korean-born priest. He returned home and set about the task of smuggling more clergy into Korea but was arrested while doing so. He was executed at the age of 26. Father Taegon was far from alone; in all, the persecution took the lives of 10,000 people; fully half of the Korean Church.
The Church was diminished, but not impoverished; that would be the fate of the Korean dynasty. The sixth proverb teaches that Whoever makes a fortune by a lying tongue is chasing a bubble over deadly snares. The lying tongues of the despots who reaped profits off the backs of others finally saw their bubble burst; by 1900, the dynasty was eliminated. At long last, the cries of those who had shut their ears to the cries of the poor were, as the last proverb says, not heard themselves.
Meanwhile, the Church grew. In 1950, the site of the executions of Father Kim Taegon and over a hundred of his colleagues was declared a shrine; in 1984, they were canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in the church built nearby.
The example of the Korean Church and her martyrs teaches us that every heart open to God and acting on his word becomes a mother, sister, and brother to Christ. Even though we may not have the power of Orders, we do have Christ in the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit through our baptism. We too can evangelize. If you don’t know where to begin, consider: Religious education programs can always use help teaching children the faith; there is a bible study nearby that would teach you more about Christ; there are many ministries that reach out to the hungry, the poor, and the mourning. Be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; He will show you ways to bring Christ to someone in need.
We began with the proverb of the king. Let us close with the prayer that one day, the King of Kings will look at us and say, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40).