The Social Apostolate is Like a Home to Me
Br. Paul Chon Chu-hui SJ (KOR)
In 1988, the year of the Seoul Olympics, I graduated from college and immediately entered the Society of Jesus. As we novices were beginning the second year of novitiate we made a 19th annotation "spiritual exercises in daily life." One day when I took a walk for reflection after finishing prayer in the chapel I suddenly saw a vision. I saw the back of a middle aged man looking like a vagrant beggar in ragged clothes. Then, he just looked back at me very warmly, but said no words. At that moment I felt that this was Jesus and in my heart I felt the desire to follow that beggar walking in front of me. After a brief while the vision disappeared. After the vision, as I continued my walk, I had a strong feeling to follow Christ poor, and because of this I came to make two decisions that have been most important in my life. The first was that in order to follow the poor man Jesus I changed from a priestly vocation to that of a brother, and the other one was that I wanted my future apostolate to be the social apostolate.
However, after taking my vows as a brother, rather than formation for the social apostolate I was immediately put in a different apostolate. (At that time there were only two brothers, including myself, among the Jesuits in Korea.) In my life as a brother in the Jesuits I was not given the apostolate I wanted. Aside from the few years I was given to study sociology, I have spent the past 20 years as part of Jesuit administration or Sogang University administration. In spite of that there are some dimensions of my life that have kept me tied to the social apostolate.
The first dimension is that my heart has been in the social apostolate, meaning that personally I have identified myself with a Jesuit belonging to the social apostolate. For example, I am working in Jesuit curia administration at present. However, I consider that I am missioned to administration from the social apostolate. When my term of office is completed, I believe that I will return to the social apostolate. For many years, even though I was not in the social apostolate, I was a member of the social apostolate committee. The second dimension is that as far as possible I have lived in the Hanmom Community, which is the social apostolate community. This has given me the joy of living with such long-term and respectable social apostolate veterans and Fr. Jung Il-woo and Fr. Park Mun-su and their rich spirituality. In fact, I have learned much from this. I have learned that hospitality and shared meals are characteristics of the poor. Also, the ability to have empathy, that is, to enter into the feelings of others who are suffering and to feel their pain as one's own, has become a mantra for my life, and this is an important element of the social apostolate, and it is what Jesus as a poor man felt in the vision I saw.
Now the Society of Jesus is allowing me to work in the social apostolate. Actually, though, I feel some fear along with joy. I haven't yet lived on the front lines of the social apostolate and haven't become familiar with it. At present I am province treasurer while also being engaged in the social apostolate. Nevertheless this one fact, that I am now engaged in the social apostolate which I have long cherished, gives me abundant joy. It is true. The social apostolate is like a home to me. It is like the parable in Luke's gospel chapter 15 when the prodigal son finally returns, so the social apostolate to me is like the Father's home and my home. It is the place where I should abide and the stage for my activities.