Today’s Gospel reminds me of a convert I baptized Mary Magdalen in Korea fifty-five years ago. Back then, with most families lacking the money to send teen aged girls to high school, quite a few clever girls liked the intellectual stimulus my catechism classes afforded them.
There was a girl named Soun Pokey, which in English would be Pure Joy, and she memorized every answer in our catechism. However, we had a policy that held up on our baptizing teen aged girls. We needed her parent’s promise that they would not sell her off to a married man who wanted a younger second wife.
Soun Pokey stopped coming to our classes, but she didn’t give up on Sunday Mass. This had gone on for two years when Soun Pokey asked me to accompany her to her family’s house where her brother was dying of tuberculosis. In their yard Soun Pokey led me past her parents who were working with seed beds and pens of chicks they were raising to sell.
Taking me around to the back of their house, Soun Pokey introduced me to her nineteen-year-old brother. To keep him from infecting family members, they had used burlap sacking to construct a lean-to against their rear wall. The only furnishing was a colorful sheet pinned to the house’s back wall. Decorated with flower and birds, it bore an emblem in English saying HOME SWEET HOME.
With it being the kind of thing a girl would bring in her trousseau, I asked the boy if her were married; and he said, “I was, but I sent her away to live, because I must die.”
We began enjoying the visits I paid the boy; and when I gave him a leather jacket my brother Frank had given me, he liked it so much that he asked me to baptize him Francis.
Francis was gone when I went to see him one day, and I heard the family had buried him at night in a neighbor’s field.
After Soun Pokey stopped coming to Sunday Mass, I heard that the family had earned a pretty penny by wedding her off as second wife to an army officer.
One day six years later a Catholic asked me to follow him to where a girls was dying of tuberculosis. I recognized what had been Soun Pokey and Francis’s yard, and I saw their parents working on some farming tricks to get ahead.
Around the back the HOME SWEET HOME sheet was still tacked to the house’s back wall, and Soun Pokey was lying beneath. She was wearing nothing because she might soil it. With her last bit of strength she reached up and pulled the sheet over her.
“I still know all the catechism. Can you baptize me, because I am dying.” She asked me to bring the oils and water, and Holy Communion; and she asked to bring the Bible to read to her.
When I came back, she asked to read about Our Lord’s death and Resurrection. Then she asked me to baptize her Mary Magdalene. When I gave her Holy Communion, she told me to leave.
Coming out from Mass the next morning I found the crowd laughing, they said they were laughing over the death of that girl whom I baptized the evening before.
When I said that was nothing to laugh about they said they were not laughing over her dying. They were laughing over Mary Magdalene’ making her parent pay for proper church funeral.
They had insisted that her brother was worth ten of her, and he hadn’t got a funeral; but she scared them into providing a proper funeral by looking deep into their faces. She scared them, saying, “If I don’t get this, my ghost will return after three days, and she will torment you the rest of your lives.” So, Pure Joy got her proper funeral.