a statue of Our Lady of Korea

Beyond the Gift

by Fr. Young Gyo Kim

Part 1

(translated by Emmanuella Kim and Martha Reilander of MH Vancouver)

One day, in the cold of winter, I was about to go down to the lunchroom when suddenly the phone rang. I received a message from the office asking me if I could meet with someone for five minutes.

After I had agreed to the meeting, a nervous-looking man in his forties arrived. He introduced himself and said, “I am an elementary school teacher from a rural area. Can we talk? I won’t need more than five minutes.”

Knowing I cannot bear hunger well, my secretary had probably told the man that he should not take too much of my time.

The man told me that he was on his way to see his mother, who was dying of liver disease. He thought that this might be the last day he would see her in this world. As an only child, he desired to give to his mother, soon to leave this world, a precious “last gift.” However, he could not come up with anything.

If he gave his mother her favorite meal, she could not eat it, and if he bought her clothes, what good would that do.

So he asked me, “Father, please help me with an inspiring word. I will carefully carry this word in my heart and then whisper it into my mother’s ear as a last gift before she leaves this world.”

His serious manner made an impression on me, a young and inexperienced priest. Instinctively, I asked him, “Sir, have you ever been to church?”

He replied, “Never.”

I pondered his answer and then asked another question. “Then why have you come to me, a Catholic priest, to talk about a last gift for your mother?”

He replied, “I am an only child, and I realized that I myself cannot think of anything to give my mother before she leaves this world. I feel so miserable and incompetent. I was out walking with my head down, full of disappointment, when the church bell tower and cross caught my attention.

“At that moment, I thought to myself, ‘Ah, I should go there to find the pastor or priest, and perhaps he can give me a last gift for my mother.’ That is why I came to you, Father.”

I was touched and deeply moved by his answer. I began, “Firstly, I want to say that I admire your dedication to finding a last gift for your mother before she leaves this world.”

But even as I was talking to him, I wondered to myself how anyone could possibly find a solution within five minutes.

I continued, “All people live tranquilly in their mother’s womb for nine months. Then, at the moment of birth, there is a separation from the mother’s womb. Perhaps babies cry during birth because this separation is sorrowful for them.

“But, when you consider life from another perspective, you see that there are many people anxiously awaiting this separation, because birth is the beginning of a new life.

“Our life in this world is like living in our mother’s womb. Although there is much sorrow when we leave this world, the perspective from the eternal world is one of joy, because another new life begins. In our Faith, this is how we understand life, death, and salvation.”

The teacher seemed to be deeply absorbed in these words.

Then I said, “As you said, there is nothing that you can do for your mother as she leaves this world. But your mother is already at the doorway to eternity. You can help your mother by placing a stepping stone for her path to eternal life. Isn’t this the best gift that you, as a son, could give to your mother?”

After quietly taking in my words, his face brightened. He said, “Father, I have been a teacher for many years, but never once thought about life this way. Today I have received a truly precious gift. I would like to buy something as a sign of this precious gift. What could I buy? Where could I find it?”

Fortunately, I had a beautiful rosary in my pocket. I took it out and gave it to the man. He declined to accept it, but asked me where he might be able to buy one.

I told him, “You may be able to buy another rosary, but it will not have the same meaning as this one, which I want to give you. Please take this to your mother and share with her what we have talked about.

“There is a church in your town. Go there and ask the priest to baptize her before she dies. When your mother is baptized, put this rosary around her neck.”

The teacher then expressed his deep thanks and left.

A few days later, I received a letter. When I opened it, I found an obituary notice of the teacher’s mother. The obituary was a crude copy made by hand from waxed paper and a sharp pen.

At the top of the paper, the teacher had written two lines: “I am the one who came to you a few days ago and received this last gift. The deceased received the gift readily and died peacefully. Thank you very much.”

This first appeared in a Korean monthly magazine, Catholic Digest, in 3 parts, from Oct. through Dec. 2012. Fr. Young Gyo Kim is a Catholic university professor & auxiliary bishop in Korea, now retired. It was published in English through the work of Ambrose W. Choi, the teacher’s son and a friend of MH Vancouver, by a private publisher, Eldorn, in Daejeon, South Korea. Used with permission.

to be continued