Must we all look like cookies from the same batch?


By Daniel J. Bauer

Regular readers know that I rarely write about religion. This is of course by design. For a column to survive the proverbial test of time, it’s got to offer variety to readers. I’ve never taught a course entitled “Column writing 101,” but if I ever do, I’d likely make a lot of noise about variety as one of the keys to success. So, I often remind myself not to give my customers (and readers for writers are customers) the same thing to eat every time they sit down at my table. An even more important reason I avoid over-doing a focus on the religious, or spiritual in life is that I do not want to be too predictable. After all, I happen to be a Roman Catholic priest (“shen-fu”).

When this newspaper began to run my words in this space 20 years ago, one of the few requests I made was that it identify me not only by my name and place of work, but by my vocation. I want people to know who and what I am. And, yes, I am proud to be a shen-fu. Since we’re in the neighborhood, I’ll also tell you softly the acronym after my name appears because I asked for that, too. I am happy for you to know that I belong to a religious order of Brothers and priests. The tag “SVD” signals the initials of our Latin name, “Societatis Verbi Divini.” In English, we’re known as the “Society of the Divine Word.” We are a community of about 6,000 members, and do various forms of missionary work in over 55 countries. We cherish members from those different cultures as well. (Not many SVDs are Donald Trump fans. Probably none.) “Variety” being the theme for the day, let me ask if you caught that cool article in the China Post this week about some unusual Buddhist monks in a promotion in Tokyo that covered a range of interests and professional skills (“Japanese Buddhist monks,” Dec. 10, 2015, p. 12.) The monks competed with one another in chanting sutras, preaching sermons (“homilies” for Catholics), leading religious ceremonies related to dying and death and, believe it or not, throwing karate chops. Space limits prevent an explanation here on why my colleagues over there got themselves into this contest. I must say, however, with both a grain of humor and of salt, that this is a story that could shake up the Catholic world in a very good way.