Tuesday, February 9, 2016

We Can't Go Back to the Past

We can't go back into the past, writes the Peace Weekly journalist, in Word and Silence, and contemplates the beautiful picture of the earth taken from the  Apollo 17 trip to the moon that appears  like a precious jewel: blue marble. Difficult to image the wars, hunger, pain and sorrow that continue to exist on this beautiful planet earth, he laments.

Is our life that beautiful? Many look back into the past with fond memories. We forget the pain and the difficulties, for suddenly they are healed. We look back with the eyes of a poet.

The curtain has dropped on the  drama of the 1980s. Nostalgia remains for much of the styles of dress, cosmetics, songs, etc..  In 1988, we had the Olympics, also the beginning of the Peace Weekly newspaper. How did we live at that time? Was it a time we want to see returned? In recent years, we have had many movies and dramas that bring back to us those years: television series on life in those years, young peoples' dreams, romance and close family bonds.... 

The future appears  as a cold biting wind, a serious depression, and many entering a gloomy tunnel. Young people see it as 'Hell Chosun''; young people half joking, see life  being destroyed, and fathers of families are hiding their tears in being asked to voluntarily put in for early retirement.

People who are suffering from the cold are looking for the warm spot on the floor. When did we have the warm spot on the floor? Are we able to return to the times when as children, we went fishing?  No, this is impossible.  Going back to memories is no more than seeing a mirage. Nostalgia is only temporary. We have to find the answers in the present. In these barren times, we have to make the roads and dig the wells today. Tomorrow we begin Lent, a time of  renewal and living each day more fully.  

"Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert,  I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers"  (Isaiah  43:18-19).

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Church Within A Consumer Society

A seminary philosophy professor writing for  the Catholic Times' opinion page recalls eating out with an older priest friend and laughing at his humorous story about a grandmother who was making it known that when she dies she wanted to have her ashes scattered from the roof of a department store.  She spent so many pleasant hours there with her friends, shopping, eating, talking, drinking coffee making many things possible for her. Sadly, he says, this thinking is a  self portrait of our present reality.

Enjoyment and happiness are so interwoven in our lives it's  difficult to distinguish between them.  It's true that enjoyment can be a part of happiness,  however, unfortunately few have little idea of what Aristotle considered necessary for happiness: virtue and contemplation is what satisfies.

Shopping is enjoyable and doesn't harm anyone and can be done alone; a way for many to unload much of the stress that comes with daily living. Consumerism is a way of exhibiting property and  values of society. He uses the words of a French philosopher who considers production of goods not as important as consumption. In our present society  consuming is a symbol. For many, what they buy is not what they need but a means of drawing attention. We need to buy brand names, expensive, but the reason to buy them. This gives one pleasure and a reason to separate oneself from others.

In the  consumer society it is not the use of the product but its symbolic value determining  our place in society and the standard of happiness.  When  others have that sign in their possession and we don't we feel like outcasts; not able to  follow the crowd we feel downcast.

Possessing these symbols we provoke the envy of others, moreover, with these symbols we have the illusion that we are happy, and have joined the class of the elite and are now the envy of all.

Koreans up until a few years ago, more than material wealth  considered  sharing of  affection, warmth  with neighbors and family in society of great value. Sacrifice was not considered an aberration; tenderness was not considered foolishness. To fight for truth was considered noble. We remember these times in the recent past but now only a nostalgic longing.

Devotion arising from our religious feelings is no longer common. True happiness is not related to contemplation, and  the propensity to have it slide in the direction of enjoyment and consumerism is only natural. Members of society are raising up temples with department stores. He concludes the article asking the readers to again recall the true values that God has given us, and begin following them in the new year. Happy Lunar New Year.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Superstition In the Life of Christians

Even among Catholics we still have about one out of  four who have  participated in some superstitious  practice, and close to one of three who have no problem with fortune telling. President of a Catholic College writes in the Kyeongyang magazine on the way he sees the issue and what has to be done.

In the Catechism of the Church #2116: "All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse  to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices  falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots,  the phenomena of clairvoyance and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict  the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone."

'Begging for blessings' is a type of religious faith that those who indulge in superstitious practices find attractive. Many who have studied the issue have made known the problems and reasons for them.

First, we have little Christian understanding, lack of  trust and reliance on God, and no identity and confidence.  Secondly, the feeling of loss in an insecure society, Church's failure to present mercy and consolation, and to speak about the the harm of superstitious practices, are reasons for their prevalence.

Our  writer finds  reasons for the continuation of this  fortune telling culture as related to Christians' understanding of being led by the Spirit. Koreans see divination and looking for blessings as their search for elegance and elation. Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity have as their bed rock shamanism. 

Koreans in their religious feeling believe something is moving them. Theologically, we Christians, call this the Spirit. The writer feels that more than wanting to know the future those that go to fortune tellers are seeking to be led by truth and the Spirit of God.

It is not easy for a Korean Christian to  experience God and following Jesus they always feel something missing.They want to be led by the Spirit and truth and they do not find this experiencing of the Spirit so they substitute it with fortune telling and asking for blessings.

He concludes the article by suggesting the way to lessen the hold of divination and looking for blessings is to deepen the faith of the Christians in the role of the Spirit in life by prayer.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Going Against the Culture

In Korea, we have many who desire to become disciples of Jesus and are baptized, happy to be called brothers and sisters. However, once baptized  there is  a concern on how to address one another. A religious sister writing in View from the Ark column of the Catholic Times deals with the conundrum some Christians face.

She mentions that in Korean culture from the long past, calling a person by their name is not something that agrees with Korean sensibilities or ways of behaving. When we are dealing with seniors and persons with a higher position, it's  nearly impossible to call them by their given name. Consequently, a person is called by their office or position: teacher, president, director, chairmen and the like.

This very fact goes to show that we are not on equal footing, she says. Age and position are what is   important. Meeting for the first time we have to determine who is older or younger, so we will know how to address them. We find it difficult to call a person by their name alone: a sign of impoliteness and disrespect. This is true even within the church community.

She wonders if Jesus would be happy with the situation that we have in the church. Poor, and those with  difficult jobs are intimidated when they come to church. Not once in their lives have they had a job in which they would have a leadership position, or work that was respected.

We are all brothers and sisters within the church community, equal and with no highs or low, this is also  expressed in the liturgy. And yet within the community we have those who if not called by their titles think etiquette is breached, and feel diminished in the eyes of others. In Korean church beginnings, we had nobles, commoners and slaves all sitting and eating  together and calling each other brothers and sisters. We are no longer living in Chosen Dynasty  times, and yet rarely use our given and baptismal names when addressing each other, but titles of rank or work.

She concludes with a strong wish that we begin using in the community the names we were given by our parents and the baptismal name we received when baptized. She would like  priests and religious to be the first to show us by example: calling the parishioners by their baptismal name preceded by brother or sister.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Joy and Confidence With Doing Something Difficult

"You all wanted to go play in the water,  why aren't you coming in?" Words of the father of Han Pia, at water's edge. "Because it's  cold," was the children's answer."

"How do you know that without entering the water and seeing for yourself. Come on in,  if too cold you can always return to the shore." These words of her  father, she has never forgotten, and writes in  With Bible magazine that she often uses the same words with others, a valuable gift from her father.

Han Pia is  principal of the World Vision School of Global Citizenship, and writes about her experience, and what she has learned. For 6 years with a knapsack she has  traveled around the world, and experienced many difficulties. According to a Korean proverb, she recalls, when young these difficulties in old age would be worth even paying for them.

On one transcontinental train trip from Moscow to Beijing she traveled for 7 nights and 8 days. After that trip she has never complained of a  long, tiring trip. In China she was on a train that was crowded, like the subways in Korea around the New Year, and she had to stand all the way for 30 hours.

In India she was sick from food poisoning and her whole body was a rash, making matters worse,  she was attacked by mosquitoes and bedbugs which made her feel as if she was in a bee hive, her whole body smarting and swollen. On another occasion she was taking antimalarial medicine and the reaction to the medicine was nausea, and couldn't eat for two weeks.

She thought walking for 10 hours was her limit, but she did on one occasion walk for 15 hours which raised her expectations. She has extended this in  mountain climbing to 22 hours, and now wants to test her body for another longer mountain climbing experience.

Recently she met a woman who had walked a mountain trail for 30  hours. She envied the woman and made up her mind this new lunar new year to make the same trip. She doesn't know if her knees will hold up, but she will not know until she tries.

She recommends to the readers of her article to do something during  the new year which they would ordinarily consider difficult but a good, and have so far avoided. They will gain confidence, strength and  courage, helping them face the difficulties that come along in life.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Broken Scale of Justice

One of the frustrations, teachers' experience is misunderstanding, or the failure to sympathize with what is being conveyed. Society always has had prophets or whistle blowers, bringing to our attention activities or ways of thinking that are not those of the majority and consequently, not easily accepted.

Lady Justice holds balance scales in her hands, and eyes blindfolded so as not to be swayed by personal feelings. In With Bible magazine, the writer in his article titled 'Broken Scale' feels that our society's fairness  is slanted in one direction, towards the one percent of the world made up of the strong and wealthy. This small number's  high-handed  manner is not criticized, and we are blind to what is going on. The scale is seriously broken.

When a lawyer some years ago was a whistle blower on corruption in one of the industrial giants, it was only the priests for justice who sided with him. He brought his message to the newspapers, but they all treated him coldly. They knew that they would lose income from advertising. He was a well-known  lawyer and had information that few others would have available and yet society made him out as a Don Quixote and isolated him. Many turned against him and because of regional prejudice that was added to the opposition, justice was not achieved and he returned to his hometown a broken man: similar to the lives of the prophets of the Old Testament.  

A small group within the church have opposed the priests for justice and have expressed this loud and clearly. They have put pressure on the church to do something with these priests. The writer makes clear that not all that is done by these priests needs to be accepted without criticism, but it is a lack of reason when you let some small errors of judgment on their part, in the eyes of some, close the  eyes of society to  big evils.

The  scale of justice needs to be fixed. He mentions a number of professors who maintain the central point in justice is impartiality. The church should be working in its prophetic role as a leader  to fix the scale of justice. Social irregularities and unfairness in society need to be addressed. This is the concern of the Church, a present and  future subject and Gospel message.

What is meant by justice? We need to think deeply and work to achieve it in our lives. If we make-believe the scale of justice is in good order, and we remain concerned only about what profits us, we are not living as Christians. We need to go about fixing the scale, and concludes with the hope we will work to do this during this new Lunar Year.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Personalism: Dignity of the Human Person

Joy and Hope booklet from  the Institute of that name, mentions in one of the articles, encyclicals of the last few centuries, and Pope Francis' Laudatio Si. They restate the Church's understanding of the social gospel and our Christian values.
Personalism and  concern for the individual are all important, and the author mentions the work of a number of priests who were leaders in the co-operative movement:  Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta  in the town of Mondrag√≥n, Rev. Michael Coady and Jimmy Tomkins  in the Antigonish Movement in Canada, and in 1890 the movement by Don Lorenezo Guetti the first cooperative founded in Trentino, Italy.

He then introduces us to  Peter Maurin: Prophet in the Twentieth Century, a book translated into Korean last year.   He was a founder of the  Catholic Worker Movement in the United States with Dorothy Day and was considered Dorothy's mentor. He failed in many of the programs he tried to implement but left behind round-table-discussion groups, houses of hospitality, farming communes, and other programs. He died a pauper but is respected as an outstanding Catholic layperson.  

He was born in France  and joined the Christian Brothers. He left them and was attracted by  the Sillon Movement  in France, which aimed to bring Catholicism closer to the ideals of the French Republic, but he left them because of their lack of concern for what he thought was the spiritual. His call to military service and his opposition to war prompted his leaving of France for Canada and later for the United States where he worked in the movement for Catholic workers with which he was familiar in France.

He lived a very difficult and poverty filled life. He found the church in the United States lukewarm, and receiving no help began a house of hospitality for ten women without homes as a cooperative. He joined  Dorothy Day, a journalist, a woman with radical ideas with whom he began the Catholic Worker newspaper which used the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII,  Rerum Novarum,  and In the 40th  Year an encyclical  issued by Pius XI as resource material for their paper.

Briefly, he was against all movements and systems from above that used force and was promoting movements that relied on personal responsibility. He would  be considered a Catholic anarchist by many for he would oppose industrialization. He wanted everything to come from below, the responsibility of everyone and wanted the church to be a dynamic leader in the movement. His Easy Essays promoted these ideas. 

1. To give and not to take
that is what makes man human.
2. To serve and not to rule
that is what makes man human.
3. To help and not to crush
that is what makes man human.
4. To nourish and not to devour
that is what makes man human.
5. And if need be
to die and not to live
that is what makes man human.
6. Ideals and not deals
that is what makes man human.
7. Creed and not greed
that is what makes man human.