Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Passion and Dispassion

A priest working in a diocesan religious education center recalls his early years before entering the seminary.He writes about his experience in Bible & Life. In second year high school, he was invited by a close friend to go to the cathedral church in Seoul. An opportunity to ride the subway made the  invitation attractive. They arrived at the cathedral where there was a program for those  interested in the priesthood. This was the first time he heard of such a program.

Looking back over 25 years, he doesn't remember anything that was said, but only the delicious  high-class  doughnuts, their taste, aroma and color. Doughnuts made him want to be part of the group preparing for the seminary, and a desire to be a priest. He was taken up with a dream and a passion, but did not envision the dispassion that would follow the passion. 

In the seminary, it was not vocation, God's call, but concern about the grades.The very ambiguous call of God did not compare to the here and now reality of getting the necessary marks to move ahead. He admits more than vocation it was his choice, more than the will of God it was his dream, that was important. He wanted to be a seminarian, a priest; it was his desire that made him put all his efforts to be a priest; he was driven by passion. 

25 years have passed; he is now a priest. His passion enabled him to become a priest, but the passion disappeared. Passion is in our hearts but where there is also a trap. We are not persons with an earthly eternity. Passion does not exist eternally, and his passion dried up and disappeared, and in its place dispassion. 

The time in the Confession seemed like an eternity.  Telephone rings late at night were irritating. His sermons were unprepared and rambling. The TV remote control in his hand was more to his liking than the breviary. Satisfaction came seeing money pile up in his bank book. When praised his body responded and when criticized, he scowled, no more passion.

Passion enabled him to achieve what he wanted, passion gave him strength to realize his dream. But the passion was limited to this goal; attainment brought coldness. Dreams disappeared; passion  turned what he desired into something meaningless.

Dispassion  cannot  be turned into passion, and if it were possible, this would again return to coldness.  There is nothing that he could put between the passion and dispassion. 

Abraham was called by God to go on a journey, it was not his journey but God's journey. He found meaning in the journey that  was given. Abraham's passion came from  the call of God, and it never disappeared.  "Go forth from the land of  your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you...Abram went as the Lord directed him (Gen. 12:1-4).

 We have to search for meaning. Where I am now did not come by passion but from meaning, a gift I have received. The passion comes not from the realization of my dream but my answer to a call given by God; this passion will continue. It is my relationship with God that is important and will fill my life with meaning. Love that comes from God gives us passion, gives us meaning and lights the way. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Problems with Unhealthy Competition

Sewol Ferry tragedy continues to be an accident the Korean society does not want to forget. An article in the Kyeongyang Magazine: Competition is the Incurable Disease of the Country, visits the issue again. The writer is the head of a research institute attached to a University. He reminds us that we have signs of similar disasters in society. 

Heinrich's Law: in a workplace, for every one major injury there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries, this law, he says, is applicable to our situation. We continually see, he says, incidents and warnings of this in our society. As a member of the  OECD in its rankings,  we see warnings for the future. 

The numbers of suicides increase, births decrease, difficulties in finding  employment,  the intensity seen for college enrollment, the disparity between the rich and poor, etc.,  and he attributes this to the excessive competition in  society. He doesn't fault competition itself but what he sees as competition without a clear object, excessive, and competition for the sake of competition.

The country has come a long way since the Korean War. Competition has made us a strong economic country but with this continual running, and blind competition the individual, family and the country is in  danger of 'sinking'. It is like the cancer cells in our body that continue to spread until we cry out seeing the results. We are going so fast  we do not have the time to reflect on what we are doing. The reasoning behind competition makes us egotists; we don't want to fall behind, and when we fail all comes to an end. Many parents teach the children if it is not hurting you, no need to be concerned.  

Young people  for the past six years in the ratings of the OECD  for happiness, Korea continues to be the lowest of the 23 countries. The symptoms and warnings from the Sewol tragedy have to be faced by the citizens. (Sewol the word brings to mind to Korean citizens the human errors, the incompetence, corruption, cowardice, the failure of education and other aspects of society that allowed the death of so many young people when the Sewol Ferry sank. )Why are the young people so unhappy? The young do not have time to dream, and young couples are afraid to have children. He wants us to face the questions that the Sewol tragedy brings to our attention. 

The educational system is unhealthy. Parents leave the country for the education of their children or are separated from their  parents in the early years of education all because, he says, competition.  He lists the qualities that are desired by the parents of the middle class  published by Oxford University. First, fair play, second, to follow one's convictions, third,  not to act self-righteously, fourth, support the weak and confront the strong, fifth, to resolutely fight against immorality, dissatisfaction and lawlessness. These are far from what he says are the aims of our Korean parents: success and money.

Why do children have to study? How are they to live? What are they to do? These are all questions that parents have to consider and make part of their dream for their children. If it is the happiness of the children, they want, then parents have to take this into account in the way they act and speak. In the society we have made, the writer concludes, this way  of acting will be difficult because one has to overcome what we have seen and learned.

Monday, July 21, 2014

You're the greatest: Sei Bravismo

A priest in The Catholic Digest Magazine recounts some of the difficulties in learning a new language necessary for study outside the country. He was studying in Italy and was close to one of the families in the parish where he was assisting the pastor. He would  often be invited to eat with them. They had three daughters, and the youngest Sophia was in first-year elementary school and was not pleased with the visits of the priest.

The priest's skinny rambling oriental features did not appeal to the young girl. The other two girls had no difficulty with his broken Italian. Sophia probably didn't care for the attention he was getting from the other members of the family and their  lack of concern for her. On one occasion, he prepared a slice of the cake with the fork in it and gave it to the child, she looked at him and said it was disgusting: the words Italians use in  abusive language, surprisingly he understood. She was as pretty as Audrey Hepburn but with a horrible temper. The priest didn't like being ostracized by the child and was determined to break down the wall of resistance.First he tried to show an interest in what she was studying in school, what TV programs she liked, but Sophia did not give answer and instead started correcting his inarticulate Italian with a show of anger at his poor Italian. This bothered him greatly.

The second strategy was to give her some Korean presents, a doll, a purse and the like. It seemed to work. She was spending some time over in a corner looking over the gifts  but then suddenly  she threw  them all away.  The priest  was totally upset and angry but was determined to work to get her friendship. This time it was to ignore her.

When he came to the house, he would greet the family warmly, eat with them and sing together, but would not pay any attention to Sophia. She would turn to the TV to forget her boredom. The mother would tell her to turn off the TV for the priest was there with them. The priest found this very difficult but felt it necessary to come to a  new relationship with Sophia.

A couple of weeks later Sophia was the altar girl at the Mass the priest was saying. This was her first time, and her other altar servers did not show up. He could see she was very nervous about her role. The Mass started and right from the beginning she was making mistakes. He tried to help her with hand gestures and with whispers. At the offering of the gifts, Sophia was in a state of panic. When it came to the washing of the hands, she began washing her own hands. The mistakes continued to the end of Mass. His eyes met the eyes of Sophia's  mother whose distress was apparent. In the sacristy he noticed that she was ready to cry so he gave her a thumbs up gesture and told her she was great: Sei Bravissima. He open his arms to  her and she hugged him closely. From that time on when he visited the house she was always the first at the door and when he left Italy she was the one who missed him the most.

Some 5 years later the priest on a pilgrimage to Assisi with his parishioners, the family came to see him at the shrine. They lived about an hour driving distance from Assisi. They spent an evening together talking about what had happened during the intervening years. Sophia was now in middle school. When she  left them, Sophia gave him a hug like in the sacristy five years before, and said to the priest:  "Father you're the greatest." Sei Bravisimo. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Effective Teachers

An educator who was a principal for many years, writes in View from the Ark of the Catholic Times, about  a visit to an Alternative School (non- traditional education) to give a talk to the  parents, an occasion he has never forgotten. The educator had sent the outline of his talk to the  principal of the school and was told it would also be good for the students to hear the talk, so they joined the parents in the lecture hall.

He was somewhat perplexed with the change but  adapted appropriately. During the talk, he kept his eyes on the students and was surprised at their attention, their answers to his questions and their questions.

After the talk, more satisfied than usual, he was especially amazed at the happiness showing on the faces of the students, and without much thought asked a group of students walking along the corridor: "Are you happy?'  The students stopped and answered with one voice. "Yes, we are very happy." Without giving them much time he again asked: "Why?"  One of the students who was lively in his questioning during the lecture answered: "We are respected by the  teachers this makes us happy."  Another girl with the group smiling answered:  "Sir, there is another reason also for the happiness, mothers are not here with us."

The educator had heard that at the beginning of the school year it was not like this. Disorder and confusion was the everyday situation, but with the passage of time and interaction with the teachers all changed. They were away from home and living in dormitories, a different environment from what had been their experience.

Hearing the words of the girl he was embarrassed for the mothers. They heard what was said, and their heads were lowered. No doubt they were thinking  it was their fault their child was not going to the public schools in their area, and  were at a distance from home going to an Alternative School. The educator felt it was not only these mothers who needed to lower their heads. Korean mothers' love for their children requires they give them the best possible education without  concern for the needs of the child. Parents put a great burden on the children and compare them with other children which is  seen as cruelty by the children. Often they put off the religious education of the children until they get into college.

The three requisites in getting into a good school: the grandfathers financial situation, the mothers gathering of information, and fathers lack of interest. This is the reason says the educator for the feeling of some of the children towards their mothers. He quotes  the phrase from chapter 6 of Matthew: "Set you hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well."

He retells an anecdote about Gandhi. He was approached by a mother who wanted him  to tell the child  to stop eating so many  sweets. Gandhi heard the request and told them to return in 10 days. He had been eating sweets himself and wanted time to not eat sweets so he could speak from his heart and experience. Gandhi's  explanation was sufficient to have the child overcome his habit of eating sweets. The article concludes: mothers, and all of us, have to be doers of the word before we can become Effective teachers.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Many reciting the Lord's Prayer have difficulty with the phrase: " forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." The face of the one we can't forgive often appears. These words, of the head of a research center for Scripture, begin her article in the Kyeongyang Magazine.

She recounts how she became estranged from a good friend by what was said. She is over fifty and should know better;  humanly speaking she is embarrassed but even  more so as a Christian and as a teacher of the word of God, the shame is greater.

A Catholic is  a person who lives in a fishbowl. She is conscious of feelings, which cause problems: when her friend is having difficulty, she feels bad and when  all is well with her friend, she loses some of her peace. She has to live with these dual emotions. The  relationship goes back many years and the good times were overwhelmingly greater than the bad.

She made the effort to reconcile with her friend without success. The result was that she felt worse, and brought back all the hurts she received. If she knew  this would be the result of her efforts she would never have attempted the reconciliation, and this became matter for confession.  

At this time, she read a book by a priest that helped her to see the difference between  forgiveness and regret. Forgiveness is something that has to do with herself,  her will and decision: getting rid of the    poisons of hate and anger within oneself and has nothing to do with whether the other person acknowledges it or not. I have the need to forgive.

Reconciliation requires the agreement of both parties; forgiveness does not. Isn't this the reason that Jesus wants us to forgive seventy times seven. When we have  done something against a brother or sister, we have the  duty to ask for reconciliation.

When a relationship has gone bad, it usually is the fault of both parties. I have to forgive and search for ways to reconcile. If reconciliation is not achieved that is not my problem.

Once she understood the difference between forgiveness, and reconciliation there came a great consolation. She  concludes her words with the realization that what she needed to do was to embody in her prayers the teaching of the Lord's Prayer and rid herself of the obstacles preventing her from doing so. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Suicides in Korean Society

Korea for the past ten years leads the  developed countries of the world in the number of suicides. Embarrassment is a result of these statistics published each year, and talk of an infrastructure to deal with the problem continues to appear. The Catholic Times covered the story on the front page with an accompanied article and editorial.

The numbers of suicides of those over sixty continues to increase. The statistics according to age, under 60 the numbers of suicides are not much different from other countries, but with the elderly we have a vastly different picture. For 100 thousand of the population we have 29.1 suicides. The average of the other developed countries is 12.1 persons. however, with the elderly it is  80.3 persons. Korea is the only country where we see this discrepancy.

The reason for suicide for those over 65 years of age: health 32.6 percent, financial problems 30.8 percent,  alienation from spouse, children and friends 15.6  percent, loneliness 10.2 percent. Numbers of those who feel there is no place to go for help  are twice that of the other countries. 

The Government did begin programs to help but the article does not think they are much help. Efforts are needed to  understand the culture, the problems of the aged and the different structures  in society before working on the programs. These efforts have been weak.

In comparison to Japan, Sweden and France  the suicide rate for those over 65 is three times that of these countries. Poverty of the elderly in Korea would be the  greatest among the countries of  OECD.  One professor said that the poorer, the sicker and the lonelier  the elderly are, the closer they come to the possibility of suicide. Suicides in  the farming area  compared to the city are much higher: 45.3 percent to 14.1 percent.

The Church's efforts have not been strong in this area except for Seoul and a few dioceses. The many different segments of society are beginning to take an interest and working to set up  networks of support,  but work with the most vulnerable in our society is difficult. The elderly who are living alone are the ones  with whom we have to be connected.

When we hear of the death of a Catholic by suicide it is a great blow to the parish and the community of believers. God is the one who has given us life, we live to give him thanks and  glory, to do his will  and to live so that we will be with him for all eternity. My life does not belong to me. Seeing it with these eyes suicides are going against the love that we should have for ourselves and the love for others. Efforts have to be made to have our communities show concern for those who are most vulnerable and also to help make the society in which we live less concerned for material development at the expense of the more noble qualities of the inner life. The society we have made has driven many to this extreme solution to their problems,  and we need the wisdom to work for a society that killing oneself would not be seen as a possibility. Which puts the burden on all of us.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Catholic Life In Korea

Introspection is a popular subject in the Catholic Church of Korea in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. A full page article in the Catholic Times is  headlined: Believers in Search of Material Comfort, Pastoral interest in External Growth, Superficial Spirituality, greets the reader. I don't believe the Korean Church is any different from the Catholicism in other countries, but they have a confidence in expressing themselves since the country is still basically one people and one culture.

The light of faith, says the article, is no longer something one easily sees. A cross section of the Church has become worldly. Individualism, ethical relativism,and the like, makes the Catholics feel uncomfortable with the teaching of the Church. Even the pastoral workers have put the Gospel values on back burner. Materialism, success, functionalism, are the values that are used in the management of the Church. The  spread of an  ornamental spirituality continues.

These words are used to report on a  questionnaire on Church renewal sent to 300 persons in preparation for the pope's visit to Korea. 33.88 percent said that worldliness within the Church is the number one issue for renewal. The second biggest problem according to the questionnaire was authoritarianism and clericalism within the Church. More than the confrontation with the challenges that come from the quick changes in society many of the Christians are content to have the feeling of joy that comes with being saved.

The baptized find it difficult to live the Christian life and many have retreated to an individualistic  understanding of their faith. No different from other countries they are looking for psychological consolation. Anything that will give them this peace of mind is the object of their search This is the reason for many leaving the Church, not  going to Mass and frequenting the Sacraments, the ebbing of the faith life of the young people and wanting to be middle class.

In one of the dioceses in answer to a questionnaire, only 15.6 percent thought religion was the most important value in life. For 43.5 percent the most important value was health. In the Seoul Diocese a questionnaire among the young found that 61.7 percent considered psychological consolation  the meaning of religion. There is the tendency to use God to enjoy what this world has to give. We have become this world orientated for our own satisfaction. Priests at times foster this kind of thinking among the parishioners, which, says the article, is another great problem.

In regards with the culture of life we see the great failure in understanding the teaching of the Church: in a survey that was made in 2004, 87.7 percent said  abortion has to be accepted and 77 percent had no problem with euthanasia. There are many who look upon their religion as a leisure time activity, a way of belonging, and finding satisfaction.

There is also the exterior growth in numbers and buildings used as a  means of judging the strength of  religious faith.This is the way the business world has entered the thinking of the Church. Pope Francis  by his words and actions is giving a great blow to this way of thinking. 

The Catholic Church of Korea has grown quickly externally. but we have not examined closely our mission as Church. We have to be able to see the Church's life from many different angles and draw up a plan of action that does not only include education programs. The article concludes with a quote from  Evangelii Nuntiandi: [Evangelization] "for the Church is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation" (# 19).