Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mission to Change the World

One of the columns in the Peace Weekly, finishes one year of articles on the Social Gospel of the Church. The columnist is a seminary professor whose specialty is the Social Gospel. Asked what he does, he has an easy answer: he teaches the principles that go to build a culture of love. 

Our society is distancing itself from God, we have doubts about absolute truth, and not conscious of what is happening. We measure all by our personal  standards, no absolutes, and have little concern on what is  going on in the world as long as it doesn't affect us. This apathy, he says, is one of the main afflictions of our age.

We are a bigger Church, more priests and laity but the bonds between the diocese and parishes and  between parishes is not as strong as in the past. Our sense of community and feeling of belonging is weak.  We are not  meant to be concerned only with our own spiritual life but concerned with the salvation of all.

The Social Gospel directly searches for ways to make our societies more human. Seeking to form disciples with the principles and values from Jesus, and his teaching on love.

"The immediate purpose of the Church's social doctrine is to propose the principles and values that can sustain a society worthy of the human person. Among these principles, solidarity includes all the others in a certain way. It represents one of the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organization."

"Personal behavior is fully human when it is born of love, manifests love and is ordered to love. This truth also applies in the social sphere; Christians must be deeply convinced witnesses of this, and they are to show by their lives how love is the only force (1 Cor. 12:31-14:1) that can lead to personal and social perfection, allowing society to make progress towards the good" (#580  Compendium of the Social Gospel).

In conclusion of the series of articles written, the priest admits what he has written is  not something that we can easily carry out in our daily lives. It is difficult but a necessary work that we are called to do, basic to our mission to change the world -- our compass.

What will you do?  We can choose to follow the social teaching or follow the way of the world-- it is our choice.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Abolishing the Death Penalty

The Church in Korea has for some  time educated Catholics to oppose the death penalty. The Catholic Times has an interview with a religious sister who has been working with  prisoners, and since  1988 with those condemned to capital punishment.

"There repentance  was as great as the evil perpetrated...  their appearance was beautiful to see...."   She   kept repeating these words indifferent to whom might hear them. She had a lot to do with preparing  a grave site for those whose life had been taken, and for good reason called the mother of those condemned to die. When her thoughts become deep or when cares are many, she makes the trip to the cemetery where 30 condemned men are buried. The existence of the burial grounds are unknown to most. At death they are accompanied only by a  few; she stayed with them to the end.

One of the condemned men said  he received love for the first time while in prison. Hearing  these words she couldn't help but cry. We have been born to receive God's love, and those condemned to die need to receive that love.... Are we able to imagine the pain they feel?

She was given the prison pastoral mission in 1976 and in 1988 she began pastoral work among those condemned to die. She  remembers how she felt with the new assignment: afraid and began to tremble. With frequent visits and contact all changed. She began to see the condemned men as they were meant to be seen. They also with time began to change. The secret was love. Those who never received love are not able to love.... Receiving  love they are changed. This is the reason she shows concern for them.

Is it not a miracle to see these men who have committed horrible crimes and by receiving love are born again as angels? She realizes this is a gift of God's grace and  the reason that in her eighties she is against capital punishment. When a person has changed and the life is taken away is this not another evil?

She is present at events that work for the abolition of the death penalty. She also visits the homes of the victims of the horrible crimes and in the name of the condemned offers her sorrow and help.

Those sentenced to death have done wrong, but God is the  one who gives life  and we who are creatures do not have the right to take life away, and when we do we add another offence. She hopes more people will come to realize this truth.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Korean Gallup Survey on Religion

A Korean Gallup survey based on 1500 adults over the ages of 18 made last year was published recently, and  reported on by the Catholic Times. There is much in the report that leaves some Christian's sad.

The number of religious people has declined from what it was 10 years before. Those in their 20s and 30s who have abandoned religion have increased, and the age of those with religious beliefs has increased. Ten years ago, 45 percent of the young had a religious belief, today it is only 31 percent.

Buddhists, according to the report have the largest number of believers with 22 percent, Protestants are second with 21 percent and Catholics, 7 percent. The figure for Catholics at 7 percent is much lower than the 10 percent the Church understands to be Catholic.   
45 percent  of the  Koreans  are not believers because they have no interest.  Most look to religion for  peace.  58 percent of the Catholics have this as their purpose.  In 1984, 57 percent of the respondents  prayed at  least once a day, on the recent survey this has dropped to 30 percent.  Catholics who never read the Bible 10 years ago was 11 percent this has increased to 30 percent, and those who go to church at least once a week was 59 percent.

Those who think that religion is important has also decreased. Catholics in 1984, 97 percent considered their faith life important, this has decreased to 81 percent in 2014. Protestants continue to maintain the importance of their faith life with a percentage over 90 percent.

Those with religious belief, 37 percent would agree that  if the  horoscopes are not harmonious it would be wise not to marry. Catholics in 2014, 26 percent agreed,  in 2014 this increased to 32 percent. 45 percent of the Catholics feel that a propitious grave site would be favorable to the descendents.

The difference between Catholics and those without any religion was slight in what they believe on moral questions.  Religion's influence on society, according to the respondents, has dropped from 68 percent in 1984 to 47 percent.  87 percent of the Protestants,  79 percent of the Catholics, and 67 percent of Buddhists and 48 percent of non believers think religion is a help to society.

What is the degree of religious people's observance in practicing love and mercy?  In 1984, 56 percent of the citizens answered this positively, and of the believers,  67 percent did.  In 2014 only 34 percent of the citizens saw religious people positively, and those with a religious belief it was 45 percent.  

How many of the clerics and religious leaders do you believe are not qualified to be in their position?  There are  many: 22 percent.  There are some: 65 percent,   only 13 percent disagreed.  In 2004,  46 percent  thought the  authoritarianism of the  clergy was a problem, but this dropped to 33 percent in 2014.  68 percent of Koreans think that religions want to raise their numbers and not in search of truth.

In the question what do you want to say to your religious leaders, the number one issue for Catholics: they want the clergy to  refrain from talking about any thing that is not religious, 5 percent of the respondents saw this as important. There is a lot in the survey that is not new;  the results should provide matter for discussion and planning for the  future.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Develop a Vibrant Parish

In the question and answer column of the Peace Weekly a young priest asks an older priest who manages the column, what he needs to do to have a vibrant parish? The young priest was just made a pastor after years as assistant. He has asked many of his  senior priests for advice, but they all had different answers, confused, he wrote to the priest columnist for help.

The young priest will not have an assistant; as pastor he will not only need to relate with the young, as he did as an assistant, but with all the parishioners, besides the responsibility for administration.  The columnist responds there are no areas of parish life that are not important, but he would select the work with the elderly as the most important.

Elders are the pillars of the parish. They are the ones closest to God. They pray the most and pray for others, the most altruistic; they are the ones that pray for the priest and defend the priest from criticism, the most loyal to the parish and the Church.

The columnist in his experience in one of the parishes as pastor, with the division of the parish he lost most of the older people, and lost most of the income. They are the ones who support the parish. With the drop of the elders the religious goods store could no longer  operate. The spirituality of the parish was noticibly weakened. When concern is made for the elders the families are pleased and thankful. Nobody has  difficulty with the choice.

Another reason is that our society shows little concern for the elders. In a society where money is important the elders go to the periphery. Jesus has told us what we do for the lowly, we do for Jesus. Our society looks on those who are not earning as useless, and they suffer unfairly.

This older generation has built the society we now have and are not respected for their work and are ignored, which has  given them deep scares. This is one of the  reasons the Church has to fight against the spirit of the times, and be on the side of the elderly.

The columnist believes with concern for the elderly the other areas of the parish will run smoothly. There are a few parish priests, who when addressing the elderly will use crude language. He feels this is a fault that comes from their upbringing. There are those who have an anger towards their own parents which is expressed with the elderly.

When we have more concern for money than spirituality, he concludes,  we will find that we will neglect the old people. The mature and healthy mentality of the priest is often known by the way they treat the old people in the parish. Also well to remember that when God selected Abraham, and  Moses to do his work both were over 75 years old.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Inter-Religious Dialogue in Korea

Korea has a great variety of religious beliefs and practices, probably more so than any other place in the world, often called the museum of religions. And yet we see a continual effort for inter-religious harmony and dialogue, an example to the rest of the world.

On Feb. 25, the lay representatives of the conference of seven religious bodies: Buddhists, Confucians, Won Buddhists, the Heavenly Way, Korean Ethnic Religions, Protestants and Catholics met together to proclaim seven common proposals.

Living together with others like human beings.

Work making a happy family, and be the first to  live  like a family member.

Live spiritually like a religious person.

Not involved in corruption and immorality like a virtuous worker.

Share what  I have like a member of society.

Work for the unification of the country like a Korean citizen.

Go beyond the differences of religion and ideology for peace like a member of the world family.

The  editorial in the Peace Weekly has praise for the  movement and hopes they have the results they expect. Religious persons have realized they should be the first to give a good example to others in the society filled with conflict and immorality. Each religion is to be true to its identity in carrying out the proposals.

This is not a movement of the clergy or those who are leaders, but it is a lay movement. Religious leaders are usually in the vanguard; we have here, something infrequently seen.

Society looks upon religion in two ways: they praise  the universal love of others and good works; on the other hand it is not that religion worries about the world but the world worries about religion; this is another understanding of religion. There are those who consider themselves religious, who without discretion in their actions are not acting as religious people.

About half of the population in Korea are religious. If all began living according to the tenets of their religion each member and the country  would be better for it.  "To live like"  this movement where the members of the different  religions begin living according  to their  teachings would make for a stronger and better nation. Would it be inappropriate to think there are few countries in the world that would be able to achieve what Korea has done with inter-religious dialogue?      

Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Issue That Doesn't Disappear

Korean Comfort Women ( Korean sex slaves for the Japanese military) issue is one that is not going away.The Peace Weekly makes it a front page article, two pages of special  coverage and an editorial. Most of the women are in their eighties and early nineties. Only 53 are alive and they are asking for an apology from the Japanese government. Every Wednesday, women groups demonstrate peacefully in front of the Japanese Embassy.  

Japan feels they have apologized sufficiently, and  private funds have been offered to the women but the Government does not want to acknowledge any responsibility for the comfort women. This is precisely what the women want the government to do. The government continues to pick on one or two issues where they may be technically correct, but refuse to consider thousands of glaring historical facts on the forced prostitution of Korean women. The nationalists in the Japan have a lot to do with the position of the government. 

On Feb. 25  they had the 1167 Wednesday gathering in front of the Embassy. Not only do the Japanese refuse to apologize, they do not want to acknowledge the fact that the government was involved: efforts  made  to rewrite the history of the period.

The pope on his visit to Korea did meet with the grandmothers who suffered as comfort women and was given a butterfly badge which represents the movement and their plight. The pope wore the badge  after he received the gift.

The editorial mentions it is not only the Japanese government but many international groups that hesitate seeking justice for these women. This coming March 1st  is a  National Holiday that commemorates the day in 1919  when 33 Korean nationalists and students declared their nation's  independence in Seoul and the establishment of a provisional government of the Republic of Korea. More effort is needed on the part of the Korean government to push the Japanese for an acknowledgement and formal apology.

Pope Francis said on his return trip to Rome from Korea we can't be neutral when we see pain. He also in his recent message: " we are seeing a selfish attitude of indifference that we can speak of a globalization of indifference."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Understanding the Paradoxes of Life

Where are all the college students? A priest begins his article in a diocesan bulletin with this lament. He remembers working with the youth back in the last years of the 70s and the  early years of the 80s: busy giving retreats, workshops and going to the different colleges for Masses and involved in many programs for the students. From those years we have many who are now ministering  in the Church and are leaders in society. What happened?

Except for a few parishes the college students are no longer seen in the parochial communities. At one time there was even talk of having a parish just for the youth of the diocese. Those days have past. He wants the Church to consider work with the youth as a  primary concern. They are the future of the Church and of society.

However, we have those who do not see the young people alienated from the church but rather looking for spirituality outside of the parish setting. Many college students prefer to associate with their fellow students in a  college environment, in Catholic prayer groups, student groups, diocesan programs located where they are.

Students in the West have shown  signs of alienation from the Church which is not  as pronounced in Korea. The culture is still very protective, and traditional morality still influences much of society.  Just  recently, the courts decriminalized adultery. We are not dealing with young people  that have opted for the ways of the West. The students are acquainted with the  West but many accept the traditional ways; a youth subculture,however, does exist.                                     

Many are searching  for a mature spirituality.  Pope Francis in his talk to the 6000 young Catholics from  23 nations last year warned about the "spiritual cancer" of materialism from the affluent countries. "We see signs of an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure which come at a high cost to human lives." Korea has shown signs of needing a different spirituality from  the one received. There is an emptiness and despair that shows in the number of suicides and as a world  leader in cosmetic surgery.

When the newly baptized  are asked why they have become Catholics the majority answer to find peace. It is true that a mature faith life will bring great joy and peace but it is not the response desired: a guarantee we are not prepared to walk in the way of Jesus, but to satisfy our needs. Peace and happiness are the results, the  consequences, a by-product of the life we live, and not the aim of our life.

Explaining this is far from easy. Ignoring the search for authenticity: the true, good and beautiful and expect peace and happiness is not going to do it. The search for spirituality is a sign that this is understood even though unconsciously.  Emptiness is experienced and with the young and old alike  the stress on the paradoxes of Christianity, which they also have in their own religious heritage, is a need in our educational programs.