Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Competition for First Place

A column by a teacher emeritus tells the readers of the Peace Weekly of an e-mail he received about an elementary school child who had a health problem that prevented him from growing. He was a well adjusted, happy child, who got along with his classmates but short of stature.

At an autumn field day at the school, the child was in a race with his classmates. The older sister of the child and family seeing the child run brought tears to their eyes, but shortly this was the case for all who were in attendance for just before the end of the race the one who was in the lead stopped, and all the others as they came to the finish waited for the lagger, and all crossed the finish line together.

All made first place together. This is not the adult world in which we live. The columnist reviews his own life and realizes that more than considering the feelings of his children; he wanted them to be # 1. As a teacher, he was always interested in having his students number one. Not only in studies but in comparison to the other homerooms in cleanliness, singing  or whatever, nothing was better than number one.

There are many other things one can be proud of besides being number one. He has made the transition. Those that have made it to first place, hopefully will realize that they  have the privilege to be of service to others.

Each has special gifts, and these should be developed but society has a different set of values that it selects to prize and reward. We don't realize the harm this does to many who like the child, was not gifted as a runner.

We have in the Scriptures two disciples who wanted a better position within the group. When the others heard of this, they weren't pleased. Here we have a case even with those who were closest to Jesus for the first places. This did not help to develop harmony within the first community of disciples. Our Lord's words are very clear: Any one who wants to be first among you must be the slave to all (Mk 10: 44).

Competition is a part of life, and we will not see it disappear, but we can make it less harmful for the many who are not in the running. Even those who are in the running: the person who comes in second feels the loss of not being first more so than the  person who comes in third.

Society for many different reasons makes those who are first in many different fields the object of adulation. We even have it within the Church with the making of saints, but it goes without need of explanation, that these persons considered the first place of little value, and in the degree they felt so, were closer to God.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Korean Catholic Bible Week

During the last week of the liturgical year, the Korean Church celebrates Bible Week, hoping for  a larger reading audience for the Scriptures. Articles and the editorial of the Peace Weekly remind the readers the importance of input from the Scriptures to see the world through the eyes of Jesus.

This year the theme for the week is taken from Genesis: "God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1-31). We are urged to go to the Scriptures to find answers to our problems with the environment. Bishop's  message  reminds the readers that to undo some of the harm to nature we need to heed the Gospel of reconciliation and  intimacy with God's creation.

God has ordered us to take care of his creation. Reading the Scriptures we learn how precious creation is, and in Jesus, we see his intimate connection with nature and helping people to return to the  family of humanity from their ailments and alienation.
In Korea, we have many who have taken to transcribing the Scriptures: copying  each word by hand. In this issue of the Peace Weekly, we have those who have done this not only once, but one woman has copied the Old Testament 8 times in the last 18 years, and the New Testament 11 times. She says it deepened her faith life, and gave her more joy. She spends about 1 hour and 20 minutes each day in this way.

One young girl of sixteen heard that the diocese would give  a gift of an overseas pilgrimage to all the students who copied the Old and New Testaments. She began with the desire to go abroad; in the beginning, it was tedious and difficult, but she began to enjoy what she was doing.

There are many of these stories and those who accomplish the task find that it  gives them a chance to mull over each word and reflect on what they are writing. It is not to have another copy of the Bible but to meet God. We are forced to slow down and  become reflective when we read.

Reading, writing, and reflection on the words of  Scripture are meant to activate us to live them. Knowledge  we don't use is not really helpful to us. We need to live it daily. Hopefully, we will get more who will be attracted to reading of Scripture, doing it more frequently, with a change in lives.   

Friday, November 20, 2015

Abuses of Subsidiarity

Civil society is a word we use often, and one that helps us understand the social teaching of the Church. In Korea, the feeling of many is that civil society has little to do with our spiritual life and relations with God.   Forgetting, we are an integral part of civil society as Christians.

"Civil society is the sum of the relationships and resources, cultural and associative, that are relatively independent from the political sphere and the economic sector." A seminary  professor writes in an article of the Catholic Times how we fail to see a complete picture of our lives as Christians and gives us the quote from the Compendium of the Social Gospel #417.

Looking over society, we see a plurality of theories and ideologies, which at times tend  to reduce and curtail  this freedom in  society. An example would be a dictator or totalitarianism that wants to bring pluralism under the control of the government, and in the economic sector where they want to increase their domain and  decrease the domain of society.

Catholicism sees a three-part division: political reality (nation), economic (market)  and society. Politics tend to go into totalitarianism and market into neo-liberalism, and we have a loss of autonomy and harmony in society. 

Both the nation and economics are at the service of society: acknowledging the dignity of the individual.   "The political community and civil society, although mutually connected and interdependent, are not equal in the hierarchy of ends. The political community is essentially at the service of civil society and, in the final analysis, the persons and groups of which civil society is composed. Civil society, therefore, cannot be considered an extension or a changing component of the political community; rather, it has priority because it is in civil society itself that the political community finds its justification (Compendium #418).

Society proceeds the nation and the principle that makes this clear is subsidiarity. Which holds that a larger and more  complex organization should not do the work that can be done as well by a smaller and simpler  organization. Government should limit its control to areas that can't be handled by society.
In the conclusion of the article, he shows why he is concerned in the direction Korea is going. Government is not listening to the citizens and in different ways manipulating public opinion. We have the problem with the history text books the government wants to oversee, and in dealing with North Korea using the word follower of the North to designate those that don't agree with government policies. These are ways  the government is trying to extend its control over society: an abuse of subsidiarity.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We Learn About the New from the Old

Change  requires we discontinue acting like we did in the past. This does not mean, however, we scuttle everything we did in the past, which, in fact, is  impossible.  Consequently, there is a need for some stability other wise we have chaos.

A seminary professor writing in the diocesan bulletin considers the  problems in society began with the disparaging, aversion, and without reason, jettisoning  many of the values that came  from the culture of the past. Among these are the Confucian family values we have let disappear, and have lost more than we have gained from the exchange.  Under Japanese colonial rule, we learned to discount much of our past and  forgot the merits and demerits of what to discard or retain.

Many blame Confucianism for many of the scars of our history. Our freedom was limited by etiquette, and moral duties: cause of our problems. During the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, the factionalism among the different  parties, fighting for their own interests, showed clearly the abuses in society.

In the history of the Church, we also had  periods of corruption, but we didn't throw out the Church because of the evils. Confucianism, likewise, did have infighting among those who were wearing  Confucian's vestments,  but it is no reason to remove all the values that have come from Confucianism. It enabled the Dynasty to last 500 years, and gave us our Korean sensibilities. Three bonds and five  moral rules in relationships are a description of its main teaching.  When we got rid of these values did  it  give us a better way of living?   

Ideas of an age influence all the structures and thinking of a society. During the Joseon period of our history,  Love, Justice and  Etiquette were all important. They were intrinsic to relationships, more important than status and material goods,  and all under the heading of family. However, all is now centered on money. We  turn our back on the past and go suicidally, after material goods: like changing a brass bowl for a stainless one, selling a silk blouse for nylon socks.

He finishes the article with the five relationships:   parents and children should be one of love; ruler and citizens should be one of justice; male and female are different, each other's area of action needs to be respected; proper order between old and young;  between friends, words and actions need to express faithfulness.

When we ignore these relationships and work towards  different values are we building a better society? We need to look for answers to this question.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Learning How To Die

In the  Peace Weekly column of its name, the columnist has an uneasy conversation with Death.  She begins with a quote from an American humorist who wanted to write his own obituary: "I died a little earlier." He was humorous even about death.

"Knowing about death is knowing about life." We are still afraid of death she laments. We do speak a lot about 'dying well' and have programs to help. but we still do all to avoid talking about its reality. In our culture we talk, she says, about a 'propitious death' of a person who dies of old age and wealthy. However, even in such cases we forget what we did very quickly after the funeral. In Korea, like in the West we don't find people going to a cemetery to read and rest.

She mentions how some years earlier she had the occasion to go to Germany for a story, and while in Berlin learned that one of the TV channels was devoted completely to death: obituaries and  cherishing images of the departed are shown on the channel, and are popular among the viewers. 

In one of the cities when the production team was approaching  an old-age home some of the grandmothers came out jubilantly singing one of their folk-songs. In a joking matter, they said they heard  the Korean magnolia was beautiful, and the  next time they come to bring them some. Death was  like a friend, but not only among the old. 

In front of the Korean production team, in one of the high schools there was no difficulty in speaking very easily about death. Some 30 years before they began a program on death, and it has been received favorably. In a workshop, she attended on preparing for death with an American professor she was told they had programs in schools on death, which are well received by both parents and students. 

A departure that is prepared and one that is not.... Clearly we have a great difference in the way they are received. When it is not prepared or covered over the experience is creepy. Whether as a friend or as an unknown reality death is a serious experience. One of the heads of a hospice said that in her opinion you know the way a person has lived by the way they die. 

At this point, of the article the columnist wants us to face something uncomfortable, since  we all desire a peaceful death. In hospice care, it is not realistic to think that those who are taking care of the patients will give them this gift of peace. Each person has to face death on his own, squarely and sincerely. Life was a gift of God, and we give thanks; death is also  within God's providence, but  we see it as under our control and sovereignty. She ends the article with the words: "God did not make humans in that way."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Catholic Inculturation in Korea

Inculturation is a word we often hear  when we speak about the Gospel and culture. Evangelization has to be sensitive to the culture in which one is living and how to make the Gospel message understood  in that environment.  Articles in two Catholic Weeklies introduce a  new book to the readers by a  seminary professor, Fr. Lee Dae-geun. He   received a prize for his recent book on  'Korean Religious  History of Ideas'  which was the author's  efforts to understand why Korea was fertile ground for Catholic  teaching.

Korean Catholicism, we need to remember, met people with a shamanistic history and Fr. Lee's efforts wanted to understand the encounter of these two religions. To understand Christianity in Korea, and the people's religious sensibilities, we have to understand  shamanism, which  influenced Korean culture and temperament, and continues to do so, according to Fr. Lee.

Easy it is for us to think that shamanism, exorcism rites, superstition and the like have mostly disappeared. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have come into the country from outside but shamanism was modified to adapt to the teachings of each of these religions.

Studies of shamanism have been going on for some time. No longer is it the study of folklore or history, but now it extends to sociology, anthology, religion, and psychology. Fr. Lee examines the influence of shamanism  on Christianity. He wants to examine the motivational force that enabled the Korean people to accept Christianity when it entered Korea. He was surprised at the ease in accepting Christianity. The book is the study of the reasons in accepting Christianity, a foreign import.

Fr, Lee has a doctorate in Korean Philosophy and Asian studies and in his examination of folklore and rites of the harvest, he came to a new understanding  of the legendary founder of Korea, Dan-gun, from whom the  Korean people are descended. He recommends that their identity as Koreans and as Christians be understood  as the meeting of these two religions.   

Fr. Lee's book was praised for his efforts to understand the religious sensibilities of the Korean people but he has been criticized in making some great leaps in what he has included in the book and also in simplifying much. In the critique of the book that followed the article, it was mentioned that many did find the acceptance of Christianity easy but with the teaching on Creation and Redemption there were also many who  gave their lives for the faith, which brings doubt to the minds of many on some of the points that were made in the book.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Obstacles to the Spiritual Life

Ascetical theology is a branch of  theology, which  deals with the practice of virtue and attainment of holiness.

An article in the Peace Weekly on spirituality
mentions the work that is necessary not only in controlling and purifying our five senses but also a need to purify our internal faculties of memory, and imagination. We work on the external, but need concern also with the internal.

Imagination is a neutral faculty it all depends on the way used if it is to be a help or a hindrance in the spiritual life. Jesus in his teaching used parables and worked on the imagination of his hearers. If our use of the imagination in the past has experienced a great deal of positive information, we will be helped, but if it has many harmful images, the effect on the imagination is injurious.  

Our external senses have to be controlled so that we don't have harmful images entering. It is difficult to imagine anything  that has not entered by the external senses. What we consider not helpful should not enter, if we want to advance in our spiritual journey.

Our memory also has to be purified. Whether we liked it or not, we have had many experiences, some we have forgotten but many we remember. Remembrances that have impacted us harmfully should not control us. Memories of our  sins and scars can be overwhelming, and need to be replaced and forgotten.

When we have experienced God's grace and blessings, these need to be remembered and brought to mind often, and the hope they have nurtured. This is a great help in developing spiritually.

We also have internal cognitive, emotional and volitional acts that have to be purified. Without our emotions being purified, we will be bothered with sensual desires. Our cognitive faculty helps us to put light on our faith life, and foster love in our spiritual life. A strong will is necessary to do what we know we should, and to be conscious of God, otherwise we will be concerned only of ourselves. 

Internal senses and faculties are all connected and working with one, will influence the others. In the past, the Church did take an interest in what books and movies the Catholics should not read and view, precisely because of the harm it would do to our imagination and memory. This is no longer advisable for the way society looks upon this interference in our daily life, but the reason was and still is, enabling us to live a healthy and happier life.