Sunday, October 21, 2018

Prayer that is Action

Anthony Bloom (1914-2003) was an atheist,  studying medicine he had a dramatic conversion experience reading the bible. He later became the archbishop of the British Russian Orthodox Church. So begins the column: In the Believers Eyes of the Catholic Times.

When he was an atheist, the patients that came to him were treated as a means and tools to bring him success and wealth. But after his conversion he changed his attitude, treating each patient as an unique individual.

Bloom had an unforgettable experience when working one summer among the Alaskan Eskimos. Eskimo Christians do not distinguish between prayer and work because they have a deep understanding of the totality of life. At that time, Bloom participated in a volunteer program to build a high school. One day he was digging a trench for sewage. It was a tough job.  An Eskimo approached and watched as he worked and  said: "You dug a trench and glorify God." The Eskimo was only encouraging him but Bloom had never forgotten his words. No one was interested in him but the Eskimo showed interest. Thanks to his friend, Bloom gained strength, for every shovel of the earth became a prayer to God.

Archbishop  Bloom says: "prayer has meaning only when it accompanies life. If life does not follow, and prayer and life are not in agreement, prayer becomes a kind of gracious poem offered to God, occasionally. Our life needs to become our prayer. This is action-prayer.  

He mentions a Korean poet who in one of his writings speaks about a conversation with a friend who had to endure kidney dialysis for 20 years. His friend went to the hospital twice a week and sat on the dialysis bed for three or four hours. He showed the poet both arms that were filled with needle marks. The poet offered some words of concern on how difficult it must be and the friend smiled and answered:  "This is the time in which I offer Mass. He was able to sublimate his time on the dialysis bed. Is not this  action-prayer? 

 Is there harmony of work and prayer in the everyday life of believers?  One of the chronic problems of Korean churches is that faith and life are separated. Faith life and spirituality are overly individualized and a chameleon-like way of living is prevalent, Many don't live the way they pray, life and prayer are separated.

In order for prayer to be manifested in life and actions, culture must be evangelized. How to eat food, how to earn money, how to use it, how to labor and rest, and so on. Prayer gives direction to the culture of love, justice, peace, and truth. Eventually, the prayer of action will bring about the glorification of God through the 'evangelization of culture'. "Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God" (Cor. 10:31).

Friday, October 19, 2018

Ignoring Warning Signs of Danger

The writer in a diocesan bulletin has some ideas he wants to share with the readers about his recent traffic accident. He was preparing to turn left and seeing the car that was moving straight ahead he moved to break and his foot slipped and he collided with the car. His car suffered no damage but the other car was dented. There was only slight damage but the whole day was confused and depressed. It was his first accident in thirty years of driving.

He learned how to drive while in the military under a far from gentle instructor. He was well advanced in age and made sure I understood what he said. Not infrequently, the student was tired and stressed, he would have nose bleeds and swollen face. The instructor made it clear that in driving you were risking your life and the life of others. Having learned under these conditions it was easy for him to consider himself a safe driver compared to others.

The reason for the accident was easily determined, he didn't follow the basics. No matter how hot it was there was no excuse for wearing slippers. Dress and shoes are important elements to be concerned with. Because he didn't follow some basic principles for driving the cost was a loss of peace of mind, money,  damage to a car and inflicting pain.

He introduces us to Heinrich's Law: in a workplace, for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries.

He recalls the many times he failed to do the right thing. The failure to defrost the windshield and still drove the car, dropping something while driving and picking it up, went into the other lane, in a hurry passing the car in front to make a right turn, driving without firmly shutting the car door and many others. He was given many warnings but, without reason, trusting in his confidence and insensibility to safety, with luck he avoided accidents until the recent one.

Whether a person or an organization, when we take notice of the basics and fundamental principles we avoid many troubles. We generally like to do things our way. However, this can often cause harm to others and even death. We can leave behind a blot, that will bother us for the rest of our lives.

The tragedies we have experienced in recent years in Korea have ignored some basic safety precautions for one reason or another that brought about a tragedy.

He reflects on his own driving habits over the years.  Since he had no accidents he became complacent and oblivious to what could happen. When the accident did happen he was thrown for a loop. With the passage of time, he was able to see how fortunate he was to get off so easy and was thankful.

With age, the reflexes have slowed, the heart is young as ever but the body doesn't go along, which is all the more reason for not straying from the  basics—not only with driving but in the many other areas of life. If we don't stay focused and follow the basics, problems easily arise. Fortunately, we receive warnings often. Conscious of what they are saying to us, we  keep our eyes and ears open for we can't always hope for a pleasing outcome.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Antidotes to Hatred in Society

A writer in the Catholic Peace Weekly mentions the dangers of hatred of others in society."Koreans discriminate by nationality and skin color. They think they are white. They mistake themselves to be Western. Since the developing economy, they consider themselves a first world person with a feeling of superiority in joining the OECD."

The above quote comes from a book It's Disgusting (Words Hurt)  in which the author has interviews with filmmakers on what he calls the regressive society in Korea. What he says can easily be applied to all the first world countries; others have more important concerns. Women, the disabled, migrant workers, conscientious objectors, sexual minorities and religions are all objects of discrimination in our world society.

One of the filmmakers says it is important to experience being hurt by another, by stepping into the shoes of those hurting. With the crack in our own self-identity, something may enter bringing about change and understanding of the other. Wounds and cracks in our identity humble us and open us to the other.

When we are vulnerable we may be hurt greatly but  are opened to ways of understanding ourselves and others. When we put ourselves in the place of the other and feel with them we change and the world in which we live changes because we have changed.

In recent years many books have been published on the subject of hatred. One of the representative books by a university professor: When a Word Becomes A Sword: What is hate speech and why is it bad?  According to the professor words expressing a certain negative image of a minority group such as: "South Asian people are lazy"  and  "Koreans carry knives and in a quarrel  are ready to use them"are examples of this negativity in speech.

Women are also stereotyped:need to be circumspect, not appear in the limelight, stay home and take care of the kids. We put limits on what they can do. Slowly these views are hardened and produce other discrimination.

A German journalist in a book on hate in society says those who hate don't realize it. They do not see themselves excluding others or demeaning others. It is not easy to realize you hate a group of people. The fact that many are writing about hate in society tells us a great deal of the society in which we live. Hate is becoming epidemic.

Most cultures accept freedom of speech which is revered but civility in society is also a value and how to accept both of these values is a problem for many. As if there is need to say everything that one believes to maintain integrity and honesty.

Cardinal Newman's description of a gentleman has some wise words to help us regain a certain amount of civility in society. 

"One who never inflicts pain. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him...If he is an unbeliever, he will be too profound and large-minded to ridicule religion or to act against it; he is too wise to be a dogmatist or fanatic in his infidelity. He respects piety and devotion; he even supports institutions as venerable, beautiful, or useful, to which he does not assent; he honors the ministers of religion, and it contents him to decline its mysteries without assailing or denouncing them. He is a friend of religious toleration, and that, not only because his philosophy has taught him to look on all forms of faith with an impartial eye, but also from the gentleness and effeminacy of feeling, which is the attendant on civilization."

Monday, October 15, 2018

House Prices in Korea

An article in the Catholic Peace Weekly mentions what the writer heard from some acquaintances about their daughter who moved to Seoul from the country and their efforts to find a house. A decent  apartment of 30 square-meters was  priced at 500,000 dollars to lease, and about a million to buy. He was completely flabbergasted.

The area in which the writer works the prices are so steep that one would never imagine even asking. Seoul overall would have prices on average going for about $400,000 for lease and $800,000 to buy. Borrowing $200,000 dollars from the bank we can see how long it would take to make the house your own.

 We can see why many shout out: 'Hell Chosun'. Young people find it impossible to live in Seoul with their own efforts. Those in their twenties and thirties  sarcastically mention the many things they have to abandon: romance, marriage, birth, house, relationships, dreams and even hope. Are we able to refute this? They are the 'seven-give-up' generation.  They criticize the present government for the situation.

Children who have no hope of receiving help from their parents have a greater degree of frustration.
Inheritance and donations accounted for 42% of the total assets in the 2000s from 27% in the 1980s. In 2018, the proportion will have exceeded 50%. Are we to expect young people who start off with nothing to be good Samaritans? Is it possible to expect a bright future in society for those who can't move to another area and are asked to tighten their belts.

High house prices are not the problem of young people alone. Parents who can't help their children get a start in life are faced with anger and guilt, not being able to help. The rich also are not going to like it. Those who can pass on their wealth to their grandchildren are not many. Many are wondering how they can help their children in the future.

If both the husband and wife work for more than 10 years, you have to create a system where they are able to own their house. If the price of houses continues to rise,  even if the number of jobs increase and low-income increases this is of little concern. The problem with low fertility will continue.

 In the Apostolic Exhortation: "Rejoice and Be Glad"  Pope Francis spoke about the mission of holiness, "the mission to build this nation of love and justice and peace with all people... The goal had to be the restoration of just social and economic systems, so there could no longer be exclusion” President Moon should not only improve relations between the North and South but also concentrate on stabilizing house prices, without doing this he will lose the good will of the people.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Coping With Religious Cults

Korea is a country with many homegrown religious groups seen by traditional believers as quasi-religious and cult-like. Many consider themselves non-believers, what that means requires a great deal of reflection.

The religious census of 2015 showed more unbelievers than believers. Non-believers accounted for 56.1%  of the population. In 2005 the number of believers was 52.9 % and dropped to 43.9 % in the 2015 census. Religious believers are of many different persuasions: Shamanism, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Confucianists, and many other  indigenous religions.

Shamanism is very much part of the culture, as is Confucianism; this would not readily appear on a survey. Protestantism would be divided into many different sects that mainline Protestants would have difficulty accepting as Christian and one such group would be the Shinchonji Church of Jesus.

Most of the believers and unbelievers are sincere and convinced of their position. At times it is difficult to see anything positive in what a person believes because of the aberrations, behavior, irrational thinking of the adherents. Consequently trying to keep some of the good many see in religion, they consider themselves spiritual and the attraction to atheism.

An editorial in the Catholic Times sees the spread of the Shinchonji Church in Korea with some of their tactics becoming more abhorrent. Mentioned was the infiltration of the Legion of Mary trying to find new recruits by the 'harvesters' of the Shinchonji Church. This was reported by a group formed to bring attention to Catholics of the maneuvers of these quasi-religious groups such as the Shinchonji church.

The editorial mentions sadly that 30% of the new members of the Church were Catholics. They have in recent years increased membership by about 20,000  each year. This should be a great embarrassment to the Church that the faith of our Catholics is shown to be so shallow.

One of the Catholics who converted to Shinchonji was quoted in the Catholic Peace Weekly: "In Shinchonji they met God, learned his word and was saved. I did  not find this in the Catholic church. I wasted my time."

One of the priests who has studied the movement stresses the need for Catholics to realize that we have been saved by our belief in Jesus and received the mark of a disciple of Jesus and are sons and daughters of God. Sadly this conviction is missing in many. When this is missing it's an easy step to look for a worldly salvation.

Catholics are slow in working within the church to counterattack attempts of the cults to find new members within Catholicism. Protestants have 15  special groups throughout the country that are in place to counsel those who have been hurt by Shinchonji—families are often divided. Catholicism has begun also to take an interest but they have not the members yet to do the work.

Prevention from getting involved with the movement is to stay away from their teaching. Shinchonji mission activists, who are called "harvesters", approach their target as a specialist belonging to a company or school that everyone knows and invites them to their Bible study programs.

Necessary is to always expand the horizon of our faith life. Not only with the Scriptures but with spiritual books and reading of Catholic newspapers and magazines which will strengthen us in overcoming the temptations the world continues to present.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Smart Speaker's Future In Korean Society

One of the weapons used to comfort children in the past, tired of playing with toys, was the movies. In the 2000s  we had computers, smartphones and the world of games. Now another device has been introduced, the smart speaker: wireless devices with voice-control which will take commands to do things.

One may receive for the asking anything in the treasure house, information, music, language dictionaries, calling taxis, controlling and connecting with other devices etc.  Actually what is in the smartphone has an independent existence with the smart speakers.

The smart speaker, however, is not a toy for  children. Technology makes our lives easier but with each advantage comes a price and consequently the need to minimize the cost to keep technology positive.

One of the journalists for the Catholic Peace Weekly introduces the Kakao Mini to the readers, a Korean made smart speaker. Kakao is a South Korean internet company and the most popular messaging service in Korea. Catholics may connect to Catholic Masses and sermons of the day and the office of the day etc. with Kakao Mini.

Since many of the foreign companies will be entering the Korean market as Google, a world leader, has already done, the competition will be great with the other tech giants of Korea also wanting a part of the market, which no doubt is the reason Kakao Mini is interested in the Catholic market.

Recently, the Catholic Church has expressed various opinions about how to accommodate various digital devices. On one hand, there is a criticism that digital devices lead to worldly lifestyles, without prayer and reflection. On the other side, there is a voice saying that it should be actively accepted in accordance with the changes of the times.

The Catholic Church, in Inter Mirifica text on the social media adopted by the Second Vatican Council in 1963, stated: "Among the wonderful technological discoveries... The most important of these inventions are those media which, such as the press, movies, radio, television and the like, can, of their very nature, reach and influence, not only individuals, but the very masses and the whole of human society, and thus can rightly be called the media of social communication."

As some of the world's leading companies such as Google and Amazon have come out with smart speakers, shortly, they will be as common as mobile phones, TVs and computers. In terms of rapid diffusion and power, it is right to put it in the same category as the discoveries that the council referred to.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Pastoral Work with Young People

Where have all the young people gone? From all appearance, it seems the numbers have decreased but no studies have been made of the situation. One of the reasons is we don't have any common understanding of what we mean by young people. A priest who is working with the youth and has responsibility in the work on the national level gives his ideas in the Kyeongyang magazine. 

It was during the 19th century that the term young people was first used. Today we have no agreement on who should be considered a young person. Up  until 1990 common was to think those who left their teens and before the late twenties were considered the young people. Many now consider those in the late 20s and 30s, before marriage, to be the young.

We need standards in what we mean by 'the young'. Nowadays persons are entering society at an older age, changing our understanding and making those in the 20s and 30s the young people.

The writer states that the Church was not able to decide who were the objects of pastoral concern. The framework for the pastoral care of the young in the 1980s and 90s remained, which did not fit the young people in their late 20s and early 30s.

Another reason for the young people distancing themselves from the church was the parent's emphasis on studies. It started with the third year high school students preparing for college but expanded to the 2nd and 1st year students.

The second reason he lists is the authoritarianism of many of the clergy. This surfaced in a survey made by the bishops of Korea in 2016. The young priests are the same age as many of the young people but with a more hands-on approach than what the young people are accustomed to in a democratic society. This puts a damper on the spirit of the group. Also,  assistant priests are not in the parish for more than one or two years, not good for the work.

Young people along with other parishioners often feel pressure and are burdened with tasks for the larger community. Instead of being mission-orientated it becomes task-orientated. The young are to be formed into apostles and instead feel the pressure of tasks. And as the numbers decrease the remaining young people feel more of the burden.

The larger society is making the activity of the young more difficult because of the oppression coming from the society—time and mental stress. The opportunities for employment have decreased and the young have to prepare for this new step into society.

This is not the time to lose hope but to renew our desire as given in the Joy of the Gospel #24. "The Church which 'goes forth' is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast."

When the going gets difficult we face the crisis and challenge necessary for a new spring. We don't give up but with the help of the Holy Spirit we spend time in reflection and look for answers as the Church is now doing with the Synod of bishops. In Rome at present we have the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Bishops (Oct. 3-28) discussing the topic: Young people, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Let's pray that it will be a success and give us a fruitful way of acting in the future.