Thursday, July 31, 2014


Articles by a professor of ethics continue to appear in the diocesan bulletin on  communication. In the past, he outlined the conditions for communication, this week he considered the structures for communication. To be at the same eye level as the  persons with whom you want to  communicate is the expression he uses, for him  basic to the structure of communication is reciprocity. If one is strong and the other weak, of higher or lower  rank, and this is not overcome, we do not have the reciprocity but the danger of tyranny.

He uses the example of anthropologists who when they visit the natives of an area behave differently than travelers. They relate very naturally, freely and deeply with the natives. They work to be on the same level as the natives which  enables the natives to open up to the anthropologists. They look at the environment with the eyes of the natives. When those who come see themselves as civilized and feel superior, look at the natives with pity, the natives will not be open. This being at the level of the other is difficult.

What is the meaning of being at the same eye level? Matching the eye level of the other means to be  equal with the other. I have to have the same respect for him as I have for myself. He is not me, and I am not him; we are different, and we respect this difference and see it as important, all a part of the equality of the parties. The ability to do this is the sign of our maturity. The maturity of this relationship will also determine the quality of the discussion.

Parents and teachers to communicate with the children and young people will have to acquaint themselves with the need to match the eye level of those with whom they are relating. Just looking at it physically, the children are going to be intimidated. The children are not able  to be at the eye level of the adults, so from reason the adults have to lower themselves to the level of the child. If the communication doesn't develop, the professor says, it is because of the inability to lower themselves to the level of the child. Parents and teachers when the problems are not solved often fail to realize it is their inability to understand the child that is the problem.

Vertical, hierarchical order of our society, authoritarianism, makes the matching of eye levels very difficult. This equality is seen best in the relationship between friends. But even here we have the equality of similarity, and inadvertently both   vying with each other, which can make the  relationship tiring. Our society has difficulty helping us to react with each other at eye level.

The description of what it means to have the structures in place to communicate are clear, but because of our character weaknesses, the obstacles seem insurmountable. Acknowledgement of the facts would go a long way in improving the position we  find ourselves in when trying to communicate.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

True Values in Life

Even the parishioners of the  small mission station here in Gyodong were given a petition to sign asking for legislation to determine the cause of the Sewol Ferry sinking on April 16th. Since the disaster a  hundred days have passed and the search for truth is still continuing.The tragedy and the conscientizing that is  taking place should bring changes to the country.

Family members of the victims are on a  hunger strike demanding an early adoption of a  law to find the cause of the incident that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

Both Catholic papers had editorials on the problems in finding  the truth. Flowery words are used to describe the anguish of the families and the sorrow that accompanies the tragedy, but little has been done to discover the truth. The tragedy was man-made, could have been prevented, and we have not come any closer to discovering who was at fault and why, after three months.

Ten of those missing have not been found and there is a fear that we will forget the implications of what happened. The impact on the public can be compared to the 9/11 tragedy in the States. More so than the States the sinking of the Sewol Ferry opened up avenues of thought  that were not  easily accessible to the public.

The sinking of the ferry brought to the mind, said one of the participants in a public discussion on the tragedy, the many problems we have in our society:  the emphasis on economic progress without qualification; the value we give to life and human rights, took second place to profits; widespread corruption; lack of interest for  safety; dereliction of duty; weakness of crisis management on the part of government;  incompetence; and the weakness of the mass media in reporting. Many other areas have been given light by the tragedy.

Another participant representing those who lost someone in the tragedy said we should not forget the kind of  society that permitted this disaster to happen. Because of political  party squabbles on how to proceed each party is jockeying for positions and not proceeding in efforts to find the truth. There are also those that are telling the families to put an end to their efforts to find the truth. It is not difficult to image the hurt that this is causing the families. All they want to know is the truth to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future.

At the conclusion of an article on the issues involved a university professor mentioned people trying to fix something after the problem has occurred, they are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Closing the door with laws, systems, and procedures will not take care of the problem, says the professor, what is necessary is coming to a new understanding of what is important in life.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'Time is Greater than Space'

With  the coming of Pope Francis to Korea, both within and outside the Church, various voices are heard expressing themselves. Some waiting for the pope's words of encouragement  and  consolation, others showing concern for the pope's health during the hot humid days of August. Voices of citizens who do not want to see government funds used on ceremonies  and want all to be kept small, in harmony with the pope's personality and values. There are also wishes  for the pope not to visit the largest home for the handicapped in Korea at the Flower Village, but rather to visit with  those who are demonstrating  against the acts of the  government in not  respecting the rights of the citizens, and the  unjust firing of workers in big business.

The peace columnist of the Peace Weekly feels it is  healthy to have these divergent views on the visit. Only one voice expressed during this time would not be a sign of a healthy society. There is one wish he would have; to lower some of  the walls and get rid of prejudices.

The pope wants us to think much about what we say and what we need not to say. We need to think deeply about what we say and write, and have a heart at peace.

We have invited the pope  to come to Korea, but at the same time he is inviting us to get closer to Jesus. We need to listen carefully to what he will say to us during the visit. More than being concerned with whom he meets and where he goes is what he has to say. We need to lower are walls and listen with equanimity.

The columnist introduces the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) where our Lord said the listening was the better part. Francis is coming to Korea as a messenger of the Gospel: to give witness to Jesus  and spread his message. There needs to be a harmony between the two sisters, but Jesus did say  Mary had selected the better part, and  it was  not going to be taken away.  The pope  wants us all to have a closer relationship with Jesus.

In Joy of the Gospel: "Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space" (Joy of the Gospel # 222).  Where the pope goes is not as important as what he says. In #226:  "Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective; our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality. "

The different opinions expressed on the visit are a sign of life, but also we need a desire for unity and to work towards its actuality.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bullying in Society

Even in kindergartens we have conflicts among the children giving rise to violence and bullying. A religious sister, after reading an article in the daily paper brings the subject to our attention in the opinion page of the Catholic Times. She asks the readers how are we to deal with the increase of this type of violence?

A soldier recently because of bullying in his army camp responded with a shooting rage. Those of us  who have  experienced bullying, know how dispiriting and what it does to our self-respect. We, growing up, have seen this bullying and alienating of our friends. In those cases how did we behave? Although we did not join the bullying were we indifferent towards what was happening, feel no guilt from being a passive spectator? Were we like those who passed the one on the side of the road in Jesus' parable?

She feels the competitive society that is being formed with the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer is not irrelevant to the question of alienation we are seeing. The emphasis that we put on education is going to put those who are not attracted to mental attainments at a great disadvantage. In an environment that extols mental achievements,  teachers will consider a student not able to keep up with the other students as a problem, a reason classmates often bully students. Many children who are annoying the slower students do not feel they are doing anything wrong.

She recommends that we try to put ourselves in the place of those who are being alienated in our society. We have not been good in doing this within our educational system; she laments. We are able to do this when we take time to reflect on our way of living. How much time to we give to this kind of self-introspection? We are too busy to take time out of schedules to reflect on the way we live.

Happiness blossoms with our relations. When we are separated from the relational net to which we belong we are separating ourselves from happiness. Isn't this the reason that Jesus wanted to include the enemies in this relational net? They also have  a need to be happy as a part of God's creation.

Even though there is no bullying involved many are lonely and feel alienated from others. The need for intimacy in our relational network has been loosening, and many have been excluded from the network. Happiness is not something that we grasp but is a gift we receive when those around us are happy. We have to look around us and see those who are stooped over with sadness and give them hope. The words we use and the efforts we make to listen to them may be the means of opening their hearts. This is one step in adding to our own happiness. Isn't this the way we can do something to remedy the abuse and alienation that are wide spread in our society and bring happiness to the lives of many?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Family Life and Society

In the diocesan bulletin, a religious priest writes about a young woman  who came to see him for a consultation. She was very active in the youth work of the parish. The priest whenever invited to give a talk to the  young people at a Mass would always encourage,  give them hope. After one of his talks, a girl had the courage to come to see him after Mass.

Briefly, what she said was that from a very early age, she always trusted people. She trusted her parents, her relations and those around her. She believed everybody was like her parents from an early age.

However, from the time in school, she'd  received many scars and bitter disappointments  from her fellow students and her teachers: not only, in middle and high school but also in college and after in the workplace. This continued even in her voluntary work within the parish setting. She hated many and  felt guilty. Whenever she went to confession, she was always confessing the same sins.

Recently, she said this all came to an end. Now when she trusts others, and they disappoint her and  say things that hurt she no longer harbors any ill feelings towards them. She is very much at peace, and light hearted.  She found this to be very strange and came to the priest to talk about her new feelings.

The priest told her that there are many young people who have grown up with trust and  confidence because of their parents' personalities and education received in the home, but not all have been so fortunate. That is a reason we have to treat others with love and understanding.

There is a tendency, he says, to forget the environment that many have to contend with growing up. Many grew up in dysfunctional families; their experience in the homes appears in the society in which they enter: distrust, immorality, competition, envy, jealously, egotism, materialism.

If religions and those with folk beliefs implemented the family values and took them seriously we would have understanding, love, sharing, respect for creation, other humans, animals and the environment.We would be moved by  loving compassion, the world would be different. The problems we have in the families will appear in our society, and influence society negatively.

Pope Francis had this to say about family life: "It is necessary to reaffirm the conviction that every family is the principal setting for the growth of each individual, since it is through the family that human beings become open to life and the natural need for relationships with others. Over and over again we see that family bonds are essential for the stability of relationships in society, for the work of education and for integral human development, for they are inspired by love, responsible inter-generational solidarity and mutual trust. These are factors, which can make even the most adverse situations more bearable, and bring a spirit of true fraternity to our world, enabling it to feel as a single family, where the greatest attention is paid to those most in need" (6/20/13).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Spirituality and Materiality

Spirituality is a word in common use. What do we mean by spirituality? The opposite of  spirituality is materiality. Jesus asked will it be property or God? When we put property before God, it is a life of materiality, when God is in first place, it is spirituality. Spirituality and materiality are like day and night, when one gets longer the other gets shorter. When spirituality becomes weak materiality becomes strong, and fills the space. The tendency to side with materiality results in a distancing from God and also from the poor. These words are the first paragraph of an article in Bible & Life by a parish priest.

In the Old Testament, the prophets repeated this message over and over: justice was measured by the care for the orphans, widows and the foreigners. Jesus' message was extremely clear, there is a danger that comes with riches. "You keep saying, I am so rich and secure; I want for nothing. Little do you realize how wretched you are, how pitiable and poor, how blind and naked!"(Rev. 3:17)

Today this option for the poor is well established, but in the Church's history, we have seen much discussion of the issue. The reformers in the 16th century cried out 'faith alone' which was heatedly debated and took our eyes off the poor.

Many forget who it was that insisted on the help for the person half dead on the side of the road, and think it was another Jew, Karl Marx. No, the Church never forgot that it is through the poor that we grow spiritually. Pope Francis "wants a poor Church for the poor." The writer feels that these words come from another age.

When we are asked to share what we have with the poor, we realize the difficulty. The Church to become a home for those in need requires the  Church to become poor.  " for your sake, he made himself poor, though he was rich, so that you might become rich by his poverty" (2nd Cor. 8:9). Pope Francis will be coming to Korea in August, this message he continues to repeat, hopefully we are prepared to welcome him and his message. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Adults are the Children's Mirror

'Adults are the children's mirror,' a proverb which the Koreans hear often. In an article in Bible & Life, a  professor in the field of communications mentions in jest, when he drinks a glass of water in front of children, he has to be careful. These ideas  are not only  Asian, for  in the West we hear: 'Every man's neighbor is his looking glass'. Over a period of time we gather the wisdom of the ages and enshrine it in our proverbs.

This thinking has been  reinforced  scientifically  by the experiments of the Italian neurophysiologist G. Rizzolatti who in the  1990s experimenting with monkeys discovered that the monkeys by watching an action and performing an action activates the same part of the brain. A 'mirror neuron' in the monkey's brain is activated when the monkey grasped a peanut or when the experimenter grasped a peanut. Put simply, when the monkey did something or another person did it, the same part of the brain would be activated-- the mirror neuron.

Scientists feel the mirror neuron in humans is more developed. Not only, when they see an action performed by another person, but when they hear about the act, it will activate the mirror neuron. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the person's volition but is automatic. The meaning of this sympathetic response can be seen in our communities. Mencius(372 BC-289 BC) who knew nothing of the mirror image reminds us that when we see a child struggling in the water, the first thought is to save the child; our humaneness comes to the fore.

Knowing this we are faced with many questions. We have the mirror neuron, the need to show compassion our humaneness, why is it so rare in society? This is a natural question that must follow. If we talk only about compassion and humaneness as a part of our makeup and leave it at that, we are left with a pie in the sky idea, which forgets that just as strong is our greed and partiality. Jesus in our human history has shown us how to get rid of our greed and partiality,  and reach the love we need to activate.

This brings to mind another question. Why with one-third of the world population Christian, do we continue to have wars, oppression, genocides and all kinds of atrocities? The answer to this question is also clear. More than sympathy, hostility more than love, hate is what we express in our lives. People with vested interests are the ones naturally who would be in control of a large segment of the goings on in society. The professor recounts what Jesus did with the vested interests of those in the temple. He taught: the way you treat the least in society is the way you treat him.

In our society, the people with the authority and the money are more interested in winner-take-all approach than the compassionate approach, and  consequently, the competition that we see. In the economic system that we have made, showing  sympathy to others has been  pushed to the peripheries.

In the Sewol Ferry tragedy, we see how greed, selfishness, corruption, blinded so many before, during and after the disaster; and the way  much of the  media treated the subject. There was opposition to groups in society sympathetic in doing  away with the irregularities that prepared for the disaster. In our society, the number of  irregular workers is extremely high. We lead other countries in suicides and the numbers of hours of work, the number of births the lowest. This needs to be shown to the citizens of the country and not hide the reality. Is it not the work of evangelization to show those who take pride in a winner-take-all value system that there is another way? In conclusion, the professor wants us to look at our internal mirror and make sure it is working.