Friday, April 29, 2016

Is it Wrong to Wish that Swords and Spears be made into Farming Tools?

A priest writing in the diocesan bulletin recalls the time he was with seminarians in their military reserve force training, required after discharged from the military. They were on the shooting range when one of the seminarians raised his hand and told the officer in charge: "I don't want to use the gun." The officer asked jokingly: "Did you have a  bad dream last  night?"  "I  was discharged as a soldier in the military chaplaincy," replied the seminarian, which got a laugh from the group.

Should it be a surprise for a soldier who was in the military chaplaincy to refuse a gun which is aimed at another human being to kill? Would it be strange for a Christian to refuse the use of a gun?

Recently, the conservative press with the doings in North Korea as they are, with the nuclear and rocket experimenting, there is movement to return tit for tat and expand the armament race. Seeing the response of Russia and China there has been a recent hesitancy on part of the conservative press.

The liberal press sees the power struggle between China and the United States as the problem and the build up of armaments. Talk about an anti-ballistic missile system will just increase the armament race and distance Korea from China. Lack of trust is a reason for the struggle in East Asia.

After presenting the conservative and liberal press response he gives us the  thinking of the bishops of Korea in an appeal by the president of the Korean Conference of Bishops.

The bishop was not happy with the returning to use of amplifying speakers for propaganda to the North and the withdrawal from the Kaesong Industrial Complex.(This was a joint venture in North Korea which was a source of income for the North) He also mentions the military maneuvers with the Americans that have brought more tension to the peninsular. 

The writer mentions in more detail what the military maneuvers entail, They were joint maneuvers with 20,000 American military and 30,000 Korea military lasting for almost 2 months with nuclear powered submarines, aircraft carriers,destroyers,and fighter aircraft. The only ones who will feel pleased are the militarists of Japan and the defense industry. China and Russia are not pleased and it makes for tension on the peninsular. Korea is one of the biggest importers of munitions and most of it from the defense industry of the United States.

The bishops would like both North and South to follow their previous declarations and agreements made together and to continue in that spirit.  Kaesong Industrial Project was a sign of working together and wants the closing to be reconsidered. They hope the six countries concerned will meet together for talks that will deal with the problems of the build up of armaments on the peninsular.

" He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They  shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks...." These words of Isaiah are the hope of the bishops and the Church of Korea.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Spirituality of Shame

On the opinion page of the Catholic Times, a columnist gives us his thoughts on the Korean movie, Dong Ju: Portrait of a Poet, a black-and-white movie about Yun Dong Ju.

During the Japanese colonial period, while studying in Japan, Dong Ju suffered much at the hands of the police for his thinking. He was imprisoned  and died in 1945.  Each scene of the movie was for the columnist a verse from a poem.

At that time in history, the connection between life and thinking was stronger and deeper, he writes. The nation, world peace, justice, morality were considered noble truths but wonders if the will that existed to give one's life for these truths, still exists.  In these postmodern times, these noble ideals both in Korea and the rest of the world are forgotten and considered like a throwback to the rustic black-and-white  movies of the past.

However, the movie Dong Ju moved him, and left him with nostalgia for the past. The movie showed him the depth and extent of shame in the life of Dong Ju.

Below are some verses where shame was depicted in his poems translated literally:

I would wish  to look up at heaven without a jot of shame up until the moment I die. I suffer even when the wind moves between the leaves. ( Prologue)

Life is difficult and writing poetry is so easy.
I feel shame.  (Poetry is easy to write)

I cry as I hug the wall, the sky shamefully blue. (The Way)

The poet felt he stood before God naked: the reason for his shame. A person who thinks is one who wants to be different, but  there is always a gap between what a person shows to others and who they are. Within this gap lies cowardice, weakness, self-deception, rationalization, darkness: the generic name is sin. 

We prefer to call sin by another name and look up to heaven without shame. How many times, called before a tribunal for suspicion of wrong doing, do we hear the words: "I look up to heaven without a jot of shame' and misunderstand the meaning of the poet.

The faces of these persons outwardly seem to be at peace but internally not clean and transparent but a soul muddy and shameless. We should be like the poet upset with shame:  a sign of a mature person and hope for the world.

Pope Francis was asked who is Jorge Bergoglio. He answered after some thought: a sinner. To feel shame is a grace from God. Another Korean poet thundered out: "In a  world that doesn't have shame, to know shame is not shame." Shame teaches. "Blessed are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled" (Matt. 5:4).  Columnist concludes with  hope this Year of Mercy will help us understand shame is a grace from God.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Women in Korean Politics

Hatshepsut  was the first female pharaoh of Egypt. Writing  in View from the Ark of the Catholic Times, a professor wonders how a woman could be a pharaoh back 3,500 years ago when women were considered the possession of men.

She was the daughter of Pharaoh Thutmose I. After the death of her father, her half-brother and husband became pharaoh. They had one daughter,  from a royal concubine. Thutmose III was born but died early, and she became Pharaoh.

She wore men's clothes and even a fake beard. In later times, her rule was seen  as a time of great progress, launching building programs and bringing  prosperity.  Her reign was known as a time of peace. Instead of pyramids built by her predecessors, she started  cutting back by building obelisks: beginning a new tradition. She united upper and lower Egypt and ushered in a time of peace. She is remembered as a woman who received great respect from the citizens.

In the world today, we have many women in political leadership positions around the world. They have broken the unfair system that prevented a woman from reaching top positions in society. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been elected three times and the first woman to lead the country. She has shown a strong stand in dealing with migration and terror, and other crises, the personification of a mother as a leader of a country.

Liberia's  president has with patience, and nonviolence changed a system of government, and in Croatia, Kolinda- Grabar-Kitarovic has with her simple honest attitude  got rid of the authoritarianism in the government of Croatia with which the people had grown tired.

The world today is different from the world of 3,500 years ago, No longer is the feminine seen as a fault but something that we need in society. There is a need  for a mother's approach in  the way a country is led.

Fiercer, competitive, combative and at times more destructive than men is not what we are looking for in  women leaders but women with a mother's instincts. She finishes her article by hoping that we will have more of this  leadership in the world.

In the recent election in Korea on April 13, there were 100 women who registered to  compete and 844 men vying for 253 seats. 51 women were elected: 4 more than in the last election.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Catholic Statistics For Korea

Both Catholic Weeklies gave us articles on the 2015 statistics showing us the present situation of the Church. Overall we see a continual increase in the number of Catholics. Total Catholics rose by 1.7% to 5.65 million, 10.7of the country's total population of 52.67 million, but at the same time a decrease in the religious practice  of the parishioners. Substance is not following appearance.

From 2009, the number of Catholics continue to increase yearly to over 10 % of the total number of citizens. The number of clergy continues to increase. Numbers of  women religious, on the other hand, remains stagnant and the number in formation continues to drop.

Women number 57.9% of the total number of Catholics, and men 41.8% but last year there was a slight increase for the men. Under 20 years of age the males have a slight edge. After 25 the number of women increase until after 80 years of age, women are 73.7% of the total.

17% of the  Catholics are over 65 years old.  Number of those baptized, attending Mass and frequenting the Sacraments continues to fall. The number of Catholics in Korea numbers 10.7 % of the population. Seoul Diocese has 15 %,  highest of all the dioceses.

Ages of those between 50-54 number 9.3%, 45-49, 8.9%, 40-44, 8.2%, those over 65 number 17%. The church continues to age. Last year the numbers baptized dropped 6.9 % from the previous year: 116,143. The number of those married decreased 3.9% from the previous year.  Confessions dropped 6% and there was a drop in confirmations, marriages, and first communions.

Mass  attendance increased by 2 % from the previous year and  the percentage of those attending Mass on any one Sunday would be 20.7 % of the total number of Christians.
Korea has two Cardinals, 36 bishops,  4,909 Korean priests, 182 foreign priests, for a total of 5,129. This has increased 145 from the previous year. Male religious increased 0.7 % women religious remain about the same but those in formation: men 59 and women 335 is a decrease of 28 % for the men and 7.2 % for the women.

There are 1706  parishes an increase of 24 from the previous year. Mission stations continue to decrease 3.9% from the previous year with 761.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Talents And Their Meaning

In Korea the word talent is mostly used for TV  personalities. But it's also used for vocalists, comedians, master of ceremonies, actresses and actors. A word used for performers of all types. An article in a diocesan bulletin mentions that it was first used at the inauguration of the Korean Broadcasting System back in 1961.

The word comes from talanton a Greek word meaning a weighing scale, and gradually transferred to what was on the scale, and to the most precious thing on the scale. In Roman and Jewish cultures it became understood as a kind of currency.  In the Jewish culture a denarius was the daily wage of a worker. In the time of Jesus one talent was 6,000 denarii. It was a lot of money and heavy.

The meaning we have today comes in great measure from the parable in Matthew's Gospel 25:14-30. A land owner goes on a long journey and gives his servants bags of money according to their ability. One person gets 5 bags another 2 and and another 1. The  person with five bags earns another five, and the one with two,  another two but the one with one bag is fearful and buries the bag and returns it to the owner. He was not happy with what was done, and takes his bag and gives it to the one who has five.

It  is a parable and no need to examine every point made but the message is clear, Jesus wants us to use what we have been given and see it increased and the way this is done is to use what we have been given. In our culture we think gifts of appearance, intelligence, personality, and many other gifts are means of benefiting ourselves on the road to success, and with little concern how they are useful for the common good. 

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained mission.

"As generous distributors of God's  manifold grace, put your gifts at the service on one another, each in the measure he has received" (1 peter 4:10).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Politics without Philosophy

Korea on April 13th had their parliamentary elections. A seminary philosophy professor expresses his opinion in a column of the Catholic Times on the absence of philosophy in politics. Noise is what we hear, and he believes it's the natural outcome of politicians trying to persuade citizens to vote for them.

He laments the effort is not to present the truth to citizens but crudely to separate themselves from others with whom they are contending for votes. They don't  seem conscious of the voters need to be given life, but only their greed and lack of concern for the citizens and absence of authenticity.

Plato in his dialogues on Law writes that the duty of a nation is to give citizens a correct understanding of "God" if we want order throughout the country, this is similar in meaning to the teaching of Jesus: "Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well" (Matt.6:33). 

Both Plato's right understanding of "God" and Jesus's kingdom and righteousness is asking us to choose life, and to do this we need a correct philosophy that precedes politics. Politicians need concern for problems if we want a healthy society, and right reason to address the problems. 

The writer mentions a person who was the governor of a municipality in Germany, who he met and on one, occasion asked: what was his philosophy of politics? He answered without delay: to prevent harm being  done to the citizens. The professor liked what was said.  

Our politicians speak about the crisis of economics and ask the voters to vote for them to better their lives: nothing about policies and visions.  With this kind of silly propaganda, "let us live well" we are not dealing with philosophy.
He is not surprised when many reading his shallow words retort: does philosophy put  food on our tables? When we deal with temporary methods and lack a correct understanding of family and educational problems, we are mortgaging the future. Koreans have seen the harm done in our history with policies that have not been grounded in right reason. 

He concludes his article  reminding the readers of the recent competition in the board game of Go: a computer program in which the human lost four of the five games played. In a game, we have the human player spending the night going over his moves and trying to find the mistakes. If this is true in a game, how much more for those who are looking forward to leading the country.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Seeing the Diciples at the Last Supper

On the opinion page of the Peace Weekly, the columnist introduces us to an aspect of the Last Supper that is very easy to miss and which many of the artists were quick to see and express in their masterpieces.

Homilies, was the subject of one of the classes the columnist was taking at a School of Theology. In many of the mission stations, catechists take the place of deacons and priests in the administration and pastoral work of the mission station. The priest usually visits the station once a month. Consequently, those in the formation programs for catechetical work prepare themselves to give sermons.

When the columnist's turn came to give a sermon, it was the passage in Luke 22:14-23 on the Last Supper. He mentions he knew the story very well: Jesus was showing his love to his disciples he was leaving them his body and blood. " I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until the coming of the reign of God." He was telling them this was his last supper with them.

During the last visit to Jerusalem a few days earlier the crowd was all enthusiastic hoping that the time had come to get rid of Roman rule and Jesus was the new general and leader. The disciples were even more excited. They were all dreaming the same dream despite the fact that Jesus told them repeatedly of his coming death they were not listening.

That night these words did not make any impression, after seeing what they did, how could they? He was not going to die. That night they had no inkling this was the last meal and testament nor were they interested. They were dreaming of a bright future and fighting over who would have the first places.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Battista Tiepolo, Albrecht Durer and Tintoretto expressed this very clearly in their paintings of the Last Supper. The columnist was surprised to see the greed on their faces; the distracted environment, self-righteousness and signs of betrayal filled him with dismay, sorrow and curiosity. They were even crazily pouring wine into the crocks, which made them just like all of us, even after their experience of Jesus.

Mencius said: when  we are embarrassed at not being embarrassed, we will not do things that are embarrassing. The disciples after the Resurrection did feel great embarrassment at their behavior, and we know how remorse and contrite they were, giving their lives completely to Jesus. He concludes the article with his understanding changed about the Last Supper: before only Jesus and holiness. He never saw the human embarrassing behavior of the disciples.