Friday, October 28, 2016

Korea is Always in a Hurry

In the Peace Column of the Peace Weekly, the columnist mentions his time as a tour guide for pilgrims to Europe. Most Europeans are not able to distinguish the Asians but the sightseeing bus drivers have little trouble. Whether they are groups of tourists or pilgrims they quickly know where they are from.

When they experience a noisy group it's from China. In contrast, the  quiet group is from Japan and the  splendidly clothed group is from Korea. The columnist says they are invariable right.

With the Korean group, they also add 'hurry hurry' cultural traits they recognized. He mentioned a story of a group of bus drivers who were eating together.  One of the drivers was silent. The other drivers were curious and asked why he was so quiet. He responded that he had a group of Koreans and had to get back to the bus quickly.

There is nothing wrong with nice clothes and being in a hurry but when related to some other concrete action than we have either a positive or negative nuanced situation. An example of this would be some work that was done very quickly: could mean industry and capability but also at the same time that they were sloppy and negligent.

In our situation, the columnist sees this mostly as a negative.The splendid clothes are not just beautiful but ostentation and vanity. The 'hurry hurry' trait is not only overlooking precision but concerned only with results. These are not naturally good traits but avarice. Having high motivation is a good but when it develops into greed we have problems.

Within 50 years Korea has gone from a per capita economy of 100 dollars to about 27,000 dollars.It has joined the wealthy countries of the world. These traits have helped to make it the miracle of the Han River. At the same time, there has been substance missing from this outlook on life and we have some serious consequences.  

When attention is only on results we are overcome by extreme competition and discrimination. We have to be better than the other, better than our predecessor. We are mesmerized with results. Something is missing from inside of ourselves.

This is not true of all society. However, it is part of our reality. What is possible is that we will throw good money after bad. What we need is the wisdom to learn from the old and go to the new. This is not only true for the country and society but also for the church.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Aging in Korea

The Korean Church has given a lot of thought to the pastoral care of the aging. In the Catholic press, we see articles devoted to the elderly, symposiums and seminars on the problem. The Church is aging at a faster pace than society. 23 % of the Catholics are over 60 years of age.

In not the distant past we had a society that would have found it difficult not to believe in God but we are in a secular age with an increased  interest in spirituality but a decline in religion. This climate in the society will also influence the Christians who identify spirituality with religion. Spirituality can mean pretty much what a person wants it to mean. A deep understanding and living the Christian life is for a religious person the best way to enter the twilight years.

In one of the seminars, the initial talk mentioned that as we get older as a community it is important that the members do not become overcome by defeatism. The Church has to remain ever young and always being born again: always looking for ways in society, church and home to help the elders grow in grace and dignity.

Many of the  elderly are faced with extreme poverty. The churches can me mediators between the nation and the home in bringing personnel and material help. The elderly are faced with self-determination, sickness, pain, poverty, and loneliness. They need to have a strong conviction in the value of life.

One of the participators in a seminar mentioned the need for stronger bonds in the family. Small families are the present reality and unless there is a change he sees problems in the future. For strong family bonds, he uses the example of Naomi from the book of Ruth of the Old Testament.

Much concern is shown in finding profitable programs for the elders: school programs, developing interests in music, art etc. but also ways of using the elders in volunteer work in society and training them.

Those who are sick or bedridden there is the need for personal  contact and the need for society to show concern for them.The body gets weaker  but there is no reason for the spirit to grow old and weak and that message should be understood by all who are entering the twilight years (2 Cor. 4:16).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lessons Learned From Jeju-do Island

The island of Jeju-do, the biggest of the islands surrounding Korea, has a history of valuing harmony and a win-win philosophy of life. When a neighbor has a special event at their home the villagers will send a special dish of food for the occasion. There is no distinction between young and old, men and women, those who have and those who don't all treated the same.

A priest of the Jeju-do diocese writes in the Catholic Times of the way the community of faith is joining together with the local communities.

Taking a walk along one of the old footpaths on the island you will see stone walls that appear to be built without much thought but they can withstand the heaviest of winds  and remain strong as ever. The walls are made of large and small stones, each placed in their respective places so that they withstand the worst of the weather conditions: a sign of mutual help necessary also in the human community.

Haenyeo is the word used for the women divers of the island. They worked to overcome poverty going into the cold sea with determination and independently working together where the young help the older and weaker and share their earnings.

Stumps are the starting place for the leaps the island has made over the years. From 1629 to 1825  the citizens were forbidden to leave the island. No one was allowed to visit and became a place of exile.

During a bad harvest year, people were dying of hunger and a woman, Kim Man Deok, sold all her possessions to help the citizens and others joined in to help. She is greatly revered even today.

Shortly after the end of the  Second World War Jeju-do had the most tragic incident in its  modern history, called the April 3th Uprising. The left and right  factions began fighting in Jeju-do after the end of the war. Most of the families had members killed during the uprising. The suppression of the rebellion by the South Korean Army was brutal and a reason for many deaths. It was a crime against humanity, a genocide.

Many decades were required to overcome the sighs and tears associated with the uprising. However, all was revealed and with the  return of democracy, in 2003, Oct 31 the president of Korea formally apologized to the citizens of Jeju-do for the  brutality of the Korean forces in suppressing the rebellion.  
Grandchildren will remember the lesson from the uprising.

Recently we have in Jeju-do development that has been unconcerned with the environment. In the Church, we have been influenced by worldliness and have succumbed to its influence but there is a desire  in the small Church community movement to join the other larger social communities in fellowship and sharing.

There is the desire to overcome the areas that are contrary to God's will. No matter the difficulties there is the desire for fellowship and unity, sharing and concern, and to build community and to overcome the temptations to worldliness. The writer hopes this will be the way the whole community of  faith continues to go using our hearts and wisdom.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Drinking Habits of Young Koreans

The Seoul Diocesan Bulletin had an article on the drinking habits of some of our young people. The writer is the head of a center for the treatment of alcoholics attached to a Catholic Hospital. He mentions a visit to the clinic by a high school girl. She meets with friends about 3 times a week and drinks about  3 bottles of 'soju' ( Korean vodka). Recently she had a fist fight with her friends and has inflicted harm to herself and decided to come in for help.

Young people, drinking is no longer something out of the ordinary, 75% of our young people have taken alcoholic drinks and 25% have imbibed more than twice  a month.  Many may want to ask if they drink how much do they drink? They are just imitating the adults and have little to drink. Strange as it may sound, he says, they drink more than the grown-ups and goes on to explain why.

When the young people drink it may be 3 or 4 bottles, they feel better, but there are no other accompanying symptoms. The brains of the young people are still growing and the frontal lobe does not mature until the early twenties. The frontal lobe is the last to develop which is where the  faculty of judgment resides. Drinking during this period we have serious problems.

They are not able to control their drinking. Usually, when the alcohol is in the blood there is drowsiness, headache, nausea, preventing one from drinking more. With the young, this built-in gauge with its break is not present. Consequently, when intoxicated they are more impulsive with dangerous results. In one year's time, there are about 4,000 incidents of intoxicated youths, violence, and suicides. Their personalities are also opened to change.

When the young people are exposed to drinking at a young age the chances that they will become alcoholics is 5 times that of the other young people. Society overlooks this. Popular television dramas have the young drinking in romantic scenes. We have young people drinking in advertisements. Drinking is  made attractive to the young with very little of the negative results of drinking.

Our Christian teaching tells us often and clearly that when we lose the ability to discipline ourselves and become attracted to instant gratification we are preparing oneself for despair. Addiction and alcohol are present possibilities. Once a person becomes addicted the process to overcome the problem is difficult. Preventing the problem is much easier.

According to the OECD, of the 30 countries reporting Korea was listed as 22nd in its consumption of alcohol. He mentions that the developed countries do not look upon drinking revelry as a good. He ends the article with a wish that the young people take to heart the words of Pope Francis to make a mess  in making a better, more honest and decent world. Put simply, to get rid of much of the harmful aspects of our culture will be a challenge and a need to confront what we have made.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Educating for Mature Sexual Lives

Sex education is a controversial topic but necessary.  The Catholic Times had an article on a seminar sponsored by a diocesan ministry to the young on the need and  direction to be taken.

Society has made sex into a recreational pastime and all the participants have with one voice stressed that contraception is not what sex is all about. The first speaker spoke about the way the media has made sex a recreational activity without commitment and destroyed its meaning for reproduction and responsibility. For many sex education is enjoying  sex but preventing pregnancy.

The first speaker,  before speaking of contraception there is the need to stress:  'life, responsibility, character, self-restraint, and chastity'. Hedonism which is spread widely in society by the media requires that programs in  media literacy be inaugurated in schools.

One of the speakers mentioned how in schools sex education is comprised  of contraception, abortion, sex diseases, a very negative approach to the whole topic. The positive beauty and seriousness of the act needs to be explained: responsibility to life.

The final participator, a priest, working in a parish expressed his experience in the pastoral work with the young and what they understand about sex. There is no connection with their religious belief  and ignorance of the responsibility of sex; a sign that little  education was present in the community of faith.  

We need groups within the Church who are sympathetic to the cause of education for sexuality in the schools and want to stress the need to internalize love, responsibility, and temperance in sexuality.

Some parents present at the seminar  have made known that the elementary school children have already been exposed to education in sexuality from the culture in which we live and it is not what we  want. Consequently, from the 5th grade on we need programs in the schools.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Selfishness vs Altruism

Humans are  basically selfish. This is true of all of life. Existence is to protect what one has received. If one is to continue to exist, selfishness is necessary. One's concern and actions for oneself are to one's advantage. Those who are soft-hearted will be used and the kind will be losers in the competitive reality in which we live. Existence is a fierce struggle: deceiving, pillaging, and even killing.

With these words, a Peace Weekly columnist gives us a topic for the readers to reflect on. We see how in many cases those who are selfish maintain their lives and wealth. In the recent ferry tragedy, the captain was one of the first to leave the ship. The teacher that hesitated went down with the ship. A president of a company before failure and the news became known, sold his stock.

When a nation  is perishing  to work for independence is foolishness for the chances of losing one's life are great. Those who are unmarried lose their chance to have children. The married will lose their means of livelihood and the family will scatter  and be in desperate straights. Better is it not to surrender to the invaders and cooperate with the plunderers: hoping for success and advancement in life, and prosperity of the clan. Independence?  Someone will work for it and we will benefit from the results.

Strange, however, even though gain and loss are rather clear we have people who act quite differently from what we would expect.  Recently we had the young man who was dreaming of a bright future who escaped from a burning building only to run back in, notifying the different tenants of the fire and ending up dying after going up to the top floor and collapsing on the stairs.

The number of those who sacrifice for their fellow brothers and sister is not negligible. We have those on the Titanic who while the ship was going down stayed on deck to help others take the lifeboats to safety. In the concentration camps, we had those who gave their lives to save others. Altruism is not dead.

Within us is both the selfish and altruistic character, in conflict and at cross-purposes. When selfishness  is the winner the individual appears to win but society suffers. When the altruistic character takes the upper hand and sacrifice is made the whole community  benefits. 

Altruism: honor, virtue, and conscience are the medicines that invigorate and support society. When  leaders in  society throw their responsibility to the wind and nourish their own greed that society falls apart from the inside. 

When the leaders of a society begin to have their banquets and' love shots' ( two people hook arms and take a shot of liquor)-- when money and power interact the just persons turn their backs and we have the breakdown of society. "When the pillars are overthrown what can the just man do?" (Ps. 11:3).

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Need to Change Our Social Structures

In 2015  the world news reported that in the last 25 years, globalization, a strong violent wind has  blown on the global village. In every facet of the village, we see an embarrassing  polarization which needs to be adjusted. Eighty of the richest individuals possess as much as half of the world's population.

An article in the Catholic Times introduces us to the need to bring about a change in the world. This is not only a difference in material goods but with money you have an entrance into all the benefits and privileges of society. These are also passed on to the future generation in an even stronger way.

Income influences marriages, the lower the income the later the marriage, and fewer children. Obesity is seen more in the poorer;  the rich live longer.  Income will determine the education level of our citizens and give rise to many problems in society.

The polarization of the citizenry is the temporary worker issue. Employment insecurity, lower wages, inhuman treatment, and discrimination, goes to forming the lower strata of society becoming its scapegoats.

Pope Francis in his encyclicals, exhortations, talks has stressed this concern for the poor and asks that we hear their cries.

"Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities, the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility." (Joy of the Gospel #58).

Pope Francis makes clear that the unfairness in society is a reason for some of the violence we see in society. "Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape" (Joy of the Gospel# 53).

The structures of society especially the economic system from the very beginning the inequality was  ready to foster violence. Unbridled capitalism, consumerism,and the throwaway culture make the poor poorer, and miserable. The pope's sharp words in criticism of mammonism is a lament in seeing the poor driven from the  mainstream of  society and to an inhumane way of living.

Pope Francis and our recent popes have presented us with the same message same from the beginning: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”