Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Simplicity and Detachment

Korea recently had the feel of the middle ages, understanding the fear that was generated with the plague.  Korea will shortly be declared MERS free, but it did bring about much fear within the country. The 21st century began with many disasters and epidemics. New viruses, and bacteria quickly spread. With the exchange of medical news, we have seen wonderful results in preventing the  spread of these epidemics.

MERS has taught the citizens a great deal about our failures in not being able to contain the disease as was done in other countries. A professor writes in a column in the Peace Weekly on some of the lessons we need to learn from what was experienced. Hospitals were not prepared and even the first class ones were unprepared for the epidemic. We had an attitude of complacency that prevented people involved to expend their energy to the problem at hand as was seen in the Sewol tragedy of last year.

In the column, he blames those in a position of responsibility of pride and peace at any price thinking, which  prevented the containing  of the virus. Instead of responsibility and understanding, first consideration was for personal advantages  instead of concern for the sick. One was looking for their own personal well-being and motivated by covetousness.

When a society does not  remember those hurting, and is not concerned with them, we have a society without trust and community. MERS and the Sewol tragedy both  showed us what we lacked. He wonders if we have learned from these disasters. Failures should teach us, but wonders if this is the case. We do not have the feel of solidarity with others.

Pope Francis  has expressed  this as necessary if we are to grow as humans. In the  MERS and Sewol tragedies, we have those who did sacrifice themselves to help others, and we have learned from their heroic actions. We have to see these actions shown for the  health of  others as examples for all of us to follow. Even if we can't be as altruistic we should have our ideas go from the head to the heart.

In conclusion, he tells us in the words of Cardinal Stephen Kim:  "It took me 70 years for love to go from my head to my heart," It is only with this attitude that we will prevent future MERS and Sewol tragedies.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Counterintuitive Remedy for a Recession

Many in Korea are experiencing a recession. Looking around you saw faces that lack vitality. A priest columnist with a doctorate in social science writes about the situation in the Peace Weekly. He mentions the MERS virus, the Sewol tragedy as some of the factors but the most pressing problem is the economic condition of society. The gap between the upper 10 percent, and the lower 10 percent continues to grow.

Those able to leave poverty over the past 10 years were one out of five. Which means that no matter how much they try to leave poverty it is not working. The wealthy and the powerful are able to transmit what they have to the next generation, and the poor are also transmitting their poverty to  those that follow. The columnist feels that we are getting much like the capitalism of South America. 

How does one break out of this way of living? Dreaming about making it big in the lottery or the  stock market is not going to work. Even if all are going to be workers, parents don't see that as a possibility for their children. He wants the laborers to start getting their proper treatment-- government, and society  should facilitate this change. Everyone  should not only be working to get out of poverty, but all should be working to help the welfare system in the country. Korea is one of the lowest in the money spent on welfare in comparison to the other developed countries.
Korea's problem is not that the people are lazy or that morality is the issue, but we don't have a good distribution of the wealth of the nation. We need a prescription that is proper for the ailment.

In 1891, Leo XIII  wrote  the encyclical Of New Things  in a time  similar to the present conditions we have in Korea. The pope's prescription was to return dignity to the workers, respect  for rights of the workers, and a just wage. This teaching from 120 years ago is also now a valid teaching for society. 

To beat the recession, we need to do something-- change the way we live and our attitude. In a  consumer society, the big companies  keep on stroking the greed of the citizens to buy more. When a car is bought, they are  selling a fantasy, an image when buying an apartment. We need to  free ourselves from materialism and consumerism, which will do much to weaken the recession. When we separate ourselves  from the material and live a little bit more uncomfortably we will be fighting our recession and return to a deeper Christian spirituality.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Korean Credit Union Movement

Catholic Peace Weekly has an article in the beginning of the credit union movement in Korea. Sister Mary Gabriella (1900-1993) a Maryknoll Sister started the movement on March 19,1960  in Pusan with a three-week  course which explained all the elements of the movement, and how different it was  from the Korean mutual aid groups.

Holy Family Credit Union was the first credit union and began with 27 members on the Feast of St. Joseph, May 1st 1960. The members were employees of the Maryknoll Hospital, Catholic Relief Services, and members of a Catholic parish. Two months later, a credit union began in Seoul  established by Father Chang Dae-ik (1923-2008). This was composed of members  from parishes in Seoul.

Under the Japanese,Korea had financial associations,  which had little trust among the citizens and was replaced with the credit union movement. In the 60s, Korea was in great poverty and was receiving surplus food from the States. In the farming areas if you borrowed one bag of rice within a year's time you would have to pay it back  with  two bags. In the private lending of money  interest was as high as 10 percent monthly.                  

Starting the credit union required a great deal of trust when you are dealing with great poverty but the efforts were made and proved successful. Both Sister Gabriella and Fr. Chang took notice of the Antigonish movement in Canada, affiliated with St. Francis Xavier University, they both attended the Coady Institute for the necessary education on Credit Unions which they imported into Korea. 

From these early beginnings, the movement spread quickly in Korea. This year is the 55th year of its inauguration in Pusan. There are over 5 million members in 920 credit unions. Korea has the 4th largest credit union in the world.

An accompanying article has the  story  of a president emeritus of a credit union  who says in the article that his life was changed by meeting Sister Gabriella. He was a bank employee. His life was comfortable but meeting  sister he left his work and went after a dream.  Sister needed young people to work with her, and he found something to do  he found satisfying. He gave talks in the seminars in which they establish  credit unions and  prepared leaders for the movement.

At that time, Pope John 23 published his encyclical Mater and Magister which he says gave the movement a great deal of strength and energized them. The credit union movement helped to eradicate high interest rates, influenced the growth  of democracy in Korea, and was a good influence on the other cooperative movements in Korea. He hopes they don't  lose their identity, work to implement the  credit union principles, and not become like a bank.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Religious Education Programs in the Parish

Most of the teaching in the parish Sunday school programs for the elementary, middle, and high school is  done by college students. The education programs for our students are important for the future of the Church. This was made  clear in the Declaration of Christian Education from the Second Vatican Council. 

A priest writing in the Catholic Times reminds the readers of the importance of education both in the schools run by the church and in our Sunday school programs. However, he sighs, when he thinks of what is  happening in our formation programs for the students in the parishes. 

College students are busy preparing for employment after graduation. This requires preparation in getting their special training to meet the expectations of the different work places. They have to take aptitude  tests  for the different places of work, they even    have  academies to  prepare the students for these  exams and interviews. College  students  who have their eyes  on a civil servant job will need to prepare for these exams. Many need to work part time to  pay the tuition; colleges have become places to prepare for employment. 

This kind of environment society is asking college students to accept is making it difficult for them to prepare to teach in the Sunday school programs in the parishes. Problems are not limited only to one segment of society but the blame has to be shared by the churches, industry, colleges, and politics. Problems come from the choices made. Structures of society  are making it difficult to prepare for the future with the necessary religious knowledge that students need to have.

This is true for the college student teachers and those they are teaching. This is one  reason for the secularization of the Church and the members. The formation of our Christians for the future is not being done properly. He wants us to reconsider the whole issue of education for our young people and find ways to solve the problems.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Envrionment And Laudatio Si

In both Korean Catholic weeklies we have articles and a interview with a  married couple who are  well known in environmental studies. Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim who are co-directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale, and are giving lectures on ecology, while here in Korea. Both are disciples of the well known Thomas Berry, a priest who was a leader in the field of ecology, and who felt the whole issue was a spiritual one.

Why do you think the Laudatio Si  was an important encyclical?

Mary: The  encyclical is an important milestone in our present history,and addressed to all humanity. We have the three Es: Equality,Ecology and Economy that have been joined into one. She mentions the popes have been stressing the concern  we need to have for the  universe and  mentions how the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew has called the harm done to the environment a sin.

John:  Laudatio Si gives us a new way of seeing-- a new perspective. We can find happiness without the unlimited consumerism of our society. This is the reason Pope Francis talks a great deal about poverty and simplicity. It is not a return to the stone age but the way to raise up those who are in extreme poverty. We are looking at the universe as a whole.

What is necessary to make the message of the encyclical have universal validity and be persuasive?

Mary: As a couple we wrote the book: Journey of the Universe. When we realize how long it took humanity to appear on the face of the earth, we can't help but be amazed and see the beauty and be renewed in wanting to naturally protect this life-- wondering at the beauty of life.

John: According to Fr.Thomas Berry who speaks about our relation to the culture, in each culture there are common and different elements. When religion and culture meet they don't  become one but they replenish each other to  become  more complete. It is our task and challenge to show the universal validity and persuasiveness of this thinking. 

What is the responsibility of the Church?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
Mary: Without regard to existence or non-existence we are a part of nature. Once we understand this our thinking will change.  Forests, fish, mountains and many aspects of nature have taken billions of years to appear-- why do we want to destroy them we belong to them?

John: Three persons were carrying stones to build one of the Gothic Cathedrals and were  asked what were they doing. One answered he was carrying stones. Another  said he was building a wall and the third  said he was building a cathedral.  We should also see the big picture we are not just recycling and protecting the environment but helping the planet.

We are related but what do you think should be our Asian perspective and our Asian theology?

Mary: Asia  modernized very quickly. We need to examine what this quick development has done to the environment. Two thirds of the world's population lives in Asia. What is done in one area is going to affect the other areas . The pollution in China is a concern of Korea.  The central theme of the encyclical is the oneness of ecology. In Asia we have  heaven the father, mother earth, and humans. In Asia we do not have divisions but participation in the universe.

John: Many Eco-theologians in their own way describe our relation with nature and the universe. We save the things we love. In answer to all this one can respond: we only need to go to church. However the times in which we live  are  asking much more:   climate is changing, oceans are rising, and we are destroying the top soil etc.;  we are called to get involved. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Eucharistic Unity

Religion should unite--one of the attributes of Catholicism should be unity. Today, we no longer see this as something obvious, more an ideal that should be, but rarely seen. Liberty of conscience and being one's own person seems to have become all important.

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, we have a column  in which the writer, a priest and head of a research center, sees an aspect of this unity in something very insignificant, and gives thanks.

He was entertaining some guests who worked as volunteers with his research center some years before. They came back to see how he was doing in his new location. They told him what they have been doing since leaving the center: active in their parish with scripture study and as members of the Legion of Mary in their parish. He also brought  them up to date on the work he was doing at the center.

Outside it was raining hard, and they decided to take a bus to the nearby town for a meal. They went outside to wait for the bus but no bus. A driver stopped his car and asked if he could take them to where they were going. He apparently recognized the priest and was from the neighboring parish. The priest was not in the habit of imposing on others, but he had his guests, and the bus wasn't coming; he accepted.

As they were on the way they began talking of their plans for the evening, and the priest told the driver, they were going to the next town for a meal. The driver who was with his wife said would it be OK if they  joined him since  it was time for the evening meal. The wife gave her husband a jab in the ribs when he spoke, but the two guests quickly responded it would be great. The priest was not too happy with the turn of events.

The evening they spent time together in  a Chinese restaurant talking about what each was  doing in an easy manner, while eating their jangjangmyen and chanpon. When he heard his guests  talking about their work in the parish, he listened only with his ears but the couple were truly interested  in what they heard. Even though they were meeting for the first time they listened carefully and even offered advice. This surprised the priest for it was a sign that  having to know a person for a longtime to speak at a deep level is not necessary.

Returning to his room, he began to think of what happened that evening. He wondered what made for almost  instant rapport with persons they met for the first time. They could  speak about spirituality and matters of deep value so easily. He concluded that it was the Eucharist which made it easy for the five of them to freely and naturally share themselves with others. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Participating In the Divinity of Jesus

As Christians we know at baptism we became  the sons and daughters of God. Many of  the Church Fathers  expressed this belief in a dimension that vastly exceeded this. St. Athansius said:  “God became man that man might become God.”  St. Thomas Aquinas and many other Saints have expressed this same thinking in different ways. Writing in Bible & Life a Korean pastor writes about this divinization and wants us to meditate on its meaning.

At the offertory of each Mass when the celebrant pours the wine into the chalice he will then pour a few drops of water into the wine which is a sign of our humanity joining the divinity of Christ represented by the wine. While doing this the celebrant recites the prayer: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

This is said quietly at the Mass and since the congregation is usually singing at this time few are familiar with these words. What we do in symbol we believe happens at each Mass:  we participate in God's divinity and at the Communion we approach the altar to receive him in the Sacrament. Once this sinks in we can't help but be absolutely astonished  by what we believe.

One day when saying Mass he recalled thinking that  when he was pouring the water into the wine he was being mixed in with the wine.  The few drops of water would be embraced by the wine He prayed that he and his life would change by the happenings on the altar. 

At each Mass we are not only offering up the bread and wine but we are putting ourselves on the Paten. Each Mass is a time for a change in our lives. After the resurrection  we see the big change in the apostles. They were afraid, all the doors locked, and with the encounter with Jesus all changed, Death was no longer fearful, the apostles really became what they were meant to be-- men on fire with the Gospel message.

Each Sunday at Mass we offer not only bread and wine but also our monetary gift which symbolizes our sweat and difficulties of life,  they also go into the basket. He concludes the article by wanting us to remember that Jesus became man to enable us to participate in his divinity.