Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Place of Workers in Society

"From the beginning, therefore, he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense, it constitutes its very nature." These words begin the encyclical  'On Human Work' by  Pope John Paul II (1981) and introduce an article in Bible & Life on Labor by a Seoul priest.

If these words are true it is only right that all labor and laborers should in every place and time enjoy glory and respect. Is this the reality of what we see in society?  There has been a change but labor still is looked upon negatively. In Korea, it is not difficult to find persons who look upon labor as the punishment for losers. Hearing 'labor movement' and 'labor union' many tense up or are on their guard.

Why should this be the case? From childhood, that is the education received and as adults, this is what they have seen and heard. Labor is looked down upon and working  to better the situation is seen as a leftist interest. This should not be the case within the Nation or the Church.

In the Korean Constitution, we have the three rights spelled out: the right to organize, collective bargaining and collective action. Laborers have a right to organize a labor union, participate, the right to collectively bargain and the right to strike. This is a right the Nation has given to the worker-- an enormous right.

He lists some of the many encyclicals on labor: Rerum Novarum 1891 (On the condition of Labor), Quadragesimo Anno 1931 (After Forty Years), Laborem Exercens 1981 (On Human Work), and Centesimus Annus 1991 (The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum). The Church has not only stressed the respect and rights due to the workers but listed the obstacles to this respect and rights.

What is the Church's record on following its own teaching? The writer wants us to ask those working in Church related facilities and he responds that not a small number are disappointed in what they see. For the most part transparent but no different in the pursuit of profits, giving the lowest wages, and in labor disputes similar to what we see in the world.

He concludes that the members of the Church have not yet digested the teaching and this we need to confess. "Where we stand is the way we see the landscape." He hopes this proverb doesn't describe the way we react to the Church's teaching. He feels that if the Church is not going to follow its teaching it should not get involved in work hiring others.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Concience the Voice of God

Often in surveys and questionnaires, Catholic responses are no different from the other segments of society. Since Catholics  live in society, it is not surprising  there  is  little difference in the way they think or act. This is not true of all but many Catholics, on family, marriage, and social problems are not influenced by their Catholicism.

Since we are all living in the same society the spirit of the times is always influencing us in many different ways. Expressing this strongly, the spirit of the  world confines us both in thought and action. 

Structures of society, systems, and laws have influenced us from the time we were children. We know many of our actions and thoughts are not  correct but are not able to overcome the structures and we become accustomed to going along. However, to be human we must continue to work against the structures that are not healthy.

A seminary professor in an article in the Catholic Times, wants us to think of the way society continues to influence us, not always correctly. We need to question societies' structures and direction. We are not dealing with something that is natural and absolute. Christians live in the world but we dream and work for the establishment of God's kind of world. We  work for the world that is more in harmony to the one that Christ showed us.

We are told in Mark 14:38: "Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation.The spirit is willing  but the flesh is weak." One who prays in the proper fashion can't help but be concerned with those who are hurting and the problems in society. 

The prophets of the Old Testament were sensitive to God's word and the wounds in society. Being sensitive to what was happening was a sign  that the prophets were listening to their consciences. Conscience is what God has put into our hearts and is where God speaks to us.

Whether a person believes or not, whether a Christian or not,  all have a conscience. However, if we hide the  conscience deep within ourselves and follow the flow in society we will not  hear God's voice.

There is always a need to form and examine our consciences:  having a sensitive conscience needs effort on our part. To be alert and awake is a way of having a sensitive conscience. The teaching of the Social Gospel helps us to form our consciences correctly, making us truly free persons.

The world is this way and I can't help it, is becoming a slave  and losing our freedom. Jesus  came to make us free. "It was for liberty that Christ freed us. So stand firm, and do not take on yourselves the yoke of slavery a second  time" (Gal. 5:1).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

'Appropriate Technology' a New Way of Behaving

In the BibleLife magazine, there is a series of articles on 'Appropriate Technology' also called "Intermediate Technology"  which can be defined as a movement that wants to simplify life with the use of our hands in energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and locally controlled technology that is people-centered.

One of the world's best 'Go' (Chinese traditional board game) players lost to artificial intelligence is a reason for the feeling of heaviness of heart the writer feels about society. He introduces us to the German economist Dr.Ernst Schumacher whose book: Small is Beautiful. The book was a best seller and Schumacher  became a leader in the  'appropriate technology' movement.

A movement from the late 19th century based on the principles of Catholic social teaching was known as Distributism and even Schumacher was attracted to this understanding enough to become Catholic in his later years.

The articles want us to bring sweat to our brow and appreciate the sanctity of labor. We are told that we need to use our bodies and our minds. Our society is always dreaming of the more and bigger understanding of progress but we are introduced to working with created things with our hands continuing the work of creation in small ways.

The poverty that is chosen is not like the poverty  imposed by factors in society. One of the articles mentions that the writer's  understanding of poverty that Jesus speaks about is voluntary poverty.  It is freely detaching and lowering  oneself but also being filled. The example of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is a good example of what he teaches.

Globalization as a standardization of what we do is not  the aim of 'Appropriate Technology'. We adapt what we do to the finances we have and the means at our disposal. The principle of subsidiarity carried out in our daily life-- (Subsidiarity:  problems  should be dealt with on the local level with the means available if possible before asking for help).

It is a simplification of life: conserving, sharing, exchanging and reusing. Inventing  new ways of doing something which is environmentally  and  people friendly.  Organic farming is just  one of the ways that more effort is demanded but also greater satisfaction and a healthier environment. 

Labor allows us to continue God's creation. Mass production structures have degraded the value of labor, mechanization and standardization have not appreciated the value of labor and subordinated it to capital. This return to the use of our hands and heads is acknowledging "God found it very good." There is some discomfort but joy comes from participating in creation.

The writer concludes that we can't continue living the way we have  without harm to our environment and  posterity. For temporary gain, we should not destroy  the definitive plan of creation God has given us. Working for the common good in everything that we do should be a primary value of life. This new way of thinking and acting demands more effort and is more uncomfortable but thinking of the future it brings joy.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Relationships And Happiness

A teacher with a  lot of experience in education shows the readers how difficult the life of a teacher is in primary and secondary school. In the article in the Kyeongyang Magazine she explains that many have the idea  that teachers have long vacations and  short school days: an easy life, but  this  is not the reality.

Teachers expend a lot of emotional energy besides the physical energy in their teaching. Standing up for six hours a day in front of a class is just one of the minor difficulties. Concern for the students extends to checking their Facebook pages and dealing with parents along with the daily class load. 

The last section of her article is on a talk given by Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED)  a nonprofit group that spreads  worthwhile ideas throughout the world and the writer brings to the attention of her readers: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness. This is what teachers are wanting to do and she shows her readers what a teacher's task should be.

The study that is  being used began in 1938 and for this report went to 2015 and continues. The millennials were asked what were their goals in life: 80% said it was to get rich and 50% wanted to be famous.

The study followed two groups of men. One were students at Harvard when the study began and a group was from one of the poorest areas of Boston Mass, where many lived without cold and hot  running water. 

These individuals entered many different walks of life. They became factory workers, lawyers, bricklayers, doctors, some developed alcoholism, a few schizophrenia, some came from the bottom to the very top, and some went the other way. 

What did they learn during the study? It was very simple: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

Those who were in good relationships within the family, friends and community were happier and healthier than those who did not have that relationship. Social connection is good for us and loneliness kills. Secondly, the quality and not the number of the relationships is important. The third lesson was that these relationships don't only protect the body and spirit but also the brain.

She concludes the article hoping that the parents will be conscious of the importance of relationship in maturity and see 'after service' as an important part of the formation of their children. Relationships once broken are very difficult to renew. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Teaching of Hwang Tae-ra

In the Chinese State of Lu lived Hwang Tae-ra, who as a punishment had a foot cut off.  He was not famous, a cripple and a public sinner and yet many followed him. In a bulletin for priests, the writer gives us some thoughts on which to meditate.

One of the disciples of Confucius asked his master how was it that Hwang had so many following him.  The numbers following Hwang were similar to those following Confucius and Hwang  didn't teach, or in anyway interact with his followers and yet they left with their heads filled with his teachings. The disciples asked: Is there a kind of teaching that comes without words?  Who is the Hwang fellow?

The disciple couldn't figure out why the crippled  Hwang had as many disciples as his own master Confucius without teaching, crippled and a public sinner. The disciple was using his eyes and ears to judge.

Confucius replied:  "He is a saint. I am lazy and  have not yet met him... one of these days I will make him my master. Not only the citizens of Lu but all the members of the human race I will lead them to Hwang."

His disciple surprised at the reply, asked: "Is he a greater teacher than You? What is it that makes him such?"

Confucius replied: He understands truth and lives a moral life. He knows the importance of life and death. Even if the heavens should fall and the earth caved in he would remain calm. He knows what you hear and see is not all that there is... He is a virtuous  person  from which comes freedom and peace. The loss of his foot is no more that having a lump of dirt  wiped away from his pants." This was Confucius estimation of Hwang.

This reply did not satisfy the disciple  and with continued puzzlement:  "Teacher Hwang  doesn't  give any talks or discuss with his followers...  how can one who is absorbed in his own improvement have such a great following?"

"When water is flowing you can't see your image. It is only water that is at rest that you are able to see your reflection is it not?  People are attracted to this quietness." Confucius explained the attraction of Hwang. Spending  time looking quietly at oneself,  in silence and gazing into tranquility they see themselves more clearly and this is Hwang's way of teaching.

In conclusion, we are told that Hwang Tae-ra was a fictitious character that was used by a scholar some 2400 years ago in China to help those handicapped and show that they had within themselves  the God-given light to live beautiful, profitable lives and  help others.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Facing a Death by Suicide

Korea  continues to lead the world in the number of suicides. A priest-professor at a Catholic University gives us his own experience in a WithBible article dealing with the problem. 

At the very beginning  as a new priest, he had an experience where a woman member of the parish came to him crying, for shortly before, after a fight with her husband, he left and hanged himself. She didn't know how she could go on living.

He didn't know how to react to the news. He had no idea what to say or do. He knew that it was a serious sin and the Church did not allow a formal funeral service. He was not able to console the woman. An older priest who was a friend of the husband went to the hospital, had the funeral rites and was a help to the family. Shortly after the women came to the rectory to thank him, she was moving out of the parish. He remembers he was not able to look the woman in the face.

Korea, he says, is not yet able to understand the seriousness of the problem or provide sufficient countermeasures. In 1995 we had 4,930 who killed themselves but from 2003 the numbers are well over 10,000 and lead the world. 

Those that commit suicide usually are suffering from depression. During this period we had the foreign exchange and financial crisis which increased failures in business, difficulty finding work and family squabbles, giving rise to stress, depression and suicides.

Elders also have a higher rate of suicide than other countries: poverty, sickness, loneliness, can't be discounted. The breakdown of the extended family, the community network of the past disappeared with individualization, citification and industrialization all helping the alienation felt by many of the older generation. Many attempted to free themselves from their feeling of helplessness, uneasiness, and loneliness with liquor and pleasure but this was only temporary and the stress just increased and many took the extreme way out.

Suicide is a scar that is not  easily healed. To take one's  life is an offense against the creator of life, against the invitation and mission that was received and refused, and the love  for God, others and oneself. However, because of the many extenuating circumstances, the Church recognizes that grave psychological problems, anguish, fear, suffering, emotional state can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

With this understanding, it is not only the person that we blame but more so  ourselves for lack of interest and compassion on the pain suffered by many of those who take their own lives and our failure to be of help.

He concludes the article with an incident that happened to him a few years earlier. A woman whom he knew telephoned him, crying, to tell him that her daughter after giving birth, suffering from depression took her life. Because of his experience as a young priest and his immaturity at that time, familiar with the  Church's  teaching he went immediately to the hospital to  console the family. He knew the hesitation they would have in notifying the faith community so he offered the funeral Mass at the hospital. He considered the efforts that he expended in showing concern for the family as a penance for his immaturity as a young priest.                                                                   

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fidei Donum Priests

Fidei Donum is the name of the encyclical of Pius XII published in 1957 which called on the bishops to share their priests with the countries in need, give financial assistance and offer prayers for the missions. Many dioceses have sent priests to areas of the world where vocations were scarce, these priests and religious remain attached to their dioceses.

Both Catholic papers continue to mention the work of  these priests, religious and laypeople working overseas. In a recent editorial, the Church is proud they still are doing well with vocations to the priesthood. Korea has over 5,000 priests and they have over 100 being ordained yearly. This can change in the future but in 2016 the situation still looks bright.

This is not true in many parts of the Catholic World. Reflecting on itself the Church in Korea knows that it has  been blessed. In the editorial, they mentioned the Catholic country of Chile and the diocese of Santiago where the Catholic population would be similar to Korea but have only about 500 priests and Korea has 5,000. They have only about 50 seminarians and this year no one was ordained. This is the ordinary situation in many countries.

When someone is hurting it is our duty to help. For a Christian, this is all the more an obligation. Up until the end of 2015 Korea has sent 99 priests to  countries in need as Fidei Donum priests. 

The Seoul Diocese has added a course in the seminary schedule to prepare priests who are interested in overseas work as missioners. This is now spreading to other dioceses: a very encouraging response for the future.

To leave one's country where one was hoping to serve, and volunteer for a foreign country where they will have to learn a new language and customs is difficult to do. The hope is that we will have more priests who will be willing to do this in the years ahead.