Friday, November 28, 2014

Doing the Right Thing

A religious sister writes in the Catholic Digest about her trip to the market and a taxi ride back to the convent. The taxi driver helped her with the packages and weakly asked her where she was going. He looked worn-out.

In the taxi he asked her the easiest way to get to her house. She was surprised by his question and  told him so, and he told her this was the second day of work, and began to give her his personal history like a reservoir that had burst, all came spilling out.

His wife had died a number of years ago. He had two sons, the older one died of a sickness, and the younger one was not married and living in Japan. He had borrowed a lot of money, despite it all his business failed, lost everything, and was in debt. Some of the debt was to persons that were well off but there were also those who had given him all their savings, and for these he was especially concerned.

Life had been hard on him. There were many times that he contemplated suicide but he couldn't do it because of those that lent him the money. He didn't want them to lose hope so he went to those that lent him money, and told them he would repay them, and began his work as a taxi driver.

When he thinks deeply about his situation he realizes that they are the ones that kept him alive.The sister could see in his  face the determination to make good on his promise. She  was  amazed at his words. Where did he get the strength to want to pay back his debt? Although he failed in his business he was not a failure in life. When life doesn't have too many downs it may not be difficult to keep smiling and keep going, but when the zingers are many the person's real and true self appears. These were the  thoughts running through her head. 

When he arrived at the convent he helped the sister with her packages, and before he got back in the taxi he turned to the sister and told her he also was a believer, but hadn't been to Mass in a long time. He wasn't able to overcome the shame he felt in not been able to repay the debt. He did say he would return to church soon. She thanked him, and told him he was always welcomed to come to her parish church. 

As the taxi moved out of the yard she sent a prayer along. She felt like she had just finished watching an emotional movie scene. She knows that God will  bless him for his desire to pay off the debt. 

She was greatly moved by the encounter. It  gave her another reason to appreciate the pleasure of living. There are many like him who overcome difficult odds to do the right thing, and show the resiliency that we are all called to manifest because of our trust in God.                                                            

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Indifference to Pain

College entrance  exams for 2015 have ended, and the same lies continue to circulate within society. The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times expresses his strong opinion on the situation. "Those who have learned what the text book teaches have no difficulty with the exams," and  similar words, make little of the results of the exams. From November to the  beginning of the new school year in Feb. we will have more than 200  young people kill themselves. If family members are included we have over two suicides each day.

All are faced with few or many exams during life, but the college entrance exams are uniquely different for it will determine the life of the family for years to come. Results determine the price tag for the individual given by society. Scholars in the field see this as an evil,  making for a society of academic cliques.

Some see the problem as a weak disposition of the young people, others see it as a rite of passage that exists in all cultures, and we should not be too sentimental about the situation. The loss of so many young lives, and what we need to do is not a problem easily solved.

Suppose, he says, that the  number of students died because of Ebola or SARS  what would happen?  The government official responsible would have to resign,  and the president would be apologizing to the citizens with head lowered, and  measures to remedy the situation would shortly be in place. Why is it that the adults  do not look into the situation? But instead like parrots repeat: "they only need to study the text books...."

Christians along with the president and the ministers in education are disinterested spectators: a really strange society in which we live. All seems hunky-dory, and nobody wants to  ask the right questions.

Young students  are weak  living in a vertical and authoritarian society. They do not vote which is another reason for the lack of interest of the older generation. This lack of interest in the young is also shown in the churches where we have a large number of students no longer seen in the pews. Our response should be to approach them, listen to them, and feel with them.

One of humanities great gifts is the ability to sympathize with those who are sick or hurting: the capability of empathizing with others and to act. Jesus is our example; he was sent by the Father to be with us and he showed  this feeling for others by his healing. His empathy for others brought about the healing.

One of the great weapons that we have as Christians is the grace to sympathize with others in their hurt. More important than being number one is to relate with others. We need to become more sensitive to the hurts of others, and to develop this part of our personality. This seed was put into the hearts of the followers of Jesus, and this seed for love needs to find expression in our lives.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Joys of Farm Life

Farmers at this time of the year are  looking forward to a period of  leisure. The life of a farmer gives them little time to admire the scenery, and now with the  Free Trade Agreement with China there is a great deal of uncertainty and worry on what the future will bring. In an article on the opinion page of the Catholic Times, a city dweller, who worked for a large construction company, some 12 years ago  returned to the farm and began raising grapes. He gives us his thoughts on country living.

The situation for farmers, he says, is  like the flame of a candle in the wind. With  free trade he sees everything in a fog and is uncomfortable. He wonders whether there is a future in farming?  Many feel the  greater wealth of the country will lead to the greater happiness of the populace, this he strongly believes is  false. This is a belief held by many in government, and yet we know that wealth does not determine the degree of happiness of the citizens.

The numbers of those retiring from work is increasing. He mentions a number of his old buddies who ask  about life on the farm. They are now white haired and have time on their hands.They are looking for ways to occupy themselves after the many years in the work force. They mention how infrequent are the visit of their children and would like to see a change  in the way we live. He compares life for some after retirement like the male bee, the drone, who is kicked out of the hive.

His son will  be in third year high school next year and he comes home every other week end. The father casually told his son that after graduation from high school  he could always work  on the farm. The son shook his head derisively to which the father told him  if you go to college and after graduation you can't find a job you can always come back to a big farm which I will buy for you. Now when he comes home he is more relaxed and magnanimous.

In the country along the road you see banners fluttering in the wind especially during the winter months they look out of place. You have them congratulating some recent son or daughter of the country who has just received their doctorate, passed a civil servant exam, or was hired by a big company. They make known to all, the family situation, and how  proud they are of their children. He would love to see banners flying in the wind  mentioning a son who has decided to return to the country to work on the  family farm,  or a son who has set up a cafe in the area and is asking for the people's patronage.

Life on the farm is busy and the future will not see any big changes but he finishes his article with the joy that comes with life on the farm. He would like to see the government make life on the farm easier, with less worry, but he also knows farmers  have a great deal of joy from the small things of life that are all around them, and hopes this will continue in the future.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Miracle Apples

Recently in Korea as in other parts of the world there has been a renewed interest in  natural farming. We talk a lot about  organic farming  but natural farming is going to another level of the natural. In the View from the Ark in the Catholic Times, a priest writer introduces us to  a Japanese farmer, Akinori Kimura,  and his new way of growing apples. 

Another Japanese Farmer Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) a philosopher, besides being a farmer believed the less a farmer did to disturb the natural ecology- no plowing, no chemical fertilizers, no weeding or use of herbicides or pesticides the better the land would respond. Akinori applied this teaching to growing apples and gave us the 'Miracle Apple'.

The articles mentions a talk that was given at one of the concerts by an educator to raise money for unwed mothers. A video that was shown moved many of those present. The talk was about the farmer Akinori Kimura and the  documentary that caused a sensation in Japan when it was shown Dec.7th in 2006. His apples at a  normal room  temperature will not rot even after 6 months. They sell out as soon as they hit the market. A soup that is made from the apples is famous in all the first class  restaurants in Japan. When a typhoon hits an orchard he has  less damage than the  ordinary orchards. 

However, to reach this point in raising apples required a great deal of time, frustration and failure. Not using pesticides, blight and harmful insects reduced his harvest to almost nothing. Neighboring  farmers  considered him a fool.  He was so demoralized, he even contemplated suicide. He  withdrew to the mountains. During this time he saw an oak tree with its acorns that were not fertilized, no pesticides used, and  gave us healthy acorns. He realized that it was the grass and earth that allowed it to happen. It took him 10 years to reach this in his orchard.

He gives credit to his family for the success he was able to achieve. The immediate cause for the change was his wife's allergy to the pesticides he was using. The love he had for his wife enabled him to overcome all the difficulties that he met during the ten years of work. This was a difficult period for the family because during the transition little money was coming in for the family to live.

The priest reminds us the word to learn and the word for spouse in Korean are written the same, leaving us with the message that a couple are made to love and to learn together up until death. Sadly, he says that for many it is teaching and the power of authority that has priority. In families of this type all may seem well but they are not happy, and there are many problems between parents and children. 

He believes this is also true with  priests and  parishioners. They should both be interested in learning. The priest should  be learning from the parishioners, and achieve happiness by working for the miracle of love.

The lesson that can be derived from the natural farming methods for growing miracle apples can be transferred also to our place in families, communities and society. The reason that Akinori was able to work for 10 years to achieve the miracle apple was the love he had for his wife. He wants us to overcome  jealously, backbiting and lack of love which we often express, and make the effort to harvest the miracle fruit of love.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, November 24, 2014

A New Start

This past Sunday was the last Sunday of our liturgical year, and this Sunday is the first of Advent and the start of the New Year for us Catholics. A vocalist and part time columnist for the Peace Weekly give us important words of advice to begin the new year.

Every time he goes on the stage or is being video taped for a program there is a great deal of preparation. Arrangement of his clothes, the makeup, the tuning of his guitar, always effort to make a better appearance for his audience and the TV viewers. Rehearsals are required and since this  involves others, a lot of time is spent waiting.

Rare is the time when he goes on the stage completely prepared.  At times after rehearsals and a simple meal he sees that his hair, clothes, and makeup is messed up and because of the weather his guitar is in bad shape. All requiring fixing  to get back to where he was in the first place. Despite all this preparation after the performance there is always the feeling that  something was not right leaving him dissatisfied.

He feels this is not only true with vocalists but with all of us; all we need to do is change some of the words he used for himself.  Especially at this time we have  the students who have taken the exams for college entrance and their parents who tried their best and are waiting for the results. But in retrospect there is often the feel there was a lack in the  preparation, and a feeling of regret. A feeling that we all have felt, and the next time, we say, it will be different.  

For a vocalist there is always another opportunity to go on the stage, another program. Of course there is always the chance of making a serious mistake that would threaten the end of the vocalist's career as a performer, but even here, working diligently there will be another opportunity.Only one chance to succeed: a life that would not admit of mistakes and failure would be hell. Difficult it is to even imagine that kind of situation.

We have St. Peter who in one  night time denied Jesus three times and St. Paul who persecuted the Church. Two good examples of  those who have been given a second chance.  Life is filled with second chances. Is it not true, he asks, that what we at times considered important looking back at the past turns out to be of little importance. 

The  opportunities that await us in life are like exams. What we did yesterday that worked out well may not be the case today. Life is filled with exams in which we test ourselves many times over. We learn from what we did that was not so good, correct our mistakes, and do the best we can at the next opportunity. 

He concludes his column by telling us that one of our greatest discoveries was the eraser. What we can erase, means we can start anew. Whether we are satisfied with what was done yesterday or not, it was yesterday. We want to completely erase our  mistakes; remember what was done, and begin again.

We have this opportunity with the start of the new liturgical year. Let us remember that we are always given graces to overcome our faults, and on our part  be prepared to accept them.            

Sunday, November 23, 2014

57th Trip to North Korea

Maryknoll Local Superior, Fr. Gerard Hammond,  was recently  interviewed by Catholic News (Here and Now). He has made 57 trips to North Korea and considers them as pilgrimages, for Bishop Hong and many Christians from the Pyongyang Diocese, and the Benedictine Religious, died a martyr's death in the North.

He  is secretary of the Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for National Reconciliation. The interviewer asked him what he  thought about the UN resolution on Human Rights in the North. Father considers his work with the TB patients in the North as work to extend  human rights. Need is for more humanitarian aid to the North. Sickness is prevalent and infectious diseases continue to spread.

Father has been working as a trustee in the Eugene Bell Foundation since 2003. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis has developed a resistance to the antimicrobial drugs used to cure the disease. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is TB that  doesn't respond to the drugs of the  the past and the foundation is working together with the public health programs of the North to eradicate TB with a new series of drugs. In many areas of the North the Eugene Bell Foundation is bringing in new medicines and medical equipment  to  help in the fight against TB.  Referring to the TB patients: Fr. Hammond says, "Jesus worked among the suffering of his time and we want to be among the suffering of today."

When those who are suffering are at their lowest, the Church should be with them. Conversing with them in a peaceful way, the encounter and the interest we show is naturally helping to reconcile the North and South.

Fr. Hammond mentions that one of the  most fearful things we face in life is the  lack of interest--apathy. We in the South have to show more interest in the North. We have to pray and act, not only with  material help, but to  search for ways to communicate with the North.

One of the big problems is the inability of the South to travel to the North. He knows that prayer is not sufficient: we need acts of reconciliation and ways of directly showing interest in the North.

Bishop members of the committee for reconciliation have shown a desire to visit the North. Fr. Hammond and the the Benedictine Abbot of Waegwon, before the division of the country are members of communities that worked in the North.

Every six months the  committee meets to discuss and examine the new information that has been  gathered about the North and decides what the South can do to help the North. Although the bishops may not be able to go they hope someone will go in their place.

Fr. Hammond has a special affection for the Catholic Church of Repentance and Atonement in Paju, Gyeonggi-do. For those that can't go to North Korea he would like them to make a trip to the Church to  pray, reflect on the fratricidal war between the North and South, and  determine how we can  help to bring about reconciliation and  renewal.

Although he is an American with  permanent residence in the South, he has no difficulty getting a visa to go to the North. He hopes to grow in humility and poverty and to work as a missioner in Korea until he dies. He has great sadness that those in the South are not able to meet those of the North. He is only acting as a  temporary bridge for those in the South, hoping the day will come soon when they will meet as brothers and sisters. 


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Heart to Heart Talk Is Rare

'Know that we are loved.' Is the topic the nun columnist in the Catholic Times wants us to remember as an important  part of the spirituality of communication. She gives us the example of a writer that came to the conclusion that he and his three teenage children were addicted to the digital screen. Any free time they had would be with the computer or the smartphone, glued to the screen. One day coming home from work, out of the blue, he declared: no more 'screens' for six months.

Let us suppose there were no smartphones or internet, what would we be doing? she asks. We would be walking in the park with our friends more often than we do it now; reading, and going to the dictionary, talking more often and looking people in the eyes and communicating, and wanting to understand another more deeply.

She recalls giving a group some homework:  go home, look a family member in the eyes, and have a conversation. One condition was to  spend 10 minutes doing nothing else put looking directly at  the person and conversing. A week later she asked for the  results of the assignment, and not one out of the ten spent the 10 minutes in conversation. One woman said that she couldn't find the time but did talk to her husband while she was driving. There was no time to spend in eye to eye contact, and speaking to one another.

In a  questionnaire recently, parents have difficulty speaking to their children for even 30 minutes a day, and mostly about their school work and their complaints. There are  many couples that do not even speak to each other in a proper fashion for even ten minutes. Reasons given can be unnerving: busy, fear of a fight, it is  useless. There are even those who communicate by means of Twitter until their anger subsides. 

Another study showed that those families that eat together at least 4 times a week have two times more satisfaction in life than those that don't, and relate better with the society in which they live. Communicating with one another is a  sign of a happy family.

A condition for happiness is relationships, and this requires communication. This does not only include talking to one another. St. Don Bosco in talking to his teachers said: "Do not just stop at loving your children but make sure they feel that love." To make them feel love means there is a need for mutual understanding. Full attention given to the  other, and speaking as if they were the only person present.

We are communicating with others without meeting the other. Communication is everywhere, but mutual understanding is rare. We are daily communicating with our smart phones, but are we meeting the other? How about spending ten minutes today speaking face to face with a person you love; you will find there is the  possibility of having it develop into a heart to heart talk.