Thursday, November 23, 2017

Bigger Churches and More Christians

In the last half of the 20th century, industrialization and democratization of Korea brought about a great increase of the number of Catholics. From 3% of the population to over 10% growth  needing the building of new churches and 5 new seminaries. It was a growth  rarely seen in the church and a reason for pride.

A priest writing for other priests in a pastoral bulletin asks his readers: Do we have a better way of life from the increase of the number of crosses on church buildings and the number of Christians in Korea? Are we happier society for the increase? You ask 10 people and you get the same answer: No, is the very natural response  to the question: no ifs, ands and buts.

Jesus' came into the world  to reform it.   He gave his life for the cause and we his followers are given the same mission of making this world one according to his will. Why then since we have an increase of twice to three times what it was,  we so called Christians have not made any difference in the world we see? We perceive no sign of change. Rather with the passage of time why do we feel more anxious, tired and  unhappy? Let us suppose that  the majority of the population  joined us would there be change? Seeing the results of the increase we have experienced our answer  wouldn't be yes.  Why?

The writer feels we have forgotten the responsibility we have as Christians. Often is heard the structures of the church are vertical, clericalism is rampant. Few are the members of the clergy who have reflected long and deep on the situation and are  concerned with the situation. Tearing down buildings, extending present buildings and building new buildings is what is important. The building of churches and the increase of believers has little to do with the evangilization of the world.

We do not want to misunderstand what the work of the community of faith is. Church is here to work for the establishment of  God's kingdom. The Church is not the kingdom but a means to bring the kingdom here to the world. When we are only interested in extending the church and fail to spread the message of the Gospel and absorbed in security and our own growth we become a business enterprise.

He concludes the article by reminding the readers that when we only think of building up the church making it larger and forget the mission of the church we forget the shabby looking  Jesus who stood before the sign of  authority and power of Pilate. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crisis Within The Church, Violence Our Self Portrait

In the present community of faith, we see two extreme ways the church is seen. They both see a crisis and are concerned. A priest writer in a Bulletin for priests begins his article with these words.

A so-called conservative school sees the situation with a martyr's attitude: they face a stark reality and proceed to analyze  the situation. After the Second Vatican Council, the church was contaminated with disbelief, worldliness, and liberalism. It's their task to return to the time before the Council as a loyal remnant in the church.

The other school predicts that if we continue in our present ways the church will decline and cease to exist. What is necessary is for the true Christian to throw off the aging and frustrating system the Church is trapped in and modernize, become efficient and get the applause of society.

In these two extremes, there is a common element in that both of them see the other as the cause of the problems the church faces. The two camps with their strong fortress mentality both predicting the downfall of the church have in their logic no place for love but only condemnation, no concern for the other but judgment. Within these two camps, we have a narrowness of thinking, self-inflicted pain and attitudes that give birth to despair and the soil for violence.

This attitude does recognize that the church is made up of human beings and is limited in what it's able to do. Both these camps are violent in their activities towards the good people who believe that the Church from the time of the Apostles is being led by God and his Spirit.

Sarcasm is adrift in the Church and our self-portrait. This attitude hurts us and defeats without finding hope in our Lord. Medard Kehl SJ, a German theologian, has thought deeply about the challenges that face the church in the modern world and fights against them in his book: Where is the Church Going?  He asks those with closed minds and self-inflicted pessimism with the following proposal. " To grow in hope is not to strive only for results by all means and give people all that they desire. What we are about is  to be faithful in living our faith without vacillation of any kind."  In other words: faith for a Christian is doing what we are asked as natural and wholeheartedly, without looking around to others and wanting to hear applause. This will make us free and relieve us of many burdens. We are not always looking for immediate results from our efforts but at the same don't surrender. Efficiency is not our most important value.

In a changing world, negative conclusions about the situation faced by the church or obsession with survival follow from a lack of faith and deep reflection on the meaning of church. With the deep reflection, we begin to understand our being internally, externally and the truth. We come to a deeper understanding of the reality we are experiencing and a deeper level of hope.

In Korea, the candlelight processions did bring about visibly the desire of many of the citizens for a new start. At this point in history with all the conflict within and outside the community of faith, we need to reflect more deeply on the reason for the existence of the Church, the world, humanity and the light will come.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Church Needs to Challenge The Culture

Human consciousness depends on education, tradition, culture and belief system but it is not fixed, changes take place, we have growth and integration. A seminary professor begins his article in View from the Ark with these words on the Church's place in society.

Change produces resistance. A human being is biologically programmed to avoid pain and rest comfortably. Emotional stability is necessary to resolve both physical and inner conflicts to adapt to changes in an environment. If these changes match the views of the individual, pain is accepted, if not persons are disturbed, and problems with depression and suicides often follow.

The church is no exception. Looking at the 2000 year history of the church it has been on a journey of cultural adaptation and indigenization. In the spirit and culture of the times, it tries to understand its beliefs and make known what it has received and finds its identity.

After the Resurrection of Jesus, the early church was waiting for the return of Jesus and the end, testifying to their faith by martyrdom. After becoming the State Church of Rome with its freedom and power it began to preach the Gospel to the pagans and with its power build the earthly kingdom. People were subdued in the name of Jesus with violence and wrong judgments made.

However, the Church has undergone many changes, renewed and reformed. According to the promise of Jesus, the Church has been guided by the Holy Spirit to defeat the power of evil and proclaim the Gospel throughout the world. The Catholic Church dressed in the robes of Western civilization settled in Korea but was resented by the nation. It gave the hope of the Resurrection to the people. Believers found a new family in the church and shared hope and comfort and often witnessed to hope by a martyr's death.

There is a saying that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, At first we think that the sum of the parts make up the whole but when the individuals are gathered and form a community they are affected by the surrounding environment that influences the community in ways that were not present in the beginning. This is called the 'emergent property' principle also experienced by the Church. The gift of the Spirit that each individual receives is small but the spirit in the community would be greater than that of the individuals. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the level of guidance we believe is at a higher level than the social organizations of society.   

Often the mass media, the spirit of the age, the bias in society gives the citizens false and distorted values and brings harm into society. In the Church, however, believers receive the fellowship of other believers through the teaching of the faith and when the community becomes one they help defend the church and grow beyond their personal gifts and to the universal good.

Many criticize the church for not being any different from any other organizations in society and rightly so for the church is meant to be different. Gerhard Lohfink a German theologian makes clear that what is needed today is a church that is a contrast to the society we have. We are not a church to be successful in the ways of the world using the ways of the world with authoritarian power but with the teachings of Jesus. The moment authority becomes power we are no different than the world. If we lose the cross we lose everything. Is this not the lesson we  learned from history?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Young Christian Workers

Many years ago, a priest writing for a clerical bulletin, recalls a trip he made for a wedding Mass. He hailed a taxi whose driver seeing the clerical garb greeted him warmly telling him he also was Catholic and recounted his change of heart in recent years.

He was baptized as a child but did not take it too seriously. Recently, however, it all changed and he found great joy and meaning in everything he did as a member of the JOC.

(Young Christian Workers, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne in French) is a movement for young workers that began in France. The taxi driver was a member of this movement and his taxi became his altar where he offered up his daily work, greeting all graciously and supporting his family. He was living the lay apostolate as a taxi driver.

He mentions a women member of the JOC who left her office job to work in a factory. Pay was poor, the work difficult but she felt on a mission. She had more persons to show her love and concern. At Mass, she would associate with those who were in their work clothes and did much to increase the numbers in the JOC movement and give meaning to the life many were living. 

JOC was very active in most of the countries of the world but that is no longer the case. Society has changed and so has the membership in the movement. In Korea, it was very active but now there are just about 10 groups that are still meeting.

Young people are at the learning stage so we may ask how can they participate in the apostolate of the Church. Young peoples' world is different from that of the adults. They study, play and work together. A difficult place for adults to enter. Only the young can enter and influence the direction of life.The group meetings are not education from above with cramming but young people sharing with other young people about their lives.

Many of those who in adult age continue to work in the lay apostolate of the church have their beginnings in the JOC. They were formed in way that gave them confidence and a joy that comes with concern for others in making a better world,

In recent statistics that the priest has seen show that 50% percent of those asked feel that religion is not necessary for society. With the passage of time the numbers who have a negative feeling towards religion continue to rise, Many are the reasons for this but the bad example given by religious people is great.

More than one non-believing philosopher has mentioned that Christians work to increase their numbers but more than efforts to evangelize, living what they preached would be the best method of evangelization.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Korean Catholic Church's Present Address

Religious men and women leaders conducted a  seminar commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation held on Oct. 31, the day Martin Luther attached his grievances on the church door.

The Catholic Times in an editorial and article reported on the seminar's theme: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3.9). Agreed was the need to examine the years since the Reformation and determine what we have learned about communication and the way we come to decisions.

Briefly, the outline of the discussion was about the communication structures in the church. God's people can go to the Lord without getting lost when we have the proper communication structures within the church.

Five hundred years later what we can learn from the Reformation is that the Church's journey to the Kingdom of God, the community of faith, can not neglect for a moment the continual work of reflection and renewal. History shows us how we have been made God's community and we continue on this journey when we constantly renew ourselves, in line with the words of Jesus: Stay awake.

Difficult to see the Christian community today making efforts for reflection and renewal. We seem to pay more attention to external matters: number of believers, church buildings, money offerings, events and the like.  We are lost in external matters and forget what is important. We repeat the history of division brought about by the lack of communication that was present in the past and continues in the present. We don't know how to go about renewing ourselves.

We Christians, the children of God, have a duty to be awake,  pray and witness to the life of the Gospel, together. The influence of the world can easily shake the faith of the community and bring confusion and difficulty. That is why we have to be awake, examine and reflect on the calling we have received.

Clergy, religious and laity are all members of the Church and we need structures that allow an easy access to meeting and discussing the mission we have all received. Not only meeting to consult but also participate in the decision making.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Family Conversation

Kyeongyang magazine has an article on the keys for family dialogue by a layperson involved in diocesan pastoral work.  He has worked on programs for families for many years but reminds the readers that monks can't cut their own hair. Looking over his own conduct in the family many are his faults as a father and husband. During a family fight his wife often lets him hear:"A developer of family programs is that all that I can expect from you?"

Knowing the way and walking the way are two different realities. However, knowing what to do makes the doing a lot easier. Working on family relationships a question he often receives: What is the secret in family dialogue? He has listed them for the readers; gathered from his experience even though he's still a learner.

1) Talking begins with the eyes and not the mouth.

2) Speak with warmth in the voice. When the words expressed are kind, the ones returned will be warm and kind. When the words heard are not, responding  with warmth and kindness that is love.

3) Keep the words you speak and the ones you hear at a ratio of 50 to 50. Like in Ping Pong give and take should be the same. Monopolizing the conversation is bad but so is not speaking. In the family, others know what is in the heart in the degree it's made known. 

4) The reason for dialogue is to understand and to sympathize with what is spoken. We express our love with our words. Speaking is not to make everything come out the way the speaker wants.

5) Putting oneself in the other person's shoes.  But no matter how much we try we will never understand the other completely. Like the words of the  song: "I don't know even myself how can I know you."

6) Speak from the heart. Speak frankly, plainly,  gently and with few words. More important than speaking frankly and plainly is to speak gently. More than the truth spoken is the respect one has for the person speaking.

7) Don't compare to others. For Catholics to compare with Jesus and the Blessed Mother is an attack on the family. Speak only what is seen without comparisons.

8) Better to speak about what is desired than what is not: positive instead of negative.

9) Speaking with a smile.

10) Listen to all that the family member wants to say and not prevent them from speaking fully.

11)  Physical  contact with the person your speaking  is a help in being understood.

12) Honest agreement shown in response to what you hear that comes from the heart.

13)  Better than asking questions with a yes or no answer, ask open questions: What do you think about this etc.? 

14) When speaking agitated that is the end of dialogue.

15) Speak about dreams of the family members.

He concludes the article by reminding the readers this is for those reading the article. Expecting this to be the response of the family members, better to forget all that was said.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We Are Not Meant To Live Alone

A religious sister working in a diocesan pastoral  center for the prevention of suicides writes in the View from the Ark of the Catholic Times that we need others to live a full life. She mentions last month in a city of Korea a man 47 years old with a chronic kidney problem was found dead in his house and the police say he had been dead for a week and are still investigating.

In the same city on the same day in another house, an 81-year-old man, dead for a week, was found.  Five years before he was operated on and never really recovered. He lived alone and the police are investigating the reason for death and talking to the acquaintances of the bereaved.

This is not a rare occurrence. According to government statistics in 2011, 639 died alone, without any known relatives. In 2016, 1032 died alone, twice the previous figure. Loneliness and dying alone was seen as a problem of the poor, sick and old persons,  but that is no longer the case. Nowadays, the divorced, unemployed, and those facing financial ruin are found dying alone.

Last year in Seoul 162 died alone and 137 of them were men and 36% of them were in their 50s. The social network has broken down. Farming areas of the country still have a place for the aged and the welfare of the old is still a big concern. However, when the young or middle-aged are unemployed,  living alone, poor and where contact with others is limited, we have the dying alone situation occurring.

The situation is not limited only to those living alone. According to the OECD (Better Life Index), Koreans in comparison to other countries in the support they have in community is the next to last of the 38 countries in the OECD. To the question: When in difficulty do you have persons to go to? 75.8 % percent answered Yes. The average for the OECD was 88%. Two years early in Korea, it was 77% who answered yes.

One in four respondents said they had no one to ask for help and are not receiving any social or psychological support.

Many who feel the crisis of life and think about suicide do not want to burden their families with their pain and suffering.One can sympathize with their feelings but often their choice gives the family more pain.

Pope Francis in his visit to Korea in 2014 said in a meeting of religious leaders: "Life is a road we can't walk alone. We need each other we need to live in relationships with others." 

She closes with the hope that even though we are a burden to others, in need of help, we should ask for help. Our society benefits and coldness and loneliness will be greatly diminished.