Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Single Life in Community

Writing in the Bible and Life magazine, from the time he was in middle school to the present, now in his middle forties, a parishioner tells us about his volunteer work as a member of the parish liturgical committee. Usually his turn comes-up about twice a month, but at the New Year and Autumn Festival he is the one who is the lector at the liturgy. He  lives in Seoul, no need to go to the country to visit relatives, not married, his concerns are not as  many as the other members of the community.

Some years ago at the Autumn Festival he was the lector not only at the morning liturgy but at the evening Mass. After morning Mass he was called by the assistant priest to the rectory to have breakfast. He was asked if he could be lector at the evening liturgy. Since he would be alone during the day he had no problem with attending the evening Mass. During the breakfast they talked about the single and married state. The priest said: "Whether married or single we have to live according to God's plan for creation."

With these words came the realization that we are all responsible to form the world we live in according to God's plans, and he saw the vocation to the single and married state in a different light. In one way it was the same vocation. One of the benefits of the single life is the freedom to be of service to others.

He was introduced to volunteer work in an old age home by one his younger friends. Every other week he would go to wash clothes, clean, and play checkers and talk with the grandfathers. The question he hears the most from the grandfathers: "Isn't your wife and children upset with you being away from the house on Sundays?" When he tells them he is not married they respond: "Forget about coming here and get married." Volunteer work  is not difficult and has helped his spiritual life a great deal.

The biggest problem with the single life is the distorted view that many have of the celibate life.  Life is incomplete. Many see it as as a lack of something, and this is not only a view that is seen outside the community of faith. On one occasion he was chosen to be mediator in a problem with those preparing an athletic meet for the church community. One of the persons who was given the committee some trouble was not married, and was criticized for his stubbornness: "Isn't that the  reason he has not found someone to marry?" These words were not address to him but it made him feel very uncomfortable, and he found himself avoiding situations where he would be bickering with others and became passive.

Because of his celibacy there are times that he has felt alienated from the community. In a meeting with the married members and their talk about family and their problems it is then he feels like an outsider. Little is there for him to say during the discussions.

Looking over his life as a single male he sees it as something positive in living the life of faith.  His  membership in societies of the community, his service to others, prayer and meditating, reading spiritual books, all have been helped by his celibacy.  Prejudice against the single life and the need to overcome the temptations in daily life that are present are a problem but he feels celibacy is  a help in some small way in witnessing within the community of faith. 

Consequently he concludes there is a need to have specialized programs introduced into the community of faith that are concerned with the single Christian. He has never attended any such programs so doesn't know what they should entail but it would be sharing of ideas and experiences, praying together would be a great help in their spiritual growth. It would be a help in overcoming the bias against the single life and  dealing with the temptations in life and the feeling of alienation that is often  present. He hopes that this new chapter in Church life with these groups for single Catholics spreading the fragrance  that comes with a life with Jesus will give birth to new life within the Church.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Crossroads of Life

We speak about coming to the crossroads of life. A fork in the road: will it be the left or the right? Will it be a choice for the good or the bad? This fork in the road is present not only for the individual but for families, society, and the nation. In the opinion page of the Catholic Times a columnist brings to our attention this serious decision that many face.

The Sewol tragedy, death of a soldier because of bullying, number one in suicides among the developed countries, one out of eight adults suffering from despondency: these are some of the issues Koreans need to face.  One student tells his mother that one of his classmates committed suicide and the mother tells him not to take his attention away from studies. This is the kind of society that we are promoting, he laments. Process, motivation, does not concern us but rather hoping for a jackpot.

The columnist is referring to the stalemate in  congress over the special bill regarding an investigation to uncover the truth behind the ferry sinking of the Sewol.The truth in the eyes of many  will be harmful to the country so the maneuvering to  limit what will come out from an investigation. The dilemma of choosing the  lesser of two evils is a difficult decision and the columnist feels that the Christians should not have a problem with this, but they do.

How does our  religious belief, faith life, relate with  our present reality? We proclaim who we are by the choices that we make, a phrase with which we are familiar. If we take a rough look at statistics, he reminds us, 10 percent of the population are Catholic and 30 percent are Protestant which makes the country 40 percent Christian. Four out of 10 are Christians and yet the efforts to find  the truth about the Sewol tragedy is meeting stiff resistance. A disregard for the dignity of human beings and the responsibility we have to search for  the truth is being buried because of political strategy and to preserve one's future.

The columnist wonders if this is not because we have so many with a religion but not religious faith. Or is it rather that we have religious faith but don't  believe; is our belief genuine?

A person of faith will trust that when one does what is right, the results whatever they be, will all work out for the good. However, this does take a great deal of faith. Form, is all that seems important, but wonders if this is not just empty babbling. Have we forgotten who we are? What is our mission?  Especially, he concludes, those in Congress....

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Era for Heroes Has Ended

Words take on different meanings in the cultures in which we live. Words also are made to say whatever we choose: expanded or reduced according to our context and philosophy. Paternalism in our age is a big negative. On the opinion page of the secular Chosun Ilbo newspaper the columnist gives us a secular understanding of what a democracy should mean and why the era of heroes has come to an end. He  makes some interesting comments about two individual leaders who have made a big impression on the Korean citizens. One is Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and the other was Pope Francis.

After the Sewol tragedy we realized our indifference to safety precautions. Frequent corruption of high ranking officials and seeing the  inconsistency in our politics we have fallen into grief, despondency and lethargy preparing us to receive these two individuals with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. 

Coincidentally, they both where on the stage at the same time. The movie Myeongnyang  opened on July 30th breaking all box office records in our movie history. Pope Francis was in Korea for five days from August 14th. He went out to embrace the sick and those hurting showing us  a man of faith going beyond religion and the denominations and inspiring many within society.

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin is one of Korea's great war heroes. He had an undefeated naval record usually against insurmountable odds. His most remarkable victory occurred at the battle of Myeongnyang where he defeated the Japanese. This is the battle that took place in 1597, and portrayed in the movie by that name. He remains one of the great leaders and exemplary human being.

These two leaders says our columnist one sacrificed for his country and the other for God. They showed us what a leader should be and he  asks where does this come from?  Why don't we have them in our present society?

Democracy, he says, does not permit this kind of leadership, but this is not a reason for sadness but  fortunate: if we understand what a democracy is. Admiral Yi was a hero. This heroism is hidden during ordinary times but comes to the fore in extraordinary times to save the country and the people. The task of a  democracy is to maintain stability at all times. A democracy wants to maintain the safety, peace, and permit the citizens  to devote themselves to their work and allow the families and individuals to strive after happiness.The citizens do not elect officials to  be fascinating heroes in difficult times, but to elect officials who will prevent hard times from appearing. When all is managed correctly, he says, we don't  need heroes.

Pope Francis came to Korea as a affectionate father. The word pope does include the note of authority,  but in the West the word has the meaning of a father. The Church is the family and the pope is the father. The reason the citizens welcomed the pope was the longing the Korea people have for an affectionate father that they found in Pope Francis, and do not find in politics, schools, family and the work place,  but found in the presence of the pope.

This is the patriarchal image that comes from the feudal era. Although possessed of absolute authority  and power they do not use it for themselves, their pleasure and benefit, but for the happiness and well being of the members of their society.This may be necessary in a family but it is not the quality, he says,  that we want in our democratically elected leaders.

In a democracy we do not divide society into  high and low. Each person's rights and equality is respected, that is why there is a contract made with the citizens; they elect  their president, and representatives for four or five years and if satisfied  reelect them or at the next vote opt to change them. They do not elect heroes but people who will take heed of their personal needs. When they make the contract there is no one who is looking to sacrifice their financial benefits.

A democracy  and a free economic market is made by the voters and citizens. We need leaders like Yi Sun Shin and Pope Francis when  we have war, disasters, tragedies and the good of the citizens is being  undermined in extraordinary times. The ordinary daily democratic way of life is dry, but peaceful and secure. Desiring a hero or a person with great qualities to appear who will give us wise answers to our problems is not the way of a democratic society. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why is Asking for Forgiveness so Rare?

Peace Catholic Radio Station had a contest for original hymns and one of the prison inmates entered his compositions, he was not able to be present but was giving special recognition by the judges. The chaplain of the prison wrote about his feelings in an article  for the Pastoral Bulletin.

The prisoner was a very zealous Catholic and the leader of the Catholics in the prison. He was taking a correspondence course offered by the school of theology;  an exemplary prisoner who was determined to change his life.

In a meeting of  pastoral workers for the prisoners he heard about the family of those that our exemplary prisoner had inflicted harm. Family members were not able to rid themselves of the hurt that was experienced. As a chaplain he never forgot the  victims of the crimes perpetrated, but hearing what was said about the prisoner did make him feel uncomfortable.

He remembered a film, Secret Sunshine, and the meaning of forgiveness. The heroine  of the movie lost her husband in a automobile accident and she  moves with grief to the  small hometown of her dead husband. She becomes interested in Christianity. Shortly after becoming a Christian, her son was killed by an owner of an academy. After some time, moved by her new found faith, decided to go to the prison to forgive the man who killed her son. With difficulty she told the prisoner that she was there to forgive him  for what he had done. However, the prisoner calmly and easily responded that he had already been forgiven by God.The mother, the person the prisoner should be asking for forgiveness, and hearing him say that God had already forgiven him was too much for her. The mother promptly lost any semblance of faith she had, and our writer sees the question of forgiveness in a new light.

This situation is not only seen in movies, but often in daily life. There are many who  have suffered, been hurt and to whom much harm has been inflicted in our history and in the present day, and yet we have few who ask for forgiveness.

In the past when our country was taken away from us by the Japanese we have many in those days who have benefited by their relationship with the Japanese and their children have important positions in our  society, but few have asked for forgiveness.  During the totalitarian rule many were killed but few have expressed any need to be forgiven.

In the recent Sewol tragedy there are many who have caused great harm to the victims and their families but few asking for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a means of healing. Those who have been hurt need this for healing.Many have been forgiven who have not asked for forgiveness, and those that need to ask for forgiveness don't.Those that ask for forgiveness are those that really are forgiven. Why do we have so few?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Where is our Emphasis: Money or People?

The Catholic Times' bishop's column on Faith and Economics has a partial list of the 10 tips for happiness the pope mentioned in his interview with the Argentine magazine Viva.

+“Live and let live"--move forward and let others do the same. + “Give  of yourself to others”-- people need to be open and generous toward others. +“Proceed calmly” in life."+"A healthy sense of leisure"--  turn off the TV when you  sit down to eat. + "Sundays should be holidays"--Sunday is for family. + "Respect the environment and work for its care." + "Work for peace," and of three  others, the  bishop selects the need to find innovative ways to  +"create jobs for your young people and give them the opportunities to work."

Pope Francis has already on many occasions expressed the need to help solve the problem of work for the young. His attendance at the Asian meeting of the young people shows this interest. Last year at the end of the World Youth Day in Brazil, talking with the journalists he mentioned the danger of the large number of young people without jobs, and criticized the inhuman elements in the labor market.

The pope mentioned we are preparing for a society without jobs. A person finds satisfaction from the work they do which gives them a sense of worth. In the work force the young people are often seen as disposable. We are becoming accustomed to a throwaway culture-- habituated to throwing away so much in the culture in which we live.  The pope sees these young people managing our  future, and wants to communicate with them.  

He direct our attention to the poor and the minorities in society.They need to receive hope and courage.We are not only facing an economic crisis but one of values. The pope is seeing the issue as a pastor and not as a specialist in economic matters.

When the young are not able to have a place in society to complete themselves they are drawn to drugs and despair.The problem for Korea is serious and has been for some time.The number unemployed is over 1 million. With the young the percentage is over 40 percent. We know overcoming difficulties is not always a negative but there is a limit to this. Here in Korea we have 3 areas of life in which many of  the young have given up-- romance, marriage and having children.

Like the Pope we need to see the need for work for our young people if we are to have a healthy Church and society. This hope is not only for a certain time in our history but for the future of humankind.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Popcorn Brain Syndrome

Creativity and imagination are two assets that help us live a full life. Our attachment to the internet world  is seen as  a diminishment in our ability to relate with the real world and to engage our brains. A religious sister who has made media ecology her interest writes in a  series of articles in the Korean Times about the problems we face in this new world.  

Many of our young people hate to read, think and write. Reading helps us to think, thinking helps us to discuss and to write. Frances  Bacon said: "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." 

She feel that if the students realized that reading makes one a more complete person, they would see reading differently. The way they see reading in school is a rite of passage to get into college. Once they get into college they can do away with it. 

The smart phone for the young people is a pathway to freedom and deliverance. She doesn't know what comes first. Whether they become attached to the smart phone and don't read or they don't read and become attached to the smartphone. What is clear is that when one's attention is taken up with the stimulation that comes from the games and the smartphone, reading will be difficult. Middle school children are the ones mostly affected: 30 percent of the students find their text books difficult. To read and understand is the problem.

The sister mentions professor David Levy who coined the word: 'popcorn brain' syndrome — a brain so accustomed to the constant stimulation of electronic multitasking making one unfit for life offline, where things pop at a much slower pace. We become indifferent to our reality, our attention span is reduced. 

When the smart phone becomes like another appendage we become lethargic to the outside world, lose sensitivity to our surroundings, find it difficult to express our emotions and read the emotions of others. When this happens, she says, it is difficult to expect human instincts and virtuous living to follow.

She recommends in the home to keep the interchange with the children open. She would like all to keep a diary of the use of the smart phone and in the evening  have a place in the living room to keep them. Before they go to sleep, as a form  of prayer she advises to review some sentences they  read during the day. Hopefully, she says this will become a habit, similar to the one they have with the smart phone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Different =Wrong

In Korean the word  for 'different' and 'wrong' have a similarity that in speech fosters their incorrect use, says a professor of philosophy and ethics. In the diocesan bulletin he  writes about the differences and how it is an obstacle to communication. 

We use the word 'different' when we compare two or more subjects that  are not the same. An example would be the difference in the  appearance of this person and that person. On the other hand we use the word 'incorrect' when we want to express that something is wrong or contrary to what it should be. When these two words are not given their proper meaning we have the death of communication.

When I should say your opinion is different from mine and instead say you are wrong we have a fight.

Different = wrong was the thinking of the past when interchange with others was infrequent, travel  difficult and contact with other countries was rare. The Chinese idiom: 'Frog in the well' would be one way of describing the  person who  would not be able to grasp the difference between these two words.  People who have lived together for years in the same spot, the word different in accordance with their experience would be understood as incorrect. This would follow from being a racially homogeneous people. However, the professor reminds us that according to the study of genes, Korea is a composite of 60 percent  from the Northern  countries and 40 percent from the South. He regards the understanding of a homogeneous people as a myth.

Those who are similar to us are normal. The  different are abnormal and wrong: different=incorrect. This understanding has come to us from the past and we are influenced by it to this day. Blood, region, school ties all come to the fore when we have an election. Mixed blood, different races,  foreign workers, the handicapped, the weak, minorities-- realities we find difficult to accept into the nation-family. We are unyielding in this  exclusive, cliquish, and unhealthy behavior, a black and white logic which concludes the different, without discernment, to be wrong.

We want all to be the same, but we are different. There are seven billion people on the face of the earth: similar but different. Each one is an unique person.  That which is different in each one of us is what distinguishes us from the other. What makes us  different is not abnormal but normal but important as it is we do not want only to stress the difference because what is similar is greater. What makes us different  has to be in harmony and balance with what is the same. When this harmony and balance is broken or separated we all suffer. Same and different are the prerequisite for communication. In our relations rather than stressing the  different and wrong we should be more concerned with the different and the same.

There are positions that are objectively not correct and those that are correct, but when we communicate with others if we go directly to what is different and consider it wrong then the doors to  communication are closed. We are all searching for truth. Working with what is the same and what is different we keep the doors open and the possibility of agreeing in our search for truth.