Monday, August 31, 2009

What Is a Life Well Lived?

One of the columnists in this weeks Catholic Paper explains what she believes a classy life would be. After getting their children married most couples can sit back and enjoy a freer life. They are no longer troubled by the children, they can take care of the daily living expenses, and are not overly bothered by their surroundings.

Most of her friends are in this situation but they are lonely, They have their old husband and old wife to gaze at , it is tasteless and a life with no feeling. What is there to do now? Isn't there something that will put some zest into our lives they say laughing quietly.

Life is not basically one of thrills. It is humdrum and unsatisfactory Isn't too much to ask it to be interesting? However there are interesting times in our lives that we all have been given. We have just not been conscious of them . There's the sky, rays of the sun, flowers and birds they are there. Old age is the time to appreciate these many gifts.

She introduces us to a couple who she admires very much for their life style. They are retired and have drawn up a plan on how to live. One of the most important parts of this plan is not to spend much money and to enjoy life. They get up early and go mountain climbing to see the changes in nature. They return to their home taking turns in preparing something to eat and even if not tasty they are able to laugh and enjoy. In the afternoon they go to some exhibition that does not require money, go to the campus of some college to walk the sidewalks with the students, and at times take a train or a bus to some city that they have not seen.

What she finds most surprising pleasing is that each one reads a book once a week from a list they have made and write a book review of what they have read and exchange... what is more appealing still, rather than telephoning their children they spend time writing letters.

That is not all they spend time reading old poetry and exchanging their thought on what was read. This was awkward in the beginning but has turned into a very profitable activity.

The writer would like to see them someday holding hands and find their way to the Church. She has given them a Bible, a hymn book and a book on the rosary but there has been no response. We are all going to be faced with a time of emptiness and fear we want something to hold on to especially as we come to the end of our lives. She admires their style of living but feels that there is one thing missing that would give it a more flavor and that would be Faith. She concludes by saying that she believes that day will come.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Works of Catholics in Society Has Decreased.

The Nahnews has an interesting appraisal of the growth in the number of Catholics and the numbers belonging to the different religious groups. The numbers in these other religious groups have not kept up with the growth of the Catholics.

It is healthy to have free discussion on aspects of our life as Catholics and try to point out where the Spirit is leading us. The article looking over the statistics from 1994 does not see what is happening in a completely positive light. The number of Catholics is increasing but is the spirituality of the Catholic Community keeping pace with this external growth?

A professor who has made a study of this has commented that in the Catholic Church those who are zealous remain so but you have the other group who are very passive. You have the two extremes appearing, a contrast much more obvious than in the past.

There has been a threefold growth in the number of hospitals administered by the Church and a concern that this is not always healthy. The impression is often received that it is business orientated, imitating the commercial enterprises in our larger society.

The Church has not kept pace with the Protestants in getting involved with charitable works in society. The number of Protestants are decreasing but their participation in welfare and mass media is increasing notably. Catholics have increased only slightly in welfare programs but have decreased in their participation in the mass media. The Buddhist and Won Buddhist also show a marked increase in these two areas.

The article concludes that the Protestants and Won Buddhism are very strong in the mass media and welfare programs. Won Buddhism has grown to be the fourth largest Religious group in Korea. Although social activity in the Catholic Church has decreased the many different incongruities in the other religious groups has spurred them on to get more involved in society. We have heard that the other religious groups will in the years ahead continue to stagnate while the Catholic Church will continue to grow. Looking over the statistics both within and outside the Church this optimistic way of looking at what is happening is not justified.

Another perspective is the external activity is being deemphasized so that we will become more of a contemplative community and prepare ourselves for a more mature roll in society. Let us hope that this is what is happening.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

1909-2009 Korea Missionary Benedictines

Fr. Robert M. Lilly sent a Newsletter of the Missionary Benedictines of St.Ottilien who have been in Korea since 1909. This year they are celebrating hundred years of work in Korea. The Newsletter gives us this brief history of the Missionary Benedictines:

The Korean monks who had fled from the Communists in North Korea started Benedictine monastic life in Waegwan. It was a new start after the flourishing abbeys of Tokwon in North Korea and of Yenki in Manchuria had been suppressed and confiscated by the Communists. Both of these abbeys had a predominant number of German monks. These German monks were at first thrown into prison and later, those who had been able to survive, were sent back to their homeland. The priest-monks of Korean nationality were killed during the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. However, the brothers and clerics were able to seek refuge in South Korea, where they came together, first in Pusan and then later in Taegu. From 1952 the monks resided at Waegwan under the leadership of Father Timotheus Bitterli. This community developed into a priory in 1956 and was elevated to the rank of an independent abbey in 1964. A German monk, Father Odo Haas was elected as the first abbot. He was succeeded in 1971 by a Korean monk, Abbot Placidus Ri. The abbey has ninety-four professed members, twenty-three of whom are Europeans. The monks have been entrusted with an area comprising fourteen parishes in the Archdiocese of Taegu. These pastoral duties include two leprosaria, a tuberculosis sanatorium, a house for the aged, a high school for boys and girls with 3400 pupils. The monks direct three retreat houses and a Theological Institute for the training of religious sisters. Moreover, the abbey runs a publishing house with a printing press as well as a large carpentry shop and is involved in a variety of agricultural activities.

An editorial in the Catholic Paper this week had an important point to make about vocations to the religious life. The Benedictines are one of many religious groups working in Korea and many have difficulties with vocations and finances. The Diocese and the Parishes have to work together to foster vocations to the Religious Life was the caption for the editorial. The leadership of the men and women religious and those of apostolic life have asked the bishops to have a course in all seminaries for an understanding of religious life. Without this understanding the Church will suffer. There is a hope that the bishops will do something to help the Korean Church appreciate another way of living the Christian life.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Catholic Church of Korea's Unfinished Work

The Catholic Church of Korea can be pleased with the growth in numbers and the health of the parish life. It is a vibrant young church.

Cardinal Cheong mentioned recently after returning from Rome that the Church of Korea numbered 8th in the monies that were sent to Rome for the Peter’s Pence Collection. This collection helps the Holy Father with his charitable works around the world. There are only 5 million Catholics but Korea was the only one in Asia that was within the 10 who gave the most for the collection.

The Catholic Church of Korea has the world's first parish management system that ties all the parishes together. It is called the Yangeop System and standardizes the administration of all the parishes in Korea and allows them to exchange pastoral information. There is no other country with anything like what has been done in Korea.

Korea has 7 seminaries and they are all doing very well. There are now 1413 seminarians studying at the last official count in 2008. The number of Catholics has topped 5 million and parishes continue to grow and others are being built. There are 1543 parishes and this number continues to grow.

There are many other areas of growth, programs and activities that give much satisfaction but at the same time the majority of the Catholics do not have a desire or find joy in joining other Catholics for Mass on Sunday. The numbers of Catholics going to Mass on Sunday is less than 25%. This is surprising and I am certain it will be an area in which the Church of Korea will start examining and begin to take steps to remedy. The external growth, as important as it is in giving witness to what we believe, is not as important as the spirituality and maturity of the Catholics. This will remain a work unfinished for many years to come.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bishop Mutel's Diary

The diary of Bishop Gustave Charles Mutel (1854-1933) who lived in Korea from 1890 to 1933 has finally after 26 years of work, been published. It is composed of 8 volumes and is being sold for $160.00(?) .

The diary covers a long period, is very detailed and gives a picture of the tensions in Korean Society. Bishop Mutel was a Paris Foreign Missioner and administered the Catholic Church in Korea for 43 years. The diary deals with his personal affairs, the response of the Church to the times, the growth and changes, the politics of the Choson times and diplomacy. Many persons appear in the diary, some are very important to church history and Korean national history. We see the relationship Korea had with the Europeans, Americans, Japanese and the Chinese.

The diary will enable us to understand the society of the times in a way we would not without it. This diary was always considered an important historical document for those who were working in the field of history.

Mutel was the 8th ordinary of Seoul. It starts from the time he became the ordinary in 1890 August 4th to just before he died in Jan. 14 1933. When the Paris Foreign missioners moved to Daejeon City the diary went to Yongsan and finally to the headquarters of the Paris Foreign missionaries in Paris. The Church historian Monsignor Andrew S Choi who died recently was the one who began the work of translating knowing the value of the work. The work was not an easy. With the help of a Belgian Priest they finished the translating, giving us a very valuable look into the past.

Click here to see an interesting video on the history of the Catholic Church of Korea. It can be seen at The Western Confucian taken from Totus Tuus. It is the work produced by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Open Letter to Deceased Past President Kim

One of the Journalist writing for the Catholic Paper has an open letter to past President Kim Dae-jung which I will translate freely.

President Thomas More!

You now enjoy happiness in the bosom of our Lord who was your strength each time you came came close to death . You are now with the Lord you loved and trusted and I have no doubt that you are enjoying heavenly joy.

Looking back over your life it was one of shame and glory. 5 times you faced death, 6 years you were in prison, 55 time you were confined, 10 years you were in exile. You experienced all the ups and downs that life has to offer.

"Without me knowing it under the bed covers I was calling God and crying unreservedly."

In 1981 in February confined in the Cheongju prison these are the words that you wrote with tears. Before you became a great political leader you were a believer with a broken heart.

But all this suffering and frustration could not break your noble will and make you give up your dreams. Mr. President, all this adversity you were able to overcome with your conviction and belief in democracy and love of others

I remember 1998 you will possibly not .It was the 25th anniversary of your return from death and we had a Mass of thanksgiving. I was a raw recruit as a journalist and I was covering the story. I was meeting the leader of the nation and my heart was fluttering with anticipation, I can still remember the words you used.

"I have come close to death on 5 different occasions. On this occasion we remember when I was kidnapped in Japan and was on the ocean and was to be killed. I saw the Lord. The Lord will help our people and as President I will do everything to answer the expectations of the people."

President Thomas More , we are now sending you off with tears of pain. We saw our Cardinal Kim leave us who was a great star.We are in prayer and united together praying for your eternal peace. Seeing us now as we are should make known that your life as a politician and as a believer was not for naught.

You have taken the example of our loving and forgiving Lord to do the same after the many times that you faced death and imprisonment. This is what made you a great politician and an example of what a believer should be.

It is not possible to list all that you have done. In the 55 years since the first formal meeting between the South and North you have tried hard to wash away the animosity and resentment. You are the first to have received a Nobel Peace Prize, you gave us reason to be proud. You as President did your best to do away with the death penalty and worked for the pro-life movement.

You have spent your life zealously and with sacrifice for democracy and the
reconciliation with the North and it is now our time to continue this work that you started. We have seen your forgiveness and love, the desire for harmony between our people and we will take your example to make this a reality . Please take the hand of Cardinal Kim and pray for us.

Lord, give your servant Thomas More you have called to yourself , eternal peace.

Kim Dae -jung has been compared to Nelson Madella, they were both able to forgive after suffering much. It is a great example to us who have difficulty forgiving even in small things.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Controversies Catholics Faced in Korea

The Catholic Church of Korea had been confronted with many controversies over the years and some of them are similar to the the larger problems the Church has faced in Europe.

The Catholic Church in its introduction to Korea preached against what is referred to as "Ancestor Worship", it was part of Korean culture but the Church saw it mixed with a great deal of superstition: consequently, the Church and its followers were persecuted.

In the introduction of Christianity to China the Jesuits who worked in the larger cities and with the educated had no problem with the rites, it was the missioners in the country who saw another side, the superstitious side of these rites. The Jesuits were more interested in the original intent of the Rites and not how they were sometimes practiced. This ended up as a serious problem among the missioners themselves. This was the Catholicism that was introduced to Korea after the Church ruled the Confucian Rites were not to be followed by Catholics. Basically the approval of the Rites came in 1939 with the decision of Pope Pius XII.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea some Catholic Koreans sympathized with the Japanese for their opposition to Communism. You had the two giants, Russia and China who espoused Communism. Both totalitarian countries opposed to Japan a totalitarian country. It was a dilemma that made it difficult to chose for some. The Church seemed to be on the side of the totalitarian countries opposed to Russian and Communism. This was also the dilemma for the Catholics in Europe: totalitarian Germany, Italy and even Spain against totalitarian Russia and atheism. It was not easy for many to decide between two evils. The division of Korea into North and South, Communism and Democracy brought other problems to the table.

In Korea during the colonial period we had the Shinto Rite controversy.
In the diocese of Pyong Yang which was administered by Maryknoll the rites controversy was so upsetting that a gag order was sent from Maryknoll: the issue was not to be discussed. During the occupation of Korea by the Japanese from 1910 to 1945 the Japanese Government attempted to Japanize the Koreans and a method was to have them worship at the Shinto shrines. Some of the Maryknollers thought that it was merely social and cultural, a civil act of patriotism with no religious overtones while others saw it as superstition, a religious act, acknowledging the Japanese control. The foreign missionaries are often criticized for upholding the separation of Church and State and uninterested in the plight of the Koreans.

Fr. Robert A. Lilly Maryknoller expressed it in the editor's introduction to the Book Father John E. Morris , Prefect Apostolic of Pyong Yang, in these words:

Father Morris was asked, or ordered , to resign, by the Superior General of Maryknoll, Fr. James E. Walsh in consultation with the Maryknoll Council after the Maryknoll Chapter at Hong Kong in 1936. It was not an action initiated by the Vatican, but rather , a Maryknoll action due to the dissension among Maryknollers in Korea and an attempt to bring peace and harmony back to the Pyong Yang Prefecture after the emotion filled and soul wrenching problems and disputes regarding the " Shinto Rites" which were imposed by the Japanese Military Government then in power...Until the Vatican Archives are opened and further study of this period is done in a more formal way, the detail, causes and effects may only be glimpsed.

These controversies the Church has faced are theoretically still open to much discussion. There are many lessons that should have been learned from what Korea had to face during those years. It is sad, but some of the scars of those years have not been healed satisfactorily to enable complete honesty and openness. Hopefully the Church will be wiser for this history.

Bribes in Korean Society

One of the problems that we have in all large societies to some degree, is the giving and receiving of bribes. There have been too many stories of bribes taken and given in recent history. A professor emeritus in an essay which I will translate very loosely describes the evils of the practice in Korea.

Bribes have the evil smell of corruption and bring sickness to society. It is a cancer we foster with our giving and receiving of bribes, bringing ruin to ourselves and society. In Korea we have had the corruption of political power, the irregularities of the past presidents, where a person's interests were involved we have had the giving and taking of dirty money.

In the book of Proverbs: "A man who has a bribe to offer rates it a magic stone; at every turn it brings him success." For a government official the receiving of a bribe is related to his work and once received he can't refuse the bidding of the giver. Before the bribe is received the person giving the bribe is kowtowing but after the bribe is received he speaks out .

He once heard a public official say, some years ago: " everybody is taking bribes and you are a fool not to. In these times it is not only the person that receives the bribe but also the person that gives the bribe that will be punished so it is much safer." This gives one an indication of the situation we are in.

During one of the lectures the professor asked his students. I like bribes but if you give me a bribe you will have to promise that you will not speak about it before the lid of the casket is closed, and I'll only take it from a person I trust. If my receiving of the bribe never became known and I was always considered a clean person ,would God accept that?

The students obviously answered it would not be received well. I continued telling them I will tell God that everybody thinks that I am an upright individual. I have been praised by many, are you God the only one that is going to blame me. If I appeal to God in this way what do you think he will say? The students continued seeing it all very negatively.

We can deceive others but we can't deceive ourselves. We all have intellects and consciences we can judge what is correct and what isn't. Whether a person knows what I have done or not is immaterial. With lies and hypocrisy we can deceive others; I can't deceive my conscience. More over, I can't stand honorably before God . And my conscience will bother me greatly.

Money in our capitalistic system is only an important tool it is not the measure of our happiness. The Scriptures tell us: "You can not give yourself to God and money."(Mt.6:24) If we do not take interest in a life of virtue than the giving and receiving of bribes will ruin our society and ourselves.

James 1:15: "Once passion has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches maturity it begets death." Our desires beget sin. In Lao Tzu chapter 46 of Tao Te Ching we read:

No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

"Ill -gotten treasure profit nothing, but virtue saves from death." (Proverbs 10:2)
Our mission is to make sure that evil contracts and the giving of bribes do not have a part in the bright society that we are called to build.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Korean Funerals and A Catholic Missioner

Many years ago during the first years of getting inculturated

( Inculturation is a term used in Christianity , especially in the Roman Catholic Church, referring to the adaptation of the way Church teachings are presented to non-Christian cultures, and to the influence of those cultures to the evolution of these teachings. Wiki)

in the ways of Korea there were times I had difficulties in accepting what I saw. Especially at funerals, I can recall having the Mass at Church and walking to the grave with the casket and the funeral party and being so annoyed with the shenanigans of the pallbearers that I returned home: the pallbearers refusing to move until someone gave some money or some cigarettes. This happened on other occasions, even after I said I would leave if they did it again, they persisted. This "no shenanigans" became a condition the family agreed to before I went to the grave.

Another difficulty was seeing the table with food that was prepared for the deceased. This was part of the old traditional way of Korea. I can sympathize with those on both sides of the polarized issue among the missioners, first in China and then Korea with the so called "worship of the ancestors". To simplify the whole thing in a few words does not do justice to what was involved but the missioners did see what they saw. The ones dealing with the educated in the cities would accept what was being done as cultural and civil respect for the deceased, considering the original intent of the rites; those in the country would see it as superstitious. It wasn't until 1939 that the rites were allowed with certain conditions.

In our own veneration of the saints and statues in certain areas of the world there are many who are very superstitions in what they believe and do but we do not do away with the veneration that Catholics have for the Saints. Abuse does not take away use. This made the whole issue very difficult for the Church to decide.

In my own period of growth in Korea there came a time when I could see the "fooling around" on the way to the grave as a beautiful tribute to the deceased. It would only be someone who was advanced in years and who lived a good life. It was cathartic and bringing a little humour into the very sad situation of death. There are many things that start out not being what we would like but over the years we begin to see what is being done with different eyes.

There are still many areas of Korean life that are unknown to me and many things that I have difficulty understanding but that is also true of my own culture. Having the ability to speak another language exposes one to another way of doing things, enabling one to see other possibilities: humbling one, for what he sees may not be all that there is to see.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Archbishop Working as a Hospice Worker

The hospice movement in Korea is going strong. It is the care of the sick and the dying by people who have been trained to do this service of love. The archbishop of Taegu in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo mentioned he entered a program to be a hospice worker. The Archbishop had his own encounter with death when he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus; for 40 days he could not even drink water.

The archbishop was studying political science when he decided that he could do more good by becoming a priest. His father was a devout layman and a well known politician. He did his studies in France and returned to Korea where he became a bishop in 1972 and the Ordinary of Taegu in 1986. Shortly after retiring as archbishop he was diagnosed with cancer. This experience of death made him see life differently. After leaving the hospital he contemplated starting some big project but changed his mind to work as a hospice worker. He decided to work among priests and religious facing death that would welcome his services at that time in their lives.

He had the opportunity to be with a close friend who was a few years older and was dying . He visited him almost daily in the hospital but was not able to be with him at death, although the graph that was by his bedside did register with a surge as he stroked his body. "Was he waiting for me ...? " he thought. My desire is to help those who will be returning to God and to help them do it with peace.

For the Archbishop "death is a natural part of life. We must know death to live well." The archbishop mentioned his time is also limited and to live well is to love. To love a definite person with definite love.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catholic Teaching on Superfluous Wealth

In recent months we have a number of influential people donating their assets to the public. The President has given a good example to the citizens in his donation to a scholarship fund for the needy. He once said: “My small fortune does not belong to me alone. The achievement was made possible thanks to the devotion of workers and their families as well as society. What I have so far achieved should be returned to society.”

One of our diocesan priests had an article on the Gyeonju Choi family that has been wealthy for over 300 years. He mentioned that it is usually difficult for a family to remain rich after 3 generations but they have remained wealthy for 12 generations. One of the reasons is their 6 family principles they have followed:

1) Do not be obessed with money

2. Never purchase land from a farmer during a year with a bad harvest.

3) Don't be greedy with government positions.

4) Treat guests as if they are members of your family.

5) Never let a neighbor starve.

6) Have your daughter in law stay away from fine silk clothes for 3 years after marriage so she learns the spirit of thrift.

The founder of the dynasty died in the war with the Japanese in 1592. His son blocked up a large stream and recovered much land which he divided among tenant farmers dividing the yield 50/50. The family never had an overseer but dealt with the farmers directly and listened to their grievances. At the end of the Choson dynasty, during the uprising against the upper classes, the Choi family had no problems since their way of living was well known to many.

In recent times the family used a great deal of their money to work for independence from the Japanese. The family helped to build two universities and helped many with their wealth.

The author of this article mentions there are not many rich respected in the Korea of today. The Choi family lived the "Noblesse Oblige" way of life of those blessed with this world's goods. Those who have attained many material goods can thank the society they live in, and should return a part of that to the society.

The Catholic teaching on social issues is not well known to our Catholics let alone those who are not. But the Church has taught that superfluous wealth is not ours to use as we want but belongs to society.
He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?" Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich." These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.
On the Development of Peoples, #23 Encyclical of Pope Paul VI.

The Korean Copyright Laws

One of the columnist in the Catholic Paper reviewed the copyright law that took effect July 23rd. It was necessary for persons have the right to protect their intellectual property: films, music, art works , pictures, poetry etc. and they are entitled to a proportionate remuneration for their work. Korea one of the finest Internet set ups in the world did have a problem with using materials without the copyright owner's permission. It was not only protection from distorting what was being copied but was demanding that the authors of these works give permission for their use and be entitled to remuneration for their efforts.

He than goes on to mention Jonas Salk the discover of the polio vaccine. Salk was hailed as a miracle worker. He endeared himself to the public by refusing to patent the vaccine. He had no desire to profit personally from the discovery, but merely wished to see the vaccine disseminated as widely as possible. Although he was tempted by many drug companies he refused.

The columnist who is also a professor mentioned how an older poet had planned to have a poetry exhibition accompanied by some pictures that he painted . After spending time and money to prepare the place for the exhibit he received a call one night from a poet , " why was he using one of his poems? Did he not know the copyright laws of the country?" After all was prepared he had to cancel everything.

The columnist does spend some time mentioning many who have even given their lives for others as a sign of love with no desire for pay back. He mentions again in conclusion the wonderful example of Jonas Salk who when asked to patent his discovery mentioned, "who has the patent on the Sun?"

There is a need for copyright laws but also there should be some leeway in their application. This new law in the eyes of many will hurt the Internet world of blogs and the vitality of what we have had. There was an example of a family that took a home video of their child singing a song that was copyrighted and was shown on one of Korea's most popular sites . The holder of the copyright asked the blog to block the 58 seconds of use .

This new law is causing a great deal of difficulty in what is allowed and and what is not. It will close down many websites on Korean cyberspace and many could move overseas. It will take away some of the freedom the bloggers have had and will cause a great deal of confusion and fear for many in the years ahead. There is hope that we will have some clarification in the months ahead on how the law will be implemented.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why Korean Catholics Leave the Church

Nahnews visited again the issue of Korean Catholics increasing as are the numbers leaving the church. This is similar to what is happening in the States. Masan Diocese has the lowest percentage of Catholics going to Sunday Mass with 19.1% and Chun Chon Diocese with highest attending Mass at 29.9% .

In Korea we have the system started by the French Missioners of giving Catholics a card with their name and address which they are to place in a prepared basket during Lent and the Advent; this will be recorded in the parish books. If this card is missing for three years then the person is considered tepid ( to have left the church). A person may be going to Sunday Mass and receiving the sacraments but not having submitted the card for three years, these will be considered tepid. Those who have left the Church are not necessarily the same as those who are registered as tepid.

A Gallup poll taken in 2004 mentioned that 42.8% who consider themselves without a religion did have a religion at one time. 13.3% of these at one time were Catholic. Of those with a religion 14.9% were at one time Catholic.

The reason for leaving is not easy to determine. However, those who were not faithful in their Sunday observance, those from 30 to 4o years of age, a high educational background and with a pay scale that is lower or higher than average, have a higher rate of dropout.

The report ended with the mention that those who are now presently going to Sunday Mass 16.8% consider themselves tepid. 15.4% have considered changing their religion,
and many who continue to go to Mass consider leaving. 30% of those that are baptized leave within 3 years.

In conclusion the report stated that it is important that those who enter the Church remember that the important part of the preparation is not the teaching, the preparation for the sacrament and what has to be done but the internal change of the person attained before being baptized.

The Catholic paper had an article on a parish in the Suwon diocese that has over 61 percent of those on the registers going to Sunday Mass. It is an example of what can happen when the community and the pastor take an interest. Originally the parish had a percentage that was higher than other parishes in the diocese but this was increased sizably by the work of the community.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Korean Catholic Community in Moscow

The Catholic Church of Korean has priests stationed in communities all over the world and one of these communities is in Moscow, Russia. This week's Catholic Peace Paper had an interesting article on the difficulties and satisfactions of working in Russian with the Orthodox Church the other lung of the Catholic Church.

A priest from the Seoul Diocese is visiting the parish and will have a three piece report on the visit. The community is using a borrowed building so they have to vacate the Church to allow the other community to have their Mass on Sunday mornings.

The Korean community began in 1994 the services were conducted in English in the apartment of an English Marist Priest. At that time about 20 met together for Mass. When the Marist Priest heard that a Korean priest would arrive it gave him great happiness. From 1994 they have had 3 to 4 priests and finally in 2002 they registered formally as Catholic Church with the government.

The present pastor who arrived in 2000 but returned to Korea after 4 years in Russia returned to the Korean Community last summer. Fr. Kim in 2000 had to go to through the IMF difficulties. Many of the students and other residents, because of finances, returned to Korea leaving only 20 Catholics. He had no telephone and had to live in an unheated rectory. When the recovery came the Catholics started returning to the Church. They have now about 200 Catholics coming to Mass on Sunday and a mission station in Saint Petersburg which takes 7 hours by train to administer every third week .

Father prays that the students studying in Russia do not get sick and those in business do well. He feels that being in Russian is a way we can show the oneness of Catholicism and to work for unity with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Korean Priests have been working in Russian from 1991. One of our Maryknollers who worked in Korea Fr. Benedict Zweber followed them and built the Church in Sakhalin Island. The Korean priests had some visa problems and had to discontinue the work in that part of Russian and the Maryknoll Fathers with the lack of personnel had to leave Russia.

From the recent news reports it seems that a meeting of the pope and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Russia may be close. Whether this will overcome the centuries of hatred surrounding the two churches will be answered in the future. Fr. Kim's desire to see the two churches come closer is a desire that all Catholics have.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Korean Women and Christianity

Korean Women and God by Choi Hee An is a book published by Orbis: the publishing arm of the Maryknoll Society. A disclaimer makes clear the views expressed are not the official position of the Society but it is an attempt to invite dialogue. As a Maryknoller I do have some thoughts which I will express in this blog.

The author is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and on the faculty at the School of Theology at Boston University. In the introduction knowing God as a Korean Woman she mentions how as a child she had an experience in which she could not remember her own face. Her mother reassured her that this was a natural phenomenon. While studying in the States she realized that this was not universal and began to wonder why Korean woman were not able to remember their faces.

The author introduces her understanding of woman's health by proposing three significant elements which she considers important:

The first is healthy women love themselves and remembering their own faces can be an aspect of this love. They should love their bodies no matter how they look. They should love their psychological strengths and warm hearts.

Secondly they should live their lives with joy and happiness for themselves. They should celebrate their own happiness. She would say that much of the joy of a woman comes from their children , husband and others. They should find joy in themselves without feeling guilty,

Thirdly healthy women can express themselves. She would say that many Korean woman are socialized to listen to others not to themselves. Their feelings remain deep inside and they do not know how to express them.

She concludes the section saying she has difficulty finding these three characteristics in the lives of Korean Christian women. "Korean Christian Woman are taught to sacrifice themselves for others and to deny their own needs as a noble cause. Loving themselves and enjoying their lives for their own happiness have been defined as selfish acts. Others' needs and wills always come before their own needs and wills, even in the family."

Sacrifice is an important part of Christianity. Many women both in Korea and the States have an extreme dislike for patriarchy; in many cases there is a justification for this feeling. The author also mentions the influence of colonialism on women. These have not been helpful to either women or men but neither do I see them as negatively as the author. In her writing she does generalize but leaves open the possibility that not all Korean women have been scarred. Adversity makes the person and Korean Women have grown strong in this environment.

Korean women sacrifice for the family and deny themselves for the good of others a trait that all of us Christians should not be ashamed to hear. I have no doubt internalized aspects of patriarchy and also have been scarred but this attribute of being for the other was my understanding of why we are baptized. This life of sacrifice for family was part of women's life even before the introduction of Christianity. It would be good for all men and women to sacrifice for others but I hope they love themselves, and live their lives with joy and happiness and are able to express themselves. I do not find a contradiction in a person living for others and at the same time experiencing true joy and love of themselves. It is both/and and not the either/or fallacy that we so often fall into when we are dealing with something that is not obviously evil. It is when we die to ourselves that we become truly happy. It is a central paradox of Christianity that works for men and women. The Korean Christian woman I have met have no reason to be embarrassed in any way being compared to those in the west.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

St. Mary's Hospital Display of Pathology

There is a display at the Seoul St. Mary's Catholic Hospital of all the things that can go wrong with our bodies. It is a display of visual aids to body parts. It will continue until the 22nd of August. There are about 100 diseased specimens of body parts taken from victims of accidents and disease: different kinds of cancers, hearts, livers , bones, gall bladders and vocal chords. Those who attend the display can see different problems with the heart, lungs polluted with nicotine, gall bladder problems, the fetus outside of the womb etc.

There are about 400 to 500 that have been attending the display daily. They are able to touch the body parts, examine them and hear explanations by experts. The chance to examine bodily organs is rather rare; this is the first time in Korea that it has been opened to the public.

These organs have been taken from cadavers that have been donated to the hospital and permission given for use. Usually the means of preserving the body parts uses formaldehyde but because of the toxicity of the formaldehyde solution this method was not considered possible. But with synthetic resins and plastics using a process of plastination it was doable. "Plastination is a technique used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts. The water and fat are replaced by certain plastics, yielding specimens that can be touched, do not smell or decay, and even retain most properties of the original sample."

The results of the display so far have been very rewarding. Those who have attended have seen with their eyes what can go wrong with our health and those who have attended have been motivated to take better care of their health and take preventive measures to insure this in their lives.

The Medical System in Korea seems to this foreigner to be doing well. I do not know what the studies w0uld indicate but there seems to be a very high standard of proficiency. They are open to receiving new information, medical practices and equipment from other parts of the world. Many of the doctors have degrees from western universities and keep up with the latest with their affiliation with other hospitals here and overseas.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Last Wishes of Partriot Ahn before Death

In the recent issue of the Pastoral Bulletin Fr. Ham Sei-eung records the last words of Ahn jung-geun Korean Patriot. He summarized the last wishes of the patriot which I translated loosely and shortened again. (Patriot Ahn was the Korean who assassinated the first Prime Minister of Japan, Ito Hirobumi at the railroad station in Harbin. )

The patriot was questioned for 3 months and at the end of 6 public trials was given the death penalty. The Catholic Priest, Fr. Joseph Wilhelm, visited him in prison, gave him the Last Sacraments and said Mass. He was there for 4 days. Patriot Ahn said the Blessed Mother appeared to him in a dream. "Death transcends all and to be reconciled with God is the most beautiful prayer."

To his two brothers:

My body will be buried here in Harbin when we again have sovereignty please return my body to my homeland. Even if I am in heaven I will be working for the independence of our Country. Make it know to our countrymen that we have the responsibility for our country, be of one mind and work together for independence. When I hear of Independence from heaven I will dance and yell out with 3 cheers.

To his mother:

Blessed be Jesus. This world is like the emptiness of dew. I will pray that we will see each other in heaven.Everything in this earth depends on God I pray that you remain in peace. Benedict (6 years old, the oldest son) I pray that you raise him to be a priest and offer him to God.

To his wife Kim Agnes:

Blessed be Jesus, in the providence of God we have been joined together in matrimony and in his providence we have been separated but will meet again shortly in heaven... I will pray that Benedict becomes a priest, may he be offered to God... from your husband Ahn Thomas

To his brother Myung-geun:

Blessed be Jesus, we appear suddenly and disappear suddenly it is all like a dream. Let us be bigger than the dream and be sure of our meeting in eternity.

To Fr. Joseph Wilhelm:

Blessed be Jesus, Father you baptized me and came to this prison to give me the Last Sacrament, for this great gift I am most thankful...I ask you to pray for me. Please greet all the priests and the Christians. Tell them I will meet them in heaven. I will write to the Bishop separately.

To Bishop Mutel:

Blessed be Jesus: ... although I have caused you much trouble fortunately I was able by the grace of Jesus while in prison to receive the Last Sacrament, went to confession and at the Mass received the Eucharist. I have received internal peace.... With the Bishop may all the priests gathering strength be one and with much virtue and example, my prayer is that all our Koreans come to believe and give homage to God and become His children.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Korea and NIMBY Syndrome with Death

In Seoul there has been an ongoing problem in getting permission for a place to keep the ashes of those cremated. Many residents living near churches that have planned a mausoleum in the basement would be in opposition. Some years ago the Cardinal's car on a visit to bless a Church, with a mausoleum , was pelted with eggs. The feeling strongly continues to exist.

In Korea there are more cremations than the traditional burials which is a big change from the traditional idea of death and burial. Most Catholics in Korea still prefer traditional burial in spite of the Church's permission and even recommendation for cremation and placing the remains of the dead in diocesan mausoleums. There is ongoing litigation on a charnel house (place to keep the ashes of the dead) in one of the churches in Seoul. Click here for Union of Catholic Asian News report .

The diocese feels the recent decision of the Constitutional Court ruling was ill advised. It prohibited the building of mausoleums in churches that are within 200 meter of a school. Catholics feel that death is a part of life and there is no reason to try to hide this from children. The ruling mentioned that in Korea there has been a traditional avoidance of graves and corpses in residential areas. There is the traditional fear of what this will do to the emotional life of the children. This was approved by a vote of 5 in favor and 4 against

The diocese feels that the repugnance that is expressed with this ruling concerning death is a serious problem in itself. It is a part of the way we have looked at death but does that mean that we must continue doing so? Although there is a movement to increase the number of these mausoleums, people do not want them near to where they live. NIMBY is the acronym for "Not In My Back Yard." It is the rallying cry of residents who are opposed to the establishment of undesirable facilities, such as incinerators, landfills, or prisons, and now in Seoul a place for the ashes of the dead. The diocese feels this attitude is very detrimental to the education of children.

There is much to be said on the respect for the dead that we have in Korea but at the same time we have a great deal of superstition with death and what surrounds it. Changing the way we look at death and our traditional ways, will enable children and all of us to have a healthier appreciation of life . Hopefully we will see a change in this area, in the months and years to come.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Second Part of Discussion on Prayer

Second Part of Fr. Meehan's discussion on prayer

Practical Prayer
is primarily one using the senses. Sacraments and Sacramentals are important here. Liturgy as a sensed experience is an important form of prayer of this kind. Other appropriate forms are reading, singing hymns, psalms and other songs, saying the Divine Office, Ignatian meditation; people with this practical bent to life find that a special prayer schedule is a good technique for them. Planning a decision or discernment prayer are often suitable prayer forms for this group.

Imaginative Prayer this prayer is one that makes great use of imagination and intuition.The use of symbols ( the cross, incense, a skull, an icon, raised hands... ) as guides to prayer can be very helpful to the imaginative person. The sacraments in their symbolic nature can be great resources for imaginative prayer. Reflective meditation methods (Augustine, Ignatius, Francis de Sales) which utilize the imagination or intuition are very attractive and fruitful. Some other appealing forms of prayer are: the rosary, the Stations, reflection on death and other major life stages.

Truth Seeking Prayer after the models of St. Domenic, St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, study type prayer can be very much a value. Studying and reflecting on Scripture or theological data, praying on the news of the day, asking what are the clues to God's presence or absence, studying my own life line and discerning the presence of God. Reflecting with the spirit of God on the meaning of my prayer, and dreams. Here too discernment prayer is a very compatible form. (A Life Line is a personal reminiscence of my past life to find where God was leading me. During some of these life events I was aware of God's presence, but in many instances I became aware of God's presence only after I reflected on the the event and its importance in my life.)

Good seeking prayer
is prayer that makes full use of the feelings, affective prayer, letting love predominate in prayer. For this group suitable forms of prayer are: zen and centering prayer, Jesus prayer, praying in tongues, reflection that allows full range to my emotions and feelings, angry prayer and compassionate prayer, reflection on the passion and resurrection of Jesus.

Decisive Prayer is well organized prayer. The Divine Office is a major example. The Liturgy of the Eucharist which appeals in different ways to each of the modes is also important here because of its orderliness and regularity. Life line and daily life line prayer also are a value. The Spiritual Exercises, Cursillo, Encounters , planning and discernment prayer, and similar forms of prayer are good for this mode.

Concerned prayer is prayer for the person in no hurry. For this kind of person appropriate prayer forms are waiting prayer, centering prayer, zen prayer, contemplative prayer, compassionate reflection, free flowing prayer, listening to the Spirit, prayer with and for others, dream interpretation prayer, prayer of petition, prayer of thanksgiving.

Lectio Divina
: The Prayer of St. Benedict.
It can be noted that certain kinds of prayer incorporate all of these modes in one way or another and therefore appeal to all. Thus for example: the four stages of the prayer of St. Benedict use all of these modes. These stages are:

Lectio Divina: slow , careful reflective reading of the Bible.
Meditation: reflection on one part of the reading or Mystery
Oratio: affective prayer, with love of God predominating
Contemplation: responding to God as experienced.

Great St. Teresa's Prayer incorporates all the modes since by its very nature it leads to God driven prayer which transcends all the others. Teresa describe prayer as beginning with the individual person in meditation, then moving upward to affective prayer, from then on all advances into the various forms of contemplation are direct freely given gifts from God to the person praying.

Prayer as communication

Prayer like all other forms of communication and conversation between individuals is a very personal thing. Every person has a special way of doing it.This means that my prayer has to be the subject of personal discovery for me. I can learn much from others, but in the final analysis, I am the only one, with the help of the Spirit who can discover the best prayer for me. Any and all kinds that help my relationship with the Triune God to grow are good for me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Different forms of Prayer for Retreat

Fr. John Meehan's words on prayer.
Shortened for a two blog format.

First Part

Every human being seems to have a deep personal conviction that she or he is distinctly different from every other person. There are many qualities in common and others that are different. The similarities are very helpful for us in learning to live with one another whereas the differences give us each the uniqueness that makes such living together interesting and creative. In some cultures, over the course of history and even in some now not existent, there has been a tendency to live and to operate as if every one is somehow the same . Today most would agree that this tendency is a mistake. This is particularly true in the realm of spirituality. Thus even in prayer one person will discover his or her self very different from others. To adequately work this out for my own life, I have to experiment and discover the prayer forms that are most valid for me. As Anthony De Mello says about the prayer life " Don't cut the person to fit the coat and the Sun that gives sight to the eagle blinds the owl."

I need to experiment and discover my own best prayer forms for this time in my life. As I change I will realize that my prayer often needs to change as well. What is valid and useful today may not be so tomorrow, experimentation will have to become a permanent part of my spiritual discipline.

Among the many attitudes for relating to the world and to others, there are several which appear to be basic. Thus I find people who relate to the world in the following ways:

Outgoing or in turning

Practical or imaginative
Truth seeking or good seeking
Decisive or concerned

Using this framework, I will discuss some of the different kinds of prayer that seem to work best for people who relate to each way.

In turning Prayer
has traditionally been most discussed and written about. Almost all that you and I have heard about prayer has been of this type. I will spend more time with the other kinds. Much of the prayer for the other types will include this kind of in turning prayer.

Outgoing prayer
as its name indicates is discovering God in the world outside our inner self. It is a kind of journey outward rather than inward. This kind of journey is basically one of growing in awareness of the presence of God in all. It is becoming attuned to the presence and experiencing communion with the Trinity as operative in the world. There are three kinds of experiences which make this kind of prayer: Creation, Compassion, and Communion. Here are a few examples of the almost limitless possibilities.

writing poetry; teaching someone; using any art form; studying, cooking, making bread, dancing, making love, gardening. Photographing, writing letters...

: helping others where they decide they need help; being with others in their weakness and strength without judging; keeping others company in their journeys; counseling; serving as a spiritual friend; being friend; being a prophet fighting injustice; living in solidarity with the poor. (Exercise: If an appropriate person is available, I will take an Emmaus walk with that person. An Emmaus Walk (Lk 24:13-35) two people walking along talking about the things that Jesus has done in their life. It is a faith sharing of what has happened in my life because of my belief in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus will walk with us, even though we may not recognize him.)

Communion: Contemplating nature: sunrise, sunset, beauty, music, enjoying poetry, practicing aerobics, swimming, being together, grieving with someone, holding hands, watch people, experiencing (sacrament) unity with good of any kind .

Outgoing prayer is a prayer of doing, of surrender to the will of God in the world, and participation in the pascal mystery of Jesus. I have not found this prayer to be an easy one for me. I suspect the problem is due to my own lack of experience in its use.

Part two will continue tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Korean Priest looks at American Catholicism

Many of our Korean Priests have now spent time in Korean Parishes in the States and gone on for degrees . They find it very easy to compare what they see to what they have in Korea and what they have heard from other parts of the world. Some see the conditions in the States as a preview for the Catholic Church of Korea.

Reading one such account I was surprised at what I thought was the accuracy of what he had to say. He was pastor of a Korean Parish and went on for a Doctorate in Theology while in the States.

He mentioned how in the States there is no embarrassment when politicians bring in Christianity, demanded by much of the electorate. This is not the way of Europe, even though it has a longer history with Christianity and a Catholic one. Catholicism due to its decline in Europe gave birth to secularism and was the object of attack from the ideology of the Enlightenment. Consequently he would see The United States as more Christian in the Protestant mode and more religious than Europe.

He goes on to say that Protestantism was a big part in the birth of the nation and capitalism went right along with it. In Europe modernization and secularization were born because of the decline of Catholicism. The Enlightenment was in opposition to Catholicism and for what it stood. In the States, to the contrary, Protestantism became the motivating drive for modernization, democracy and progress.

Catholicism was never the mainstream in the States. There has been prejudice against Catholics from the beginning. It was an immigrant Church from Europe, in recent years from the East and now many Catholics are coming in from Central and South America. In recent years we have the sex scandal of some priests having sexual encounters with minors; this was big news in the States which brought out some of the prejudice that was dormant.

The priest writer believes that not having been in the mainstream of American Society was and is good for the Catholic Church. In Europe, Catholicism was mainstream and dislodged to the periphery where it has little influence in the way things are done.

Catholics in the States are 1/4th of the population and 40% of these Catholics are Hispanics. The Protestants are the white mainstream. In looking over the History of the Church when the Church went mainstream the teaching was distorted. When it is on the fringe of Society the Church is able to speak and not be compromised by the political and cultural situation. He feels precisely because of the problems the Catholic Church faced, it was open to dialogue; the lay people activated to take an active part in the working of the Church. He wondered when the day will come in Korea when we will have a lay person teaching theology in the seminary. He hopes that the Church in Korea never becomes mainstream but feels it is leaning in that direction.

Practice of Discernment in Retreats

In our personal retreats there is often a need to discern to make a decision. Fr. John Meehan used his knowledge on directing retreats to explain a procedure which he left us in his writings. I have taken the liberty of changing some parts.

1) Discernment with the aid of the Holy Spirit. The entire context is prayer.
2) Discuss the question to make clear choices.
3) Understand the background.
4) State the reality clearly.
5) Study the word of God and learn what it says about the attitudes of Christ which relate to my discernment.

St. Ignatius of Loyola used and developed a method of discernment which he gathered from his reading of the Scriptures and his experience. Today through the continued development of the method , especially by the Society of Jesus, this discernment prayer has become even more powerful as a Christian prayer for decision making.

Ignatius added to the prayer a way of testing the inspiration of the choice made. This test is a major part of the prayer as is his other addition of beginning with a prayer to achieve holy indifference or openness to what ever choice the Spirit of God leads one into making. Since discernment prayer is important it often takes a long time. The time involved is directly related to the importance of the decision to be made. Minor decisions take little time, major ones can last for months.

Stage I : Prayer for complete openness

In my experience both with myself and others, the initial prayer for indifference to the outcome is often the most difficult one. To enter into this prayer I need first to look clearly at the options that I have and attempt to reduce them to two major ones .For example: a young man or woman can use this prayer to decide whether their calling or vocation is to a life of married love or to one of celibate love.

To begin the process of discerning, I need to pray for a full and deep understanding of both options as very good choices and as leading to a life of happiness and blessing. When I can honestly say that I am open to answering either option I know this prayer has been answered. Once this state is reached I am ready for the discernment proper.

Stage II: Discernment Prayer for Decision Making

1) The reasons why celibacy is a good choice for me.
2) The reasons why marriage is a good choice for me.
3) Why celibacy is not a good choice for me.
4) Why marriage is not a good choice for me.

All prayer begins best by calling upon the Holy Spirit to be with me and continue to help in my discernment. Included in my reasons are all those that I can think of which come from God's word in Scripture. I look carefully at the elements of my own character which point toward the ability to lead a celibate life. I need to look at my own interests, likes and dislikes, preferences in life style, ways of thinking, strength of my prayer life, ability to love others deeply, self discipline, love of self, others and God. The help of a spiritual friend is often very important in this prayer. When I am not able to find other reasons this prayer comes to an end.

I will spend a day checking through each set to discover whether I have missed anything of importance.Then with the help of the Spirit I enter into the process of making a choice and a decision.

Stage III: Prayer to test the Discernment.

St. Ignatius moved by the words of Scripture: IJohn 4:1-3, Mat 7:17, Gal 6:4,
searched the scriptures and discovered for himself a good test for the presence or absence of the Spirit. St. Paul provided the test for the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: "The fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness," Ignatius learned this and started to use it in his own prayer. I need to use it in my own discernment.

If the Spirit of God has been involved in my prayer and decision, these fruits will be present, in the depths of my spirit, soul or heart. Our spirit is like the ocean, very deep and teeming with life. As with the ocean, the surface will very often be in turmoil
while the depths are quiet. It is in these depths of my spirit that I need to test for the fruits of the spirit. Of all these fruits the one that is easiest to detect is that of peace. So peace becomes the test.

If the Holy Spirit has been with me in my discernment, I will discover peace with the decision. If I find peace there, my prayer is finished and I have decided with the Spirit.

On the other hand if down deep I am in turmoil upset, anxious or not at peace with the decision, then I have to begin again and continue my discernment prayer until a decision is made that leaves me at peace down deep.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Waiting With Hope

In His Own Words Fr. John Cioppa Maryknoller in Hong Kong.

In 1972 shortly after he was released from a Chinese prison Bishop James Walsh was at the Kai Tak airport waiting for a plane to take him to the US. He said, "Here I am waiting again. In 1950 I waited to be sentenced to jail, I waited for 20 years to be released, and now I am waiting again. I have spent half of my life waiting." He was not angry. He was just commenting , relaxed and smiling. "Waiting " for Bishop Walsh had become his spirituality. He had integrated waiting into his life. He was not anxious or worried. He had learned that waiting also meant hope.

Some researchers say we spend about 8 years of our life "waiting". A mother waits 9 months for her child to be born, another year waiting for him to walk and five years more before going to school. We wait to see the doctor. We wait to pay bills, wait for exam results, wait for job interviews and wait to get married.We even wait to die. I hope Jesus doesn't keep us waiting at heaven's door. Waiting brings fear and anxiety but it also brings hope and joy: a new child born, release from prison, high exam marks.

The Jews waited 500 years for the Messiah to come; 40 more years with Moses wandering in the desert and 50 years in captivity in Babylon longing to be back home in the Holy Land. Life for the Jews seemed to be one waiting after another. And as we know they are still waiting.

I believe waiting has a very profound meaning. It is a deep-seated longing for our hearts and souls to go home. Waiting is basically homesickness. We are restless and anxious and can never settle down because the place we are standing is not home. Saint Augustine put it well when he said, "Our hearts were made for God and they will not rest until they are again with God."

I thing that is what Advent is all about. It's a reminder that we are on a journey- a long journey back to the Father. We wander in a strange place searching for the road home. We long to be back again with our Father. If you have even been homesick, you know what I mean. Advent is a reminder that we live our lives in ambiguity. We live in the presence of God, yet live in the expectation of His coming again. We celebrate His coming but wait and long for Him to be with us again. Somehow deep in our souls there is a memory of being with God . Advent reminds us that we live in that memory hoping and anxious to be with God again. That was the feeling of Jesus when He was on earth and that is the spirit of Advent. A waiting with hope .That hope also brings peace and joy and that's what we celebrate on Christmas.

Waiting makes us uncomfortable and brings with it feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness and helpless. But it also brings with it hope, joy and new life. Advent reminds us that we are homesick and our hearts will not be in peace until they are again with the Lord. Advent is not a sad time. It is a time of hope, a time to feel the peace and joy of the Lord who is here, but has yet to come.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Korean Welfare System

It has been said, and it has the ring of truth, missioners are not the best ones to ask for an understanding of the environment in which they work. We probably identify too closely with the people and do not see the larger context. Be that as may, I have certain feelings about the Korean welfare system from my dealings with the Catholics over the years. I have heard criticism of the welfare system but from my experience in Korea, the welfare system is doing very well.

I can recall in the early 70s when a grandmother who was senile, was dropped off in front of our kindergarten in the town in which we had the parish. I saw her on my trip to the kindergarten and told the catechist to take care of her. The next day she was still there; I was upset but there was little he could do he said. We washed her and brought her to the nearby Catholic Hospital where they said her legs were frost bitten and have to be amputated. We went to the different government offices in the town but they could do nothing. That was one of the reason they moved the street people from one provincial district to another. They did not have the facilities.

What would I be faced with now that I had responsibility for this senile grandmother who couldn't walk? After much worry and gathering of information, the Sisters in the parish told me, if she could walk she would be accepted at House of Hope in Taegu were the Sisters were working. We bought artificial limbs and for a week taught her how to walk. In the end she was accepted and a big worry disappeared. In those days the Korean Welfare system was just not in place.

Today seeing what the welfare system is doing is just marvelous. The government I am told is trying to enhance the quality of life, reduce unemployment, poverty and inequality; what I see is the poor when sick go to the hospital, if they are without family they are given an allowance, the poor children in school are given computers. The Government also helps the private welfare sector once a program has been started with the buildings and personnel, if the conditions are met, they contribute to the operation of the facility. I do not hear any quibbling about it being run by a religious organization or not. The private and religious groups are also very active in this welfare system. I am very much impressed with what the Government has done over the last 30 years. There may be holes in the system but what I see is tremendous improvement over the past. May the treatment of the weak and poorer segments of our society continue to be a concern of those in Government.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Foreigners in KoreaㅡCatholic Missionaries

Back in the early 60s the missioner would ordinarily be the only foreigner walking the streets of the farming area in which he worked. He had one of the better looking houses in the area; one of the few cars travelling the roads seemed to belong to a senior civil servant, police chief or a missioner. The missioner excited widespread interest in those who passed his way. The word you heard was "American American," (미국 사람 미국사람) sometimes with a not too complementary adjective but most of the time just the word "American". I wondered how the other foreigners at that time liked to be called Americans. The Koreans had seen many foreign soldiers right after the Korean War and most of them were Americans.

If in the 60s foreigners where an odd sight to most of the Koreans especially in the country it is not hard to understand why during the years of persecution the Paris Foreign Missioners wore mourning clothes to disguise their appearance.

Coming into recent times the foreigner is no longer a stranger, even the children in the country do not bother to look twice. We have become a part of the Korean way of life. Korea is no longer a hermit kingdom or the home of a racially homogeneous people. This change came quickly and within a few years it will be 2 million foreigners living in Korea.

In the paper yesterday the front page carried an article reporting that the number of foreigners in Korea has topped 1 million. From the last time they made the count back in 2006 the increase was almost double. It seems that all the different groups have had an increase: different national groups, naturalized citizens, children of foreigners, illegal aliens, workers, overseas Koreans residing in Korea, students, and business people. However not mentioned were missionaries. Most of the missionaries that were here before the Korean War would have a decrease in the numbers working in Korea. The Maryknoll Society from the high mark, close to 100 Maryknollers have only 17 that remain in Korea. The Korean Church does not need us and some of the men, who have worked in Korea, have volunteered to go to China, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and even Japan. (Click to see where we work) Those of us who remain try to help the Korean Church in areas where they accept us and most hope , health permitting , to remain until we return to our true home country.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Like a Little Child

From our Maryknoller in Hong Kong Fr. John Cioppa.

...I can see why Jesus loved children. He saw them as so genuine. At their stage of life they were still open and sincere and still so trusting. My two nieces gave me a greater appreciation of why Jesus chose a child as a model that we should imitate and learn from. The image He put forward as the ideal to strive for was not an image of a great hero or person of great strength or powerㅡ not even an old wise man or saint from the Old Testament. The image of true greatness was the image of a child and that's the secret of the spirituality of Jesus Himself.

I am sure we have all been moved by a mother holding a child in her arms or a child sleeping on its mother's shoulder. They are so full of trust. They have no reason to mistrust anyone or anything. It is only as we grow older that we learn to mistrust, becoming fearful and suspicious of others. Feelings of fear are natural especially in a situation of danger, and I' m sure Jesus experienced these some feelings of fear., We are told that he sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane when threatened with arrest, torture, and death. But He trusted His Father and prayed that famous prayer, "Your will be done" (Mk 14:36). Jesus experienced fear but His response was one of trust in His Father.

Another remarkable quality of a healthy child is a sense of wonder. Everything is new and surprising. I can still see the expressions on the faces of my nieces when the wind blew the leaves and flower during a rainstorm and when the rain stopped, running out to play in the puddles on the sidewalk. For a child everything is new and magical. As we grow older we lose that sense of wonder.Everything becomes ordinary and taken for granted. When the wind blows the leaves and flowers bend and when the rain is over there are puddles on the sidewalk. But our reaction is," So what?" Not so with the child. One of the ways of staying young is to try to preserve that sense of wonder. Nature is a good place to start. Just take a moment to become conscious of the world around us: the beautiful scenery, mountains, the astronauts living on a space station for three months. Eventually we too begin seeing everything as mysteries: the oceans, flowers, grass, trees. Then there are all the marvels of science, like taking a space ship to the moon. Jesus had a deep sense of wonder. He was enthralled by the beauty of the lilies of the field, the birds of the air (Mt. 6:28), and the wheat that grows quietly and invisibly while the farmer sleeps ( Mk. 4:28). In all these marvels of nature, Jesus shows the mysterious hand of God. He was a mystic and a poet

One final quality we associate with childhood is playfulness, laughter and fun. Children laugh so easily. They pretend they are gown-ups: doctors, nurses, teachers, mother, firemen or policemen. Jesus also noticed the kids playing in the marketplace, some singing the songs of weddings, others the songs of funerals ( Lk. 7:32). Unfortunately we tend to lose this playfulness as we g row up and become more serious.We often think of the saints as serious, humourless, quiet people. Not so. Just consider St. Francis. He used to sing to the birds and flowers and roll in the snow in wintertime. Some even say that Jesus wasn't a joyful person because the Gospels never say He laughed. When we see His great love for children, I am sure He smiled and laughed all the time.

Jesus' choice of a little child as a model provides us with an image of the kind of person we need to become if we are to become like Him. The image of a childlike joyful personality I think gives us a good idea of the person of Jesus Himself. And he told us to imitate His love as He imitates the love of the Father.

The next time you see children playing, or a new born baby or a mother holding an infant in her arms look closely to see if you can see Jesus.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Examination of Consciousness

Fr. John Meehan's points for making a private retreat.

One of the symptoms of addiction to alcohol and other substances is called a blackout. During this period a person seems to be going about their usual activities, working, driving, or anything else but they are not aware of what is happening and they do not remember anything about it afterwards. This happens at a very late state in the addiction, near the time when it becomes life threatening. In a lesser but almost as dangerous a sense, all of us suffer from symptoms similar to blackouts. I go through long periods of time without much awareness of what is going on. All too often I do not even bother to remember what happened today or last evening or anytime. My life goes on with little awareness and even less reflection on what I am doing and what life is doing to me. This life style is destined to lead to boredom, depression, and is perfect training to be the opposite of a wise person.

On the other hand, if I want to grow in wisdom, understanding, and love of life and living, I need to reflect on my own life. To know myself and learn from my own experiences is the beginning of wisdom and healthy living. Reflection and awareness are the most important qualities needed for the growth of my spiritual life.

Self awareness and self knowledge are the strong foundation for any growth in the spirit and for both wholeness and holiness. To aid my self awareness and self-knowledge I will make it a practice twice daily to make such an examination, both during and after my retreat.

This exercise develops awareness and draws my attention to the presence of God in my life. Twice a day for five or ten minutes I will stop whatever I am doing and take a few moments to center myself. I will become quiet and internally alert. Then I will gently place myself in the presence of the Spirit of God, for a minute I will rest quietly and then review my day to that moment. To do this exercise well I need to recall what has taken place in my day up to this time of prayer. I will ask two questions of each happening or activity that I remember: was God present? How was God present? For God's presence and action in my life, I will offer a prayer of thanks; for my lack of awareness and for my sins, I will say " I am sorry".

This is a good prayer to record in my journal . After some time it will be important to reflect back on the various ways in which God has been present in my life and how God has shown love and has influenced my life.

If this discipline is followed daily, several very healthy effects will come into my daily living. The most telling one will be growth in my awareness of the presence of God. This awareness will not only be of past things reflected upon but will also involve my own growing awareness of God's constant activity in my life. I will slowly become more and more conscious of God's actions and learn to be alert to them most of the time. I will with patience become aware of the divine activity in my life by breaking through the various obstacles that I have developed to block out much of God's grace.

Over time this discipline will aid me directly in developing the contemplative openness to see and experience God's working and presence at all levels of human experience. God actually gifts all of us with the graces of contemplation but usually I am too preoccupied and distracted to be aware of the opportunities. My growing awareness of the presence of God, will contribute much to breaking down the barriers that limit my full human development and my experience of the divine.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Finding a Martyr Saint

The discovery of a shallow grave from the 1866 persecution period by an American priest in July 1980, led to the recent dedication of a church in the memory of Saint Luke Sokdu Hwang in May 2009. The saint is one of Korea's 103 martyr saints most who's last resting place are unknown.

Maryknoll Father Robert M. Lilly, former pastor of Su An Bo Church area where the grave was located, placed a relic of the martyr in the new church in Cheong Ju diocese. "I was fortunate to find the ancestral burial ground of the Hwang family in a mission station of my parish," he said. " My desire to find out more about his role in the growth of the Catholic Church in Korea evolved from that discovery."

Luke Sokdu Hwang was martyred with four companions at Kalmaemot on the west coast of Korea in March 1866. Childless, he had adopted his nephew, son of an older brother, some years earlier. At the time of martyrdom, the adoptee no doubt had heard the news,
but waited two months before going to the site. Then secretly at night he retrieved the body and carried it home. Other members of the family had already fled and dispersed in every direction. Only another nephew, Andrea Hwang and the martyr's adopted son John remained to bury the corpse in a temporary grave. They observed that the body still seemed supple and life like in appearance. They then took leave of the village where a number of the family had lived prior to the last great persecution.

Andrew Hwang was martyred that same year in Seoul, while John Hwang underwent the same fate in Seoul In 1867. Previous to that, John Hwang had transferred the remains of Luke Sokdu Hwang, his adoptive parent, to their ancestral roots in Pyeong Pang Kol in north Chung Cheong province. There, one hundred and fourteen years later, on July 9th 1980, the heretofore unknown grave was opened.

Luke Sokdu Hwang's name was on the list of twenty four candidates beatified by Pope Paul VI in Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome, on October 6,1968. Added to the seventy nine already raised to that honor, the total amounted to one hundred and three awaiting canonization. That historic event, conducted by Pope John Paul II, took place in Youido Plaza, Seoul on May 6, 1984.

Meanwhile, through the years local gossip at Pyeong Pang Kol had always rumored that a Christian believer killed for his faith was buried in the mountainside Hwang family grave site. About ten years after the beatification ceremony in Rome and following an extensive search of church and civil records, the quest narrowed.

The grave revealed skeletal remains resting in water only a few feet under the surface. The severed head lay upside down on the chest and the whole scene suggested that the burial had been carried out in a harried and confused fashion, nothing like the usual Korean respect for the dead.

Later , on closer examination at Sou An Bo church the remains showed that the neck had been cut through at the third vertebrae of the spinal column by a blunt instrument, such as a heavy sword, with such force that it had driven the fragmented bone into the skull. The upside down position of the head upon the chest bone would have alerted attention in any subsequent exhumation and the shallowness of a water filled grave again was contrary to rigid Korean custom.

Present through out the procedure were the late Church historian, Father Joseph Kisoun Oh, the Su An Bo pastor, a senior family member and a medical doctor from Saint Mary's hospital in Seoul. The bones remained at Su An Bo for two years before being transferred to Yon Pung martyrs shrine on August 25, 1982, where then retired Korean Archbishop Paul Kinam Ro officiated at the internment ceremony.

Needless to say it had been a long journey for the saint from a mountainside unknown grave to a site of veneration in a beautiful new church of Cheong Ju city and a spiritual trek as well for his persistent companion.

Lastly, it is a fitting postscript to point out that had not the opportunity been seized to seek out and save the relics of a martyr of the Church, a different scenario might have occurred, as it has on many occasions. In the mid nineteen eighties the separate graves of Pyeong Pang village were moved and it became part of a huge public works project, an interchange in the burgeoning Korea superhighway system.