Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making a Catholic Retreat in Korea

One of our Maryknollers, Fr. John Meehan, who had a great deal of experience in central administration, came to Korea late in his years, spent some very profitable time in Korea, volunteered to go to China where he died and was buried in 1998. He left us with many memories and a booklet of suggestions for private retreats of which the following has been taken.

One young man, involved in many business adventures, took me out to lunch in an expensive restaurant. He read the menu quickly, ordered for all in the group, and asked the waitress to please hurry. His portable phone rang and he spent several minutes trying to settle a distant problem. The meal came along with several cans of beer. He took a few bites, consumed a can of beer, answered his phone again, apologized to us, and left. His wife looked at me and said with her eyes filling with tears, that this is the way it is all the time.They have a large house, a find son, a great car, and almost everything they need or want. But they seem to have no time for one another, much less for quite time. Some of the most important parts of life and Spirit are crumbling and becoming sick.

This story seems to be one that is so ordinary that it makes one fear for the future of our humanity and that of the entire world. In one way or another each of us suffers from the effects of pressure, tension, bad stress caused by modern life styles. If nothing else this kind of life style filled with stress and speed is creating great difficulties in our love and relational lives. We have problems relating to our families, our loved ones, our neighbors and more frighteningly , our God.

As an asideㅡI have used this story but have also in my own experience seen the same. I rarely say anything because it has become a way of life for us now in Korea but I do find it extremely annoying when we are sitting down at a meal and some one at the table takes his hand phone and goes on with a conversation with some one in unknown space. It is happening at the Mass where someone will leave the Mass to go outside to answer a call. I have this happening when I am teaching catechism, teaching English classes and in retreats. Since I do not have a cell phone, I do find it difficult to say what I feel. The cell phones are valuable and can facilitate much of the work that one is doing. It can be a very helpful friend in need and has many valuable uses but it should have its place and not encroach on the here and now relationship with others. There has to be a cell phone etiquette that becomes acceptable to us of the 21st century.

Making a retreat frequently is a good way to fight the encroachment on our quiet life. A private retreat is a time to put aside all the pressures of normal every day life and to spend time getting reacquainted with what is going on with our life in the spirit. This practice in Korea is called P'i Chong(피정) - Retreat and Quiet- The two Chinese characters used in the word of retreat mean to withdraw from society and to retire from the world for awhile in order to clean the soul and spirit by looking and observing in quiet and stillness. Since the day when this word retreat was first introduced to Korea and China, the ideal of the retreat has grown to mean stepping a little away from the world so we can get a better look at it, a little like going up the mountain in order get a better overall view of our hometown.