Sunday, February 28, 2010

Celebrating Full Moon Day with 'Yut'

Today is the first full moon of the new year and a time to play. Our small community went to the parish for Mass and Yut competitions between different sections of the parish. Lunar year started on the 14th of Feb. but today is the 15th of the first lunar month and the full moon, a time to celebrate.

Yut was usually played from New Year to the day of the first full moon. It is not as popular as years past, but still you find many in their back yards with the neighbors, dancing, drinking, eating and enjoying the prospects of a pleasant year.

The game of Yut is a board game with four sticks that are flat on one side and round on the other.The sticks are thrown up into the air and the points are determined by the way the sticks fall. You have 4 sticks but the possibility of 5 points. One stick with the flat part up--1 point,(pig)--two sticks with the flat part up-- 2 points, (dog)-- three with the flat part up --3 points, (sheep)-- and Yut would have all 4 flat parts up --for 4 points,(cow)-- and the 4 rounded parts up gives you-- 5 points, (horse). Each team has 4 tokens that signify 4 horses and the aim of the game is to have all four of the horses pass the 29 stations and reach goal out. If one gets a throw with 4 or 5 points, he has another throw. On the board there are possibilities of making your opponent return to the beginners line again. Other interesting facets to the game makes it a great pastime for as many as want to play.

The community returned home from the competition with first prize. One of the joys of watching the game is to see how the players throw the sticks. How much is luck and how much is skill I don't know, but throwing the sticks certainly is a good indication of personality and one's individuality: sounds are uttered, the body is twisted, you have small dance steps celebrating the lay of the sticks if it is what the board and your team mates want.

The game has a long history and was even exported to Japan. Looking up some of the history you can go as deep as you want into what it signifies. There is the Ying and Yang , the 5 primary substances, the constellations, 29 stations, and even remnants of Taoism are present.

A good question to ask those who study the ways of the mind and culture: "Why does our world no longer have time for games of this type?" It may be that the answer lies with the kind of games the world has become addicted to playing: where winning is all important. Yut, instead, reminds us that we all can be winners when winning is measured not by someone losing but by how much of oneself is shared in any collective endeavor among as many others as possible. Winning then becomes incidental to the sharing, and so can be cheered and shared by all.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Endurance is not Always the Only Possibility

People in service to others are often searching for better ways to help those they are called to serve. One priest who was in parish work decided not only to help others, but to find help for the demons that were bothering him. He decided to go to graduate school to study psychology of spirituality.

The priest would be in prayer and abruptly be overcome with depression. Other times crushed by feelings of overwhelming tension, the spiritual life was one big burden. Spiritual life should mean peace and joy; this was not the case for this priest. He was lost in the swamp of depression. He wanted out.

Problems of his parishioners were not all solved with prayer. What he picked up in the seminary was not sufficient to handle the many difficulties he encountered in himself and in others. He felt unprepared for the work and blamed himself for the failure.

In order to rid himself of his problems he did much searching, asked others for help, tried many recommendations, but did not find what he wanted. He was given many ambiguous words, equivocal methods, all to no avail. And was even blamed for not praying enough. He used repression to control his mind, and to endure even became a principle in his life. Depression and obsessions were overtaking him, and just before being overcome he began the study of spirituality.

In the study of psychology he realized that he was ignorant of things of the mind. He studied about God in the seminary, was familiar with matters of the body, but about the mind he was ignorant. He learned that if we treat the body recklessly, we invite disease, and if we treat the mind recklessly, we also have problems.

The priest wants other priests to join him in the study. The incidents of depression in our culture are very high. The Pope has mentioned we have to take an interest in these matters since problems are so wide spread. As Catholics it is not just a simple matter of more prayer, but having a trust in the goodness and love of God and trying to uncover the reasons for the way we feel, and make the very depression a means to grow out of being overcome by its power.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Words Spoken With Sincerity Changes a Life

Children with a good home, loving parents, and the daily necessities should develop into mature and successful members of society. In most cases true enough but there are examples to show it is not always always true.

A priest writing in the Catholic Times mentions meeting a young girl in her twenties years ago; she was a friend of a young man that the writer knew. He was extremely impressed with her maturity and behavior. She was cheerful, had a sunny disposition and was very talented in the use of language. He thought to himself this girl was nurtured by a wonderful family to be so self possessed and act the way she did.

On one occasion the young man visiting with the girl excused himself, and the girl and the priest remained to talk. Her story astounded him. Her mother and father divorced when she was very young. She was separated from her mother and the friction with the stepmother was deep and serious, accompanied with a deep grudge against her father. It was a rough childhood and she managed it all by herself.

She told the priest she does not have any belief. What has kept her going are a few words of someone who loved her. " I will always be at your side." These were the words of her grandmother. She went on to say: "Father, if it weren't for these words coming from my grandmother's heart I would not be here. When I was a child I did not make much of these words, but when faced with great disappointments and failures, these words of my grandmother sounded in my heart clearly, and enabled me to keep going."

Words spoken with with sincerity, writes the priest, are able to change a life. This is another reason for us to be conscious of what we say and when we say it. Each one we meet is an eternal responsibility and the way we treat that person can have repercussions that continue over a life time for good or bad.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mistakes(?) in Building Communities

Up until a few years ago riding on the subway, it was not infrequent to have someone enter the car, give the passengers a leaflet with the address of the church he represented, and before he left for the next car present us with some passionate words of what Jesus can do in our lives. This was not the Catholic way, but one could admire the person's zeal in trying to make Jesus known to a car full of people who were not interested. This type of evangelizing, at least in the subway cars, has disappeared. A sign that something has changed in the society at large.

Evangelizing that was 'in your face', confrontational does not have the popularity it did a few years ago. Catholic leaders did prepare congregations for street preaching and visiting houses to distribute leaflets, but the response was such that the evangelizers did not desire to continue. It did more to alienate the religious and the non-religious than to attract.

An important value for a missioner is to introduce Jesus to others, however, we also see the results of evangelizing that does not see a change in the life of those who are baptized. Without changes in life that should come with repentance, little happens in the life of the newly baptized. People are baptized but not converted.

In the early years of work in Korea the diocesan priests did not show as much interest in evangelizing as the missioners. They seemed to spend more time working building community; foreign missioners would be very active in trying to attract people to the church.

There are various schools of thinking on the matter. One school believes that more effort should be made in forming community before we attempt to evangelize others; the other school believes new members renew the community and bring gifts that will strengthen the community. Both of these positions working together would seem the ideal. Probably we have been more interested in getting individuals --numbers-- than making disciples, and forget that one is evangelized to become a member of a community-- the mystical body of Christ. The community should be the leaven , the salt, the light of society and if this does not happen then something is wrong with our evangelizing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lowering the Walls between Dioceses

Not all parishes and mission stations in Korea are self supporting and independent of outside help. You have mega parishes , but also the small communities that work to supplement their income coming from collections , Mass stipends and free will offerings-- reality in many small country parishes and mission stations in rural Korea.

Many Maryknollers stationed in rural areas benefited by help given them by wealthier parishes. These poorer communities would visit city parishes to sell their farm goods: pumpkins, sweet potatoes, turnips, peppers and the like. They would make the rounds of parishes that would welcome them. The rectory and church of the mission station where I am in residence was built by parishioners selling farm goods and sea laver in city parishes.

On occasions you have city pastors going to country parishes of another diocese to work and realizing for the first time how high the walls are that divide the dioceses from one another. One pastor, with many years experience in Seoul, wrote about his experience of working in a poor country parish, and concluded that the concern for the poorer areas of the country should be a concern of the wealthier parishes.

He recalls the day he received a telephone call from a priest from another diocese telling him that some members of his pastoral council were planning to visit. On their arrival he was surprised to see the visiting priest had attended the same seminary. The pastor of the country parish was more surprised, however, hearing that the visitors would have a second collection once a month and deliver it personally to the poorer parishes in the country.

The smallest diocese in Korea has about 46,000 Catholics and 73 priests in 36 parishes. About half the diocese makes their living from farming and the other half makes a living offering services to the farmers. It is dioceses of this type that need help to develop.

One of the signs of our Catholicism is unity. The country pastor dreams of the day when this would be more visible in church life. It is important to have concern for one's own diocese, but this still can be done with more efforts in equality of Catholic growth throughout the country. The Church's social principles of 'solidarity' and 'common good' could be applied in this area of Catholic Life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Work of Love Delayed for 20 Years.

After 20 years the doors of bronze a sculptor made for the Myong Dong Cathedral in Seoul finally found their designated place, and this year in recognition of his work the artist received a prize at the 15th art award ceremony of the Catholic Church.

Choi Eui-Soon (John Vianney) received the commission to make the doors back in 1985, he finished in 1987 and for the last 20 years the doors remained in the storehouse of the Cathedral. Because of the door's weight and the condition of the building, they postponed putting the doors in place until repair work on the building was finished last year.

Cathedral doors were to express in bronze relief the beginning history of the Catholic Church of Korea. For one year Prof.
Choi traveled around Korea to the different pilgrimage sites, and spent time reading Catholicism's history in Korea so the representation would be true to history.

Depictions on the doors are the first Chinese priest saying Mass, the representation of his first catechist receiving communion, a Paris foreign missioner taking care of orphans, persecution of the Catholics, and the clay pots that the Catholics sold to make a living during the years of persecution. It does give one a feel for the years of persecution and what it must have meant to the first Christians.

In 1953 Prof. Choi entered Seoul School of art and sculpture after experiencing the cruelty and shock of war. His dean said he would make a good religious and recommended he enter the Catholic Church. He started to receive instructions was baptized and continued to relate his art to his religion. He hopes all those who come to the Cathedral and see the doors will want to imitate the faith of these early Catholics.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Legacy Left By A Man For Others

On the 16th of February we remembered the first anniversary of the death of Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan. An example of love for country that was bigger than the materialistic and opportunistic values of his time. He had a vision of what should be when many preferred the status quo and were fearful of making waves. Cardinal Kim was an attractive personality to many of the citizens not only Catholics. Love one another, forgive and give thanks were his last words remembered by many during the past year.

Editorial in Catholic paper laments the present situation because of political infighting that prevents the government from taking on serious problems facing Korea. They are occupied with materialism opportunism, pragmatism and local interests that blind them to the larger interests facing the country.

Using the fable monkey's dilemma the editorial compares the problems facing society with the poor monkey who has his fist in a jar of food. The empty hand goes in easily but with food gripped tightly the monkey can't get fist out from the jar's mouth. Monkey either chooses food and loses his freedom or drops the food and lives to begin another day. Government has their hands in the jar and are not able to see that while concerned with those smaller matters they are missing matters of greater importance.

Cardinal Kim gave us a good example of being a Cardinal for all. His coat of arms carried the words "For you and all." His strong position on siding with the poor and the alienated was not missed by many even though the oppression of the times made it easy to forget them.

When one realizes things are not going the way they should and like the monkey one realizes results are not what were desired, it is time to change course and begin again. Party interests , personal grudges, should not be the overwhelming concern of those in government but the serious interests of the people they were elected to serve.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Good, Bad And the Ugly" All Can Be Graced

A Lenten meditation on the value of pain and suffering was the topic of a recent newsletter. An incident in the book by Jean Vanier
(Canadian Catholic philosopher, humanitarian and the founder of L'Arche)
where a young girl had difficulty relating with her mother introduced the meditation. Daughter would always end up confronting her mother in anger, and the mother couldn't understand why mother and daughter had to relate with anger so she recommended therapy.They discovered that the girl had a great deal of pent up anger against her mother.

When the girl was 3 years old her brother was born and the poverty of the mother made her give the children to her sister. In the eyes of the girl the mother abandoned her, and hidden for 20 years was this unresolved resentment towards her mother. When she was able to face this bitterness, and understood her mother she was able to forgive and the relationship with the mother changed.

There are many who have a 'hole' inside of them that doesn't allow them to accept life as is. This affects everything they do. Unbeknown to the person there are scars below the surface that still ache, and they are not able to function properly in society until they are acknowledged and healed.

Another incident was about a young man who after graduating from school got a job in a construction company. All was well, he looked forward to a bright future until a car accident crippled him, and prevented him from continuing in the work. He was greatly depressed lost his desire to live, but during his time of recuperation his acquanitance with those more handicapped than himself turned his own life around to a point where he decided to work with the handicapped--satisfaction from his new life changed even his appearance.

St. Augustine tells us God brings good out of evil: "
God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist." During this season of Lent let us remember the words of Jeremiah: "I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrows." Jesus did not pray that the disciple not suffer, but they be delivered from the evil that could come from suffering.

Lent is a time to realize some of the greatest positive changes come into our lives from failures and disappointments we experience, and not the successes. A great danger is to have these failures and disappointments permeate the present moment to such a degree that one continues to live in the past. Strange tho it sounds we can be thankful for the 'good the bad and the ugly' in our lives, for in God's providence they can be stepping stones to a life that we never expected, a life even more satisfying than the one we were hoping for. Lent is a time to see the possibilities of grace. The temptations are always there, but the trust we should have in God should be stronger than the temptations --the lesson of today's Gospel.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another Sign of the Passing of the Old Korea

On a visit to one of the families in the mission station a few days ago the discussion turned to the genealogical records of the family.The grandfather brought me the register of the clan, a record of the family going back into the past for hundreds of years. This register, rather expensive, is republished every thirty years or so with new additions. The old Koreans are proud of their family history, and all that it means for family and country-- a precious heirloom.

The grandfather talking about his own family made it clear that because of globalization and intermarriage with foreigners elements of Korean history are disappearing. The young Koreans are not interested in old Korea, so it will not be long before genealogical records are a foot note of history. All this he said with a very matter of fact tone of voice, little emotion.

The feeling of older Koreans for the ancestors is not only with words, they have records they can check, names, achievements of the ancestors which makes for a family spirit that is difficult to appreciate for a non-Korean. When they have the rites for the ancestors they not only remember ancestors, but have names and locations on the map that give life to the past. This gives meaning to the rites they perform at least twice a year.

Attachment to their family history is a sign of their love of country along with the love for ancestors. They meet regularly with members of the clan to discuss their relationship and what has happened since their last meeting. They add new names to the lists, and although women did not appear in the registers in the past the names of female family often appeared now.

Not having any real knowledge of what is entailed in these histories my understanding would be that those who have nobility of some sort in their pedigree would have a register. There are over 250 surnames, and each surname may have many different clans depending from what part of Korea the first ancestors lived. To have a register means that you have a known pedigree. In the old days this register would be extremely important for you were not to marry a member of your own clan, and many would like to check the pedigree of the new possible family member. This has only changed in recent years, and it shows the importance of these family records in Korean history. The pedigree in many cases is now determined by something much more concrete and visual.

Many of the more traditional Koreans see this lack of interest in genealogical records as a slippery sloop to democratization of all Korean life. For many it is painful to see the love of the culture, love of language and their history eroding. Reaction of the children to their own history is easily seen by the elders. Globalization and the multiculturalism of modern times is destroying the homogeneity of the once proud Korean Culture. Efforts will be made to keep the good and minimize the bad, but the direction in which Korean society has started to move will not be derailed, and the young Koreans are the harbingers of this new world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Not Able To Hear The Small Voice Within

Many hear the call of the wilderness, the call of silence. Mother Teresa of Calcutta affirmed: "We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature--trees, flowers, grass--grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.... We need silence to be able to touch souls." These thoughts are not unique to Christianity, but known by different cultures and religions; the response of many, " it didn't work, I tried it."

A woman writing for the The Catholic Times answered that call for silence. She rented a house of a friend; left the noisy city of Seoul, and went to the country for some peace and quiet. On arriving she felt like a camel seeing an oasis in the desert. The mind was relaxed and all was well.

That evening the silence was so pronounced she could not sleep. She turned on a music radio station, and finally went to sleep the following morning with the chirping of the birds. She left the city for peace and silence of the country, and was forced to return to the noise of the city. She changed the location but she wasn't able to leave the noise and 'give and take' of city life. It was her addiction.

She remembered, at a younger age, walking at night under a full moon enjoying the quiet peace. At the ocean she would sit on a rock overlooking the great expanse, and for hours be lost in deep silence. What happened to that independence she once enjoyed?

Imperceptibly she had become addicted to the noisy city life. She was caught in the grip of technological advances in communication: she walked with a receiver in her ear; she needed her hand phone to feel at home and if forgotten felt restless; she had to find the latest news on the Internet. Her eyes and ears where always tuned to something outside of herself. She no longer had time for her inner life.

For Christians the problem with this addiction is we no longer have the silence in our hearts that enables us to hear the whisperings of God. We are turned on to what is outside of us; we don't have time to turn within. Bombarded with all kinds of sounds we miss the " tiny whispering sound" that gives life and joy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nothing Is Small With Matters Of The Heart

How to address God among Korean Christians is an area where we do not agree. The Protestants want to use the word Hananim "God who is One" (하나님), the Catholics and Anglicans prefer the Haneunim "God of Heaven"(하느님). Protestants think the word "God of Heaven" would not make clear the monotheistic position of Christianity-- the one and only God.

In 1971 the Scholars on both sides translated the Bible from the original languages in a common translation. They decided to use the Korean word "Haneunim". The majority of the Protestants did not like the choice, so the Common Bible was used mostly by Catholics until the Catholics decided to translate their own Bible.
Not only doctrinal points separate the Protestants from the Catholics but even how to address God has the possibility of dividing Christianity.

Catholics did have problems with the lay out of the Bible because there was a section which was called the deuterocanonical (books in the Septuagint Greek Old Testament--but not in the Hebrew). The Jews in Egypt translated the Scriptures into Greek before the time of Christ. This is called the Septuagint, the book the early Christians used. The New Testament is the same for Catholics and Protestants,but the Catholics accept all the books in the Septuagint and the Protestants decided to accept what the Jewish leaders declared to be their official canon of Scripture after the destruction of the Jewish Temple. This eliminated seven books of the Septuagint: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther and Daniel.

Catholics and Protestants working together to publish a Korean Bible both groups could accept was a great ecumenical step. A sign of what was possible and gave hope for more progress in this area, but it was not to be. The translation was from the Hebrew Masorectic Text and the name chosen for God was just too much for the majority of the Protestants to accept. It does indicate how difficult rapprochement is despite efforts being made by both sides to overcome the difficulties.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Sacrifice Transferred to Daily Life

Today Korean Catholics, like all Catholics throughout the world, receive ashes on the head and begin the period of preparation for Easter. The 40 year journey and trials of the Israelites in the desert are a good remembrance for our journey in the desert of earthly life. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert and we do the same with this period of Lent.

The trials of the Israelites in the desert were difficult and the temptations they encountered were too much for them. They doubted , complained, got angry, and wanted to return to Egypt. Jesus showed a different kind of response in the desert. In our journey of life we meet many temptations and obstacles; most of the time we react in the way of the Israelites and not Jesus.

What has happened to the earth that God gave us is a serious obstacle in developing a future that will benefit all of human kind. We are faced with pollution, destruction of the environment, social injustice, rampant consumerism, indiscriminate application of technology, violence etc.--"the planet is in urgent need of caring stewardship." (Pope Benedict)

Although the methods may be different we know that we have a responsibility to future generations and do not want to mortgage that future by our present desire for the good life. Sacrifice has always been a big part of Lent and the responsibility we have for the earth should be accepted as a sacrifice for those that will be coming after us, a sacrifice that continues.

Maryknoll's "Twelfth General Chapter recognizes the world wide ecological crisis and encourages all the members of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers to reflect on how to integrate into our personal lives, our ministries and our Society, the proper stewardship and care for the earth."

In the Catholic Times a journalist gives her plans for this Lent. It is going to require "joy in uncomfortableness," she writes and lists her resolutions for being a good steward.

1) Not to use her car but public transportation going to and coming from work.

2) Not to use one-time only products, instant and fast food .

3) Use detergents that are environmentally friendly.

4) Be careful in the use of water.

5) Not to buy take-out beverages but drink traditional brews.

6) To use alternate sanitary napkins.

7) To help the people of Haiti and get involved with opposition to the 4 river proposal in Korea.

A simpler life style is the direction that the world has to accept. The only way our words will mean anything is when we walk the talk. There have always been those who have made it a point to live simply but this is now a way of life that should not be only for Lent and the enlightened, but for all. To merely send some of our money to those in need, important as it is, is not the only and the most important way of helping those who are now the greater part of human kind

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bowing for Health of Body, Mind and Spirit

From early age Koreans are taught to bow. Children at their parents prompting are told to greet the guest with a formal body bow a 'saebae'-- bow shown on the left, given during the beginning of the New Year. There are different bows for different occasions, bows given with different meanings, bows by women and by men. The meaning of the bow is determined mostly by the degree of the head moving down to the waist the most formal being the one on the floor, the whole body bow. All the bows of what ever kind show respect for the other and are the traditional Korean greeting similar to our handshake.

My first assignments in Korea I saved my handshaking for foreigners and took to bowing. However, gradually I began to notice that the handshake was more common among Koreans than the bowing, so I also switched to handshaking. Last year because of the flu scare we decided to bow, but at present we are back to the shaking hands again. On many occasions the handshaking accompanies the bow.

Bows can be just a lowering of the head towards the person greeted, you may bow more formally by lowering the body to the waist or the most formal bow where one gets on his knees and gives the body bow. One priest mentioned giving a retreat in which he recommended that those making the retreat give body bows each morning to the 103 Korean Saints. The retreat master was told a year later that the improvement in health of the members of the community was extraordinary.

The priest has written an interesting article telling the reader of the benefits of bowing--the formal bow that you do on your knees with the head on your hands. The craze in Korea at present is for 'well being', yoga, deep breathing, aerobics etc.. For health of both body and mind there is nothing that can compare with bowing, it doesn't cost anything, can be done anywhere anytime in the privacy of your own home was the priests strongly worded advice.

In his own house the priest mentioned there is a draft because he is using the ondol (heated floor). When the draft is too much for him he will get down on the floor and do some bows and then returns to his work when his body feels comfortable. He is able with the bow to overcome the cold, digestion is helped, the nape of the neck becomes soft, the whole body because light. This is not all, the mind is rested and the body regains strength. When you are bowing this way daily and have your head touching the floor you get rid of selfish thoughts, and the poison of pride vanishes.

There are many ideas on how to maintain health of body and mind. This recommendation was another to add to all the others that I have received over the years. This suggestion somewhat different from all the others doesn't cost anything, and it works on the principle that what your body does often influences the spirit. In this case with your head resting on the floor the hubris of life takes on a completely different meaning.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Influence of American Christianity on Korea

As a country the United States was just a few years older than the beginning of Catholicism in Korea. Catholicism started without missionaries, but later received the help from the French Church; some 100 years later, Americans brought Protestantism to Korea. The interest that Korea has today for the States and the reason for the large number of Koreans residing and studying in the States can be attributed partly to Protestantism.

The Schools and hospitals the Protestants built enabled them to have a great influence in Korea of the past hundred years. Catholics were here a hundred years before but because of the persecution did little but hide and try to maintain their identity. Consequently the relationship the Korean Protestants have with American is much closer than the relationship Catholicisms has with America. However, as American missioners in Korea, the news of State-side Catholicism in our papers is of great interest.

Maryknollers are sent to Korea by the American Catholic Church; there is a desire to hear good things of the American Catholic Church, however, clerical sex scandals, problems between "conservative "and "liberals", and Catholics in headlines advocating positions contrary to Catholic teaching do make the Korean papers and media and are depressing.

An article, I read, mentioned that there was a survey made in an American Catholic College, on the people the students reverenced the most; the persons listed were: Lincoln, Schweitzer, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Socrates--the name of Jesus came after these on the list.

The writer possibly understood that all the students were Christian which is far from the case in any Catholic College, but to have Jesus mentioned way down on the list was a shock to the writer and also to me. This apathy towards religion is also part of the Korean reality but not as obvious.

The writer mentioned that even in Scripture study when he asks for a favorite quote, few are able to give an answer. It does make one wonder how successful we are in answering the question that Jesus gave his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" The question is an important one for any Christian, and takes time to give an answer that comes from the heart and not the head. When it is only the head and not the heart the faith life will be weak and lack enthusiasm.

Protestantism has about 18% of the population while the Catholics number about 10%. The knowledge each would have of their faith would probably be similar but the Catholics are required to go to a period of study before being baptized while the Protestants are less demanding of the study and stress the way of life more than the Catholics in the beginning. The part Christianity will play in the Korea of the future will depend on the maturity and depth of spirituality -- the catalyst that will also bring Protestants and Catholics closer together.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What a Rice-Cake Soup Can Do For You

Today all of us living in Korea are one year older. It all comes with eating a bowl of rice-cake soup early in the morning of the Lunar New Year; start of the real New Year for Koreans.

After the Harvest Moon Festival (Chusok) the Lunar New Year would be the biggest celebration of the year. A day for the family to remember their ancestors: performing the rites, that go back centuries, and remembering those that have given them life.

Catholics make an effort to cultivate this custom which has been incorporated into the liturgy of the Mass: a form of inculuration at its best. The Church has given its blessing on these rites after many problems with the idea of "ancestor worship" in the past, and considers the ceremonies a meaningful family custom to be encouraged in every way possible--Koreans of today are not the Koreans of 200 years ago.

Today in all the Masses in Korea we have a special Mass for the intentions of the Christians, for their deceased family members, and ancestors. We will have incensing in the Korean manner after the sermon, and a short office for the dead sung in a very distinctive Korean way. We thank God and all those who have died; pray for them and make resolutions to be truer to the calling we have received from God, and not be a disappointment to those who have died.

The Lunar New Year Day is also a new beginning for the Koreans. They bathe, wear new clothes, have the rites for the ancestors, eat white rice-cakes, wish each other blessings, and bow to the elders (saebae).

The 'saebae' is an important part of the 15 days before the full moon of the new year. The bows are a ceremonial that all know how to perform. The men will place their right hand on the the left hand, kneel and place their head on their hands placed flat on the floor in front of them. The women's formal bow is more complicated, they put their left hand on the right hand , place them horizontally in front of their eyes, and taking a sitting position will then move their bodies into a bow. This is the 'saebae' ; after the bow the children are given a gift of money. It is the start of the new year; if they live this day well it will be an auspicious year.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Examples of Respect For Another's Beliefs

On the commemoration of Buddha's birthday, each year, a Korean bishop goes to the nearby temple to congratulate the monks, and spends some time chatting. At Christmas a monk from one of the temples comes to visit the bishop, and attends the Christmas Mass. This relationship between these two religions, in this one area of Korea, speaks to the hearts of many, but how do we go about developing such a relationship between religions is food for much thought.

Recent Popes have given us an example of what they would like to see among us Catholics: visits to Jewish Synagogues and Muslim Temples are examples hard to miss. We have, very hard to accept by many, the kissing of the Koran by Pope John Paul. What ever one chooses to make of this gesture, it is clear that our formost earthly Catholic teacher was telling us something very important with this act of respect. The teaching of the Church in the present is very clear: "through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture." (Vatican II, Non-Christian Religions #2) The dealing with other Christians is all the more a relationship of brothers and sisters united with Jesus. We do not need to go into the past, but look at what the Church wants us to do today.

A Catholic priest mentioned on one occasion watching a T.V. program in which a preacher was attacking the Catholic Church to a degree that left him speechless. When someone artificially attacks another's beliefs one-sidedly, he is not respecting the holder of those beliefs: attempting to show the supremacy of one's own religion by tearing down the other is of little value. It shows the shallowness of one's own faith life. With the lead given to us by the Popes we Catholics should never be seen belittling another person's sincerely held beliefs.

The priest mentioned the fear some have of accepting pluralism or relativism when dealing respectfully with other religions. When we are truly Christian we should have little difficulty in respecting another's beliefs. Faith is a gift of God; being open to others does not need to diminish our faith life but can increase it. God is the author of all life, other religions have received truths of the natural order and can add to our store of knowledge.

In this area we should be able to speak frankly on what we believe, and in discussion seek explanations of anothers' beliefs, have disagreements, and be critical of what other's hold, and allow them to be critical of our beliefs; always respecting the other. That might sound like double talk, but it's a possibility; a necessity in the world we live.

St. Peter tells us: "Venerate the Lord, that is, Christ, in your hearts. Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, but speak gently and respectfully." (I Peter 3:15) This was good advice then and is good advice now when dealing with others with whom we do not always agree.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What makes a Korean-- Korean?

Does globilization mean the death of Korean identity? Is that the price that Korea is being asked to pay for becoming a member of the world community? Koreans are proud of their culture, history, and language; traditionalists stress this identity, and downplay the importance of peripheral areas of life, but they see a gradual weakening of this identity.

Do Koreans accept their Korean dignity and identity? For some, Korean identity is more important than the number of exports, the GNP, power in sports etc.. Koreans have a particular identity that is given at birth, if that is lost the country is lost: Koreans are returning to a time under the Japanese colonial rule --a vassal country ruled by others.

A person's maturity, his way of seeing life, and values are what forms character and personality, not how much money or how famous the person is. When we talk about the character or personality of a country similiarly, we are talking about what makes a Korean a Korean.

The article that I am using for this blog is taken from the Catholic Times and written by a novelist, so we know his interests.The article makes clear the writer is not happy with the direction Korea is going as a nation. The use of language is the yardstick: love and attachment to the mother tongue determines his 'Koreanness'. France and China are good examples of countries with love for their mother tongue. Love we have for Korea is determined by love we have for the Korean language.

When a Korean misspells an ordinary Korean word there is little concern, but when it is an English word, great embarrassment. Love for our mother tongue, the written and spoken word is missing. Many times the language is butchered; the the mass media does this on a grand scale.

Why is it that we have such a love for foreign words? We change the names of our companies from a Korean name to a foreign one. We name our apartment buildings with foreign names-- does our Korean language bore us?

The writer may be exaggerating to make a point, but there is some truth in his observations. Persons without roots are not sure who they are. A person with a sure identity has the strength to move out and accept what is good, not only because it is considered good but because it is good. All truth is to be accepted but accepting something merely because it is popular is not helpful to oneself or the country in which we live.

Korea, presently, does not see how globalization and Korean Identity can coexist. Korea has over a million foreigners living in the southern part of the Korean Penisular. Multiculturalism is part of the present and the future. There are many of non Korean descent who live and even choose to die here, will they ever be considered "one of us"? How is this going to be done is work for the future, but it can be done without losing Korean history, culture and language.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Has Happened to Abortion in Korea?

In Korea, as mentioned in a previous blog, the infighting on abortion has begun, and it will be a nasty fight. The daily papers report there is much anger in society, because over 90% of the obstetricians are refusing to perform any abortions for fear of being singled out by the pro life gynecologists, and prosecuted by the government.

For the first time in Korean history, doctors are fighting with one another: the pro-life forces against the pro-choice group; both trying to sway public opinion. Koreans do not have the same feeling towards abortion that we have in the States: not a moral issue but a private family matter. Even Catholic doctors see it as a necessary evil; without which they would have to close their clinics. Many of the pro life doctors have experienced running their clinics with one hand performing abortions and delivering babies with the other. "It was considered a norm that an obstetrician/gynecologist doctor perform abortions," are the words of the pro-life leader.

The embarrassment to be called the Abortion Republic and the need to raise the birth rate for replacement is a strong drive for many of the doctors to enter the pro life movement. All agree the number of abortions should decrease. Polls say most of the Koreans are against unregulated abortion; they are illegal except for specific purposes, but no one is concerned and the government does not enforce the law.

Doctors are no longer going to take the chance of going to jail. Even in cases of rape or when minors become pregnant, doctors are refusing to get involved. The daily newspapers are arousing the compassion of the readers with cases that have no access to abortion, confronted with a new social reality. The pro life doctors are forcing discussion on abortion on a government and a society that did not want to see what was going on.

The Catholic Church is not involved with the movement. It is in the hands of doctors who do not have moral or religious reasons for their oppositions, but rather a desire not to kill and want the birth rate increased. The head of the movement said, " My decision regarding pro life is based not on religious belief but the fundamental duty as a medical doctor. "

Performing abortions is lucrative and without it many can't keep their clinics open. Doctors have already left for more lucrative areas of medicine. The pro choice groups are upset at the government handling of the situation. Politicians were indifferent to abortion, but very likely we will have a movement similar to the States where politicians are asked about abortion.

Pro choice people mention we will have illicit abortions performed with danger to life, because of unsanitary conditions; women going over seas for abortions; increase of poverty and higher prices for abortion because of risks. The desire to abort is strong in society, and with discussion now beginning; attempts to change the law will begin. The pro life gynecologist have started a successful movement the religious groups could not. The gynecologist are going to be hard to ignore, since a great many of them were very much involved with abortions before they turned pro life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Seems Well In The Church May Not Be

When everything goes well there should be an alarm bell telling us watch out for what is happening. This was the gist of the article in our recent diocesan bulletin. The Korean Catholic Church has gained the respect of Society, a favored religion when it comes to polls and surveys. Even our Catholic religious leaders get high marks from society. However, the writer sees great problems with this for our future.

Looking over Catholic history, the seeds we plant when times are good make for later problems. With a sense of security we remove our eyes from the Lord ; bask in the ease of life, and see only what we choose to see. We do not see the weak around us; society becomes our teacher and we forget the teachings of Jesus. The status quo ( present situation ) is important, Christians do not like to hear a message that upsets this state of affairs. We want to be comforted in our ways, and those who tell us not all is well are criticized. When things were not so rosy hearing the words of Jesus were comforting, but when we are part of the good times the same talk is no longer life giving but works on the conscience. The clergy are satisfied in getting the Christians to give money and the Christians are satisfied in giving, and all are content. This situation is also affecting the religious orders. The Gospel is no longer primary.

This present situation is seen by many in and outside the Church. We are distancing ourselves from the spirit of poverty and forgetting our love we should have for all, especially the ones most in need of our love. This bothers many and we want to deny it, but our denial does not make the problems disappear. This is our opportunity to do something about the problems and again return to the Gospel and the message of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Praying With Our Bodies

Catholics have always prayed with their bodies; more so in the past than we do in the present. Catholics kneel, genuflect, prostrate, bow , make the sign of the cross, stand , sit, strike our breasts, extend our arms, sing, walk and even scourge ourselves. Talking to God with body, mind and heart: all part of prayer.

Other religions also use the body for prayer; sadly many Catholics see this as alien to the Catholic way. Even Yoga was to help in meditation and not primarily for health reasons.

St. Dominic had nine ways in which he prayed with the body: click here. There are many ways to pray and since God knows what we want to say before we say it: prayer is our way of being open to what God wants to say to us. Using the body we open ourselves to God in more ways than just the heart and mind.

How to pray with the body is one of the items that a religious order has made part of their retreat schedule.

In the quiet of our rooms or in Church, outside of the liturgy, it would be good to see more ways of lifting up our hearts to God. Singing is a way of praying with the body that we know has great value. They who sing pray twice we hear often; the singing adds a great deal to participation in the liturgy.

Koreans love to sing and when it comes to the liturgy even in the smallest mission stations, where we have few at the morning Mass, we have song. It would be strange for a Korean to meet for a party of any kind and not sing. We have "singing rooms" that people pay to spend some time together singing. The liturgy in Korea because of Koreans love for song makes the liturgy a "public celebration" in the true sense of the world.

In years past the Catholic Koreans would take off their shoes before entering the Church. There were no benches and the women would sit on one side and the men on the other. Most of the parishioners would hold their hands clasped together in the front of their chests and hold this position for most of the Mass. This made for a devout atmosphere for the celebration of the Mass.

The position and movements of our bodies do influence thoughts and feelings not only of the individuals but also of the congregation and the celebrant. When our bodies are involved in prayer this will help melt our rigidness, show our dependence on God, and open us in a humbler way to God's holiness.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is Happening to Patriarchy in Korea?

A women's place in a patriarchal society is the home and under the male: the dominance of male over the female in social and cultural systems. Thanks to the legacy of Confucianism, Korea is still considered a patriarchal society. But we do have big changes: Women Generals in the military. In the recent issue of the Catholic papers there is an interview with the fifth woman who was promoted to General and a Catholic:

What is your feelings in being the first Catholic to be promoted to General?

The first General was promoted in 2001 and I am the fifth. I feel inadequate and am concerned on how I can be of help to the military.

What was your motivation in entering the military?

My father was a marine and his principles of education, and the way he saw the country had a great influence on me. I was exposed to nursing in high school and made my choice for the military academy. The nursing school of the military academy is forming capable officers who will service the country and the military. The present ratio of competition is 30 to one.
We plan to expand our international exchange by forming leaders with capabilities that will be recognized internationally and leaders with human qualities.

You have been in military life for 31 years do you have any words of advice for the nursing officers?

The reason for the military is to protect the country and prevent wars. The way we see the country and the military has to be clear: in emergencies the country has to precede our own needs. The work of nursing officers are to see that the soldiers have the greatest capabilities in health of mind and body and to minimize the obstacles in their fighting capabilities to defend the country.

I have had many difficulties but not once have I ever regretted joining the military.

What is your opinion of women's place in the military?

The place of the woman is not as replacement for men, but the need for women's delicateness and faithfulness, meticulous sensitivity and openness in doing their work, enabling synergy to develop. Nowadays women soldiers are the equals of the men in body strength and spirit. Women are promoting the spirit and battle capabilities of the military; the need for women will be greater with technological advances and specialization.

How do you maintain your spiritual life?

I was born into a Catholic family and received baptism as a baby. Much is lacking in my faith life but God forgives and I thank God for the happiness I have found in life.

I especially found a great deal of satisfaction working in the field hospitals taking care of the sick and working where there were no priests or sisters and being called sister and mother. During that time I was able to distribute rice rolled in dried laver and rice cakes to those in the hospital. I was able to do something without bringing any attention to myself and considered it precious time.

These days I am going to a mission station with my two daughters and husband, who is a Navy Colonel . I hope in the future I will be able to return to others some of the glory and blessings I have received in a renewed life of faith.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Life Does Not Stop at 60

The Church is blessed to have many movements that energize the Church and the Christians. Life Ascending International is one of these movements opened to all Christians. The movement was introduced to Korea in 2003, and recently had a general meeting in Seoul publicized by the Catholic papers. This should help the movement grow. L.A.I Korea, is affiliated with the International Head Quarters in France. A movement to deepen awareness of God, create and enjoy lasting friendships and to share wisdom and concern for others-- Spirituality, Friendship and Mission.

The movement began in France with a group of elderly Christians with the support of the Bishop of Paris and French Catholic Action. After the association moved to Rome it spread to every continent. In 1996 it was recognized by the Church as an international association of the faithful of pontifical right.

The movement sees our lives divided into four stages: first, youthful years from the time you are a child to marriage and work, the second from marriage to retirement, the third from retirement to the time we become dependent on others, and the last stage is dependence on others.

The international spiritual director of the movement talked about Spirituality and happiness at the recent general meeting in Seoul. Old Age is a gift of God; how do I use these years that I have been given in a profitable way? He talked about thinking too much of what ails us, and not enough about what we have and can do.

The members are trying to live a life according to the Gospels. It is called the Ascending life because it is life that is growing, ascending. We continue to grow in the third stage. There is no limit to experience and human maturity. It is not a life ascending to heaven, but rather, life growing here and now towards a human and Christian fullness.

St. Paul in 2nd Corinthians puts it very beautifully when he says: "That is why there is no weakening on our part, and instead, though this outer man of ours may be falling into decay, the inner man is renewed day by day. "

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Is True Beauty?

In one of the Chinese classics you have the story of a student, traveling at night, overcome with a great thirst. He picked up a gourd filled with water and drank with great pleasure. The next morning that refreshment turned into nausea, when he saw that the water container was part of a skeleton.

We know that our thoughts and emotions ,when not controlled, give us much pain, but to actualize this in our lives is a big step. To gain composure, peace and joy in life does not depend on exterior things, but what we have done with them in our interior life. A woman professor at the Catholic University makes us face again the problems of cosmetic surgery in our society, and how this craze for manipulated beauty is hurting both us and the country.

The number of deaths, and the after-effects of this surgery brought to our attention in the news, do little to stop the swarm of men and women frequenting cosmetic hospitals. Her article in the Peace Weekly was an honest, refreshing look at a serious problem we have in Korea.

It starts with harmless cosmetics, dying of the hair, removing skin spots and moves on to cosmetic surgery. There is no interest in seeing why we are alienated from ourselves. Will power, no longer part of whom we are, has little to do with our actions. What is important is the flow in society-- what is in fashion.

Our bodies have become commodities and tools; given to others to package in a way that will be attractive. Standardization of beauty and the art of packaging is what we are becoming adept at, searching for what we are not. The price that one pays for this beautification is not seen; not rarely, we have persons becoming addicted to the process.

The professor gives great blame for the situation to the media. It does little to show the dangers of this surgery, no movement to enlighten the public, complicit in the making our bodies instruments and overly absorbed with packaging.

Both women and men should not stop at the exterior but get in touch with the inner person and see the maturity and beauty that is there; try to know the person in depth: accepting the dignity of all, as they are, is the only way we will get a society that is mature and equal.

The article was another one in the series that have to do with the culture of life. It is an area of life that we often restrict to the most important areas: abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. However, they all are in some way intertwined with one another. The life of the spirit is what is going to determine how we act, and what we think ; when the inner life is 'a free for all' we will have the problems that torment many in society.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Russian Orthodox Want a Church in Seoul

In recent months the Russian Embassy has asked for a piece of land to build a Church in Seoul; a request written up in recent Korean newspapers. The relationship of the Russian Government to the Russian Orthodox Church is intimate. There aren't many democratic countries that would ask a foreign government to help build a Church. A ministry official said, if Russia insists, it could be a drawback for Korea-Russia relations, which will mark its 20th anniversary next year.

The Russian Orthodox Church in Korea has a very turbulent history. The first Church was constructed in the central area of Seoul and was named in honor of St. Nicholas. It was built with a gift from the emperor, and destroyed during the Korean War. The Russian government has on a number of occasions asked the Korean Government for land to build a church in the capital city--they have one in north Korea built in Pyongyang in 2006.

The spot that Russia has in mind is the former Russian legation, where Emperor Gojong(1852-1919) took refuge for one year to escape the Japanese who were planning to assassinate him. The place is now designated as one of the nation's Historic Sites.

Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Russia. There's no Russian Orthodox Church currently open in Korea, and Russian residents in Seoul have to go to another part of the city where they use the Greek Orthodox Church for the liturgy.

The initial request was made by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexy II during President Lee Myung-bak's visit to Russia in September of 2008. President Lee is known to have said he'd consider it.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade followed up on the request by asking the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism if they would agree to the proposal - both rejected it."Fundamentally, the request is against the Korean Constitution that states the separation of church and state," said an official at the ministry and added it isn't in line with religious parity.

The Catholic Church of Korea does not have a close relationship with the Russian Orthodox because of their sporadic presence in Korea. However, the climate between Rome and Moscow is probably the closest it has been in centuries. It would be a nice gesture if the Catholic Church could facilitate this acquiring of property in Seoul, but it is an issue with many problems.

The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church met on December 3 with Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux. Welcoming the delegation His Holiness Kirill stressed the importance of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. He recalled that both in Russia and France, Christians had to go through severe hardships caused by revolutionary events and attempts to build the life of society without God. "Today we encounter the challenges of secularism. It is necessary to meet them together, basing ourselves on historical experience," he said.

We do not know when nor where nor even if there is going to be an Orthodox Church built with the help of the Korean Government, but there will be an Orthodox Church some day in Seoul, and the Korean Catholic Church will be welcoming of their presence.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Fight in Korea

Up until recent months abortion as a social issue in Korea was ignored by the general public. It was illegal except for rape, incest, mother's health, hereditary or contagious disease. Today's daily paper reported the incident in which a group of gynecologist have begun criminal proceedings against three obstetricians: a fight between the pro-life and the pro-choice forces in the land of the morning calm.

About 600 young doctors in their 30s and 40s have resolved not to conduct any abortions not based on medical reasons, and to indict any doctors that are performing illegal abortions. These young doctors are said to be only 20% of the total, but since they are young, they do have a following, and time will tell if what they are beginning will be a ripple or a tsunami.

Some of the pro-life doctors consider Korea the abortion capital of the world, and want to change this image. Most of the abortions are performed for social or economic reasons and are illegal. The country did not want to see the gap between law and reality."We doctors, judicial authorities and the Health Ministry all have committed a grave error for a long time. That's why the uncomfortable truth has never been revealed," said Choi Anna the spoke person for the group of pro-life doctors.

Now that the issue is before the people there will be a great deal of infighting. The majority of the gynecologist are against what they consider a radical group of doctors. The money is made with abortions and not with births which are few. Not only the majority of the doctors, but many of the women's groups have made a public statement that the proceedings against gynecologists are against urgency and needs of women. It does not respect the right that a woman has over her body and her freedom-- a movement against a women's human rights.

Abortion in Korea was never an issue people felt deeply about, as in the States. Korean society sympathized with abortion, and no one saw a need to have a pro-abortion movement. The leaders of the pro-life forces in Korea make clear that there movement has nothing to do with religion. They are gynecologists and their work is to bring life into the world.

The efforts to eradicate abortion, by pro-life doctors, are cheered on by the Catholic Church of Korea. The Public debate will now begin in earnest, and in time we will see where the hearts of our Korean people rest. The vocabulary used by the pro-choice groups did not resonate with the Koreans of the past; the pro-choice ideas afloat are not Korean traditional views , but imports from the West, accepted by most of the young Koreans.