Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Example of Love Wthout Pretence.

In the liturgy of Holy Week we had the chance to understand the motivation of a number of characters that appear in the Gospel stories. Some were not examples to imitate. Others like Mary of Bethany did something extraordinary; she was reprimanded by Judas but accepted by our Lord.

What is, and is not, worthy of being imitated? An article in a Catholic newspaper recently addressed this question by describing a small child who wanted more than anything else in the world to be pretty. Whatever someone said was pretty she would imitate. If someone had a pretty hair permanent she would spend the whole day putting her hair up with pencils. If someone said that a short dress was pretty she would cut her dress. A person with makeup that was considered pretty would get her to spend all day using her mother's make up on her face.
Once when she heard that a mother was the most beautiful thing in the world, she ran to her mother and told her that she wanted to be a mother. The mother, smiling, asked her why she wanted to be a mother so early? The child said that a mother was the most beautiful thing in the world, so she wanted to be a mother. The mother, knowing of her daughter's recent habits, answered that she does not have a hair permanent, does not use makeup, and does not wear a short dress. The child answered: "How can you be the most beautiful in the world?" The mother, taking her child in her arms, told her that it was because she loved her so much.

This was the writer's way of introducing his belief that too many of us are like this child, doing what we know others will like and what others like to see. When a child acts in this way we can understand. When grownups do the same, his response was clear, we need to be concerned.

It is a fact that many of us only behave in ways we think others will approve. As a result, we become locked into an unhealthy concern with our exterior selves, the pretence becoming at times so real to us that we mistake the show for the self we really are. When others do not see me as I see myself, how do I react? Do I become anxious and upset? What is beautiful is to be the self we were meant to be, to express this in the way we act and speak, and to love ourselves for being who we are. It is with this attitude that we will be open to loving others, and seeing others as valued as we see ourselves. It is the naked Jesus hanging on the Cross that shows us the way to be.

In Monday's Gospel it was Mary who was the one without pretence, and conscious only of Jesus. It was Judas with the pretence. In our own lives it is not always easy to be truly ourselves, and willing to accept the problems that this may bring into our lives.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Life of Saint Luke Hwang Sok-tu

Robert M. Lilly, a Maryknoll Priest who worked in Korea for many years, discovered the body of St. Hwang Luke in one of the mission stations of the parish in which he was working. "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."

In this Holy Week edition of Magnificat magazine Vol. 12, No.1 the life of the saint is briefly recounted. Knowledge of the Saint getting out to the rest of the world makes Fr. Lilly very happy.

"At the age of twenty, Luke Hwang Sok-tu, of Yongp'ung, Korea, a pagan nobleman's son, set out for Seoul to participate in his country's national scholastic examination. Stopping at an inn along the way, Luke met a Catholic whose words about his faith deeply impressed him. Luke quickly acquired several Catholic books. After becoming a Catholic himself, he persuaded his wife to enter the Church as well. Luke's father was infuriated by his son's conversion. Finding that his words seemed only to provoke him father to blaspheme, Luke took a vow of silence, promising to God that he would not speak again until his father was converted to the Catholic faith. After observing this silence for over two years, he was rewarded with the conversion of his father. In later years, Luke served the missionary priests as a language tutor and catechist and assisted Bishop (Saint) Antoine Daveluy in compiling and editing books for Korean Catholics. On Good Friday, March 30, 1866, Luke was beheaded together with Bishop Daveluy and four others during a major persecution of the country's Catholics."

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Difficult But In Retrospect a Wonderful Experience

A priest from Inchon wrote up his experience on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James of Compostella in Spain. A tradition that goes back to the 10th century, the walking trip usually starts from one of the several towns in France and lasts for a month or more, covering a distance of  about 800 kilometers.

The priest was moved to make the trip by reading a book on the subject and, liking mountain climbing and walking, decided on doing the pilgrimage before getting any older.

He chose to begin his walk within Spain; it was 400 kilometers long and took him 18 days to complete. When he arrived at the starting place of the pilgrimage, he was nervous and uncomfortable, not being able to communicate in either English or Spanish. Before leaving Korea, he was warned about  pickpockets who liked to work among the Koreans. This fear added to his uncomfortableness.

In Korea his every need was filled but here he was all by himself with a whole new experience to contend with. In the places that were set aside for sleeping, there were men and woman together, which was something that he didn't have to deal with in the past, so he went to an inn, where he stayed for the first ten days. However,this made him feel even lonelier. He finally decided,for the last part of the trip, to join the others in the common sleeping quarters and found this much more to his liking. He could hear about the trip and what was ahead. He met many from Europe, the Germans being the largest group; in some years, he learned,there would be as many as 20 to 30 thousand Germans making the pilgrimage.

Toward the end of his stay, he could   drop his concerns for his bodily comfort and safety and found the peace of mind he was looking for. Though there were not many moments of joy during the trip, in retrospect he was able to view the pilgrimage as a wonderful experience and even was thinking of doing it again; next time, he promised himself,he would be better prepared.

St. Paul helped him to see what had been demanded of him. "I do not say this," said Paul, "because I am in want,for whatever the situation I find myself in, I have learned to be self-sufficient. I am experienced in being brought low, yet  I know what it is to have an abundance. I have learned how to cope with every circumstance--how to eat well or go hungry, to be well provided for or do without"(Phil. 4:11-12).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Understanding Horrors of War Together

Bishop Lee, the retired Bishop of Taegu, started a youth group in 2004 which he named with the four Chinese characters (如己愛人) that mean "Love Others Like You Love Yourself." Knowing that the youth are the future, the bishop had decided to work with them for peace in the world, following the example of Prof. Paul Takashi Nagai of Japan (1908-1951) who was a strong advocate of loving others as ourselves, a belief he put into practice during the aftermath of the atomic explosions.

When the atomic bomb exploded in Nagasaki, Dr. Nagai was at the medical college where he worked as a radiologist. He saw the destruction and the deaths of his students and his wife. Working among the rubble, Dr. Nagai began a relief effort, putting to use his knowledge of radiation sickness to help the injured, but his efforts to provide healing were not restricted to medical care. He built a hut on the site where his house had stood and spent the rest of his life there praying, writing, meeting with visitors and working for peace. Many in Japan consider him a saint.

The bishop is sponsoring a contest that will select the best book reviews of one of two books by Dr. Nagai. Those who are selected will get a 4-day trip to Nagasaki to visit with other Japanese youths and spend time visiting the museum and being on piligrimage. One of the books selected was the "Bells of Nagasaki," which is the most popular of his books and gives a vivid picture of the destruction of the city and the relief efforts immediately after the explosion.

The bishop hopes that this will help conscientize the young people to the horrors of war, and enable many to actively take part in on-going efforts to make Dr. Nagai's example of love for others a reality for all.

A by-product of this joint exchange between the youth of Korea and Japan should be a greater understanding of each other, overcoming some of the results of a long history of animosity between the two countries.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Apostasy or Martyrdom, a Difficult Choice?

The Japanese Catholics suffered much for their faith over a century before the persecution of the Catholics in Korea. Although martyrdom is an act most of us will never have to face, what would we do in such circumstances? Is there something in life that is more important than life?

Let us suppose you were told that all you had to do was to step on an icon of Jesus, not even well made, and you were told by your captives that it had nothing to do with your convictions, that it was merely a formality, that you would be doing it just to save your fellow Christians from their cruel torture and suffering. What would you do? Wouldn't Jesus be pleased that you would be doing something out of love to save your fellow Christians from horrible torture and death? Jesus lived and died precisely to show us how much he loved us. Wouldn't he look upon such an act as meritorious, even if those who heard about it would be scandalized?

This is the plot of "Silence," a historical novel written by the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo. It deals with the persecution of the Catholic Church in Japan in the 17th century and a Jesuit priest who was sent to find out what happened to the superior of the Jesuits who had stopped sending letters back home concerning his mission. There had been news that he apostatized when captured and tortured.

A monodrama, adapted from the novel, is being performed in parishes here in Korea during Lent, presenting a heady mix of faith and doubt, of love and despair, which will give us much to think about before the beginning of Holy Week.

There is only one actor who takes the part of the priest who went to Japan to get word about the Jesuit superior and finds himself confronted with the same choice of apostasy or martyrdom as the superior, who chose apostasy. But the choice is not a simple one for the priest to make. In the silence that follows his every prayer for guidance--for himself and for the Christians who are being put to death each day because of his refusal to apostatize- he finally hears the God who chose to share human suffering by his passion and death on the cross. "It is to be trampled on by you that I am here." "Trample!"

The play presents you with many questions and the Koreans who see it will have much to think about from their own history with apostasy and martyrdom. The conclusion that Shusaku Endo
presents to us would be considered heretical by many and meritorious by others. There are many that are faced with similar dilemmas in life. It is impossible to see reality as God would; most of the time we see a partial picture and the one that strikes us strongly in the here and now of history.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Patriot Ahn Seen by Japanese and Koreans

Today, the 26th of March, is the 100th anniversary of the death of Ahn Jung-geun--a patriot to most Koreans, a terrorist to most Japanese, who hanged him for assassinating (Oct. 26, 1909) the first resident-general of Korea, Hirobumi Ito. At the time of the assassination, Ahn was viewed as a terrorist by many Koreans, including his bishop who condemned the shooting. However, Fr. Joseph Wilhelm, who had baptized Ahn, did visit him in prison, said Mass and gave him the last sacraments.

Over the years, there has been a gradual shift in how Ahn is regarded by the vast majority of Korean Catholics, including many Chinese and some Japanese. He is now seen as a hero, a freedom fighter fully justified in killing Ito, who masterminded the push to colonize Korea and the Chinese territory to the north, and as resident-general of the country was responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of dissidents. Killing Ito was, for Ahn, a duty--"It is the duty of a soldier to give his life for his country" (from his calligraphic collection of sayings). He did not consider himself an assassin but a soldier at war with an enemy intent on subjugating his country. What he did was, in his view, what a soldier is required to do--protect his country.

The Church, reversing its original position, now considers Ahn a great patriot for peace, an example of what it means to be a soldier in the army of justice, and close to being a saint. The late Cardinal Kim called the killing "a heroic deed of self-defense." Although the Catholic Church has not made any doctrinal statements on the morality of removing a tyrant by force, St. Thomas and many others have concluded, "He who kills a tyrant (i.e. a usurper) to free his country is praised and rewarded."

He was born in North Korea so now the return of his body will have to bring in China, North Korea and South Korea, and Japan has no desire to bring this to an end that will please all. Japan still does not see the justification for what was done, and allow this chapter of history to be concluded with a happy ending at least for the Koreans.

For those who can read Korean, the website ( will have a great deal of information on Patriot Ahn Jung-geun.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Problems With Korean Ancestral Rites

The ancestral rites, performed a number of times during the year, is a very important cultural event in the life of many Koreans. The Catholic Church looks upon the rites as a beautiful custom and hopes this form of respect and prayer for the dead will continue. However, for many it is not always performed without problems.

At the time of the rites, ancestors are believed to be again present to their relatives, who gather from different parts of the country to remember what the ancestors have bequeathed to them: their last words, their wisdom, the family precepts, their good works--all becoming part of the family reflection.

In the old Korea, a distinction was made between the Ordinary Koreans and the noble classes in the practicing of the rites. Up until the change of the social status system of Korean society, the common people would have the rites only for their parents. After the change all were free to observe the rites going back four generations Considering the efforts required to do this, we can more easily understand the value of filial piety for the Korean.

Because of the many religions that have come into the country, the Confucian rites for the dead have not always gone well. The financial condition of the household and the long hours spent preparing the meals are part of the problem, but the most serious problem occurs when family members have different religious beliefs. Some consider bowing to be idolatry; others will not eat the ceremonial meals. Because of these difficulties, a family that comes together to honor the dead, expecting an atmosphere of peace and harmony, will often find, instead, a family in conflict.
A writer, recently commenting on these difficulties, criticized the behavior of those who see the rites as a form of idolatry. It should be a time of harmony, remembering the dead, and renewing the bound of family, but when anyone in the family group has difficulty in participating, everyone in the family suffers.

The Catholic Church has made the move from opposition to acceptance, and the writer wonders what more can be done so that all can participate in the rites to strengthen the family bonds of love and unity.

It was suggested that scholars of the different religious groups in the country could get together and work out ways to help all to participate in these rites. The Catholic Church could do it, and it would be a blessing if some of the other groups that have difficulties with the custom could work to remedy the problems. Families would then be able to come together and celebrate the ancestral rites in an atmosphere of harmony and peace.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All The Way to Heaven is Heaven

If God is Love why did he make Hell? Below is a letter that a Korean priest received on this subject and included in a newsletter.

"Why is it that parents will die in a fire for their children but no matter how bad the child is parents would never have them burn in a fire? Why then would God send his children to a hell of fire? Furthermore, if a person does sin can that be considered a one person's problem, isn't that a problem with God, who made us? With a problem child, you usually have problem parents. Since God is all powerful isn't that a problem in God? How could He who gave his life for us send us to hell? If someone says to me do you know how much I love you then why don't you love me; if you don't love me, I will throw you into hell's fire. What are we to make of that? Will one feel sorry or rather think that is crazy? If God loves us how could he send us to hell. I can't accept that kind of God. "

This is a problem for many people and brings fear into their lives. The writer explains that God is not the creator of evil nor did make hell. Hell is the choice of the person.

When we do something wrong we are ashamed or have a guilty conscience. This guilt prompts us to run away from God. In this whirlpool of confusion we still have to decide what to do. When we finally acknowledge our guilt, there are three possible responses to God: admitting our shame and turning toward God, living with the guilt and the despair, or deciding that life is not worth living. .

God will let us know what our faults are and when we have done wrong. A person of faith when presented with this knowledge gives thanks and in shame goes to God. If we live our faith life in this way, there is no way that we will inflict the pain of hell on ourselves.

This does not speak very clearly to me and this whole question is one that is not easy to understand, but it is the revelation that the Church has received and will continue to try to understand up until the Second Coming. There are a few things that are clear. God doesn't send anybody to hell. It is the choice of the individual; God, having made us free, has to respect that. That is far from a satisfactory answer but for Christians, when we become members of the body of Christ and do nothing to separate ourselves. we are already living the blessed life of heaven.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Visit With The Korean 'Han'

One of the Japanese Corporations that do business in Korea is the athletic equipment company ASICS, named for the five letter acronym of the Latin words no one seems to know: Anima Sana in Corpore Sano--a sound mind in a sound body. Few will deny today that the mind can have profound effects on the body and that the body can affect the mind.The two have been found to be so interconnected in neurobiological studies that the words "mind" and "body" are often joined and discussed together in the expression "the mind-body connection."

One of the priests in the diocese frequently asks me about my health: am I eating well, sleeping well, and having good bowel movements. This is his criterion for bodily health.
However, we must not forget the role of the mind in achieving and maintaining health.

Recently I read that to have a healthy mind three things are necessary. They are expressed by the same Korean words--with different meanings--used to describe the health of the body: expressing feelings honestly, stopping self-tormenting criticisms and learning to relax, and dealing with everyone without discrimination.
The article goes on to explain why this approach is necessary; without it we can feel regret and sorrow when our desires are not satisfied--a state of mind that Koreans call "han." Whenever desires are not satisfied, it is believed that there is a build up of han, which results in a tense and anxious condition, and confused feelings that sometimes cause us to do what we know we should not do. With deep-seated han the heart is said to become heavy as if one has been sentenced to death on trumped up charges.

This han is considered something uniquely Korean and the "soul of Korean literature," and yet it's a complex feeling difficult to describe precisely--at least 22 definitions have been attempted. Park Kyong-ni, one of Korea's most respected contemporary writers, describes it as being a feeling "both of sadness and hope at the same time," as if living at "the core of life," with its many difficulties and dualities. Sadness comes, she says, when we realize and accept that difficulties are an unavoidable part of life. Hope comes from the will to overcome the difficulties, no matter how impossible this may seem.

Christians deal with the han by getting closer to our Lord by living the Paschal mystery. We die daily to be born again. The sorrows and failures we experience are a birth to even something better following the example of our Lord.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Putting Insult On the Menu

Eating a great many things that are not digestible is very Korean. They can eat insults, age, fright and a long list of uneatables. One priest spent some time in a newsletter telling us about what eating of insults should mean to us as Christians.

He tells us that we are all going to have our share of eating insults, abuse or shame. We should prepare ourselves for this possibility. Our Lord has made this clear in his teaching and by the example of his life. To avoid eating abuse means that you avoid doing anything.

The writer uses the passage from the Scripture where a friend comes at night asking for bread and doesn't take no for an answer. He accepts the possibility that the owner of the house used some unpleasant words during the give and take and finally did get up to give him the bread he asked for. (Luke 11:5-8).

In every society, a person that is going about his work will eat insult. If we are going to achieve anything then we should be prepared to eat insults. In Korea to eat insult means you will live a long time. Excepting the things that are done in hurting others or the society in which we live, eating insults tell us that when we don't hide what is in us, and we honestly say what we feel this is very good for our health. When we don't repress what is in us, we show a more relax exterior, even if we are scared and eat abuse we will have peace and we will be building up energy.

A person that is trying to avoid eating abuse is going to have to hide a great deal from others and is going to be conscious of what others are thinking and fear. According to the writer we may be praised for being a kind man but will not be doing many important things, and be open to many health problems.

He finishes his articles by telling us it is important not to eat abuse, but if we spend all our time trying to avoid the possibilities, we will not be living in the truly Christian way. For Jesus who is our example did not avoid eating abuse and that is the reason he died on the Cross.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Korea's Reputation for Hospitality

A Parish Foreign Missioner asked a Seoul priest if it would be possible to arrange bed and meals for a group of 106 French Catholics on their way home from the World Youth Day in Australia. They wanted to spend some time in Korea before returning to France. Thinking that it would be a good experience both for the youngsters from France and for the Catholics in his parish, the priest agreed to make the arrangements. He talked it over with the parish council and a committee was set up to take care of the details for the 9 day stay in the parish.

The priest reflected on the various ways his parishioners would benefit from the encounter with these youngsters from a different culture and speaking a different language. He hoped that it would, above all, help to foster a Catholic mentality--an experiential sense of what it means to say we are all one in Christ. Secondly, because he thought that Korea was overly influenced by American values, being with those from a different culture seemed to him to be a good way to further a better understanding of the cultural differences that separate us. Thirdly, they would learn that it was possible to communicate with others without language. And even if some of these expectations did not materialize, we would still have the opportunity, the priest thought, to show that Korea is not "the land of hospitality" in name only. We will have a chance to practice both our Korean and our Gospel values.

That was the plan the priest had in mind. But keeping such a large group of foreigners content for nine days was not going to be easy for his parishioners. And the preparation was not without difficulties. As was to be expected, there was some grumbling, but after three months of preparation everything was in place to welcome the visitors.

And everything did work according to plan. The women in the parish prepared the meals each evening for the visitors; other meals were served in the homes of the parishioners. Youngsters from the parish were assigned to different classrooms and given the task of acquainting their guest with Korean culture: playing games, making rice cakes, painting on Chinese writing paper, writing their names in Korean script. A space in the parish basement was set aside and furnished as a cafe where they could talk, sing and dance.

All in all, the priest was very proud of the parish youth and the parishioners. They learned a great deal and their guests left Korea with an appreciation of another culture and its people that will last for a life time.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rejoice Always Even During Lent

Last Sunday the liturgy reminded us that, even in Lent, we should find a reason to rejoice: it was Laetare Sunday. Life is a gift and no matter the difficulties and the reasons not to rejoice, there are always good reasons to give thanks and rejoice.

In a meditation on Lent which I recently read, the writer mentioned a young man who was working on his doctorate in philosophy and already had job offers to teach. One day, complaining of a severe headache, he went to the doctors and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After the operation, he was not able to read. For three year he lived with the thought that all he had hoped for in life was now not possible. With his dreams turning to ashes, he fell into a deep depression. .

During the period of convalescence, he had contact with others in the same situation. Relating with those who had similar dreams that were smashed but who started dreaming
again of better times enabled him to snap out of his depression.

He found peace in the thought that he was living with those who felt as he did,
alienated, and this gave him new hope. Unfortunately, there are many who have lost everything: their health, their work, their material goods, their honor. Finding it hard to continue, some give up and accept a life without hope; some others decide such a life is not worth living and commit suicide. Fortunately, there are some who, facing the same difficulties, are able to give hope to others. .

Life can be difficult and far from pleasant for many, and Lent is a good time to reflect on this reality. There are many living today who have little to live for; we keep them in our prayers. It's helpful to remember that Lent is also a good time to gain the inner strength to face the problems that may come into our lives.

The key for observing a good Lent is to remember the paschal mystery. We die to one thing to be born to something else and to even a greater good and joy. That is what Lent and Easter should mean to us.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Beautiful Ending Of a Life Well Lived

A well known Korean died on March 11th in Seoul at the age of 78 after a long battle with lung cancer. He was a best-selling author of 30 books and a Buddhist Monk who had won the respect and love of Koreans from all sectors of society. His best known book, Non-possession, over 3 million copies sold, was written for those who were looking for a better material life--a life he spent a lifetime stepping away from. In this book, he urged others to take another look at living a more non-materiialistic lifestyle, a life guided by non-attachment to things of this world. "Poverty," he wrote, "made by choice is not poverty at all."

His life was one of non possessing. His only possessions were clothes, eyeglasses, and a tea-pot. Even in death, he wanted a funeral as simple as possible--no casket or shroud. And, although his books were best sellers, he requested that there should be no more printings made of his books. He had left nothing behind, and he wanted his words to disappear as well.

He was friends with many Catholics, including a close relationship with the late Cardinal Kim and poet Sister Lee (Claudia) Hae-in. In an interview appearing in The Chosun Ilbo, Sister Lee Hae-in mentions a number of cherished moments with Beong Jeong. When the Sister used a Buddhist word, he would respond with a Catholic word. Cardinal Kim and Ven. Jeong were able to keep their religious beliefs and convictions without having that interfere with the respect they showed towards the beliefs of others. Sister would like to see that way of seeing others imitated by society.

She mentions how Beong Jeong's writing style was able to reveal his character so clearly and simply--qualities of writing that were very much the qualities of the man himself. His style was who he was. He had a gift of going deeply into what he was writing about, a gift of insight that attracted a devoted following of readers.
She recalled a time when he came to see her in the convent in Pusan, and they went out to the ocean to walk along the beach. (She regrets not having a picture of that meeting.) Beong Jeong told her he spent most of his time living in the mountains and that he was happy to see the ocean. He was used to eating only rice instead of the broth that was now beside him; he said it was good. .

He was, by any standard, a great man with much to teach a society that feels material progress is of primary importance. In The Beauiful Ending, he wrote "A beautiful ending always requires the preparation to leave. It resembles a pilgrim or a traveler not attached to anything. It is about using the gifts of the universe gratefully and preparing to leave everything behind.''

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Disappearance of a Part of Old Korea

In my first assignment as assistant there were two villages of potters in the parish. As was true in some other Korean parishes I worked in, most of the potters were Catholics. Many of them shared a history that went back to the persecution when many of them took to the mountains and made a living making and selling clay pots. With the advent of plastics and stainless steel containers these villages disappeared.

Reading about a mission station of potters brought to mind not only my own experience with the potters, but the transportation difficulties that permitted a priest to visit some of these mission stations only twice a year. He would stay in the station for a few days, meet all the Catholics and say Mass and hear confessions, and if there were any catechumens they were prepared for baptism. It was a big day, a feast day for the mission station. Even those who were working in the cities would make time to come back for the liturgy and for the exam that would be necessary before receiving the sacraments. This system, started by the Paris Foreign Missionaries, allowed the priest time to talk individually to all the Catholics in the parish. Waiting for a turn to talk with the priest, they also had time to talk and renew acquaintances with friends. This "big day" that many looked forward to has now disappeared from the life of our Catholics.

There have also been many changes in the way of running a parish. Parishes are much bigger and the daily routines of many Christians have changed--they are busier and have more distractions to deal with. As a result, a change had to be made in the way of doing pastoral work. In my early days of working in Korea, simply going to Church was a treat for many. There was no radio, television or newspapers in the mission stations so meeting other Catholics at Mass served not only to renew their spirit but as a means of exchanging news. .

Looking back on those early days, I am again surprised by the resourcefulness of many in living through such difficult times. They had none of the conveniences of the present, and yet they were joyful and had enough toughness to persevere. They would walk for miles at night to attend a church function and would wait for hours for a bus that was late without any annoyance. At night, you could hear them ironing their clothes, using wooden beaters, after they had spent hours down at the river washing the clothes. It was for many a busy and a joyful life.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leadership With or Without Servantship?

One of the upside-down things we see developing in Korean society is servant leadership. This type of leadership is increasingly being used by sectors of society, and without any help from the Church. Banks and industry are interested, and many books are published explaining how one can become a servant leader. Bloggers often refer to the term and even the president of Korea has told us he wants to be a servant leader.

It is ironic and very sad to see that the Catholic Church has not assumed a role in this type of leadership. The life of our Lord provides us with a good example. Seeing the disciples fighting among themselves, he called them together and said: "You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest, and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all" (Matt. 20:25). It is strong language and even stronger was Jesus' own example of washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.

The Pope is considered to be the servant of the servants of God. We have talked this way about leadership in the Church for over a thousand years, but many do not see this in practice. During those early years, the Church was overly influenced by the secular custom of governing from the top down. Since Vatican II, the emphasis has been placed on sharing authority whenever possible. We have the circle instead of the pyramid. Even the "ministerial priesthood is in the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians." (CCC.#1547)

Strangely much of the talk about servant leadership is directed to the business world, with its emphasis on increasing production and profit. These motives should not be our reasons for using servant leadership; it is not results that are important but rather growth as Christians and relationships. The words and example of our Lord should guide what we take from the many current guidelines being offered today.

We should encourage more talk about what it means to be a good leader within the Church so all can get a better understanding of what is meant by the term. Besides being concerned with the welfare of everyone in the group, the leader needs to be co-responsible and in partnership, empowering, helping all to grow in every way possible, building community and leading us closer to Jesus. However, when our thoughts, words and deeds are motivated by unselfish love, all forms of leadership would be acceptable.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ecology or Economy?

Both of our Catholic newspapers this week carried the story of 1,104 priests and 5 bishops who signed a statement in opposition to the government's 4-River Project, and agreed to continue the protest until the project is stopped. Opposition is gathering momentum and includes most of the religious groups in the country. Catholics promised to have Masses and sit-in protests at construction sites and to join the national campaign against the project and support, in the June nationwide local elections, political candidates who are against the project.

The government's response is to stress the benefits of the project: more water during times of drought, no flood damage or pollution, better water quality, more attractive sites and towns along the rivers, bicycle paths, river travel, more parks and places of amusement and entertainment. During and after construction many jobs will be created and when the project is completed the proposed changes are expected to bolster tourism and provide a needed stimulus to the economy.

An impressive list of benefits, but the anti-project supporters, environmentalists for the most part, have a rebuttal to every one of these benefits as seen by the government. They see the loss of wetlands and harm to wildlife. Farmers will lose land, the sledging of the water bed and construction of dams will add to the present pollution and, to make matters even worse, it will cost a fortune.

The president had overcome similar opposition several years ago. As mayor of Seoul, in 2005, he silenced critics when he cleaned up a long-forgotten sewage-filled stream in Seoul and let it run again through the center of the city. Now a popular sight-seeing destination for many, it is acknowledged by all as a very successful project.

The attempt of the government to convince the people of the need for the project has been a failure. Most of the citizens are opposed, and you have the ecologists and the specialists opposed; those who have their eyes on the economy and the construction companies see this as a great bonanza. The project has started and the elections will be coming up in June and no doubt the 4 river project will be brought into the picture. Again we have the fight between development readily seen, and aspects of life that are less open to scrutiny. In preparations for the elections, the 4-River Project will again have its pros and cons debated. If the government goes ahead with the project the verdict will come in the future.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The King and the Sage

We hear stories about Kings meeting with sages and being transformed by the encounter, often with few words being spoken. A newsletter carried a similar story going back 2500 years to China. It was about a king who thought he had everything he could want in life, and a severely crippled and physically repulsive man who had none of the things most of us consider important in life: health, physical beauty, and wealth. What he did have was wisdom, compassion, and virtue that all could see. When the king heard that such a man was living in his realm, he decided to see for himself if what he had heard was true.

After the meeting, the king saw a different world from the one he had seen before. "Strange to say," he said, "but the things I saw before, I no longer see, and the things I didn't see before, I now see. The sage had opened the king's inner eye, a quality of seeing that is often compared to seeing with the eye of the heart. This insight is captured in the well-known saying," It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye."

The newsletter account goes on to tell of the miracles of Jesus curing the blind. Though Jesus restored sight to those who were physically blind, he was much more than a healer of the physical. He was and is also a healer of our inner blindness.

We are fortunate in not seeing all there is to see in the world; it would be more than we could bear. By growing in wisdom and compassion, however; we can look forward to the time when we will see more than we see now and what we thought we saw in the past may not be important. In the Beatitudes we are told: "Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thinking About Church in a New Way

There has been a great deal of discussion recently in our Korean seminaries on the topic of spirituality. The rectors are concerned to make the future priest a more integral person not only intellectually but also more human and spiritual. Can we know much more than we know now about living a spiritual life that fully integrates the whole of who we are? The seminary professors are intent on finding answers to this question that will be immediately practical not only for the clergy and religious but for all in the mystical body. We all should be striving for a personal wholeness the Church describes as holiness.

It is in community that the whole person comes to feel what it's like to be a part of a great work. By working together, we have access to special nourishment that will help us to work with joy and a sense of mission. Pope Benedict indicated that "lay people are not merely the clergy's collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church's ministry." When this is not understood, we have the beat of the drum but no one walking the beat.

Since we are all part of the mystical body the Church wants us all to feel we belong to that same Body. That we are members of this Body is a truth of faith but many who feel they are the less noble parts of the body do not have this feeling of belonging and consequently, lack the passion and joy for the work. When this feeling of belonging is experienced, and this gift is willingly and gratefully accepted, there is a change in attitude: persons act from conviction, and experience being partners in the work of discipleship.

This moment of real change will come when we begin living our belief that we are all one in Christ, all called to holiness, all offering the Mass together. Only when we gather together and work for the kingdom in a spirit of partnership will we experience what St. Peter said, using the words of the prophet Joel: "the young will see visions and the old will dream dreams."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Changing Old Habits

The older we are the harder it is to change and the more difficult it is to tap into the great potential within us. The situation is often compared to the proverbial pauper who lives and dies as a pauper, never realizing he is carrying in his pocket a priceless jewel. While the precise nature of this "jewel" has been debated, most explanations would include the ability and willingness to change. "To live is to change," said Cardinal Newman, "and to be perfect is to have changed often."

Avoiding change, because of our habits, is all too often the preferred behavior for most, even when circumstances clearly indicate something different needs to be done. "Sometimes," in the words of one popular saying, "you must do the thing you think you cannot do." Most of us would agree, but when habits are life-long, we easily find reasons to justify our habitual ways of thinking and doing--the change is too unfamiliar or threatening, too uninteresting, a waste of time or money, or both; I'm not capable; I'd rather play it safe.

Having convinced ourselves that our habitual ways are right, at least for us, we spend a great deal of time living passively: watching TV, listening to music, or whatever else does not require our doing anything differently. By sticking with this robotic lifestyle, we fail to see the many opportunities that would uncover our potential in doing something different, doing more, doing better. The learning experiences that then would become available would help us grow into that potential that lies buried within us. An especially important learning experience can be found in cooperative doing; working with others in any joint venture builds community, and everyone is strengthened in the process.

Our mission station community recently decided, with some hesitation, to take on the responsibility of remodeling the community bathroom ourselves; a contractor would not be hired. Today twelve men came to work on the project. The women were also involved, both in the work and in the kitchen. Not only are we remodeling a bathroom together, but we are coming together as a community of partners, and learning something about ourselves and each other that we did not know before. We should be a better community for this shared doing. When the project is completed, we can take satisfaction in having done something difficult but worthwhile. Not only was money saved, but the cooperative effort brought to our awareness some of the unexpected potential within each of us that normally lies hidden from view.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Not So Easy Life

His job was to clean the large parking area in front of the rest stop. Feeling like a chipmunk circling around in a cage, he would move from one end of the area to another, sweeping with his broom. When that was done, he would clean the men's lavatory, and then back again to the parking area--a routine that lasted from 8 in the morning until 8 in the evening. He was not used to physical labor. With his back hurting and quickly feeling exhausted by the routine, he often wondered, as he rested and munched on his walnut cookies for energy, whether he could go through with the plan.

He was a priest who had decided "to go among his people" and live as the poorest among them had to live. Because he had entered the seminary right out of middle school and had no work experience, he felt he might have missed an important learning experience--an experience that would help him in his ministry, especially with those having work-related problems. So, during his sabbatical leave, he applied for the parking lot job. After one day on the job, he wanted to quit and realized that what he was feeling must be what many others feel every day of their lives, when working at something they dislike. He did stay for the one month he had agreed to, but he also knew, unlike those who have to stay on a job to feed their families, that his days as a sweeper were coming to an end.

After being called "Father" for 27 years, he was getting used to hearing "Uncle," a word that refers to a middle-aged man in Korea. What he found difficult to accept was not being given the respect every person is due simply because of our shared humanity. He learned, in a deeply personal and painful way, how others on the low-end of the economic ladder are often treated. He remembers seeing a woman standing in front of a coffee machine, complaining that the coffee came out so thick she couldn't drink it. He bought her another cup. The woman thanked him, but the words that still echo in mind were the words telling him he could have the coffee she couldn't drink.

Though the priest did not want anyone to know of his unusual work, the story was reported by the press, and was sent to me with the thought that the story would help me and others working in ministry to deepen our understanding of the difficulties many laypersons face in raising a family and living a Christian life.

Thinking back over his experiences, the ex-sweeper and now again functioning Catholic Priest wonders how long his monthly wage as a sweeper of slightly more than a thousand dollars would sustain a man and his family. He also thinks of the T-shirt costing a hundred dollars he once was given. He feels differently about it now. He also feels differently about the sermons he gives, about those who come to hear them, about those who don't throw cigarette butts on the ground and don't litter public places. The word love isn't so abstract to him anymore.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

To Market Or Not To Market The Faith

Living in a capitalistic system, we should not be surprised that we fall into temptations that commercialize the Church, a writer argues in this month's Kyeong Hyang Catholic Magazine. A need to build churches, to evangelize, and to help the poor requires money, and the more skillfully we manipulate the economic system the more money will be available for spreading our message. However, there are unfortunate consequences, the writer makes clear. The logic of faith and the logic of commerce, although very different, tend to come together in the lives of many Christians, with the commercial interests becoming more important.

A young theologian, William Cavanaugh, sees this dilemma in a positive light. Production and selling when done cooperatively can be a way of following Gospel thinking. One example can be cited to illustrate how this cooperation has worked to resolve a problem here in Korea. Those looking for more and cheaper organic foods have been put in touch with organic farmers. This direct contact has led to agreements between producer and consumer avoiding the big companies and problems with the market.

The need to build churches, to develop places of prayer, to evangelize, to help the poor requires money and to achieve our goal, we go to the principles of the market.
However, the writer insists that this does have an effect on the way we live as Christians. We try to increase our numbers by using the consumer principles of the capitalistic system. We have a product that is better than the competition, and we try to sell it to the consumer. Brand names are very important in the commercial world, and we have a brand that we want to sell on the open market. Catholics have two stars, Mother Theresa and Cardinal Stephen Kim, and we try to use them in moving the consumers to take notice. A problem that inevitably arises with this way of marketing is that we are working with externals and not with what is important. The capitalistic system tends to turn everything into a sales figure and everyone into a share of the market statistic. Instead of working on the message we become absorbed on how to sell what we have to give.

Our world has been described using many metaphors. One of the most accurate and useful comes from Cavanaugh. We live, he says, "at the intersection of two stories about the world: the Eucharist and the market." The stories mostly clash though the plot lines are similar--desire for "the good." Whether a temporal or a lasting good becomes the focus of our lives will depend on the choices we make each day. Choices that will be guided by either an ever-changing market economy or the unchanging truth of the Eucharist.

The Capitalistic system swallows everything up within itself. Even though it is very successful in doing what it is meant to do it is not the message that we have been given. To be salt and light are we not required to live in another way?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Separating Facts From Opinion

The tendency for the media to mix opinion with fact, to editorialize while reporting the news, is commonplace and was the topic discussed recently in the Catholic Kyeong Hyang Magazine. A member of the Korean Bishops Advisory Committee and a former editor on a daily newspaper spoke out about the importance of reporting any event--earthquake, political infighting, anti-government rally--by a strict adherence to the facts, and if there is commentary it should be presented in editorials and opinion columns. Facts should remain facts as far as they can be known.

Newspaper regulations do provide guidelines on handling this sometimes murky area separating fact and opinion but failure to comply results in nothing more serious than warnings, so there is little compliance. It's in this grey area of what is known that easily results in distorted news reporting. The news will either be slanted, in one way or another, depending on whether the news is seen as favorable or unfavorable to the media's editorial policy.

The signs of this subjective approach in the guise of factual reporting are readily seen: the placing of news, the space given, the words describing the event, and what persons are interviewed and quoted. Often, a news item on a product turns into an opinion piece, pushing the product or company with exaggeration and distortions. A more serious abuse, and probably more pervasive, is the use of supposedly factual news items to push the editorial policy of the paper. We then have not only the problem of morality but a loss of trust in all media. Instead of helping to build a strong community to better understand itself and its place in the world, media divides and breeds discord.

According to the writer of the Kyeong Hyang article, our media are primarily interested in getting its readers to accept their particular position on any issue. They are interested in facts only when they coincide with their opinions. In effect, they are saying that the two are one and that this approach will lead to a better society for all. However, the writer makes clear that only when we maintain the distinction between fact and opinion can we have a vibrant and strong society that will ultimately make the right decisions based on facts honestly reported.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Compassion In Action

Unlike most Korean dramatic portrayals of Alzheimer victims, which emphasize erratic and often bizarre behavior, a recently concluded soap opera did the opposite. The woman with the condition, played by a well-known actress and acting teacher, was portrayed sympathetically, more like a child needing love and support than as an aging and bothersome adult. When she died at the end of the drama, there was an unexpected outpouring of sadness from many viewers. It's not surprising that the actress selected to play the lead role had a doctorate in the psychology of acting.

After returning from the U.S. with her degree, she began to teach, emphasizing the importance of knowing the lives of the persons actors would have to portray. For her, just as important was to get to know and to help many who were in need of help: those with mental difficulties, unmarried mothers, poor children needing scholarships to continue their education, and in recent years becoming the spokesperson for keeping homeless children from being sent overseas for adoption, encouraging their adoption here in Korea. She was written up recently in the Catholic Peace Weekly as one with great compassion. Difficulties such as these are such that if resisted, persist; if befriended, end--words that well sum up a life dedicated to helping those in need.

In our Catholic tradition, there is a phrase often used to express compassion in action: "Contemplata aliis Tradere." (To hand over to others what we have contemplated.) When we live deeply with awareness, there is much that we can hand over to others as she has done, and continues to do. Passing along what we've learned is certainly important, but she reminds us of what is more important: better than sharing is doing it jointly with those you try to help.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Leaders Does the Church Need?

A priest from the neighboring diocese, in a newsletter, had some sad words about the partnership movement in the Catholic Church of Korea. In recent years we often hear: team ministry, partnership, common ministry, cooperative ministry, collaboration -- working together as sisters and brothers in the work of the Church, but not infrequently it means only sharing responsibility with other priests. The priest mentions a religious sister who said at the start of the collaborative ministry in her parish, the laypeople of the parish became 'cold rice'-- not needed. The writer of the article sees problems with the understanding of collaboration, team ministry, in the Korean Church.

Talking about collaborative efforts is a healthy step, but it should not only stop with the talk. Not understanding what is expected of a parish priest in partnership with the laypeople is a serious obstacle in moving ahead. If the priest sees the work as his exclusive responsibility he will not be planning to share this responsibility with the laypeople. If the pastor because of work , worries, and the loneliness of the work requires the help of other priests and considers the laypeople only as his object of concern, the whole movement is in for a great deal of trouble. The parish is not only his responsibility but the responsibility of the whole parish, and working only with other priests can distance himself from the laypeople.

Change has to be from the priests doing all the worrying to sharing the worry with the laypeople. If the idea of team ministry only includes other priests we are not getting any closer to where the whole community becomes responsible for the work.

What does the priest do if you take away what he thinks he was ordained to do? For many this may be a problem, but only if the idea of leadership is always being out in front. That type of leadership is at times needed, there is also the type of leadership which walks hand and hand with those led, and you have those who are leaders who lead from the rear. These leaders who lead from the rear are helping to form leaders and in this present world they may be the ones we need.

These are some of the problems we have working together in ministry. We have different meanings for what collaborative ministry entails. In Korea at present, there is a great deal of talk about priests working together, but if it just stops there we are no closer to true team ministry which should include all the disciples. That is the mission we all have been given at baptism. Working together with fellow priests is important; it should not stop there, however, but should include all the baptized in a common mission. The world needs leaders who can inspire and energize a great flock of fellow workers. The priest in partnership with his fellow disciples is one who can do that, and since the Catholic Church is the largest and oldest organization on the face of the earth once the whole community that is Church works together as one, it will be light and salt to the world.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

For One Who Believes All is Possible

Today's Diocesan Sunday Bulletin has a short article by one of the Incheon priests who has a daily blog and wants us to know that with the help of God all is possible. He is a parish priest with a busy parish, but because of the blog his own name is not as well known as the blog's name 'Bbadaking'. ( Every morning at 5:00 am for the last 10 years he has a meditation: "Starting the morning with Father Bbadaking."

He started the blog on June 14, 2001. When he started he wondered how long he would be able to continue. He had no gift for writing and was not one with much patience. He had a problem getting his sermons ready every week and here he was working on a daily meditation. He considered it a rash decision on his part.

However, it is now 10 years later and he is still with it. He wonders if he decided not to continue would he be the person he is today?

Ten years ago he could not image the person he has become. A person who could not write or speak is now someone quite different. He has written 6 books, and finds himself invited here and there to give talks. He feels a person with faith has to avoid using the word --I can't. There is nothing that our Lord can not do. The problem is with us. Because we think we can not do it, we shut our hearts to what the Lord wants to give us.

It can be done. He concludes the article by telling us since we believe in God he will help us do what we deem is the right thing to do. We are working for one who can do anything, and we should not forget this reality.

There is another priest Fr. Oh Kyeong-hwan who has retired, but is still giving lectures and writing. We gave some information on Fr. Oh in one of the earlier blogs (click). You can find the information to his blog by going to the previous blog. His blog deals with evolution and existence of God. Both of these blogs are in Korean; I am sure there are other personal blogs in the diocese dealing with Catholicism and faith. The Incheon Diocese is active on this important stage in cyberspace.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Street Urchin to President of Company

Too many have to start off life with two strikes against them. The Chosun Ilbo reported on a young man in yesterday's paper that never was even registered at birth and is now a president of his company at the age of 23. The road was far from easy.

Choi Jong-ho's father died when he was 7 years old . The family lived in the slums around Seoul train station. His mother escaping from the money lenders left her son and older daughter to fend for themselves. Choi's older sister worked in Seoul. When the other children his age where going to school he was in the city markets doing odd jobs and sleeping in an amusement hall.

From 7 to the age of 11 he worked on a farm of relatives. He was in contact, by telephone, with his sister in Seoul. This contact was a great consolation until she was killed by a hit and run driver, a big shock to him in his young life.

He ran away from the home of his relatives taking the few pennies they gave him, and bought a ticket to Seoul. He found his mother who was living with his step father, a blind peddler, who sold fingernail cutters in Seoul station. The mother left the home again a year and half later.

Choi was picked up by the police for thievery and was sent to a home run by the Sisters of St. Paul who had in their care 9 children who had no place to go. This was in the winter of 2000.

Today he is the president of a company selling health products which expanded into selling salt that is baked. Last year he had sales over 300 thousand dollars.

The Sisters retelling his story have a lot to cry about. While at the Center any time he was provoked, he would run away. On his return, the Sister in charge would give him different responsibilities and was very effusive with her praise. The young man mentioned later this praise enabled him to change. He cried a great deal in front of Sister, and this crying made him less afraid of the future. In 2006 he passed the government exam that enabled him to enter the International School of Social Welfare. Sister was overcome with excitement.

After 18 years of age you no longer get funds from the government, so the Sisters were faced with how to help these young men who were having trouble getting and keeping a job. Often they would get into trouble and end up on the street again; this situation prompted her to start the company that is run by President Choi. From the money that they earned they founded the 'St. Paul Nawoori company', and found a place to house the 11 boys between the ages of 20 to 36.

They have received great praise for the product of baked salt that they make, approved for the good mineral content by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). They travel to the different churches on Sunday selling their product, and the income they receive goes into the bank for these young men.

Mr. Choi found his mother and occasionally was in contact. She was found in a small street where she collapsed with terminal cancer, and taken to a hospital. The operators of the ambulance notified the son and on the way to the hospital the mother said to her son she was sorry for what happened in his life because of her. The mother died alone a week later. Her body was still warm when Mr. Choi and the Sister arrived; the Sister told Mr. Choi if you have any words for your mother say them now, she will hear you. Mr. Choi with trembling lips said: "Mother, leave everything behind and go to heaven, and when you meet my older sister without fail tell her that you are sorry."

The desire of Mr. Choi is to find work for all his brothers now living together. He wants a place for a brother to work fixing cars, another to begin a bakery and all have something that will allow them to live an ordinary life. That is his dream.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Hope That Enthusiasm Will Be Contagious

Enthusiasm is a great gift; too little and you have apathy, too much and you have fanaticism. With the right amount all are energized. The Greek word has the meaning of God within-- a person inspired. Enthusiasm has its own attraction, but it also has been a cause of many problems in Church History. As Catholics we are helped to remain within bounds because of the larger community to which we belong. 'In medio stat virtus' ( virtue is in the middle) a Latin phrase which reminds us that its lack and excess are not good.

Enthusiasm under the control of the intellect has done many wonderful things. As a young church Korea continues to show us a mature enthusiasm with movement on all fronts.

At a recent liturgy the celebrant mentioned the number of new seminarians entering this year. Usually we see a great deal of enthusiasm when seminarians come up for ordination. The newly ordained spend 7 to 9 years to prepare for the priesthood and family and acquaintances want to congratulate the ordinands and thank them for the years of preparation. However, the celebrant mentioned in his diocese there were 19 young men who are beginning their first year in the seminary, and on the first day of the new school year, at the Mass with the bishop, there was a full church to pray and encourage these young men who are just beginning, that is enthusiasm. Not likely seen in too many parts of the Catholic World.

This enthusiasm is seen in many endeavors in Korea, and on August 31st to September 5th, Korea will be sponsoring the Asian Lay Catholic Congress. This will be the second congress in Asia since 1994; Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, President to the Pontifical Council for the Laity,
came to Korea to encourage those who are making the preparations.

There will be 25 countries from Asia that will attend, along with representatives from 200 international lay groups and those from Korea. It will be a very large meeting to discuss: How do we make Jesus known in Asia today ? What do the times tell us? What is the meaning of Asian culture and tradition and what are we called to do?

The Cardinal on his visit said: "The Korean Church, not only in Asia, but to the whole world gives a good example of a dynamic Church, a Church that has cultivated faith and shown a capability in evangelizing that should be a benefit to the other Churches in Asia."

The Korean Church does have an enthusiasm that is conspicuous. They have vocations and continue to increase in numbers. The Catholic Times, this past week, mentioned this meeting and hopes that it will be of help to other countries in Asia. The secret may have nothing to do with methods, procedures or anything that can be conveyed with words, but rather a history that is unique to Korea.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What Makes a Living Martyr?

As in times past we have persons that are different-- they follow a different drummer. They don't listen to the vibes that come from the culture and are seen by some as drop outs: a word we do not like to hear. We want to be in step with those around us and when not, it makes for a difficult situation.

St. Francis of Assisi was one of those who was out of step with his times. St. Francis attracted many to his way of living, and if not attracted to his style of life they admired him as a person, even by those who had little attraction for his religion.

About a hundred years ago a man was born here in Korea who was considered the St. Francis of Korea. He was born into a wealthy family; went to College in Japan, and in Beijing China studying philosophy and languages. He was attracted to socialistic and communistic ideas. Joined the forces for Independence and even toyed with nihilism. It was during this time he picked up a book in Japan on the life of St. Francis which moved him deeply. He was not attracted to Catholicism but to St.Francis. He saw Catholicism as a religion of the Bourgeois, and this did not change until he read a book by St. Thomas Aquinas on the Church's teaching on money. He returned home and was baptized with the name Francis.

He turned all his land over to the tenants; donated the rest of the land to the diocese of Kwangju, and was satisfied with a small house in which to live. He had a family of 7.

With his small salary as a teacher and obligations to his family he continued to help those poorer than himself. On one occasion he didn't have enough money to pay his Denarius Cultus (donations to the church), so the pastor told him he couldn't go to the sacraments at Christmas. This so angered one of his sons that he left the church for many years. The father had no difficulty with what the priest said, and did what he was asked to do. You have many Christians who are more Catholic than their priest.

The daughter writing amount her father mentions that not once did he tell his children to study hard, but rather be an ordinary person. With Kim Francis it was not only material poverty, but poverty of power and honors. Our society needs disciples who have a vision of this type, and it was his daughter who said in reminiscing about her father that she admires her mother even more than her father for the mother was the unspoken martyr of their life style.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Throwing Five Parts of Body to the Ground

'Ochetuji' is a Buddhist type of prostration that some of our Catholic priests with Buddhist monks practiced on long pilgrimages together. One kneels, touches the ground with the elbows and prostrates with the hands out front with the head touching the ground. All done in silence. Distances that one has difficulty imagining are traveled in this way. The Korean translated literally means: throwing five parts of the body to the ground.

These pilgrimages in the eyes of those participating are a matter of prayer, but for many not participating is seen as a means of protest. Catholic Church of Korea, like any other country, has disagreements on the way one should proceed with the mission that Christ has entrusted to the Church. Problems within the Church in the States are serious and not as easily discerned as they are in Korea. In Korea, up until now, it is not difficulty with Catholic teaching but how to deal with the teaching.

Many Korean members of the human rights movement in Korea are doers (activists). "Be a light to the world, be the salt," means for them a mission to change the world for good. The activists see those with a different theology concerned only for their own individual spirituality, asking for blessings-- an individual pursuit.

One group believes by changing the world they will be changed; the other wants to change themselves to change the world. One group maintains that the activists are political and should be more interested in spiritual matters. Activists maintain the other group is blind to what is happening in society, and by doing nothing they are maintaining the present society as is.

A great step forward in Korea would see the differences between the two theologies as one of approach and not dogma. The ones who are active in working with other religions are criticized for it. Why follow a Buddhist custom that is not Catholic? Why do priests leave their communities to participate in pilgrimages when they should be doing their pastoral work? On the other hand you have the criticism of the sacristy priest who is told he is in the world but doesn't see those who are suffering.

It would be a blessing to see the two ways of looking at mission take something from each other's portfolios and see where that would lead. The problem may not be the present position of each, but what each group sees as the ramifications of the position each one is taking.

Is it individual salvation or societal salvation? It is both but we get caught up with words and fight over words when it would be better to do what we are doing and see where we are being led without the criticism of the other.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We Need A Secular St. Francis

The pitch of discontent within society among some of our Catholic intellectuals is strident and unforgiving. It is rather surprising to see it expressed so clearly in an article in this week's Catholic Times, although one line at the bottom of the article tells us what is written does not necessarily receive the approval of the paper.

The writer tells us there is too much extravagance, vanity, following the latest fashions and technological advances in Korea. In the older days leaders in society did not always live well, but now life is good. Some of these leaders in society are giving a bad example to the ordinary citizens who see this extravagant life style and misunderstand it to be a sign of success.

The problem for the writer is that no one in our society is speaking out. No one is telling it the way it is: telling us what a well lived live should be-- life of virtue, living according to conscience, honesty, morality; there is only silence. We can teach morality to our middle and high school students, but when all of society works within an atmosphere that says to succeed you need English, win at whatever you do , take all the means and methods necessary to succeed-- the resulting society is going to to be sick.

Adhering to noble values is not as important as enjoyment. Places of entertainment, immersing ourselves in amusement, decadent Internet sites, media that goes along with this trend in society is giving the wrong message. The writer sees this trend in our society to be very detrimental to the mental health of our cities and doing much harm to the emotional life of our youth.

Koreans love brand name goods: truer of the city than the country folk , truer of the rich than the commoners. One needs the right brand of clothes, shoes and handbags to be treated as persons. You would think that those with a good education, good positions in society, and
with character would know better, but they are in the forefront of the movement, he stresses.

Korea is a leader in making of these fake brand goods and does it exceptionally well. Japanese tourists to Korea are great buyers of these fake goods. We are tarnishing the image of our country with this reputation.

Korea has pregnant mothers who travel to the States to give birth to American citizens; children wont need to serve in the Korean military; can go to college in the States and some future day allow the parents to emigrate to the States. The writer hopes that our Catholics will start speaking out in what they see going on in Korea.

It is time for a secular St. Francis to take to the stage and start a revolution with a message that down deep we know to be true. We have many St. Francises in the Church and they speak out, but their voices do not count for much in the society that we have made. Example of society is too all pervasive so we follow the crowd not seeing where we are headed. It will have to be a secular St. Francis with a whole different vocabulary.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Desire to Know the Future not Helpful

With more clients than usual, Korean fortune tellers at this time of the New Year have a brisk business. People want to know what the future is going to be. Using the four pillars is probably the most popular. You give your year, month, day and hour of birth, and from those numbers you will be told what to expect.

Saju, or four pillars, studies a person's life and predicts fortunes based on the four pillars. Energies of earth, sun, moon and stars at the time of birth are thought to affect the person. These energies are translated into something one can read. The book consulted by many fortune tellers is called "Tojeong bigyeol", the secrets of Tojeong.

There are institutional religions, but also many beliefs accepted by Koreans holding on to their institutional religion. One of the more popular "folk religions" would be fortune telling, and all that goes along with that world. It is the world of 'karma' finding out what your destiny will be. Even those who go to the fortune tellers out of curiosity or as a fun thing find it can be upsetting.

The person may be told it will be a great year but be careful of cars. During the year a person has a small accident with no one hurt, and the first thought that comes to mind is what the fortune teller said. Doing something out of curiosity and for a laugh believing it will not affect one is difficult.

Those who go to the fortune tellers are not only the simple folks, but those who are well educated and even some of the devout Catholics. Technological advances allows one to go to the Internet for ways to read the future--no one has to know, doesn't take much time and is cheap.

Past president Noh Mu Hyun left us a suicide note that expressed his feeling about life.
"Don't be sad. Isn't life and death just a part of nature. No reason to be sorry. Do not blame anyone. It is fate." Noh Mu Hyun was baptized but never became a practicing Catholic.

Fate for a Christian is something we determine with God's help. We have the image of a loving God, respecting our freedom, who by grace is calling us to himself. Life is a gift of God; we are not moved by the whims of fate but what we have made of our lives with the graces accepted. St. Augustine says (City of God): "If anyone calls the influence or power of God by the name of Fate, let him keep his opinion, but mend his speech." " The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man's life is the vision of God: if God's revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word's manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God." "(St. Irenaeus )