Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Waiting For A New Han River Miracle

In an opinion piece in the Chosun Ilbo, the writer reflects on a recent seminar discussion that suggested the unhappiness many Koreans experience is attributable to a fondness for the materialistic attractions of society. One of the presenters at the seminar, an American professor well-known in his field, studied 130 nations to determine the level of unhappiness in each country. On his index of happiness scale, Korea placed just below the middle range. And when ranking the countries on the importance of the material side of life, Korea placed higher than the very economically advanced countries of Japan and the United States. The professor feels that this trend will continue no matter how much economic progress Korea continues to make.

The writer acknowledges that we all have a desire for the material goods of life but wonders why Korea should be so high on the scale. He offers as an explanation the one proposed by many scholars: that Korea's rapid rise from poverty to having one of the world's most advanced economies is the  fondness for the material things of life--the aftereffect, perhaps, of the sudden transition to the prosperous life.

In surveys that study religion in Korea, about half of those surveyed acknowledge having no religion, thus tending to make the material world the center of their beliefs, along with an amorphous religiosity. The writer alludes to this by mentioning that when a foreign company starts their operation in Korea, they will often  display a pig's head and offer rice cakes to the spirits--a shamanistic practice (Kosa) when worshiping the spirits.

Some would say that this attraction to the material world and the Korean passionate disposition have been the reasons for the country's quick progress. "Let us live well" was a popular motto.  One social scientist believes it is precisely the non-religious base of Korean society and the corresponding materialistic focus that is responsible for the country's economic progress.

This worldly philosophy of life   made possible the "Han River Miracle," a phrase that uses the name of the river flowing through Seoul to describe the transition, within just 50 years, of an economically underdeveloped country to the Korea of the present.

This "Han River Miracle" may have another side to it. Not only is it a catch phrase for Korea's quick rise to economic prominence, but it could also explain why Koreans register low on the Professor's index of happiness. It may indicate, more importantly, that life is not what they expected it to be-- despite the material attainments and opportunities for pleasure the purposefulness of life did not keep pace. A less materialistic miracle than the "Han River Miracle" may be what is needed now.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Gives One Strength To Keep Searching for the Oasis

He never saw an oasis except in pictures and paintings, but from the time he was a child, they always fascinated him. Now, writing for the Catholic Times, he reflects on what the oasis might mean to a traveler in the desert who is looking for a place to rest and quench his thirst. 

He compares finding this resting place to what a traveler on the ocean must feel when seeing seagulls and the beacon from  a light tower. Depending on the condition of the traveler, mirages in the desert can often deceive the exhausted traveler.  Seeing or not seeing an oasis is the difference, the writer believes, between life and death, hope and despair, reality and dream.

A student with cerebral palsy, a graduate from Seoul National University, is mentioned by the writer to explain how an "oasis mirage" can be applied to many of our everyday problems.  Here was a man who was looking for an oasis, but for many years it was a mirage. He dreamed of getting a good job but with his physical condition the difficulties were great. After five years of mirage-like searching, he finally did get accepted by a  big corporation, with no preferences given to him because of his condition; more than 60 others had competed for the job. Only he knows the difficulties he had with school, finally graduating and finding a job. Above all, he did not despair.

Despair, Kierkegaard said, is a disease that brings death. Many different opportunities are available to us provided we do not despair. Even when wandering in a seeming desert of hopelessness, if we reject this mirage, an oasis will appear.

On the 18th of this month, the grandson of one of the biggest industrialists in Korea killed himself. The grandson was living by himself in a rented apartment and buying goods in the neighborhood on credit. After the suicide, there were no preparations for a funeral, no room set aside for his picture and for meeting family and guests. The body was kept in the mortuary until it was taken by the family to a crematoria for a private ceremony. Even this family, with its  resources was not able to help a family member that very much needed help. Where was the mirage here?  Was it with the grandson who was not able to express his need or not open enough to the help that was certainly offered? Or was it with the family that failed to persevere in providing the help that was needed? 

Life, it is said, is not always fair. We can talk about the oasis and the beacon but there are many who are not able to see them; they do not register or give any meaning-- one of the symptoms of the disease.  One of the hardest things to do is to ask another for help. This is one reason we stay mired in the difficulties, we get ourselves into; it closes many doors, often even shutting out the help that God  gives.  This is what makes this sickness,  so seemingly hopeless--until  we ask for help. With the help, many will arrive at their oasis.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Every year for the last 21 years a survey is made by one of the Korean News Magazines,  to determine how much influence our leaders have had on society. This year, the ranking in the religious sphere places Cardinal Chong number two (with a 24 percent rating) and Cardinal Kim (with 29 percent) number one.

Last year Cardinal Kim placed fourth on the list, but this year returned to first place--a ranking he has held for many years--because of the publicity that the Cardinal received after his death and the many works that have been given new life by his inspiration. The rector of the Catholic University said,  "After the death of the Cardinal his life and values moved from the Catholic world to the larger society where his thoughts became a milestone for many. "

Buddhism appears in five places on the list, indicating an increase in influence, and three Protestant Ministers are also listed.  The two Catholic representatives have over half of the percentages with about 54 percent. This could mean,  that the Catholic Church has  much influence on society or that religion as a whole  has   little influence on society.

The survey does not measure the amount of respect society has for our leaders but how much power and influence they have on society.  Catholic Newspapers have made mention of the survey but have put in a word of caution:  society changes quickly. The  common concern of many  with time grows very dim, and another completely different reality emerges.

But it is fitting that those in positions of authority live up to the expectations of society. And, as expected, the one having the greatest overall influence on society (with a 67 percent rating) was President Lee. Second on the overall list (21 percent) was the head of the biggest Chabol (Korean conglomerate). No surprises here, and fortunately that is the correct order. Cardinal Chong was number 15 in the overall influence in society. The only religious leader to be in the first twenty.

During the liturgy these days, Jesus is shown as unrelenting in his criticism of the Pharisees and lawyers and of their way of life. He selects these two groups because they had the most influence on that society. Both were members of the political and religious elite of that time.  Whether they had the respect of the society is another question; that they influenced society was clearly the case. Today we are fortunate that our two Cardinals have both influenced society and received its respect. As a consequence our society has greatly benefited.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On the Spot Experience Living With The Needy

Many parishes during the summer months give students the opportunity  to do volunteer work at Kkottongnae, a Christian community providing the homeless and the abandoned with care and love in the hope they will realize the love of God and find peace as children of God. 

The Ohmy News had an article on the experience of a  high school girl who was asked by her mother if  interested in going on summer camp to the village to do volunteer work. Not knowing what to expect  she went to the Internet to check out  Kkottongnae (the Korean word for Flower village). She learned that it was a place where the handicapped, the sick and the old, and those who have been abandoned by society go to be cared for by the community.

Never having spent time in her young life doing any service for another, she decided to spend two nights and three days doing just that. It was a three hour trip and when she arrived, she met others from other parishes that came with the same intention. The motto, which she saw often:  "It is God's grace, even if you only have the strength to beg for food,"  was explained during the orientation talk: there are many who do not even have the  strength to beg. And that  evening, to give the volunteers a better understanding of the difficulties of the handicapped, they were led through an exercise that allowed them to experience what it was like not being able to see or to walk.

The next day she was assigned to help the nutritionist prepare the meals. She was hoping for a different kind of service but was made to realize that eating is one of the greatest services. The first thing they did was wash the dishes and clean the kitchen after breakfast. Next, with three other volunteers, they  prepared the garlic and scallions and worked on the noon meal with the nutritionist.  After the meal, they went to talk  to the members of the community. They went from room to room, talking and showing concern for each person. In the beginning, it was not always easy, but what surprised her most, as she continued to chat with them, was the joy many of them were experiencing despite their handicaps. It was an experience that will be with her for a lifetime; she is even envisioning another trip to the village.

Knowing how others live can sometimes be difficult but living in a small country like South Korea it is not difficult to know what is happening in different parts of the country, and getting a sense of what others are experiencing. On occasions, Korean bishops have gone to various villages--fishing, farming, mining villages--for days to have an on-the-spot experience of the conditions these Koreans have to live with. This has made their talks less abstract and bookish, and given them a better feel for the problems Korea faces. Our high school girl, when the need arises to speak about the alienated in society, will do so with more understanding and feeling because of her experience at Kkottongnae.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Distractions In Finding The Narrow Gate

Catholic pastoral work requires the constant need to prepare homilies for the daily liturgy, a very satisfying duty that requires care and effort.  Priests  do not have a reputation as being gifted preachers.  Lay persons are often  bored by our sermons, and yet, as an integral part of the liturgy, they are meant to be both instructive and interesting. But, as we know, the Holy Spirit does not always make up for what we personally lack.

Preparing the homily is a serious obligation on the part of a priest, and few would ever face a congregation without some preparation. That would be  a serious dereliction of duty and should weigh heavy on a priest's conscience. In my experience, Korean priests do a good job in this area of pastoral care.

The reason for poorly conceived and delivered homilies may be that most of them do not address the interests and concerns of our Christians. Our concerns may not be their concerns, and here we have the dilemma.  Are the usual concerns of Christians the concerns they should have as followers of Jesus? If not, is it  our duty to bring this to their attention? The starting point for both priest and congregation may be to acknowledge where we are and move from there to where we should be.

Such a starting point was given by a priest whose homily in a recent Catholic Times examined three chronic diseases of our society. These are areas of life and thinking where we are unknowingly being tempted: the easy-going life, relativism, and utility.

The comfortable life is, of course, easy to like. And modern life in the economically advanced countries allows us a  degree of comfort which tempts many to spend a lifetime pursuing. But there are times when we have to do what is uncomfortable if we want to do what is right.

Relativism does away with absolute  values. There is no right or wrong way of doing something. "Doing it my way" replaces both a right or a wrong way.  It's like playing jazz; if it sounds good to you, it is good. There is a certain beauty to this way of thinking,  being free to express our individuality. When using these principles to guide our life, however, it is easily seen that the deeper dimensions of life are missed.

The utility principle can be said to govern our interest in results; process and means are not part of the equation. The end is what is important and the way it is achieved, we are told, is not important and should not concern us.

These infections that can  enter our life do not make it easy to find the narrow gate that Jesus talked about in the Gospel for Sunday. It is this narrow gate, contrary to what we may think, that will give us the joy  and peace of the kingdom that we entered at baptism. Is this not the aim of our homilies: to make us realize that we are members of God's kingdom here and now, and that our lives should be a  preparation for its fulfillment?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Korean Baby Boomers

In an opinion piece, a writer discusses a symposium she attended that dealt with the crisis of the baby boomer generation (1955-63) in Korea. Now entering  old age--about 15 percent of the population--they took a leading role in their younger years to advance the economic prosperity of the county. The writer says she was more interested in the family life of these baby boomers than what they did to advance the prosperity of the country.

For most of their lives,  the baby boomers were busy with work, and the writer wondered how this affected their home life. In most cases, after raising the children, husband and wife lived together for about another 20 years. To the question: How will they see  their life together after ten years? The symposium found that about 2 out of 10 women admitted to being very pessimistic about the future relationship. Accordingly, divorce even in the twilight years is possible: women desire equal status with men, while the husbands are still paternalistic.

One study has shown that about 43 percent of men will rely for support in their old age on their wives, and about 45 percent of women will rely on nursing homes. Concerning the desire for happiness, 88 percent of the women have this desire; men, 97 percent. The most important desire for filling their leisure time was having a hobby, next was some religious activity. The Church should respond to this interest by providing programs that would help them use their time profitably.

The writer suggests a number of ways the baby boomers can avoid the fear of retirement: Do what you  wanted to do, see what you wanted to see, meet those you wanted to meet, do the things you always wanted to do. We all have dreams. She reminds us that our third life span lies ahead waiting for us to use the time  wisely.  Many persons are enjoying a full life in retirement, having become literary persons, artists, entrepreneurs--the possibilities are endless.  The work that you choose can be considered your spouse was her not totally tongue-in-cheek digression.  

She also recommends getting involved in Church work and using the talents that previously were used to provide for oneself and family to now serve others. God has the big blue ocean out there to discover, she says in her concluding remarks, and it  is waiting  to give our seniors much satisfaction and joy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One of our priests, scholar Monsignor Tjeng Eui-chai, has just published a book, "All is Grace." Born in North Korea in 1925, the monsignor, who has held important positions in the Church, is still an active and outspoken elder who once sent an open letter to the previous Premier with advice on how to govern better.
His book is written in the question and answer format, with the questions coming from Fr. Cha Dong-yeop, head of the Future Pastoral Institute of Incheon. Serialized in the Pastoral Information Magazine, the book examines the problems facing Korean society and the Church. He is very circumspect in dealing with the issues surrounding the Four Rivers Project and our relationship with North Korea, and, as always, conservative in evaluating the problems facing society, except when he talks about the young.

He has a great deal of respect for young Koreans. In his travels around the world, he found that they were praised for their creativity. He hopes Korea does not follow the example of the Japanese, who did not accept the help of the young in their revamping of society. Instead, they  continued to glory in the past;  Korea should not make the same mistake. Motivated more by instinct than by theory, young people, he feels, could put to good use this instinctual response in helping to govern the country, if only the government would allow them more of a voice in the decision making.

Society is now awash with ideas that the establishment doesn't appreciate. We need more openness to these ideas and a new vision, the kind that young people can provide. But government policies continue to exclude them from the decision-making process; the older generation is still very much in control. If the government just prepares the ground for more participation by the young, the monsignor believes that the future for the next 40 or 50 years will be bright.

He would also like to see a Korean Peace Corp that would send our young people overseas to the underdeveloped and  developing countries to help them with their dreams. This would take care of many of our problems of finding work for the young people here in Korea. It would also help develop markets in the future with the good will that would be shared, and also mitigate the tensions now being felt between the older and younger generations.

Reading what the monsignor had to say was very uplifting, but I couldn't keep from thinking that his ideas for Korea were very similar to  those of the West.  I suppose it's natural to expect a personal benefit from what we do to help others. He mentions that since the discovery of America it has been the G5 or G6 countries that have been in control. After the Second World War, it was increased to G7 to G8, which helped to further global development but also continued to hurt the underdeveloped countries. He wonders whether the G8 countries at the recent G20 meeting of major economic powers might still have been in control. One solution to this control would be increasing the number of participants to G 77 so the  underdeveloped countries would be in a position to speak out and make known their plight and  desires for a more equitable  relationship with the economically developed countries.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Korean Youth Enjoying the Music of their Grandparents

Immigrants are faced with the same problem missioners face when going to another country: learning a new language and culture.  Our generation of missioners--unlike the older missioners who depended more on a trusted companion for help--had an easier time finding the tools for study, though becoming  comfortable with the language and culture was not so easy. We were blessed with better books and schooling and more opportunities to maneuver freely within the new country. The internet has also made it easier.

Though always remaining a problem, getting to know the culture and the language lessens misunderstandings but some will inevitably crop up. One particularly annoying misunderstanding results when trying to understand imported foreign words, often used by the media. My experience with the word "teuroteu,"which was used to describe a vocalist, illustrates the difficulty.

I could not find the word in several dictionaries, but because the word sounded like throat, I thought it might refer to a vocalist with a throaty voice. Asking aound and  doing some sleuthing, I was told (confirming it later) that it comes from the syllable "trot" of foxtrot, the name of the popular upbeat dance music, the kind I have been hearing on our parish bus trips and never gave it a thought. 

The problem I had with the word disappeared when I looked into the history of the foxtrot and remembered that  Korea was under Japanese domination from 1910 to 1945. Up until  1930 the interchange of music  between Japan and Korea was on a large scale. The Koreans would  take Japanese songs and translate them into Korean and vice versa. It was natural that the melodies would be similar, but in 1930 when the Japanese attempted  to do away with the Korean language there was a  concerted effort to assimilate all Korean music into Japanese music.

Japanese music was called Enka and this is what we now call by the name "trot" in Korean.  It was music the older generation grew accustomed to, and grandmothers and grandfathers loved to sing, probably because they were mostly about the trials and sadness of life.

For a long time, the younger generation cared little for this kind of music; it did not meet their emotional needs, but this has changed. Being simple and easy to learn and not  subtle in what they have to say, the songs are appealing to many, even the young. Whether the music is traditionally Korean or an off-shoot of Japanese Enka is unimportant. Music, an international language, is available to all. By adapting it to suit our needs we make it our own.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Praying to be Changed-- a Necessary Intention

A priest columnist for the Catholic Times writing on things spiritual mentions a grandmother who would say the rosary before and after Mass. One day, feigning to  do some work near her, he  went to her side, and when she stopped praying asked if she will be saying the rosary again. She looked at him strangely, as if there were Catholics who did not pray the rosary. When she nodded yes, he asked what were the intentions of her prayers.She just laughed. Turning on all the charm he could muster, he asked her to pray for him.

"Is there a need to have an intention when praying?" she asked. The Blessed Mother knows what is best for us, so she puts everything into her hands. She doesn't want to bother her with such  trifles.

When we meet someone who we feel is spiritual, we often ask them to pray for us. And when someone tells us they will pray for us, we are pleased. However, what is important is to have the prayers we offer change both the one praying and the one for whom we are praying. We pray because of our Lord's example; spending time with the one who loves us and the one we love is a natural response when we love or receive love. This is  sufficient reason for prayer;  we know that the results of prayer will be for our good and the good of the other.     

"The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints as God himself wills" (Rom. 8:26-27).

Once we realize that God is love and wants the best for us, we allow him to come into our lives to change us. As the English poet Francis Thompson expressed so eloquently in the "Hound of Heaven," we no longer fear being pursued by the Tremendous Lover and embraced. We know his will is for our good; for it is in being loved that we are changed.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lessons Learned from the Poorest City in the World-Calcutta

A university professor recounts his trip to Calcutta, India, with a group of 20 students who had volunteered to spend two weeks working for the Sisters of Charity. Arriving at the airport in Calcutta, the professor and students had their first taste of what awaited them in this foreign land. The air was sultry, filled with the smell of the city; the public square in front of the airport a jumble of people and rickshaws moving quickly about. They took a bus to the Mother House of the order and after some difficulty arrived at their destination. .

The next  day, the cultural indoctrination continued in earnest. With a temperature over 38 Celsius, they were all sweating profusely. A city of more than 10 million, the poorest city in the world, Calcutta is a stark reminder of the poverty in many parts of the world: people sleeping on the sides of streets, beggars approaching foreigners with outstretched hands, young children carrying babies asking for alms, people drinking unclean water from pumps, street vendors with their merchandiize in no discernible order, revered cows rambling unattended along the streets, dogs sleeping together with their owner, red communist banners fluttering in the occasional breeze, and, of course, the untouchables--all of it leaving an unforgettable impression on the professor and his students.

The spirit of Blessed Teresa (1910-1997) still moves many from all  over the world to come for some short period of time to continue the work she  started. The day at the Mother House starts with a prayer and a hymn, and then each group is given their assignment. The professor's group was assigned to a sanatorium housing the terminally sick, the handicapped, orphans and homeless women. It was a busy  two weeks for the Korean volunteers.

They were in Calucutta for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Teresa, which was celebrated in the chapel, mostly with the volunteers in attendance. It was an emotional time for the students, as it must have been for many others in India. She is greatly respected by the people of Calcutta, although the city is 80% Hindu. She told them, "You pray to your God, and I will pray for you to my God." She  sacrificed herself for humanity:  willing to undergo the dark night for over half a century taking care of her sisters and brothers in the most poverty stricken city of the world. Those who have volunteered at the Mother House, on returning home know that they have not only helped others but helped themselves--now conscious of a  world that is mostly unknown to many of us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Desire for the 'One Shot Big Kill'

Addiction to gambling is not only a problem in Korea but a worldwide  problem seen mostly in the economically advanced countries. The effects of gambling on our society were examined by an article in the Catholic  Peace Weekly. Legal gambling takes place at horse race tracks, cycling tournaments, casinos and where lottery tickets are sold.

There is no denying that gambling is a great money maker for the country and much good comes from the taxed revenues, like funding public welfare projects, and , no small matter, it puts people to work. However, this should not blind us to problems that society has to deal with because of the addiction of over 2 million citizens: divorce,  family problems, suicides,  sickness, loss of work and  larceny, to name just a few. In recent years, with the economic slow down, the numbers frequenting the legal gambling establishments has increased greatly. But the media continues to treat the addiction lightly, and the government does not see it as urgent--and here we are only considering the legal gambling. Illegal  and online gambling is even more pervasive than the legal gambling, and it goes on without any controls.

The article points out that the desire for the 'one shot big kill', and getting something you have not worked for are the main motivating factors behind the addiction.  Many who are working to help gamblers deal with their addiction believe that the efforts to help have not kept up with the spread of the gambling establishments. The government has not kept up and little money is going into prevention and therapy. 

The media also seems unconcerned; even the Church has not been involved to any great degree. Revenue and  employment possibilities from gambling are a great help to the economy but the price being paid is high. It is like the bingo parties the Catholic Church in the States uses to help fund their charity and school work. Does the end justify the means? --we might ask. Catholicism does not see gambling as a moral problem until it becomes detrimental to the person and the family. This happens in too many cases and then we are likely dealing with someone who is sick and needs help. Those who are helping on the therapeutic side of the issue see a need for more people to become interested in prevention and therapy, with more money allotted to help those who are addicted.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stepping-stones to a New Society

The recent editorial in the Peace Weekly wants us to use the problems in our society as stepping-stones to a better future. Differences of opinion are to be expected when people live together, and, as we learn from history, can be the beginning of future progress.

Today, disagreements among members of our society are deep and acute: North and South, rich and poor, young and  old, city and country, and, recently, the  policies of the government.

The Cardinal of Seoul, in his message for the Assumption and Liberation Day, said this discord presents us with an opportunity to reflect on finding ways to help solve our disagreements. The key is to be willing to dialogue and not have personal or group opinions prejudice the way we approach the problems. He mentioned the importance of keeping in mind that it is justice and love that will help get us out of the quagmire we are in.

The Bishop of Taejon. in his message, referred to the words of Gandhi, found inscribed near his grave site:

Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice 

Are the downfall of society.   

Reading these words again, the bishop confessed that they made him somewhat depressed, knowing that they are still part of our reality: no less true today than they were 50 years ago when they were written. Reflecting on these words and making them a part of  our philosophy of life-- like the stepping-stones referred to in the editorial--could very well help avoid Gandhi's "downfall of society" and bring about a better future society for all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Calling the Catholic Laity to see beyond their own Country

The Pontifical Council for the Laity with the cooperation of the Korean Bishops will convene The Congress of Catholic Laity in Asia from August 31 to September 5, with the theme:."Proclaming Jesus Christ in Asia today."  Attending the Congress here in Seoul will be 180 members and associate members of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences and about 200 Korean laity.

There will be panel discussions on the following topics: "Imitation and Christian  instruction of the laity; participation of the laity in the life of the parish and small communitites; the witness given by lay people in various sectors of society (work, education, media, politics; the engagement of the laity in the inculturation  of the Gospel and in the dialogue between faith and culture; experiences of the laity in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue; witnesses of Christian charity and service to the poor; questions regarding religious freedom in the lives of Christians; the laity as builder of peace and justice."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

A Catholic Times' editorial pointed out the important question the Congress must face and answer: Are we, as Asians, prepared to be troubled enough with our situation to deal with it effectively. Not only should we be concious of the mission we have been given from the time of the apostles but we should be prepared to help solve the problems we are faced with.

Over 60 percent of the world's population lives in Asia; the  number of Catholics about 3 percent (1/6th of the African total). Half the population lives in poverty and must deal with all kinds of  social problems: paternalism, discrimination between the sexes, low birthrates, aging of the population, imigration, and the problems that come by living in a foreign culture.

The editorial goes on to tell us there are some bright spots on the Asian landscape. While in the West the numbers of Christians are decreasing and faith life is weakening, the opposite is happening in Asia. Here, the numbers of Christians and vocations are increasing. Although there are still many conflicts, the sensitivity we have for the spiritual makes Asia a field of great potential.

We need to take advantage of this potential by extending our vision beyond our own country and drawing up concrete proposals.  Laity should be prepared to reconsider their calling  and see themselves as major contributors to Asia's future.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Cluster of a Million Roses

A priest tells us how moved he was by the words of an old Russian  pop song that was given new words by a well-known Korean vocalist some years ago.  An article he read about the song  impressed him enough to make him want to learn to sing the song: he liked the catchy tune and the words.

He attended the 30th anniversary to the priesthood of the Anglican Bishop of Seoul and at the congratulation ceremony, he heard the song again;  this time it was with the original Russian music but with the new words from the Korean vocalist.  The bishop at the meeting with the journalists asked," Were you  able to savor the  meaning of the song?" One of the journalists was surprised to hear this kind of music in such a serious setting but when the Bishop repeated the words from the first stanza and said  for us  this is Jesus isn't it? He came to spread among us millions of flowers.  It all made sense. Without his explanation most  would have missed the meaning of the song.

The original story behind the words in the Russian song was the unrequited love of an unknown painter for an actress. The actress happened to come to his town for a concert, and he decided to show his love for the actress by selling all his possessions and  buying a million roses to spread on the piazza in front of the hotel where the actress was staying. The Korean vocalist took this story and changed the words as found below.

Way in the past I  came from a star far away
Heard a small voice telling me
Go give love and return.

Only when loving
Will flowers bloom will the million flowers bloom
Only with  sincere love
Will roses of love bloom.

Without hate,hate,hate  in our hearts
Love  giving lavishly lavishly 
Will we have millions millions  millions of flowers bloom
And I will be able to return to my beautiful  longed for land  of stars.

 Many  tears of anquish have been shed, what is true love
 Many tears of anquish have been shed  what is true love
There were so many people separated it was a very sad world.

After many seasons had  past
After he gave of his all
Like a light suddenly
That love embraced me.

Without hate,hate,hate  in our hearts
Love given  lavishly, lavishly 
Will we have millions millions  millions of flowers bloom
And I will be able to return to my beautiful  longed for land  of stars.

Now if all should leave me
Love will remain
The one that came to me from  that star
Waited  so long
Being   together with him
many more flowers will bloom
Becoming one  we will return to the  eternal star.

No more hate no more hate
Only giving lavishly of  love
Will the million clusters of flowers  give bloom
And I will be able to go to the longed for and beautful   land of  stars.

 The vocalist was reflecting on her life which was filled with many trials and sadness; for many love is not what  it was thought to be. Despite her own divorce and many other trials this song  expressed her faith life.  The refrain appears  six times with its catchy rhythm.

Koreans love to sing and many of their songs can be interpreted as hymns: a desire for what is not. Not paying too much attention to the  theology one can understand the emotion that underlies the words and the hope that always remains in the healthy person's heart.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trying to Bridge the Gap between East and West

The Catholic Times has interviewed the only Korean teaching in the Gregorian Graduate School of Missiology. She  supervises master and doctorate treatises on Asian studies at the school and at the Angelicum and the Lateran where she also teaches.

Her special interests are inculturation studies and fostering dialogue between religions, both of which are useful not only for Asia but for the universal Church and for deepening our spiritual journey. To prepare for this, she switched from a physics major in college to study theology, believing that progress in the study of theology is progress in her faith life. Language study, however, was difficult and she was humbled by it. She persevered and soon after received an offer to teach at the Gregorian in Rome, living in the city for the last 19 years.

Her doctoral study compared mankind's beliefs in a transcendent reality with Buddhist views on the subject, and the place of revelation in Asian thought generally. She researched the beginnings of the New Age Movement and the reasons for its growth, and now is  gathering material for a treatise tentatively titled: "Theology, Culture and Religions of Asia." A timely topic since Asian religions have been introduced recently to the rest of the world because of globalization. Many westerners feel an emptiness in their lives and are searching for an experience that will fill this void. For some, the teachings of Buddhism have filled this void.
Many who come to Europe to study other cultures and beliefs develop a better understanding of their own culture and religious tradition and take more of an interest in it. She feels that it is important to have an understanding of Asian spirituality, philosophy, and direction of life; they are not in opposition to the teachings of Catholicism, and can be a way of deepening our own faith life. One of the  greatest hindrances in serving God, she feels, is holding on to an inflated sense of personal importance: the 'nobility obliges' attitude taken in its  bad sense. There has to be ways of uncovering this trait and  work to rid oneself of the consequences of such  an attitude in formation.
She firmly believes that the study of theology should be not only for religious and priests, but for all.  It is necessary for lay people to take an interest in studying theology and share this knowledge with others. She sympathizes with the Korean Church which is not like the Church in the West where you have many criticizing the Church. There is a different attitude towards the Church, and  Korean  laity  will have  much to add to our understanding of Church; she hopes this will be part of the  future.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Problems Confronting Korea

In this week's opinion piece in the Catholic Times, the head of the Family Academy examines three problems confronting Korea today by using thoughts taken from Pope Benedict's  encyclical  "Charity in Truth."

 "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa" (#51). If we have a weakness in one part of the ecological system this will affect other parts of the system.

"If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology" (#51). The way we treat life is the way we will treat our environment.

Ecology is a major concern for Korean society, the writer believes. What we are doing to destroy our environment is an insult to humankind, and whatever we do to make our environment live, makes us live.

The second problem is the low birthrate in Korea. Young people do not find marriage an easy possibility. The increasing difficulties of  finding a good job that will make raising a family easier is a worry not  only for the individual but for families. This is one reason the young are avoiding marriage and, when married, deciding not to have children or to have one or two at the most.

"Uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to the difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage. This leads to situations of human decline, to say nothing of the waste of social resources. In comparison with the casualties of industrial society in the past, unemployment today provokes new forms of economic marginalization, and the current crisis can only make this situation worse" (#25).

Finding work in Korea for the young is a big problem. The writer does not want us to see the fire on the other side of the river but here at our feet; government, business and the whole of society should be working together to do something about it.

The third problem is the serious matter of our peninsular. The attempt to strengthen the alliance between Korea and the United States brings to the fore the  struggle between the two super powers, the United States and China and  casts a shadow on the peninsular. The efforts to find peace has not brought the dream of a united Korea any closer to be realized. And with the tension mounting, the goal should not be to feel safer but to go beyond the peninsular and prepare for peace throughout Northeast Asia.

"Today humanity appears much more interactive than in the past: this shared sense of being close to one another must be transformed into true communion. The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side" (#53).
The thinking expressed in this opinion piece is shared by many of our Koreans, especially those who believe we are relying too much on the West when there should be more effort given to living in peace with the people of  Northeast Asia. This will explain much of the rhetoric that we hear and possibly some of the antics that are being reported.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Still Waiting for the Korean War Armistice

August 15th is  National Liberation Day and the Feast of the Assumption for Korean Catholics; two good reasons to rejoice. A columnist in the Catholic Times recalls her harrowing experience at the age of 11 during the Korean War. This  experience, part of the life of older Koreans, is still a nightmare for many.

The media covered the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War in June, and our columnist said it reopened many of her old wounds with the pain that she felt at that time. When the family heard that the Communists were about to enter the city, her father--a former mayor of the city--and her brother, decided it would be prudent to leave the house. A few days later the communists took control of  their house, and, with red banners fluttering from the front gate, made it the court house of the city. The grandparents, mother and three girls were forced to live in one room.

The communists confiscated the furniture and all their rice; the columnist remembers using her wits to salvage some of the rice that the communists had washed and left lying about. They were also threatened with a knife if they refused to tell them where the father had gone. They continually bombarded the grandparents with all kinds of abuse. It was, she remembers, a hellish time.

The father was finally apprehended and with a number of others was brought into the city and shot. The grandparents left the house on that very day to be with relatives; when they heard the news of his death, they went in search of the body to bury it properly.

After the city was recaptured  from the communists, city leaders formed a security committee to search out the communists and to be in charge of restoring order. The brother of the columnist was a committe member. The mother pleaded with him not to seek revenge on those who assisted the communists. No one, said the mother, should be considered an unfaithful citizen solely on what had been said during that difficult time. If only one person spoke against you, then you would not be able to get recognized as a law abiding citizen and you would not be able to travel freely.

Four years later the mother died, and the writer, now orphaned, spent her time reading to deal with the emptiness she felt. She went to many different Churches, and, after graduating from college, finally entered the Catholic Church and was baptized with the name of Sylvia.

She is now in her 70s and has seen the ups and downs of life. In recent months, with the sinking of the Chonam and the various responses, she feels that matters have become worse. She prays that we do not seek revenge.

What happened after the Korean war with the vigilantes and those who  assisted the communists  is still a wound that has not healed for many, as it has not for our columnist.  When the fighting ends, life just doesn't go back to normal; the scars remain. Is it  best to forget and trust in the good will of the other?  Or do you gain more by being unbending to gain peace--the unconditional approach which has worked in the past? Fortunately for the younger Koreans, there is no need to forget and to ask these questions. They belong, unfortunately, to the older generation who lived through the nightmare.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Getting Rid of Greed, Anger and Foolishness

In Korea, Buddhists are the largest religious group with 15 million members; Protestants are second with 8.6 million and  Catholics next with about 5.1 million. In all three groups, you have  different degrees of  adherence to practice.

In the opinion page of a recent Catholic Times, a writer mentions that Buddhists believe that the troubles that poison our life are greed. anger and foolishness. He describes what we have to do when confronted with these distractions, and begins with the addiction to gambling.
He notes that at the subway stop for the horse race stadium, the car empties as the hopeful gamblers make their way to the race track. Although  Korean law attempts to discourage gambling, it does not seem to deter very many. The writer, disagreeing with those who say that gambling is fun, sees it as an addiction to greed--a desire for quick money. Another greed can be seen by anyone walking the streets in the evening: merry making and the attraction of sexual pleasure--all coming from  the greed of the body. "Avoid greed in all its forms...."(Lk 12:15).

Peace of mind and heart are lost with the second poison, anger. Some get angry over the slightest provocation. Some like to inflict pain on others. But there are those who, even when deeply hurt, never lose their composure; fortunately, there are many of them. "Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind."  (Ephesians 4:30,31).

Prejudice comes from superficial knowledge. Attempting to hide our ignorance, we become stubborn, and can fall into great error: "Adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, and obtuse spirit" (Mk 7:22).  We have to get rid of this foolishness. As Christians we have the virtue of humility and  gratitude that should keep us well grounded. In Buddhism, the writer tells us there are three ascetic practices: do good and avoid evil, keep a peaceful mind, and seek the truth. This is also valid for  Catholics. Let us get rid of our greed, control our anger, and rid ourselves of foolishness.

With over half the population interested in a better moral life, the efforts should show in the way the country becomes more receptive to the things of the spirit.  At present, the Four River Project has united Catholics and Buddhists in opposition to the project. The relationship between the two groups has been cordial and this latest cooperation will make it more so. If Christians and Buddhists were determined to get rid of greed, anger and foolishness, it would make quite a difference in Korean life. Determining  what are greed, anger and foolishness, however,  would require a miracle of grace.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Foreigner who has Adapted Exceptionally to Life in Korea

There are many talented foreigners living in Korea and some are making those talents available for the good of society. Cristina Confalonieri, recently interviewed by the Catholic Times, is from Italy and had worked at the headquarters of the EU in Brussels, Belgium. She now happily shares her many gifts with the Korean people. She is well known for the television program "Chit Chat of Beautiful Ladies." She also heads the Yeoksam Global Village Center that helps foreigners adapt to Korean Life, lectures at the Catholic University in International Law, and teaches Italian at Seoul National University. As if this were not enough, she is an essayist, works as a civil servant, and is always willing to help the disadvantaged in our society.

She told the interviewer she prefers to be out doing things than staying at home. Since childhood, she prefers to keep busy: studying,  teaching, experiencing things; her talent to multi-task is obvious from what she has accomplished in such a short period of time in a culture not her own.

Since marrying a Korean, she has been asked most often why she picked a Korean? "It  is not that I love a Korean," she says, "but the one I love happens to be Korean. If you are with the one you love, it doesn't make any difference where you are."

She has, however, found it difficult to deal with most Koreans because of their tendency not to say what they think and feel. Adapting to this trait has not been easy for her, although she is now more accepting of this behavior.

During the interview, she mentioned a number of things she wants to spend more time doing. Helping foreign women married to Korean men become more comfortable with the culture is a top priority. She feels sorry for those who have come here from less developed countries and encounter discrimination. She is especially concerned for the mothers-to-be. Unless they are helped now, she believes, their children will feel alienated and have difficulty in being accepted, and this will likely be a problem for the country in future years. The country has not been very accepting of non-Koreans; she would like to change this attitude. Although the culture of our foreigners is, of course, different from the Korean culture, there is no difference in their desire to be loved and to live happily. She wants to be a part of making this a reality in Korea.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Becoming A Member of a New Family

After the Korean War and its destruction of the Korean way of life, many orphans were sent to the West for adoption. The figure heard frequently is more than 200,000 children, most of them to the United States, 60,000 to Europe

The children most likely to be considered for adoption were fathered by Americn soldiers and abandoned, along with their mothers, after the war. Even today, although the government has tried to reduce the numbers of adopted children sent overseas with welfare programs, they are still the largest in modern history. over a thousand every year.

A recent article in the Peace Weekly describes a reunion between a mother and daughter, reunited after many years of separation, the daughter having been sent to Italy for adoption. It was a joyful and tearful meeting, with the mother saying: "You are the same as you were, the same." At the time of the adoption, the mother had recently divorced and felt that for the good of the child, adoption was her only choice.

The daughter, Kim Maria, now 40 years old, had been happy with her adopted parents. She graduated from a university with a doctorate degree, was the mother of two girls and had found work in Rome. But the thought of her birth mother was always with her.

She got in touch with a Korean priest, Fr. Kim, who was in Italy on a study program, and asked him to help find her mother. He was unsuccessful, even after an account of his search for Maria appeared in the Peace Weekly back in March of 2002.  Maria was finally able to find the mother by contacting the agency that put her up for adoption. She immediately notified Fr.Kim  and made the trip to Korea. Fr. Kim arranged for the reunion and served as interpreter.

On witnessing the meeting of mother and daughter, he said it  was like being part of the family. His work is finished, his hope now is that mother and daughter will continue to find happiness.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Difficulty of Changing Social Priorities

The editorial team-head of The Catholic Times and frequent columnist was hesitant to write about personal matters, but believing a poignant family matter was important to share, he found the courage to make it the subject of his column.

He had recently received the surprising news from his wife that she was pregnant with their third child. Many different thoughts passed through his mind. He was happy, but  since they were both over forty, there was also worry. This last child  would make his years of retirement different from what was planned. Taking care of the needs of the child would be an added financial burden, but even more than that, he was concerned for the health of his wife. He had wanted three children; two did not seem enough. Now, he was to have his wish answered.

He received  words  of congratulation and encouragement from many.  It was somewhat embarrassing but he was happy. It was a different feeling from what he had felt with the first two children. These days, having children is good for the  country, he was told; you have done a great work, people would jokingly say.  Of all the words of congratulation received, the one that meant the most to him was from the  mother who gave birth to their third child when she was 45 years old. She also was concerned because of  the  burden on the family, but she was happy with the decision to have the child. With this change in the family situation, another big change was soon to follow. The husband came home early from work and helped with the bathing of the baby, which he had not done with the other two children. The husband's love for the family also increased; he spent more time with the family, and there was more joy and laughter in the home.

Considering the current low birth rate in Korea, which is a  concern of all we need more articles of this type. Today, many young married couples don't want children and of those who do, few have more than two. The big issue is the cost of raising the children, which might account for some of the abortions, more than 300,000 every year-- a staggering figure.

There are families who are taking the  problem of the low birth rate to heart and are having children later than was the case up until a few years ago.  However, the cultural climate in Korea is similar to most of the advanced countries regarding family size: the norm is to raise one or two children and try to do it well.  Even many years ago  here in Korea before it was fashionable you had the  pace setters that the crowd followed--small families. It took many years and a great deal of government help and peer pressure,but the small famlies became the norm.  I was always surprised to see the few large families in the congregation. It made me pause to think what it must have meant for them to go against what  was accepted practice?

 The columnist ends with a prayer: "God, be with all the pregnant mothers and bless them. May the pain of the birth remind the mothers of Jesus and the  cross. And may they be thankful for the new life. Bless them and may we realize that life is your gift. Amen."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Silence as a Response to the Culture of Death.

A professor at the Jesuit University and a member of the Committee for Life of the Seoul  Diocese reports that in recent years more people are taking a pragmatic approach to life. Words like practicality, efficiency, utility are becoming part of our everyday thinking. The practical thing is thought to be the right thing to do, and morality need not be considered.The pragmatic attitude is probably good for the economic health of the country but not so good when applied to more basic goods such as life and love; they are put on the back burner.

The experiments performed by a  professor on embryos, and the subsequent publicity that got the world's attention and praise--until the deception was uncovered--is a particularly distressing example of the pragmatic approach. Supporters admitted that it was an infringement on the right to life, but for the progress and advancement of the country, they felt  the experiments should continue:  morality had to yield. Another example would be the women who were being asked to give ova, for a price, so the experiments could continue. This was against the law but for the sake of science and to be seen as trailblazers in this new field, the researchers' working premise was utility.

Although gene therapy in the womb is now impossible, the government has sanctioned the procedure--another example of efficiency at work.  Laws are made to be  useful, but what is sometimes not sufficiently considered are  the value and respect for life and its protection.

Pope John Paul, in his encyclical letter, "The Gospel of Life," puts it this way:
" In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity, which demands respect, generosity and service, is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they are, but for what they have, do and produce. This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak."

The Seoul  Committee for Life regularly has an essay in the Peace Weekly that explores different issues of the culture of life, explaining problems we are likely to encounter. The easy way out of the problems is to accept the now pervasive solution of the culture of death. One of these essays wanted us to consider ourselves as accomplices to what has happened in society.  One of the principles often used and accepted by many is that silence means approval. To agree with this principle would make many of us responsible for the way the culture of death has been accepted by so many.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Are We Tuned In To The Right Frequency?

In his column in the Catholic Times, a priest recounts the story of a priest friend who made his retreat  in a monastery.  "The whole day was spent in prayer and doing only what the monks would be doing daily." It was a very prayerful and precious time.

What would a sophisticated  person of the world  think of time spent this way?  Time spent in a non-productive way. Those who want to see results and accomplishments see such time as inefficient, non-productive, a waste of time.

The priest asked himself whether the world would be a better place if there was more emphasis on the values of  efficiency and productivity. He was quick to say no. At the end of the retreat, he wondered if abandoning  the emphasis on efficiency and productivity, he would be taking a step into a better and different world from the one he was in.
There are many people who spend time in prayer, attend Mass, say the rosary, read Scripture, spend time before the Blessed Sacrament.  Christians of all persuasions spend a great deal of time in the presence of God in  a non-productive way. Not infrequently, those who pray and meditate  do so for reasons of  health and peace of mind. This is an approach we all can understand, but it is not the understanding of prayer we are dealing with here.

There is another way of looking at this quiet time with God, with its different value system and perspective. Prayer is opening ourselves to God: giving  ourselves to him so that he will be able to change us.  God is coming to us, moving us, speaking to us, so we can go out to others; contemplation is for others. We are globs of clay that we give to him to be  molded into whatever he wants.  For the Christian, this is a given, and deeply influences the way we see time.  In Acts, St. Paul quotes the poets, "In him, we live and move and have our being."  In prayer we try to conform to  God's will and not ask that God's will conform to ours: the initiative is with God, and we wait for his gift.  We believe that he wants the best for us, so we try to get rid of the impediments that prevent him from working in us. Is there anything more practical in a non-practical way?                                                

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How To Meet Death--Hospice Movement

One of the Religious Sisters working in  hospice  has an  essay in the secular Chonsun Ilbo on "How to meet death." She  begins by telling us that a woman with terminal cancer, a grandmother, was having  problems with acute pain, and the son, greatly distressed, came to hospice for help, knowing that one of the ends of hospice care is visiting the  homes of the terminally ill  to mitigate the pain during the last days before death. 

The grandmother did not want to spend time in intensive care; she wanted to die at home but the pain was making life unbearable. With the hospice visits at the home and the painkillers, however, the nausea and vomiting ceased and she was able to eat. She was fearful of death and, because of being alone for much of the day, felt lonely. One night when she was in pain, the Sister visited. When she arrived, the grandmother said, "You are not  human." Shocked by what she had said, the Sister asked what she meant. She quicky and forcefully answered: "You are not human, you are like an angel."
The grandmother's response made the Sister realize what her job was about. The grandmother, because of her fears, loneliness and pain, was asking for someone to be there with her. It is not only the bodily pain but the mental pain which is difficult to accept. The Sister realized that those in hospice work need to schedule their time around the needs of the sick person.
Four months later, the grandmother was in a critical condition. When the Sister arrived, not only were the children there but all the grandchildren. " Grandmother," said the Sister,
"you are ready to go on a trip. Will it be alright to have the grandchldren send you off?"  At the Sister's suggestion, each child had some words of farewell. One said: " From now on no pain and you will be going to a  good place to rest." The grandmother was to weak to say anything but she acknowledged the greeting with her eyes and nodded. The face of the grandmother was peaceful and this enabled the family to rid themselves of their fear of death. The Sister recommended that the body be washed. The grandchildren washed the hands and feet, and the son and daughters washed the face and body. This was a time to come to  terms with her impending death. The Sister also thinks it's a good time to talk about the funeral and will, telling the sick person that all will be done as the sick person wants. 
Seeing how death was accepted by the family, the Sister reflected on the different ways we have of reacting to a dying family member. In our present society, most of us die in hospitals.  When asked whether they will be  at the side of the  dying parent many simply turn their head away. The feelings of the dying person, in most cases, are not given the importance they deserve.

The Sister finishes the essay by saying that all will meet death; only the time is not known, and that time somewhere in the distant future. Death is like the unborn baby in the mother's womb, dreaming about the new life outside. After death we are also going to another place, not knowing where. Like the new born baby, we also have to prepare for the new life.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Envioronmentally Friendly Catholic Church Of Korea

Recently, a small group of Maryknollers here in Korea  have been meeting once a month to discuss how we as a community can be more ecologically sensitive. The Society, which has urged us to move from words to action, provides the following guidelines:

a.  Applaud Society members who are engaged in the ministry of ecology and encourage more members to develop this ministry. 

b. Launch educational programs for Society members and those writing for Society publications.

c. Support and cooperate with the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns in their endeavors to educate and to lobby for ecological issues. 

d. Join with other organizations, faith-based and civil, that share a concern for the environment.

e. Initiate long-term planning for stewardship of Society lands and properties.

f. Minimize the impact of greenhouse gas emissions by individual Society members and the Society itself.

g. Reduce, or eliminate when possible, institutional practices that damage the environment.

The Korean Church, in its on-going efforts to encourage better stewardship of creation, has sponsored articles, lectures, educational programs and increased involvement in ecological movements. A few months ago, we had another visit by Fr. Sean McDonagh, a Columban priest and well-known specialist in ecology, who was giving lectures in Korea.  He said that when he started talking on these issues, he felt like Galileo. His first book, "To Care For the Earth," was rejected by publishers for three years before it was finally published, and at the time not only was the relationship of ecology and theology little understood but the interest in ecology was minimal. "In comparison to what it was 30 years ago--when I could understand the feelings of Galileo--there's been quite a change in the number of articles being written and interviews I have had on the subject."

In Korea, the ecological movements have had a mixed reception. With the Four River Project, the ever increasing number of golf courses, loss of wetlands,  pollution of air, water and food, the environmentalists have had to contend with powerful economic interests, but the environmental movements and their goal of better stewardship  of the earth are no doubt here to stay. May the efforts continue.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why Don't We See The Teenager in the Delinquent?

A diocesan priest in charge of a home for teenagers writes about the antagonism of neighbors toward this home for 'juvenile delinquents.'  A principal  of a nearby school  would like the home blocked from the view of the students; they would be a  bad influence on the student body, he said.  The real estate people also want us to leave. Everyone in the neighborhood, it seems, the priest said, is hostile to the teenagers; he wonders what effect this will have on them.
Before this assignment at the home, he expected to be dealing with rough and sometimes violent teenagers and wondered how he would deal with them.  But after meeting them, though not always liking what he saw, he found them to be like most teenagers who like to play around and want to be accepted and loved. 

When the home showed a film on ecology and the damming of a river, a teenager asked what happens to the fish that like to swim in the rapidly flowing water--the priest also had the same thought-- those fish have no place to go, the teenager said, and then, comparing himself and the others at the home to those fish, said, "We also have no place to go in this world."

This teenager wasn't  clear on what he was trying to express but the priest understood. The world is not very inviting to those who  do not go along with the standards that are set by the world. Like nature, many of these young men are vulnerable; nobody wants to listen to what they have to say. The young man was expressing his feelings and the pain he was experiencing in his troubled life.

The priest mentions the respect he has for St. John Bosco, who said that young people not only have to be loved but have to feel that love. All of us are the same, but in an order of priority the young people should be given preference. But no matter how much their troubled behaviors are calling out to others for help, few are listening, not even the Church. The Church, the priest reminds us, should not follow the ways of the world, in this matter of juvenile delinquency, but should, as in all matters that concern living a more just and holy life, be involved in changing the ways of the world.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Task Worth All The Effort Required

Korean Culture has been influenced greatly by  Shamanism, Taoism,  Buddhism and Confucianism. Because Christianity found such a fertile spiritual climate when it entered Korea, its ethical teaching was not strange to the Korean converts.

One of the opinion pieces in the Catholic Times brings to our attention the tendency of seeing others negatively, thinking and saying negative things about others. This tendency to be critical, often justified as "just being truthful," is common in our society; we are quick to see the  faults of others and point out their weaknesses.

Lamenting that nothing was going right in his life a man went to the  Buddha  for help. He was told you have to give to others. He said that he had nothing to give. The Buddha told him that no matter how poor you are you can perform the following 7 alms:

1) Greet another with warmth.

2) Speak to another with words of praise, encouragment and tenderness.

3) Open one's heart to the other.

4) Look about the other gently.

 5) With the body help another with their work and baggage.

6) Give one your seat.

7) Without being asked, respond by reading another's heart, and then help.

The writer selects three of these as   the million dollar task of a group that he will be leading on a  summer vacation. To see others with kindly eyes;  think well of them, and  say good things about them. In doing so we leave no room for the negative in our relations with  others.        
Look on  others with friendly eyes; think well, and speak well  of them, and you will be happy.  (Matthew 28 verse 21)  You won't find this in Matthew the writer concludes, but it could  very well be part  of Jesus's teaching to the disciples.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Movement from Intellectualism to Matters of the Heart

Over the years, many have noticed  that those who have been baptized while in military service, when discharged, do not usually join a Church. In recent years, we have heard a great deal of the growth of Catholicism in Korea but a lack of depth in the lives of many Catholics. The recent appointment of a religious as the new bishop of the Korean military, which occasioned a flurry of editorials and articles in Catholic media, may reverse this trend. He is the second religious to be made  bishop in Korea, and will be responsible for the pastoral care of those in the military, an obligatory service for all males.

The comments on the appointment have mentioned the symbolic value of the new bishop's position. Being a religious and  having worked in the field of spirituality for the Franciscans, there is hope that he will help energize the present movement in the Korean Church as it deals with finding ways to deepen the spirituality of our Christians.

The efforts of the new bishop, our Catholic media acknowledge, will not change anything quickly, but it is an important sign for the future. Whether the emphasis on quantity will shift to quality will depend on the spirituality of our Christians. At present, even minor difficulties can irritate because the inner life is missing.

The appointment of the second religious bishop to the Korean military has been seen by many as a symbolic message that the Spirit is at work, causing us to review the way we have conducted our catechumenate.

The Church in Korea knows that the Church in the West is on a downhill slide and that if something is not done here to stem the slide, this could be a self portrait of the Korean Church in the near future. .

A Jesuit superior was quoted as saying: "Since the Church got caught up in intellectualism, we have had a decline in church attendance; the faith has not descended to the heart. When we  experience the risen Lord in our lives, we will see the Church come alive." And a professor mentioned that the appointment of the new bishop brings up another subject to deal with: spirituality, the central focus, of course, of our Catholic life.

In Korea, unlike the States, on many topics, like spirituality, there is unanimity. What is needed is to have everyone working together to make our spirituality a deeply felt reality that all can experience.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Does Jesus Want In Discipleship?

    There are many attempts to understand the workings of the Spirit in the Church. Faith in search of understanding is a helpful starting point  to grapple with what  the Church is faced with here in Korea and throughout the world.
     A priest writing in the August issue of the Kyeong-Hyang Catholic magazine brings to the fore an issue you hear discussed often; the place of the laity in the Church.

    In the article, we are told that about 30 years ago you heard the  word sick instead of ordinary in many circles of the Church when referring to the lay person. The word for lay person with an  aspirated 'p' is (P'yeong)=ordinary; it is Pyeong=sick  without  the  aspiration. The priest is using this in jest, but telling us many of the  lay person were not properly motivated in entering the Church.

    In the 80s, many were entering  the Church. It was at this time that church attendance was mostly middle class; they were better educated and better off financially and socially, which prompted the Church to take an interest in the culture and arts of the times. It was also at this time that many Church buildings were built, pilgrimage sites began to develop, aid went to North Korea and other countries and, in general, more was done for the poor.  Much of good was done during this period.
    The priest exemplifies the change in the Church by three examples with which he was not happy.

    A parish priest wanted to start a free lunch program for the poor but the opposition was so great he had to discard the idea. The time was not ripe for the idea of free lunches in the parish: many thought it would attract 'undesirable' people and not be a good example to the children.  
    Priests  and religious were speaking out on human rights issues and social concerns and being met with opposition by many Catholics. There were even expensive advertisements put in  the daily press and gathering of signatures in opposition. Many protests  were made  to those in authority within the Church.

   The third example was the attitude of parents about sending their children to Sunday school. Many parents did not like the idea because these classes were attended by many who were not good students. The parents wanted their children to study, and Sunday school was a hindrance to this quest for good marks.

   A gallup survey that was made had  67.9% of those who had a religion considered peace of mind the number one motivation. Catholics according to a  survey made by the Catholic Times had 41.9%  and of those born Catholics 32.4% who were motivated by peace of mind.  This  showed the longer they were Catholic the more in tune they were with the Catholic view of life. This is not the kind of motivation that is a  sign that we have been evangelized by the teachings of Jesus. It is the thinking of the larger society but not of a disciple of Jesus. Peace of  mind is a by-product of discipleship and not  its reason.

    There is always the danger of separating our life into daily life and faith life, and thus living a double life. As disciples of Jesus, we have only one life. Whatever we do is done as a disciple of Jesus.   
    The priest was very honest in what he had to say, and  I wonder how much credence he will be given. Those of us who find the status quo pleasant enough do not want to change. That has been true throughout history, and it is no different today. Change is not always for the best but when we reflect on what our Lord expects from us as his disciples, the possibilities of change should not be written off automatically.