Friday, April 30, 2010

Gratitude For the Twilight Years

Ageism is not a word those in retirement spend much time worrying about, but when this attitude takes hold in a society it can negatively influence those of us who are older. The term is used to describe discrimination against older adults, an attitude based solely on age. And the group that reflects this prejudice probably more than any other group may be the elderly themselves. Age for many is something to deny and hide, but we have spent years preparing for these wisdom-filled years, and should they not be the fruitful years?

The Maryknoll Society prepares its Maryknollers for retirement with workshops, literature and talks in an effort to provide us with what we need to know for a peaceful and fulfilling retirement. Each country has its special challenges if the Maryknoller chooses to retire in the country he worked in. Korea has a great many benefits as a place of retirement, and one important benefit would be a Christian community very devoted to their priests. One negative is that elders are not a vibrant part of the society. A partial reason for this is that parents give all of what they have, while they are still healthy and mentally alert, to the children and are then reduced to asking for help from their children when a need arises. They become dependent on their children when that should not be necessary--a sad example of a custom in our society that takes some of the zest out of the life we should be living.

As Maryknollers, our problems are few since the Maryknoll Society takes good care of us. What problems we have tend to come from personality issues, our health, lack of hobbies or interests, and an attitude that doing is all important; the leisure life is seen as an embarrassment. However, being a workaholic is not a good preparation for retirement. If we were asked, when younger, what we did, most would answer: "our work," not that we were
enjoying the life God gave us. Doing maybe what consumes most of our time but being is what life is all about. It is the being that is going to influence everything we do, and it will continue to be so when we are no longer able to be doing.

It is important for Maryknoll to have happy retirees for that means health will be enhanced. The members can continue to help the Society and everyone they meet and, as a consequence, the society they live in. The happier we are as members, the fewer the problems the Society will have.

Last Sunday was vocation Sunday. We have all received the call of Jesus to be his disciples and this does not cease when we can no longer work. This call continues throughout life. With a contemplative attitude towards life we should enjoy every day as a gift, a grace, this is our thanks to God, especially the twilight years before we return to the one who gave us the gift.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Murderers Do Change and Become Useful

The morality of capital punishment in Korea is very much a controversial subject, with citizens in favor of the penalty by a 6 to 4 margin. Although the government supports the penalty as a justifiable punishment for serious crimes, no one has been executed in recent years. In many countries the citizens, although opposed, have abolished the death penalty.

A lawyer appealing for a death row criminal gave his views on the subject in a recent article. His account, the story of a condemned criminal, Jacob, encourages us to once again reflect on the value of this ultimate punishment. .

The lawyer met the condemned man and the priest who had baptized him in the court house where he was appealing the verdict, and offered to defend Jacob.

The condemned man had been renting in the house of the murdered man and did confess to the crime. While in prison he wrote many letters of remorse to the Religious Sister, who regularly visited the prison. The judge of the case-- the last case he worked on before his promotion --was persuaded to change the punishment to life in prison--very fortunate for Jacob.

For the last 20 years in prison, Jacob had been sending a letter to the lawyer which arrived on every Wednesday of the week, without fail. The letter was full of praise and thanks to God and described how he was serving others who were in prison with him and about the joy that was in his life. That had been a goad for the lawyer in his own faith life.

Jacob was called "the monk" while in jail. In every trade or program offered by the prison, he either was awarded a licence or was certified as capably finishing the program. He won the tennis tournaments each year and in recent years had learned over 300 hymns that he could play with the harmonica.

Because he was a model prisoner, his sentence was commuted from life to 20 years, and just recently he was paroled. The lawyer finishes his article by asking for prayers for Jacob and his family.

There are many reasons for or against the death penalty but the fear of putting the innocent to death is uppermost for many. The difference between manslaughter and murder many times is a judgment made by lawyers and judges, but we also tend to forget the pain of the criminal's innocent family, as we tend to focus on the pain of the victim's family. What is often forgotten, however, is that those guilty of even the most serious crimes, whether intended or not, can turn their life around through remorse, as Jacob did, and become useful members of society.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Korea Without Suicides

For some time, the Korean Catholic Church, in an effort to conscientize the public on the problem of suicides, has joined with other groups and other religions, and with the government to try to eradicate the problem-- the goal, a society without suicides. Last year, the Catholic Press published several articles and continues to do so, on different aspects of the problem, and the Church has recently set up a center with a hotline and programs to provide counseling.

The rate of suicides in Korea is one of the highest in the world, about 12,000 suicides ever year. Suicide places fourth as the reason given for overall deaths, and for those in their twenties and thirties it is the number one reason.

A doctor who worked in preventive medicine in the Catholic Medical School, and is on the Committe for Life, has written in the
Peace Weekly that with the growth of material wealth and the aging of the population, there is an increase in the number of suicides also in other countries. For each hundred thousand deaths, the usual number of deaths from suicide is 20, with a slight drop after one hundred thousand. In Korea, there has been no drop but an increase from the year 2000.

In addition to the problem of suicide in our society, it is generally recognized that Koreans
do not have a high respect for life when compared to other countries. This is reflected in not being particularly concerned about the health of the aged, which is especially bothersome in a society with a rapid increase of the aged population.

The industrial development of the country from the 1960s has been cited as perhaps the prime reason for this callousness toward life. What was seen as important at that time was economic development so that the country could compete with the other industrialized countries. As a result, there has been an increase of abortions, pollution, occupational injuries, and educating specialists, while neglecting educating for a mature value system and a people-friendly culture.

We are told as Catholics that life is precious, that it is something we have to constantly preach. The Church is helping with their hotline center, but the media must also do their part. Often the way suicides are written up make them look heroic, an act of courage. This has to change. We are
dealing here not only with a person who dies but with their family and friends. They are almost always traumatized by the suicide and the effects will be felt for generations. Our society must take note of this and decide to do more to realize the goal of a society without suicides.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Breaking Down Walls With Organic Farming

It is said that "Asia is going green." And in the forefront of the green movement is S. Korea, with 81% of its current economic stimulas package consisting of green projects. (In China it's 38%, in the USA 12%.) As evidence of Korea's commitment to organic agriculture, the next World Congress of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) will be held in Korea in 2011. Started by a gathering of five nations in France in 1972 and held every three years, IFOAM intends to spread the use of organic agriculture throughout the world.

The Gyeonggi Province of Korea has committed 2 billion won (US 2 million) to "encourage sustainable agriculture," and, in the words of Gyeonggi's Governor: to make Korea "the world's most environmentally friendly country by 2011.

The Catholic Church is also doing what it can to encourage the organic movement, and many are heeding the call. Two parishes have entered a sisterhood relationship to help further the production and exchange of organic products. Though not the first of these sister relationships in Korea, it has been given a great deal of publicity, the Peace Weekly covering it on the front page in a recent issue.

The parishes--one from a poor farming area with 8 mission stations and the other from one of the wealthiest areas of Seoul-- will have regular exchange of pastors, each pastor getting to know what the other is doing and learning from their parishioners as well. Both men are the same age, just under 50. Their pastoral mottos are similar: "Going along together," while the other is "A beautiful journey together."

The country parish produces 40 percent of the Chinese black mushrooms that enter the market. To help the farmers continue the organic farming, the city parish sends $2,000 to the country parish, and the country parish sends the produce to the city where the parishioners will have direct access to the farm goods. The pastor of the country parish has been working with farmers for a number of years and has a background in ecological studies. The plan is to have not only farm goods going to the city but an exchange of pastors and assistants; with the youth and other parish groups visiting each other in a variety of outings. Each parish will then have a fuller knowledge of the life of the other, bringing the two parishes closer together.

Will the two parishes have the passion to continue to work at realizing this vision? In Korea, as in many other countries, the priests are in a parish for a period of years, usually about six, and then changed. So the nature of this exchange will be determinied by those who follow, and will no doubt be influenced by how successful they will be in tearing down the walls that tend to arise in the course of time, making each parish an independent community. Such walls are not a sign of our Catholicism. May this understanding grow with the success of these movements.

Monday, April 26, 2010

All Have the Protection of the Law

Sunday April 25 was Law Day in Korea. The president of the Supreme Court in his talk commemorating the event admitted that in years past to maintain order a person's precious freedom and rights were unjustly curtailed. Under the pretext of laws not legitimate and properly made, citizens were forced to follow them. It is the duty of those who are in the work of enforcing these laws to be an example to the citizens of service that is honest and correctly performed.

Laws are extremely important in running a country or any organization. No matter how good the laws are there will always be members of society that do not have the money to receive help.

The parish team often is asked for help in cases that need a lawyer, and to have a place to send these parishioners is a blessing. Many are victimized or who have suffered an unjust financial loss and do not have the money to approach a lawyer.

In the Diocese of Inchon, there are a number of lawyers that offer their services free of charge. This service has been offered for almost 20 years. There are cases of family violence, a victim in a car accident who ends up being called the perpetrator and facing jail, a foreign worker who because of an industrial accident was fired without any remuneration; workers who have habitually not been given their rightful wages for work done. Given the protection of the law for those who are poor and weak makes the work of these lawyers rewarding. One of the lawyers said, "the more that a person is alienated and weak the more he needs the help of the law and specialists."

Korea did not always have the organization that it has now. There were cases that required you to be the social worker, the lawyer, the nurse, and teacher but that has all changed. With the prosperity of the country, the organization of the Church, and the help of zealous Christians, there are many avenues to find help for the poor and needy. A responsibility shared by many is very light.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Their Own Best Fans and Critics

Korean culture, influenced by Confucian thought, considers music among the great benefits given to humankind. But parents were not always happy when their children showed an interest and ability in music. Although musical ability comes easy for a Korean; the emphasis has always been on academic studies. Lately, this is beginning to change.

Recently, in both Catholic newspapers, there was an interview with a couple who have been studying liturgical music in Rome for the last 10 years. They both graduated from colleges in Korea and worked for a few years before going to Rome and meeting there in 2002. The husband, Mr. Lee, studied music in college and went on to graduate school to study liturgical music. He was the conductor of a parish choir, taught music in college, and was a program director for Church Music on the Pyeongwha TV, but he wanted more and felt a lack that only more study would satisfy. Rome seemed to be the answer, and while there he studied choir and orchestral directing and singing.

Miss Park majored in Korean Literature in college and accompanied choirs from the time she was a child. She also had a desire for more studies in liturgical music, Gregorian chant and composition. She is the first woman to have graduated after taking a 9-year course in composition. Her desire is to work on a hymn book that would combine the words and music in such a way that it would foster the piety of those singing.

Now with a daughter, Stella, the couple found it difficult, at first, to continue their work and studies, so they came up with a plan to work and study as a family. They are now each others greatest fans and critics.

By going to the United States, the couple expect to be exposed to a greater variety of liturgical music, will continue with their studies and begin a new life. Even after 10 years in Rome, they are uneasy about this new beginning in the States. It does help, however, that Mr. Lee was selected to be the conductor of a large Cathedral Parish where he can put his knowledge and expertise in liturgical music to good use.

The Korean Catholic Church does not budget much money in preparing a good choir. Those who are interested in working for the Church in the music ministry--if they are paid at all--would receive only a token amount. It is usually a work of love for those that have other jobs. We are a young church and for a parish to add music to the budget as another expense would be difficult, which makes finding a well paying job in the music field in which the couple have specialized very difficult in Korea. Few would be as qualified as this couple in liturgical music, either in Korea or in the States. May they have a rewarding stay in the States.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Power of the written word.

In the first years of the seminary, the spiritual director would give us a book to read and on the following visit would ask for our opinion. Our level of spiritual maturity was judged by how we responded to that question, and would determine which book was assigned next. This method may not have been always accurate but few would doubt that what we read is a good indication of how we will think and act.

April 23rd was World Book Day, a tribute to books and their authors, which encourages everyone to discover the importance and pleasures of reading and to support the publishing and distribution of books. Begun by UNESCO in 1995, the event is now the biggest day of the year for bibliophiles and is celebrated in more than 100 countries.

The Catholic Church in Korea is also doing its part as it tries to motivate Catholics to become readers. Not an easy task, since the typical Korean is not a reader. In the Catholic Times, a Religious Sister of the Bishops' Mass Comm Committee has written that Koreans spend only 8 minutes a day reading.

In our mission station, with its small library, we have tried to get our parishioners, during the winter months, to spend more time reading but few show any interest. Without the habit of reading, it is very difficult to begin, especially when there are so many distractions. We seem to be, these days, in perpetual motion with little inclination to slow down enough to enjoy the moments of doing nothing. If we will allow those moments to occur without feeling threatened by the inactivity, we can begin to make friends with books.

If one can get into the habit of reading, the excuse of a lack of education would not be important. In the early days, many of those who came into the Church were not able to read; by participating in the catechumenate they became readers. The step from non-literate to literate was for many of them as important as the entrance to the Catholic community. The Catholic newspapers are giving the movement publicity. Hopefully, we will soon see results.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Maryknoll Sisters' Gift to Korea

A small group of Maryknoll Sisters came to Korea in 1949 to work with the sick and needy in Pusan. When the Korean War started, they had to leave Korea and wait in Japan until they received permission from the United Nations to return and begin medical work.

Their clinic became the Maryknoll Hospital of Pusan, starting out as the first charity hospital in Korea. It will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year.

In the beginning, it was an unfriendly environment in which to work but that made the work all the more challenging. They had no easy access to medicines, people were hungry, space was limited and over-crowded. And because of the fighting in the north, Pusan was overrunning with refugees who needed extra care.

Besides the needs of the body: mostly tuberculosis, cancer, typhoid and diphtheria, they also had to deal with many social issues. Over 2000 patients were attended to each day, testifying to the urgent need for such a hospital in Pusan. It was during this period that they received aid of food and medicines from the States.

The Maryknoll Hospital was the first Catholic hospital in Pusan and on April 15th a Mass celebrating the event was held, which will be followed by many more events during the year to commemorate the beginning of the hospital. There are many who remember the good that was done during those difficult years. In 1969, the hospital was turned over to the Diocese of Pusan.

Since then, the Maryknoll Sisters expanded their ministries and locations in South Korea, opening other clinics and hospitals and a nursing school. The first Credit Union in Pusan, which soon spread to the whole country, was established by a Maryknoll sister. Other ministries included Peace and Justice Movements, counseling workers, defended abused women, worked with the poor and in pastoral ministries in difficult areas.

Because Korea is much better off now than it was after the war, many of the Maryknoll Sisters have left Korea, deciding that other countries needed their services more. However, their inspiration remains behind with the many that knew and worked with them. Those who now work in the Maryknoll Hospital will have their example to emulate.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Seeing Virtue from Another Angle

A columnist in Our Daily Life and Our Spiritual Life has an interesting and different from the ordinary understanding of the word "vice." In Korean the word translates as '악덕' ( evil virtue), a characteristic of certain behaviors that can appear to be virtuous to some and not to others. However, the word "virtue," in Korean as in English, is always seen positively, meaning to follow a middle course. Too much or too little could be a problem, but to be virtuous is generally understood to be a good quality to have, both for oneself and for the other. It helps us to see the significance of life and tends toward joy.

The writer describes "'evil virtue" as anything done for another that we think is good but is experienced by the other as less than good and, more often than not, as something annoying. In our own minds, we are acting charitably, virtuously, but the person on the receiving end sees it differently: not as charity but as an unwanted intrusion. This is what the writer considers "'evil virtue."

Typical examples: a person doing something that he thinks is motivated by love and the person receiving is probably thinking: "For heaven's sake, please desist." When we are trying to help others, those receiving the help may consider it irksome, preferring not to have the help. There are times when someone may be sacrificing to be of service to others, and those helped are saying to themselves: "When is he going to stop and go home?" The person offering the help may be thinking it's valuable advice, but it may be seen as just empty prattle by the other--virtuous to one, "evil virtue" to the other.

Many of those caught in the receiving end of this situation see such "help" as an imposition, and not the help it was intended to be. Things done in the extreme are often more of a problem than leaving things undone.

The writer persuasively concludes that virtue taken too far is not really a virtue--too much love, too much helping , too much sacrificing for the other, too much advice--all these can become "evil virtue." Virtue, rightly understood and made a part of our lives, frees and comforts all of us. It is well to reflect on this when we are trying to do good.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Leopard will lie down with the kid-- Isaiah 11

In the early years in Korea, a woman, seeing a foreigner on the same street with her, would tend to fear for her safety. This was partially due to the increased presence of soldiers after the Korean War and the distressing stories circulating at that time involving soldiers. However, these days foreigners are no longer a problem but rather other Koreans. A columnist in the Korean Times mentioned that when he had been out late one night, riding his bycycle and had stopped to check his head light, a woman walking in front of him quickly started to run, thinking the writer had some evil intentions.

The topic of his column was the lack of trust in Korean society. The problem, contrary to what one might expect, has nothing to do with national security or similar issues requiring a high level of trust but simply citizens trying to know the truth of what is being said and what is not being said. A South Korean Navy patrol boat sank in the western sea following an explosion on March 26th. There was no confirmation on what happened so all kinds of rumors circulated to fill the vacuum-- in this case, understandable but another sign of lack of trust.

The signs of public distrust are many: there is little trust that our faucet drinking water is pure enough to drink, so the use of bottled drinking water continues to increase. When at the supermarket, shoppers do not always find it easy to select foods without doubting their quality. Patients don't trust the doctors, students don't trust the teachers--and sometimes for good reasons since both doctors and teachers, it has been reported, have lied about their credentials.

All this uncertainty adds even more stress to what is normally present in a typical day. When we cannot easily accept what others are saying at face value, we feel compelled to work at not being deceived. Society then becomes a burden, not a help as it should be in living a joyful and productive life. Even in contemporary novels, it is difficult to find warm and genial situations depicted. Instead, we have writers who focus almost entirely on distrust, betrayal, lies, deviancy, and addiction to sex.

Is it impossible to expect a different kind of environment? We expect lack of trust in the animal world: the lamb fears the leopard, the calf the lion. It is only in the world of humankind that we can expect something different: going from distrust to trust. The writer takes the word
(sin) with three different meanings: meaning God, meaning belief and meaning renewed. If we believe in God then we will be renewed. The world will be changed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What We Feel Does Affect Others

In the Winter Olympics, the Koreans had been heading for a sweep of the medals in the short track 1,500 meter skating event when the favorite to win, a Korean, crashed into another Korean--also expected to be a medalist--overtaking him on the inside and taking him down with him, the eventual gold medalist just missing the crash.

A columnist in a recent article in a Catholic newspaper referred to this accident as an example of what greed can do to any of us at any time. He described how upset he was at the skaters for ruining the opportunity Korea had to sweep all medals in that particular event. He admitted to feeling greatly upset and cheated by the accident and the failure of the skaters to sweep the medals.

He mentioned this to a friend on the day of the crash. The friend said that God had given him a great topic for meditation. Greed is not a personal problem but a problem that can give pain to others. His friend told him that by meditating on how he felt at the time of the crash, it was useful in revealing habitual attitudinal patterns of behavior in his own life.

He soon realized he was upset at the players for not bringing glory to Korea. It was a manifestation of his own greediness--wanting, in this case, an all-Korean sweep of the medals. His friend's "spiritual take" on the event made him rethink his way of responding to things in the world over which he had no control. As he thought about his unjustified anger at the skaters, he was overcome by a feeling of embarrassment.

How we react to anything in life will often depend not on what is being reacted to but on who is doing the reacting. People see the same event and the responses can be quite different. It depends on the way we have in the past reacted to similar events in our life that will influence how we will react to them in the present. When things don't go the way we want, we don't have to respond with complaints, irritation and anger, spreading discontent to those we are with. We can accept whatever happens, no matter how distasteful, without being upset, knowing that in most cases we could not have made a difference in the outcome.

Koreans did hope that it would be an all Korean victory. Confidence and desire to have the Koreans do well in the Olympics was a feeling shared by many, and the writer's feelings about the accident was undoubtedly shared also by many; it was a natural response to the accident but his friend's words were also proper. What we have done to grow spiritually will tend to appear in all aspects of our daily life, enabling us to see reality more completely. A reality where greed is naturally replaced by a spirit of generosity.