Monday, May 31, 2010

"Two Temptations Faced By Lay People"

Catholic lay people are beginning to show an interest in the social principles of the Church, and showing this in their actions. Three years ago they started their own web site, Civil Action for Social Justice: www.casj.or.kr, showing concern for the powerless and working for the common good.

Since the end of the Second Vatican Council, we have a better understanding of what Christians are expected to do in society: work for dignity, freedom, peace, justice and solidarity. We also have the standards to examine our actions, and judge where to act.


An article in the Catholic Times by a member of the bishops' committee of Peace and Justice mentions that the Church had a great deal to do in bringing democracy back to Korea. All of us have the job to work for democratization of society and human development. And he stresses this is not only the work of the leaders in the church.


This is the work of the laity. We need the participation of lay people in groups and as individuals to work for justice. There is a place for the leaders of the Church and those in groups of service to foster this work, but it will be the lay people with their expertise working concretely in the many areas of society that will bring about the change.


Pope John Paul II in Christifideles Laici: " two temptations can be cited which they (lay people) have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world."


The Church in Korea has become conscious that many of our lay people are very much involved in the work of the Church but are forgetting that their work is mainly to be in society and in the transformation of society. We are beginning to see more lay people activity in cyberspace and groups that are trying to bring about a change in society. There are more books and seminars on Catholic social teaching, which should cause a change in the participation of Catholics in the work of justice and peace.

The efforts of Korean priests in works dealing with human rights has been very clear, but it may have convinced the laity that the leadership will be working in that area, and they can continue with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The works of mercy are important, but it is not the only work that is expected of our laity.



Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Is The Aim of Education?

This past week was Catholic Education Week in Korea. Over 4000 gathered together to renew their mission as educators and to reaffirm the principles in the National Charter of Education.

Bishop Choi Boniface, who gave the opening remarks, said "Are we satisfied with the present education situation in Korea? Do the parents see smiles on the faces of their children? He was making clear that the current approach for achieving grades and preparing for college is not what education should be.

The attendees were of one mind, stressing education for the whole person and appreciating the value of life. Teachers should also be an example to students on how to live. This was well expressed by a speaker who said the aim of Catholic education is the "body, mind, emotions and the spirit, by which you are forming the whole person. A person who relates well with others, a virtuous person, is the fruit of that education."

In Korea, as in any society, the desires of those who are trying to do their job well are very much influenced by the society they live in. Parents, like all parents everywhere, are interested in getting their children to be successful, to go to the best schools and associate with those who will be of help to their children. But it may be too much to ask them to sacrifice their children's future for an ideal our society doesn't think important and doesn't encourage. Society has to change, the Church has to change, each of us has to change.

In years past, Incheon Diocese had a wonderful program, the YCS (the Young Christian Student Movement) that trained students for leadership and to be salt and light in society. "See, Judge and Act" was how it described the goals of the program. It was very successful and you could see a change in the children but parents thought it was taking too much time away from school studies and the program was discontinued. Understandably, parents do not want their children to be drop outs from society no matter how mature and virtuous they become. Until this attitude changes, effort and programs, like the YCS, will not have the results we would like. As noted in a Peace Weekly editorial, there is still the quest to be number one, and studying solely to get a better job.

The editorial goes on to suggest that this tunnel vision approach to education could change. It compares the educator who is Catholic to the 3 percent salt in the sea that keeps the sea from putrefying. If more Catholic educators, despite their numbers, lived the Christian life exemplified by Jesus, we can then expect a change, as well, in the classroom.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What Is Really Insignificant?

A writer for the Catholic Times describes her reactions when she saw a one million, four hundred thousand dollar car on her way home in a taxi. As the car passed by, the taxi driver gave her some facts on the car and mentioned there are two such cars in the country. (I went to the internet to see what such a car looked like and the first reference that came up was, if it can be believed, an eight million dollar car a German company is planning to introduce soon.) The driver, seeing her expression of doubt, added that the owner of the car probably doesn't have time to go home and relax. The taxi driver thought it was time for some humor. It was like seeing, she said, one of the most expensive homes in Seoul passing by. She was busy trying to calm herself; anything else the driver continued to say about the car was not registering. When she arrived at her destination and paid her taxi fare, she remembered later, that she forgot to get the change.

She wanted to know why she was getting angry about something she knew was unimportant. Why were small things upsetting her while the serious things tended not to? It reminded her of the shepherd boy calling out wolf so many times that when the wolf did come, no one listened. Having heard so many lies over many years, she believes it becomes difficult to respond properly even when hearing matters of import. She had become apathetic, or, more accurately, wanted to be. The latent anger she has buried within tends to appear at trifles that are the common fate of most of us.

Organic lettuce, two days after purchase, became mush; the dry cleaner made her pay the price of a coat for a jumber; the bus she waited for a half hour passed by because no one was getting off; the printer was jamming; she had no oil to prepare her fried rice. She was getting upset at these trifles, and blamed her reactions to a lack of virtue.

She mentions the well-known Zen story about the university professor who goes to a master of the spiritual life to ask for some help in living with wisdom. They sat down at a table and the master offered him tea, and as he poured the tea he didn't stop. The tea fell from the cup onto the floor and the professor protested, "What are you doing? The cup is full isn't it?" The master said, "Like this cup, you are filled with all kinds of thoughts, desires, plans and convictions. To accept what I want to give, you have to empty your cup, otherwise, like the tea, what I say will be wasted." The writer wonders if she also is too "filled up" to see what is important in life.

She concludes with the hope that she will come to see what is important and not be sidetracked with the purely inconvenient. However, she admits that separating the significant from the insignificant is not always easy. She is not sure that the feeling aroused by the car she saw was something insignificant.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Not All That Glitters Is Precious

It is refreshing to hear stories of persons who don't follow mainstream thinking. The managing director of the Catholic Peace Weekly and Peace Broadcasting, celebrating 22 years of service to the Catholic community, in the anniversary editorial proclaimed this direction for the paper--a very bold statement in today's world.

Twenty-two years is not a long time, but he says they have seen, heard and learned a great deal during that time. The introduction of smart phones to the Korean society has brought in many changes, affecting not only the way we act but the way we think.

He also notes that computers, without discounting their enormous benefits, are in some ways a mixed blessing to our children. Having been introduced to the imaginary world of computers at an early age, children are having difficulty distinguishing the real from the imaginary. These same children will become the adults of tomorrow. By putting ourselves in their shoes, we might begin to understand the scope of the problem and what can be done to help solve it.

When these technological advances begin to lose their charm, we will, he feels, get back to the things of God, but when that day comes, he worries that it may be too late. We have to contend with the success and widespread use of the new technologies by all levels of society, which can distort the way our society sees many of the values of the past. If listening to God in our hearts means not following the crowd, then we will not unthinkingly accept everything that is new.

He was encouraged to hear a writer say he was not going to write with his eyes on the audience rating; his writing will be determined by what he thinks is good. It's a position the director has expressed many times, though it's not considered good business practice. To keep the values of the past and not be influenced by the distortions of the present, he is willing to take a step into the past. There are, after all, values in life besides material success. What we need now are more successful examples of those who are swimming against the current to maintain their integrity and honor, not only for themselves but for the society they live in.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fewer Words And Desire For More Meaning

A Korean novelist who writes for the Catholic Times has a desire for mini- fiction. Being a novelist she gets quite a few books each month from her acquaintances-- on average over 10. Besides the books she acquires on her own, her work as a novelist, and age, which makes it harder to read and concentrate, she cannot continue as in the past, and so the desire for mini-fiction.

Reading a novel takes time; a short novel probably half a morning, and then there's the time involved in writing --all the while thinking about the novel in her own mind that she wants to write. She wonders at such times, whether her efforts on a novel are worthwhile. Will the novel be of interest and of value to anyone? What will they gain by reading what she has written? These thoughts paralyze her--the dreaded writer's block--and she is not able to continue.

At these times, as a way out of the problem, she plays with the idea of mini-fiction.
A new area of literature in which one writes very briefly, a scene or page-- a novel. In a few lines, you expose exquisitely the core of your story. She mentions South America, where this genre first developed, and the writer Borges.

Going way back in Korean history there were many who succeeded in writing short stories. Spanish novelist, Augusto Monterroso, who was known for his short stories, especially the mini-fiction (complete in seven words): "Upon waking, the dinosaur was still there." And, Hemingway gives us his six word mini-fiction: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

She tells us that Jesus' short stories, his parables, are hard to beat. They were oral stories that have been compiled by the authors of the Gospels and have entertained and instructed many over the last 2,000 years. They are filled with great meaning for all, even with the passage of time.

With the internet and the small bytes that we are getting accustomed to, the future is going to demand fewer words and more meaning. Newspapers are having a difficult time, and we will probably see the impact of the internet on the fiction-reading public in the years to come. Her desire for less pages with more meaning is easily understood.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where Do We Look For Love?

" Where do we find love?" was an article I recently read. The writer, as a young boy, remembered attending a small Protestant Church in his neighborhood. The service had ended and it was time for snacks. The minister asked the children for questions; the young boy raised his hand and boldly asked, "They say we have a soul. Where is it?"

The minister, laughing, asked him: "Do your parents love you?" The boy answered yes, and the minister asked again: "Where is that love?"

The writer tells us that it was the first time in his life that he was introduced to abstract concepts; on that day, he became conscious of the unseen world.

If our heads do not understand, we tend not to believe, he writes, and what we cannot verify with our eyes we put on the back burner. We see and believe what we want to, and in most cases we depend on things that are not certain. We often follow mistaken certainty, and our actions follow suit.

We hear, notes the writer, that we only use a small part of our brains--true. But we've also heard that listening to Mozart will increase a child's IQ. This is not true and has been generally recognized as such for sometime. It was once thought that venting your feelings was good for you; now they tell us differently.

In Korea, we were captivated by the idea of EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) that came in from the States. Parents of perfectly normal children, with no need for this exposure, were sending their children to academies to learn all about it, spending thousands of dollars. It was the thing to do.


Instead of too quickly accepting what is being passed around as the truth, we have to begin by getting rid of what is covering our eyes, getting down humbly on our knees and clasping our hands. Knowledge that is not ripe, mistaken convictions, mass thinking and unquestioning belief should be discarded. He concludes the article: "We do not fix our gaze on what is seen but on what is unseen. What is seen is transitory: what is unseen lasts forever" (II Cor. 4:18).

"A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not..." is a saying we are familiar with and know to be true. There are many things that we think we know but are deceiving us. This may be a blessing in many cases, as we sometimes struggle to know the truth, but it should also humble us and enable us to be open to truth that may come into our lives in different ways, grace not the least.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Attempts to See Marriage as Sacrament

The Korean Bishops' Committee on Family, in their recent seminar, considered the widespread problems connected with marriage: deciding to marry late or not at all. There is a sizeable increase in the numbers that do not plan to marry and who defer marriage, who prefer international marriages, and who divorce and remarry. The intention of the committee was to see what can be done to alleviate some of the problems.

There is a rejection of many of the traditional values associated with marriage, brought about, in part, by generational changes, financial difficulties, and the cultural aspects of modern life. Marriage is no longer normative but something that one selects. The part played by finances in this selection is important.

The consciousness of women's equality brought a change in society; women's ability to earn a living has also increased the number of divorces. The number of divorces since 1970 to 1990 has increased fourfold. Discrimination in salaries and more difficult working conditions often make women put off marriage, and at times the opportunity to marry is missed.

Catholic families in the cities are healthier and more affirming than families of other religions or those with no religion. This, however, is not the case with the younger generation. They do not have the values of the older generation; their way of looking at marriage is often the same as their
peers, regardless of religious affiliation--except for a slight difference in the way they look at divorce.

The committee concluded that the Church has to be more involved with pastoral care of families; they are the basis of our society. Children are a part of the family and the love that the spouses have for each other should show in the family. The religious education of our children is an important part of bringing about a change in the way our Catholics see marriage. Marriage is a sacrament and a vocation which has to be a part of our Catholic upbringing and view of life.

The article in the Catholic Times suggested 4 proposals to bring about change: Catholics should set an example for the married life. All should work to deepen our faith life. To work not only with temporary expedients but with long-term preventive measures. And to provide programs and educational material for families.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It All Begins By Loving Oneself.

A College Professor writes of his experience in getting students to submit a profile of themselves, at the beginning of each semester, by asking: Who am I? The question is believed easy to answer but many find it's not as easy as they thought. The question not only tends to bring up troubling negative self images, as well as positive ones, but tends to reveal how much we identify with our superficial personality traits. Not content with most of the answers, many students had difficulty in meeting the deadline for the report.

In these difficult times, there are students, fortunately, who are able to have positive self images, but also, unexpectedly, many who see their existence negatively and pessimistically. The professor mentions that he repeatedly tells students to have a positive view of life. However, they are not able to do it. Some constantly belittle themselves, can't forgive themselves for being dropouts or for their inferiority complex, for feeling guilty of something and being alienated from family and neighbors, for worrying about jobs and the future. These are some of the negative profiles received by the professor. .

He uses the moral writings of Hans Rotter, a German theologian, to stress that most of the problems that determine how we react with others and God result from a poor self image. The remedy is to forgive and to love oneself and to realize our dignity. One cannot do this by oneself; help is needed.

He recounts his own difficulty with achieving a positive self image: poverty of his family, problem meeting registration fees, frustrations in not doing well in studies, facing puberty, feeling out of place, no self-confidence with women--all leading to low self esteem and a period of drifting. About 30 years ago, thanks to his wife, he went to church and found himself. It brought confidence into his life, his negativity disappeared, and he now lives with a grateful heart.

A proper self image is necessary to understand our relationship with God and others. The students who saw life positively and had a correct image of themselves were, for the most part, those who had a relationship with God.

The professor stresses that even Catholics may not have the proper understanding of who they are. The love of God and others must start with oneself by acknowledging our dignity and being able to forgive ourselves. Our movement towards the other and to God will then follow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Reason to Enjoy Life

Today is the Church's birthday, a Feast with great meaning for Christians. Wind, fire and tongues have enough information within those words to give us a clear idea of what the Feast can reveal to us, as well as providing thoughts for meditation that can last a lifetime.

A priest of the diocese, reflecting on the Feast of Pentecost, recalled a poem he once read, the poet noting that the oceans are vast and thinking that boats should then be able to travel in any direction, when, in fact, there is a direction each boat must follow. And noting also that the sky is vast, and thinking that planes can then travel freely in any direction, but they too have a route to follow. In the same way, we think we are free, but we also are moved, unknowingly, in most cases, in certain directions by our habits and life patterns.

Although he does not know the reason many of us live with our hearts closed off to this truth--suggesting that it might be because of emotional scars, fears, pain, anger or spite--he names it the chaos before God's creation. God's Spirit, when accepted, changes all of this. The direction that is mapped out for us by the Spirit brings joy into our lives. To achieve this, we have to break the unhealthy patterns and habits we have nurtured over a life time and now determine how we live.

The Christians meeting together on that first Pentecost had been washed and tried in a baptism that they never expected--they died with Jesus. All their dreams, plans and beliefs disappeared. It was not what they expected; they felt lost and demoralized, and showed it by their actions, until the emptiness was filled with the Spriit.

The Catholic Times editorial for Pentecost tells us we have to change. There are divisions we see developing in Korea between the young and the old and between different social levels. If this unnecessary and divisive thinking is not to harm society, we need to empty ourselves so our prejudices, even our stubbornness, do not prevent us from hearing the Spirit. We have to fight against greed, and especially against the manipulations of society when they don't benefit all of its citizens. Unless we make an effort not to be compromised in any way, the Spirit will not find a welcoming home in our hearts.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

'Common Good' More Than A Word

Many years ago before coming to Incheon, I lived in a country parish, Yong Dong, with a mission station called Hak San, The Peace Weekly recently had an article about the mission's pharmacist, Lee Henry,who is also the parish council president and has been for most of the past 43 years.

There are many devoted Christians who have worked for the Church. Lee Henry and his wife Colomba are such a couple.

He was baptized many years ago in a parish where a Maryknoll Missioner, Fr. Mike Zunno, was pastor. Henry at that time was a student at Chungbuk College, studying pharmacy. He brought his fiance to meet Fr. Mike who told Henry that he was thinking of starting a mission station near the college and asked him if he would be willing, after his marriage, to become the catechist. He accepted the invitation and began his new life working for the Church.

Henry and Columba found accommodations in the area and began the new assignment without having even one Catholic. He was a busy man: catechist, student, husband and father.

It was a difficult time in Korea and the family struggled during those years. In 1967, he was asked again if he would go to a mission station of the Yong Dong Parish where Fr. Zunno had been newly assigned as pastor. He went to the mission station, took over the duties of head catechist, and opened a pharmacy, the only one in the area. Because there are also no hospitals or doctors in the area, the pharmacist is allowed to prescribe medicine.

During the 43 years in Hak San he lived a full life, raising a family of 5 children and sending them all to college; one daughter is now a sister of St. Paul of Chartres.

His concern now is to find a replacement. He has a heart condition that requires constant care, so he wants to move to a city where he can be near his children and a hospital. But he will not leave until he finds a suitable replacement. In the Pharmacy he added benches so that people waiting for their prescriptions could socialize, and in difficult times he would often destroy the books of credit. This is no longer necessary; many believe that buying medicine on credit affects the medicine. A certain sign that life has gotten better.

I lived in this parish for 6 years and know that everything in the article was not embellished. It was through efforts of the couple that the mission station was made a parish, fulfilling a desire the Christians had for many years. There are many working in service to others that are not only looking to do well for themselves but working for the common good. May their numbers increase.



Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy Buddha's Birthday

In Korea, Buddha's birthday is celebrated today, May 21. It is a national holiday and celebrated in much the same way Christians celebrate Christmas values.

Buddhist monks in Korea are for the most part celibate, so celibacy is a value that Koreans have little difficulty in accepting. Ascetics play a major role in the training of a monk, and there is no end to study and devotion to one's faith. Meditation on greed, on suffering and the nature of the self, and the impermanence of material things is an important part of their life. Integrity and simplicity are stressed. These are values that most religious people acknowledge.

In a recent interview in a daily newspaper, a well known monk was asked, Why did Buddha come? "We have within us," he answered, "unknown to us, a treasure house of jewels which allows us to live a truly full life. In the West, there is the separation of the 'you' and the 'I', the separation of God and humanity. In Buddhism all is one, all connected, the past, present, and future, the big and the small, existence and non-existence, good and evil, the strong and weak points, we do not distinguish. With this teaching, the Buddha came to bring us happiness." Quotation marks are used even though the translation-interpretation may not have fully captured the intent of the monk's words. However, the monism that is apparent here is quite different from the views of Christians.

Reading the interview I was attracted to much of what was said until coming to a section in which the interviewer mentioned that the monk was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1998. He conquered it with prayers of penance and devotion to his faith. The disease was retribution, he thought, for some fault in a past life, a karmic debt that must be paid. With his penance, it has disappeared and he doesn't think of it any more. As Christians, we would have difficulty accepting his explanation.

The monk recalled an incident that happened to him as a child. He had the job of preparing the porridge for those visiting the temple that day. While he was preparing the porridge,
a centipede fell into the pot. What was he to do? It was lunch time, and he couldn't throw the whole pot away. Not knowing what to do, he asked the head monk who told him to remove the centipede and bring the porridge to the table. It was eaten not only by the visitors to the temple, but by the head monk, who thanked the young boy for a job well done. A humble person has a big heart and can accept anything that happens, were the concluding remarks of the head monk. This consoled him and gave him strength to continue with the training.

The relationship of Catholics and Buddhists in Korea is harmonious. There are visits and exchanges during the year at each others' big events. Today, the archbishop responsible for ecumenical matters will visit one of the temples to give his greetings. In matters that relate to life and in caring for nature, they will continue to work together as closely as possible.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another Way to Overcome the 'Ego'

The history of the saints tells us that many have acted strangely, not only to our modern sensibilities but to the customs of their time. One such saint was St. Philip Neri. He gave bizarre penances and performed crazy antics to humble his own pride.

He would meet people with his clothes turned inside out, danced through the streets with his beard half shaved, carried a bunch of brooms which he sniffed like a bunch of flowers, appeared in public with a cushion on his head, seen in church with his biretta cocked on one side. He was pleased to draw ridicule for his antics. He acted as the clown for very unclownlish reasons.


We also have this kind of priest in Korea. We will wait until he dies to make a judgement about his sanctity. He writes about his experiences in parish work in the Catholic Peace Weekly. At a seminar for diocesan priests, they commented on his hair style. "Father, you're really chic, please no more of these antics." His hair was long and slightly in a permanent.


In keeping with his unpredictability, each spring, he shaves his head; he can feel the wind on his head and have a light heart.


His eccentricities have led to difficulties in parish work. "Mom, a Buddhist monk has come to the church." This was the reaction to the pastor after arriving at the parish. A girl who had returned home from studies overseas said to her mother that she was hoping to see a classy priest. However, with his head looking like a Buddhist monk and his fluent sermon delivered like a Protestant minister, she didn't know what to think.


The priest mentioned that one day a group of nuns came to see him. He showed them around the area and left while they prepared lunch at the beach. He was dealing with an annoying problem in the parish and was looking for another way of seeing the issue. He went to a nearby beauty shop, had his hair shaved off and soon returned to the sisters.
When they saw him, they thought he was a monk down from his temple in the mountains, but it didn't take long before they realized that this was their host. It was difficult to eat lunch in the usual manner, and they remained bewildered.

In Korea in recent years many have their heads shaved in protest to what they see in society. This is a common sign of protest both in the East and in the West: the skinned-head look without the ideology. It is a sign that they are willing to look strange, to look different, giving up something many think important--our physical appearance--to make a point. Our priest if it is a protest it is against himself, perhaps very much in line with the motives of St. Philip Neri.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Attraction to the Natural Life


Many of the emails I receive are written by people I do not know. One email discussed the Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of the acclaimed "bible of natural farming," The One-Straw Revolution. He was an organic farmer who believed that traditional organic farming did not go far enough, that the ideal food producing land had to be kept as close as possible in its natural state.

One day, when young (he died a few years ago at the age of 95), feeling the emptiness of life, he quit his work and began to drift. In his journeys, he came to the ocean where he sat down to rest and heard the song of a bird which gave him a jolt into a new way of looking at life. He returned to the family farm and began to farm naturally, as well as eating and living more naturally, based on the principles of natural farming he spent the last 30 years of his life promoting.

He was trained as a soil scientist but very early in his career began to doubt the wisdom of modern agricultural science. His family farm was on an island and his method of farming--"do nothing farming," he called it--was to do little of what is considered important in farming. In fact, he succeeded in getting yields that were at times even greater than yields from the use of modern farming methods. His method evolved from observing, over many years and through trial and error, the natural requirements of different plants. He learned that they could do very well without our help. The less a farmer did to disturb the natural ecology--no plowing the soil, no chemical fertilizers or prepared compost, no weeding or use of herbicides or pesticides--the better the land would respond. It was a step, a big step, beyond the usual way of doing organic farming. He spent the last years of his life speaking out and writing about his discoveries.

Masanobu Fukuoka was a mystic and a philosopher whose ideas have influenced not only farmers throughout the world, but many others who have applied his ideas to rethink other aspects of life. "A vision offering an ideal to strive for," said one review of his written work. "Indispensable to everyone hoping to understand the future of food and agriculture," said another review. But the review, "Reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world," perhaps best echoes his own assessment of his work: "A way of farming and living fully integrated with nature."

One wonders what would happen to our society if this revolutionary way of doing things naturally became the accepted way of living. Though the chance of this happening on a large scale is remote, each of us can apply some of the principles of living more naturally in our own life. It was Fukuoka's conviction that we must make this effort if we are to avoid the spiritual decay that permeates much of modern society, caused, he believed, by our lost intimacy with the unseen world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Not Only Sticks and Stones But Words Hurt

"Children will be children." It was true in our day and will be so in the future. A teacher, writing in our Diocesan Bulletin, expressed his concern for the way the children use foul language today. He feels they have no thought of the harm they are doing, to themselves as well as to others.

This is not only true when they are speaking to others but when alone and overcome with emotion. There is no thought that what they are doing is wrong. Their conversation starts and finishes with foul language. When talking to children, one realizes very quickly that the inclination is there to use this kind of language. Why did they pick up the habit? Their language often reflects family language.

The following week the writer, a teacher, also noted that not only children but young people are in the habit of using abusive language among themselves. This is not only when they have ill feelings towards another, it has become an accepted way of communicating; he was surprised to see how much they enjoyed "trash talking"--what some of the younger generation are calling it.

Often in daily life we tend to use this language when faced with an unfair situation and emotions take over. Venting feelings is a relief--to us--but it does damage to others. Most young people, it seems, have accepted and even enjoy this way of dealing with one another and see it as a natural and "cool" way of relating.

What is sometimes forgotten, and not only by the younger generation, is that the language that we use shows our character, our attainments, our cultural level. But perhaps more important, as the writer notes, the way we speak is going to determine how we act. He feels that the older generation has to set a better example in their own speech. And to help accomplish this, he urges that society should take more of an interest in esthetics, including what is often neglected in this study--language as a means of expressing the beauty in life. It will have a great deal to do with the society we will leave for those who come after us.

Language will always be important for it comes from us and ultimately teaches us who we think we are. It is said that we convey more of this self by our non-verbal communication than by the verbal, words giving only a partial expression of the non-verbal. As children, people of my generation, often heard: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Obviously, a defense reaction; we know that words, even when used lightly or in jest, can desensitize us. When they become ingrained as an accepted way of communicating, they not only harm others and ourselves, but society itself will tend to take on the same characteristics and become callous and harsh.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seeing Life In A New Way

The daily newspaper had a story about Youn Seuk-in, a religious sister who developed infantile rheumatism at the age of 13, when all cartilages atrophied, and she became paralyzed.

She is the first severely paralyzed person in the history of the Catholic Church to become a professed nun. She is now the director of a home for handicapped women.

In addition to her directorial duties, Sister Youn is an artist. She paints by holding the brush in hands severely crippled. She says: "It is the care of my family, those who have taught me and accepted me that I am alive today." The family, with 5 children, neither rich nor poor, lived together harmoniously.

Until she was diagnosed with chronic rheumatism at the age of 13, she dreamed of being a nurse and living a normal life. Gradually, all she could do was lie on the floor. Her father prepared a place for her with books, and they became her constant companions. She read the complete works of Shakespeare and much philosophy.

She asked her brothers and sisters in the beginning to explain difficult passages until the day came when this was no longer necessary . The interviewer was surprised by her skillful use of words and by the depth of her thinking: you would never think she was a grammar school dropout.

This life with books, however, did not satisfy her, and thoughts of suicide came frequently. It was at this time that she came across the book by Cardinal Gibbons, "Faith of Our Fathers." She had no religion but reading this book started her thinking about God.

She finally asked her mother if she could go to church. They found a Church in the area, she started taking a correspondence course and was soon baptized with the name Bona. But the correspondence course was not the answer to what she was looking for. In the desire to get rid of an unfulfilled feeling, she started going to Church regularly. She was taken to different places by members of the parish, like museums and picnics, and started to paint again. She was told she was an inspiration to many. People seeing her paint gained strength to face their own problems, which seemed trivial in comparison, Even a priest asked her to pray for him. Finally, seeing how so many others were helped by her example, Bona could step out of the darkness that had followed her most of her life.

It was then that she visited a home for the handicapped where the priest asked her if she was interested in becoming a nun. The priest wanted to start a religious order that would accept the healthy and the handicapped, and when he finally received permission from the Cardinal of Seoul, Bona was among the first to enter the community. When her family saw her in a nun's habit, they all started to cry. It had been a long journey, for all of them.

She sees her life now as a blessing: "I can move my arms, can grasp a spoon and eat, can remove my hair from the front of my brow.... I can turn to one side for 5 minutes and lie on my face for 5 minutes. I can bend my back at a 45 degree angle-- it's all a blessing."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Few Are The Blessings that Can't Be Abused

A writer commenting on the Feast of the Ascension, which is also World Communication Sunday, begins with a story from Africa. In the forests is a dazzlingly beautiful but poisonous snake. The small animals, mesmerized by its wonderful colors, come close and are grasped and eaten by the snake. In the forest of civilization what snakes are there to enchant us?

There are many, we are told, and he goes on to introduce us to a man whose marriage of just over two years is on the verge of falling apart. Conversation has diminished and arguments are more frequent. The reason? TV, the computer, and a host of other addictive electronic marvels of communication that are taking up more of his time and reducing the time available for his wife. She wants to talk when he comes home from work but has to compete with the ball game for his attention. And while watching the game, he only half listens until it becomes so habitual he hardly notices he's not paying attention to her.

This way of living was not new to him; it preceded his marriage by many years. He walked with ear phones, connected to the internet with ear phones while driving, and was always in front of the TV. He found no satisfaction in books, socialized less frequently, and attendance at Church was no longer a part of his life.

In earlier years children would read fairy tales and books about great people. These books gave the children ideals to imitate and many were greatly influenced by them. Now, electronic and video games provide the stimulation, often leading to addictive behaviors so that we are less prone to read or think creatively.
This lifestyle tends to foster alienation, individualism, and an unhealthy life.

The writer finishes his article by noting the many benefits of modern day communication. The good that can come from cyberspace and audio-visual media is too great to even attempt to list. In the providence of God, we were led to discover this medium to advance the common good. The Church on Communication Sunday makes a special appeal to us to use well our newspapers, magazines, the internet, TV, radio, etc., so as to live life more fully. Those who are working in these areas should also do their part in achieving this common goal. But in the end, it will depend on us, on how disciplined and conscientious we are, whether they are being used wisely or not.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Good Samaritan in a Buddhist Way

Most of us during life's journey have periods when not all goes well. A columnist in the Catholic Times has entered one of these periods and is working with a remedy that she remembers from a Buddhist story.


A person who was adrift and with no possessions went to see Sakyamuni. He was told to follow the 7 ways of giving and when they became a part of his life, things would change.

The columnist had no problem with the first six but with the seventh she had no confidence. It was difficult for her to ask a person what he or she wanted and doing it. And to go a bit further and anticipate the needs of another was just too much for her to manage.

She mentions a humorous story from the world of Islam. A woman with an ugly face asked her husband on the first night of marriage whether she should remain veiled in front of the other members of the family. The husband hesitating, answered keep your face veiled for me; with the other members of the family do what you want.

She goes on to mention that the husband, if he had been sensitive to her feelings, should have said that she should decide when to keep herself veiled or unveiled. She should have the freedom to take account of the place and time and do what she felt comfortable doing. By behaving in this way, the husband and the wife would be anticipating each other's needs.

The column concludes by describing an incident that began when she received a phone call from a friend who had a problem she wanted to discuss. Having a great many things to do, she found the interruption annoying, but made plans anyway to meet her and provide some help she had arranged. The friend, in turn and completely unexpectedly, also gave her material that she later found useful in doing her work. Here was an experience in which both easily fulfilled the last and seemingly most difficult of the 7 ways of giving--they both anticipated each other's needs. Shangri-La is not always that far away or difficult to find.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Did Christianity Destroy Eros?

Our understanding of sexuality, both in the West and in Korea, has many of the same misunderstandings. Did Christianity really destroy Eros? This is the way the interviewer began the interview with the director of the Catholic Family Academy. The director recently translated "Called to Love," a book based on Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body. Benedict XVI has answered the question with a strong No.

In the interview, the director quotes from the teaching of Pope John Paul and says the body was made in the image of God. This is not precise, but understood when we hear: "The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual."(CCC # 362). "The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God".... (CCC # 364 ) Theology of the Body enables us to see positively our bodies in their nature and dignity, which clearly lays the foundation for happiness in married life. With this understanding, we are thankfully beginning to see a change in the way we see the body.


In the "Theology of the Body," Spirit and the Flesh are brought together as integral parts of a cooperative whole; they are seen as ultimately one.

It is true that the Church, in its teaching on sexual morality, has overly emphasized the aspect of procreation, belittled the body, and tended to see the potential misuse of anything connected with sex, causing much confusion. However, the sexual relationship has been a blessing from the beginning, and was made a sacrament by the Church. The Pope's Theology of the Body has shed some needed light on how we in the Church should view the body and sexuality in leading a life of holiness, as well as providing insights for those outside the Church, who desire a better understanding of this important aspect of life.

Puritanism and Manicheanism have influenced much of the teaching on sexuality in the West, and the Church's teaching has not always been clear. However, the truths are very clear. The body is good and will receive its reward. The soul is not all that will be raised from the dead; the resurrection of the body is also part of Catholic teaching. And it is well to remember that marriage is a sacrament; the sexual act a holy act. This is the teaching and for these truths, we should be grateful.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Let's Respect All Forms of Life

A member of the Seoul Diocese Committee for Life in an essay about the need to respect life in all its forms begins by telling us that, although all realize that human life has to be respected, few are concerned with the other forms of life.

Life always depends on another life, he reminds us. If this mutuality is tangled or broken, all are negatively affected.

Humans have to be concerned with the foundation of life, which is nature, and we have to protect it. In the Book of Changes, we are told: "The disposition of all creation is to realize and advance life, the work of morality is the continuance of this life." Since humans live at the expense of other life, humans should take this into consideration by accepting some loss and sacrifice in protecting other life forms.

We should do all we can to foster and refrain from harming life. Since life in all its forms was created by God, the sanctity of life is present in all its forms. In Korea, we often see depicted the love of nature and experience the happiness it can give. And if we are quiet and attentive enough, we may hear the joyfulness that lies at the heart of nature. A simple walk in the woods will do or gazing at landscape paintings--oriental art, especially, is imbued with life.

Koreans seem naturally to have this attunement with nature. Ancestors, poor as they were in the cold of winter, fitted the ox with straw matting to keep the animal warm, and fed him with boiled fodder; prepared food for the magpies and even were concerned for the small insects.
This sensitivity and love for nature are reflected in their folklore and language. Before Western influences, Koreans saw themselves as part of nature, influenced by Shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Christianity should reinforce this love, but being a relative newcomer to Korea, Christianity had to compete with another newcomer: the technology and progress of the west--its influence on Koean culture has been enormous. Few countries have come so far economically in so few years.


However, it will be a mixed blessing if, in the pursuit of economic progress, we forget a more important concern: the sanctity of life. The writer of the essay tells us that when we experience the beauty of life, and have a creative attitude towards life's meaning we will be able to inspire others to have the same respect towards all life.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lack of Doctors and the Culture of Life

One of a series of articles on the culture of life in Korea linked the lack of doctors as a problem. The article in the Catholic Peace Weekly by a professor emeritus had some interesting facts to relate.

In recent years there have been frequent law suits for operating on the wrong organs, mixing up medical charts and prescriptions, and operating with contaminated instruments. Increasingly, families of the patients are going to the press with these complaints.

In Seoul the hospitals connected with universities have the best reputations, and it is not uncommon to have over 300 outpatients examined by a doctor in one day. Doctors are too busy, overworked and constantly tired. In comparison to other developed countries, the number of doctors in Korea is small: 1.7 doctors per 1,000 population. The average, according to the OECD ( Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), is 3.1 per 1,000. The ratio in the U.S., which continues to import doctors, is 2.4 per 1,000. Korean doctors examine 4.6 times more patients than the average in the U.S. and in comparison to Sweden it is 8.8 times more.

The professor lists 4 problems that highlight the areas needing correction:

1) Doctors are overworked (as the above figures show), find it difficult to treat the sick in a kindly manner, and often fail to give them a satisfactory medical explanation for their condition. Doctors do not have time to keep up with the newest medical knowledge. All of which ultimately affects the doctor's health and the patient's dignity suffers.

2) The supply of doctors does not keep pace with the need; popular areas of medicine do better.

3) With the population generally living longer, there will be a demand for more doctors--Korea has one of the highest rates of ageing of all countries.

4) A report, published each year from 1983-2004, states that during any one year if those who were sick were given proper medical care, lives would have been extended --number of doctors is not unrelated to this assessment.


That the Korean Church has made the lack of doctors a part of the culture of life movement is an interesting fact. Abortion is still the number one issue, but the Church also sees it as relating to a much larger issue where life itself does not receive the respect it should. The professor would like to see the government take an interest in this matter.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hand Phone and the New World We Make

At the Incheon Catholic University of Plastic Arts a student showed a portfolio to a teacher. Human bodies were pictured with chains; one body with drooping shoulders and head bowed had the tag Homo-telephonic.

Poking fun at our newest addiction, the cell phone and its many variations, has become comic material. Perhaps a good indication of how many are beginning to perceive this ever present new reality.

The teacher agrees that the cell phone has become the alter ego for the younger generation. The phone seems inseparable from the person. Leaving home without the phone is almost unthinkable--there would be no phone numbers, no certainty about appointments, no messages to receive, and no friends to contact.

However, that's not likely to happen. Cell phones are everywhere--in subways, in buses and on sidewalks. In our individualistic society, we are getting accustomed to making contact in virtual communities. We feel more comfortable moving about in these virtual communities than we do in real communities. The teacher feels that the desire of many to be in almost constant communication comes from a sense of loneliness, arising from a lack of peace and security from within themselves.

The cell phone hugged close to the ear and mouth is the new image of the young. To become more human, the teacher recommends leaving the phone home and replacing it with more face to face contact.

In Korea, as in most developed countries, people consider the cell phone a necessity. It is convenient, you can contact and be contacted at any time, and it provides a feeling of security in case of emergencies. Even with the sense of privacy that comes with owning your own personal phone, you feel you are never really alone--as long as you can dial someone's phone number.

For Luddites or neo-Luddites ( those opposed to industrialization and new technologies), life can become more difficult. Here in Korea, and in other countries as well, the convenience of public telephone booths to make a phone call is no longer an option for those without cell phones. Once an innovation is replaced by another considered better, those not willing to change with the changes in society will find it more difficult to function as well as they had before the changes. Though some might regret the changes, change is inevitable and no doubt will win out in the end.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Will Korea Ever Have a 'Slow City'?

Market days, every five days, were an important part of old Korea. People would meet in the center of town to talk, look over the merchandise, buy what they wanted, eat and leisurely enjoy the time away from home. It was a "slow life."

A priest writing in a Catholic magazine tells us about his trip to the International "Slow City" in Italy. Slow cities welcome and support people who prefer to live at a slower pace than the usual city dweller. Traditional ways of doing things are valued-- no cars, no chain stores, no fast food, little noise, fewer crowds, and a desire for the dolce vita.

The Italian city, surrounded with a rampart and situated on a mountain, does not allow cars in the city. Cars are left at the outskirts of the city where public transportation is made available to visitors. In place of supermarkets and fast food stores, two market days a week offer buyers fresh food from the countryside; bread baked with no preservatives, and all kinds of handicrafts. Practically everything shuts down from noon to 3:00 o'clock for resting and a leisurely lunch. In the evening, the plaza in front of city hall becomes a favorite meeting place for many.

The writer tells us that the Indians in the old days, when riding a horse, would stop occasionally to allow their spirits to catch up with them. The idea that a too busy life is without spirit, without soul, is found in the Chinese character for busy 忙 (망), meaning to ''forget your spirit." The writer admits that the busy life has given us material prosperity but usually with an accompanying loss of spirit.

Nature gives its abundance at a very slow pace. Following the rhythm from nature allows us to be more attuned to God, and will tend to open us up to a healthier spirituality. Slow city is not God's kingdom, but the effort to slow our generally hectic daily routines is a prequisite.

The Koreans see that one's personal life has not kept pace with the economic development of the country, making it the world's 13th most powerful country. Although they will continue to argue over the relative merits of development and spirituality, I do not think we will be seeing very many slow cities in Korea soon.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A New Way of Living an Ecological Life

The Eucharist is the center of a Catholic's Liturgical life. Jesus wanted to be in the bread and wine of the Mass. For this to happen the earth, sun, water and human cooperation preceded God's action, making Jesus present on our altars-- the cosmos became present in the Eucharist with Jesus.

Ecological Spirituality sees the world with these lenses. This new way of seeing our environment will be discussed during the year in the Catholic Kyeong Hyang Magazine. Thinking of creation as independent and separate from ourselves and placing humanity at the center of Creation have led to the ecological crisis we face today. We have misunderstood "to subdue, to tend and take care of " to mean do as we please.

The Magazine begins the discussion in the current issue by making the sin of pride the culprit, and ends the article by showing how the steps used for confession may help us to achieve a correct ecological spirituality.

The five steps used in Confession:

1) Examination of Concience: To see where sin has caused the destruction of ecosystems and the crisis we face-- as we replaced God with humans at the center of creation, as we mistake capitalistic industrialization as the basic structure of society, and as we constantly search for more comfort.

2) Contrition: To be sorry for our failings in this area. Sorry for what we have done to God and his Creation--perfect contrition. Sorry out of fear for the harm that we have done to ourselves and creation--imperfect contrition.

3) Resolve: Firm resolution not to again be a cause of ecological destruction, to see with a new heart the ecological problems we have created.

4) Confession: Honestly and accurately confess the sins we have discovered, such as being conscious only of human development, with no interest in nature, resulting in the polluting of air, water and earth. The overuse of disposables, abuse of resources, supporting growth at any price, and the contempt for life. .

5) Penance: Living an ecologically friendly life. Work for the green revolution and against reckless development. Be a good Samaritan to nature and accept willingly some uncomfortableness. Use more public transportation and consider ecology when buying. And perhaps most important of all, cutting down on our needs and not indulging in luxuries.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Young Girl's Conversion to Adulthood

It has been two months since I have arrived at the home for unwed mothers. When I realized I was pregnant it was extremely painful, I wanted to run away. I was 18, with a big obstacle in my life. When I told my parents my only thought was to get rid of it, circumstances would not allow it, since I was 7 months pregnant.

My mother told me they have homes for unwed mothers, and if I went there I'd find peace. No matter how good the place was my ears weren't listening, I knew I'd find it hard to relate with the people I met there, so I hated to go. But the state of things was such that I couldn't but do what my parents wanted.

The day I arrived at the home, driving in the car, all kinds of thoughts came to mind, and I started to cry as we entered the road to the home. I never imagined I would ever be in such a place.... Looking at my parents from behind as they were leaving, they seemed so sad; I gave them another burden to carry. I was determined to become stronger; to accept the baby in my womb.

This home for unwed mothers was run by the Catholic Church. I never prayed or thought of prayer. From the time, I entered the home I began to pray. The teachers are always praying that those unwed mothers do not abort their babies. One wonders, whether those teachers were praying for me. Pictures of abortions are on display at the home, the babies are to be pitied. It is our mistake that made the baby, and I blamed the baby; I am embarrassed.


Before I came to the home, I was a juvenile delinquent. I ran away from home, missed school, drank, smoked...got angry and had no self-control; I only thought of myself. Coming to the home, I still get angry but with the praying I am more temperate and disciplined. I am not only thinking of myself but others, it is like a miracle.

In 2nd year middle school, I began to lose my way. My mother died in my 1st year middle school. Every time I entered the house, I couldn't believe my mother was dead. I blamed myself for her death. I couldn't get rid of the anger. I decided that I would be a vagabond until I'd gain peace of mind. My father introduced me to the woman who would be my mother. At the beginning, I did not warm up to her, but after a time we began to laugh together, she showed concern and helped me, and I started to follow her and loved her.

Since coming to the home, I have learned a great deal. First of all, the value of life, I have learned the means to love myself and others. But most of all by prayer I have learned to have peace in my heart and thank God for sending me my new mother. In the future I will continue to thank God. "Thank you God, I love you."

This is the story of a young unwed mother. Her story was printed in a news letter sent out by the home. There are many of these homes in Korea and are doing a great deal of good, helping the girls to find their way and give them hope for the future.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Need to Empty our 'Mental Inboxes'

The Catholic newspaper had an article recently with many provocative thoughts. Some years ago the writer, as a newbie to the computer world, was having a problem using the internet. He was preparing to send an important e-mail, and after working all night sent it out, as promised, but it was returned. He sent it out a number of times without success and finally went to another religious who knew computers. There might not be a problem with the computer, he was told. It could be a problem with the receiver’s inbox; it could be filled and not accepting any more emails. He was surprised to hear of such an easy resolution to his problem.

He called the addressee of the e-mail to tell him very confidently that his filled inbox was the reason he was not receiving the email. The person had no problem accepting what he had to say, and an hour later called to say the inbox was empty.

He again sent the e-mail and this time the computer told him his e-mail went to its destination. He laughed to see how easy the problem had been solved.

The writer thinks that is what happens to many of us in many other areas of life. We are not able to hear what is spoken because we have too many things in our own mental inbox--worries, self consciousness, pride, scars not healed. Our inbox is stacked with a lot of spam; of no use to us and taking up a lot of space.

To have someone there to help makes the problems we have solvable. Having moral support enables us to search for answers that otherwise would not seem possible for us. There are times, however, when we are not interested in hearing what others have to say; it is not to our advantage so we find ways not to hear. If one chooses this way of relating there is little that we can do--it is their choice.

It is not an easy task to empty what we have placed in our minds and hearts over the years. If there is garbage there, we need to get rid of it and allow the mind and heart to fill with the goodness of life. Nature hates a vacuum and so does our mental and spiritual faculties; just getting rid of the garbage does not solve the problem. We have to fill it with the good, once we get rid of what doesn't belong, or else the second stage may be worse than the first (Luke 11:26).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Treating Others as Scapegoats

"Parents," we often hear, "are made to worry about their children." And it matters little how old the children are, or if they have left home to start their own families. And now, in addition to the usual parental worries, those studying overseas are increasingly facing harassment and even worse difficulties.

Writing in the Catholic Times, a mother recently wrote very enthusiastically about her daughter who had just graduated from college here in Korea. In her next column, she mentioned having second thoughts on how she had expressed herself in her previous column, after reading with great sadness of another parent whose article was in the following week's newspaper. They had lost a son in Russia, who was there as an exchange student. He was killed by a gang of young Russian nationalists simply for being a foreigner.

This was not the first time. Since 2005, six Koreans have been attacked. It may not be against the Koreans as Koreans but against non-whites. With robbery not a motive, the killings have been described as hate crimes. Very likely it may be hostility against the Chinese, who in great numbers are in Russia for work that is more lucrative than in China but also the kind of work most Russians are not interested in--dirty, dangerous and difficult work.

The writer mentions traveling to Russia and staying in a private home where a friend of the family showed the guests a loaded gun that was given to his brother by a famous Russian gang member. He was told to leave by the mother of the house who explained to the guests that resorting to violence is a typical reaction of many Russian youths who are looking for jobs.

The writer goes on to say that the hostility toward non-white visitors to Russia is the scapegoating of foreigners to relieve the frustrations of the Russian youth who feel marginalized in the workplace by the influx of foreigners.

She ends the column by lamenting that our own foreign guests who are here to work also suffer at the hands of Koreans. The Korean culture does not allow for the kind of violent treatment of foreigners seen in Russia, but foreign workers here are sometimes treated cruelly and with discrimination and often without any qualms of conscience. Are we not, she says, treating them as we are being treated in Russia--as scapegoats?