Thursday, September 30, 2010

A True Story by Bishop Mutel, Bishop of Seoul, 1890

Back in August of 1919 in the Field Afar, Maryknoll Magazine, there was an article captioned:  A True Story by Bishop Mutel of Seoul. The article as it appeared in the Field Afar magazine will be divided into two blogs, one for today and one for  tomorrow. This is a  story known to the Catholics of Korea, but for those not acquainted with  Korean Catholic history may find this of  interest. The story  as related by Bishop Mutel  to the Superior of Maryknoll is  told below: 
                                       
                                       Christianity in the Court

The prince whom the Japanese call Prince Ri Senior, occupied the throne of Korea, first as king, from 1864 until 1897; then as emperor, from 1897 until 1907; when he abdicated in favor of his son, who was dethroned in 1910 and has since been known as Prince Ri Junior.

Born of a noble family in 1852, Prince Ri senior was only twelve years of age when he was chosen to succeed a childless king, and the regency placed in the hands of his father, Heung-song-koun, principal author of the terrible persecution of 1866, which gave us so many martyrs. Little as the regent suspected it, Christianity had even then won its way not only into the court, but into his household. The nurse of the boy-king was a devout Catholic, and his own wife loved the Church and  believed in it. Shortly before Bishop Berneux's martyrdom she sent a message, begging him to offer a number of Masses for the prosperity of the kingdom, and while her husband was torturing priests and thousands of native Christians, she was secretly studying the catechism and preparing herself for baptism.

                                     Empress Seeks Baptism

She was a Christian at heart for many years, and when, in 1890, I returned to Korea as Bishop, she sent to me, begging for baptism. It was impossible for me to grant her petition, for notwithstanding her great age she still acted as mistress of the royal family and among her duties were the preparation of the pagan sacrifices and the defraying of whatever expense pertained to them. I was obliged to reply that she could not be baptized until she renounced all  participation in the false worship of the court.

In the spring of 1896, giving her advanced age as excuse, she resigned her place as head of the   royal household, and once more asked for baptism. The eleventh of  October was the day chosen, the place a Christian maid-servant's unpretentious home, outside the grounds of the palace, but not far from it. I was the first to reach the house and hid behind the door of its one room. Soon the princess came, carried in a kind of chair which is in general use among the ladies of the palace. The bearers did not know her and suspected nothing. A pagan woman of the court, to whom the princess had confided the secret, accompanied her on foot. When the princess alighted she was greeted as Koreans greet an aged relative; only after she entered the house, and the door had been closed, was more profound  respect shown her.

                                    The Secret Ceremony

The princess was immediately presented to me. She was simply dressed, and very simple in manner. Her sight had grown dim, but her hearing was perfect and her mind was alert and keen. We had much to say to each other, but there was little time for anything  but the serious matter for which we had met. I asked her to repeat our ordinary prayers, and she said them fluently, as one does who recited them often. I examined her in Christian Doctrine, and she readily answered all my questions. I then baptized her with as much solemnity as time and place permitted. A Christian, the daughter of the king's nurse, was godmother. All went well, although during the ceremony we could hear the bearers of the princess' chair wrangling over a few pennies just outside the door. Evidently they had too much wine.

When I poured the baptismal water on the forehead of Princess Mary, I saw a look of unutterable joy illumine her face- a look which I have seen a thousand times on the countenances of humbler converts. Immediately afterward I confirmed her, and this time a Christian servant was godmother. The ceremonies had lasted about an hour and we could not tarry longer without danger. I said good-bye to Princess Mary and hid behind the door while she went to her chair. When it passed out of sight I also left the  house.

The following day Princess Mary sent someone  to thank me, to tell me that she had re-entered the palace without being see, and also to ask for a dispensation from abstinence, which it would have been almost impossible for her to observe.

Second part will continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Forgiving is a Sign that We Have Been Graced

Forgiveness and reconciliation are popular topics for discussion because they are so difficult to  define and yet so necessary for living well.  A columnist on the opinion page of the Catholic Times revisits the discussion with his  reflections.

He begins with the experience of a mother with two sons, one year apart. The mother tried everything to get the two boys to stop fighting. On one occasion, after reprimanding them for fighting, she asked them how much they loved each other. The younger one said, " I will love my brother as much as he loves me and  forgives me." The older brother, angry and making a fist, said, "He is again making me the excuse for his behavior." Even though we expect brothers--and sisters--to naturally love each other, we know that sometimes the closer the relationship the more difficult it is to live in harmony.

And then there are the senseless killings of others with whom there is no personal relationship. The columnist gives the example of the horrible killing of a man's wife, mother and  son by a person who killed to revenge himself against society for not making it easier for him to get the things he felt he was entitled to. The father of the slain members of his family blamed himself for not taking better care of his family and tried on many occasions to kill himself. During this struggle, he met the godmother, a Religious Sister, who was attending to the needs of those on death row. To rid himself of the pain he was feeling, he turned to the Church and was baptized; the feelings of hatred and anger soon disappeared. He even wrote an appeal not to execute the killer.

All of us, the columnist says, inflict pain on others and are pained by others. Unknowingly, our words or acts can leave scars. If the discord and scars are not discussed openly, there can be no reconciliation. By forgiving, and persisting in the effort to forgive, as in the example of Joseph in the Genesis story who turned  his brothers away five times before he could  forgive, we regain peace.

The Dalai Lama explains forgiveness in this way. "If we remember that all existence wants to have happiness, and that  the one who has inflicted pain on us, no matter the reason, also wants happiness, then we can go the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. The one who is the victor in life is the one who has overcome his hate and anger."

In the words of Jesus: "If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours, If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you" (Matt.6:14-15).

The importance of forgiveness in our lives is often difficult to appreciate for it always includes questions of truth, goodness and beauty. We easily say, "hate the sin and love the sinner."  But many find this distinction difficult to make. Living a life of integrity and listening to our inner voice helps us to know what to do in these circumstances. We will then come to recognize that the whole question of forgiveness has more to do with the harm we do to ourselves than to others. When we fail to love and forgive, choosing hate, refusing to forgive, it distorts the way we see life. Moved by grace, all of us can forgive and love.  Our response should be gratitude.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How the Early Christians Nurtured the Church in Korea

An article written for the Kyeongyang magazine by a historian sometime ago describes what it was like in the mission stations during the early days of  persecution, and up to the early 60s when society began to change.

He mentions that when St. Bishop Imbert traveled to the home of St.  Nam Myong-hyok, orders were given not to have more than a certain number of Christians come to the house, but this was ignored. The large numbers of visitors attracted the attention of local authorities who searched the house after the bishop left; the saint was arrested and  his road to martyrdom began.

On another occasion, Choi Yang-op, after visiting one of the mission stations, hearing confessions and saying Mass, left with the owner of the house to return to the city. Non-Catholics in the area then came and destroyed the house and expelled the Catholics.

Because of the potential problems of having so many people show up at these gatherings, it was decided to restrict the numbers that could  come in one day for  Mass and exams.  With these restrictions, it meant that a priest would stay at a mission station for as many days as necessary to take  care of the needs of the mission. The mission stations would then be called two-Mass or three-Mass mission stations, or whatever number would be needed to take care of the Christians.

This required sending the mission stations a list of what would be necessary before arriving. Some of the mission stations, for example, would not have adequate bedding so this was brought along with the Mass kit. An important part of each visit would be the exams of all the Christians, including questions on prayers and  teaching.  When the children were not able to give the correct answers, it was known that their fathers, at times, would be punished for not having parented correctly.

When Korea opened up to the West these mission visits turned into holidays. Even during the  busy farming season around Easter all work would stop, and children would not be sent to school. It was a holiday atmosphere. When the priest arrived, he would be treated to refreshments and during the meals his bowl of rice was piled  high. It was expected that he would leave part of the blessed rice in his bowl for others to eat. This would be considered by the Christians as better than any medicine, and mothers would encourage their children to eat what was left over.

The writer of the article mentions that it was not a few who saw the way the priest was treated with the best food available being the motivation for some of the boys  to want to go to the seminary. He even mentions that one of the archbishops of Korea often mentioned this as being his motivation for entering the seminary.


These trials  and tribulations of the early Church the writer says made for a strong nucleus. The sacrifice of these early priests  nourished  strong Christians like a brave commander would make  brave soldiers. The zealous Christians also nurtured  the missioners,  martyrs and saints as a strong  army makes for strong soldiers. They are the foundation of the Church in Korea.



Monday, September 27, 2010

Establishing a Healthy Medical Culture

An editorial and articles  in recent Catholic newspapers profile a new network of workers who seek to encourage organ donations. The  groups that up until now have worked separately, Catholics, Buddhists and Medical Transplantation Specialists have  teamed up to change the climate of opinion in Korea toward the donation of organs.

The Confucian understanding of death and the feelings one naturally has about having a  loved one's body cut up after death, all have negatively influenced the efforts to increase the number of donors. After the death of Cardinal Stephen Kim and his donation of his cornea, there has been a noticeable increase in donations, but it is still far below the level of  donations in developed countries.

Spain has a very high percentage of organ donors; Korea has one of the lowest. There are also problems with determining when brain-death occurs,and procedural requirements in Korea making it more difficult than in other countries.

Many Koreans have been waiting for transplants for years, and many have died waiting. According to a government agency, some 17,000 were awaiting organ transplants in 2009 but only 261 organs from 261 brain-dead patients were available. It was this problem that prompted the three groups to form the network. For Catholics, it would be another opportunity to put into practice the culture of life issues the Church works hard to promote in society.

Publicity, the editorial stresses, will have a great deal to do with how successful the network will be. They have the know-how, now with the three groups together they hope to see many changes in how society responds to requests for organ donations. Their plans include the following:

-Set up donation centers throughout the country where people can go to make known their desire to donate.

-Educate children in grammar, middle and high school on organ donations and sharing-of-life programs.

-Select a day for organ donations throughout the country.

-Work with media to publicize the movement.

-Prepare promotional material in common to distribute.

The president of the medical specialists in his speech at the inauguration of the movement said, "What the different groups did sporadically and on their own we will try to   develop and activate within the movement...And among the patients looking for organs, there will be no waiting and the flame of love will be seen and the quality of life of the  terminally sick will be enhanced. This will give life to many and we will be establishing a sound medical culture for the future."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of Chance Happenings in Our Lives

This month, September, the Catholic Church in Korea remembers the martyrs.  Retired Bishop Dupont spoke at the Myong Dong Cathedral in Seoul on the martyrs; he wanted those in attendance to reflect on the times we have experienced "chance happenings."

Jesus often spoke of "faith and understanding," the bishop said. Martyrs not only believed  but understood Jesus. Isn't that their experience of Jesus? The bishop asked.

In our lives, there are many things that we consider chance happenings. They are the  means by which God wants us to experience him. Jesus often said, "Believe God....Believe my words."  In the believing of belief, we understand. Jesus asked the apostles: "Do you still not understand?....Now do you understand?"  What is understanding as it relates to faith? the bishop asked.  It is mature belief, belief that is not shaken, belief that accepts Jesus; it is tranquil faith. The martyrs lived a belief that was informed by understanding.The martyrs understood they would  be with Jesus even in death.
 
 We can also experience Jesus in daily occurrences, but we don't make much of  them, letting them pass, and so we miss the opportunity to benefit from these "chance happenings." In Korea, dreams, what we hear or see has a deeper importance but the bishop would like us to focus more on small happenings in our lives.  The bishop says they are the way we encounter God. These small incidents can nurture the faith experiences from which understanding will come.

The bishop quotes Einstein as saying there is no such thing as chance; there are reasons for everything that happens.  Let us suppose, the bishop says, that while wearing his  bishop's  clothing  he helps an old man who has fallen by the side of the road; this will make  the newspapers. If he does it in his ordinary clothes, no one hears about it. In  the same way, he says, God is involved in our lives, but we are not conscious  of it.

The martyrs, however, were conscious  of God's presence in their lives, and we too can become conscious of God's presence in our lives, the Bishop says, if we look more closely at the small things that happen and try to see the hand of God in those events.

We often say all is grace. All is a gift. All is a miracle. We try to find words to describe this world that is seen and understood only with the eyes of faith. It is a world that awaits all of us in the "chance happenings" that come to us repeatedly. We need only observe with the eyes of faith not to miss these movements and moments of grace.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mission of the Korean Catholic Church to Asia

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of India  gave one of the talks at the recent Asian Lay Peoples Meeting in Seoul. He began with a story of a priest in his diocese who went  frequently to a grocery store in the neighborhood.  On one occasion, the owner asked him to recommend a good book to read. The only book he had in Hindi was the New Testament, which he gave to him. 

A few days later when he returned to the store, the owner asked, excitedly, "Is it  true that Jesus rose from the dead?  It says that he died and rose from the dead, did he really come back from the dead?"

"Yes that is true," said the priest.  He is alive today and is working through me." The owner again asked,  "Why wasn't  it mentioned  before? You should make this wonderful news known." We, the bishop stresses, have been called to deliver this news here in Asia. 

The Cardinal then told the story of the Jesuit priest Constant Lievens, the apostle of the Chotanagpur, and  the tribal people of central India. Before he arrived in 1885 they  had no hope; they worked at menial tasks to eke out a living.

When the Jesuit arrived, there were only 56 Catholics. At the end of seven years, at which time he had  contracted tuberculosis, it increased to 80,000.How could he  move the hearts of so many of these poor tribal people? He   listened to their sad stories. He learned their language. He learned the laws having to do with the ownership of land and then helped to free them from the control of the landowners.   He gained  their  trust   and they began  to trust in God and themselves. This is the miracle of Chotanagpur.
 
Asia is the land of many poor. Pope John Paul II  had the hope that Asia would become a fertile field for the harvest in the third  millennium. Following the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, we know we have to go to the poor.

There are two dimensions  to missions. One is the missioner, the other the message of the Gospel. We can't all go to the missions, but we can, with our way of life and thinking, be a witness to the missions.

There are three areas in which we have to witness. The first is the strong call of the Gospel to go out to the poor,  weak, and the suffering to love them. The second is to stand up to the corrupt political and financial powers and with courage speak the truth and witness to Jesus. We are not called to do religious activities but to be a light and the salt for the world. The third follows from this understanding: Follow the simple example of our Lord. The Cardinal finished his talk with a quote from Paul VI: "And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80).

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Fascination of Eugenics

 A retired professor from Seoul National University, in an article in the Peace Weekly, discusses the science of Eugenics and recent efforts to remodel our gene pool. The fear of death brings many strange things to mind, and he reminds us that we are learning beings from the time we are in our mother's womb, and learning to die well is an important part of living well.

Genetic engineering is often mentioned as a means of producing "better" people, starting with the children. Our children, he says, are to be accepted as given and not to be considered as products that we can design  at will to meet our tastes and ambitions.  Using our recently developed technologies in this area to design our offspring for "success" is an evil, he says, we all should acknowledge. Any attempt to control the future of children by these means is to ignore the mystery of life and belittle the gift that it is.

It is true that when sickness comes our medical practitioners do everything possible to correct the problem. It is an attempt to return the person to health, health that was enjoyed, or that we should expect. This is medical treatment, a therapeutic intervention, and  not genetic engineering.

In the sports world, using drugs to enhance performance is prohibited, yet throughout the world of sports it is widespread.  If genetic engineering becomes part of the attempts to enhance performance, this will obviously not be detected with urine samples, and the athlete will become yet another victim of commercialism, the writer acknowledges.

But even in areas that appear benign--improving memory and taking hormones to make us taller--who are most likely to benefit? The wealthy. Obviously  unfair, but does this mean that if we can make it accessible to all there is no problem?  We are playing God, he says, when we use the new science to make radical changes in our bodies and mental faculties.

This genetic manipulation to improve the species is not accepted by the Church; gene therapy to cure a disease or eliminate defects of an embryo and similar interventions are permitted, with appropriate restrictions.  The professor believes that efforts to change the makeup of our species will intensify in the years ahead. Being captivated by the same fascination that prompted the Nazi atrocities and the racial discrimination in  the United States, we are coming closer to the day when we play at being masters of our fate. A prospect that should be a concern to all of us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Do We View the Handicapped in Society?

In Korea the treatment of the handicapped has  changed a great deal  since the  proclamation of the welfare law for the  handicapped in 1989. The "Window of the Ark" opinion column in the Catholic Times, written by a director of a Welfare Service, describes the problems that remain even though much of the prejudice has  disappeared. Policies enacted for the handicapped have improved their living conditions, handicap-friendly facilities have continued to appear throughout the city, and the welcoming for the  handicapped is noticeable in many business establishments.

The law forbidding discrimination of the handicapped was passed in 2008, and amended to strengthen the law the following year. Good news, but it also means problems still existed which necessitated the law. The basic principle affecting the welfare of the handicapped is their entitlement to the same  human rights and dignity we all share. Although they may be bodily or mentally disadvantaged, they should enjoy the same benefits given to all other citizens. This is basic and has to be stressed.  Strange  as it may seem, there are many who do not realize how basic this is.

Some look upon these disadvantaged persons as if they were faulty products. Typical attitudes are reflected by such statements as: "He is a simpleton; if you speak, he doesn't understand; if you feed him, he will work. To feed them and give them a place to sleep is all that is necessary;  give them wages you say?  They do  little work, and  don't   do it well."

Although there is, in theory, a difference of opinion on how to treat the handicapped, the statements above indicate how many are treated in the practical every day situations by some  who hire the handicapped.  They not only do not give them a wage for the work they are able to do, but also take the government subsidy that the handicapped receives.The disadvantaged, the director emphasizes, are not dispensable; it's good to remember that if they are dispensible because of their handicap, all of us are potentially handicapped. As we get older, there  is a good chance we will be in their position. We are all preparing to be handicapped. And some, even before reaching old age, might also be considered handicapped, even though society fails to acknowledge the handicap.

We do not consider, for example, persons wearing glasses handicapped. They choose to wear glasses to remedy a defect in eyesight, and no one gives it a second thought. However, if someone feels embarrassed when wearing glasses, or goes without them when needing to wear them, or when wearing them avoids appearing in public, then that person is handicapped.

The same can be said about someone using a wheel chair. When he is not embarrassed and those who see him do not consider it strange, he is not handicapped.When this simple fact is routinely accepted by all, then we will realize what it is to be living  in God's world.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

So Close and Yet so Far-- My Birthplace

Two reporters from the Hankyoreh  newspaper visited our mission station a few days ago to talk to some of the Catholics who are refugees from  North Korea. Today is the Harvest Moon Festival, the most popular holiday of the Korean Calendar, and a time for families to come together to celebrate and, like the three men interviewed by the reporters, to remember their homes in the North and those they left behind.

Matthias, one of the three men interviewed and now a white-haired member of the community, left the North when he was 25 to avoid the fighting. He took a boat from Yeonbaek County in the North to Gyodong, which is only 3.5 km away. He left his father, his wife and three year old daughter, planning to meet them again when the fighting was over. That day never came.

He spent the next 10 years traveling around  Korea  working as a laborer and as a civilian in the army. In 1960 he returned to Gyodong to work as a farmhand. On one occasion, he went to Chiseok village here in Gyodong where he could see the middle school for girls and his house beneath the pagoda tree. It was there that the unbelievable happened.
He saw his wife that he had left behind 10 years earlier; she was standing there also nostalgically looking toward the home they had left. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn't dreaming. His wife, shortly after he left, also made the trip to Gyodong hoping to meet him. She told him that their daughter, who she carried on her back during the long trip, died from lack of food. She also lives with the regret that she did not bring her father-in-law. This was the beginning of a  new life for the homesick Matthias and his wife.

Matthias took the money he earned as a farmhand and bought land in the mud flats, turning it into productive farmland. At the age of 38, he could now prepare a table for the rites of the dead with the rice from his own land, a small fish and a pear; it was his first harvest as a landowner and the first ritual of remembrance for his dead family members.
 
That day of the interview, the three parishioners interviewed stayed around after the reporters left to reminisce on their own. This time of the year brings sadness to the lives of many. Many have died or moved to the mainland, and those left from Yeongback number only about 20. The Hankyoreh interview ends with a poem written by a member of the community in memory of her husband.

Separated only by the river some 1000 leagues away
A home I can see but can't go to.
Where the Han meets the Imjin and Yeseong
And flows into the sea.
We are the lord of creation, they say,
But I cannot do, alas, what even birds can do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One of the Unsung Martyrs of Korea

The young man who was killed at the age of 24 for being a communist, Song hae Bung, is the subject of a recent column in the Cathoic Times. Written by the author of two books on John Song, her brief account of his life serves as a reminder, during this month, our "month of  martyrs," to celebrate all Koreans who died for their faith.   
Song was born in 1926 in Incheon in a family of six siblings: two boys and four girls. He was the eldest son of a very devout mother, and this showed in the life he led. After graduating from the public trade school in Incheon, he went on to the seminary, where his devotion to his vocation was very evident. Even during vacation time, feeling that too much ease in life would make him lazy, he would go out in the coldest of days to different areas of Incheon to preach about Jesus.
 
After liberation came in 1945, the seminary in North Korea was closed, and he returned home and began to teach. He founded a night school for children who could not go to school during the daytime because of the need to work in the rice paddies. Education was necessary, he believed, for without it there could not be a genuine love of country and of God. He would make his own hymns and continued to evangelize. Students liked the way he taught, so they studied until late at night. Calling himself a jackstone, he would often say: "take me lightly and after being used, you can throw me away."
 
At the end of the Korean War when the South recovered its territory, there was a period of lawlessness when so-called vigilantes took things into their own hands. Since  John Song had been active with the young people of the area and was popular, he was accused of being a communist and shot dead by men in the area who did not care for his popularity among the young. Although it came late, his family brought his case to a court of justice where the accusations against him were proven false. Soon after, his grave was found with the help of those who had buried him. Although buried in a mass grave with many other corpses, his body was quickly found because of the black suit, the rosary in his pocket, and a blood-stained picture of St Theresa.
 
John Song died as he wanted to die, a martyr.  When Fr. Cha  started his parish in that area he heard about a group of elder Christians who called themselves "Master Jackstone's Group." Shortly after, Fr. Cha started his Future Pastoral Institute. When he bought the land he was told that land was where Master Jackstone used to lecture.  This perked his interest and after making contact with the family and talking to John Song's sister, he was convinced of the saintliness of the man.
 
Later when Fr. Cha bought more land to extend his institute, he learned the land included the spot where John was killed. This was the third time he had made "contact" with the saint. This motivated him to ask the Catholic novelist who wrote the column used for this blog to write his biography. Her first book  was titled: "A Burntout Flower and Not 24." Later, with information gathered from those that knew John Song, she wrote her second book, "The Eternal Young Man."


Monday, September 20, 2010

Confession No Longer Seen As a Holy Gift--Sacrament

Most surveys of those who have left the Church in Korea show that Confession (the Sacrament of Reconciiation) has been their biggest stumbling block. A detailed study made by  Catholic Peace Broadcasting, the Peace Weekly and the Future Research Institute confirmed the survey results: The requirement to go to  Confession is seen as a burden to many Catholics.

Personal obstacles such as work, school, and doubts about the Church would be the reasons often cited in most surveys.  But when we look at the obstacles that stem from the organization of  Catholicism itself,  Confession would be cited as the most important reason for leaving the Church, followed by meaningless liturgies, being hurt by members of the community, too many financial burdens,  poor sermons, the Church having little influence in society, and the bad example of clergy. 

Two similar surveys in Seoul and Suwon had the same results. Combining personal and Church-related reasons for leaving the Church, most indicated that being too busy was the most important reason, next in importance was Confession. In another survey, when asked what can the Church do to facilitate their return, answered: make Confession less of a burden

In Korea if you go three years without confession you would be considered tepid statistically. In many parishes, twice a year a ticket is given to Catholics and returned when they have gone to confession, placing it in a basket in the confessional.  According to Church teaching, frequent confessions are recommended but there is no obligation to go to confession if one is not in serious sin. This is a teaching that is not well understood, but it is part of our Catholic tradition and Church law (Code of Canon Law #989).


Although Confession, being the Sacrament of Reconciliation, should be a consolation and settling of accounts, we have learned mostly from the survey results that many of our Catholics consider it a great burden. The Catholic Weekly, in a recent article on this subject, mentions that many who  are not in the state of grace  and  not prepared to go to confession stay away from Church.   Furthermore, many who are in the habit of sin find that going to confession is meaningless, so they also stop going to Mass; they do not feel they can break the habit of sin. The article mentions that the teaching on Confession has not always been good, nor have our Catholics understood it correctly.

Can the Church make it easier to go to Confession? Some attempts have been made to lessen the burden.  However, the difficulties of  going to Confession are also a blessing for those who can overcome the difficulties; they may come from an incomplete understanding of sin and the difference between confessions of devotion and of obligation. With more clarity on the essential nature of Confession, what is now seen as a burden might be seen as an opportunity for self-renewal, a second baptism.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Missionary Growth of the Catholic Church Of Korea

A Priest missiologist working in the Seoul Chancery writes about his experience while studying in Rome many years ago. His column appears weekly in the Peace Weekly giving us interesting facts about missions. During vacation time, he wanted to spend some time in England to learn English and prepare his thesis. Staying at a house  for missioners while in London, he met an Irish missioner who was retiring from the missions and returning to  Ireland. He  invited the young missioner to go with him and he quickly accepted.

While in Ireland he met a young man and shared an evening meal with him.  When the young man heard that he was studying mission theology in Rome, he told him about his experience in Africa with about ten others who were interested in getting first hand  experience of mission.

The youth confided that in the beginning it was very difficult getting used to African life but, getting over the awkwardness and  stress of the experience, he learned a great deal about their way of life, especially their way of eating with the hands; he in turn explained his way of eating with fork and spoon. The young man also told the Korean  how he fell in love with the way the Africans offered  Mass with dance and the drums. He explained all this with a great deal of pride and joy, confessing that it  brought change into his life.

The priest goes on to mention an Italian assistant priest who had spent a month in Africa in a student camp years before. The Korean priest was dumbfounded to hear these stories knowing that although the West  has a lack  of priests they are not only sending missioners overseas but young people are also going for an on-the-spot experience of mission. With  this experience, they get to know the life of the missions  and  another people's culture.

The priest also mentioned that the leadership of the mission groups periodically go on mission trips to different areas of the world to encourage the missioners and help them to resolve some of their difficulties. These visits have helped to give the Church of the home-country a perspective on the meaning of Church that has a more  universal understanding of the meaning of Catholicism.

The Korean Church will gradually be sending more missioners overseas. There will  be studies made of the missions and information gathered that will give Korea a different vision of  Church. The information and interest will invigorate the missioners, and those on the home front will know about the difficulties of the missions and be able to help with their prayers and financial donations. The visits of the young people to the missions will also bring news of the missions back to Korea, helping not only the missions and the home country but the visiting young people as well.

The article mentions that the missioners themselves should keep in touch with the home country to inform them of the work in the  missions;  this will increase interest in the missions and give missioners some feedback that will help them to see their work as a great gift from God. This increased interest in the missions is becoming part of  normal Korean life.

Catholic media are carrying more stories of the missions, and more dioceses are getting involved. Today we can look back on  the Korean experience with missionary help from the West as a success story. It was not long ago when Korea needed missioners and financial help--a part of history;  the Catholic Church of Korea now  has the   privilege to return what they have received.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What to do with Korean Rice in Storage?

Nahnews,  in their article on the plight of North Korea, was very hard on the Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole. We  recite daily: "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,"  but how this is lived out in the daily lives of Christians is not readily seen. Is this a sign of our inertia? So begins the article on their website.

There are over 5 million Catholics in Korea, but the writer asks what have they done? If there were 500 sacks of salt  stored in warehouses, and the salt was not used for the purpose intended, those who pass the warehouse would wonder greatly. The government is now buying rice from the farmers and has so much that it has to store it in warehouses using the citizens' hard earned money. This is not something that can be seen with indifference.  Our brothers and sisters in the North are dying of hunger, and we have rice piled high in warehouses, a sign, according to Nahnews, of the meanness and pride of the South. How will heaven punish us. This  is a worry and a shame.

The article mentions a survey that determined that the number of  Christians in the National Assembly and those who are high ranking civil servants in the government make up two thirds of the assembly. The Protestants in the Natonal Assembly number 118, 40 percent of the total, and Catholics number 78, 26 percent of the total.

When the Christians in the National Assembly say," Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" are they seeing the conditions of the country correctly? Or are  Christian members Christian only when voting time comes around? The writer knows some assembly men who are daily Mass-goers and exemplary Catholics,  but they show themselves differently in the assembly. Why is this? How will God look upon this?

He concludes by focusing on Catholics, mentioning that if the many lay groups in the Church would take the words "God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven" seriously. even though the 5 million are not all participating Christians, it would make a big  difference in doing away with the discord and bias in society. However, if the Catholics are only outwardly Christian then having all that rice in our warehouses leaves us open to criticism.

Recent  reports say the   government is planning to ship rice to the North, news that will make many happy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Extreme Difficulty of Fraternal Correction in Our LIves

In American culture, we often hear that speech is silver and silence golden. Silence can be a great gift we give to another when we truly listen, says a columnist in the Catholic Times. But it can become a torment to the listener, he reminds us, when a conversation turns into a monologue. 

He tells us about a person who was always ready to enlighten those he was with by recounting whatever he had learned or experienced, often Xeroxing and passing out interesting articles and talking enthusiastically about a good movie he had seen or a good book he had read.  At first, this information was welcomed, but soon, within a month for some, they would begin to avoid him. Others would stay with him longer before becoming frustrated by his non-stop speech and wanting no more to do with him. As painful as this was for him, he did not get the unspoken message; he would simply go on to find others who would listen to him.

The columnist, having heard about his behavior, met him for lunch with a friend, and soon learned that what had been said about the man was true. It was a simple lunch but he and his friend received a thorough education on the foods being eaten, their proper preparation and their origin. During the meal, he also heard  about finances, politics, society, and culture.  It was like listening to the news of the day being delivered by someone very knowledgeable and interesting.

After the meal, accepting his invitation to a tea room, they heard him give a detailed account of the history of the tea room. When he was interrupted briefly by some words of their own, he would soon return the talk to his own reflections and take over the conversation once again.

The columnist returned home having heard too much and having little empathy for the man.  In all that was said, he was the main point of the talk. He had no idea of what those who were with him  had in their hearts and  didn't seem to care. Thinking of what others have in their hearts and encouraging them to share that is as important as what one has to say to others; it is the  secret of growth in human relations, the columnist believes.  This sympathy for the other's words and the sharing of what each one has to say is what makes for a lasting friendship, the columnist concludes.

In a stereotype of this kind, it is easy to see the waywardness of the man.  One would think that as part of fraternal correction someone  would have brought his disturbing behavior to his attention. If it is not a mental disorder, it seems something could have helped him. Fraternal correction, considered years ago a high form of charity, is nowadays not so readily accepted as a viable way of showing love for another. And yet, although silence is the better part of wisdom in many cases, silence can be a  failure to love.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Spirituality of Smallness" in the Evangelization of Asia

At the recent Lay Leaders' meeting in Seoul, 400 delegates from 18 countries came together to discuss the role of the Catholic Church in Asia today, the nature of their work and prospects for the future. Since the Catholic population in Asia is small the theme for the six day meeting, "Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia Today," was an attempt to address the difficulties of evangelizing in this part of the world, including the need to deal with the lack of religious freedom in many  of the countries. 
 
The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentioned the worry  of the preparation committee for the program, but  the praise given by the Cardinal representative from Rome changed the worry into great joy.

At the beginning of the 6 day meeting a representative from  each of the countries gave an introduction of the work and prospects for the future.
One of those countries, Turkmenistan, unfamiliar to most delegates both in name and location, has one priest, Fr. Andrzej Madej, serving a community of 95 Catholics. Though the community is extremely small, it is nearly a 100 fold increase from the time, 13 years ago, when the country had two missioners and one Christian, an Iranian, as a congregation. The priest who worked with him has been changed, but he will be joined by another Spanish priest soon.  

Still with no building of their own, they have to use whatever building is available. But an encouraging development was recently registering with the government which gives the Church legitimacy. Not all parishioners are native born; besides the Iranian, there are five Koreans who attend English Mass. He has a special fondness for them and hopes the Korean Church will soon send missioners to the country.


The Catholic presence in this country of 5 million (89 percent Muslim and 10 percent Orthodox Christian) is a stark reminder of the difficult task ahead. Working with very small Catholic communities in most Asian countries, the Church must now be content, said the Cardinal of Seoul in the final address to the delegates, to work with a "spirituality of smallness."
















Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Perceptions of Korean Catholicism and Protestantism

In Korea, why are the numbers of Catholics increasing and the numbers of Protestants decreasing? A candidate for a master's degree at the Jesuit University in Seoul decided to find out, and wrote his thesis based on the results of his research. The results were picked up and published recently by the Yonhapnews Service in Seoul.

What he found out was that Catholicism as seen by most Koreans was more magnanimous, more lenient,  compared to Protestantism, making the Catholic Church a more attractive option for many desiring to join a Church.

 Korea is a land of  many religions and no religion, and did not  provide the writer with a reliable measuring standard for the data he had collected;  he turned to the United States and  the  distinction often made there between "strict" --authoritarian, doctrinal purity, obedience, enthusiasm for the teachings--and "tolerant"--relativism, pluralism, readiness to dialogue over differences.

It was obvious to the writer that  in contrast to the United States, the perceived tolerance  and magnanimous spirit of the Catholic Church here greatly helped recruit members for the Church. Excluding Catholics,  when Protestants, Buddhists and non-believers were asked  about Catholicism; 49 percent responded favorably, 13 percent responded unfavorably. Asking  Catholics, Buddhists and non-believers  what  they   thought about Protestantism, he found nearly a 20 percent favorable response, a 37 percent unfavorable response.  Based on this data from his research, the master's degree candidate concluded that in Korea, believers and potential believers prefer a tolerant and magnanimous Church over a strict Church. This, he believes, is the reason for the decrease in the numbers of Korean Protestants in contrast to the United States, where Church strictness tends to increase membership.

The news report ends by summing up the conclusion of the thesis: " Catholics in Korea in their faith life are lax and not unfriendly to the larger society;  a tolerant  Church is their trait while  Protestants come across as emotionally tight, not friendly to the larger society, a strict Church. This is the reason for the increase in Catholic membership."

Taking the two factors he chose to work with--Church strictness and Church tolerance--most researchers would probably find evidence to support the conclusion of the thesis. But there are other factors that enter into the  thinking of most Koreans which go unnoticed. The perception Koreans have of the Church no doubt helps the Church increase in numbers; the numbers of those who fall away may also indicate that what they thought Catholicism was like turned out to be different than expected. 
 
The  Catholicism that is perceived in Korea does not seem to ask as much from Christians;  a fact that is readily seen compared to  Protestants: no smoking, no drinking, tithing obligations, no traditional rites for ancestors and many more scheduled meetings, gives the impression of a very strict Church. Hopefully, the Catholic Church interest beyond the personal and to society will not be construed as being lax but will be seen as something integral to Christianity.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Camps for Senior Members of the Congregation

In Korea most parishes have summer camp for children. Older children--grammar, middle and high school students--usually have separate programs and attend camp at different times. Occasionally, family camps are provided so parents can go with their children. Now there are camps for those over 65 who are in good health.


A  priest writing for the priest bulletin mentions that it was the 6th time such a program was being offered, and this year 60 attended. Religious sisters were responsible  for the program which consisted of Mass, talks, visits to the Blessed Sacrament and visiting martyrs' shrines, and many other activities were available. It was a time to recharge their energy level, to look over their lives and to see themselves with new eyes.

Our parishes, both in the country and city, have an aging population. These Christians have been instrumental in the growth of the Church, and efforts should be made, the priest says, to make their later years profitable and prepare them for their twilight years.

Many of them--grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers--remain on the farms while the children have gone off to the cities to work and live. The parents continue to farm and do the daily chores, and wait for the occasional visit of their children. It is for many of them a lonely time.

The priest would like to change this situation by having the diocese and religious orders take a more active interest in the unique problems and concerns of seniors. Helping them to continue to find meaning in life without their children would be a worthwhile goal.

There is no questioning the Koreans  respect for seniors, but many times it is hands-off-respect. Programs usually have a cut-off age limit: age not health determines who may attend. We do have retreat programs, but they are not welcoming to the seniors,  and  the older people  know  their presence will not be good for the atmosphere that is desired. Having programs specifically for seniors, the priest advises, would be a wise move on the part of the Church and would be welcomed by all seniors.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Understanding The Blessed Mother Without Churchy Words.

In a recent secular  newspaper column, a writer brings up a long-standing debate between the more conservative Protestants and Catholics. He focuses on the central issue of the debate by summing up a commonly repeated charge: "It's obvious the way many Korean Catholics behave before the statue of Mary that they believe in Mary. They pray to her. Isn't that idolatry?"  

Catholics usually respond, he writes, by saying it's a way of showing respect for Mary, and Protestants  respond by asking: does respect require praying to her? That has to be idolatry. He points out that this question of idolatry is not limited to Christianity. A Buddhist temple in China, called the Holy Mother temple, is dedicated to the mother of a famous enlightened Chinese sage. And her statue is in the temple, not the statue of the Chinese sage. Many who visit the temple are surprised to see a statue of a woman instead of the Buddha statue. Building a temple for the mother of a sage also seems unreasonable to many--isn't this going too far, they ask. These and similar expressions are the responses of many who visit the temple.

Many Christians also object to using the term Holy Mother when speaking of the mother of Jesus. The same objections heard when discussing the mother of the Chinese sage. What is the issue being debated,the columnist wants to know? Are we arguing about statues, about the naming of a temple, or are we arguing about an echo that is much deeper? What is  the true character of the echo?

"Holy Mother" is the place in which truth was born. The place from which truth came. The place from which Jesus came. It is not only that, but in the belief of the Christians it is also  the place from which  the  universe came.

In the Scriptures God does not have form. What does that mean? We cannot  meet God by  human constructs.So how do we meet God?  How do we go to the place that Jesus came from, where he went and where he is now?

That God does not have a form  is where we find the answer. We have to get rid of  all the forms. It is not only what we see with the eyes that are forms  but  my cravings and attachments, etc. all that takes hold of my mind. Whether the statue of the Holy Mother is an idol or not will depend on how much these forms have taken hold of us?

  When we look at the cross from top to bottom from side to side it does not stop where the wood stops but goes on to infinity. When we do not try to grab hold  of the form  of the cross,it goes on to infinity and becomes the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end become one.The writer concludes: from the cross he meditates on the the word "Holy Mother" in whom the root of life is contained.

To have a writer in a Korean daily newspaper  take on the issue of devotion to Mary by Catholics was interesting. How well he succeeded is certainly in doubt, but that he would attempt such a feat by using philosophical language was  courageous.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

'My Fault Spirituality' Reduces the Non-Practicing Catholics

To change how we think is difficult. To change how a community thinks is even more difficult. A priest from Pusan wanted to invite back to the parish community those who had left the Church but soon found he had to first change the views of his parishioners toward the non-practicing Catholics. He started to do so last year in September, and within three months 703 of them returned as practicing Catholics. (In Korea, only those who have been away from the sacraments for three years or more are considered "fallen away".)

Having a  parish of about 6,200 Catholics, he decided to start with 1,200 who were alienated from the Church for one reason or another. In educating his parishioners for the campaign, he did away with all the negative terms that have been used to describe non-practicing Catholics, replacing them with language from the world of marketing, such as "The first concern is the satisfaction of the customer" --the commercial provider being well aware that when goods are of poor quality, prices high or employees rude, and customer service shoddy or non-existent, customers will stop coming.

The customers, in this case, are the Christians, non-practicing and fallen away Christians whose faith life is weak for any number of reasons: liturgy is boring, sermons uninteresting, too frequent money collections, the Church shows little interest in them. If we don't treat them with kindness, says the pastor, if the community is not satisfying their expectations, how can we expect them to  continue going to church?  It's a question the pastor repeatedly asks. Some of these parishioners even went to nearby Protestant Churches to find out how they care for their members, making what they learned a benchmark of how they were to deal with their own Christians.

Why did they leave the Church? The pastor says, if we want to be honest, it is our fault, the fault of the Church as a community. This was the change in thinking the pastor in his sermons and education programs kept repeating. He was instilling a "my fault spirituality," which focuses not on those who stopped going to church but on the community they left. This was a revolutionary change in thinking for most of his parishioners.  He was creating an atmosphere of good will that would make the return of those who had left the Church easier.

The good will was evident in every detail of a carefully thought-out  program that would make the transition back to the Church less intimidating. Prayer and education sessions were scheduled in the different  areas of the parish, and a day for confession was selected--all preparations being conscientiously followed, including the following:

 -All  parish personnel and finances were made available to the program.
-Carefully thought out  preparations were made to implement the program.
-Taking an active interest in the program  was  everyone's concern.
-A firm commitment by the pastor to the goals of the program.

The results? Church attendance increased, collections doubled, and the parish is now an example to the rest of the Korean Catholic Church of how programs with difficult  goals can be successful when there is a fully committed community working together to achieve those goals.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Children Should Enjoy Being Children

Over the years, it was often heard in Korea that our children are not allowed to be children. In a recent daily newspaper, pictures show students in middle and high school sleeping in class, noting that they are preparing to go to the academies in the evening and getting the necessary shuteye to be wide awake for the real study, preparing for college.
Spending most of their time studying for college, our youngsters are missing a critical time in their life, being children.

In the column "Daily Life and Faith Life" in the Catholic Times, the writer tells us that when a child acts like grownups  most adults will consider it praiseworthy. He asks us if we think that children truly like to do what others consider the grownup thing to do.  Children, he says, are naturally programed to act like children in a world of toys and dolls where reality can't be separated from imagination. They cry when frightened, they easily sulk and do not listen to reason. They brag and cling tenaciously to their possessions, and there is no saying no to any temptation that comes their way. Above all, there is no end to their capacity for curiosity. He believes that it is acting in this way that children grow up to be mature adults, able to distinguish what they should and should not do in society. Little by little they gain responsibility and concern for others.

However, when adults have spent childhood acting like adults, the writer thinks they will often revert to childish ways when they are adults. He quotes a  hermit scholar-priest who  said, " Please let the children be children. Don't hit them when they act frivolously. If they don't act like children when will they? If they grow up acting too much like adults, when they become adults you will be spending a great deal of money for counseling sessions."

The writer says that when he was working in the mental ward of a hospital or in his counseling practice, he often met adults who acted like children. But we can become, he says, too permissive and lacking in discernment, which will tend to form a selfish and egoistical child.  A balanced approach is obviously best. By asking ourselves whether we are healthy adults or child adults who need to act like children, we may gain in this soul-searching a better understanding of what it means, for us and for our children, to grow into an ever-evolving mature adulthood.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Results of Abusive Language

A parish priest, a professor in the diocesan seminary, writes in the opinion piece in the Catholic Times of the pervasiveness of foul and abusive  language in society. We hear it when riding in a bus or subway car, from middle and high school students and also from the older generation, and from those in all walks of life. The routine and mindless abuse of the marvelous gift of language bothers him, as if  his use of it is  contaminated as well.

He brings this truth to our attention by quoting the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). "Humans have within themselves consciousness  and the spiritual. This internal consciousness is expressed externally with the words we use."

This is easy enough to understand: words express our internal character, who we are. Words are the way we relate with others, how we  dialogue with others. If we remember this, we will not easily use vulgar language when speaking with others. The consequences of doing so are great.

He mentions a story from the Talmud: A king asks that the most useful and  the most harmful thing in the world  be brought to him; the  object found  was the same--the tongue. Examples of this double character of language are many. There are those who heard only negative things when growing up who  ended up in prison. And those who had everything going against them, but hearing words of affirmation have done great things.


He quotes the following words: " Be careful of your thoughts, they will become your words. Be careful of your words, they will become your actions.  Be careful of your actions,  they will become your habits. Be careful of your habits, they will become your character.  Be careful of your character for that will be your destiny."

There is no doubting the mutual relationship between the words we use and the person we become. Whether our character prospers or suffers will  depend greatly on  the words we choose to use. The society will be changed when we start changing the little things. That this society has  become desolate and dreary  may  have  something  to  do with the words we choose to use.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Seeing Depression as a Cold of the Spirit

In the Incheon Bulletin this week, a therapist at the Spiritual Research Center of the diocese writes about depression, comparing it to a cold.  As we all know, he says, we are attacked by the cold virus at the change of seasons when our immune systems are run down. Similarly, many doctors, psychologists, counselors and spiritual directors say depression is the cold of our minds and hearts.

Our society has been alerted to the problems associated with depression by the recent spate of highly publicized suicides of well-known people who suffered from depression. A very common mood disorder among adults, it affects 5 to 12 percent of men, and 10 to 25 percent of women. And we are not talking here about simply feeling down, which can happen to anyone during difficult periods of life. Serious depression, as a despairing state of mind and heart, makes it hard to function and carry on even simple daily activities. Though the symptoms are many and varied, typical symptoms can include losing our taste for food, losing weight, becoming physically fretful, procrastinating, and experiencing a general slowing down of our mental faculties, accompanied by aches and pain. Since the urge to kill oneself often is present, the therapist believes the depressed person should be hospitalized when the symptoms are serious.


Returning to the  analogy of the cold, he says that just as there is no clear cut treatment for a cold--it usually cures itself--the same can be said for most colds of the mind and heart. Colds of the body and of the spirit can often be prevented, he believes, by bodily health, sufficient sleep, good eating habits, regular exercise, and, especially no worrying. He mentions most of the ones he has counseled are worriers--worries being the death of the spirit. As with a cold, he advises us to pay no attention to supposedly worrisome things; let the things go and the worries will go with them. However, if complications develop, either with a cold or with depression, it may be necessary, he warns, to see a specialist.

It is always difficult to know what to say to help the depressed person. It is easy to tell them to see a doctor, knowing the  uselessness of our trying to give advice, but doing so anyway even when trying not to.  It's not always easy to do what we know we should do. The quick-fix answers that tend to come to mind: "Look at the bright side of things; get rid of the negative thinking and try to be positive in your approach to what comes your way" will not help and are best left unsaid. Sometimes, not saying anything is what we should do. Being present, simply listening to their pain may be our best response, the compassionate response. Depression  being in many cases an affliction of the spirit, may be best handled by letting the depressed person reach into the spiritual depths of the disease with a compassionate listener--heart to heart.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Missionary Spirit of the Korean Catholic Church

A recent article in The Peace Weekly on two diocesan priests from Suwon, working as missioners in the Sudan, notes the many Koreans working in the missions, not including  Korean communities overseas. At the end of 2009 the Catholic Church of Korea had 863 missioners working in different parts of the world.

"To live as a missioner is a daily challenge" was the way the two missioners expressed what life is like in the Sudan. They are working in a country with severe poverty, disease  and ignorance. The situation is desperate and cannot be compared to the usually less than ideal situations in most of Africa. The Sudan has suffered many years of war, and the scars remain. Most of their teenagers have been in the war and still have family members in the army, many of them having lost members of their families in the fighting. As a result, starvation is a reality for many. Kept at  bay until 2005, when food dropped from relief planes ended, and they are now asking the missioners to do the same: send planes with food.

In the meantime, the effort to get the Sudanese to become self-reliant is a full time task. Many have never done any service for others. They have grown accustomed to being dependent on others to survive, so it will take years, the missioners believe, to wean them of this dependency and allow them to take charge of bettering their lives. The missioners realize that it is not only what they do that is important in keeping them there in the Sudan, but the help of the Korean Church and individual  Catholics is also necessary. 

The mission in the Sudan is an expensive one,  for there are few resources there to rely on. "Giving the Sudanese material goods that will enable them to have a self-supporting Church is not enough," say the missioners. "Buiding solidarity with the people and with those who will follow is also important, and it will not come with more material goods but when everyone involved works together to achieve a common goal.  From our point of view, we cannot  find satisfaction in what we are doing by only giving, for as we  followed in the footsteps of the missioners from the West, we hope also to encourage others to  follow us.  We  were able to  put down roots because of the sweat and tears of the western missioners."


They go on to say that the Mission Sunday collections back home in Korea, important as they are, do not compare to the sending of missioners. It is now time for the Korean Church to be concerned not only about their own problems but about the poverty and hunger in other parts of the world. Africa, they point out, is the Lazarus of our day, lying on the floor by our food-laden tables, looking for scrapes to sustain itself.

Half of the Korean missioners are working among the Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and those living in  Hong Kong. 640 are sisters; the men religious are few, the dioceses not yet actively taking an interest. But the Peace Weekly article is confident that it will not be long before we will have over  1,000 working in the missions. Compared to about 20,000 missionary Protestants, we still have a long way to go.  However, there are hopeful signs for the future. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Living As Partners To Creation--The Green Martyrs

We have all heard about the martyrs who shed their blood for their faith--the "red martyrs." Some may have heard about the "white martyrs," a bloodless dying to the world by those who renounce the world by emptying themselves for their faith. Now, in an article appearing in the Kyeong Hyang Magazine, a priest finds connections between the meanings of martyrdom and ecology by going back to an early Irish experience when monks would go into the wilderness of the countryside to study, pray and commune with nature. Those today who leave behind the comforts of life, like the monks of ancient Ireland, and retreat to the woods and mountains, the lonely green  spots of the world to commune with God and partner with nature can also be called, says the priest, martyrs--"green martyrs." He extends the term to include those who are concerned about the health of the environment and who work to protect it. 

The color green, which results from combining the blue and yellow colors or, symbolically, the 'blue' and 'yellow' parts of our human nature--blue: sometimes seen as the unfeeling intellect and yellow: sometimes seen as the feeling warmth of the sun--combine to give us a symbolic 'green'.  The green of spring, reproduction, joy, trust, nature, paradise, plenty, prosperity, and peace. In the liturgy at this time of the year, we use the liturgical color green to signify all the above, along with hope and life.

Attempting to make this world a green world is the green martyr's task-- not an easy one. A person who sees the destruction of God's creation as a spiritual problem tries to atone for the carelessness by carrying out the duty we all have to take care of creation.

The writer mentions the Catholic Farmers Association as an example of those who  have tried to live this green martyr's life. They are fighting the habitual way of farming that leads inevitably to the destruction of  the environment.

These farmers living the environmentally friendly lifestyle--not  using pesticides and artificial fertilizers have suffered a loss in income, been ridiculed, treated coldly, and  even called communists for their efforts.  Fortunately, those in the cities concerned for their health buy their products,  otherwise the zeal of the green farmers would not have lasted. The consumers who assist in this way can also be considered green martyrs for the sacrifice they are making in spending more to buy their food.

 It is not a sin to live comfortably, but it can be addictive; there is always the danger that it can become an idol to which we do service, increasing our blindness, says the writer, to the needs of others and also to the destruction of our environment.

The green martyrdom approach to life is to accept a certain amount of living uncomfortably. Obviously, not an easy thing to do; it requires a kind of death--a dying to the comfortable life we've grown accustomed to. Our reward, however, is to make all of creation our partners in living harmoniously together--stewards of God's creation.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Homosexuality Making Korean Prime Time TV

One of the professors at our seminary, a priest in charge of the marriage tribunal in the diocese, writes in our recent Diocesan Bulletin on the subject of homosexuality, which recently has received a great deal of media attention. A very popular TV drama, "Life Is Beautiful," has a subplot dealing with a sexual relationship between two men. Written by one of the masters of the soap opera world, the drama treats the homosexual theme seriously and with a great deal of sympathy. The drama has become so popular that it has been extended for a number of months. Because of this heightened interest, the priest has been asked by many to explain the Church's position on same-sex marriage.

This is not a topic that our Catholics would be familiar with from the mass media, which has only indirectly touched on the subject, although this is changing. While acknowledging that many nations in the West have recognized same-sex marriages, the priest explains in detail why the Church is against such marriages, quoting from the Catechism of the Church.

He makes clear the concern that we should have for those who are in such a personally demanding situation. We should, he says, rid ourselves of negative attitudes and all forms of discrimination toward those with a same-sex attraction. They are to be respected and given sympathy, and when possible, helped to change.

He goes on to say what we hear little about in the media: depending on their maturity, those with same-sex attraction who have married someone of the opposite sex and have tried to overcome the same-sex attraction often make good parents. However, those who have lived the homosexual life should not be counseled to marry. We have all been called to the life of chastity and those who are attracted to their own sex are not only called to live chastely but to work to change their sexual  orientation.

Those with  this orientation have also been called to carry out God's will--their troubles and pain are  a participation in the suffering of Jesus as are the afflictions of anyone of us. They can even have, because of their affliction, a closer relationship with the Lord.

The feelings expressed in the article may not be the ones we have  come to expect from those writing about the subject, but they are the traditional Christian approach. It will be interesting to see how the society will respond as more becomes known of this controversial minority within the Korean population--a minority that has been unremittingly discriminated against and their existence scarcely acknowledged by society. The recent publicity will do much to get us talking and moving us closer to a better understanding of a minority that has had difficulty receiving help for what we as Catholics would see as a cross. A cross that could be made lighter if more of us would be willing to lend a helping hand.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why Is Self-Emptying So Important in Both East And West?

In the Gospel for today we hear our Lord tell us what is necessary to be his disciple: "Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." A priest reflecting on this passage, in the bulletin for clergy, refers back to the beginnings of Confucianism and Buddhism and shows that our Lord was speaking from a "blueprint"  that other wisdom teachers have discerned from life.

When taking up our cross, a willing acceptance of a personally painful matter in our journey through life, we should be clear, says the priest, about what that is. My cross may be anything in my daily life that is painful to deal with, but necessary if I am to live as a  Christian and as a full human being, we must not deny our crosses or run from them. Our Lord asks us to carry them willingly.

To do this, the prerequisite is to empty ourselves. The writer makes clear that all the higher religions make this a starting point--getting rid of the personal self. If the glass is filled with what is not wanted and not necessary we have to empty it to receive what is needed and life-giving.

He quotes from the "Analects of Confucius," Ninth Book, Section 4: "The Master recognized four prohibitions: Do not be swayed by personal opinion; recognize no inescapable necessity; do not be stubborn; do not be self centered--or, as the writer puts it,  no wilfulness, no necessity, no stubbornness and  no self. One of the interpreters of the Analects explained that a person does something because it is what the person wants to do; he usually does not bother to ask what more may be involved. He goes ahead and doesn't stop until he achieves what was intended. It  is this attachment to the  results that  brings on the mental pain that most of us experience in life.

The early Buddhists saw that freedom from the personal self, and the accompanying mental pain would earn them emancipation from the ties of this world.  By abiding in the awareness of no-self, an important concept in Buddhism, there would be no worldly desires.

Jesus makes the same point, although Christians come from a different understanding of life. In Galatians, St. Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me."  For the Christian, Jesus is the Lord, he is the Lord of everything I have and do. I try to conform my life to his. The writer concludes that we as Christians should be careful that we are not living our lives as if it all depended on us, on our own will and strength.

Reading the preceding, one can understand the fatalism, the resignation that is associated with much of the East. This fatalism is not only part of  eastern wisdom but also part of the mostly unknown patrimony of the West. In one of our antiphons to the psalms, we frequently repeat "Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you." This trust in God with the acknowledgement of our freedom of will makes all the difference.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Movement For Life Continues to Grow in Korea

A movement to unite the pro-life forces in Korea is gathering momentum in an effort to strengthen their opposition to the laissez faire approach to abortion by most of society. This movement is not unopposed by those that see the right to choose as a human rights issue, and they are also beginning to unite to make their voices heard.  A report that the government is considering legalizing abortion has further motivated the pro-life forces to join together in the battle for public approval.

The first group was the doctors who came  together attempting  to put teeth into the law as it now stands. Abortion is illegal and they want the government to acknowledge this and   enforce it. The second group to associate was the young people, and now we have the lawyers who are uniting. The pro-life  teachers also have plans to unite.

The lawyer heading the group, as quoted by the Peace Weekly, said,  "The different  pro-life groups feel  a great loss in not having the lawyers with them.  We will join you in thinking about right-to-life problems and related topics, becoming more aware of what is involved, and join with you in the movement for life."

He has made it clear that all citizens should get behind the movement because "pro-life"  is not a religious question but a human question. He says, "...the so- called progressive stand of certain segments of our society, although they push for the dignity of women, the handicapped and foreigners, are disregarding the right to life issue. They are self-interested to the point  of making life a commodity, and the affection we should have for life is lost."

The lawyer group has about 50 members and striving to add many more. They are a religiously motivated group that is not only interested in the elimination of abortion and changing or removing the laws that allow abortions by skirting the restrictions but interested as well in promoting respect for all life. Also on their agenda for the future is a network that will focus on educational programs to get their message across on respect for life issues.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The "We Can" Approach to Life's Problems

A common problem for social welfare programs is finding ways to help the handicapped. Many who have succeeded in life, as we know, had handicaps: the four-fingered pianist, the Chinese young man who lost both arms in an accident and plays the piano with his toes, the blind who have graduated at the top of their class. However, those who are mentally disadvantaged are not so successful in life and are also the most difficult to help.

A Religious Sister in Seoul wanted to do something about the problem, so she started the We Can Center. Her intention was to form a company that hires only the mentally handicapped workers and also to make a quality product: a premium cookie using only the best home-grown organic ingredients available.

The Catholic Times reports on the success of the enterprise: Started in 2001, the company is committed to producing a quality product, and when on a number of occasions the only ingredients available did not meet their high standards, they preferred to close down rather than compromise their commitment to quality. In  2008  they increased sales by 44 percent and made a modest profit for the first time. This  past year they had  over a million dollars worth of sales. But, Sister says, success will not come simply because of the sympathy many have for the handicapped, but because of a good product that can compete with others in the marketplace. And with the interest in the product increasing,  she believes this will spur more people to show an interest in the  handicapped.

The Center is interested not only in producing a premium cookie but also in helping their workers become premium members of society. Therapy programs are available to all workers in order to build confidence, gain respect for themselves, and be more responsible and socially aware. The Sister is helping them fit more easily into God's plan for creation. "Our company is interested in people more than money," she says. "The company can run with 6 or 7 employees, we have 37. And there's always the possibility of using cheaper ingredients to increase income;  we have never given in to that temptation."

The article concludes with an invitation to drop by and taste the product at the We Can Center--they are waiting to serve you. For online shopping, they can be contacted at  www.wecan.or.kr.