Friday, December 31, 2010

Pope Benedict's Social Gospel Message on New Year's Day

A professor at the  Catholic University of Incheon writes in the Kyeongyang Magazine of the difficulties teaching the Social Gospel. Seminarians see it as too complicated, theoretical and difficult. He considers it essential to his mission.

The Social Gospel is the Church's teaching about our role in society, our rights and duties as members of society, and the obligations of a society toward its members. He tells us how he has grown to appreciate the importance of this teaching.

As a middle and high school student during the difficult days of the military rule, he knew something was wrong  talking to the older students. During his high school years, he heard about the separation of Church and State. On Sundays, when he heard the pastor talk about the problems in society, he wondered  whether the pastor was a communist.

He often asked himself why doesn't the pastor stay with religious topics instead of talking about society. He thinks this was probably the thinking of most of the students. His one thought was to do well in his studies and go to a good college. He wasn't concerned about what was happening in society; it would have no effect on whether he and the other students succeeded in life. He couldn't understand why college students were spending so much time demonstrating  and not studying. Their job was to study and leave the running of the government to the politicians.

One day in religion class, after Saturday evening Mass, the teacher gave them  a question to discuss. "If you are faced with a choice between your  country or your faith, what would you choose?"  They  all came to a similar conclusion: without a country, they would not have a faith life. They brought up Vietnam and those that fled the country, becoming refugees. They decided the  country comes first.  Secondly, they would work for freedom of religion.

The teacher, a college student himself, thought differently but wasn't  surprised by their answer. In our society, there is no need to make a choice but the  Catholics both in Korea and the early Church had to make that choice, and they chose faith over the country.

The professor, looking back at that time, remembers how this came as a surprise to him, choosing faith over the country. It was something completely foreign to what he had been taught. He kept trying to figure out what he would do if he were faced with that choice. It was a problem, certainly, but  it was not as important to him as the effort to get a good score on his college entrance exam.

Little by little he began to see that the Church has the right to speak about problems in society. The Gospel message of liberation has to be spoken; this is the prophetic message of the Gospel. But the professor, who now teaches the Social Gospel, understands the problems many are having, even today, in seeing how the Gospel teachings relate to society. 

In looking over history we can see how many times and in how many ways we as Christians have been compromised by the society we live in. The majority is not always right; we have seen the sad results of that thinking in many parts of the world. Pope Benedict gives us  a wonderful treatise on the Social Gospel's treatment of religious freedom in society in this New Year's Message. It is a difficult task for all of us but to work to conscientiatize ourselves and society--by learning, teaching, and living the Social Gospel--is an important part of the  Christian message we have received.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Trying to Forget is not a Good Idea

The weekly column dealing with questions from readers of the Peace Weekly discusses the common problem of emotional scars that are difficult to heal. This week the discussion focused on the problem that could result when losing a girl friend. The father of the troubled youth wrote to the priest-columnist to ask for his help. His son can't sleep, drinks a lot and says he wants to enter a monastery.

We are told that even when we suffer from loss of memory as we grow older, we don't forget the emotional scars and sorrows we've experienced in our life. When we try to forget these traumas from the past and can't, it  becomes a problem both in our daily living and in our spiritual life. Learning to forget these past traumas is an important skill to have if we are to live a healthy life.

A young woman came to a priest telling him she can't forget her boy friend who had died. She wanted the priest to recommend a convent. The priest selected a very strict community, thinking that this would help her forget. However, within a year the young woman left the convent and told the priest that as time passed, the thoughts of the boyfriend became even more vivid, and she had to leave.

This time the priest recommended a very lax community where the religious did little praying and a lot of talking. Even though the young woman again did not last a year, this time she came to the priest with a beaming smile, thanking him.  "The religious in the  community asked me so many questions about my boyfriend," she said, "it made me sick and tired, and I forgot about  him."

The priest goes on to say that learning to forget is not the same as trying to forget; when we try to forget we are creating stress for ourselves. We are trying to repress, and this is bringing  the issue more to our attention, and making an imprint on our brains. He cites a Japanese psychologist who tells us that the way to forget is not to try to forget but to do everything possible  to remember, to bring it all to mind. If we have lost out in love, cry like you have never cried before.  If you  have failed at anything, feel the pain and do it daily.

Why? He believes that we all have a forgetting curve within us. In 3 months, you will come to a point when you will forget. There is within us a self-cleansing mechanism that will take over. We have all heard of women who continually cried for their dead husbands, and very abruptly married. Men have more difficulty with this approach because they do not talk as freely as women about emotional issues. Men keep it inside, and it takes more time for the process to take over.

It's good to remember that our emotions are sporadic not permanent; they are fickle and we get tired of them. We don't  want to deny this fact but work with it. When faced with something that we can't forget and the pain of the memory keeps bothering us, don't make the effort to forget but rather bring the troubling memory to mind. Think about it and tell others about it. If this is done for a period of six months you will find peace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Drinking and Driving in Korea

The statistics show that in Korea deaths from traffic accidents are one of the highest in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) with twice the number of deaths than the average. A professor at the Suwon seminary writing in the Catholic Times says this is a sign of callous indifference to traffic safety.

One  of the reasons for traffic accidents is driving while intoxicated. All  know it should not be done. It is accepted as a basic principle of morality that we are to do good and avoid evil. If one drives while intoxicated and foresees the possibility of something going wrong, he then is morally responsible for the results.

This holds true for the owner of a factory who out of carelessness pollutes the surrounding rivers; owners of coal mines who don't show care for the safety of miners, and the makers of medicines who are not attentive to the adverse reaction of their products. When the results of these actions are evil, we must try to avoid the action itself.

Does this mean, the professor asks, that we must avoid any action when there is a  possibility that the results of our action may be evil?  Should we not use electricity because of the potential danger of a short circuit? Should we not drive because of the fear of accidents? Should we not allow children to use the computer because they may see porn?

These questions are easily answered, he says, by the application of the principle of the double effect  If the intended good is greater than the possible evil that may occur, and does not directly follow from the good, we are acting morally.

When driving after drinking even though we do not have an accident the possibility for an accident was there, and we have done  something we shouldn't  have done. If there is an accident the principle of the double effect is not applicable  because the act of driving intoxicated is an evil act.

The professor no doubt knows of cases where the principle of double effect was used by those driving drunk. In recent memory this principle was even used by many commentators as an explanation for what the Pope said on condoms in the book Light of the World. The clarification from the Vatican makes clear that the Pope was not using the double effect principle.To understand another  person is no easy task, especially when you are not sympathetic to the person speaking and his ideas.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Abuse of Medicine and the Culture of Life

A professor emeritus of Seoul University  starts off  his article in the Peace Weekly by introducing us to Paracelsus (1493-1541), who said all medicine is poison. It is, he thought, a question of dosage. Depending on the amounts given, medicine can be either helpful or harmful. 

It is good to remember that when medicine is taken there is always a side effect. Only when the good achieved far outweighs the potential bad side effects is the risk of taking medicine considered prudent. He goes on to say that Koreans are unusually fond of taking medicine. In every house, you will see full medicine cabinets and boxes of medicine everywhere, with all kinds of medicines which they take like food.

The professor says that according to one statistical finding more than half of those taking medicines don't follow the instructions that come with the medicine. And many are mesmerized by the irresponsible  advertisements on TV, in magazines and leaflets. Many are also too easily influenced to use medicines solely on the recommendations of friends.  

This problem of the overuse, abuse and dependence on medicine is something that militates against the culture of life we should be working to bring into our society. This is a problem that affects all of us. In many cases, the use of medicines is not prescribed. This is the case not only with drugs for the more serious diseases but with medicines to help digestion, relieve pains and headaches, stimulate bowel movements, and to put us to sleep, among a host of other remedies. Even when the use is no longer necessary, the habit often continues.

The misuse of drugs can be broadly distinguished as either institutional or personal. Institutions like hospitals and clinics often immorally incite the overuse of medicines because of the financial incentives. And individuals will alsoself-medicate to treat some abnormality, and do it improperly. The professor tells us that  compared to many other countries, the number of medicines prescribed in Korea to the ordinary patient is much higher. The government intends to do something about this problem, he says, but it is not only doctors but patients who have to change their dependence on medicine.

The professor's words should serve as a warning to all of us on the misuse and abuse of medicines. If we are serious about working for the culture of life in our society, we need to be better educated on the proper use of medicine in restoring and maintaining health.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Separating Addiction from Culture Not Easy

Interviewed by the Chosun Ilbo, a priest, Fr. Heo, recounts the story of the student addicted to Internet games who killed his mother and himself. Addiction, whether or not it leads to actual death, as in the case of the student, will gradually bring the addict, he believes, to the despair of a death-in-life experience. If we are to change this culture of death to one for life, not only are the addict's efforts necessary but society must also be more involved in efforts to help.

To help society move in this direction, Fr. Heo founded The Movement for a Sound Mind and Sound Culture, which will look at addiction primarily from a cultural vantage point. The Church has been involved in this work for many years; now there will be a concerted effort to show what we as a society can do to end the problem of addiction.

Fr. Heo said he has taken an interest in the problem because of an earlier addiction of his own. When he was younger, he liked to drink--a lot.  From the time of his Mass in the morning to the time when he would go to sleep at night, he would be drinking.  There were times he did not say Mass because of his drinking. He tells us of an episode in his life when he was the late Cardinal Stephen Kim's secretary, and they were attending the commencement ceremony at the Military Academy.

" I drank so much with the soldiers," he said, "I lost consciousness." The Cardinal took him to his living quarters where he was cared for; he no longer felt like the Cardinal's secretary, he said,  but had to acknowledge that, because of his actions, their roles had been reversed: the Cardinal was now acting like his secretary.

His excessive drinking lasted for about 10 years, starting from the time he was an army officer.  During this time, he damaged his stomach and liver and was admitted to a hospital where he was treated for addiction. He has since written two  books that helped many: "If At That Time I Did Not Drink," a book of poetry, and "I am An Alcoholic."               .

Fr. Heo felt the support he received from the Church has helped him to maintain an alcohol-free lifestyle and prompted him to do something for society. He has worked in counseling, given lectures, and worked in the treatment of alcoholism.

The problems of alcoholism are many. There are today, in Korea, an estimated 4 million who abuse alcohol and 2 million who are addicted to gambling. And internet gambling and gaming, drugs, and many other addictions continue to plague society. Fr. Heo is helping to change this. Because of his efforts--his books and his Movement, which has drawn the attention of many to see the intimate connection between having a sound, addictive-free  mind and living in a culture that discourages addictive behavior--we can look forward to having more recovering addicts who can again take their rightful place in society.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Using Time in the Womb to Educate

A columnist in the Catholic Times speaks of the time when Jesus was in the womb and of what preparations Mary might have made to begin the education of her son. The East came to appreciate earlier than the West the potential for educating the child while still in the womb, and considered the thoughts, words and actions of the mother as important as physical nourishment. This interest sparked a new discipline: Tai Kyo, the prenatal  care of the unborn child through the attention of a pregnant woman to her own mental health.

She mentions the  mother of a Chinese King: during her pregnancy, she did not  want to see anything  bad or hear anything impure; she wanted no bad thoughts and no proud words uttered. She gave birth to a famous wise king of China.

One of the world's first books on the training of a child in the womb, the columnist proudly states, comes from Korea back in the 1800s. It was written by the mother of a famous scholar, with his help.  It contains 10 chapters detailing what to do before and after the birth of the child. She considered it important that not only the mother but the whole family should be involved. A famous quote from the book: "Teaching a child for 10 years is not as important as the teaching in the womb for 10 months."

It was in the 19th century that the West, with its scientific methods, showed that  during pregnancy one has to be very careful. The state of the mother and what she did would affect the unborn child, emotionally, mentally, and physically. The hearing faculties begin to develop after three months, and at five months the child can hear outside sounds.

She introduces us to Shin Saimdang, the first woman to appear on a Korean banknote- the 50,000 won note. She was the mother of seven children and the mother of the  great scholar Yulgok. She is admired as an ideal mother--a model of how to raise children--a loving wife and daughter, and at the same time she was a poet, artist and calligrapher. The columnist wrote a historical novel about Shin in 2007. She received much adulation for the novel and consequently, was invited to lecture on her life and remarkable achievements.

This is an area where much superstition can be found, but at the same time shows  the period in the womb was considered influential not only in forming physical characteristics but in forming mental and emotional characteristics as well. Scientific studies have corroborated this. Believing from early on that this period in the womb could be used for the educational development of the child one, can easily understand why  Koreans count the age of their children from the time in the womb.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Is Not Only a Birthday Celebration

Once upon a time there was a kind and wise king. Having worked a long time running his kingdom, he decided to take time off with his attendants to go hunting. They left early in the morning, planning to return to the palace before nightfall. Taken up with the hunting, they lost track of time until it was too late to return to the palace.

The  devoted attendants began to feel uneasy. The king said, " Let us go to the village to pass the night." His attendants disapproved, saying it would not be right for him to sleep in one of those shabby common homes;  even though it was late at night, they urged him to return to the palace.

The king answered with a question. 'If I go and sleep in a shabby common home, do I become shabby and common? Or does that house become a palace?

Today we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus among us. And what Christmas says about Jesus is important, but equally important is what it says about us.  Emmanuel (God is with us) loved us so much he wanted to be with us.

A writer in the Kyeongyang Catholic magazine starts off his article with the story of the king, and compared the king's willingness to live with his people to the mission of Jesus to bring the news of the kingdom of God to all of us. Jesus came to, "Pitch his tent among us." He filled this world of ours with his glory, making this world a holy place, a place of beauty for those with the eyes of faith. He wanted us to partake of His divine nature, who became a partaker of our human nature. This is our prayer at every Mass we offer.

In rejecting those who would see the world as a prison to escape from (the Gnostics), and their dualistic way of seeing life, separating the spirit from the body and making the soul a prisoner of the body, St. John asserted the value of faith over knowledge. By becoming a human being, God shattered this belief of the Gnostics.

"Let this be a sign to you: In a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes"(Luke 2:12). A manger is where food for animals is stored. Jesus wanted to make us aware that he came to offer up his life, as food, to give us  life.

God, taking on our flesh, has made this world his place of operation. God wanted us to experience the joys of heaven here on earth. Living on earth with all of creation we have the opportunity of enjoying the beginnings of eternal life. "God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for him" (Luke 20:38). Christmas is not only the time for remembering the birthday of Jesus but the time for remembering that Jesus took on our flesh and wants us, his followers, to awaken to our call to make the world holy.

To all a Blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Is Conflict Between Science and Religion Necessary?

A priest with a background in science and a doctorate in theology recently reviewed for Kyeongyang magazine the book, The Grand Design, co-authored by Stephen Hawking. Extensive coverage by the press has served to publicize the controversy surrounding the book and has sparked discussion among the general public.

For Hawking  the law of gravity is the sufficient reason for the existence  of the world; creation doesn't need God to enter the picture. This assertion caused quite a stir in the world of ideas, and in particular, the religious world. The reviewer feels that Hawking stepped outside the boundaries of science and is justly censured by many for doing so.

In college, the priest majored in mathematics and physics. While in graduate school, he  studied  theoretical physics (particle  physics) and had no problem with living in both worlds. There was never any conflict, he said.

Science is interested in the "how" of the natural world, and religion in the "why" of the world and how it relates to human life and its ultimate meaning. These two viewpoints are not in conflict; they are looking at reality from two different angles. When they encroach on the  other's domain, there can be conflict. He uses the words of Ian Barbour, an authority in this field, to show where the conflict comes from--usually when the scientist starts off with a materialistic view of life, and when the religious-minded takes the scriptures as literally true. Barbour: "Science seeks to explain objective, public, repeatable data. Religion asks questions about the existence of order and beauty in the world and the experience of the inner life."

The book, The Great Design, shows the two realms of thought in conflict by posing questions that elicit very different responses. Questions such as, "How are we to understand the world we are in? How does this world move? What is the essence of reality? Where has all this come from? Does this universe need a creator?  In the past, philosophy considered these questions, but it has proven not to be up to the job, and physics has taken its place.

He tells us an anecdote that comes from an academic meeting of scientists at the Vatican in 1981. The Pope, in his address to the participants, said, "Scientists are continually in search for the origins of the universe and are faced with unsolvable questions. Those of us who are religious are not looking for answers to these questions from science or astronomy; they are beyond physics."

"How things work together is the subject matter of science. Why we  exist is not a question scientists can answer. This is the area  of concern for philosophers and  theologians."

On his way out of the academic meeting, Hawking, who gave the first talk, said, "There was a possibility of their being no beginning or creating moments; the Pope did not understand,  and I was happy that was the case."

Our understanding of the truth changes with the flow of history and is seen more clearly with the advance of science and culture. The more we learn about other systems of truth and dimensions of reality--seeing what we did not see before--the more we understand our own area of truth.  This is why theologians, with patience and effort, should learn about the advances in science in order to deepen our understanding of humans, the world and God.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Working in the Digital On Line World.

One  of the diocesan priests responsible for the vocation work in the diocese has a very popular blog which he started in 2001. In the diocesan bulletin he reflects on the work that is required to do a daily blog. While it would be rare, he says, to have more than 200 attending his morning Mass, more than 1300 visit his site every day. And a morning meditation is sent out to 5000. He knows that it is not read by all and that many go into the wastebasket, but he considers it an important out-reach of the Church.

Those that come to the site are Catholics. Protestants, Buddhists, others with less mainstream beliefs, and no belief are frequent visitors. After visiting the site, many say they have a better understanding of Catholicism. A Question and Answer forum is especially popular. Many have thanked him for his blog and some have become Catholics because of it.

Persons having a difficult time coping with life have often found the help they needed by reading his blog. In today's parish environment, personal contact with a priest to get answers to troubling questions is not always easy; in the digital world this contact can easily be made.

Even though he has important work to do in the diocese, there is no need to ignore his work in cyberspace. It is, he says, an important way to get out the good news. Because he  has seen over the past ten years the good that can be done in cyberspace, preparing his daily blog has become a  very important part of his life.

He is also realistic enough to know that not everything in cyberspace can be seen positively. Crimes on the Internet are increasing, personal reputations are being destroyed by reckless, undocumented accusations, internet games are creating an army of addicts, sometimes leading to violent behavior and health problems. These issues cannot  be overlooked, he says, and it's weakening the trust and  confidence we should have in others and in society.

The digital world, as we all know, is a mixed bag of good and bad elements. The Church needs to keep current with this development in society. It can be the leaven that helps bring trust and confidence to the digital world. For those interested in  going to the Korean Blog click here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Relating With The Environment And Personal Growth

Chaplain at one of the Catholic schools in Incheon, he frequently uses the phrase, "I get angry" in his talks at Mass. He tells us why in his article in the Sunday Bulletin.

He remembers when, as a child not only at vacation time but after school was over for the day, he would be outside running around, busy at  playing. His father even now brings to his attention the times he would come home with his face dirty from playing in the dirt. There was no Internet then, no hand phones, keyboards, and equipment for games, but they had a network of friends that allowed them to play hide and seek, make  human monuments, play cards and many other ways to "have fun," that now,looking back, brings a smile to his face, along with the wonderful memories.

That is why anger takes hold of him when he sees what is happening today to our children. There are few reasons to play anymore, he says, so they go into smoked-filled PC rooms.  Returning home, they get before the computer with their headphones on and get lost in the world of games. When he gets a chance to talk to  parents, he entreats  them to get their children to play. They have no easy way to get rid of the stress that has built up during the day, so he asks parents to  prepare an atmosphere that would encourage them to play and, better still, for the parents to play with them.

When children become adults, he says, they need something to look back on  which will make them smile. It is a  stimulant  for life. They have plenty of things that bother them, are difficult, and cause pain; we can't deny the unavoidable difficulties of life. It is the moments of happiness, however, that gives them the courage and the hope to go on. Good memories of childhood years are important, and giving our children opportunities to play will help create these good memories.

We know how important it is to have good memories of our childhood, and parents are in a position to make this a reality. Adults will not look back with a big smile on their face because of the time they spent at the computer when they were children.  The computer may have many benefits for study, increasing attention span and getting good marks, but it will not make our children more social or add to their happiness or humanity.

Parents should be concerned with the whole person: The mind, the body, and the spirit, seeing that each is developed as much as possible. The Computer obviously does not help the body and can be of little help in bringing forth the spiritual world of the child. This has to be supplemented with the wise direction of the parents and not be left to the whim of the child.

We need to create an inviting environment where children can relate easily with other children in play, take trips to the ocean or the mountains, fish, watch butterflies or clouds in the sky, make small sail boats, fly kites, make music, play sports, dig and plant in a garden, and all the other ways  we can enjoy the world. In recent years the physical environment has been brought to center stage of our awareness, allowing us to see more clearly its role in making us the whole person.  Head,  heart and  body, plus properly relating with the   environment will  develop the  person we are meant to be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Sad Story

An old man who had lost his wife and was quite frail had two sons who were too busy with their own affairs to care for him. The newsletter for priests recounts the 
sad story.

One day he went to a carpenter and asked him to make a wooden box, and to be sure it looked old and worn on the outside. He filled the box with broken glass, closed the lid, securing it with a large lock, and put it under his bed.

The two sons, on seeing the box for the first time were filled with curiosity. When the father was not home they took the box and, not being able to open it because of the lock, shook it. The glass pieces gave out a clanking sound that they took to be money the father had been saving over the years. From then on, the sons took turns spending time with their father.

When the father died, the sons with great anticipation opened the box only to find it was not filled with the money they expected. The older son in a fit of anger blurted: "I was deceived." Seeing the younger son staring at the box, he said, " Do you want the box? Take it." The young son stood there for some time, tears coming to his eyes. He took the box and went home.

"The branches of a tree, although wanting to remain still, must contend with the wind that does not rest. Children want to honor their father, but he does not wait." The younger brother remembered this old saying. He believed that taking possession of the box would be a way of remembering  his father and reverencing his memory. His wife did not see any need to keep the broken glass, so he removed the glass, and saw at the bottom of the box a small piece of paper. He read the words on the paper and broke down with uncontrollable sobbing, which brought the whole family into the room. These were the words his father had written:

"When I had my first son, I was happy. I cried. When the second son was born, it was so good I laughed. From that time on, for over 30 years, many thousands of times--no,  many ten thousands of times-- they made me cry with joy, and laugh. Now I am old, and when the change came I do not know. But they changed. Now they make me cry, but not with joy, and make me laugh, but not because it is good.

"I am alone now. What is left to me is only a remembrance. In the beginning, it was a pearl-like remembrance. Years later it was remembering the happiness of pain that bent my back. Now what I remember is like the shreds of broken pottery, the fragments of glass.
"Please, in your old age do not be like me. In God's goodness do not be like me!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baptismal Names

Baptismal names in Korea up until recent times were important to our Catholics. Nowadays, there is less value placed on the name given at baptism.  Koreans, as is the usual custom everywhere, have a surname and a given name. For Catholics there would also be the  baptismal name, and in some cases among, the old Catholics, the child would only be given one first name; this would be the baptismal name.

In the past, you could often tell by the baptismal name the nationality of the pastor who gave the name. The saint's name would  be selected from the list of Saints of that country.

The names are usually selected because the birthday of the person to be baptized is the same as the saint's, or the saint's life is admired, or the person has the same lifestyle  as the saint, or it may be they just like the sound of the name. The best option would be to select a saint whose life you want to imitate.

A Catholic Times' columnist makes selecting a baptismal name the subject of a recent column. Her name is Sylvia and she mentions how pleased she is when she meets someone with the same baptismal name. Sylvia is not a name  you would see listed as a feast day in the  Liturgical Calendar. She did not make much of an impression in her time. Sylvia picked her because she was not a popular saint. On further study, however, she discovered  there was another Saint Sylvia, who was the mother of Pope St. Gregory the Great, whose  feast day is Dec. 3.

She attempted to find out exactly who the less-known Sylvia was by asking a friend who was studying in Rome. The friend reported that she was born in Spain and was the sister of Rufinus, the Roman procurator in Constantinople and a friend of Theodosius the Great, the Roman Emperor. She had traveled to Egypt and Jerusalem and kept a journal we still have. St. Sylvia died a martyr's death in 420. Her feast day is Dec. 15.

The story of the two Sylvias have over the years been intertwined. One, a Spaniard, was a virgin martyr, and the other, an Italian, was the mother of a Pope. They were born two centuries apart and lived very different lives, but now are equally cherished by our columnist. She is happy to have the two saints as her patrons and remembers the dates of their death each year. She dedicates her column to all those who have the name Sylvia.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love That Goes Down

The price that one paid for the good life is quietly seen in the homes. No time to talk, to play and enjoy each other's company. A columnist writing for the  Catholic Times refers to this condition by quoting from a poem written by a 2nd year grammar school child:"I have a mother who shows me love/A refrigerator that gives me food/ A dog I can play with/And a father--why he exists, I don't   know."

The columnist remarks on the humor of what the child wrote, but it also left him with a bitter taste, reading this sad portrait of a Korean father. Apparently getting up early in the morning, coming home late every day, and having to sleep during the weekend are not as important as the refrigerator in the kitchen. Another child wrote: "Dad is the one who loves Mom, puts food in the refrigerator, and feeds the dog."

A father himself,  the columnist reflects on his  life and his feelings of what a father should be: A father is like a pillar of the house that keeps the roof from coming down; a father is like a camel with a large pack on its back in the desert. He wonders how his children see him. The 2nd grade grammar school child was not describing the families of most Koreans, but there is a difference in the way the fathers of the past related with their family and the way modern fathers are forced to relate in the present.

What do children want from their fathers? He asks.  As parents we want to raise children well so they will become good human beings. However, in the future,  the child will not consider important that he was brought up in a well-furnished home and given the best things to eat. More importantly, they will remember that they were loved or not loved, that they enjoyed or did not enjoy the company of their father and mother in play and conversation.

When returning home from work, there are times, the columnist says, when irritation breaks out on both sides. Children are expecting to be greeted with warmth, and the parent is expecting not to be harassed. He believes that to understand the heart of a parent it is necessary to be a parent. He distinguishes the love of a parent for a child by describing it as a love that "goes down."

"Love that goes down is a  one way love but without sadness. Not expecting the object of my love to love me in the way I love them. Happy if the love just doesn't bounce off. No matter what the circumstances it is the love that I have been made to give. It is the love that I have received from above that I give to those below. But at times this love gives pain. It is not a choice but our calling."                         

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Interviews: Often the Cause for Much Misunderstanding.

The Korean Church is having its own problems on misunderstandings that the world Church had concerning condoms a month ago. Both Catholic papers dealt with the issue. Like the interview with the Pope, which got sidetracked onto another issue, the interview of Cardinal Chong, which was to discuss his new book, became focused instead on the Four River Project, making  it the big news instead of the book just published.

It is sad that interviews can take the place  of a  carefully thought-out position and given more importance than they deserve by the press. Questions are often answered without the thoughtfulness that more time to consider the questions would provide. Since what the Cardinal said is now seen by some as  going against the decision of the Bishops Conference, it is upsetting to many in the Korean Church.

The Catholic Priests Association for Justice has asked the Cardinal to resign for not going along with the consensus of the  Bishops Conference, which expressed some concern about the Project.  We don't know what happened in the meeting of the bishops--it was a secret meeting--but we can be sure that in all particulars, there wasn't unity. The  priest working in public relations for the  Archdiocese of Seoul, who was present at the interview, explained the Cardinal's position.

On the Four River Project, he said the Cardinal is neutral. The bishops' document uses the word concern (which may be taken to mean "worry") for the damage that would be done to the environment, but was not in absolute opposition. He acknowledges that the document can be interpreted as being against the Four River Project but the bishops did not absolutely oppose or approve the project.  Many Catholics were told in parishes that to oppose the guidelines set forth by the Bishops Conference would be a sin. Cardinal  Chong was not concerned whether constructing the Four River Project was a right or a wrong decision. He was merely making a pastoral decision and telling Catholics they were free to be on either side of the issue.

The Diocese is now making plans to develop the area around the Myong Dong Cathedral into a park, and this was brought up as a reason for the Cardinal's position. Some believed his desire to expedite the work on this future project had compromised his position on the Four River Project.  This was complete nonsense, said the spokesman. The interview was not about the Four River Project but about hisbook that was published.Consequently, when the Four River problem came up, he just repeated what he had said in the past.

To the question on how the Cardinal felt about the opposition he was receiving, his answer was that he has received much opposition over the years and was not surprised. There are many things on which people can disagree, he said, and he has himself changed his opinion many times. Outside of those who are using  this issue for  personal or  political  reasons, those for or against want the same thing, said  the Cardinal, and Catholics even more so. Everyone wants the Project to be good for the country. We try to understand the other person's opinion and come to a position that is reasonable to all. We in the Church have many different positions but when in faith we try to understand, love and accept one another, we will be going in the right direction.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Have I Selected the Better Portion?

Age quod Agis, Latin for "Do what you are doing," is a phrase we heard repeatedly in seminary. A similar idea, with variations, that might be heard in most cultures of the world would be: "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well." The columnist writing on spiritual matters in the Catholic Times, without using the phrase, gives us a worthwhile  lesson on how to apply this advice in our daily lives by referring to the story of Mary and Martha from the scriptures.

A priest friend who came to visit had an interesting take on the story. He had studied scripture in Europe and asked his friend what he thought of the story in Luke.  [Chapter 10:38-41, "On their journey Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him to her home. She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord's feet and listened to his words. Martha, who was busy with all the details of hospitality, came to him and said, 'Lord, are you not concerned that my sister has left me to do the household tasks all alone? Tell her to help me.' The Lord in reply said to her: 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion, and she shall not be deprived of it.'"] 

Without giving it much thought he told his friend that Jesus was telling Martha, and all of us, that prayer and meditation are important.

The friend, laughing, said, "Every time I  come across this passage I reflect on my life and  wonder if I, like Mary, have  selected the 'better portion.'  The story can be understood," he believed," as contrasting Mary, who was right, and  Martha, who was wrong. However, it is important to remember," he went on, " Jesus did not say  Mary was right and Martha was  wrong. All that  Jesus said was Mary, at that particular moment, had selected the 'better portion'."
"Brother, if we bring the scene to mind we see that Jesus was in the house and was talking. When Jesus is speaking the right choice is to listen, is it not? After he finishes talking he will eat, won't he? When visitors come, it is natural and proper to prepare a meal for them. This is selecting the better portion. If Mary had said to Jesus 'Continue talking,' when Jesus was getting ready to eat, then  we can say that Martha selected the better and  proper portion. To select the proper portion is to remember what you are doing," the priest said, "and to give it your all."

Our columnist was thankful to his friend for the chance to reflect on the story of the two sisters, and what it means in  his life.  When  at study or work and  we think of play and  at play think of work; at a sermon, we pick up the Bulletin to read, or when at the end of Mass, we close our eyes to pray instead of listening to the announcements, we have not chosen the better portion.  We have to be present  to each  moment completely. Only those who are able to see themselves as they are, the columnist says, can give of  themselves undividedly  to what they are doing and choose the better portion.

Living each moment completely is certainly the  way to grow in virtue and maturity. It is not all that easily done for multiple reasons; most importantly because we do not  know ourselves. It would be a good way to atone for the past and prepare for the future.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Small Community Meetings

In recent years the Church has made efforts to have Catholics meet in their villages or districts for prayer and Scripture sharing. Protestants have been doing this for many years, providing a stimulus for us to be as faithful to the practice.  Usually our Catholics meet once a month while Protestants have a weekly district  prayer service. In addition to the meetings in someone's home, Catholics would also have the Mass. And because attendance at daily Mass is good, it's understandable why the small basic communities remain, for the most part, on a monthly schedule.

A pastor of a small country parish, in his column in the Peace Weekly, tells of his visit to one of these meetings. When he arrived, six or seven of the elderly were already preparing for the meeting. A grandmother bent over, an almost deaf grandfather, and some who had difficulty walking were helping.  His only thought: How difficult it must have been for them to come out to the meeting.

During the meeting seeing how one of the grandmothers struggled reading a short Scripture passage, saddened the pastor.But this soon passed when it came time to reflect on their life. A grandfather, who was in his 80s, said he was thankful he could still help others and would continue to do so as long as his health allowed. He was given encouraging applause. Then each member had an extemporaneous prayer, which the pastor found very moving.
They then  shared what they had  been doing during the  month, which was followed by refreshments, fruit, beverages and some  alcohol. It was a feast. During refreshment time  each talked about their families and their problems. The pastor, impressed with their efforts to make the best of difficult situations, couldn't help but reflect on how easy his life was in contrast, and decided to be of more help to his parishioners in the future.

In the early Church, we know that the Christians met together to hear about the teachings of the Apostles, to have fellowship, to break bread, and to pray. Our own small basic communities are attempting to do the same, and succeeding.   

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Understanding What You Do At Liturgy of the Mass

Catholic Liturgy is the public and official worship of  God by the Church, as distinct from personal spiritual practices.  Liturgy comprises the Mass, the sacraments and the daily office. The Pope, speaking of the Eucharist, said that it is "the center and permanent source of the Petrine ministry, the heart of the Christian life, source and summit of the Church’s mission of evangelization." It is the public work of the Church to which we are called to participate  weekly.

The Catholic Times' editorial this week brings our attention to the recent  founding of the Liturgical Institute which will try to educate our Catholics to a mature understanding of the liturgy. In our teaching of the catechism liturgy has not been given the importance that it should have. The teaching has three phases: giving witness to the words and teaching  of Christ in our life and actions, following our Lord by being the salt and light of the world, and participating fully in the liturgy. We have this presented to us in The Acts: "They devoted themselves to the  apostles' instruction and the communal life, to  the breaking of bread and the prayers"(2:42).

The editorial tells us that many Catholics feel they know what the liturgy is all about, but this is usually a superficial understanding of the rites and not their meaning. The hope is that the Liturgical Institute will provide a new way of making liturgical life a daily reality.
The Institute describes its mission in the following ways: To promote and develop liturgical learning, to give life to liturgical practices in the parishes, to deepen our liturgical spirituality, to publish and translate books on liturgy, to work to have some uniformity in the words we use, to begin a school on liturgy, and to recruit future members--all part of the dream of the Institute.  They have their own Internet  site and will continue to develop this along with many other possibilities.

The first president of the Institute, in his interview with the Peace Weekly, gave as the  reason for starting the institute: "Catholics know something about the externals of the liturgy but not the  meaning, which is sad. The reality  today is that those attending Masses do not find it a joy but a burden; this I want to change. I want to help our Christians to participate with enthusiasm."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Passing on the Wisdom of a Good Marriage to the Young

One of the priests who write about evangelization for the Peace Weekly tells us of his experience attending a Catholic Engaged Encounter Weekend . Arranged similar to weekends for married couples, starting on a Friday evening and ending on Sunday afternoon, these weekends consist of couples who will  be marrying within the year, along with two  married couples and a priest.

The priest-columnist  had doubts about whether the couples, some having a non-Catholic partner, would get anything from the weekend. He was quickly relieved of his  worries. The first talk focused on having the partners introduce each other to the group by stressing his or her strong points; a very positive beginning.  Each of the couples and the priest shared their experiences and  the teachings of the Church on each of 16 topics that were covered during the weekend.

The talks aroused in them feelings that spoke to them. The priest remembers, especially, the talk "Opening your heart to the other." It laid out the guidelines to follow when fighting: not to broaden the argument, don't bring up the partner's faults, don't go into the past, don't go to a third person for help,  before going to bed agree to a truce, keep your sense of humor--and do it all while holding hands.

The writer sensed a growth in affection as the time passed.  Especially memorable was the evening of the second day when they entered a room lighted only with candles, and sat in a circle.  Whether Catholic or not, each prayed for a happily married life together. After the prayers, the couples received the laying on of hands asking for God's blessing on their married life. It was a moving experience.

The Mass at the end of the weekend was attended by couples with hearts more open than before and pledging to make their married life an answer to the call of God. The priest  heard later that most of those who were not Christians when they participated in the weekend shortly after did  receive  baptism and began living the Christian life.  The aim of the weekend had nothing to do with trying  to evangelize, but it was an indirect result of the weekend spent together; a valid way of bringing others to Christ.

It would be encouraging to see more of our young people who are contemplating marriage attending such a weekend, but the difficulties of persuading the young to take time out of their life for an unknown experience can be great.  In life, we prepare for our jobs by years of education, but preparing for marriage--not the wedding or the externals of marriage--is not seen as necessary; one can learn by doing, many believe. Yes, trial and error do work, but it would be better to spend a few days in these encounter weekends, sharing ideas and learning skills that will help engaged couples to get the most from their married life, especially when the wisdom passed along comes from those who have made a success of their life together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How a Wise Judge Surprised the Accused and Others

A columnist in the Catholic Times reports on what she witnessed recently in a family court.  A young girl was  accused of stealing a motor bike, among other things. The judge  dismissed the case. He spoke to the girl with tenderness: "Stand up where you are." Expecting a heavy protective custody penalty, she stood up with her shoulders pulled back, shuddering. The judge said, "Okay, now repeat after me in a loud voice what I say: 'I am the world's classiest looking person.'"  Expecting something quite different, after some hesitation, she repeated in a low voice what the judge wanted. The Judge then said, "Say in a loud voice, 'I can do anything, there is nothing that I am afraid of, I am not alone in the world.'" When she repeated what was said and  came to the words "I am not alone," the tears she  tried to hold back came streaming down her face.

In school she had been a lively student and was at the top of her class academically; her dream was to be a nurse. One day she was attacked by a gang of boys and raped. From that time she was bothered with a sense of guilt, not able to mix with others in school, started hanging out with  delinquents, and ended up stealing.

This girl came to the court of law as a perpetrator of a crime but those who knew what happened to her would not consider her a criminal. If there was something wrong with her, it  was her lack of self esteem. And the penalty should serve to help her in regaining it. The Judge called the girl to his chair and taking her hands in his said, "Remember who is the most important person in this world. Remember it is you. Never forget this, and you will always be able to overcome the difficulties that you will meet."

The article goes on to show the importance of having love and respect for oneself. Here in Korea we have had too many young children who have killed themselves. This is a problem that the country is facing. When  children receive treatment that is demeaning and hateful and they lack a strong sense of who they are, they will develop a feeling of inferiority, and often hate themselves for what others have said or done to them, making it difficult for them to see themselves as they are.

The columnist mentions that it's important to help a child realize that when they have done something wrong, they have a responsibility to correct it. When they see how embarrassing their behavior can be, the child often has difficulty separating this feeling of embarrassment from who they are, and can begin hating themselves and feeling no one loves them. Parents need to point out wrong behavior and show how to correct it, but doing so with love. The columnist  believes that only when children feel the love of their parents, can love for themselves grow naturally.  

There is now a strong movement in Korea to make us more aware of the culture of life: To see life as a gift and to work to correct the many ways we are cheapening the value of life because of the competitiveness of society and the search for prosperity. The Peace Weekly considers this the hot potato Korea has to deal with. Seeing life as no more than a commodity used to achieve some selfish end is not good for the society we should be creating.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Almsgiving an Important Part of the Spiritual LIfe

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is Caritas (Almsgiving) Sunday in Korea. The two Catholic papers brought it to our attention in their editorials, as did a pastoral letter from the Bishops' Conference. A surprise to many would be the thinking expressed in Tobit 12:8, "Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness." St. Clement makes a further distinction, saying that fasting is better than prayer and almsgiving is better than both. Giving alms is a giving of ourselves, our love made manifest in material goods, a prayer for those less fortunate than the giver. Catholics start off Lent with these three Lenten practices.

The President of the Bishops' Committee for "Caritas Coreana," in his message for this Sunday, reminds us that "Almsgiving expiates every sin" (Tob. 12:9).  "Many people are suffering from financial difficulty, and more and more people cannot manage their lives with dignity. These days, people do not take time for inner reflection...This results from living 'without hope and without God in the world' "(Eph. 2:12). He reminds us that since God's main work is loving, love should be part of what we are about.

In Korean society, even though we have  made great strides in recent years, there are many who have fallen in-between-the-cracks, and few of us see them. Poverty is of many kinds and the one that is the easiest to see is the material kind. The welfare system is handled well in Korea. Those that do not have any children are given help, but there are times when those that have children would have fared better not to have them-when it comes to receiving help from the government. They would not be on the lists of the poor in the different townships of the country.

Why is almsgiving better than prayer and fasting? It could be because it includes prayer and fasting. Our giving to the poor is prayer-like because it is giving also to God. "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Matt. 25:40).  Almsgiving is also a form of fasting for it means that I do without, however small what is given may be.  Of all three Lenten practices--prayer, fasting, almsgiving--almsgiving, for many, hurts the most.

However, the material loss for some who give seems not to matter. An economic prize given to those who have been notable in their works of charity was recently given to a company president who had refused to be honored for his giving for many years,, but this year they forced it on him. He has used the phrase from Matthew (his oldest son is a priest): "When you give alms make sure the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing." (This year his strategy did not work.) He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to many different works of charity within and without the Church.

The interviewer for the Catholic Times asked him what he thought was the meaning of almsgiving. "We have to live humbly and with others," was his reply. The one who gives while living a lavish  lifestyle and  only gives what is left over is not practicing charity, and his giving cannot be called almsgiving. The one who lives frugally and, while sharing in the pain and the joys of others, gives--that giving is almsgiving.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Reason for Loving One Another

Writing in the Peace Weekly, a professor at the Catholic University tells us why we should love. She begins her column with the story of a student, a young girl, who telephoned her to know why they don't have programs dealing with suicide like they have for sex education. Some students have thoughts of suicide, the student said, because of constant bullying at school, sometimes involving violence. 

We relate well with our friends, but there are always some who pick out others to bully and hurt. What is the fundamental error here?  It is a failure to appreciate the value of life. The culture of life is inseparable from the problems we face.

Seeing the death of another we often reflect on our own impending death, and it's not something we accept easily. Life at these times seems so fleeting and meaningless. She refers to a few incidents in Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich  to make her point. When a worker heard that a fellow worker had died, the only thought that came to him was his advancement in the company. And when he died his wife asked the friend of her husband what she needed to do to receive more money from the government.

Tolstoy shows us starkly how cold and callous we can be in dealing with one another. Ivan lived an artificial life, but thought he was living the good life. Just before he died, he could see himself as he truly was, and this enabled him to forgive and love.

The professor believes that city people rarely feel interested in others. Being so absorbed in their work, they are accustomed to the isolated life, often carrying this attitude home where they do not easily share their thoughts with their loved ones.

How do we Christians live? Do we look kindly or suspiciously on the people we see on the street? How do we react with those we know? Do we share with others in their joys and sorrows? Even though in the present we may not be faced with death, the time will come. The death that will enter our lives is the reason, the professor believes, that we should love one another. Our life is often seen as being separate from the lives of others, and that we are basically alone in the world. This thinking predisposes us to forget that we are part of the human family.

In the presence of death--our own or others--we can react with hostility and anger or with calm acceptance. And when facing the death of a loved one, we can, as some have done, help them to carry their cross and open their hearts to those around them. In silence, we can be with them in their time of suffering.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Do All Things Really Work Together For The Good?

A columnist in the Catholic Times treats an important subject bothering many. Years ago a young  grammar school student told her parents she didn't want to go to Church any more. She had prayed to do well in the exams, but she flunked; from that day on she considered prayers useless. The parents had difficulty in trying to convince her of the need to continue to grow in her prayer life. It was a hard sell, and they were hoping from some words of wisdom from their pastor.

This is not only a problem with children but also with adults. Our priest-columnist mentions his own experience with a relative he respected and who held him in high regard as well. The columnist prayed often for the relative's good health, who had made it known many times that he wanted the priest-columnist to be the celebrant at his funeral Mass, and he had promised but events prevented him from being there.

The relative died suddenly, and the columnist, being at the time in a foreign country and in circumstances that made it impossible to attend, was greatly upset; not being able to make good on his promise brought tears to his eyes. Continuing to feel badly about it, he was visited by an older diocesan priest who seemed to know of the columnist's circumstances for he spoke to him in a way that addressed his  situation.

"Brother," he said, "I have a story to tell you. One of our older priests, talking to a group of us younger priests, said with great confidence that 'God exists'. His fellow priests, seeing how certain he was, asked for the reason for his conviction. Laughing, he said: 'I have  tried to live my priestly life well and zealously but  there is nothing that turned out the way I wanted. At the dedication of the Church we built, it rained; the day was ruined. Our parish athletic event that had been planned with great expectations to unify the parish was interrupted by a  thunderstorm. And on some of the great feast days, things did not work out as expected. Something would come up to make the original plans impossible to achieve and yet in God's providence all worked out well. Though it was not what I wanted, it was all that I needed.' The diocesan priest ended by saying that all the seeming failures in his own life had only made his belief stronger. Yes, God exists. All that was needed had been given."

Life, in the words of the columnist, often does not turn out the way we wanted. God is in his heaven and with our prayers is leading us according to his providence. God is always with us. When we believe  and trust in this  providence and follow its direction then it may not be what we wanted, but it is God making things work together for the good. God writes straight with the crooked lines we have made. The columnist could dry his tears and trust in the love of God.                      

Thursday, December 9, 2010

From the Depths of Despair to Hope

Persons with HIV/AIDS in Korea are relatively rare, so understanding the disease is often lacking. Until this year, those with HIV were not allowed to come into the country. But foreign English teachers, after arriving in the country, are required to be tested for the disease. If they are found to be positive, they are deported. Part of the reason for this is the failure of many of our citizens to understand how the disease is transmitted. An article in the recent Kyeongyang Catholic magazine tells us the story of a young man of 28 who discovered that he was HIV positive.

As a child he was made fun of by his classmates because he was fat. He was timid and lacked confidence, which made his early years unpleasant.  His father, when drinkingwould beat his mother in his presence, which made the home environment difficult. His pleasure at that time, to help him forget what he had to face daily, were drawing and fortune telling.
As an adult he joined the army, and during those years he found peace by going to a Buddhist temple. His time in the service passed without any problems; he credited this to the peace he found by going to the temple.                

Discharged from the army, he returned home to find the conditions worse than they had been. Poverty had forced the family to break up. It put an end to his desire to finish his education. He left to find work but manual labor on a continual basis was too much for his body, so he found work in the field of entertainment. This did not improve his life, so he went into the sex trade. Although the money was good, he was thinking of getting out of it. But before that happened, he came down with PL (People Living with HIV/AIDS).

The news hit him like a bombshell. He didn't want to believe it; it felt like the end of everything.  If only he  had been more careful, he thought, this wouldn't have happened. He was told that with medication, he could lead a normal but this did not help. He became depressed and the side effects of medication made his life miserable. He even attempted to kill himself but failed. There seemed to be nothing to live for.

He returned home hoping to renew the old ties, but it was not to be. One of his relations introduced him to a Religious Sister, but although he met her a number of times he was not able to open up. On one occasion the Sister told him not to see her as a religious but as just another human being talking to another. She asked him to make a retreat with her, and he accepted, surprisingly. From the time, he was a child, he hated to see pictures of Jesus and the cross; they gave him a headache.

However, he did go on retreat with the Sister for the full six days. There were prayers, talks, and attendance at his first Mass. He received the laying-on of hands, asked for healing, spent time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer, and had feelings that he had never experienced before. He heard a  whisper in his heart "Live. It is not too late. Love."

During the months that followed, he would often hear the word "Live" and with it a feeling of gratitude for being in the world. He no longer felt it was money and honors that were important but a belief in the value of life was important. He was surprised by the change that took hold of him. A taste of happiness had  come into his life.  He began the study of the catechism, thanked God for the change in his life, and now has a loving relationship with him. 

Korea Catholic Red Ribbon is an Internet site that provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere for persons struggling with the disease. The site is also translated into  English:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In Treatment of Animals When Do We Go Too Far?

News coverage of the cruel treatment of animals in factory farming is increasing, and a Catholic Times' columnist made it  the subject of  her weekly column. She saw a TV documentary recently and was deeply disturbed. It showed chickens on a conveyor belt being electrically shocked into a state of a convulsion, killed and packaged for market. Seeing what was involved in getting the chickens ready for market, she was haunted by the images she had seen. 

Another issue covered by the documentary was the fur industry and the wholesale killing of animals for their skin and hair. She understands why women would want to be seen wearing such elegant accessories as fur coats and hats. But she believes this is not a good reason to justify killing animals to strip them of their fur when so many other materials can do the job, though most likely not so elegantly.

Though fur is usually an item of clothing for women, most of us have at least one item of clothing lined with duck or goose feathers.  How many animals have to be killed, she wonders, to satisfy our desire for unusual and stylish clothes. She doesn't want us to become entangled in questions of right or wrong but merely to think of what is involved when we desire and buy these articles of clothing.

We are faced with the fact that we have to live together with animal and plant life.We must also face the fact that economic development and the management of wealth often depend on utilizing nature to achieve these goals.  On which side do we find ourselves? In answering the question, it would be well to keep in mind, she says,  that we have been given the command to rule over creation, God  saw all of it as good,and it was given to us as a gift.

Our columnist, being a poet, has treated the subject delicately, knowing that it is a controversial issue and will continue to be for years to come. The Church has principles that should guide us in  seeing the issue with  balance. Pope Benedict, before he became Pope, expressed his opinion in these words: "Certainly, there has been an industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible; hens live so packed together they become just caricatures of birds. This degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me to contradict, in fact, the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church  says, "The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity." The Catechism spells out clearly what is expected from Catholics dealing with creation. The problem comes when an effort is made by some to place the rights of animals on a par with the rights of  humans.  This extreme position the Church cannot accept. Cruelty to animals, or for that matter, to anyone is of course not accepted by the Church. However, what some consider cruel treatment in preparing animals for market in the factory farm system would very likely be considered a necessary unpleasantness by others. Each of us must come to our own conclusions on the matter.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Learning How To Live Like A Fool And Be Better For It

The best-selling author of "Blessing of the Rainbow," Cha Dong-yeop, has another book now available in bookstores. In "Be Foolish," Fr. Cha, a seminary professor and founder of the Future Pastoral Institute, again shows us how to fully awaken our latent abilities.

He  follows the path of others who have praised the wisdom of foolishness.  St. Paul considered himself a fool, and we hear about the foolishness of Christ. "We are all fools on Christ's account" (Cor. 4:10).  Erasmus in his satirical way wrote one of his most popular books on folly, "The Praise of Folly." It was a devastating, humanistic look at the foolishness in society and in the Church. And with the eyes of a one-time priest, he knew well the failings within the Church. He  considered Jesus a Divine Fool to come to us as a Savior. It is not always easy when reading Erasmus to distinguish when his foolishness is intended to be seen positively, but there are times when it clearly is.  Fr. Cha, however, leads us without sarcasm to see that the wisdom of the world is not always what it is purported to be.

He says we have all been called fools at one time or another. It is often applied to those who are  simple and sentimental, those who try to realize important ideals and are not stopped by pressure from the outside. He tells us that many who have done great things for society were often considered fools. They broke the mold in which society wanted them to live. His book shows us how to free the fool in us and break out to the joy and success that the spirit within is calling us to.

In an interview with The Catholic Times, Fr. Cha refers to the prologue in the book where he writes: "In the old days when I did not know something I tried everything not to hear the word fool. But when I heard the words 'he's quite a brain,' it puffed me up, and I worked to exhaustion to merit those words and not be seen as a fool, not to be listed among the drop outs. I  struggled with all this, troubled by the pressures I was feeling. Isn't this our common self portrait?"

How do we become fools? Fr. Cha lists 12 ways to achieve this "foolish" awakening.  

 1) Be skeptical of common sense
 2) Nurse your fantasies
 3) Act immediately
 4) Consider the small things big
 5) Consider the big things small
 6) Go beyond what you can see
 7) Don't be tied to what others think
 8) Walk ahead like an ox
 9) Be honest
10) Be transparent
11) Share generously
12) Keep  laughing

Monday, December 6, 2010

Love for Books is a Great Blessing

Books are no longer gifts young people find attractive. Spending one's leisure time reading books, when there are so many other activities available today, has pushed this once popular pastime into the background, and not only for children. Chesterton once said "There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read." The tired man, to "kill time," will more easily do so in today's world without picking up a book to read because of the many other options provided by mass media. 

This  past month, Korean high school graduates took their college entrance exams. A  columnist for the Catholic Times, previously a teacher for many years, recalls her own anguish when faced with that ordeal and offered up some fervent prayers for those parents and students about to take the test.

How wonderful it would be, she feels, if we would find more time for reading. For her, sitting down with a good book is a great pleasure; she has tried to encourage others to do the same with little success.

She believes that  children who have made reading a habit from a very early age will be more successful in the college entrance exams. They will have been exposed to a wide spectrum of knowledge, and will know how to maneuver within this world. Having become familiar with the power of thought, and honed skills of comprehension, they will have acquired not only the  ability to write well but the confidence to compete with others.

The advantages of reading are many; it can be as close and comforting to us as a friend when one does not have the health to travel or indulge in the activities we once enjoyed at a younger age. How do we get children to see the benefits? A good way would be seeing their parents reading books more often, and by parents reading to their preschool children when they are not yet capable of reading on their own. Setting up a welcoming atmosphere for book reading in the home cannot be overemphasized.

Another benefit of reading: readers are not afraid of being alone, in fact, they don't ever have to be alone as long as they can pick up a  book and read. They have so many books they want to read that when one is read, they are anxious to start the next one. The columnist mentions that when she hears from her friends,  they feel lonely and life is dreary it's time to send them a book to read. However, most often she hears that they have read a few pages, and then their eyes begin to give them trouble, and they get a headache. If only they had realized at a younger age the joys of reading, they would never lack the presence of a great friend in their older years.

She ends her column by telling us she spends date-time with God by reading his Scriptures. Reading spiritual books and works of literary value is a source of great joy to her. She regrets that she has not been able to share this joy with many of her acquaintances.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Declaration of Human Rights" And Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the 29th observation of Human Rights Sunday in Korea. A reminder of our human dignity and of the ways we have personally and as a society violated these God-given rights.

The message from the Bishop's Justice and Peace Committee reminds us of the  ways many in our society  have been hurt, and their dignity not respected: the plight of many irregular workers, foreign workers, the discrimination towards those  who have immigrated here, and the many refugees. The editorials in the two Catholic papers have brought this to our attention. The way we have opted for development instead of looking to the needs of our citizens and the environment would include present construction of the Four River Project. The  Bishops feel there is no justification for the project and that the effort and money allocated should have been directed to eliminating the discrimination and exploitation of the weak ones in our society--that would be a project worthy of the concern and support of the country and the Churches.

The ways we can be cruel to one another are often beyond the normal person's comprehension, such as the recent artillery attack from the North on Yeongpyeong island. Most of the islanders, having fled to the city of Incheon, are still suffering from trauma from the shelling, some with heart palpitations, headaches and stomach problems.  

The Peace Weekly has an article on a priest who provides support to the victims of crimes in his area, crimes that often result in broken families  and mental disorders that can last a lifetime. The priest recalled several incidents that needed the support of his center: a farmer who was shot by a hunter and lost his sight in one eye, which brought on depression and the avoidance of others; a teacher on her way home from school  was beaten by teenagers, leaving her whole body paralyzed. She now lives with anger and pain and regrets her time teaching.  In many of these cases they never find the culprits. These support centers provide a much needed service. Unfortunately, compared to other countries, there are too few of them in Korea.

Friday, Dec. 10, is Human Rights Day. The Catholics in Korea are reminded of  this each year on the second Sunday of Advent. Sixty-two years ago, on December 10, 1948,  the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was a big step and surprising in many ways. However, after all these years since the Declaration, it's far from clear whether the recommendations of that wonderful document have had much of an effect on our behavior.                               

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Make Advent Environmentally Friendly

Some parishes in Korea, during the period of Advent, are attempting to raise the level of environmental awareness. The Peace Weekly gives us some examples of parishes that are doing this by following the Bishops' guidelines on how to take care of the environment by keeping our actions in harmony with God's creation.

Subjects of some of the talks: Saving our farms, eating wisely, setting up guidelines for dealing with the environmental crisis--always remembering that working to restore the natural order in creation is our mission.

There has always been those who have felt a need to confess their offenses against the environment but this is becoming more pronounced with the recent interest in ecological  problems. Not only are we concerned today with our relation with God, with others, and with ourselves but with creation, as well.

In the Bishops' guidelines we are told: "We  no longer can separate love for God and others from the  love we should have for creation... because of my greed and carelessness when I randomly  destroy part of God's creation,  I should come to the realization that I am sinning. This is something we have not been familiar with in the past but  is now one of  our social  sins."

It is easy to understand our personal offenses but not so easy to understand that even when buying a ten-dollar cup of coffee something is happening in our  society that is not good. Here we are in the order of social sin.

Our mass production and consumption on a large scale has brought us global warming, scarcity of food, and the disappearance of many animal species. To begin to reverse this trend we must take steps to live in a simpler and less comfortable way.

The article ends with a number of suggestions on how to do this: use less water, eat a better diet, save energy, avoid throw-away goods, walk or take public transportation whenever possible, cut down on eating out, prefer environmentally friendly farm goods, use cleaning materials made with natural ingredients and whenpossible,recycle everything.

The Place of Women in Church Life

Women far outnumber the men attending Mass here in Korea. For every two men at Mass, there are three women. And of those involved in parish work and other church activities, women are participating at an even greater statistical rate than men. In short, women are the ones that do most of the work and yet few are members of pastoral councils, except for one diocese, Kwang Ju, where they number more than the men. 

The editorial in the Peace Weekly brings these facts to our attention and laments that we do not have more dioceses like Kwang Ju. Women, following the traditional image of Korean women, whether appreciated or not, are represented more than men in all kinds of service work and in most of the unpleasant jobs in our society.

The recent meeting of the Women's Subcommittee on Women Affairs focused their discussion on "What can women give to  society and the Church?" They  considered their situation within the Church  and came to some understanding of their place in apostolic work and how to be a catalyst in the  work they do.

At present, there are, not surprisingly, many women with the same abilities as men, but they do not have the same opportunities that men have to use their abilities for the  Church; it was one of the main complaints of those attending the meeting. One participant complained that women are not in a position to express their opinions and get into the decision-making progress within the parish communities.

One priest suggested that the way to begin changing this policy was by getting women organizations to work for solidarity, to educate women for taking leadership roles, and to raise funds for this work.

One woman said that women are only involved in service work. Consequently, when an opportunity presents itself, which may benefit others with their special talents, they are reticent to speak out. The atmosphere has to be prepared for this to happen. This can be done by formation and leadership programs, among others: women as staff members on the payroll in parishes.  One difficulty in accomplishing the goal of getting women involved in Church affairs is that, not infrequently, the women want their husbands to be more involved and will step aside so that he will become the more active one in Church work. The women are often more concerned about their husband's spiritual state than what they  would be able to do for the community.

The bishop who is responsible for the Women's Subcommittee said that not all that should be done can be put into the hands of the bishops. Getting together to talk is an important first step and will stimulate the active presence of women in the decision-making process in parish life.