Monday, February 28, 2011

Accountability and Evaluation in the Church

In a small country town, a church association of men between the  ages 40 and 50 meet regularly to direct  the functions of the parish. Named after the first Korean martyr, the association has been a great help to the Church. Besides the work of the Church, they often get together to eat and drink; so much so that the families of a few of the members complained because they stayed out late to drink, neglecting their families.

Frequently, the group would get together to fraternize without  any special purpose. When a parish event or finances were involved, there would be good attendance and lively discussion. However, when it  came to Gospel values or their mission as Christians, they said little. The place of the Church in the greater society and what the signs of the times demanded of them were not part of their discussions. A priest from the diocese deals with this problem in the bulletin for priests this month.

This past autumn  they had their parish field day;  they used the  neighboring grammar school grounds. The men's group took responsibility for the event and did a good job. It was the men who were involved, the women and the older people were mostly spectators. And again this year there were complaints for making too much noise with the speakers.  At the end of the day they got together for a meal and drinks.  There was a great deal of talking about what happened but no critique of what they did or what changes would be necessary for the future. Rarely would there be an evaluation of any event to improve if for the next time.

It is  good to have a successful event and to enjoy it, but at the same time it's important to see if the religious purposes  have been accomplished: To see what was boring, what was well done, what has to be changed. Were all able to participate? Did they leave any  out  at the event? Did all behave in the proper way during the event?

Although the Church has many events and activities, the writer feels  we have little evaluation to determine how successful they have been.  It is for this reason that despite the events and activities their effect on faith life, on our way of living, and on our society has been negligible. There is a need to have programs to alert us to what the possibilities are, to see and learn from others. Instead, we listen and do what we are told and follow age-old habits--that's easy. But gathering those involved, examining what was done with new eyes, evaluating and being accountable--that  does not come easy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dippping Into History Unwisely

Occasionally, we hear of people dipping into history to persuade others of the correctness of their position. Surprisingly, this has been attempted in a recent article in a Catholic publication discussing the invasion of Korea by the Japnanese in 1592. Such articles, often seen in the West but in Catholic matters rare in Korea, are usually attempting to ridicule the actions of those who are "conservative" in thinking.
History is filled with serious failings of Catholicism to live up to the teachings of Jesus. This is a fact no one wants to deny, but at the same time it is necessary to see the context of that history in order to make a fairer judgment on what happened; not to white wash but to make sense of what was done.
The article mentions that  in the invasion of Korea in the Imjin War under Hideyoshi, one of the Generals, Konishi Yukinaga, the first General to enter Korea, was a Catholic with a large force of Catholic troops. He was an 'outstanding lay person' (said in an effort to emphasize the point being made) and important enough to ask the Jesuit superior in Japan to send him a chaplain for the troops. The Spanish Jesuit Gregorio de Cespedes (1551-1611) was sent, the first European attested to in history to have set foot on Korean soil.

The article mentions that at the height of the invasion there would be more than 2,000 soldiers attending  Mass each evening. In later years, when Konishi  returned to Japan, he was Catholic enough to refuse to commit suicide after being defeated in battle and was willing to accept the humiliation that came with his refusal, which was worse than death.  He finally was decapitated.

Konishi  was a  very zealous layperson, who during the daytime  would be out slaughtering  the innocent Koreans and in the evening going to Mass. There was also a quote to this effect from a popular historical  novel of recent  times. The article admitted that few today would see him as an example of what a Christian should be. It was not the likes of Konishi that brought the faith to Korea, the article goes on to say,  but  young scholars who went to the poor with  open hearts.

The point is  that here we have a very zealous Japanese  layperson following the Church's teachings and yet killing thousands of innocent Koreans. There must be a better way of making this point without going back into history, forgetting  the context and  cultural values of the time, and using a person's Catholicism to show 'hypocrisy'.                                                        
Many  of us do not live up to the teachings of Christ even though  in our daily lives we try to follow what our religion teaches. Most often our thinking is influenced by the cultural values of our society. There is no need to  go back into history to find examples of this; we have plenty of them in our own day, which clearly show  a failure of religious maturity,  of understanding  and a weakness of character. We can be seen as hypocrites by those who are not seeing the effects of  culture, life styles and values  on our thinking and actions. It is not honest to dip into history, without seeing history in context, to find examples to revile those who are trying to live what they deem to be the guidance of  their conscience in today's world.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Korean Parish for the Blind

A sure sign that the Korean Catholic Church is  on the side of the marginalized is the latest  effort of the Seoul Diocese to start a parish for the visually impaired. This is the second parish in Korea that will be exclusively for the handicapped, the first, a  parish for the deaf  in the Incheon diocese.

The Seoul Diocese did have  programs for the blind, and a place where they met on Sundays. 500 were registered at the mission, and on  Sundays about 100 attended. It was served by diocesan priests who would take turns saying Mass at their  auditorium.

An editorial in the Peace Weekly mentions how difficult it is for the blind  to live their faith life. The Church has given them the opportunity of offering Mass and studying the catechism, but there was always something missing, lilke not having their their own pastor, and priests would have little time to spend with them because of their other duties. The new parish will change all that and be a catalyst in the pastoral care of  the handicapped.

The registers of the  Catholics will be at the new parish, helping  to form this new  communty. A priest will always be with the community, giving it life, with plenty of time for the members to interact, and accessing  the sacramental life with less rushing. 

The ideal would be to have the handicapped associate with the  non-handicapped in the areas where they live,  but the parishes are not equipped for this role so it was decided to have the  handicapped together in the same parish. They will then  relate easily with other community members and feel less alienated than they would be in a territorial parish. The priest Director of Culture and Information feels that this will encourage the diocese to become more involved in other special pastoral endeavors in the diocese.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Faith Is Not in Externals

In the Catholic Times, a columnist discusses the problem which can arise when some spend too much time in prayer, too much time in  service to others, and filling their  homes with religious articles. They  can become so infatuated with a desire to experience God that they can be a disruptive influence on members of their family, and often turn them against religion. If it goes to an extreme, it becomes a religious delusion.

In these cases, they need medical help; with the proper medicine, they can find peace again but the underlying cause remains, a blindness that can return to rupture the relation they have with family and friends.

They mention that in their prayers and dreams, they often experience God. From such experiences, they try to live their lives. Faith  experiences, are very personal, they are  beyond our  ability to verbalize them or even categorize what was experienced.  The writer mentioned that he has visited with a couple of people who thought they were God, having received a message in their dreams. When he meets them, he asks if they are faithfully taking their medicine. They have told the doctors, but since the doctors don't believe them, they mention it to the columnist in a whisper. They say that they have not made this known but everybody in the hospital knows.

Belief is not something one understands only as an experience. What is experienced is not the totality of faith. We know this to be true for the disciples, who experienced our Lord right up until his death on the cross, and yet were without faith. If we are to have a healthy experience, it is necessary to have a correct faith life.

When we have the correct life of faith, we are able to understand  God correctly. When we have the proper relationship with God, we have the proper relationship with ourselves, with family and with others. It allows us to see ourselves as we are: joyful, humble, and knowing the meaning of life. It is this mature faith that allows us to have joy in our lives and to bring this joy to others.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Korean Catholic Attempt at Theater

The Catholic Church of Korea in recent years has been trying to get more involved in the cultural aspects of the country, and one important aspect of  culture is the theater. A priest from Jeju-do has started a theater company and is presently preparing the script for his forthcoming play on the life of Cardinal Kim, " Cardinal A Fool."  It will be presented at the end of the month to commemorate the second anniversary of the Cardinal's death on Feb. 16.

The company was started in 2008, with the musical on the life of St. Paul: "Imago Dei" (lmage of God). It had a successful run with over 126 performances and over 27,000 spectators. Their second production, "He Gave his  Heart," enacted the life of St. John Vianney. This production went to 80 parishes, with 135 performances and 35,000 spectators, a response beyond the world of the Catholics.

On the company's first anniversary, the priest founder mentioned the difficulties of starting a theater company in Korea:  Catholics were skeptical, some not knowing that the play was being performed in their parish, his fellow priests offering little or no encouragement, and the members of his team disappointed by the  lack of interest. The priest and his team, however, are not put off by this general disinterest; they feel that the Church needs their entry into the theater culture of Korea, to provide another voice in spreading the Gospel.

The problems they will encounter will be many. The finances necessary to put together a team to stage one of these productions is staggering. But it's obvious, also, that those willing to get involved in this kind of enterprise are seeing the benefits for the Church, which empowers them to put up with a great deal of misunderstandings and non-cooperation. The Korean Church has progressed to where she can think of other ways  to proclaim the  message. And efforts in music, literature and theater have begun. The hope is that these cultural excursions of the Church will bear fruit, and in time be a force for good in our society.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Endeavoring to Change Eating Habits

The recent foot-and-mouth problem in Korea has results not easily seen by the non-effected observer; for those affected the pain has been great: many Catholics in certain dioceses canceling their Marriage Encounter and Cursillo programs, their retreats and meetings. People would not go to Church to prevent the spread of this highly infectious disease, though rarely affecting humans; we can be carriers. For New Years many would not have relatives come to their homes. It was not like the New Years of the past.

Even those not directly affected couldn't  sell their animals, and money was hard to come by. Seeing the animals buried alive was especially difficult. Some even left the homestead to go with their sons and daughters to the city to forget their troubles. Many of the villages were in mourning, very much like mourning a death in the family--and it's not over yet. 

This was the worst outbreak of the disease in Korean history. In the papers, we hear daily about the possibility of  contaminating the ground water supply because of the burial of so many animals. One bishop, in his pastoral letter, asked his diocese to be concerned for the problems of the farmers and to remember them in their prayers. Compensation from the government is slow; without it the living conditions of the effected farmers, already difficult, becomes worse. The pain of even one farmer, said the bishop in the pastoral, is the pain of all.

Also mentioned were the additional problems that have come along with factory-farming, which has evolved to keep up with our current eating habits. We are eating meat, as if we're eating rice. And raising more livestock than ever before to feed this runaway habit.  As more animals are bred and raised in ever more confining spaces, and given unnatural feed, we are not only inviting the onset and spread of the disease, but also destroying the environment.

In the Catholic papers, we hear a great deal about the need of Koreans to change their eating habits. Back 30 or 40 years ago Koreans would have meat on the big holidays, once or twice a year, but this has all changed; they probably consume more meat now than Americans.

This past week five religious group got together to talk about the problem, concluding that the present diet is bad for our health, and that there has to be a change in eating habits. They pointed out that the raising of livestock requires more water and energy than does the growing of grains, and decided to initiate a network that will help spread a more healthful habit of eating.

Their plan: eat more vegetables than meat, and when eating meat choose pasture-raised animals. Eat vegetables that are organically grown, and eat with no waste.  If we change our way of eating to more sensible, healthful, eco-friendly meals, the world will soon change, providing us with a sensible, health promoting, sustainable food supply.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Catholic Church and the Internet

The Internet is changing the world, says the priest responsible for public relations in the diocese of Chunchon. Writing an article in our weekly bulletin, he asks if it's possible to live without the internet. Excepting those who are not experienced with, or do not use, the internet, most would be far from negative about this electronic marvel. It has for some time now influenced the way many of us live.

The Internet was first developed for the military. During the cold war the US Defense Department, assuming the worst about the Russian military buildup, believed they needed a reliable network system, which turned out to be the computer. From the military it moved into the  educational system, to facilitate non-profit research. and then in 1990 the business world took an interest, increasing the ways it could be used, and soon it became a necessary part of every day life.

The internet, having started in the military and having made its way within a few years into an estimated 1.9 billion homes (and growing at about 12 percent a year, an indication of its importance in today's world) is a great blessing. The Church, recognizing this fact, asks that we take an interest in this revolutionary medium of communication. 

From the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (#10): "Religious people, as concerned members of the larger Internet audience, who also have legitimate particular interests of their own, wish to be part of the process that guides the future development of this new medium. It goes without saying that this will sometimes require them to adjust their own thinking and practice. It is important, too, that people at all levels of the Church use the Internet creatively to meet their responsibilities and help fulfill the Church's mission. Hanging back timidly from fear of technology or for some other reason is not acceptable, in view of the very many positive possibilities of the Internet. “Methods of facilitating communication and dialogue among her own members can strengthen the bonds of unity between them. Immediate access to information makes it possible for [the Church] to deepen her dialogue with the contemporary world...The Church can more readily inform the world of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance on any given issue or event. She can hear more clearly the voice of public opinion, and enter  a continuous discussion with the world around her, thus involving herself more immediately in the common search for solutions to humanity's many pressing problems.”

To make full use of this new medium, the priest says that we have to be able to accept the societal changes that have come along with the medium. The priest makes two distinctions. First, it's not a one-way transmission of information but a mutual exchange; whether one is young or old is immaterial, all can  participate. Second, the internet erases the usual constraints of time and space. We can in seconds give many pages of information to others on the other side of the world, and develop a relationship  with anyone anywhere in the world--that alone is an amazing achievement.

As we become users of the internet, it's useful to keep in mind the words of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication. We, as religious people, whenever possible, should be intent on using the many communication features of the internet--whether blogging, emailing, or  by any other means of communication--to be in touch with like-minded people in order to strengthen the bonds of unity between us, and between all peoples.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Condoms and Abortion in Korea

Dissent in the Korean Church is rare, and when it becomes public is not easily understood, possibly because the history of Catholicism reveals the importance it has placed oneness, in contrast to some of the other religious groups.

A Catholic priest, professor at the Catholic University and  executive secretary of The Committee for Life of the Seoul Diocese, writes in the Peace Weekly about the Church's position on the use of condoms. The secular press in Korea, and in the rest of the world, did not report correctly, he says, the viewpoint of the Pope in the recent controversy over the book Light of the World. 

He quotes from one of the dailies, which commented on the Pope's remarks, as indicating an oversensitive reaction of the Conservatives (contrary to the clarification of  the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and used the words of some leading Catholic progressives to refute this interpretation.                    

The Catholic Church is condemned for being too conservative and  on the side of  dogma and against life, an oppressive organization.This superficial view of the issue, he says, distorts the position of  the Church on life and on natural law.

The Catholic Church teaches that in the sexual act the partners give themselves to the other in true love and oneness, and if children are born of the union, they are responsible for the children.

The priest says that in Korea, in 2005, for married couples there were 198,000 abortions; for those unmarried 144.000 abortions. And over 95 percent, because of finances or social reasons, did not want children at all, clearly showing that the sexual act was performed without  responsibility for life or that the attempts at contraception failed.
The Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that using the condom precisely as directed results in a 3 percent failure rate, and a 14 percent failure rate in its ordinary use.

Does that mean the Church tells the couple to take the children as they come? The Church does not accept artificial birth control but when there is good reason to space the children, it recommends that the couple avoid the times of her  fertility with the natural birth control method. If the wife become pregnant then it is considered a  gift of God.

The article includes a section (#13) from the encyclical "The Gospel of Life," where Pope John Paul II says, "But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree.... Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception."

This is an area that is counter cultural even in Korea. The Church has not been overly active in its anti-contraceptive  teaching in the way it speaks about  abortion. The teaching of the Church in this whole area of sexuality gives a beautiful ideal and  hopes the Catholics will make efforts to live by it for a fuller and happier married life. For many different reasons this ideal no longer attracts even some of  the sincere Korean Catholics.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Problems With Making a Musical in Korea

It was  written up in the Catholic papers, Catholics were invited and given discounted tickets, and after much fanfare and expectations, the musical, " Mission," when it  premiered in Korea, flopped, an extremely disappointing result because of the success attained by the movie version. The musical was produced in Italy and financed by Korean money, but something went wrong; the Korean company in charge of the production here will offer free tickets--tickets reissued for the first time because of complaints--to those who saw the musical during its premiere week and would like to see a revamped version.

The movie,"The Mission" tells the story of the Jesuit Reductions in Paraguay--communal mission villages, founded in the early 17th century and managed, independently of Spain, by Spanish Jesuit missionaries. The villages provided a haven for the indigenous Indian population, who prospered to such an extent that they came to be called "The Christian Indian State." All this changed in the mid-1700s, when Spain ceded the territory to the Portuguese, who had an on-going slave trade in the area, and soon turned many of the Indians in the Reductions into slaves. Because of political intrigue, human weakness, and deceptive information, the Jesuits were expelled and a remarkably successful solution to the hundreds of years of often savage colonial rule in South America, at least in Paraguay and parts of Brazil, came to an end.

Ennio Morricone was to be present at the first  showing but could not attend for health reasons. It featured three of his songs, adapted from the movie, and 20 new songs by his son Andrea. The production was expected to revitalize the market for musicals in Korea.

The Chosun Ilbo headlined its article on the musical, "The Mission Musical-Unfinished Mission." Ticket prices were expensive and the production shabby. The journalist who wrote the article saw it on New Year's Day and felt deceived. He looked for comments on the Internet and found that most of the opinions were  negative, with some disappointed theater-goers wanting their money back. He also wanted to register his disapproval of the production but the site was no longer operating, supposedly  because of squabbles among the religions.

The complaints did bring an acknowledgment that preparations were inept because of the stress of getting the musical ready for export. In an effort to do better next time, the company has decided to replace some of the actors, increase the members of the  chorus by 15, and work to improve the scenery.

The planning and investment money came from Korea, investing almost 11 million dollars in the production, which was assembled by an Italian company. The article mentions some of the problems with the production: the Italian singers had a poor grasp of  English, the acting, with two exceptions, was amateurish, and the production and the changing of scenery left much to be desired.

The world  premiere, for a musical that was to tour the world, was not only an artistic disappointment but also an embarrassment to Koreans, who expected a better showing for the first Korean attempt in a new field of endeavor.  How it will affect the reception of the musical in other world markets is hard to judge. It is sad that a musical, looked forward to with so much anticipation, and with such a good story to tell, failed so completely to be the triumph many expected.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fr. Anselm Grun, Benedictine Monk And Spirituality

A journalist from the Catholic Times interviewed one of our best-known contemporary writers on spirituality. While traveling in Germany, the interviewer went to the Benedictine monastery  to talk with Anselm Grun, the Benedictine monk who has written over 250 books (more than 14 million copies in 30 languages) and who is appreciated both by those with faith and by those without faith.

The interviewer  tells us that he is considered a mystery man, even superhuman, in his own monastery. Besides managing a large monastery (280 employees and 20 businesses), he fulfills all his duties as a monk, writes, gives lectures throughout the world, and teaches.

Asked why he's so popular, he says people are not looking for a spirituality of virtuous living but a spirituality of practical living that leads to success in life; they are looking for a better way to live and getting to know themselves by reading his  books. He is trying to lead them from the spring that wells from within to an experience they're not allowing to  happen.

The Church is not the place where all our problems are solved but where God is experienced, dwelling in the silence of our hearts, where our inner scars are healed. When we have this experience, we are freed from all needless desires, as if returning to the warmth of our home.

Concerning depression and suicide, he says that depression often occurs when we entertain exorbitant expectations and exaggerated thoughts, feeling a need to be perfect,  having to succeed. Our souls, he says, resist this kind of thinking, causing tension and depression, yet another reason is the alienation  from our spiritual base.

The interviewer asks how he manages to accomplish so much. Benedictine spirituality, he replies, directs our contemplation to the truth in each one of us; God will then bring about the guidance, and the change that is necessary. It's not a spirituality with our heads in the sky but a spirituality with two feet on the ground, made up of ritual and our daily living. In his own life, he does not demand of himself what is unreasonable, but works from the spring supplied by the Holy Spirit, working rhythmically and healthfully.

To the question what does he want to say to the Church in Korea, he replies that, having made a number of trips to Korea, he has been favorably impressed. The Church, being young and filled with energy, shows great confidence in facing the future. He remembers the Christians he met here, their openness, their sincerity and deep spirituality. He prays that the Korean Church will always be conscious of God's blessing all around them, and prays that with the North they will continue to be blessed.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Making the New Year New

Writing in a bulletin for mission stations the writer comments on a passage that he rereads often. Jesus cures a blind man and tells him not go back to the village from which he came but to go home. What was it about the village that prompted Jesus to tell him not to return?  There is  much room for probing  the reasons for Jesus' orders. We have similar requests in scripture not to return the way one came and  to go  home another way.

In middle school, he remembers his beautiful cousin who turned the heads of many young men. The father  sent her to her husband's home far away from where they lived. The day  before the  marriage she took the middle school cousin  and went up the mountain behind the house with a bundle wrapped in cloth. In a  quiet cozy area, she undid her bundle removed notebooks, picture  albums, and piles of letters. She began very slowly to burn each piece. She never looked at him, and he turned his eyes away looking at the autumn sun shinning  in the distant river. The ashes the  wind did not  blow away, she buried very carefully in the earth.

There is a time for leave-taking: to leave what you have become accustomed to, the  comfortable, things you want to do, and those you love. The writer returned home over 20 years ago, to his Father's house. He has been getting rid of much of his old baggage, but he still hears the call of the sirens of  things he left behind. He has lost some of the happiness he once possessed, and is not as  faithful in doing  what he knows he should be doing. He knows keeping both village and God both in view are difficult.

With the beginning of the New Year, he wants help in doing  what his cousin did: 'burning'  the things that need to be left behind.

He remembers a foreign missionary,  still having difficulty with the language, tell his parishioners: " The worn out year has gone, and we have the new year. The year we have grown fond of has  callously left us. The gone year has gone, let us forget the old year along with the hatred, the scars and the things we made seem important. Let us make plans to be happy living in the new year. The new year is what is important.  Let us always stay awake and let us not tremble. Let us forget the old times. When you put your hand to the plow, and you continue to look behind, you could find yourself going to another village."                             

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reflections on the Death of a Friend

There are those who have many friends and those with few, those that are gregarious and those who are not. Writing for a diocesan bulletin one of the Catholics reflects on the death of one of his childhood friends. Although his friend was not healthy, he remembered joking with him recently, so when he received the news on his hand phone, while at work, he was shocked; he was too young to die.

AT the funeral parlor he was surprised to see so few there. Before the coffin, there was his 80-year old mother and the wife of his  younger brother. No one was entering or leaving, only a few childhood buddies drinking and talking together. Usually on such occasions, whether the relationship was comfortable or uncomfortable, there would be many paying their respects. He recalls that his friend did not like to mix with others, preferring to live by himself, drinking  by himself and, in death, not surprisingly, was also by himself--his death mourned by few.

The writer, accustomed to seeing many people at funeral homes and seeing so few on this occasion, got to thinking about his own funeral.  How many will be sad to hear of his death? The answer he feels will depend on how much  concern he had shown his neighbor.  Was he more interested in taking care of his own needs than in being concerned for others?

It wasn't that his friend did not love his neighbor or was unconcerned for others; only that he neglected to do what he should have been doing. Since the writer also feels he has not been very active in loving or serving his neighbor, he wonders how the  funeral parlor will look like at his death. But then reminds himself that death is the same for all, that we came into the world with nothing and will leave with nothing. At the funeral home, whether we have many or few coming with their condolences, what does that mean? he asks. What difference does it make to have many or few to pay their last respects?

The accepted process of handling death and dying has changed greatly in Korea in a short period of time. Many private funeral homes have been built, and most of the hospitals, and some churches, have mortuaries; waking in the home has mostly disappeared.

Being part of a community will help determine the numbers attending our wake and funeral. As our writer said, numbers are unimportant but since the writer is a member of a Church community, I'm sure those who read his article will remind him that the funeral parlor at his wake will be bustling with fellow Christians, singing the office of the dead,  eating, and remembering his life in the almost festive nature of our Korean Catholic wakes.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is it True That Beauty Is Only Skin Deep?

A columnist in the Catholic Times discusses a popular new remedy, among the younger generation, for an old complaint . He was riding the bus on his way home and overheard the conversation of three high school girls. "For me it will be the nose," said one. "I also will have the nose done," said another. "I will have the double eye-lid done along with the  nose," said the third girl. They looked to be first-year high school students, said the columnist, and here they were talking about cosmetic surgery; that  they could treat such a topic with such naturalness surprised him. In their tone of voice, he heard no fear and no reservations on what was required, just concern for their outward appearance. He wondered if they had the same concern for their inner beauty.

The  desire we have to appear attractive to others is a basic instinct. We cannot  criticize the desire to make ourselves attractive to others. However, the columnist feels that many in our society have gone beyond what is reasonable and normal, adding to our vocabulary such terms as cosmetic-addict and cosmetic beauty. The importance we put on appearance has made the waiting rooms of cosmetic hospitals bustle with new customers.

This new emphasis on physical beauty can be attributed to the mass media, the 'beautiful people' seen in TV dramas and advertising, the thin bodies and beautiful faces in fashion magazines; even in books and animations, we have the prince charming and beautiful princess ideal--an unrealistic new look, the look of physical perfection, and it's taking hold of the young in our society.

A research team from Seoul Medical, in a survey of 1500 women college students, found that half would like to have cosmetic surgery; of that number 82 percent are planning to have surgery and 95 percent of those who have had surgery plan to have it done again.

The poet Khalil Gilbran says:

"And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy...  
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes
And a song you hear though you shut your ears."

The columnist reminds us that we are all beautiful, that we all have hidden beauty. Beauty, as we so often say, is in the eye of the beholder; it's something relative, something  not seen in the same place but is like a movable feast. For a Christian, he believes it's most often seen in acts of love and sacrifice. In Korea, it is often said of someone: more than a beautiful face, a beautiful heart. Physical  beauty changes with a change in time and place, with the changing cultural standards of a particular society; not so with internal beauty. 

That we have so many who do  not  see more than what is reflected in  a mirror is a reason for great sadness. What is needed is for all of us to become reflecting mirrors, seeing in others their internal beauty, and responding to that beauty so they can begin to see it for themselves.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Changing the Perception Towards Hansen Disease in Society

Written up recently in the Chosun Ilbo, Franciscan Fr. Yu  has been assisting and comforting those diagnosed with Hansen's disease for the last 31 years. He came to Korea in 1976 from Spain, a country not unlike Korea, both populations having experienced the horrors of war. Now 65-years old, he has made working with the survivors of this horrible disease his mission in life.

After Mass every morning, he makes the rounds of the patients. "Although I can't see and hear, I know it's the priest," says one grandmother, "he's the only one who warmly hugs us."

The facility of 200 patients, once a village with thatched, slate-roofed houses that made up the colony, shunned by society, is now a much different community thanks to Fr. Yu. He says that you can tell by their eyes that they desire to be loved. He serves not only as their chaplain but as the driver for the community; they feel uncomfortable using public transportation, he says, so he takes them where they want to go and does their errands for them. During this time, he has been at the bedside of over 500 who have died; he wants them to know they are not alone at the last moment. He has also prepared the bodies for burial, serving as their undertaker. He was proud of the Hwan Gap party they gave him on his  61st birthday. He considers them as family and hopes to be with them for his 70th and 80th, to give hugs.

The  disease can lead to disfigurement of the outer limbs and facial features. With the introduction in the early 1980s of multi-drug therapy (MDT), the disease has been successfully treated, and those afflicted are no longer carriers of the disease; confinement is no longer necessary.  But the facts of the case have not lessened the fears of many when they see the tell-tale marks of the disease.  Attempts have been made to give these unfairly treated citizens their human rights but ideas change very slowly.

Korea does a good job, however, in taking care of those who have the disease, which has been eradicated in Korea. But unfounded, fearful thinking is not easily eradicated. The word leprosy--named after the infecting bacterium (M. leprae) discovered by a Norwegian physician Gerhard Hansen--is not used now as often, which is a sign of  change. But problems still exist. When a person is known to have someone in the family who had the disease, it becomes difficult to speak about it and prospects of marriage are diminished.

 Fr. Yu is helping to change this thinking in the least confrontational and yet meaningful way possible: doing what many fear to do.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why is Collaborative Ministry So Difficult?

Off and on over the years there have been attempts within the Church to incorporate within Church ministry different ways to do pastoral work: team ministry,  partnership, collaborative ministry a community vision for the work. The attempts in Korea do not get the publicity they seem to deserve, or maybe they may not have been as successful as contemplated when started.

Looking back at one of the attempts (its web site is no longer operating), one can see that the dream was to work on educational programs for team ministry-- a suggestion that apparently came from the  Synod  of the Seoul Diocese, but the  effort did not achieve the expected results.  Discussion of the topic also took place in our diocese but there was little interest.

Because the work a pastor is asked to do  is usually beyond his capabilities, this vision of working as a team becomes a dream for many. The basic goal of the team ministry (and wherever it's been tried, it follows the same pattern) is to work with others in coming to decisions, in the execution of those decisions, and getting diversified talent to help out.

The priest responsible for the  movement in Seoul expressed it as casting off the one-person approach to the work and working in solidarity in a horizontal manner with others to give life to the community.

He finds models of this approach from the incidents in the life of Moses (Exodus 4:13-16), where Moses was given the mission by God and then shared it with Arron. He mentions Joshua and Caleb and others, and also Jesus, who sent the disciples out by twos.

There are a number of things that have to be remembered, he reminds us:

1) A common vision of Church. All must have similar ideas and  values and be able to come to a consensus, otherwise it will not work.
2) The Church's Canon law has to be followed.
3) Respecting everyone as having  received the call of discipleship.
4) Getting  rid of all discrimination: gender, age, birthplace, education, etc.
5) Conscious of the vocation to the work in the  Church
6) A fair distribution of the work among those with different talents.
7) A mechanism of communication has to be established  and continued.
8) Educational programs for the group have to continue.

This is a big order, and possibly the reason success stories are few. There are also the synergistic  results that can be expected when we are able to sacrifice some of our autonomy; this is difficult, for the ego is not easily subdued. And yet, the Church would seem to be the ideal place for team ministry to thrive.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Changing the Rules for Fighting Between Husband and Wife

Fighting between husband and wife is a common ordeal that all couples have to contend with. Writing in Bible and Life  magazine, a father of eight children tells us what he has learned about fighting in a friendly way.

Most of the time when the fight is over, you have forgotten what you were fighting about. It is usually a trifle but at the time it seemed momentous. For example, his style of dealing with the children, he says, is to let them figure out what to do while the wife finds this  difficult, and was nervous about  having  the children looked after by others. He thought it would be a good idea to leave the children with the grandparents in the country for a month; his wife was adamantly against it. The grandparents, because of the work the couple were faced with, agreed with him, and wanted to have the children stay with them, but she continued to oppose it.

The writer had difficulty accepting his wife's feelings on the matter and, being angry, he became aware of the many critical things he wanted to say to her. When she entered the room, she asked him: "Your angry, aren't you?" He wanted to answer that he was, but instead, surprising himself,  answered:                                                      

"Dear, our parents are getting older and many things have changed. These strong positions we hold now were absent in the past. We will have to change the way we treat our parents." She replied, "What shall we do?" indicating she was open to discussing it.  He was surprised that he was able to answer his wife without anger, even though there had been a strong desire to do so.

The writer feels that he was being helped in keeping calm by remembering the lines from Rom. 8:26, "The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groaning that cannot be expressed in speech."

Before a possible fight, he says he doesn't have time for anything more than the words: "Holy Spirit help!"  Three little words but they helped  change shouting matches and  passionate confrontations into quiet discussions: listening to what his wife was saying, and saying what he had to say in a few words. The new way left him feeling purified, he said, like taking a shower.

He concluded that when they  fought, they were not seeing each others true self but the darkness within. He was mistaking that darkness for his wife.

He recently read that in Korea 9,000 couples marry daily and 3,000 divorce. If only they would take time to say a prayer before the inevitable fight, he believes there would be far fewer divorces. Bringing  Jesus into every discussion before there is a possibility of fighting was the wisdom he has gained from married life.                                                                               

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Challenges to the Catholic Church in the World of Cyberspace

Writing in the Incheon  bulletin the priest responsible for public relations in a neighboring diocese discusses the world of the Internet. Anybody riding the subway can see the  changes that have come to society--everyone seems to have a phone, some smarter than others. As convenient as this is, not all is positive; though nobody can deny the change it is bringing to society.

First we had the printed media, then the electric-wave media, and now Internet  telecommunications. In this whirlpool of readily available information the Church's mission, as always, is to spread the gospel message.

The church experienced  acutely the importance of the media when Guttenberg's printing press came on the scene. Before the printing press, knowing the written word of scripture was a rare thing; all this changed and the world of the spiritual was never the same.

The printing press enabled Protestantism to spread quickly, as pamphlets and books spread the new ideas; and for the first time, many Christians could read the Bible for themselves.  The Catholic Church also used the medium to defend itself against the 'heretical ideas' of the Protestants. However, the Church was slow in using the new world of print in the way the culture of that time required. It did not fully appreciate the value of the new medium, and, as a result, the Church was severly wounded.

The advances in this area are not only technological but personal, by changing the way we perceive the world; our consciousness of what is real, therefore, tends to be different from that of the  past.  This has to be recognized, the priest says, in presenting  the word of God to a media-savvy world . The Church has to get involved in this new world  and adapt to the world of cyberspace. Precisely because the mission of the Church is to make known the word of God.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sogang a 21st Century University

Sogang University is the only Jesuit School among the  Catholic colleges in  Korea.  Started in 1960 it has  developed into a first class university, and is looking forward to improving its image in the years ahead.

The Chosun Ilbo had a special spread on the university in a recent issue. The article mentioned that some  critics say the reason it has gained so much respect and is  considered one of the best schools in Korea, is  the tradition of being for the students. There is a good reason to suspect this. The  students reply that you miss five classes, and you flunk the course and during a semester you are assigned seats in the lecture hall. Can we say that this puts the  students at the center? A sure sign that the emphasis is always on how to improve  student performance and not only give the students what they want.

The president of the university, an alumnus with a doctorate in history, recalled that in the early years of the university only half of the students would graduate. The school has the reputation of being like a high school: they do not manipulate grades and the business community respects that, and has come to expect that the students from Sogang will be well-educated. In fact, in the ranking of private colleges in Korea, Sogang is number one in many areas of study.

The DNA of Sogang, the president says, is freedom. Students are free to attend any class, and the school will at times offer courses even when less than ten students have registered for them. They are also free to take two or three majors.

The president goes on to say that the students that come to Sogang are outstanding but at graduation, about to go out into society, they are more so. His vision for the future is to stress the importance of educating the whole person, increase the competence of the teaching staff, work together with the business community, internationlize the relationship with those who are in research, and to find ways the administration can be even more helpful to those they serve.

The interviewer asked the president what would he have to say to those making a choice of a college in the year 2012. "Sogang is not the first or second when it comes to bigness, judging by the campus or the number of teachers or students. The strength of Sogang is in scholastic matters. We are  routinely strict in the running of the school. You are free to take any class and more than one major, giving you a chance to develop your interest in many areas. For those who want  a school that will develop their unlimited potential, then Sogang is their school.  Sogang," he says with confidence, "is truly a great  college."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dating the Persecution of Korean Catholics

A novelist writing for the Bible and Life magazine comments on a problem that he feels has bothered many Koreans for a long time. For Catholics the problem appears in the way we name the persecutions the Church suffered when she entered Korea. We still follow the Chinese sexagenary cycle in dating the persecutions.

This  cycle, which is made up of 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches, makes 60 combinations. The present cycle began in 1984 and will end in 2044. This year is the year of the rabbit, but it's a special kind of rabbit year, the Sin myo. The first year starts with the first heavenly stem added to  the first earthly branch. Since there are only 10 stems for 12 branches, the cycle begins again (after adding the tenth stem to the twelve branch) by adding the first stem to the 11th  branch, and the 2nd stem to the 12th branch; it continues in this fashion until 60 combinations have been reached. The names for the earthly branches are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey,chicken, dog and pig. For the heavenly stems: gap, eul (wood), byeong, jeong (fire), mu, gi (earth), gyeong, sin (metal), im, gye (water).

There are four persecutions mentioned in Church history; the first one, in 1801, is called the  Shin-Yu; the second in 1839, the Gi-Hae; the third in 1846, the Byeong-O; the fourth in 1866, the Byeong-In. The writer would simplify this by dating the first persecution to the time when the first Chinese priest was martyred with many lay people; dating the persecution of 1839 with the martyrdom of the French foreign missionaries, along with many lay persons; dating the Byeong persecution with the martyrdom of St. Andrew Kim, along with many lay persons; and dating the last persecution, the Byeong-In in 1866, with more French foreign Missionaries dying, along with many lay persons. In all, about 10,000 died during this period; besides the many lay martyrs, there were 14 priests: one Chinese, twelve French and one Korean. 

The use of the Chinese sexagenery cycle  to date events in history is coming to an end but we still use the dates according to the old dating system because of its long tradition.  

Remnants of this system are found in the divisions of the day, in directions of the compass and, most of all, in fortune telling. There are lucky and unlucky days, days to  marry and days to avoid when planning any important event. The system is used in other ways we would also consider superstitious. Although this dating system has a long history and is used in many countries of the East, the writer believes that nothing is gained, especially by Christians, by continuing to use the sexagenary cycle for dating purposes. When applied to events in the history of the Church in Korea, like the four persecutions, there can be, he points out, confusion for Christians who try to match their understanding of the stems and branches to what occurred during the persecutions.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Underground Churches A Future Possibility

The price of land in Korea is expensive but when the land is in Seoul City, dreaming of finding land on which to built a new parish seems an impossible dream--not like in the past. When a new parish is proposed, especially in areas where land values are high, the community is put to the test. The Peace Weekly reports what a parish community decided to do with a very small piece of land in Seoul City.

The new parish will have half the  space of the ordinary parish-- 240 pyong.  The community decided to build two floors below ground and 6 above. The church will be below ground, which makes it unusual; it was accepted by the community but not without difficulty: concerns about dampness and lack of natural lighting were the main complaints.

The sunken-engineering method was selected to complement the short-comings of having a church underground. This method allowed the underground space to be connected with the above-ground structure in a way that natural lighting and ventilation were harmoniously combined  so that the Church has the cozy, warm feeling of a typical church.  During the day there is no need for lights, no feeling that you are below ground, and no need for a heating system during the winter.

In most churches the catechetical rooms are in the basement; in this church they are on the  3rd and 4th floors.  Since most congregations have more women than men, this was taken into account when space was allotted for toilets--over 10 for the women so there will be no waiting before or after Mass. There is also a place to rest and to take care of  cosmetic needs, open not only to Christians but to anybody who cares to use the facilities. It's equipped with a system that uses rainwater so no one has to worry about the water bill. On the 4th floor is a place set aside for the elderly, which can also be used for prayer or conversation.  And a kitchen is open for all to use, Catholics and non-Catholics.

The pastor advises other priests, " When you're going to build a new church it helps to get rid of  fixed ideas of what a church should be--and be open to seeing other possibilities.  Even with a small piece of land it's always possible to think big and accomplish much."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What Does it Mean to be Salt of the Earth?

Last Sunday  at all the Masses in the Catholic World we talked about salt and light. We know how important salt is in our diet and also the harm that too much salt does to our health. An Incheon priest, in his sermon that appeared in the bulletin for Sunday, praises the many uses of salt and explains what Jesus meant  by telling us to be the salt of the earth.

Salt has been getting a  bad press in recent years. High blood pressure and hardening of the arteries are blamed on salt.  A salty diet is not considered a good diet. The priest says this is not all that should be said about salt. The problem develops, he says, because of the kind of salt we habitually use. Instead of using  refined salt, if we used sun-dried (unrefined) salt, the results would be different.

The big difference between refined and unrefined salt lies in the number of nutrients. Unrefined salt has only about 80 percent sodium and  many other different minerals while the processed salt has the many of the minerals removed, leaving 95 to 99 percent sodium. The refined salt has the impurities removed but also, in the process, removes many nutrients. The salt is more  expensive, the priest says, because of the time and effort involved in the harvesting.  

Two educational institutions have researched the problem and confirm that fermentation is quicker in  kimchi made with sun-dried salt  instead of refined salt, and there is more lactobacilli and nutrients in sun-dried salt, and the kinchi is crisper. There are also more anti-cancer fighting properties in the unrefined salt over the refined.

When it comes to health and discovering what is good and bad, it is never easy to get a precise answer, one way or another. Here in Korea the harvesting of sun-dried salt is big business and, according to the internet, continues to do well. 

Over the years what is called bamboo salt has often been received as a gift.  It is sun-dried salt that has been cooked in bamboo nine times and with great heat to enhance its health-giving properties.  Although considered a health food by many, bamboo salt, and its supposed remedial effects, is also ridiculed by many. 

Whatever the health properties of salt may be, Jesus did tell us  to be the salt of the earth, to be like salt--pure, giving taste and appeal to life, and  preventing  corruption--all of which makes for a  healthy society.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Family Religious Retreat

Korean family members meet to celebrate the important holidays; they meet to mourn at funerals and rejoice at weddings; but it is rare to hear about a family that meets together for spiritual renewal. The Catholic Times describes such a family that has been going on retreats since 2008.

There are problems for families getting together for any event but this family has been meeting for a retreat since the death of their father in 2007. They decided  that coming together to remember the anniversary of his death with a retreat would make the gathering more meaningful to all.

A retreat--the Korean word has the same meaning as the English word--means we leave behind our ordinary daily activities for a period of quiet time  to commune with God.  This can be done in several ways: a retreat guided by a retreat master, who is available each day for conferences and private counseling; directed retreats, each person meeting with a spiritual director, who suggests scripture passages for prayer and reflection; and private retreats, each person making his or her own schedule.

During the retreats of the family cited in the Catholic Times--a family of seven children (a daughter lives in the U.S.),  members  are spread over three generations, for a total of 30. They have  washed  each  other's feet, embraced each other, sung and   danced together, taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (a measure of how people see the world and make decisions), and even prepared programs for others that might be interested in a family retreat.

One of the sons has said, " When a family gets together for a retreat, it is more than an ordinary community: a common goal and self-confidence appear, along with a sense of mission, but we also have to work at being more of  an example." They hope in the future to increase the number of programs they have during the retreat.

Whether we will see more of these types of retreats, time will tell. They go against the popular idea of a retreat, and few families would have the close family ties to even bring up the idea. There are many retreat houses, and parish retreats are common; retreats are a part of the life of many Catholics. It would be nice to see the idea of family retreats spread in our society that has seen the breakdown of the extended family. It would  help to forge stronger ties among family members--and bring back nostalgic reminiscences  of what the family was like in their history and literature.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Is He a Seminarian or a Soldier?

One of the professors from the Incheon Catholic Seminary, writing in the recent Kyeongyang Magazine, applies the teachings of the Social Gospel to military life in Korea. In a divided country like Korea, serving in the military is obligatory for all males, and, given the on-going difficulties between North and South, it is understood as necessary, though a burden they would like to avoid.

The professor spent three years in the military, and they were not happy years. In order to abide by the regulations and orders from superiors, he had to give, along with the other soldiers, tacit approval to  beatings and to ignore basic human rights--the experience left him with emotional scars. A great deal has changed under democratization but many of his concerns, especially for seminarians, are still part of the military scene.
After ordination, he went to Italy for studies. Among the seminarians he met there, none had spent time in the military. In the West, those who had chosen the religious life were considered 'God's sons,' and were given the opportunity to choose an alternative service. His fellow seminarians found it difficult to understand why a seminarian would be given a gun and be on active duty. He agrees; one should be a seminarian or a solider, not both, if we are to follow the teachings of the Social Gospel. 
The Church's teaching on violence is also very clear: It is not a proper countermeasure. Resorting to violence is an evil. Catholicism teaches that war is barbarous and other options must be utilized to settle disputes. However, there is justification for using force, as a defensive measure, in order to keep the sovereignty of one's country, or to defend one's personal safety.
What about the rights of conscientious objectors? They have the right, says the professor, to refuse to bear arms or to participate in war, provided they accept some alternative service for the community. 

In conclusion, before being a soldier a seminarian is a follower of Jesus, and if he is called up for military service, his duty as a soldier comes after his first duty: to be a follower of Jesus and to make known Jesus' love and to teach the way to true peace.The professor feels it is wrong to make a seminarian take on the duty of a soldier. He discovered this during his years in the military.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Learning How to Achieve Discretion.

"Life in the World  and Spirit Column" in the Catholic Times describes someone who was living somewhat differently from others. Because of this he had to contend with jealousy and criticism. The columnist asked him whether this jealousy and abuse bothered him.

The  columnist was half suspecting he would express anger, pointing to those who were envious of him and responding in a way that would show how wrong their  actions were, but he did not.

Instead he answered: "There are times when  people make fun of me by calling me a fool correctly because I have done something foolish. At other times when actions are not foolish,and they call me a fool, then it is their fault and no reason for me to be upset by their wrongfully directed emotions." What can he do to avoid this kind of behavior? the columnist asks.  

He said that in the past,  he had done all the things they have done.  He had a tendency to alienate others and to lie to make himself look better. He made a pest of himself to gain favor from his family and showed he disliked others by his behavior. With the passage of time, he  gained discretion. It is a matter of time, he said. Some receive it earlier than others. He feels that by the grace of God, he received it rather early. And he is thankful to his family and friends who put up with him during this time.

The columnist said that many who come to him for spiritual help are looking for discretion in their own life, or hoping to shorten the time for this discretion to appear in those in the family with whom they are having difficulty. Some that come for counseling don't seem to be open to change, but those around them have  hope and use their authority to send them to him for counseling.

He ends the column by telling us what he thinks is meant by discretion: Not to be  too curious of another and to get rid of wanting recognition from others. This can be a burden, he says, and to shed it will help in gaining discretion. It is looking at one self with a peaceful gaze.
We should free ourselves of the fear that we will not reach discretion before our dotage. Time is of course necessary but first is the will to get rid of the hindrances, so we can begin the journey in earnest.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Growing Old Gracefully

Writing in the Kyeongyang Magazine a professor explores the meaning of growing into old age. For many, aging is just an addition to the passage of time. Instead of finding meaning in aging, accepting it and preparing for it, they fear the passing of youthfulness and of health. 

It's necessary, he says, to acknowledge the weakening of our body and mental functions and to begin focusing on the spiritual dimension of life. The second half of life should not be a repetition of the first half; doing so, we delude ourselves.

Our society is getting older and the media do not see it in a positive way, which then affects how most of us respond to growing old. Is it true that there is nothing to see positively in growing old? the professor asks.

We commonly say: we are rusting as we get older. However, the professor tells us that  rust can also be seen in a positive light. Black rust and even red rust, because of certain chemical changes, makes the metal  stronger and gives it many new uses.

He turns our attention to Simeon and Anna in the gospel of Luke; they are the first ones to proclaim the Gospel. Both have suffered much, which enabled them to  have a full spiritual life. They prayed, fasted and served others, giving them the wisdom and the insight to see themselves and life correctly.

To grow in wisdom like Simeon and Anna, we have to embrace growing old like they did. We have to know ourselves, divest ourselves of youthful desires and from the values of power, honors, material goods and health. Our real values are not external to us but exist within us, in knowing we are loved by God.

In old age, as our bodies get weaker, we can become stronger in defending ourselves against temptations and trials of life; it can be a beautiful time. Along with the 'rust', we can take on a jewel-like existence, which is another gift of God. When society can see the internal life of the aged positively, they will no longer see them as a burden on society, and we will have more of us living a fuller life.  

Like Simeon and Anna, if we grow in wisdom and peace and  pray that God's blessings be given to others, is this not loving God and our neighbors and living successfully our twilight years?  With this outlook, we can peacefully accept loneliness, disease, and even death. To do this, we have to forgive more, practice detachment more, and pray more. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year

Today is the Lunar New Year, and because of the three-day holiday followed by the weekend we will have five days to celebrate. It is a family holiday, and many will try to be with family. No longer having the extended family as in the past, members of separated families are leaving the hustle and bustle of the  big cities to spend a few days with family in the  quiet of the country.

This morning the first thing to be remembered by everyone are those who have died and given them life. There will be the Charye ritual (praying for the dead)  and then Saebae, bowing to the living family members, exchanging well wishes, and having breakfast together. The Church respects this family ritual and wants to see it continued. The Catholics often end the morning by going to Mass at the parish church.

We will have Mass at the Gyodong mission station at 10:30 am. This Mass and the office of the dead will  be attended by  families whose ancestral home is considered to be Gyodong. These visitors, many of them returning to be with parents and grandparents, will often be at the Mass offered for the deceased.

The first reading in the liturgy today is taken from Numbers chapter 6:22-27, the priestly blessing on the Israelites. The second reading is taken from James 4:13-15, asking us not to be presumptuous about the future. The Gospel is taken from Luke 12:35-40, where we are told to prepare to meet our ancestors and the  coming of Jesus into our lives.

New Year for the Korean is the time when the old and the new, the deceased  and the living, heaven and earth, and the family join in preparing for another year. It should be a time for  reflection and to recall what is important in life, instead of getting caught  up in the fast pace of modern life, forgetting why we are here and where we are going.

A German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper informs us "that the essence of leisure is an 'attitude of mind' and a 'condition of the soul.' True leisure involves contemplation and being receptive to things as they are in themselves. It means being open to things without regard to their value or how we can make use of them. The only way that we can enter true leisure is by stepping outside the routine of our daily life."

The time we take to be with family should provide us with the opportunity to break this routine, to cultivate the attitude of mind and condition of soul that Pieper believes will bring us true leisure, a time for recalling the important things in life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happiness According to Mencius

From the Chinese Classics, a columnist, writing for the Catholic Times,  takes the words of Mencius as her topic. The three joys of a virtuous person: to have long-living parents, and siblings without problems; to look up at the heavens and at others without shame; and to teach those who have talent.

Mencius makes us aware that he does not include the king in his list of three joys, probably scolding the king for not spending more time in trying to live virtuously instead of always being at war.  

The first joy, to have long-living parents and children living in harmony, is usually seen in families when love for one another is deeply felt and expressed, each one helping the other and showing concern for their parents. But this joy is a gift that we can't completely control; there are many families where this harmony is missing. Certainly, a great suffering for parents occurs when the children do not get along-- a lack of filial piety.  There is little that can break the heart of parents like the trouble between children. Children should remember, when something comes between them, that the one who suffers most will be the parents.

The second joy, to live in a way that does not bring shame on us, is within our control.  Living authentically and letting our conscience be our guide will guarantee that we will have no regrets when we look back on our life.
The third joy is truly a joy but is one that must be qualified in someway at least for a Christian. There are few  geniuses or  talented persons, we  have a chance to teach. Teaching topics that are objective, that have a right and wrong answer makes it easy on the teacher and gives joy when the students  learn the  process and have a eureka moment.  Many subjects are not of that type and the joy may take longer to achieve but the teacher's expectations make the teaching enjoyable even though  we are not dealing with geniuses.
 Our Lord's teaching can show us how to deal with persons who were far from persons of talent. He spent three years with his apostles in a close personal relationship. They were slow learners and disappointed him in many ways.  However, we can say that Jesus had great expectations of what they could  become. And this should also be our expectation when teaching--that there will be a change in those we teach.

Even when dealing with those who are among the most difficult to teach, the mentally handicapped, our expectation of change not only brings joy to us who teach but also energize those we teach to make the change we believe they can make. Teaching, when done well, becomes a discovery of the potential that lies within all of us--each of us is a possible prodigy.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What Does It Mean To Do Your Best?

Is this the best you can do?" said a character in a TV drama watched by a columnist in the Catholic Times. It prompted him to ask the same question of himself and others: Are we doing the best we can? He has tried, he says, but knows that he consistently falls short of what he intended. 

The head of one of the  big Korean conglomerates answers the question by saying that he tries, in his own way, to do his best.  We think we have been doing our best but others often see the reality differently--our best in their eyes is not their best. Because of our comfort range and different situations in life, the standards, we use to determine "our best" vary from person to person and consequently so will our beliefs vary on what actually is the best we can do.  

Also important to remember: Those that have found success in life have not necessarily done their best--doing your best is not  another word for success. We have to have eyes that see through the currents of our times, and double our effort, he says, in doing what we know to be the best for us.  Although our best may then result in more effort and pain for us, the reward comes as a gift.

Our columnist believes that "Doing our best" is one of our most beautiful expressions. Many people prefer to think that doing your best is material success. But he tells us that we should aim not for what we think is success but  putting are heart and soul in what we do. Whether we succeed or fail in the pursuit  is immaterial. In doing our best we will not have any regrets--doing our best is itself the success.  

As Christians we have the task of loving God and our neighbor. When we go about doing this with joy and delight we receive great blessings. This is the mystery of living with faith. When we desire nothing, but do what we are doing with our whole  heart and soul, we leave the results  up to God. We have the example of Jesus, who in life would be considered a failure, someone crucified on a cross, but when we look at the cross we see what is not there, which makes all the difference.