Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Does It Mean to Rest?

What does it mean to rest? We usually divide time into work time and rest time, and it is not rare to find that even our rest time can be more tedious than work. When the meaning of our work vanishes, work loses its appeal, satisfaction disappears and rest does not renew, often developing into a loss of meaning for life itself. An article in the Kyeongyang magazine, by a professor of religious studies, reflects on what rest should mean to us.

The idea of what we should do with our leisure time is a relatively new question for us to ask. In the past, the opportunity to rest was only possible for a small segment of society, the privileged classes; ordinary citizens had to work. Rest, when it came, was a blessing and not given much thought. Today, we have studies of leisure in college curricula, and the five-day work week has made all of us conscious of leisure and how we should make the best use of it. Though leisure was always part of life, today we are beginning to appreciate the many ways it can lead to a fulfilling life.

What does it mean to rest? And how should it be done? There are no correct answers to these questions, the professor says. Everyone approaches the question differently.  We can, however, search for  the meaning of leisure and look for the reasons we need rest. We have no difficulty in answering what the opposite of leisure would be; for most  of   us it would be  toil, stress and fatigue, but not only of the body, which we know can recoup its strength when the body is tired with a period of rest. The problem is the fatigue and boredom of the mind and spirit, and this is not regained so easily by resting the body.

The wisdom of the East, the professor says, does not separate work and rest, and sees no conflict between the two. Western practicality does separate them and, to make up for the possible loss of personal fulfillment by its emphasis on work, sees rest time as the corrective. In the East it was reflection on life that brought rest. Work and rest were both seen as opportunities to learn. He lists a number of pursuits that the sages considered restful: study, writing, reciting poetry, loving leisure, cultivating silence, playing games, looking at flowers,  fishing,  drinking,  looking at the moon, enjoying the breeze, planting in the garden--all encouraged learning when done with a restful spirit.

In our society, it often happens that because of our constant efforts to satisfy our many desires, we find that having more leisure time actually results in having less internal composure and true rest. We are so busy with external things, we find we do not have enough time to do them.  The professor reminds us that the reason we are tired is the  the loss of meaning of many of our pursuits, and a resulting inner sterility.  Our true meaning, he says, is found in the teachings of Christ: to know who we are by finding God in ourselves, and resting in God. Looking into our hearts and reflecting on who we are recharges us for the road of delight that we have been called to travel.

Sundays, he says, are for  Christians a sign of what true leisure should be.It is then that we can best recall to mind, when we are tired and lack vitality, the reason for life and how I'm living this gift. We recharge ourselves by looking into ourselves and preparing for another week of living with the sacred.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Flexibility in Love, Gift to the Other


The columnist covering spirituality for the Catholic Times introduces us to a pair of lovers who had been dating for about a year. Because they believed there was a growing lack of concern for the other, they were contemplating giving up on the relationship, so they came to him for counseling. He asked them to express their feelings on the situation.

The girl spoke first. "He doesn't express himself. When I phone him he often--and I think deliberately--doesn't accept my call. When I send him a text message he doesn't always reply. I get angry and he acts if nothing is amiss. I ask him to explain himself and he acts as if there is nothing to explain, and then I get angrier. His words just make it clear to me that he feels I'm a nobody. I  want to make him happy and believe he will change, but nothing changes."

Looking at his girlfriend the boy, with a sigh, says, " When I'm busy, isn't it understandable that I can't answer the telephone, but this causes big trouble.  When I don't respond to her text messages she sulks the whole day; she questions and cross examines. What is important is that I love her. God and the  whole world knows this. She is the only one that doesn't know it or doesn't believe it. This means we have to stop seeing each other, doesn't it?"

Here the columnist mentions the importance of seeing that each has a different value system when it comes to social interactions. The boy tends to distinguish matters using value judgments of right and wrong, public and private; the girl tends to judge matters using the categories of good and bad, love and sympathy.

By showing them the different ways they tend to see life, the columnist succeeded in improving the relationship. And they continue working to understand each other's way of seeing life.

Because each of us is living with our own particular value system, it is not surprising, he says, that our values are sometimes at odds with those of someone we love. Changing one's values is never easily done but for the love of the other we often are moved to make some adjustments, putting aside one's own values, while trying to understand the values of others. Ultimately, the flexibility of love brings about a change in one's own value system, at least to the extent of being more accepting of the values of others. Trusting in our love for the other, this flexibility in values becomes a gift to the other.

Friday, July 29, 2011

We Are Our Brother's Keeper

Writing for the Catholic Magazine, a Religious Sister, who heads the desk for the prevention of suicides at the headquarters of the One Heart One Body Movement, reflects on the progress and needs of the movement.  We continue to hear about suicides, she says, but there is little that is being done. She admits that she feels helpless about the situation, which is part of the reason we are, she contends, not only leading in the number of suicides among the developed countries, but Korea is also number one in the increase of suicides.

Every 37 minutes a young person commits suicide. She laments that few are  concerned, after an initial response of "It's sad." There is no desire to understand or appreciate the seriousness and sadness of the situation. The Sister feels that without this basic empathy for those that are taking their lives, we will not see much  change. She wants us to realize that we are dealing not only with the death of the individual but with the person who discovers the suicide, the family, friends, the school teachers-- in all there is likely to be at least six persons who are mentally and emotionally affected by the death. The  potential for epidemic results occurring is also present.  It is not only an individual problem but a societal one. And we shouldn't forget that those who attempt suicide are 10 to 20 times the number that succeeds in taking their life.

Mass media coverage of suicides is also a problem. Little discretion is shown in the reporting, as if the reasons for the suicide were warranted. The news reports sound as if suicide is a natural consequence of  what the person was facing and gives the impression that suicide was one way of solving the problem. There are many who have the same and more pressing problems but have no thoughts about suicide.

There are many steps  before a person takes their life, the Sister says. It is not just a one-step process. Catholics see suicide as a sin but also know that it is in most cases the result of mental stress the person can't overcome. So there is no longer any difficulty in having a funeral Mass for the deceased.

The One Heart One Body Movement is trying to educate the many different groups in the Church to become more aware of persons who are in need of help. Korea has started the Gatekeeper Movement to sensitize citizens to those who are under mental stress and might be contemplating suicide. The Sister hopes that more Catholic parish groups  will take advantage of the programs and use them as a leaven to expand the work throughout the country. Sister reminds us we are our brother's keeper, and with the appropriate knowledge, we will be able to hear the silent screams.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Having the Heart of the Novice

The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times remembers a retired reporter of the paper who still remains interested in the progress of the paper and communicates this interest to the writer of the column. Seeing that even in retirement the reporter keeps a keen interest in the paper and expresses this in his comments and encouragement, the columnist felt that the best way to describe the former reporter is to call him "young in heart." 

The writer reflects on the meaning of this expression in Korean, and believes it can be summed up calling it "the heart of the beginner," what some would mean by the word 'novice.' The zeal that the novice has is quick to disappear with successes.  The journalist remembers when  writing his first  articles for the paper, he would spend much time and anguish in selecting the words and rewriting repeatedly  so the readers would find it easy to approach his writing.

He recalls the words he wrote in his  pocket notebook: Be humble. Do everything to the best of your ability. Meet the news sources with a bright face. Remember that as a reporter and as a person of faith you are doing God's work. Never lose the  feelings you had when starting out. 

These were the words that were handed down to the writer from those who preceded him, and  he considered important enough to write in his notebook. When a difficult problem comes up, he remembers to go back to the "heart of the beginner." At that time his heart beat faster, he was excited, and he had expectations and motivations he would like to experience again.

The word 'beginning,' he says, always brought him feelings of delight. However, we slowly get lazy and, settling into a routine, blame ourselves for allowing it to happen. The beginning heart is always young, as when entering a new job or when getting married and expecting great things--negatives are never contemplated.

If we want to be a magnanimous person we should, he says, have three hearts: the beginner's heart, the zealous heart, and the supporting  heart. Once we have the beginner's heart the other two will follow; we will become zealous and others will help and encourage us.  If we let familiarity overcome our beginner's heart, however, we will, he says, have the greedy heart, the worrying heart and the doubting heart.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Difficulties in Helping Others

In one of the Catholic magazines, a priest-director of a diocesan counseling center for foreign workers recalls his experience with a Vietnamese worker who was near the end of his stay in Korea. Would he return to  Vietnam or become an illegal alien?  the priest wondered.

The young man entered Korea in 2005 and after working for just one month became sick. Afraid they would send him back to Vietnam, he dropped out of sight. It was in 2007, as an unregistered foreign worker, that he appeared at the counseling service to receive free medical treatment. We made arrangements, said the priest, for an operation at a government hospital. The exam showed there was blood in the brain so he was sent to a larger hospital for the operation. This required a lot of money and the counseling service had to ask for financial assistance to cover the costs.

After the operation, the young man's medical problems began to disappear, and although he had to continue taking medicine he only had to show up once a year for tests. His parents were invited to come to Korea to stay with him, and he was given a place to say while recuperating. His recovery was going well and our efforts on his behalf seemed justified.

But not everything turned out well. The relationship with his wife, who sacrificed in taking care of him, turned sour, and she left him to return to Vietnam.   His younger brother, who was in Korea,  also caused him problems with his erratic behavior.

Because the young man was an unregistered alien, the priest went to the immigration office to ask permission to continue with his therapy, assuring them he would stand as surety. He did this every year during the period of therapy, until he finally was given six months to prepare to leave the country. He agreed and said he would buy his own ticket. But from that day on he disappeared. 

No word has been received from him, and the priest has no idea what happened to him. He believes he is still in the country, but rather than checking with the office of immigration to find out for sure, he prefers to believe that he left the country. He admits to feeling at times like a fool, betrayed and used by  the worker, but most of the time he reminds himself that he didn't help the man to have him do his will. He  helped him because he believed he was doing the will of Jesus . He felt he learned a great deal from the incident and is convinced that he  loved in the way Jesus would have wanted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Catholic Understanding of the Population Problem

Disagreements on population issues are about 300 years old. And knowing the truth on these controversial issues is not easy, since much of what is accepted as fact is not supported by honest and objective research.  The Catholic Peace Weekly, in its series of articles on the culture of life, discusses the issue of overpopulation in a recent article.

The writer tells us that the debate on birth control came to the fore toward the end of the 18th century, with the beginning of the industrial revolution in England. Dependence on workers gave way to the use of machinery, and the discussion began on what is gained or lost with an increase in population. Most experts agreed that we had a problem of too many people and this had to be dealt with by restraining births. So 'birth control' came to mean suppressing births. The refrain often heard was "the food supply was increasing mathematically while the population was increasing geometrically.

In 1945, the recommendations of the UN  Population Council  spread to the developed countries and into the political and economic thinking of the world. International meetings were held to discuss the merits of suppressing births to raise the underdeveloped countries out of poverty. This interest continued with the book, published by the Rome Club, "The Limits of Growth," in 1972, which led to Korea's efforts to decrease population.
Population policy, the columnist says, originally had to do with the efforts of individual countries trying to solve the problems dealing with the quantity and quality of life within each country. It involved not only births, but also deaths and migration. But starting in 1960, it was primarily the reductions of births that was a concern. Ironically, the countries that accepted this thinking are now dealing with the fear of a decrease in population, lack of workers, and aging. 

It is not the poor countries of the world that have seriously harmed the world's environment, says the columnist, but the rich countries with their excessive production and consumption.  Looking back,  it is readily seen  the dangers from  the population increase predicted by  politicians and experts  were  greatly exaggerated.

Experts in the Catholic Church  have made it clear the  dire predictions were not based on a careful understanding of the facts.  The columnist goes on to say that though there are understandable problems with overpopulation in some areas of the world, this should not be handled artificially and with force, but with education. Families should be helped to carry out their duty to foster love, and make their own  decisions on the number of children they feel able to raise. Countries that are well off should help the poorer countries and concern for distribution and sharing should be part of our thinking. He concludes the understanding of the Catholic Church on these matters has been justified.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Globalization and Christians

Changes that occur in any society, whether known or unknown, tend to be stressful, bringing misunderstanding and often conflict. One of the big changes recently is our ability and desire to communicate easily and quickly with people from all over the world, giving rise to what has been called the 'one world' we now find ourselves living in. One of our Korean bishops, in a series of articles in the Catholic Times, discusses the subject of globalization and the Christian response.

Catholics must utilize, the bishop said, the principles of solidarity found in the Social Gospel as a way of solving the problems connected with globalization. Knowing the teachings of the Social Gospel would help us understand the way the Church sees globalization.

The bishop introduces us to what Pope John Paul said in 1999 in  the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America (#55):  "By her social doctrine the Church makes an effective contribution to the issues presented by the current globalized economy. Her moral vision in this area 'rests on the threefold cornerstone of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity'.  The globalized economy must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor, who must be allowed to take their place in such an economy, and the requirements of the international common good." He continues: "The Church in America is called not only to promote greater integration between nations, thus helping to create an authentic globalized culture of solidarity, but also to cooperate with every legitimate means in reducing the negative effects of globalization, such as the domination of the powerful over the weak, especially in the economic sphere, and the loss of the values of local cultures in favor of a misconstrued homogenization."

Among the many experts, there is  little  disagreement on the way the Pope has expressed himself. But they would like to see the Church go deeper into the problem of the poor-rich divide and the difficulties that derive from this inequity in society. This requires a new examination of the problem, and setting up new ways of dealing with it.

The changes we face today are great and many, the bishop said, and the accompanying problems surpass even those that followed the industrial revolution. He said we can't just look at the bad effects and work with expedient solutions, but sincerely make efforts to adapt to the reality of the world we are in. In the Korea of today, this would mean dealing more effectively with the recent immigrants, our poorest of the poor.

We are seeing a growing polarization as a result of these changes in society, and the Church has yet to come to grips with this problem resolutely and directly. The Church can't help but  face this new reality as  part of the pastoral work of the Church in evangelizing society. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

International Families and Education

A Religious Sister who works with immigrants writes about the problems of the newly arrived foreign women married to Koreans. To illustrate a typical problem, she mentions that the oldest of two boys (4 years old), born to a Vietnamese woman married to a Korean, can only be understood by his parents. The mother came to Korea knowing little of the Korean language. The father, realizing the problem, sent him to Seoul to stay with relatives, where he went to a kindergarten that taught the basics of the language; there was some improvement, the Sister said. In this case, because the father was concerned, something was done but many fathers are not that concerned.

Another boy in 2nd year grammar school rarely did his homework. The  assignment required that the child work with the mother. Since the mother's knowledge of Korean did not permit their working together, the child went to school without the homework. Since he had a foreign mother the teacher, in his first year, excused him but in the second year the teacher wasn't that indulgent. This made going  to school difficult for the child because of the embarrassment of not keeping up with the other students, and he lost his desire for learning.

These children from intercultural families have little difficulty communicating with the spoken word. The problem comes with the written word. When they have to write a book report, it's difficult for them to arrange their thoughts and find the right words. This difficulty comes from the mother's unfamiliarity with the culture, and it affects the child in his emotional formation and attitude. The difficulty becomes more evident with the passage of time.
Much has been done to help the international families, but there is much that remains to be done. The Sister believes there has to be standards set for improving these programs for children, and the teachers have to be better educated concerning what is required. The mothers should also be helped to understand the educational system, which will then help them in  educating  their children.

The difficulties that are now being seen because of the recent increase of international marriages present a serious problem for Korea. If the children of these marriages lose their desire for learning they will drop out of school and be a problem for society in the future.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Self-Starting Small Parish Communities

In Korea,  small area group meetings are part of the pastoral landscape. The Korean Catholic Church considers these meetings important and most of the parishes would have at least monthly meetings, with some parishes having weekly meetings. However, not all Catholics view them without some misgivings.

Writing in a pastoral research bulletin a laywomen begins her article with a question she received from a  woman who had just been baptized. "Do I have to go to the small group  meetings in the parish?  After the meetings, there is just gossiping and eating together." She was saying it was time-consuming and caused mental stress.

We know from the Scriptures that the early Christians met in homes for prayer and fellowship. But with more priests, dependence on the priest and parish societies became the norm. The early Korean Catholics used to meet in the mission stations with the catechist; they were  active in evangelizing, helping the poor and doing works of charity. They were a self-starting  community of  Christians, who served as a model for what we now call district and neighborhood  community meetings. 

In these meetings we listen, share and pray, read and discuss the Scriptures, and have them inform our thinking, reflecting on how we have lived. By sharing our thoughts on the Scriptures we are imperceptibly changed.  There is no teaching or judging during these meetings, for that only makes it uncomfortable for those that are sharing, and feelings can be hurt.  However, this sharing, the writer says, can develop into gossiping and mere socializing, and the reason for the meeting is often forgotten.

The men find it easier to meet in the evening but because of the fraternal nature of the meetings, and the drinking that takes place, the main reason for the meeting is sometimes forgotten. And at times those who can't attend because of work are often seen as less than good Catholics.  This is the way our writer sees the problems of some of these community Scripture-sharing meetings.

She would like us to attend these meetings in the same way we attend Mass, praising God, sharing our faith and, with prayer, growing in joy and hope. The leaders of these meetings should be humble intermediaries in the village communities, and despite the pitfalls she hopes they will continue to have an  influence on parish life and personal spiritual growth.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Buying a new Pair of Rubber Shoes

In this month's Kyeongyang Magazine, a philosophy professor in the Suwon Seminary reflects on the meaning of possessions in our life. He asks if our happiness depends on the number of things we possess. Although he admits we can't say they have nothing to do with happiness, they can't  in themselves make us happy.  Happiness is not extrinsic to the self but comes from the self. As we know, two persons can have the same external circumstances and yet one is happy and the other is not.

He recalls a Buddhist monk who picked the name 'No Beginning', composed of two Chinese ideographs. He has known the monk from the time they met as students in the U.S., and have remained in touch since returning to Korea. The monk explained that the name means denying  oneself and ridding oneself of greed. Avarice, he said, occurs when one leaves the right path and lives  in a manner exceeding what is necessary; it will then interfere with our happiness. He illustrated the point with the following anecdote:

          Years ago there was a monk and a disciple who lived in Gangwon-do. The disciple was in training, and his rubber shoes had  holes in them, so he asked a friend to buy him a  new pair.
          He was happy with his new pair of rubber shoes and  showed them to the monk.

        "Teacher aren't these rubber shoes beautiful?"

         "Idiot, you must be out of your mind to have bought a new pair of shoes."

         The young man whose rubber shoes had holes after their long use couldn't understand why the monk was so angry.
         "Teacher, why in the world are you so upset at me for buying a pair of rubber shoes after the other pair has worn out?"

        The monk then appeared not to understand the question and shouted at the young man.

 "You don't know how dangerous what you did is.  Soon you will be buying some new socks and you will be searching for new clothes. But that is not all. Your mind will become restless, and you will be dreaming of opportunities to go outside.

             "The young man was not satisfied with the explanation, and it showed in his face.  

        The monk further explained, "With the new clothes, instead of looking at books you will look at a mirror and lose the taste for study and  improvement. How can you say that a new pair of rubber shoes is of no consequence?"

 In this digital age, we give much importance to living well and eating well. It is difficult to deny that the  attitude of humility and emptying oneself is disappearing. Our ancestors were close to the earth, and any small thing was an opportunity to be thankful.

The above anecdote gives us some food for thought. The monk's thoughts on emptying oneself are important in this fast-paced  world of little reflection. Eradicating greed and emptying ourselves are necessary for the life of happiness and peace, we all desire.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Protestant Catholic Retreat

On the 13th of this month twelve Protestant and eight Catholic clergy met for three days in a Catholic Retreat House to promote Christian unity. Written up in one of the secular papers a few days ago, this second retreat was held in the  Kwangju Retreat Center at the base of Mount Jiri. The first retreat, at the invitation of the Protestants, was held last year at the Benedict Meditation Center in Pusan. 
Since 2000, Catholic and Protestant clergy have been meeting for lectures and discussion but last year they met for the first time for a retreat.  Also present  was the president of the Bishops Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, Bishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong. 

During the three days, they had six meetings  for  meditation and prayer in silence. It was time, they agreed, to experience their brotherly relationship rather than talk about what separates them. The first sermon was given by an Anglican priest. And a priest from the Kwangju Seminary gave a lecture on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. A Presbyterian minister said, "Last year at the retreat house in Pusan, I was deeply moved during the common retreat. I became familiar again with some of the religious exercises that we Protestants have lost. It is a time to reflect on our common religious tradition and our personal commitment to our faith.

They visited a Buddhist Temple, a 5-minute walk from the retreat center, where they heard a lecture on Buddhist ascetic practices.

An Anglican priest said there have been big changes in the atmosphere of the meetings. It is now very rare to see any open disparaging of the other in our meetings.

The day ended with the praying of the Holy Office.  In the beginning it was difficult but with the directions given by the leader of the prayer everything turned out correctly. In one of the prayer gatherings, one of the participants said, "During our meetings many words have been used but we have to hear God's word. We have to get over divisions and conflict, and come closer together and have a meeting of hearts."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Loving LIke Jesus Would Love

In one of the Catholic magazines, a priest-director of a diocesan counseling center for foreign workers recalls his experience with a Vietnamese worker who was near the end of his stay in Korea. Would he return to  Vietnam or become an illegal alien?  the priest wondered.

The young man entered Korea in 2005 and after working for just one month became sick. Afraid they would send him back to Vietnam, he dropped out of sight. It was in 2007, as an unregistered foreign worker, that he appeared at the counseling service to receive free medical treatment. We made arrangements, said the priest, for an operation at a government hospital. The exam showed there was blood in the brain so he was sent to a larger hospital for the operation. This required a lot of money and the counseling service had to ask for financial assistance to cover the costs.

After the operation, the young man's medical problems began to disappear, and although he had to continue taking medicine he only had to show up once a year for tests. His parents were invited to come to Korea to stay with him, and he was given a place to say while recuperating. His recovery was going well and our efforts on his behalf seemed justified.

But not everything turned out well, however. The relationship with his wife, who sacrificed in taking care of him, turned sour, and she left him to return to Vietnam.   His younger brother, who was in Korea, was also causing him problems with his erratic behavior.

Because the young man was an unregistered alien, the priest went to the immigration office to ask permission to continue with his therapy, assuring them he would stand as surety. He did this every year during the period of therapy, until he finally was given six months to prepare to leave the country. He agreed and said he would buy his own ticket. But from that day on he disappeared. 

No word has been received from him, and the priest has no idea what happened to him. He believes he is still in the country, but rather than checking with the office of immigration to find out for sure, he prefers to believe that he left the country. He admits to feeling at times like a fool, betrayed and used by  the worker, but most of the time he reminds himself that he didn't help the man to have him do his will. He  helped him because he believed he was doing the will of Jesus.  He felt he learned a great deal from the incident and is convinced that he  loved in the way Jesus would have wanted.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Toasting to Success With Poison

The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times rarely has time for TV dramas but did see enough of the popular drama "Miss Ripley," which is now being viewed in Korea, to share his thoughts with his readers. The theme is taken from a 1960 French Film "Plein Soleil" (Full Sun) and also on events in recent Korean history.  The film focuses on the protagonist's pursuit of his dream world  until it all  comes crashing down.

The drama takes place in the  world of hotels, where one can find extraordinary success and failure, greed and love, all making for griping melodrama. Our heroine is the girl next door--no money, no school credentials nor any luck. So when something unfortunate comes her way all she can  do is run away or suffer outrage;  she has no recourse to society.

Without thought and unexpectedly she lied and lo and behold up until then no matter how hard she worked she was a nobody, but with the lie all the doors opened.

Laughable as it is and contrary to all the teaching of our popular moral codes, everything works out well. In this scenario, the ones who are deceived are the fools and the ones deceiving are the laughing victors.

Why is this  drama so popular in our society? He answers that it could be that society is familiar with the many irregularities of our mendacious society and waits for it all to fall apart. However, at the same time, our uncaring society helps to  foster this mendaciousness, knowing that material success is often achieved by the help of lies--a wonderful tool for the unscrupulous.

The drama is based on the French film in which a poor young man named Ripley kills his rich friend and replaces him in society with all the perks that  come with being someone who is rich. The film, based on a book, gave birth to the "Ripley Syndrome." The columnist explains that it is an attempt to make what you want the world to be, the world in which you live. You deny reality  and with your lies make that your  reality-- a pathological condition.

The columnist concludes that not only in society but in the church we have many Mr. and Miss Ripleys.  Why should this be so? The answer is simple. Those who are able to see and judge with the sensitivity of Jesus are few. The  Ripleys  of the world are making  a world  of sweetness with their lies and  are celebrating their success with a toast of poison.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hwang Kan Church Fire

The word 'Hwang Gan'  caught my attention when reading the Catholic Times' editorial recently. It's the name of a parish that was built by one of our Maryknollers some 54 years ago. The church was almost completely guttered by fire on the 4th of this month; it was a case of arson by a man who wanted to commit suicide, a reckless act that stunned everyone.  Failing to kill himself, he was arrested. Fortunately no one was hurt. The incident caused much wonderment among the Catholics who witnessed the meaningless destruction.

The editorial uses the occasion to remind us that there is much we can learn from this random act of  destruction. It brings to mind that the act of this man who  was fighting  his inner demons and attempting suicide was not an act of a  person on the Galapagos Islands unrelated to society and Church. Something similar happened in 1998 when the oldest western style church in Korea was set on fire by a man who had been drinking. The editorial wants us to give thought to those who are having difficulty with life and feel left out from what is going on in society. It is our job, the editorial says, to wipe their tears and give them strength.

The number of suicides in Korea are many and not all have anything to do with the economic situation or societal problems but are caused by personal problems that can't be overcome with the present state of mind of the victim. The ripple effect of suicide is  great and the family of the individual would suffer the most possibly because of the failure to read the signs.

There is a history to any act that only God knows. The Korean Catholic Church is trying to sensitize or better to conscientize (  to make someone or yourself aware of  important social issues)  the Catholics on the role of the Social Gospel  in society. This is readily seen by the number of articles that have appeared in the Catholic press. This year is the 120th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (Of New Things). It was an attempt to clarify the Church's social teachings as society was trying to cope with the newly emerging industrial economy.

Pope Benedict XVI puts service to the poor and love of neighbor at the same level of essential activity of the Church as the administration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Word. This is what the Catholic Church in Korea will be working to inculcate in its new evangelization of Christians. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Organic Farming in Korea

In the Catholic Times' "Window of the Ark" column, the  writer gives us something to think about for Farmers Day this Sunday. The Korean Catholic liturgical calendar pays tribute on this day to all the farmers of the world. Noah, according to the account in Genesis, after the flood was the first to  plant a grape vine. It was then a different type of farming from what we have now. And our columnist would like us to return to this environmentally friendly farming.

The ecological world thrives on balance among the various ecosystems, which is the natural state. Humans are the only ones that can break this harmony of  the environment. We can see much of the pollution that harms our environment, but when it comes to the pollution of the soil it takes a longer time for us to become conscious of what is happening. When we realize life that exists in the soil is 10 times greater than what we can see, we quickly appreciate its importance.

What Korea produces from its organic farming is less than 1 percent of the country's total food production. In Austria, it's 12 percent and in Germany 10 percent. When it  comes to raising livestock, farmers not using antibiotics would be under 1 percent. And about 90 percent of livestock manure does not go through a process of aging but is used fresh on the soil as compost. While this may seem that organic matter is being used, that is not the case. In reality, antibiotics, vaccines, growth promoting hormones, feed additives, and germicidal agents--all being excreted along with the fecal matter--are being spread on the soil.

Up until now, those using small amounts of pesticides, though otherwise farming organically, were considered organic farmers; this will change beginning in 2015 when there will be a strict understanding of organic farming.  During the last 10 years, organic vegetables  have grown 20 times from what was produced in 2001.  However, it must be acknowledged that inferior organic matter can be used as a fertilizer, and this can be harmful to those who eat the vegetables. The government will continue to help farmers who use environmentally friendly methods of farming.

For this change to take place as quickly and efficiently as possible, the city and the rural communities will have to come together and communicate their needs and intentions. Consumers and suppliers must have a common goal if we are to return to the way of farming of Noah and his descendants. The columnist would like to see our Christians take an active role as catalysts in bringing about this change. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Catholic Cultural Arts Center in Kimpo, Korea

The  Inchon  Diocese is building a Cultural Arts Center in Kimpo, the first of its kind in the Catholic Church of Korea devoted exclusively to the arts,  a place where Catholic artists will be able to meet and share ideas. It will also be a sign, says the editorial in the Peace Weekly, of the Church's interest in building an infrastructure for the evangelization of the culture. The editorial mentions that although Catholics have gloried in their cultural assets and tradition, they have  little to show in its cultivation, structures, systems, or support compared to the other religious groups.

For over ten years solitary efforts have been made to work toward this day. The editorial thanks Father Paul Park Yu-jin, art director of the center, and others who have been working to realize this dream. There has been much talk about the evangelization of culture but implementing the talk has not been a prime concern.

Whenever the idea of a cultural center came up in the past, it was usually rejected by responses such as: "That is when you have a full stomach." However, culture in the world today is nearly as important as clothes, food and home; culture can change the way we think.

There is great hope for this new venture that will also serve as a research center for the arts. In an interview in the same issue of the paper, the director says, "The Cultural Art Center and research center will try to bring the spiritual values of Catholicism into our secular culture and art, and give Christian artists a spirituality that should influence their efforts."

The director, a priest, has been involved in this work since 1998 when he set up the Catholic Cultural Center to provide creative opportunities in music, dance, drama and other artistic fields. He has tried  with many different programs to celebrate and spread the inspiriting creativity of Catholic culture into  society. Affiliated with the center are the Catholic Symphony Orchestra, Liturgical Dance Team,  Theater,  Orchestra,  and  Chorus Groups. They are prepared for performances during any time of the year.

The Catholic Arts Center is a big dream and everyone who has worked to see the beginning of the project should feel great satisfaction. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on July 3. Completion of the Center is expected next year. May the expectations of those who have worked so hard for the project see the successful completion of their work.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Personal Story of Depression

The  Catholic Times column on spirituality discusses the subject of acute depression. The columnist met one of his older priest friends and asked him about his bout with depression, which lasted about three months. Since he was looking back on something that had happened in the past the friend had no difficulty recounting this part of his 
history.

Looking back in retrospect he feels that what happened to him was the result of grace.  He was  building a church and was under stress. The church was finished and he had the blessing.  Right after the ceremony  he received notification of the death of a cousin  he loved greatly. The cousin died  very suddenly. He spent the time of mourning with the relatives at the home of the deceased.

On returning to his rectory he began to feel a heaviness in his body and he couldn't sleep. He went to his priest friends and did some drinking but nothing helped. He couldn't concentrate on anything he was doing. He would be critical with the parishioners and get upset quickly. He hated himself and cried a lot and even had difficulty in breathing. He goes on to say, "I decided to go to see a friend that I knew well, thinking he was a doctor but found out he was a psychiatrist."

The columnist  told the priest that what he did took a lot of courage. It's difficult for priests and religious to speak about their condition for they feel they can overcome whatever is bothering them with prayer and will power.

"Yes it did take courage," he admitted. " I am a priest but also human. If I stayed with the embarrassment and tried to hide what was happening to me I would only be hurting those with whom I came in contact. So I thought that since this came upon me suddenly, I would quickly take the treatment," he laughingly added, "and be over with it quickly." 

The priest in his pastoral work was always telling the parishioners  about hope and  joy, and here he was in the pits and was not able to speak about it to anybody. He recalls that after the ceremony of blessing of the new church he felt no joy, and after the visit to the home of mourning of his  cousin he went into the acute depression.

The columnist asked him if he ever felt like he wanted to die. The priest said that once when he was staying in a high rise building and looking down at the pavement, he did think that he would be free of his worries if he jumped. Since death will come, he wanted it to come quickly. He was not able to express his anger, which stayed within to grow and to harm him. In his self-examination, all he could see were his imperfections, belittling his values and himself.

He took the drugs for depression, the necessary therapy, and learned ways to express his emotions, especially  anger. It wasn't long before he was in control of his life. The bout with depression saved his life, he said.  He learned about his emotions and his faults and, even more importantly, now has a greater sympathy for those who suffer from depression. And he thanks God that everything that happened can in God's providence work out for the good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Preparing a Masterpiece for God


A Catholic Times' columnist reflects on the word  'discovery' and tells us that it should be a part of our lives. Although the word is often associated with geniuses and great minds, that need not be the case, he says. It depends on what we understand the word to mean. There is one condition that helps to nurture discovery, and that is an interest in life. He associates interest in anything with a love for life.

Life lived with intensity and sincerity enables us to discover many things. It is like parents with a new-born baby, who if writing a diary would have a new discovery to add each day. He expresses a few of his discoveries in a short passage:


            Time is the vessel for space, and eternity is the vessel for time.

             Each day of 365 is a season.

             All the stones I gaze at are jewels.

             The stronger the manure I use the redder will be the flesh of my watermelon.

             Understanding  comes in a flash.

             Jesus was a poet of poets.

             If you have a terminal illness go in search of the  Doctor of the  flowers. 

         

These no doubt are insipid, he tells us. But they are not what you usually hear so he calls them discoveries. Actually the columnist tells us they are lines that have been taken from his poetry. This is a very natural result since poetry has to do with invention and discovery.They all help to form the masterpieces of   life, and, he says, it is our destiny to work on fashioning masterpieces.  Everything we do comes together to form our concrete, or nonspecific  masterpieces.

If this is the case, for the same kind of effort is it not wise, he asks, to have a beautiful masterpiece to leave behind. It is the Creator of existence who will be the one to enjoy our  masterpiece. The columnist does not feel we sufficiently see the importance of our life, and makes this one of his central topics when the occasion presents itself.

The palette for this masterpiece is life itself. The gift of life is God's gift to us and what we do with life is our gift to God. If we could be more conscious of this, our columnist says, life would be much more interesting and precious.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Catechisis of the Young


We all know that most young people do not feel comfortable in the Church, and they are not often seen at Mass. It's a  problem in many parts of the world. The Peace Weekly has been covering the subject in depth, this week they focused on the present mindset of the young, as revealed by the following typical responses.

"In the Church there are many things you have to do, you have to be quiet. It is boring. I went on occasions to a Protestant church. It is different. You are free to talk. No one is there to tell you to be quiet. It is freer than the Catholic Church and more fun. In the Protestant Church, you are allowed to make friends while in the Catholic Church, everything is arranged for you, isn't it?"

"My Protestant friends enjoy going out to church; for us Catholics our faith life is important, but isn't there a way to make going out to church more fun?"

"The young peoples' Mass and the ordinary Masses are not that different. The young people do the readings and sing in the choir but that is about it. The priest during the sermon gives us questions to answer and those who give the correct answers get a prize. This makes the time entertaining and since students like to participate and talk, this way of spending the time, instead of listening to a one-way talk by the priest, is much more fun."

"When a student is a member of some club or society then they will regularly attend Mass. If we can get the students to become members of the different parish groups that would make a big difference in those coming  to Mass."

"Learning about our faith is important but there should be events for the young. We had an athletic meet for those in our part of the parish, and all had a good time."

And from one high school girl, "We like to play in an individual way, as we do with computer games, but when we go to church it is always in a group, and this does not receive a good response."

And then the columnist relates the experience of one of the dioceses that has spent the last three years in trying to come to grips with the situation: "The students do not feel that there has been much of a change in what is being done, while the teachers, priests, and the pastoral council believes this has been the biggest change in the parishes." One of the students interviewed said, "The grownups spend a lot of time doing this-and-that to draw up programs that would be enjoyable to the students but in all honesty, most of the programs miss the mark. They are not much  different than the many programs from the past."

 It is clearly evident, the effort to meet the expectations of young people is an ongoing process; especially important is listening to them and finding out where they are coming from. The dilemma is what and how much can be conveyed to the young with the expectations they currently have.

The efforts that are now being made will certainly make for a stronger Christian Doctrine Program in the future but at the same time the faith life of the parents will play an important part  if any of the programs are to be successful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

We Make the Future with the Present


In Korea we are now wondering when the rainy season will end. To find out, we consult the  weather forecasts. When there is concern for the economic situation, we go to the specialists in that field to find out. And when we try to get objective knowledge of what the future may hold for us, we often turn to science-based information to find out. However, in his column on Religion and Culture in the Catholic Times the columnist asserts that though science can  predict many future events religion still has its attraction.

Why is that? The columnist believes that the more expectations we have for the future the more unexpected fears will come along with these expectations. Will I be able to find a job? Will I be able to keep the job and continue to support my family?  What will happen to Korea in the near future? Science can tell us a great deal but not all of what the future holds in store for us--that, he says, is the reason religion still influences much of our life.

Throughout history, we have had those who considered the past more important than the future. During  the Chosun dynasty, when Confucianism held sway, the ideal kingdom of the past was looked upon as the mirror for the present. The past was the yardstick by which they judged the present, believing that the ideal present was the repetition of the ideal past,--an attempt to return to its garden of Eden and its golden age.

And then you  have those that looked forward to the future, each of them having a blueprint of the future that they would like to see; some  in search of the millennium kingdom. Others in search for Utopia and the messiah who will bring it about. These attempts to do away with faults and even small deviations from the ideal, while searching for the  Utopian World, often end up as a nightmarish experience.

Whether it's a return to a pristine state of the past or a preparation for living in a perfect world of  the future, our columnist says Catholics would not be in either group. Words referring to the end times in Scripture are taken, he says, more as analogy  and signs than as predictions of future events. With Christ entering our world we have already begun our life in his kingdom in the here and now. We do not sacrifice or toss aside the present. Neglecting  the present life or dreaming of a new future at the expense of the present is not our Catholic way of thinking.  "We are making our future," he emphasizes, "by the way we live the present."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Misconceptions on the Place of the Social Gospel

After looking over Church statistics for 2010, a university professor and vice director of a Catholic research center, in an interview with the Catholic Times, had some interesting things to say about the Church in Korea.

He gives credit for the growth of the Church to the competition with Protestantism and Buddhism rather than to any internal reasons. He feels that until the image these two religions have in society changes, Catholicism will continue to do well, with a membership of 6 million possible in the near future. However, he believes that an increase in numbers without an accompanying growth in the depth of one's faith life will create serious problems.

Currently, the situation is not promising: the numbers attending Mass is at a standstill, the majority of our Christians are older and their activity in the Church is less, the semi-tepid  number 50 percent of our membership, and there is not enough concern for the aged. These problems have been around for almost 30 years and little has improved over the years. To have maturer Christians, the professor said, the methods of evangelization have to change.

A statistic that is especially disturbing is the lack of young people coming into the Church, while those in their 50s and 70s have seen an increase. The professor sees this as a serious problem for the future.

The statistics for the last ten years show that the number of women entering religious life has decreased, even though the number of single women has increased. A similar decrease will also be seen in the number of men entering religious life, and diocesan seminaries in the future. He feels that the present lack of vocations for the religious life results from the Church not being concerned enough to publicize the life sufficiently and see its  importance in the life of the Church.

He also blames parents and their lack of a mature faith life for the drop in the number of children coming to religious instructions. To change this situation will require, he says, a stronger evangelization of those entering the Church.

To the question, what should  the Church do to change the trend? It will require, he answers, that the Church take a greater interest in the social concerns of society.  He believes that  Cardinal Kim and  Fr. John Lee Tae-suk have done a great deal to  give the Catholic Church its currently favorable image. But the professor notes that in the Church today, we see the beginning of a polarization we did not have in the past; this is disconcerting to many who have looked upon the Church with favor. The professor feels that the problem comes from a lack of understanding of the Social Gospel, and a tendency to see religion solely as an individual relationship with God. To correct this misconception, he would advocate for a Church-wide strategy to  show the importance of the Social Gospel in the lives of all Christians.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seeing the World with a Christ-like Sensitivity

The word 'sensitivity' is used, perhaps more than most words, in a variety of ways and contexts. Its many meanings include: responsive, keen, overflowing, sympathetic, compassionate, and, though often used to describe persons, can also characterize a trend or flow in society, as in a "popular sensitivity"  or a "human rights sensitivity."  Such were the thoughts of a bishop writing in his weekly column on religion and economics in  the Catholic Times. The word is sometimes used to indicate a new understanding of some aspect of life. In popular language, a person who has this sensitivity is seen in a better light than one who doesn't. 

Keeping this in mind, it is natural that followers of Christ should have a sensitivity to his words and way of life. Jesus came into the world by taking on our flesh and a human sensitivity to all of us in the love he has shown us. When we are close to Jesus and see the world with his eyes, with his way of thinking and acting, we will take upon ourselves his sensitivity.

With the globalization of the world, and its potential to make us more sensitive to the difficulties  of others, we are seeing differences not only in politics but also in cultural and economic matters. The way we live is rapidly being changed by our one-world-village sensitivity. We can't go back to the old ways, the bishop says, but must now find ways to deal with the new society we are making.  In the years ahead this will continue to impact our Korean society, and the bishop wants us to understand that it will be primarily a world governed by economic needs that will affect us the most. The Church can't only be interested in spiritual and religious matters but all that pertains to life. When we do, we will see more clearly, he says, the difficulties of those who are not benefiting from an increasingly globalized world, the marginalized and generally forgotten many who struggle to get by.
                                                                                                                          The Church has commented on this situation repeatedly. The most serious problems are in the countries of Asia and Africa that are experiencing the detrimental side effects of the direction the world has taken. Those of us who have the sensitivity of a  follower of Christ should find it easy to understand and to sympathize with the suffering of those who are not benefiting from this new world order.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Leisure Becomes Work and Work Leisure

This is the time of the year for vacations. Vacations are sometimes seen as interruptions in a busy schedule and grudgingly taken in order to return to work refreshed. And sometimes vacations are seen as an eagerly awaited, joyful reward for having worked. To be busy is often considered a sign of competence and ambition, the key to success. The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times provides us with another look at vacations.

Is it a fact, he asks, that when we are busy we are more likely to have success and happiness? On the contrary, our columnists says, "When we realize that leisure time brings into our life success and happiness, we arrive at a new level of understanding work and leisure. Work then feels like leisure  and leisure like work."

He divides  vacations into three types. The first type describes a person who looks forward to resting from his workload, getting rid of the the burden of his work and desiring the vacation to recoup his strength--rest from work is what is needed.
The  second type describes a person who actively enjoys the leisure. Rest is seen as creative, bringing interest and satisfaction into life, as if  existence itself were waiting for this moment of joy.

The third type accepts the vacation without giving it much thought, as an appropriate break in the work routine.

The columnist poses a question for his readers to ponder: What type are we?

Our leisure time should allow us to discover the joy and beauty of life. In our restful moments we should be able to see, he says, how joyful, how creative, how full of love life is, and, with gratitude, experience these  blessings in our life.

For Christians what we are leaving  behind when going on vacation is not as important as where we are going while on vacation.  And that should be, says our columnist, back to the God who made us. Our tired bodies and minds are searching for the rest that comes by returning quietly and deeply to God. We can be  sidetracked by a culture that wants to keep us busy, pressed for time even during vacations.  What is needed, he says, is more of the second type of vacation: the leisure time that finds the peace and rest in God that will continue even after returning to the workplace.                                                                                                          

Friday, July 8, 2011

Surprised by a Gift

A poet writes about her moving to the country and the gift she received in the process. A number of these returning-to-the-soil articles have appeared in the Catholic Kyeongyang magazine lately, demonstrating a growing nostalgia for things of the earth and for its basic life-nurturing qualities. Our poet moved to the country to tend wildflowers and to plant and care for an herb garden which will supply her with teas throughout the year, and to have more time for quiet reflection.

She made the move with some apprehension, not quite sure whether it was an act of bravery or foolishness. She did not dislike city life, nor was she enamored philosophically with life in the country and living close to nature. Her reason for the move: her life was just too fast. Thoughtlessly accepting life was suffocating, she said, and she wanted a change.

Her two boys were now adults and did not need her care anymore. Feeling free to leave behind family responsibilities and the city for a life close to nature, she was guided by the words of St. Matthew that the lilies of the field do not work or spin and yet even Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like one of them.

"Mother, today I have begun the course in the catechumenate to be baptized. I will be looking forward to your help." This was the first telephone call she received last year.  She never had a daughter and the caller, a friend of her second son, was to grow closer to her than her own son. In the beginning, she had misgivings on the kind of girl her son would meet, for all he knew from the time he was in grammar school was sports, and now he was in a soccer training camp. But from her first meeting with the girl, at her home in the country, all her fears disappeared.

Since the son was living in a dormitory, when  he had some time off, the girl would come down from the city, and both would meet at his mother's house. The mother  had arranged with the girl's family to have her stay with her when her son could leave camp and be with them in the country.

The girl was baptized last year on the Feast of the Assumption, and now goes to the country to help the mother during weekends; this was the gift the mother feels she has been given. They both work in the garden and go to Mass together on Sundays. The mother wonders now if  returning this gift back to God is not her task along with the gardening. Whether it is the life of living close to nature or the life of raising a family, she has no doubts that God looks upon both with favor.

Freedom of the Press and Democracy

A journalist writing in the premier Catholic magazine recalls a book of only 30 pages that has already sold in France nearly 2 million copies. With the publication of the book, Time for Outrage  (Indignez Vous), its message is spreading to other parts of Europe.

The French author, 94 years old and a resistance fighter during the Second World  War, tells the young, "Just look around, and you will see what is not to be endured. The worst kind of attitude is indifference, 'What can I do? I have my work to do,'" you say. "With that kind of thinking the  strength that comes with outrage is lost--one of the qualities that makes us human--and we miss the opportunity to bring about change."

The first object of our anger, he says, should be the gulf that separates the rich from the poor. The second object of our anger should be the present threat to welfare programs for the powerless in society, and concerns in  maintaining an independent press among other issues--all of which have to be seen if we are to make judgements and move into action.

The author of the book participated in drawing up the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. When we are angry at the violations of  human rights wherever they occur, he believes we will also attain rights and freedoms for ourselves. And his recommendation to cease from violence is to have non-violent, peaceful demonstrations.

The journalist briefly reviews the struggles for change in Korea, especially the recent candle-light processions of college student asking  for an  unconditional decrease in college tuition. They were joined by workers, parents, and by high school  students. He remembers his own struggle for a free press 37 years ago when the journalists of his own paper confronted the government of  Park Chung-hee. When the journalists issued their call for a free press, all the advertising disappeared. In the place of the advertising, the blank spaces were filled with the angry words of the readers, offering consolation and encouragement to the protesters, and also donations.

This could have continued but the shareholders of the paper and radio station decided against the protesters and fired 134 employees of the paper,  including journalists, producers, and announcers.  Our journalist was one of those fired. The advertising income returned, the number of  pages of the paper increased  but the freedom of the press died.

The freedom of the press, he concludes, is the foundation of a true democracy--freedom from  power, moneyed interests, and the influence of  big business.  He ends with the words of Isaiah (10:1-4): "Woe to those who enact unjust statues and who write oppressive decrees, depriving the needy of judgement and robbing my people's poor of their rights...."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Stem Cell Therapy in Korea






The press in Korea recently reported on the first stem cell therapy to receive the approval of the Korean Food and Drug Administration for commercial use.

The therapy uses somatic stem cells extracted from the patient's own body to treat people with damaged heart conditions. The medication is injected directly into the heart through a coronary artery. The pharmaceutical company says that not all heart disease patients are eligible for the treatment but only those who have had angioplasty surgery will benefit from the treatment. It is reported that the treatment will take about four weeks.

The company has conducted clinical trials since 2005 at major general hospitals around the country, while investing about $28 million on research and development  Treatment will cost about $10,000, the company says. The editorial in the Catholic Times describes this new cell therapy as the first of its kind in the world, giving hope to many.

The use of adult stem cells--not the use of embryonic stem cells--is something that can be celebrated. There is nothing morally questionable with this medical procedure. The problem, the editorial states, was the way the news was handled by the press, focusing on the great financial windfall that is sure to accrue to the pharmaceutical company, and not focusing on questions concerning the safety of the procedure.

Capitalism is based, as we know, on the profit motive. But when life and death issues become entangled with the profit motive, often controlling  medical practice decisions, the editorial expressed reservations. Life, it said, should not be subordinated to other values. Clinical tests to  rule out problems with the procedure have not been adequately completed. And efforts to bring it to the marketplace quickly is no reason to jeopardize life. When we are dealing with life, caution should be our principal concern.

This is only the beginning for stem cell research. The therapies that will follow should always take into consideration the protection of life while companies pursue legitimate financial profit. Needless to say, the stock of the pharmaceutical company that introduced this breakthrough procedure did go up after the report in the press. 

The Marys and Marthas of the World

In Korea, as in every other country, we have differences of opinion. We have the left, right and middle, words that have taken on meanings that are not difficult to understand. And yet we know that on any issue one can be considered conservative and on other issues, liberal or somewhere in the middle. And with time even these ideological positions can change. 

Our acceptance of Christianity can also have different perspectives. It can be accepted with a preference either for the inner life or the life in society-- the Martha and Mary difference, activists and contemplatives.  Most would understand maturity  as a mix of both,  promoting  a  harmony between the supposed opposites enabling  one to function humanly. But it is here that we  have much discussion, pitting one against the other by the words we choose to use.

This past month the Catholic Journalist Club met for the 11th Catholic Forum,  where participants expressed their views on the role of leadership in the different  areas of Korean life. One of the presenters considered the Church to be too much turned-in on itself, believing the existence of the Church is what is all important. He said that this long-held traditional idea has to be discarded.  Many clerics are too concerned with the internal life of the Church, with its structure and liturgy, than they are with humanity.  The issue of human rights is considered important but, according to the speaker, some continue to maintain the rights of the Church in opposition to human rights.  Shouldn't this interest, he asks, also be the aim of the Church as it is in society?

This issue was made very clear by the speaker. This was the way the Church appeared to him, and yet the Church is not here on earth for itself but for the world. That is rather basic, for the Church is Christ's mystical body. Christ's example is normative to all Christians.  The goal should  be the same for all, but the means taken could be different. Some are action-orientated while others wait for the movement of grace to attain the goal.

It is regrettable that we see the issue in black and white terms--one against the other-- instead of working together in a partnership of gifts to achieve the same goal which both acknowledge. The present Pope, as Cardinal, expressed this goal as teaching the art of living-- the road to happiness--which continues even after death. That not all of  humanity is  living  with the dignity that should be theirs is sad. All of us should see this as our  responsibility to  improve conditions. This is expressed in terms of love of  neighbor. Though this virtue does not immediately energize us for the work here and now, all Christians should have it as the default position in life, and give it practical significance.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Christians Should Not be Narcissists

A journalist, writing the lead article in the Catholic Magazine this month, recalls a priest saying that the majority of our Korean Christians, 60 to 70 percent, are asking for earthly blessings.  For Protestants the percentage is 80 percent, for Buddhists and Confucianists the percentage would be higher.

What is more shocking  is that the Church is contributing to this situation, believing it necessary for the Church to  grow. The leaders in the Church preach that if you come to the Church you will have health and prosperity, in effect promising Christians what society has prepared them to desire.  And there is no denying its effect: It would be difficult to find another country so successful in this area.

However, we have to get rid of this asking-for-blessing approach to religion. Forgotten are the words of Jesus to love our neighbor and to fulfill our mission and duty to society. Although this is known, it is difficult to free oneself from it. The journalist has been baptized for 13 years but still can't rid himself from this attitude.       

After baptism, he remembers saying his morning  prayers that had the line,  "Lord I return to you my body and heart which I have received from you and offer them back to you  with praise and service to others; may you look upon them worthily."  This was difficult for the writer to say. He had no difficulty with others doing this, but it was not his desire. This, he acknowledged,was selfish.

In this same morning prayer, the line he liked the most was the last, "Today may my thoughts, words and actions be guided by your  peace." It's true that God's love is a 
descending love more so than that of parents for their children. God does not only love me but all of creation. When we are not conscious of God and don't believe, we have chaos, division, and wars.  Selfish love is the  kind of love nurtured by materialism and secularism, which leads to unhappiness. To only ask for blessings is not to see God correctly, and breeds selfish love, which paradoxically leads us further away from what we really want.

Knowing something is not the same, of course, as doing something. When we have a distorted idea of what it means to be a Christian this will affect not only Christians but society. If Christians have a selfish seeking-for-blessing understanding of Christianity, they will only be interested in themselves or their Church and the Church's influence. Jesus gave birth to the Church to be as he was  for others-- to give and not to receive. We are not only interested in numbers entering the Church but for those that do-- to be doers of the word and  help change the world, and oneself in the process. It this is not our attitude the mission we have as Christians will be jeopardized. We will be a community of narcissists. Numbers and the Church's influence are not our primary interest but to create a  Church that will give life to the world.  The writer ends by asking how much confidence does our society have in the Church and Christians.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to Overcome Authoritarianism

The Catholic Peace Weekly featured on its front page a picture of the auxiliary bishop of Inchon massaging the feet of an elderly person in a nursing home. "It feels good to get a foot message, doesn't it? the bishop asked the grandmother whose feet he was massaging. She replied, "We are living in great comfort and here I am showing my bare feet to the bishop.  I am embarrassed...."

"Grandmother," the bishop said, "it's alright, didn't our Lord wash the feet of his disciples?"

The 80-90 old grandmothers who offered their gaunt bare feet had embarrassed smiles on their faces, but they broke out in laughter as the bishop and priests gave them their massage. About twenty priests, who are in special works for the diocese, and two bishops visited the home for the elderly. They showed their concern and, even if only a one time effort, were  energized by the words of our Lord that he did not come to be served but to serve.

The home for the elderly has 100 grandfathers and  grandmothers and the group from  the diocesan center spent the whole day in service to the elderly. The ordinary of the diocese told his priests, "We should not only speak about service to others from the pulpit but we priests should be an example of how word and action come together in service to others."
 
The editorial mentioned that although priests have a better reputation than some other religious representatives, when Catholics leave the Church and  are asked the reason, the authoritarianism of the priests is still a common answer. This kind of sign of service to others is a good indication of where the clergy would like to go to leave behind this reputation.

Pope John Paul II said, "People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories. The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ, whose mission we continue, is the "witness" par excellence  and the model of all Christian witness" (Redemptoris Missio 42).

This sign on the part of the priests, the editorial concludes,  leaves many with a good  impression and message, and should be a help to overcome the propensity to authoritarianism in their work.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

New Evangelization In Korea

Pope John Paul II used the term "new evangelization" during his trip to Poland in 1979, and we have been hearing it often since then. The Desk Columnist of the Catholic Times makes a short  study of its history.

In 1983 the bishops of Latin America at their general meeting considered this new idea, calling it re-evangelization. The Pope, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (On the permanent validity of the Church's missionary mandate) and Christifideles Laici (the post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and the world, emphasized this new evangelization. Many synods throughout the world, in preparation for the Jubilee of 2000, concerned themselves with this new approach to ministry.

Next year the Bishops Synod in Rome will have as its theme, "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." This synod will be the 13th Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will guide the pastoral initiatives and programs for the future.

The various bishops, religious superiors, Vatican officials and experts will  submit their suggestions and their answers to questions in preparation for the meeting.

Last year, because of the problem in parts of the world where secularism poses a serious crisis in the people's sense of what it means to be Christian and to belong to the Church, Pope Benedict  created a pontifical council for the new evangelization to find ways "to re-propose the perennial truth of the Gospel... have decided to create a new organism, in the form of a pontifical council, with the principal task of promoting a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of faith has already resounded and where there are churches of ancient foundation present, but which are living through a progressive secularization of society and a kind of eclipse of the sense of God." The challenge, he said, is to find ways to help people rediscover the value of faith.

The Church of Korea--various bishops, religious superiors, Vatican officials and experts--are preparing for next year's synod by doing their homework and answering questions from Rome during a two-day workshop; these efforts will continue. The columnist feels that the preparation will be a great help in determining how prepared the Catholic Church in Korea is for the 21st century. How is the Church to witness to the different areas of our society?

The Catholics in Korea now number over 10 percent  but the quality of our evangelization and our maturity as Christians are matters of concern. The columnist hopes that the preparation for the synod next year will help  bring Korean Catholicism to another level of spirituality.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Understanding Spirituality

A priest, writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times, simplifies our understanding of spirituality by dividing it into four categories: basic, special, infused, and personal.

Basic spirituality, as the words imply, is foundational, dealing with the evangelical virtues of poverty,  purity and obedience; and with the supernatural virtues of  faith, hope and charity. This is the spirituality to be followed by Christians.

Special spirituality, however, is not for everybody. In the history of the Church, there have been many spiritual practices: Dominican, Jesuit, Franciscan, Benedictine, Legion of Mary, among others. It is the spirituality that attracts certain individuals, there being no obligation to follow this spirituality, thus the reason it's called special.

Infused spirituality involves contemplation, exemplified by Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. This spirituality is a gift of grace, the working of God in us. It may seem only for the few among us but our columnist says it is possible for all.

Speaking broadly. these three spiritual ways--basic, special and infused--are all directed to forming our own personal spirituality, the forth category. But what is important is not any particular spirituality but how they operate in us, how they affect our living.

Spirituality begins within the human condition. We were made with this spiritual possibility as the fulfillment of our humanity. Just as we can forget to be  thankful for the water and air needed for our physical well being, we can also forget our natural inclination for spirituality.Becoming intent only on our present reality and tending to see only the difficulties, we miss, the columnist says, the whole picture. The true meaning of life, the goal of all four spiritual practices is the  seeing, appreciating and living the ultimate reality.