Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"New Spirituality" in Korea

The New Spirituality, the last topic of discussion in the series Catholicism and Other Religions appearing in the Peace Weekly, is the name given to an eclectic mix of teachings and techniques, which emphasize  personal efforts and the importance of a direct experience of reality. The writer a professor emeritus, considers this to be an 'unseen religion' that  includes: Transcendental Meditation,  Power of  Will,  Mind Control, Zen, Extra Sensory Perception and the like. This would be understood by many to be what is called New Age Spirituality: considered by many to be an 'alternative religion.'
Origins of this movement, the professor says, began in the last part of the 19th century, as an attempt to come to terms with the industrial revolution. Looking at it from a religious viewpoint, he sees it as a backlash against the materialism, scientism, and rationalism that pervaded society at that time, and the need to satisfy the craving for the non-rational, the mysterious and the spiritual.
This craving was not satisfied by the established religions and many wanted more than they were receiving, which was the reason for the quick spread of this new spirituality. Also the strategy learned from capitalism on how to market products in search of greater profits helped the movement; spirituality became a marketable commodity.
The New Spirituality is a part of the New Religious Movement but there are major differences. The New Religious Movement attracted those who felt they were being left out of mainstream society: the alienated and oppressed. The New Spirituality, on the other hand, attracted those who were well educated and had good jobs, those of the middle class living in the cities. It is sometimes called The New New Religious Movement.

The professor lists some of the ideas of the movement: searching for a higher state of consciousness and more concern with nature; concern for the God within rather than the God outside; acknowledging the spiritual evolution we are experiencing and a need for a new awakening; emphasizing the development of personal inner strengths and direct experience instead of seeking the God outside and the supernatural. And they do not see any conflict between science and religion, and want them joined.

The conflict with Christianity comes with the denial of Christ's divinity. They believe in monism. All is one. They would not see Jesus as savior. Their idea of morality would also be in conflict. When one is excessively absorbed with the teaching of this new spirituality, there will be harm done to a Christian's faith life. The truths of faith and the existence of the Church are threatened by this new spirituality.

The Catholic Church, with its traditional world view, had difficulty in coming to an understanding of the  modern world.  Establishing the social Gospel, and giving life to pastoral work has helped to overcome the difficulties. We are now faced with another problem: postmodernism.  In dealing with this newcomer on the  scene, it will be necessary to read the signs of the times and cope positively with a new attitude, which should, at the same time, enable the Church to follow the mandate of the Gospel it has received, and faithfully continue its mission.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giving Is Not Always Easy

Moving is difficult and requires thought. When it is a question of not only moving but having to rebuild, trying to decide what to keep and what to give away is not only difficult but dangerous.

A priest given the job of rebuilding an old church structure near collapse was faced with these problems, and shares them with the readers of the Peace Weekly. What was he to do with the fixtures and furnishings in the old building? What should be kept? What can be given to others? What can be disposed of? He found them to be difficult questions to answer.

Many gifts were given to the parish over the years. Talking to the older priests, he found that the consensus was to ask those who gave the gifts what they would like to do. What to do with the altar turned out to be the biggest hurdle, even though the gift-giver, who had left for Spain, wanted it given to another church that was being built. However, this did not stop the uproar among the Christians:  "That is a very expensive altar and you are going to give it away?" "What is the reason for being so quick to dispose of the altar?" "Can't we use it in the new church?"

The disturbance was so great that he decided to postpone the decision on what to do. He found this difficult to adjust to, and wondered about his preaching, how effective had he been in preaching on the importance of letting go of what we have. When we grasp too tightly, God finds it difficult to give something new.

When all was placed in storage he was relieved. But there were articles that would rust and not be usable, and he wondered why it was so difficult to give them away. The storage fee also was a little extra hurt. Disposal has some negative connotations but when something can be used by another more profitably, he asked himself, isn't that sharing? For us as Christians, 'mine' and 'yours,' are not words that we easily say, for it is all belongs to God, given to us for a time. When I can't use something I should give it to another. Why don't the  parishioners want to  give? These are the musings of the writer.

Obviously, there are things we should preserve or use again, but putting all the fixtures and furnishings in storage gave the pastor much to ponder. It was not easy to fine-tune his feelings with those of the parishioners. He wonders what other problems he will face in the years ahead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Foreign Workers Seeking Justice

Stories of inhumanity are familiar to all  but some move us more than others: especially with the weakest in society. Working with foreign workers in Korea a priest recounts the tale of a worker who had trouble getting his severance pay. 

Bible & Life magazine carries the story of a Nepalese worker Nari, who worked in a company of about a 100 for  six years. He was planning to return home to his family after 10 years in Korea, a country he grew to love. He had worked in many other different companies but from 2005 to 2011, it was the same company.

Nari  mentioned to the company  he would be leaving to return to Nepal. The section head called him into his office one morning  to sign a paper that said he would not be taking another job in Korea. Nari could speak Korean well  but  could not read or write. He signed the paper, but on second thought wanted it back so he could have one of his friends read what he was signing. The section head took the paper and ripped it up.

That afternoon the company president called him into the office and asked him to sign, and when Nari refused, he beat him and locked him in the office for two hours. After release, afraid he came to the counseling service run by the diocese asking for help in getting his severance pay.

The priest looking into the situation, found  the paper he was asked to sign stated that the severance pay he was to get was about 2,000 dollars when actually, it should have been over 10,000 dollars. The priest petitioned  the labor office and  heard a different story. In the year 2008 he had with others signed a paper that said that he  had received 5,000 dollars in severance pay. Nari said that he never received the money.
There were no records and his salary was always given in cash. The paper he signed in 2008, which said he received $5,000 was all the proof the company needed.               

The money was taken from Nari by fabrication of  paper forms, which made it impossible to do anything. What Nari wanted more than the money was to be respected as a person and treated with dignity. Fortunately, he could get the remaining severance pay but the priest  seeing the treatment of the workers and  not able to do anything, and no place to go for recourse, left him  angry and hurting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Sunday of Advent--Happy New Year

Waiting, as we know, is very much a part of life. Even our liturgical calendar reminds us each year that we must wait for the big feasts of Easter and Christmas: ample time for preparation and for hope. But how much of our waiting time is done with little hope and, sadly, with much impatience and even frustration?
Modern society sees little good in the value of waiting. It is something we have to put up with. For a Christian, waiting has a value in itself. Even our Lord waited 30 years before beginning his public life. The desk columnist of the Catholic Times tells us about some of the benefits of waiting.

Today is Advent, the first Sunday of the New Year and a preparation for the many comings of Jesus in our lives, past, present and future comings: miracle of miracles, a great blessing and a grace-- the reason for our joy. With longing we wait, but God is also waiting for us; this is the spirituality of waiting.

By repentance and reform, we evangelize ourselves, changing direction to meet the Lord. To help us make the change, the columnist discusses the three virtues of the faith life. First, humility in our faith life, stressing the importance of avoiding its specious forms, such as proclaiming, "I'm certainly not proud." Pride is raising our status in the presence of God, living a life focused on ourselves.
Second, a positive faith life. When our hearts are not at peace, we see all that is around us with negativity and criticism. If this doesn't change we live in pain and often hurt others. Advent is a time to forget ourselves and go out to others who are hurting. 

Third, a pure faith life, living with gentleness. When the heart becomes calloused, at the least provocation we lash out. We have to change this hardness to a gentleness, with the love of Christ. Walking an uneven path we need the love of Jesus to change our ways and to trust in his grace.

The columnist wishes all of us a joyful and hope-filled Advent, as we remember the birth of Jesus, his daily comings into our lives and  await his second coming.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Catholic Charnel Houses in Korea

Our cultural experiences of death and funerals can be very different.  It is therefore difficult to find the same practices being followed, in any culture, when dealing with the death of a loved one. Seeing the necessity for setting aside more land  for cemeteries in Korea has brought about a change in the thinking of Koreans. In 2008, the number of those who chose cremation over burial reached nearly 70 percent.
And yet the facilities to cherish the memories of the dead are few. There is an aversion to these facilities by many in the culture, perhaps one reason being an extreme emphasis on health and fitness This opposition on the part of many of our citizens, often without good reason, is the reason local governments have difficulty in permitting charnel houses.

Even when these vaults that temporarily hold the remains of the recently deceased are located in buildings of worship, there are those who avoid them. A sign that the funeral procedures we now have are not conducive to giving respect to the dead. Even the constitutional court makes the building of charnel houses in churches difficult.
The law court acknowledged the sentiment of many of our citizens: "Our country has a cultural climate and sentiment that is afraid of the corpse and the tomb. In consideration of such an atmosphere in our culture, the legislature decided to regulate the establishment of charnel houses near schools in order to protect the educational environment."   

The editorial in the Catholic Times  goes on to say that a society that does not have respect for our predecessors is not a well-regulated society. To have places in churches to cherish the memory of the dead is to see life and death correctly and also be a chance to educate our children. In Europe and the United States, cemeteries often are on the grounds of the church.

There is no good reason for seeing the facilities for the dead as repugnant. The government has the task to promote a proper understanding of matters surrounding death, and the Catholic Church also must do a better job in communicating what it means to cherish the memory of those who have died.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Unfairness of Life

Life is filled with many unexpected zingers, the 'outrageous fortune' that comes to many. What is it that enables some to accept these trials in stride and brings others frustration and unhappiness? 

A monthly bulletin for priests recounts the story of a young girl from a spiritually healthy Catholic family who lived an exemplary life. One of her aunts was superior of a large community of nuns; the family was proud of her, and she was very much admired by the girl.

After college, the girl began working at a private firm and making her way in life. The parents were very proud, and praised her to friends. She decided to follow in the steps of her aunt, and the family was happy with her decision and gave their blessing.
Her intention, the article goes on to say, was to imitate Jesus and be at the service of the weak in society. However, what she saw in the religious life was not always the ideal, but she made allowances for our weak natures and was ready to forgive and understand, for she knew her own weaknesses.

The priest mentions that her personality was such that she spoke her mind, expressing what she she felt in her heart. Some of her superiors didn't care for this and reprimanded her. But this did not change how she lived her life; she quietly went on during what she was assigned to do, without complaining.

This went on for almost ten years; then one day the superior told her she would have to leave. When she asked why, there was no clear answer. This was a shock to her--her world collapsed. She had wanted to be a religious, the only thing she aspired to for all those years and now just before final vows she was told to leave. The priest feels that before the time for perpetual vows, she should have been told what they had difficulty with, so she could work on it.

She was heartbroken and not able to come to terms with what happened. All her dreams and hopes disappeared. She only wished to die. She believed in a God who would help her, but now when she most needed help she felt that God was not there for her; he had become useless to her. Mass and the liturgy lost all meaning. Her parents began to see the change in her personality. What was once a source of pride to the family was now an embarrassment. The young women is now facing a life of despair, frustration, loneliness and thoughts of suicide.

In cases of this type, we do not know all the circumstances, for we only see through the eyes of one of the participants. However,  even though it be conceded that all was not done well, the young woman's interior life was not mature enough to accept the unfairness of what had happened. We must do what we can to address the unfairness in life, but at the same time we have to be able to live with it. Life is not fair and as Christians we have to be prepared for this and trust that in God's providence the crooked will be made straight. We have in Genesis the example of Joseph and in the Gospels, Jesus, which gives us plenty of material to guide us in dealing with the unfairness of life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Catholicism and Private Revelations

Private revelations--whether occurring as an apparent appearance of the Blessed Mother, crying statues, cryptic messages, and the like--have had throughout history a certain fascination for many who are religious minded.  Those who accept these supposed revelations and subsequently do not follow the guidance of the Church are like the followers of a leader of a new religion. The Peace Weekly series on Catholicism and Other Religions deals this week with these private revelations.

The bishops of Korea, in 1997, gave us guidelines on how to see these private revelations. The little book was titled: Movements and Tendencies that Hinder a Healthy Spiritual Life. For a Catholic, the Deposit of Faith is the public revelation that ended with the death of the Apostles. It is with this understanding that private, special or individual revelations have to be considered. If these are accepted, they only help us to understand the original message that ended with the apostles.
The writer, a professor at the Catholic University, tells us that three things have been traditionally considered in determining whether the revelation is from God. First, it has to be in accord with the deposit of faith. Second, the person who received the revelation must be of sound mind. Third, are those with the revelation and their supporters showing spiritual fruits from the revelation (Gal. 5:22).
Private revelations that do not help us understand the deposit of faith are not authentic, and if those having the revelations become like the leaders of a new religion, then problems can develop. Some who are overcome by the trials of daily life are attracted to these strange phenomena, but they are not important to a follower of Jesus and his way of the cross; Jesus is the doctor they should approach.

The Church should be doing the work of a good doctor. When there are many who go looking for strange signs and miracles, one has to wonder if the Church is doing what it is meant to do. When there is a decrease in the faith life of the community, and the community  fails to find strength and consolation, this may result from a failure of the Church to communicate with its members effectively.  When the word of God is strongly proclaimed, however, when there is a vibrant sacramental life and community fellowship is present, the numbers of those thirsting for strange signs will diminish.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Theology of the Body' in Korea

The Theology of the Body, a series of 129 talks by Pope John Paul II, compiled in a book and widely distributed, was the topic discussed at a recent academic symposium held in Seoul. The Catholic University Pastoral Research Center has studied the talks and the results of the study were shared on how to apply them in pastoral work.

The bishop who gave the foundational talk stressed the importance of the talks for our troubled times. Speaking unambiguously about such a controversial subject, the Pope was intent on clarifying a subject that has confused and troubled many people. If we want to return to health we have to go back to the Scriptures, the Pope said, to learn what the husband and wife relationship was meant to be. A correct understanding of our sexuality, in its origin, will lead to a mature, well-integrated personality. 

Because the traditional understanding of the body and sexuality has broken down, the Pope is giving the Church and everyone interested in the subject an integral and positive look at sexuality that will be a gift that will remain in the thinking of many. It is not, said the bishop, a theology of the body as much as an understanding and a proclaiming of the Gospel--the good news--of the body.

A religious sister who works with the Teen star sex education program said that the theology of the body finds a place in their teaching on sexuality. Seeing sexuality as a whole, how it affects emotions, examining mucus secretions, and keeping records, the participants in the program are beginning to appreciate the spiritual meaning of the body when it is observed through the theological lens provided by the talks of Pope John Paul. All this makes for a very natural discussion for both the boys and the girls to see the meaning of their bodies vis-a-vis marriage.  
One of the presenters referred to the Pope's statement that the married couple should not try to control or possess their partner. Another mentioned the prevalence of sex treated as a commodity, the sexual suggestiveness of some advertising, sexual deviations, divorces, abortions, unwed mothers, medical manipulations of life, and so on. We have forgotten that God made man and woman as sexual beings so they could relate in a personal way in a marriage union.

Both Catholic papers covered the symposium. The Pope's Theology of the Body is a late comer in Korea but we will soon see it in pastoral and diocesan programs as we become more familiar with the talks as they become more readily available in Korean.                                                                                         

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Parish Community

 One of the young  diocesan priests writes for the priest's bulletin about his new assignment as pastor. It is a small parish with about 400 active parishioners, most of them old. What was he to do? He writes about two of the activities he has inaugurated in the parish with fortunate results.

He decided to  begin a monthly travel picnic for those over 65. It was given the name 'silver light travel'. They go to parks, palaces, arboretums and islands. One woman, after visiting a palace in Seoul, told those who were with her that she was ready to die. At the age of 80, she saw the King's palace for the first time with the priests and sisters; what else is there to desire?

This grandmother was making a living by gathering papers and worn out articles, and rummaging trash cans to find articles to sell. She lost her son in an accident, leaving her in poverty and loneliness. These monthly excursions are something  she anxiously looks forward to. It is easy to understand that each month her trip is one of the happiest moments in her life. The priest reflects that it is the first time that anybody ever said what he had to offer made for the  happiest day in their life. He wonders how many can say that about something they have done?

He then tells us about a priest he met who told him about his chrysanthemum festival  that was well received by the parishioners.  He returned to the parish and meeting with the sisters and the some of the Christians decided to gather some pots of chrysanthemums. Little by little they had pots of chrysanthemums in all kinds of  shapes  and sizes, numbering 150. And in a short time, 100 other flower pots were also  brought in by the parishioners. The surrounding area is not a very pleasant sight but with these 250 or more potted flowers, it makes for a whole different feel  for the churchyard. After Mass, there are many parishioners who stay around to admire the flowers. In groups of twos and threes they move around to the different pots, while conversing.

On one occasion, a woman who was at the flower display mentioned that her husband, who had never talked about the beauty of flowers before, had done so after seeing the display at the church and came with her to see what it was all about. She was amazed at the beauty of some of the Chrysanthemums; the beauty of flowers, as we know, can easily grab one's attention.

Next year he wants to increase the number of pots and mentioned it to the sister, who said, looking at him intently, "You  are going to have to select someone to water the flowers. My biggest job this year was watering the flowers." This is the natural  result of the work, the priest reflected. 

The pastor considered these two works like sacraments, resulting in much personal good that was not immediately seen.  It was a way of fostering parish unity, of creating a more closely-knit  community.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wisdom of the Woman in the Early Church

Writing in the Catholic Times the director of the Seoul Caritas Volunteer Center mentions that after returning to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, she now understands why the Pope wants us to become familiar with those documents.
She attended, in 1967, the first lay meeting in Rome. She was able to learn a little bit about Europe and to reflect how the death of many young men in the war gave women the opportunity to take their place in European affairs.

Returning to Korea and learning that forty or more women groups had been formed, she wanted to devote herself to the work of women and the country, becoming a head officer of a conference of women to lend support to the various groups.   At that time the situation of women in society was difficult: many were abused, shunned, harassed for not having a son, stressed by overwork, forced to obey unconditionally, sexually violated, among other difficulties they had to endure.
This has been acknowledged by many the world over, and in 1975 the Year of Women was convened, formally proclaiming the equality of women. Since then there have been meetings on women problems continually over the years. The presidents of several countries have also committed themselves to advancing the place of women in society, with the goal of getting rid of all discrimination.
Results of this have been seen in Korea. For a time men faced a great deal of pressure. However, both men and women have seen that our greed has brought many other problems to the fore in our society. She uses Erich Fromm's book The Sane Society to explain that widespread acceptance of an exploitative orientation within many cultures as the reason for our many societal problems.
She concludes her piece by telling us about the incident in Mark's Gospel (chap.14) where a women goes to the house of Simon the leper and anoints Jesus with expensive ointment. She was criticized for spending money that could have been used for the poor, but she was unconcerned about the criticism. She had no exploitative intentions but only wanted Jesus' message to go out to the rest of the world, like the fragrance of the ointment. We can learn much from the wisdom of this woman of the Gospel.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Catholics and Protestantism

"Catholicism and Other Religions," the continuing series now running in the Peace Weekly, takes up Protestantism, beginning with its emphasis on the devotio moderna. A professor of the Korean Church History Research Institute feels that it's necessary to understand the part 'modern devotion' had in the life of the 14th century Catholic to understand the beginnings of Protestantism.

The movement started in Holland and was different from the old devotion of the Scholastic school, which emphasized the liturgy and the sacraments. The new devotion placed greater importance on meditating on the passion and the Beatitudes. Individuality and practice were emphasized, and contemplation was to develop the inner life and deepen our relationship with God.

This faith life was intent on uncovering a person's individuality and interiority; it was to be the Protestant model of religion. This was the spirituality of the Brethren of the Common Life (1383). Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola were all influenced by this movement. It was the 'devotio moderna' that influenced Erasmus when he claimed that grace can be confirmed only by the Scriptures and faith; this emphasis was instrumental in putting more importance on the Scriptures than on tradition in determining the truths of the Protestant faith.  

There was within the humanistic period of the Renaissance a movement among Catholics to change the way things were being done in Catholicism. However, their efforts were not as successful as those of Luther and Calvin.

In Korea, the Presbyterian missioners from Canada and the United States did the first missionary work and had the most numbers. Presbyterianism, Methodism and Pure Gospel are the three largest Protestant denominations in Korea.

The professor asks what can we learn from Protestantism? Catholics can use them as a negative model, he says, as a mirror to see ourselves. Reflection on the quick growth of Protestantism is now no longer only a Protestant issue. The unregulated spread of churches, the excessive number of seminarians being sent out, lack of content in the teaching of theology, the extreme form of exclusivity--all are concerns Catholics should ponder. Especially necessary, says the professor, is changing from a dictatorial clericalism to another form of leadership within the Church. 

Some Protestants see their many denominations as harming their public image. Some also believe there is a shirking of public service, a dualistic view that separates the Church from the world, too much emphasis on material growth, and hostility toward other religions. 

On the other hand, what can be imitated is the devotion to the study of theology and the study of how to acculturate religion into the Korean culture. The professor lists many Protestant theologians who have added a great deal to the study of comparative religions and their cultural significance within society.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apostates and Martyrs

"Priests call me tepid because my faith life has become cold," the author of the new novel Black Mountain says, laughing. "Tepid is a word without mercy; I would rather have them say you will some day return to the faith." 
The novelist, whose baptismal name is Augustine, has been away from the Church for 40 years. On his mother's side, they have been Catholics for three generations and he was brought up Catholic, an altar boy until high school.
On Oct. 30th he went to Mass for the first time in 40 years. It was right after he had published his new novel, and he did so feeling peaceful and happy, he says. He had planned to write a novel about the martyrs and those who apostatized for some time. Over the years he gathered all the information he could on the persecution and this year lived as a hermit for 5 months at a martyr's shrine. The background of the novel is the beginning of the 19th century, and deals with apostates, martyrs, betrayers, and those who have been exiled. There are no heroes or heroines.
The story brings in two characters to set the plot going: Chong Yak-jong, an apostate, and Hwang Sa-yong, a martyr, who was married to Chong Yak-jong's niece. These two men were illustrious leaders in the history of the early Church. Chong Yak-jong, a member of an intellectually elite family, apostatized after baptism and was sent to Black Mountain Island. Hwang Sa-yong was the martyr who is famous for the 'silk letter' that was intended for a bishop in China, asking for help during the persecution. The story is filled with lower grade public officials, stable men, servants, widows,  seafood merchants, and the like, wih the plot revolving around those who died witnessing to the faith, and those who apostatized to save their lives, though not always successfully.
The apostates intrigued the author more than the martyrs. "I wanted to help the reader understand," the author said, "those who apostatized, who longed to return to their wives and children. But to understand those who suffered cruel flogging and were willing to die? The martyrs. That is scary."
He feels sympathy for those who apostatized and asks us to pray for them. He prays that all will be called to God's bosom. In the Peace Weekly interview, he said the tepids, in particular, will appreciate his novel.                    

Friday, November 18, 2011

Matthew Effect

Writing in his weekly column in the Catholic Times, on faith and finances, the bishop of Suwon explores the meaning of the Matthew Effect. A concept introduced some 40 years ago by a professor at Columbia, it is taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew: "For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has not,even what he has will be taken away."(Matt. 13:12).

The Matthew Effect can be found in many areas of life. In school those who have difficulty in reading will fall behind their classmates. Those who can read will read to learn while the others will be learning how to read. This will mean that they will fall behind as the others advance, and is obviously seen in many other areas of life. In the world of finance, we say the poor get poorer and the rich richer. Sadly we are hearing of this happening in China.

Another term similar in meaning to the Matthew Effect is 'cumulative advantage', meaning that those who have a head start because of education, money or place in society will advance quicker. This helps to understand the polarization we see in society today. Inventions and discovering new techniques and ways of doing things will entitle the person to get out in front with this vested interest, and gain superiority in the field. Apple's iPhone is one example out of many. Apple very quickly was listed number 8th in the world, superior in their field. They were superior to their competitors and working in partnership with others enabled these other companies to grow.
However, there are few of these types in big business. Most will try to monopolize the market and do all that is necessary to press their advantage, often putting smaller competitors out of business. This we saw recently in Korea when a big company entered the fried chicken business; with the advantage of money, personnel and cheaper prices, they were putting the small-business people out of work. This was going against business morality: an example of the Matthew Effect.

It is necessary for us in our globalized world of escalating economic development to see what is happening with eyes sharpened by our Christian values. We need to analyze the signs of the times and discern wisely about the fiercely competitive  world of commerce we live in.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

College Entrance in Korea

The exams for college entrance have been taken, and everything should return to normal, but it hasn't.  There are many articles that tell us about the after-effects of the exams.
The Catholic Times' editorial applauds the parents of the students for their concern and effort to take care of the material and spiritual needs of the students during this stressful time. But whether they did well or not there is a feeling of emptiness now that the study and exams are over. Many students, the editorial notes, develop headaches, insomnia, irritability, indigestion, which of course also worries the parents.

Though the stress for the exams disappears, lethargy tends to set in; the routine has given way to another rhythm, with which they are not familiar. There is a void and a temporary depression. When the student worries about the results of the exam, the problems tend to multiply.

This is the big story each year at this time. The Korean college entrance exams are the biggest moment in the life of students. In the thinking of most students, it will determine their life. Depending on the scores they receive, the exams will decide which school they will attend. The prestigious schools are Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University. All are familiar with the acronym SKY. To graduate from one of these schools means the student will have a good-paying job and be part of the elite in society. Many of the most successful people in society are graduates of these schools.
The exams have changed over the years for the better. There is less emphasis, in the English exam, on the grammar and the finer points, more on comprehension, less on memorization. Thanks to the Confucian cultural background, study is important, and the exam system continues to be used in selecting qualified persons at all levels of the business world, but there is  a  negative side.  

Preparing for exams means that ones normal daily routine has to change. Everything is devoted to doing well in the exams. A necessity understood by all, which makes it more stressful than it has to be. All of society takes note of the day; even the airlines make adjustments, rerouting flights to reduce noise. 

The editorial recommends that parents, and students take a few days off to make a retreat. There are all kinds of retreats that will fit the expectations of all, even family retreats.
The stress and fatigue experienced, though, will tempt many to  rest, but it is not the wise thing to do, says the editorial. Often, the end of the exams is also the end of the faith life for students. Part of the reason is the emphasis on the intellectual and neglecting our spiritual and emotional makeup. This obviously will cause harm to growth in maturity. How many will take the advice to make a retreat is unknown, but efforts to inform students that life has much more to offer than what exam scores show is worth the concentrated effort of all sectors of society.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marriages made in Heaven

"Do you want to have a holy family? Then make this retreat" was the headline of a Peace Weekly article discussing retreats intended specifically for those contemplating marriages in the future. These retreats are the creation of a retired priest for those who would like to have a spouse with the same religious faith.

The number of parents in Korea who would like to have their children marry someone of the same faith is not small. However, the chance of this happening is small. Last year over 60 percent of Catholic marriages were not with Catholics. In our society it is not easy for Catholics to meet other Catholics of marriageable age.

 For over thirty years the retired priest, who heads the happy marriage movement in his diocese, has thought of bringing Catholic young people of marriageable age together. He feels this will reduce the number of mixed marriages, tepids, and divorces. The first retreat was at the end of last month.

"Marriages Made In Heaven" is the title of the retreats. The first day is intended to deepen the faith life of the retreatants and remind them of the happiness of the life of faith and to experience its grace; the retreatants do not meet each other on this first day.
In the morning of the second day, they meet as a group. A period of recreation allows the retreatants to become familiar with each other without pressure and in a pleasant, comfortable atmosphere. In the afternoon, they meet each other individually for a period of 30 minutes; depending on how the communication goes it may be longer or shorter.
15 young men and 15 women make the retreat, and each will have the opportunity to talk with each other concerning possible marriage;  this continues to late evening. On the last day, there is the parting Eucharist for the participants. At the end of the Mass an address book of all the participants is given to each. There is no pairing off during the retreat, but they are encouraged to do so after the retreat ends.
The priest offers to say the wedding Mass, and to keep in contact yearly and provide, when appropriate, a retreat for the newly weds. He feels this is quite different from the match-making enterprises that try to match a person's  education, employment and wealth as the basis for the marriage. He plans to have four retreats a year for those over 25 years old. The first retreat will be free.  
Hopefully, we will see some good results from this first attempt at having young people meet in a spiritually enhanced atmosphere before making a commitment to 'something made in heaven.'   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Me?

Why me?" A question many ask. A priest writing in the pastoral diary column of the Peace Weekly reflects on the same question when he received a new assignment recently. After studying abroad and returning home to teach in the seminary for seven years, he was surprised to learn he had been assigned to a parish that requires a new building.
The parish is called the 'flour parish?' for it was built in 1954 with the donations from the American military. (After the Korean War the United States sent much aid to Korea and a great deal of that was wheat flour) 

Since there is now a danger of it collapsing, he was assigned as pastor and has the job to rebuild. Because it was his first parish he had difficulty in understanding why someone with no experience as a pastor should be given the job. Looking back he has no trouble now with the assignment but at first there was a conflict between obedience and wanting to refuse. His plans now had to be put aside.  

While teaching in the seminary, he was going to a university on his own time and expense. Many had difficulty in understanding why a priest would want to study secular knowledge?  When he entered the course of studies for a doctorate in humanities, although there are treasures in the Catholic tradition, he had decided he wanted to speak to people in language they would readily understand; he felt that the language of the Church was not reaching many. They either were not interested or didn't care to listen.

 To deal with this situation he feels the Church has to learn a more secular language, the language of psychology, sociology, philosophy, and many others. He wants to speak about the treasures that were given to him by Jesus by expressing them in the 'language of the world,' and began by studying the language of religious psychology, having already studied contemporary spirituality in Canada. How was one to speak about spirituality to the world in the language of postmodernism? This was to be his dissertation.He finished the course for the doctorate,and passed the exam for his dissertation, the first proposal of his thesis being accepted. When he was assigned to the new parish, all this had to be given up. He was not able to do both.

So what was all this trouble worth? The formation for the priesthood is not only done by study and counseling, he says, but also by the example of other priests. This indirect influence should not be downplayed. He has shown the seminarians that study is something you do all your life, and he is happy to have given that message. He has given up his personal plans and will now devote all his attention to building the new church.

God in his designs, without any consultation, changes plans, and one is content to seek meaning in the new.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Maryknoll in North Korea

The Catholic Times introduces us to the beginning of Maryknoll's work in Korea in remembrance of Maryknoll's 100th anniversary. Fr. James Anthony Walsh, superior general of Maryknoll, came to Korea in 1916 to ask Bishop Mutel of Seoul for a place to work in Korea. They both agreed that Maryknoll would take the Province of Pyongan, where both the Paris Foreign Missionary Society and the American Protestant missionaries were working.
The missionary work in the North was not doing as well as in the southern three provinces. The Paris Foreign missioners had five parishes and 50 mission stations in Pyongan, with  three French and two Korean priests responsible for the work. Permission came from Rome to begin the work in 1922 and the first Maryknoll  local superior was Fr. Patrick Byrne.

In the same year two other Maryknollers came, which was the start of a new beginning for the Church in Korea. Up to that time only missioners from Europe were working in Korea, and many Koreans, knowing only the American Protestant  missioners, were surprised to learn there were also Catholics in America, thinking that Catholicism was a French religion and Protestantism an American religion.  In 1924, more priests and six Maryknoll sisters joined the original group of Maryknollers.

The group started a dispensary and clinic and a language school to teach Korean to the missioners.The number of Catholics soon rose to 5000 in the Pyongan province. In 1927 it was made a prefecture, with Fr.Byrne as the first Prefect Apostolic. When it was decided to move the headquarters from Siniju to Pyongyang,

Fr. Byrne was elected Vicar General of the Society and had to return to the United States. Fr. Morris then became the second ordinary of the prefecture. During his tenure, there were 36 missioners, 19 parishes, 134 mission stations and a total of 17,738 Catholics. At the beginning of the prefecture there had been only three seminarians. In 1932 Fr. Morris began the community of the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the first Korean native community.

It was during this time that Maryknoll began a new way of doing mission work, believing that to advance the work it was necessary to involve lay people. They had workshops for training youth leaders and catechists. They also began publishing a magazine which, after many name changes, was finally called Catholic Chosun; its main focus was to educate its readers about Catholicism until it was forced to close by the Japanese in 1938.

Maryknoll  Korea was also making known the work of the missions to the American Catholics. The article ends by offering thanks to the Maryknoll Society, especially during the Japanese occupation, for filling the vacuum in the history of the Korean Catholic Church.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church

Of the world's 7 billion people one out of three are Christians, and one out of ten Christians are Orthodox Christians, about 250 million. In Korea there are less than 3000 Orthodox Christians so their way of life is not well-known. The Peace Weekly, in its series on Catholicism and other religions in Korea, profiles Christian Orthodoxy this week. Though their number is small in Korea, Orthodoxy is an  important part of Church history.

With the travels of St. Paul, the Gospel spread to four large areas around the Mediterranean Sea: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and later Constantinople, when the Holy Roman Empire moved its capital there from Rome. These became the 5 Patriarchates.

In 381, this was the accepted make up of the Church, but because of the different languages used in the liturgy, the disagreements concerning the use of images, and the political conflicts, the divisions between the East and West became more pronounced, and in 1053 Rome and Constantinople excommunicated each other, which led to the formal split.

Constantinople soon began to evangelize the Slav population: Bulgaria in 864; the Russian Kiev in 988; Serbia in 1220; but when Constantinople in 1453  fell to Islam, Russian Orthodoxy became independent of  Constantinople and became the third 'Rome'. In Orthodoxy, the Patriarch of Constantinople has the highest dignity but all patriarchs are considered equal.  Orthodoxy in Korea is part of Greek Orthodoxy and is affiliated with the province in New Zealand.

Orthodoxy differs from Catholicism in several main areas: There are 3 more books in the Old Testament than in the Catholic Old Testament. They do not use the word Trinity but the trinitarian meaning is accepted. They do not teach the existence of purgatory but acknowledge the possibility. They make the sign of the cross somewhat differently. At baptism they have a threefold immersion and the priest who gives baptism immediately gives Confirmation and the Eucharist, under both forms, even to babies. They do not use the confessional for the sacrament of Penance, and they follow the Julian calendar, which makes their dates for Easter and Christmas different. They do not use statues but use icons on flat surfaces, which are very important to their cultural way of praying and decorating their Churches.
The writer feels there is good  reason for Roman Catholics to be interested in the Greek Church Fathers and the spirituality of Orthodoxy. Although the similarities are many, the differences are important and deserve to be studied. The hope of Roman Catholicism is that in time and with a lot of good will, we will see the two again united.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Growing Old Gracefully in a Difficult Society

The guest columnist in the Catholic Times recounts the story two American professors who had a bet with each other on estimating the average age of those living in the year 2150. One said it will be over 150; the other said no one will reach 130. They both put money in a special savings account that would go to the winner's grandchildren in the year 2150.
Those who study the subject of longevity believe that in the future the average age will exceed 80, which we are now approaching in Korea. We now have over 2000 centenarians. The writer feels that it is not unreasonable to expect the young of today to reach the average age of 100.

Living longer, is it a blessing or not? he asks. Living to be 100 is a blessing if preparations have been made so the advanced years can be enjoyed; otherwise, he feels it can be quite the opposite. Korea will enter a super-aging society by 2030, which means that one out of four will be over 65. For those who enter this period with dignity and grace it will not seem long, but for many the situation will not be bright. For the poor, sick, alienated and lonely these years will be difficult, requiring much effort if their situation is not to be intolerable.
The columnist compares Korea with the West, where 2 out of 3 retirees  see it as a time of freedom and happiness. In Korea, it is only 1 out of 3 that see it that way; for the rest, it is a time of money problems, fear and loneliness. For one to have a high quality of life in retirement not only money and health are necessary but leisure time, something considered worthwhile to do, and mental maturity.

For a person to live without anxiety, the columnist believes there are three necessities: tranquility at night, tranquility during the winter, and tranquility in old age. There needs to be, he says, more organizational thinking on how to use time well in retirement.
The columnist thinks the Church should take notice of this and get involved with the elderly in society. Society will have to find ways to deal with their failing health, inadequate finances, their often crippling loneliness in order to help them adjust to a society that pays little attention to their needs. These common problems experienced by most of our elderly are what societal welfare programs will have to consider. The Church can help with spiritual maturity and loneliness issues.

Jesus, he concludes, gave us a very explicit field to work with in service to society: the hungry, the thirsty, those to be clothed, the sick, those in prison--and now we can add another, the lonely old people of society.