Saturday, December 31, 2011

Measuring Standard for Happiness

Among the developed countries Korea is listed number one in the number of suicides of the young, and in the lowest rank in the  subjective index for happiness. 

These are the facts that begin an  article on a priest's dissertation for his doctorate written up in the Catholic Times. The doctorate is on youth studies and the standard that  determines the level of happiness of our young people and the theory behind its development.
Happiness is determined by external, internal and spiritual elements that are in harmonious  balance, and the dissertation attempts to find tools and the  theory that will help in their measurement. The desire of the priest is to help in the pastoral work with the young and in determining programs, policies and  structures in working with the young.

Although it is a dissertation within the field of sociology, revelation,  spirituality and other important elements have been considered, which gives meaning to those involved in the work with Catholic youth. In the dissertation, he expresses the feeling that there has been a blind spot in the examination of human existence on the part of many studies because they are limited by their sole interest on possessions, existence, pleasure, personal fulfillment and with  the exclusion of the spiritual. We can, he says, distinguish  the   special qualities of our existence, but we cannot  separate the spiritual, physical and  mental and when we do we will not understand happiness.

The dissertation  brings to the center for the measurements of happiness: achievement, relationships, life satisfaction,  life's meaning and value, and the place of transcendence etc. in the construct.

In order to verify  his conclusions he had a  questionnaire answered by 1,275  of those in the 15-20 age group which gives  credibility to the study. Max Weber many years before said  we have "specialist without soul" it is this understanding that the dissertation tries to exemplify. It is this absence of the spiritual in our society that brings to the fore the unhappiness which we see all around us.
He hopes  the thoughts he has worked with will help those working with the youth. The programs and structures  should be helpful in having our young people realize their place among God's people  and to dream of the   liberation  they have received. 

As we begin the new year, St. Paul's counsel in Roman's (14:17) should be always with us:  "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking  but of justice, peace, and the joy that is given by the Holy Spirit."  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Difficulty in Letting Go

On the spirituality page of the Catholic Times a priest, who recently moved from the center house of the order, writes about what he learned in the process of moving. Since the house was being remodeled after many years of use, he and his fellow priests had to move to other, smaller houses of the order. This required putting much of their belongings in boxes to store, and taking only what was necessary to the temporary home until they could move back to the center house.

The process of moving brought to his attention that he had acquired more possessions than he needed. He had entered the community with few possessions and with the intention of living a simple life. Now, after more than 20 years, he wonders when his way of thinking changed. In his room were too many things, many of them once considered important but now much less so. "Why in the world did he keep them?" he asked himself. What would his fellow priests think, if he died suddenly, and they saw all the unnecessary objects he had gathered over the years, besides the books. They would be tut-tutting among themselves, he was sure.

The answer to why he kept so many useless objects for so long seemed obvious to him now: they brought back fond memories, and the recurring thought that someday some of it might be needed. However, among his belongings, embarrassingly, were objects whose shelf-life in memory had long ago passed. And not only was there less space in his room to move around in, he laments, but he was sure his mind had also become narrower.

He wonders how much of this 'hoarding' had to do with what psychologists call the obsessive compulsion disorder. There are many with charisma, money and influence in society with this malady. But this was no consolation to him.   

Since the New Year will soon be here, it would be a good time to give what we don't need to others who can use them. It would be a sign of our faith in a benevolent future. Giving away what we don't need now, we believe we will receive what is needed when it's needed. Letting go is a sign of our faith. What we let go of, we may come to realize we never needed.     

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Silence Please in the Public Square

To what degree should Christians take an interest in the world? This is a question that many have difficulty with. One of the most influential and largest Korean dailies criticized the Catholic Church for getting involved in the things of the world. The caption for the editorial: "When religion takes an interest in the things of the world, this earthly religion will foster interference." The editorial was very critical of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Rights Committee. 

Sad to say, this is not only the thinking of a secular newspaper but also the thinking of many of our Christians in Korea and in other parts of the Catholic World. It is difficult to understand how this thinking developed without blaming the Church for a lack of proper instruction on a very basic teaching of Christianity.

We are to be the salt of the earth, its light and yeast; and into this world we have been sent to be these things to each other. We are told in Philippians, " that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other people's interests, instead." In the Magnificat, the Church's evening prayer, Mary is shown to be very much interested in the goings-on in society. The words can even shock those who read them for the first time, and we know Mary is the model of what the Church should be.
Misunderstanding comes with a superficial knowledge of the meaning of the scriptural line, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's....," and thinking it implies the separation of Church and State. When religion is thought to be solely a private matter that should remain private, it can lead to a misunderstanding of what is meant by a legitimate separation of Church and State.
The editorial relied on a faulty understanding of the  separation of Church and State when it blamed the Church for speaking out on social issues. It is this misunderstanding that is prevalent not only in society but also in Christianity. For many it is unpatriotic or illegal for a Church or an individual to express an opposing opinion publicly. It is seen by the editorial as telling non-Catholics, as well as Catholics, what to do with their life. 

Like any individual or institution, the Catholic Church and its members have not only the right to participate in society but have a duty to participate. Korea is a democracy and all its citizens and institutions have a right to express their opinions. The Church and Catholics, therefore, also have this right when, following the teachings of the Church, they express their opinions, and to do so without facing efforts by government or the media to silence them. This allows others as well to have opposing opinions. When efforts are made to silence these legitimate expressions of opinions, it will impair all other efforts to develop a mature and informed society.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Hard Decision of the Black Kite

Korea has no serious problems with the changes that came with the Second Vatican Council. Most Catholics entered the Church after the Council was over. Few  remember the Latin Mass or the liturgical life of the past. Nostalgia is not part of the thinking of our Catholics. The Society of Pius X (followers of Archbishop Lefebrev) has few members in Korea.
The desk columnist for the Catholic Times recalls that next year is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council. This Council was the foundation on which the Church grew in Korea.

'Renewal' is the word that is often used when talking about the Council. Nowadays all of society is using the word renewal: you and I are to become 'renovated.' But the columnist is disturbed when the desire for renewal is used as a motivational tool to get us out of some crisis we are presently in. It should be much more than that, he says.

What is necessary is to know oneself. Knowing yourself, he says, is the beginning of change. Socrates knew he didn't know everything, which enabled him to search for wisdom.
For a Catholic, renovation comes, he says, when we desire to become more like Christ. It is the promise of Jesus and the Holy Spirit's presence in us that leads us to wisdom--the message of the Gospel. To be evangelized is the first duty of a Christian.
But what is self-evangelization? he asks. It is to become familiar with God's word in the Scriptures. Reading and study of the Scriptures is the first step in the change that will come.

The columnist uses an example that the internet has made popular but without any basis in fact. It probably goes back to Psalm 103: "Your youth is renewed like the eagle." Instead of the eagle, in Korean it is the black kite. The story is presented in video's and articles that try to inspire us to change in all facets of life. As a prod to change it may have some value even if not true. The story, briefly, is about a black kite with a life span of 40 years. To live to 70 it has to make a hard decision. At 40 its talons can no longer grab prey, its beak becomes bent, its feathers become thick and stick to the breast. It is faced with the option of dying or getting renewed. The renewal is painful, requiring that it break its beak against a rock, pluck out its talons and feathers, and wait for them to grow back; doing the difficult and painful thing, it lives another 30 years.

The columnist concludes the article by comparing our life with that of the black kite. It takes much more than just thinking about change to bring about change; it takes making some difficult decisions. If we are satisfied with the way things are, we will not mature and life will end in failure. Change requires effort and pain.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


The guest columnist in the Catholic Times discusses  the play, "Killing Sisters," which tells the story, part documentary, of religious sisters who help patients die well, focusing on the hospice approach to death in Korea. Seeing the play made her uncomfortable, thinking about how most of us live our lives.  

She thought of those who spend most of their time making money, yet without much thought of how it's to be spent. But when the end comes they often see their life differently and have remorse for the way they lived.
The hospice movement is intended to help those in their last days to face death in peace. And also to help their families accept the death of the loved one. In other countries 40 percent take advantage of hospice care; in Korea it is less than one percent.
She quotes Heidegger's "being-toward-death," as a way for us to be in the world and, guided by the awareness of death's on-going presence in life, to awaken to a more "authentic perception" of life.  She feels that persons living today should have more of an experience of death than those in the past because of the many more deaths from accidents and from diseases such as cancer and AIDS. In the past, death was mostly associated with the old.
The play made her realize how oblivious we are of the death that awaits us, and also made her aware that many of us do not know who we are or how to live in a way that has value. We die without discovering who we are. At funerals we come face to face with death but usually deny or try not to think of death; this is not a healthy way to live. She quotes from Ecclesiastes (7:2): "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting." Not to reflect on this fact is to live like a fool. And from Hebrews (13:14): "For here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come." Every day, she says, we should have a thought about death and prepare for it.

Advent, she wants us to remember, was a period of waiting. We await Jesus liturgically, but we also become aware that there is an end to earthly life, and that there is a need to discover the real me, the whole me. That would be the best preparation for our last days on earth.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Drinking to Celebrate Christmas and New Year

New year is a time to rejoice and celebrate. Parties, both at work and at churches, take for granted the presence of liquor. It's no longer news that Catholics do more drinking than all the other religious groups. This was made known a few years ago in a survey of the religions in Korea. The Peace Weekly, in an article and editorial, discusses the issue and gives some guidelines for a healthy culture of drinking.

The article mentions a couple of parishes that do not allow any drinking on their property; even with events, parties, parish excursions, or bazaars to help the poor, no liquor is seen. The editorial reminds us that Korea is number two  in the consumption of liquor; loss to society from the consumption is astronomical.

It is not difficult to surmise what the men think of the parish ruling; the women are not generally adverse to it.  The reason for the ruling is obvious: there were serious abuses, and it was an effort to bring the idea of temperance to the attention of all.

Often, after a meeting, the men go off property to drink, which would usually be a period of time much longer than the meeting itself. Not only do the middle aged men drink but also the young. Drinking among the young is not less than that done by the older groups, and many of the high school graduates say they learned how to drink in these groups. But many would also say it helped bring the different age groups together, making for camaraderie. 

The Protestants have a reputation in Korea for not drinking or smoking, while the Catholics have a reputation for being very tolerant of drinking. The writer quotes a priest professor who mentioned a number of Scripture quotes that allow drinking, but there also are many that warn of the evil effects from liquor when over-indulged, drinking, he said, needs to be done in moderation.

There are parishes that, instead of drinking at meetings or other gatherings, provide either at the parish or in other areas cultural activities such as watching films, plays, and drinking tea or coffee. There are many who have difficulties in joining some of the parish groups because they don't drink, which is another issue. If the drinking could be limited to one glass, quoting one of the Christians, there would not be a problem.
He leaves us with the well-known phrase, "Too much of a good thing is bad." This applies especially, he feels, to the use of liquor, and adds, quoting from Sirach 31:28, "Joy of heart, good cheer and merriment are wine drunk freely at the proper time." When they are drunk to excess these good things become poison.                                                     

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Blessed Christmas! Today we reflect on the meaning of the day. In all the Christian churches throughout the world, we will hear explanations in different words of what Jesus means to us. One of the blogs on Christmas quoted St. Augustine: "Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become not only Christians but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God's grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ."
We talk much of what Christ means in our life, but if we ask Catholics what model would they take in life to follow, rarely would you hear the name of Jesus. We have made him an object of our adoration, of our praise and piety--all right and good, but we have forgotten that we are born in baptism to become other Christs.
The words we know well, but it's a big leap for us to use them to motivate what we do in our lives. The emphasis is on God's graces, which may make us passive, just waiting for something to happen. Grace is also always moving us to act: study, listen, relate, love, serve---these things we often forget.
God came to earth so that we can partake of his divinity. And when we attend Mass we are reminded of the symbolism inherent in the celebration of the Mass. During the offertory, for example, when the water is mixed with the wine, we read: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity" (2 Peter 1-4). Similar symbolic language is present throughout the liturgy.  

Today is our special feast day. We have been born to be other Christs and to follow his way of life. We all know this intellectually but, sadly, it is not part of our affective life.
Understanding the symbolism used by the Church, especially in the liturgy, brings greater depth to our Christian life but at times symbolism can be a stumbling block for the literal-minded person and an idol for the overly pious. However, symbolic language has a great deal to teach us; without it life would be very insipid. Can we image life without the handshake, bow, kiss, eating together, and without language itself, which of course is also symbolic.  Catholics have also the Sacraments, which make us more aware that all of life is a symbol of God's love for us. Without the understanding of symbolism, some have maintained, the deeper dimensions of life cannot be understood and appreciated.
When we look at the crib(the trough) this year, let us direct our minds to look more deeply into its symbolism to appreciate fully what St. Luke wanted us to understand. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Magnanimity to Accept all that is True

Christmas means a great deal to many of us; to others it is foolishness and a lie. Even the word Christmas for some Christians is an embarrassment, thus the now popular 'Season's Greetings.'
Some do not find 'Christmas' in the Scriptures and therefore reason enough to dispense with the word. The origin of the word, 'Mass of Christ,' also does not help matters. Others go back into history and are scandalized that the Catholic Church used the pagan feast of the Winter Solstice as the birthday of Jesus. The Church has no difficulty seeing this as a deliberate and legitimate 'baptism' of a pagan celebration.

Acculturating to a reality when it is teaching or enabling us to accept some truth is welcomed; truth is to be accepted wherever found.  The Winter Solstice, when the days begin getting longer, had great meaning for the early Christians; for them, as for us, it was Jesus who was the light of the world.

Last week, Legion of Mary members were on retreat for three days, and heard talks on the Buddhist 'search for the ox'. These ten pictures are seen often on the walls of Buddhist main sermon halls. The members returned with leaflets with the ten colored pictures, which most Koreans would be familiar with. They do help a great deal in showing us the steps to moral growth.
The ten steps: 1)Searching for the bull, 2)Discovering footprints, 3)Seeing the bull, 4)Catching the bull, 5)Taming the bull, 6) Riding the bull home, 7)The bull is forgotten, the individual remains, 8)Both the bull and self transcended. 9) Reaching the source, 10)Going back to the market place, enlightened.
The Buddhists gave a Buddhist interpretation to the Taoist pictures;  we Christians can give a Christian interpretation to the pictures. The retreat master using the same 10 pictures did just that. Each one of us can use them in anyway he wishes for his own spiritual growth.

Since true Buddhism is a natural religion without revelation the Catholic Encyclopedia reminds us: "In general, revealed religion does not reject natural religion and ethics, but rather adopts them in a higher form."
A common interpretation for the pictures would be the search for one's true self, the bull, the true self, is captured with difficulty, tamed, returning home on the bull, but the self and inner nature are still divided. You have the uniting of the two; the circle is arriving at pure light, total emptiness, which is fullness. Oneness with all nature and a return to daily life, enlightened.
Catholics should be small letter c-catholic in accepting truth wherever found that enables us to love God and our brothers and sisters. We have not always lived up to the saying attributed to St. Augustine: "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." It's a sure way of being magnanimous in the way we look at the here and now.

Friday, December 23, 2011

All Depends on our Attitiude.

Writing in his weekly column in the Catholic Times, the poet lets his thoughts play with the way God deals with his beloved creation. He sees the beauty and harmony in nature, the mountains, lakes, trees, flowers, the rice plants moving in the gentle breezes, and then he looks on the fishing village and sees the tsunami sweep away thousands into the sea.

Nature seems mysterious and unrevealing. Some are ready to stress the favorable, and others the unfavorable relationship between God and creation; sometimes it's benevolence and other times non-benevolence.  Which one is the correct view? The relationship of heaven and earth is sometimes this and sometimes that. Can we call it fickle? A great abyss of separation?

Inanimate objects don't speak so we interpret. To interpret, according to the dictionary, means to explain and make objects known. Seemingly very easy to do, but when philosophers get involved it becomes complicated. It also has to do with our attitude towards the object. Whatever is received is received in the manner of the one receiving.

In prayer, God sometime gives what we want and other times not. How should we interpret this situation? The columnist gives us St. Paul's answer (1Thessalonians 5:16-18): "Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus."
How many of us have this as a guide, a teaching or a goal in our lives? If we took this to heart, Paul reminds us, we would be persons of virtue, extraordinary human beings.  Many times we pray and get the opposite of what we prayed for, which breeds resentment. But the answer, though not what we wanted, did come. Here, our attitude and free will come into play; we can accept the answer as being at this time the correct answer. 

We learn early on that God's standards are not the same as ours. When we give thanks and have joy in all things, then we consider God's mercy and interpret all with thanks in our hearts. It all depends on our free will; that is why it is such a precious gift.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Advent was Spent in Past Years

Recently reported in the news was the generosity of an elderly man who put the equivalent of a hundred thousand dollars in the Salvation Army Red Kettle. The anonymous donor hoped the money would be used for underprivileged senior citizens. It was the single largest gift the Salvation Army has ever received in their Christmas campaigns in Korea since the campaigns began 83 years ago. There are warm lights aglow, a Catholic Times' writer tells us, in our sometimes cold world.

But he reminds us that in the Catholic world the warmth that came with the preparations for the big feasts in Korea has disappeared as older cultural ways have been replaced by newer ways. He goes on to explain that for a time in our Korean Catholic history, there were private meetings with all the Christians of the parish before the big feasts of Easter and Christmas. Priests would interview individual Catholics or entire families during the Advent preparation period to determine how well they knew the catechism; being able to answer correctly was a requirement in order to receive the sacraments on Christmas.
This custom began during the persecution of the Catholics. Fearful of living in large villages with non-Catholics, they gathered together in small hamlets, which in time became mission stations. Because there were few parishes and many mission stations, the priest would make the rounds of these stations to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments for the two big feasts. He would also check to see if they had been faithful in their prayer life, spiritual reading, and in the study of the catechism. 

The visit of the priest at these mission stations would be reason enough for a holiday celebration. All would put on their best clothes and prepare holiday meals, and those who had left the village for work would return to celebrate the visit of the priest and to go to Mass. It was a joyous time even though the catechism exams did create some stress. 

Usually, the family would appear before the priest, knowing before the visit what questions would be asked. If the children did not answer to the priest's satisfaction, their grandfathers and parents would be reprimanded. It would be hard to imagine this happening today, the writer said. The custom no longer exists and he laments the change. He believes that the difference it has made in the life of our Catholics has not been all for the good. 

Taking the place of the oral exams in many parishes are written questions distributed to parishioners who are interested, and prizes are given to those who have the highest marks. All the burdens have been taken away. The parishes are much larger and the priests are busier, which is part of the reason for the change. And yet, there is something lost, he feels, in the disappearance of this tradition: perhaps less community involvement and less serious preparation for the big feasts of the Church.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mission Stations In Korea

Mission stations--areas of a parish without a priest living with the Christians-- are an important part of Korean Catholic history, with more than 800 mission stations currently established in the country. In the early days of Korean Catholicism most of the country would have been  mission station territory, and the priest would come to visit once or twice a year.Today with good transportation the mission stations would have frequent visits, and many would be weekly visits. In some mission stations they would even have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the chapels. The catechist in charge of  the mission station would be responsible for the liturgy on Sundays and Holy Day's of Obligation, and if the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, also distribute communion.

A woman missioner, writing in the Incheon Diocesan Bulletin, gives her impressions of life in one of these mission stations when she served as the person responsible to the parish for the running of the station. A priest visiting the station asked her, "How long have you been here?" She answered, surprising herself with her answer, "20 years." 

She was originally a Seoulite and lived the ordinary parish life when she met a young man who had graduated from the school of theology. After romance and marriage, they became a missionary team, living in a mission station far from any city, in the backwoods of Korea. And were soon to wake up from the dreams they had of the romantic rural life.

The first night they arrived at a place without a house. The Christians hastily found an empty room in the village to put their luggage. She was so upset by the situation, flustered and fearful, she wanted to return to Seoul. The room, having been empty for so long, had the smell of mold, dampness and tobacco; liquor bottles were strewn all over the floor. How was she to live in such a place? was the only thing she could think of. That night she cried, feeling resentment toward her husband, who expressed his sorrow for bringing her to such a place. That night she began to see what the life a missioner would be.

Missioner is still understood by most Koreans as  foreigners working in the country. Lay persons doing missionary work are few; because they are so few, knowledge of them would be rare. She mentions a group of over 30 who have graduated from the Seoul Catholic School of Theology; they come together to encourage and to help each other.
Lay missioners do not have any security, official recognition, or status like the clergy or religious, for they  take the work upon themselves.  Wouldn't  they be fools for Christ? she asks.
Most of these missioners worked in the remote areas of the country and in difficult surroundings. Today they are found in the cities, working among the poor in resettlement areas and welfare facilities. 

An epilogue would not be out of place here explaining the difficulties that lay missioners, like our husband and wife team, have had in Korea because of the status of clergy and religious sisters in the country. Our lay missioner was too kind to mention that the lack of preparation at the mission station was possibly due to the unwelcoming  mindset of the Christians there. Often, after the mission station has been run for many years internally, there will be resistance to the arrival of an outsider taking charge.  Change from the benign control of the pastor to the daily hands-on control of  lay missioners is no easy transition for many to accept.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Family Culture

Writing in the Diocesan Bulletin, the director of the Family Cultural Center in the city of Incheon says that the name of the Center does not make clear what she is doing. Consequently she is always ready to answer the question, what do you do? by replying that family culture is a way of keeping some of the values of the extended family alive in the nuclear family.

Now that Korea has settled into a 5-day work week, the word 'leisure' has entered the daily vocabulary, and an attempt is being made to have harmonious relationships between work, leisure, and family.

She asks, what do families spend most of their  time doing? In one survey, watching TV was first, and for the last ten years nothing has changed.  When she asks for the reasons, she is told that it's because of work and fatigue, and because most families are not familiar with anything else. The dictionary meaning for 'family leisure' would be that the family as a unit uses leisure time to communicate with one another: father, mother and children reacting to the needs and wants of each other. Communicating with the TV would not be an acceptable option.

She gives the example of a family getting together on a spring day. They prepare together the rice balls for the picnic, bake the cake together, but just not any cake; it is a cake with the face of a bear, and all participate in trying to make it a masterpiece. Another good way of bringing families together: Camping together and volunteering as a family for some Church or community function.

The more we relate with one another, she says, the more opportunities we will have to bring about intimacy, communication and bonding at a different level. Parents are always trying to find something that will fit the level of where the children are, and this interrelating will help them to grow in virtue and emotional maturity, especially today when studies play too prominent a role in the lives of Korean children.

To strengthen family ties that are getting weaker, she recommends that families have a weekly family day in order to spend more time together. It could be anything; going to a movie or museum would be enough. We have children addicted to video games, staying by themselves as latchkey children, being bullied,  and many other ways that society is playing havoc on children's emotional maturity. She recommends that parents take a cue from the Christmas scene, and use a blanket to keep the family members warm, together.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Inculturation and Evangelization

A research institute here in Korea had an academic meeting on evangelization and inculturation in China, Japan and Korea. The Peace Weekly gave a brief summary of the meeting. 

Priest-professor from China said that China continues to work to reform and be open. The issue of religious freedom remains about the same, with the government still in control. The rapid economic development of China has widened the gap between  rich and poor, giving rise to corruption and many other harmful side effects. Unfortunately, these are also seen within the church.

In many areas of the country, the Church functions differently. In some areas preaching is allowed even in the streets; in some farming areas they can have processions once or twice a year; in certain dioceses the young are volunteering for church work; and in other areas you are not allowed to do anything outside the church building.

Progress of the Church in China will depend on bishops and priests taking a more active part in evangelization; the Christians have to be awakened to become more active; the different groups in the parishes have to get involved in their work so the surrounding society will take notice; and the Church has to become more involved in helping the poor in society.

The professor from Japan said that the Church in Japan is not expected to grow very much. The structures of Shintoism and esoteric Buddhism permeate all society. Catholicism is seen as a cult, and as a foreign religion. 

Traditional Japanese see it as something outside their world of interest, and many have a negative feeling toward all religions, seeing them as aggressive and corrupt, and using brainwashing techniques to gain members, according to the professor.

Acculturating, making use of the Japanese culture, and having a non-verbal approach to evangelizing is what is demanded. Although the Catholic presence in the country is weak, we will have in ten years a Japanese theology. But 30 years from now no one knows what the situation will be--the Church may even be extinct in the country.

In Korea, the priest-professor mentions some of the problems facing the Church: Authoritarianism of the leaders in the church; large parishes and little contact with the Christians; poverty of the spiritual life, lack of inner maturity making for non-practicing Christians; the alienation of the poor; the lack of efforts in  inculturation and the emphasis on getting more people into the church and not enough concern for the evangelization process. The we-can-do-mentality is in vogue; it is more important than making plans and study. Evangelization means to give the message to others but there is also the personal evangelization of the self. There is a need for an integral harmony in evangelizing, sharing not only material goods but the spiritual gifts as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Doing More Important than Saying

After Vatican II, educational visual aids were disseminated to the parishes to educate the Christians on some of the changes that were proposed by the Council. We are all familiar with the pyramid and circle symbolism; pyramids denote structure and circles community.  Lay people "not only belong to the Church but are the Church, under the leadership of the Pope and bishops" (Pope John Paul).
Here in Korea one particular visual aid was a wagon that was being pulled by the bishops and clergy, and pushed by the sisters while the lay people were on the wagon, singing and praying. It was a dig at the situation in the church. This was mentioned in an article for priests in a pastoral bulletin.
Lay people have been generally seen as objects of pastoral care by the leaders in the Church and not as fellow workers in the vineyard. This has reduced lay people, in many cases, to a passive role in the Church. Pope John Paul II said, in his Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful: "In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world."

Much of what we read and hear today concerning spirituality has to do with behavioral and affective approaches to truth. We know that many of us Christians do not behave any differently from those who do not believe. Many have been exposed to the Christianizing process but are not interested enough in applying it in our daily lives; they have everything but the heart for the work.
The article mentions the need for the ministerial priesthood to work together with the priesthood of the faithful. The layperson's vocation is to the world, to live in it, and to work for its sanctification. The lay people are on the front lines and the ministerial priesthood are there to educate, encourage, inspire, give meaning to their work and help them participate in the work, joyfully and with a sense of mission.
When the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all the laity work together in communion then we are a true sign of the oneness that we are in Christ. This sign is not readily seen so it will be the way we live this in our lives that will be the message that is conveyed--working together as equals, in community, to carry our Christ's mission that was entrusted to the first community. Working together is the message that we have been called to give. Isn't it more important than what we have to say?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unmarried Mothers

Incheon, like many other dioceses, has a home for unmarried mothers. The sister in charge of the home told the Peace Weekly, in a recent interview, that over half of the 20 soon-to-be-mothers are in their teens. In their early pregnancy, they had been told by many that if they have an abortion, all will return to normal, a clear example of the cruelty and coolness of society toward unmarried mothers. There is nobody to rejoice with them, she said, on becoming mothers.
These young mothers, at great cost to themselves, have chosen to be mothers, leaving behind all other concerns. One mother, brushing tears from her eyes, said her mother wanted her to abort, but remembering her first year in high school when she saw a video of an abortion, she decided she didn't want anything to do with that. She is very happy with her decision. 
Sister says that their work at the home is to help the girls with healing and reconciliation so they will be able to greet the baby with joy in their hearts. Before coming to the home these girls had to deal with conflict, pain, and many emotional scars, which the sister hopes, with much counseling, to heal.
The home has received permission to serve as an alternative school, and there are mothers who are  taking the middle and high school courses; two mothers even took the college entrance exams and are waiting for the results.
The sister mentions how depressed these girls were on coming to the home. Many had a sense of guilt, fear, embarrassment, anxiety, and a concern for the future. The sisters at the home work to change these thoughts. 

The sister mentions that when they see the tears of these mothers, they feel both sorrow and pride, knowing that they have helped make a difference in their lives. And it's not uncommon to have the boy who abandoned the girl, and the family of the girl, come to the home asking for forgiveness for the way the girls had been treated.
A few years ago the average age of unmarried mothers was in the twenties; now most are in their teens. It is difficult to find where the necessary sex education is being given; it's mostly limited to information on contraception. And praise for the unmarried mothers is rare; blame is all that is heard. 

Sister knows that society doesn't change overnight but she hopes there will come a time for praising these girls who had an easy way presented to them but, wanting to  do what was morally right, refused to take the easy way out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Supremacy of External Appearance

Judging a Person's Worth by External Appearance: Societal enticements for cosmetic surgery was the headline for an article on the current fascination of many in our society for artificially enhanced personal appearance.

Now that the college entrance exams are over, not a few students are pestering their parents for the opportunity to improve their appearance. Inner beauty is put on the back burner while all of society seems to be stressing the importance of external beauty. The writer, a professor of ethics, looks at this issue from a gospel perspective.
Cosmetic surgery is setting down deep roots in society: loftier nose, bigger eyes, getting rid of the second eyelid and much else. In recent years, middle and high school students who look forward to the possibility of cosmetic surgery in the future has increased by almost 10 percent. And it is not only limited to the young; the older generation is interested as well: getting rid of wrinkles with face-lifts, and whatever else will give the appearance of youth. The professor wonders whether reports of those who have died from cosmetic surgery will put a damper on this excessive and often frivolous use of surgery.
The mass media continues to present programs that highlight what has been done with cosmetic surgery. Those who have doll-like looks are the idols of our society. Those who feel they are unattractive, seeing these programs, often become envious of those with the doll-like faces and are tempted to take the same steps. Society is believed to be recommending the step: Isn't it a virtue to have others look at the beautiful! is a sentiment many believe to be true.
How are we as Christians to respond to what is happening? The professor said humanity's  first sin was to see reality differently from the way God saw it. Instead of believing what God said, they were more interested in what looked good.
Psychology, the professor says, gives us ample proof that our desires are only temporarily assuaged by surgery or by any external change. A lack of self-worth is what prompts us to fill this lack by changing our outward appearance. 

Society is telling us, many believe, that the competition with others is making this excessive concern with external appearance necessary. Another mental health professor says it is often those that did not receive affirmation from family and friends who will want to achieve self-worth by external means.
He concludes the article by enumerating what is necessary to change our society's fixation on the externals of life. Don't judge others by appearances; respect yourself and see yourself positively; be quick to criticize programs that overly stress the beauty of the body.

And don't be taken in by the superficial standards of society, but teach children to see their worth as God's children. Stress the inner beauty of each child. God made us in his image, and this image is not the external one.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sugar Coated Poison

The Catholic Times' writer on spirituality recalls walking passed a high school and seeing over the main gate a placard with the name of a student and the college he will be entering. The writer surmises it was big news for the community to have a student from the high school accepted in one of the country's top colleges.

More significant, he thought, than placing a placard at the entrance to the school, strange as that may seem, would be asking how much discussion went into the decision and whether any consideration was given to some of the possible results of labeling a student in such a manner; and did they also consider, he wonders, what the other students in his class might make of this singling out of this one student?
The writer, a priest, who worked in a mental hospital for many years, remembers a young man he came to know many years before. He was very talented and had his own placard when he graduated from high school. He attended one of the top colleges, and in his third year decided to leave and follow another dream. He wanted to get rid of the pressure he experienced from the many years of study.

However, when he left college, he couldn't forget the past and the 'placard of success' the sugar covered poison from his high school. He had difficulty sleeping, becoming restless and irritated, acting strangely and talking gibberish; he soon was admitted to a mental hospital.

The priest had many talks with the young man during his period of recovery; the young man was finding it difficult to adapt to every day life. He couldn't forget the expectations family and friends had for him. The placard over the gate of his high school was determining his life; it was a mold that all his expectations were being forced into. And knowing he was also at fault made it all the harder for him to accept.
He concludes his column with the  columnist's own reflections.  Don't, he says, put students into a mold and make them follow what first-class colleges and departments want for their students. Let them  dream. Don't let one exam determine how a person is to live his life. Discard words like first-class colleges and first-class departments.  His own dream is to see a day that not all have to follow their strong points to the detriment of a  healthy and rewarding life in society.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Not Art for Art's Sake

"Art today is not just something to look at but has a mission to perform not much different from the mission of the Church." These are the words of the rector of the Incheon Catholic University of Art and Design in an interview with the Catholic Times. He says the school's mission is to form persons who will use their artistic talents to influence the culture of Catholicism; it will be a tool that can be used for evangelizing, by sending out into the world those that have been formed with this vision.
When this profound message is missing from Church art, we have a diminishment in quality. We need artists who have grafted religion and art in a way that can inspire and transmit the Christian message. In our world, it is necessary to break down the walls between disciplines so students are free to study what they want.
The place of  art in the culture of a society is important in the way religion will be seen. The Church needs to have a new understanding of the rightful place of art and culture in our lives. Diversity is a necessary ingredient in a fulfilled life. If this is not experienced, we will have impediments to religion, art and culture, and we will not be able to form mature artists. The rector said that in Germany, all have an  opportunity to participate in the creating and selecting of religious articles and religious art. 

The interviewer asked the rector what was the reason the University failed to get a good evaluation from the government. He said it was the result of the way the government appraises universities, considering all universities as places to educate for employment, comparing the Catholic University of Art and Design with other universities, using the same standard. Since their University does not have all the allowable seats taken, and many of their graduates were unemployed, this was seen as a negative in the evaluation.
The rector is committee chairman for the policies of the combined  art schools, and will make his suggestions known. At present, the foundational studies for an integral education are widely being discarded in schools throughout the country, but in the Catholic University the basic humanity courses, as well as others necessary in preparing for a career in the art world, are taken seriously.
Catholic University started 15 years ago and has grown rapidly. In the country, it is considered third in visual arts and fifth in pure art. The aim of the school is the formation of artists who have a message to give, not the once popular idea of art for art's sake.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Need to Lower Expectations

A secular paper carried the story of a priest of the Seoul diocese who spent his life working for the poor in different countries of the world and  finally ended up seriously depressed and living with his sister.

 A journalist, a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, interviewed him for the paper.
At one point during the interview, he said, "It's strange to have a priest with depression isn't it? Well, I have all my life worried about money, and that stress put me here."

His father, a wealthy and prominent Catholic doctor, was hoping to be working in a hospital with his sons. The first son did become a doctor and the second son started off in Seoul University Medical School but after two years dropped out to enter the seminary. His son's decision to leave medical school so angered the  father that he turned away from the Church for a few years. But not entirely giving up hope, the father secretly had the medical school consider his son on a leave of absence. While the son was in the seminary, the rector heard about his problem in deciding between medicine and the priesthood and told him to go on for a medical degree, and return to the seminary to become a priest-doctor working for the poor. Which he did and was ordained a priest, spending 10 years working for the poor in a refugee area of Seoul while teaching in the Catholic Medical School.

 In 1987, he left Korea to go to South American and ended up working in one of the poorest areas of Ecuador. He returned to Korea and sold all his possessions to help in the medical work. From Ecuador, he went to Africa and a number of other areas where they needed medical help. During all this time money was necessary to form medical teams to continue the work for the poor without any burden on them. This was a great drain on him and a reason for much of his stress.
Returning to Korea near his 70th birthday, he had difficulty eating and sleeping. He found it even difficult to face his priest friends and went to the home of his youngest sister to live. There he would spend hours looking out into space. The sister made efforts to have him see a doctor, but his answer was always: "this is the will of God."  He knew his problem for his symptoms were the classical ones for depression in all the medical books. He didn't want to face the facts. But his sister convinced him to swallow his pride and see a doctor. Which he did.
He was told the stress in raising money and overwork brought about his depression. His condition has improved greatly and he is already planning to continue his medical work for the poor. This is part of the reason he agreed to the interview and is hoping to have enough money to continue his work.

This is a good example for us to ponder on what faces many in living up to their ideals. Many have great expectations but are not sufficiently prepared to carry out what they envision. Some are able to maneuver within the situation while others are overcome by it; their dreams being bigger than what they are able to handle, there often is a breakdown of health, either physical or mental. We sometimes hear, spoken in jest, "Keep your expectations low and be an overachiever." Though there may be some truth expressed here, which will motivate some, others may find that having realistic expectations will ultimately be more satisfying.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Physically Disabled in the Church

The chairman for the United Handicapped Groups in the Incheon diocese, in his interview with the Catholic Times,says that church facilities for handicapped have improved a lot, but we still have discrimination toward those who are disabled.

From the age of four, the chairman has not been able to walk because of infantile paralysis. After many operations and therapy, and with the aid of crutches, he walks but with difficulty. He has received second level government recognition as a craftsman in precious metals and is working as a dental technician, but is still aware of being discriminated against, he says, both in society and in the church.

In the past, when facilities for the handicapped were rare, it was difficult for the handicapped to go to Mass. However, when a person with disabilities was seen standing before the stairs leading to the church, there would usually be some Christian there asking if they could help; now it is rare that someone would approach them, asking to help.

In the early days when there was no help from the diocese, the different groups of the disabled in the diocese would go to the parishes to sell tickets for  their plays and events. There would be those who would be helpful but many who would look at us coolly, the chairman recalls. Now, with the financial aid from the diocese, he went on to explain, we have the necessary funds to have our events, but when we go to the different parishes to announce our programs, the priests and office-help find it difficult to react naturally with us, and sometimes refuse to make our programs known to the Christians.

Since 1998, all new buildings must have facilities for the handicapped. This has made a big difference but the deaf and blind still need help to participate in the sacramental life of the church. At Mass, the handicapped usually sit up front. For some of the handicapped it is necessary that they have help at the offertory and at communion; without the help, they are lost on what to do.

With the proliferation of facilities for the handicapped, he tactfully observed, this should cause a change in the care for the disabled within the Church, adding that he hopes the disabled Christians will be more active in approaching, with respect and love, other members of the community, as Jesus did when with us on earth.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Life is the Here and Now"

Columnist in the Catholic Times in his  'semitransparent notes on life,  reflects, now in his early eighties, on what he would say if asked, "what is human life?" His answer: "Life is the here and now." Even if, he goes on to say, the place and time will never be repeated, the here and now can always be experienced.
For us who have lived through the important places and times of our lives: infancy, adolescence, middle years, and now old age, it is not meaningful to ask what was the best. However, it is naturally thought that the youthful years were the best. He reminds us of Hesse's novel Youth, Beautiful Youth  which gives us this view of life. Even more so the sculptor Auguste Rodin, who extolled youth; for him this was the time to enjoy life: romance, feasting, adventure, physical vigor, dreams, and the like.

However, our writer for the Catholic Times returns to the here and now, which for him is the important place and time on life's journey. But there is no absolute standard of judging this place and time, he says. As our inner life continues to change, it tends to bring lasting changes into our lives as well.

The columnist looks at a picture of his years in kindergarten; obviously the same person but hardly recognizable. The movement of life has been one of continuation and non-continuation. If we had a graph of the time from infancy to old age, he claims that the middle years would stand out like some mountain top. However, it would not be difficult to see the similarities of the first and last stages in life.
Both in the early and later years one cannot go it alone. Someone has to be there to help. And life becomes simpler. We cannot go after the competitive goals of life, and sex is something no longer of interest if we are old, or not yet of interest if we are infants. Comparing ourselves with others has ceased to be important or not yet entered our awareness. Overall, life tends to become orderly.

In conclusion, the writer reflects on his 80th birthday party, during which he said he is now entering his best years. He made the remark, he said, without thinking but in retrospect, he believes it to be accurate. He considers every day important, and lets distracting thoughts go by the wayside; it was this feeling he was expressing. He now experiences a peace he did not know when young; each day is filled with joy. It is like a three-part harmony: memories, joys and sorrows--and the melody, life. And it's beautiful. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Human Rights Day 2011

Today, Dec. 10, is Human Rights Day. The day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." This first article of the declaration sounds as if it were taken from the Bible.
Throughout the country this week, the Catholic Church, in its many parishes and institutions, has examined the social teachings of the Church. Many will hear a review of Catholic Korean history concerning human rights, and specifically about an incident that happened in a small country parish on an island in Incheon during the 1960s.

The Young Catholic Workers Movement (JOC) was started in this country parish in 1965 by the Maryknoll priest-pastor. Many of the members worked in the textile factory on the island. Because of their membership in the JOC movement, they were sensitive to the human rights abuses they experienced and decided to start a labor union within the factory; management was opposed and the young workers were fired. About 30 Catholics were detained at the police station, and the pastor was threatened by the president of the company, government officials, and the police. No Catholics, it was decided, would be hired in the future.

The president of the JOC was the bishop of Masan, who at that time was Bishop Stephen Kim, later to become the cardinal-archbishop of Seoul. He strongly backed the workers, and Bishop McNaughton of Incheon also proclaimed the right of the workers to unite. This response to the incident in Kangwha, the first formal declaration of the Bishops Conference on a societal issue, marked the official entrance of the Church into the problems of society. The company did rescind its order and rehired the workers and all, at least temporarily, returned to normal.  
Some years later, another Maryknoller was forced to leave the country because of his involvement with a so-called spy conspiracy plot by the members of the Peoples' Revolutionary Party, who were considered communist spies. They were arrested and quickly executed. The Maryknoll priest very vocally sided with these men and was forced to leave the country. However, with the change in the political climate of Korea, many years later he was invited back with a hero's welcome and invited to the Blue House by the president. The eight men who were executed were later declared innocent, and their families given a large sum of money in reparation.

Many of the very visible problems concerning human rights violations have been solved to a large extent in Korea, and past history will be part of the education for the future. The Church hopes the consciousness-raising during this week of proclaiming the social teachings of the Church will help to open the eyes of our Catholics to an important teaching that many still are not sufficiently aware of. It will give added meaning to the first article in the Declaration of Human Rights.