Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not a Tit for Tat Approach to LIfe

The older he gets, says the opinion page columnist in the Catholic Times, the more he feels the distinction between himself and others is disappearing. The sense  'of his being the other' is felt deeply.

As he ages his capabilities are diminishing.  His activities, his movements, thinking, creativity, ability to recreate and enjoy bodily sensations all have been weakened. His days have become boringly similar to the ones in the past, and he expects that future days will follow the same pattern--until he  arrives at the day when it is the same for all.

We came into the world with empty hands and will leave with empty hands. All of us, from the highest to the lowest, rich or poor, will arrive at the end, very helpless, capable of being exchanged with another without much loss.

All who have any semblance of intelligence, he says, know that by helping another we are helping ourselves. Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, expounds on this. Our human psychology is like a delicate machine. For every action, there is a reaction. If I am kind to another, then the person is thankful and returns the kindness, creating a domino effect of shared kindness. Altruism not only is virtuous action but is profitable.

The columnist goes on to tells us that the idea of 'his being the other'  does not have anything to do with this previous paragraph's  tit for tat  approach.   This is not what he means by these words; the thought is much deeper, he says.  "When I am kind to another that very kindness is a reason for my joy. When I do a kindness, before it comes back to me in kindness I  have already received my compensation."

If we all acted without any desire for compensation and did everything out of a pure motive in the coming years, what kind of society would we have? he asks. And adds, isn't this kind of attitude the agape principle? Isn't this what our great teacher Jesus taught us, lived and practiced?

The happiness that comes from loving thoughts and actions are felt more authentically when it comes to us from a giving self and not from the receiving self. This is the example that Christ gave us. The columnist says that his recent awareness that 'the other is me'  is a small revelation to him. He expects there will be more revelations. When he was young, this was not part of his thinking. However, with age, this thought entered into his life, and now feels that he has not entered old age in vain. Age has given him a new way to look at life bringing him confidence and joy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Something to Shout About

There are many things heard that are far from uplifting, and when there is something to shout about, it seldom gets to be known but stays subdued within a person's heart. However, the Peace Weekly recently had an article about a parish in Seoul that is very proud of its accomplishments and God's working within the community.

Catholic parishes are usually well-filled on Sundays, but on weekdays it's rather quiet. The journalist writing the story arrived at the Seoul parish on a weekday afternoon around 3:00. Although there was a parish Mass going on, there were no other parish activities; yet there were many in the  parish meeting room enjoying beverages, talking and reading. The office worker mentioned, to the surprise of the journalist, that since it was vacation time there were fewer than usual that afternoon.

Not only Catholics but others come to the parish meeting room to spend time, using the vending machines for beverages and socializing around the many tables that have been set up to encourage meeting and sharing with others. The beverages are just a little above cost which makes them attractive both to the congregation and to those not part of the community. In a period of 2 years, 12 different exhibitions were held in the meeting room, which also attracted many from outside the parish community.

The percentage of Catholics in the larger community is over 20 percent. Since the year 2007, and up until last year, they have had 2011 people baptized. And though the parish has been divided, they still maintain the 20 percent. 

The article credits the success of these efforts to the educational programs in the parish, the reading of Scripture and popular books on spirituality.  Every month since 2009, they have had lectures by qualified people, which have been attended by many from the larger community.

Since 2007, the reading of spiritually oriented books has been extraordinary, which has made for a great change in the spiritual development of the Christians. The parish bulletin has recommended 76 spiritual books, and parishioners have  responded by contributing book reviews. And the religious goods store sold nearly 62 thousand books, about 40 books per household of those attending Mass on Sunday.

The money given in thanksgiving each month would be more than the Sunday collections and monthly offerings in the ordinary parish.In addition, the Seoul parish has helped other parishes and groups in the diocese with tens of thousands of dollars. And during the past year, they saw the start of 13 different presidia of the Legion of Mary. Certainly the Seoul parish has accomplished much in a very short time, and has much to shout about.  

The pastor is  quoted in the  article and  alludes to the educational programs and reading  that  have changed the attitude of the Christians. "They have begun sharing with  others. This is the new evangelization that is needed for the new times in which we are in."  he concludes.    

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Diminution of the Art of Communication

A sister columnist in the Catholic Times recalls one of the older members present at her lecture and what he said about a subway ride he had taken recently. He noticed that across the aisle from him was a child no more than 3 or 4 years old. She was sitting behind her father, he said, so her movements were not seen by the father.  When making eye contact with the child, he found that without a word being uttered there was a conversation going on between them. She would be playing hide and seek with him, coming out from the 'hide' with a  big smile. There was a long period of non-verbal communication with her, which surprised him;  even grownups, he said, say that his appearance scares them. This child was different. He felt that she could read his heart, and on reflection, he says it was like meeting God.

Hearing this man speak about the incident, the sister was filled with emotion. That child and the old man were doing something that is not common. With all our technical advances, this simple, unsophisticated communication between two people is disappearing.

We rarely look at each other. Riding the subway these days, almost everybody is somewhere else, absorbed in their own world: attending to the digital apparatus they have plugged into their ear and are glued to with their eyes. Everything outside of this virtual world has been shut down. As we are becoming more interested in entering an imaginary world, we are turning ourselves into isolated islands.

The sister asks what has brought us to this harsh reality. There are many answers to the question, she says, but one that affects many is the unlimited competition we face and the resulting insecurity of not being able to succeed in such a competitive culture. But more importantly, we are no longer the masters of our destiny but instruments, means to an end over which we have no control--civilization has become the master. All these gifts that we have received in communication technology should help us relate better with one another instead of separating us from one another.

My happiness, the sister said, depends on the happiness of the other and my love for the other. For the new year, the sister reminds us that  God often comes to us in the guise of the other, and we also are God's path to the other. This should be, she reminds us, our understanding of God's incarnation as one of us.

All those who know God in their lives are conscious that we are both conduits and receivers of God's graces: a message of great consolation and hope.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mature Spirituality

Writing in Living with the Bible, a professor of spirituality at the Catholic University asks what is of a higher order, spirituality, devotional life, or the religious life? His answer: they are all the same.

Provided we go to church because we believe in Jesus, then all our  acts taken together are our faith life. However, many see these acts only as exterior acts and then judge hastily that they have no interiority or depth. That is why we have the ranking of the life of faith.

What we used to call the devout life is now called the spiritual life.The word 'spirituality' came into common use during the second half of the 20th century. And it is now not only used within the church but used in all areas of society. Spirituality has to do with what is considered unusual and special; it's therefore often thought to be, though incorrectly, of greater worth than the devout or religious life.

In our tradition, the professor reminds us. we used the words 'asceticism' and 'mysticism'. The spiritual writers of the past considered the desire to be one with God the mystical journey. These words, however, are better applied in explaining  the spiritual life. But because of the misunderstandings of the past, the church chooses to use the word 'spirituality,' which, unfortunately, has its own problems.

Some time ago a survey showed that 90 percent of our Catholics go to church for peace of mind. In our present Korean society, there is a  search for psychological peace, which has influenced all of society. Consequently, many see the interior life as simply an aspect of achieving a satisfying and healthy life. So the psychologists become the spokesmen for the spiritual life.

The professor says that though we have hundreds of religions in Korea, for the  most part we live peacefully together. The reason for this, he feels, is that when any religion comes here, it's influenced by the Shamanism permeating our culture, which means, he claims, that it has not always been a worthwhile collaboration.

He recalls the words of St. Paul (Cor. 1-13): "Has Christ, then, been divided into parts?" And the words of St. Matthew (5:48): Our spiritually is one. We are called to be holy like God is holy.... In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect....We are called to resemble Jesus." 

These words, says the professor, sums up the spiritual journey we are on. God gives us the graces, and we respond in the practice of the virtues: faith, hope, and charity, the evangelical counsels and all the other virtues, to partake in Christ's mystery, and through Christ  to arrive at God with a new life.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Privilege of Helping Others

The 29th of January is Overseas Assistance Sunday, and both the Catholic Times and Peace Weekly interviewed Han Pia, who has made it her life's work to be concerned with others. She wears many hats, and recently became the first  president of the Korean Global Citizenship School  of World Vision.

She was selected by college students as the person they most respected in Korea. She has been considered a role model for the young and a good example on how to be an effective leader.  Her book March outside the Atlas has sold over a million copies and is considered one of the most influential books in Korea during the last 10 years. Instead of a 'global village,' she prefers to use the term 'global home,' which she feels is more conducive to getting us to see beyond our own country borders.

She has traveled around the world and written travel books on her experiences in the remote areas of many countries, and has participated in relief operations which she has written up in her books. During vacation periods, she travels to different Korean cities to give talks on poverty, human rights, multiculturalism, and the environment. Asked why she became a focus of  interest to so many, especially the young, she answers: "I was a nobody, without even a calling card. I'm surprised myself and anxious about what  has happened. I work  to the best of my ability. But isn't it right that I do not yet know what my limit is?" she asks in return. Expressions like these are what make her popular with the young.

Where are those persons without fear, consternation, or loneliness? she asks.  When we go on a road we haven't traveled before, there are no guidelines; we have to put ourselves in the hands of God. The more we are afraid and perplexed, the more we move closer to God.

In her lectures, she poses the question: why do we have two hands?  She answers that with one hand we take care of our needs and with the other the needs of others. It is not difficult to say nice things about sharing and love, and we can be moved by horrible scenes, but often it stops there. Is there any meaning to this kind of attitude? Finding meaning, she says, requires that we move our legs and our hands.

Last year the interviewer said that Catholics, on average, gave about 3 dollars for aid overseas. Pia says that the average meal in Korea costs about 5 dollars; 3 dollars are  not enough even for a full meal.  She hopes we will see a difference in the offerings in the future.

She hopes the readers of the Catholic Times and Peace Weekly will remember why we have two hands. She also hopes that all Catholics will realize they are conduits of God's blessings to those they meet. To think only of ourselves, she reminds us, is a shabby way to live.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reasons for Respect of the Other

A priest columnist of the Peace Weekly introduces us to a foreign bishop, now dead, who had a large following and was considered a model bishop. The column recounts several stories that have circulated about the bishop's life.

His cathedral had recently been designated a basilica, and during the inaugurating ceremonies, the bishop, in his sermon, was explaining to the congregation the signification of calling the cathedral church a basilica.  "It comes from an old word meaning king," he pointed out, "and so today we celebrate making this cathedral into a basilica, the house of a king. By the name change we are saying that Jesus, our king, resides here in this building."

On hearing this explanation, a young man in the congregation raised his hand and asked: "All churches have the Lord residing in them; why do we call one a basilica and the other a church?"

The unexpected question caused the bishop to hesitate, not knowing how best to answer. It was an older priest who answered the question, explaining that there are two kinds of sanctuaries: one built with bricks and stone and one built with flesh and blood--our bodies. Since they are the abode of the Lord, they also are basilicas.

That evening the bishop, on returning to the cathedral after being out with the young people for a drive--he had a great love for the young and they for him--saw a homeless person, apparently drunk, on the cathedral steps. Coming to mind were the words: "What are we going to do with this fleshly-made basilica?' He knew what to do, getting out of the car and bringing the man into his office.

This is just one of the many stories that have been told about this bishop, our columnist tells us. Persons are not commodities, not means to an end, but are themselves the end. He mentions that he hesitates reading news reports because so many are about children who have been ostracized and treated as things. Especially demoralizing for him are the stories that tell us about children who, because of failing to meet academic requirements, disappointing not only themselves but family and friends, have decided that the world is too stressful and a place where they no longer want to live.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Why has this deplorable situation developed? Is it not because we see people as means and not as ends?  When the media considers what and how to cover a news story, it is often money that comes into focus. When money is center stage, where is the person going to fit ? he asks.

Life is not to be squandered, cast away as if it were an outworn garment. It is God's will for us to live and, as we are told in scripture, "to live more abundantly."  Not to kill others is also part of his will for us.  When we enter a church, we take off our hats and offer homage. When we meet another person, shouldn't this same respect be extended to whomever we meet?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Authoritarian Attitude

Having an authoritarian attitude is usually considered a negative trait, and a parish priest writing in a bulletin for priests acknowledges that priests often hear about this observation, usually directed, of course, not at them but at other priests. In any case it is the priest himself who is most hurt by it, and it also hinders the growth of others he comes in contact with. He considers his goal in life to be always growing in maturity, but if the authoritarian attitude on his part is preventing others from growing, this is a serious problem in his own growth.

In his seminarian years he knew wonderful teachers but some acted toward the seminarians in ways that are hard to understand. Sometimes in class, questions that were not considered properly orthodox would not be seen by some teachers as an opportunity to dig deeper into the matter but would be a reason for personal attacks on the students. At times, it would even be a reason for a student to doubt his vocation. This authoritarian attitude on the part of a teacher can have long-term repercussions on the formation of the future priest.

When we come in contact with this authoritarian attitude, the chance to grow will be deferred. In not getting the warm and kind concern of the teacher, we in response expend all kinds of energy on the emotions that are engendered in such contact; it  is no help in growth.

The  writer admits that he also is not free from this criticism and tries to find the reasons for this in his own life. He can't get rid of the uneasiness in himself that he tries to overcome with this authoritarian attitude: lack of understanding the other, little expertise and  experience. What he knows and the way he lives his life are often different, making for difficult human relationships. He admits that he has not been able to remedy these problems in a healthy way: accepting the emotions  that come with the failures. He has tried to restrain these feelings and to protect himself. But with this troubling rupture in his relationships, he feels a lack of ease and intimacy when dealing with others.

Because of this pattern in his life, self-confidence and respect for himself has been weakened, with a weakening of his own control over himself. Anxiety suddenly comes upon him and brings fear. In this condition, there is a tendency to drink too much and to shield himself by putting on the armor of authority in an effort to mask and flee his condition. Others like himself who fail to examine themselves and take the steps to overcome the condition will, like himself, use these unhealthy ways of dealing with the situation.

He concludes that with this kind of attitude, we do harm not only to ourselves but to all those we come in contact with; a good reason to do everything we can to overcome the problem.



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Responses to Absurdities of Life

'Absurdity' in life affects us all in different ways. In a Korean daily a columnist explores how absurdity has affected a number of novelists. A foreign novelist, seeing the absurdities of life, has one of his heroes who is condemned to death lash out at a priest who is trying to console him. In another novel, the hero, seeing a young child with a contagious disease, angrily says to a priest: "That child has no sin and yet he is dying. There is no God."

The columnist says that modern novelists are hesitant to bring God directly into their writing but their fictional characters often allude to the 'disappearance' of God in life. He mentions three Korean novelists that have found their way to God. One of them, who died last year,  wrote essays on religion for the Catholic Seoul Bulletin.

"When my mother-in-law died," she once wrote," and was entrusted to the undertaker for making the funeral preparations, I was overcome by a feeling of grotesqueness. After death I didn't want that to happen to me and went on my knees to God." She became a Catholic in 1985 at the age of 54. She is also quoted as saying: "Lord, I have been told that if I want to be a light I have to be consumed. I will courteously refuse. I will be like a sunflower that moves in your light."

Another novelist, who is fighting cancer, is also serialized in the Seoul Catholic Bulletin. His battle with sickness has enabled him to see life in a different light. He had no joy and fear overcame him. But Jesus' words in the garden of Gethsemane helped, "My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me."

Fighting the cancer he expresses his fear, " More than the pain is the unending  worry and fear. 24 hours a day every moment is filled with pain." He realized that uneasiness and fear comes from thoughts of the past or the future, and brings to mind the words from Buddhism: "The mind of the past is not available, the present mind can't be possessed and the future mind can't be acquired." 

The novelist in his sickness met God's star. "God leads us to the precipice where we realize we have the wings of an  angel," he wrote.  He was able to overcome the pain of the chemotherapy. "This body," he continued, "is taffy in the hands of you, Lord, the taffy maker. Do what you want." Kneeling before God is not surrender but courage. This obedience shows us another side of the novelist's courage.

In conclusion he quotes the line from Matt. 6:34: "Enough, then, of worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has trouble enough of its own."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Preciousness of Time

'Time' was the subject of the poet's random thoughts in his recent column in the Catholic Times. Though he reminds us "... not to squander time for that is what life is made of, " he admits that to his shame he can't rid himself of the thought that 2/3rds of his time is squandered.

Time has not always been squandered for there are  times he has lived with great enthusiasm. These times are the oases in the desert, he says. He looks  back on periods of relief and light, which come from enthusiasm--the only thing that saves us from the  vanity of life. There is nothing like enthusiasm. he claims, that can give us  satisfaction and peace. Are there any recollections in life that give us more sweetness than those periods of enthusiasm experienced in the past? he asks.

We live in a place called time. Quoting from the words of the wise: Place has been united with time. That is the fourth dimension, he says,  seen by the wise of the past. Life is living  in the place of flowing time.

From these thoughts on time he has made a discovery.  'Possibility' has to do with the future and not the past. The quantity of time is also extremely important; the possibilities of 10 minutes with that of 10 years can't be compared.
The greatest possibility that a person can envision is birth. This may be why we look at a new-born baby with such awe and reverence. Time spent looking back into the past, as many of us do, will not, he reminds us, give us any possibilities. And at death, the entrance into quiet and peace, all possibilities end. Isn't this, he asks, a reason for our tears?

"The time that remains for me is my life," he muses. "It is the container in which I put my life's work. What kind of life do I want to put into that container? What I will put in that container will be the art of my life. It will be my destiny." This, he says, he can't change. Even if he tries to run away from it, this very running away will be a part of his life.

He finishes with the words from Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity!" It is hard to have a better description of life, he says. But at the same time he believes this tragedy can be turned into a beautiful masterpiece. This is the profound law of life that will be lived out in the mystery of time. Happy Lunar New Year!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

International Year of Co-operatives

The UN has declared 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives, in recognition of what the co-operative movement has accomplished in social-economic development in many parts of the world. Two installments of The Peace Weekly have been devoted to discussing the place of the co-operative movement in Catholic thinking and action.

Cooperatives--people joining together voluntarily to meet some common need--are jointly owned and democratically controlled. A Maryknoll Sister established, in 1960, the first Credit Union in Pusan, which did much to  spread the co-operative way in Korean society.

There are many examples of people working together in cooperatives to fill the needs of their members. We have had successes and failures but the determination within the Church to foster this movement continues to be strong. Examples of these co-operatives in parishes were listed in the article, which also disclosed that the necessary know-how and governmental help were not always present. However, the government has indicated that new legislation will offer co-operatives tax breaks and other financial help, which should see a  blossoming of the movement in Korea.

There are over 1 billion people involved in co-operatives in the world. In the compendium of the Church's Social Doctrine it is written: "All those involved in a business venture must be mindful that the community they work in represents a good for everyone and not a structure that permits the satisfaction of someone's merely personal interests. This awareness alone makes it possible to build an economy truly at the service of mankind and to create programs of real cooperation among the different partners in labor.

"A very important and significant example, in this regard, is found in the activity of so-called cooperative enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses, commercial undertakings featuring hand-made products and family-sized agricultural ventures. The Church's social doctrine has emphasized the contribution that such activities make to enhance the value of work, the growth of a sense of personal and social responsibility, a democratic life, and the human values that are important for the progress of the market and of society" (#339).

We are told in the article of the very successful Mondragón Co-operative that was founded by a young priest, José María Arizmendiarrieta, who arrived in the town of Mondragon, Spain, in 1941 to find that civil war had left the Basque region desolated. Today, the Mondragón Co-operative Corporation is the largest business corporation in the Basque region and the seventh largest in Spain, considering both sales and workforce. The young priest had the foresight to start by educating the first members of the co-operative to an awareness of the great benefits that could be achieved when everyone was intent on pursuing the same goals. This emphasis on education has proven to be the primary reason for the success of the movement.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Preparing for the Lunar New Year

Now that we are coming closer to the Lunar New Year, we are seeing more articles reminding us to clean our minds  and hearts of the debris that has accumulated since the last Lunar New Year. 

Writing in the Pastoral Bulletin a priest tells us a familiar story. A woman who had everything: good family, a comfortable living, and many friends, couldn't shake off a feeling of uneasiness. After counseling she realized she was not able to forgive her father for something in the past, but with knowledge and much effort there came the day when she did forgive and found the peace that had escaped her. 

When we hate, the priest reminds us, the arrow that we mean to use against another finds its way to pierce ourselves, as well. Korea has suffered much from influences both outside and inside the country, and that has left Koreans with feelings of  sorrow and regret, which they express with the word 'han'.

He recounts the story of a young man who lived during the  movement for democracy in Korea. He was imprisoned and tortured to get him to confess to being a communist. He hated with a passion those who were torturing him, but during that time, reading many books and reflecting much, he came to realize that those who were inflicting the pain also were being destroyed. They were being used by the immoral dictatorial rulers of the country to insure their own control of the country. With these thoughts, he was able forgive those who were torturing him.  

The  names of our enemies are carved in stone, it is said. The graces we receive are written in water. We are living with emotional scars and bitter feelings;  without being healed we will do harm to others and to ourselves.

With the new year coming the writer wants us to get rid of these negative feelings, to sublimate them. The meaning of han is a mystery to foreigners, because they have not been the recipients of the bullying Korea has experienced in her history. Following is part of the article on han that the bishop emeritus of Jeju-do wrote in 1986. Those interested can go to the following link for more information on something unique to Korean culture. http://www.marys-touch.com/truth/han.htm 

"What is this thing called han, which seems to be peculiar to Korea? No foreign word [or any one word] can adequately translate it, for it includes such different nuances as are conveyed by the words rancor, grudge, hatred, lamentation, regret, grief, pathos, self-pity, fate, mortification, etc. Han's exact meaning can only be grasped experientially.              

"Korean culture is the culture of hanHan flows in the blood of Koreans and manifests itself in Korean customs, literature, art, and in the melodies and folk music which hark back to home and youth, in the plaintive songs of the farmers, and in the cynicism, sarcasm and humor of the mask dances which make fun of the nobility. It is present in the tears of reunion or of separation, and we find it especially in the sobbing and wailing at a funeral...."


Friday, January 20, 2012

More than Teaching for the Head

Rarely does a pastor in Korea stay over six years in a parish, and the assistant, if the parish is large, usually remains  for only a  year or two. Consequently,  parishioners get to see many different priests because of the frequent turn over. A priest writing in the pastoral  bulletin tells us  about a priest with a doctorate in spirituality who was assigned as pastor of a parish that awaited him with great expectations.

However, though the hopes of the parishioners for the new pastor were high, it was not long before disappointment set in.  The sermons were lullabies that put the people to sleep, little could be used in their daily life. Instead, they heard about difficult theological points and abstract generalities that were hard to follow. Even his life appeared to be no different than that of his predecessors. He had human faults like everybody else, his studies seemingly having had little influence on his life. Spirituality was studied like any other subject matter; it was all in the head with little effect on how he lived. 

This is also true of the theology taught in the seminary. Instead of learning how to make theology practical and opening up parishioners to a fuller faith life, seminarians are more often exposed, the priest says, to a theology and catechetics that is detached from life. Many see this as the reason for little change in Christ-like living.  More than teaching for the head, we need those who are witnessing to the Christian life. These days we are hearing a lot about the need for a mentor and mentee relationship as something that should become part of our catechetical programs.

Teaching or coaching is a one-on-many relationship, while mentoring is one-on-one. In the field of art, we have usually had individual relationships between the artist and  the student artist. In medicine, there are interns and residents. And craft artists in many parts of the world still have the master-apprentice relationship, recognizing the importance of the learning environment by living in close touch with those who have succeeded in achieving prominence in their field of study. More than today, this was the way the wise of the past passed along their skills to their students. 

It is seldom that we find this approach being used in the Church. In the education of seminarians, in place of exposing the new priest to the pastoral life he will be living, examples are taken from foreign studies and from the pastoral work overseas. It is rare to have the handing down of experiential knowledge from pastor to assistant. The writer would like to see a closer relationship between priests to encourage the passing on of knowledge gained from experience.  We  forget that most of our teaching comes from theoretical knowledge, from books we have studied or lectures we have attended. But the knowledge that sticks is the kind we can directly experience. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Multiculturalisim in Korea

One of the popular movies now running in Seoul is Wandeugi, English title Punch. The desk column of the Catholic Times discusses the plot and moral of the movie. It is about the life of a multicultural Korean family. The mother, a Filipina married to a Korean who is hunchbacked, deserted the family after Wandeugi, the name of the boy, was weaned. He didn't learn about his mother's existence until much later in life. His homeroom teacher, whom he disliked intensely, was a neighbor who was always interfering in his life. This all changed when he learned that the teacher was helping migrant workers and brought about the warm reunion with his mother.

The number of foreigners in Korea is now over 1 million 200 thousand.  Of this number, we have 250,000 families, with 150,000 school-age children. The movie helps us to see these families with a new perspective.  Not only seeing them with a more sympathetic eye but as members of the same Korean society.

Because of the large number of foreigners, all are familiar with the hardships they face. 1.7 percent of the population are non-Korean. This is much less than other countries but something quite different from the old hermit kingdom understanding of Korea. The columnist asks the readers how far have we come to truly understanding the plight of the multicultural families within the Korean culture?

Last year the government's human rights committee had a questionnaire for 186 multicultural students, ages 8 to 26, in 22 schools and 16 organizations, and found that the majority did  suffer violence and discrimination.

The reason? Their pronunciation was strange, they came from a poor country, their skin color was different, and as a consequence they were looked down upon and were even  told to leave the country. 27 percent indicated that they wanted to quit school because of the prejudice.  In about 7 to 8 years one out of four will be a multicultural in the country-side. Growing up with serious  scars that have not been healed will not make it easy to adapt and live harmoniously with their neighbors.  Those who have studied the problem see this as a serious future problem unless solved.

She quotes a priest who mentions the traditional kindness shown in our society. This same kindness, she says, must be shown to the multicultural families who live  with us. She mentions an example in a religious school where the multicultural girls were asked to prepare food according to their own cultural ways. A good example of what can be done in the school.

We as Christians should be a  good example of how to treat those from cultural backgrounds different than our own. We know what our Lord said about being a stranger and being warmly welcomed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning From History

What can be learned from history? This was the theme of an article in the  recent Kyeongyang Magazine, written by a bishop with  a doctorate in  Church history. He recounts how he got interested in history while in the seminary, writing his thesis on the Protestant Reformation. He wanted to know  the reason for the reformation. This perked his interest in learning more about Catholicism and Protestantism.

Church history reveals a number of sad events, such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Galileo. The bishop  wanted to find out the reasons the Church took a path that was different from the will of God. He wanted to find answers to his many questions.

The questions were not easily answered. However, doing his studies in Rome, he began gradually to see things differently.  When you see the big historical picture, a larger understanding comes.

During his studies, he heard that a person without faith could not be open enough to study Church history. Church history is not just one part of world history or a study only of what humanity has done, but it allows a  place for  God's providence. History is a conversation with the past. From our present vantage point, we look into the past. However, doing so there are many things that have to be noted. We cannot  take our moral yardstick of today and condemn the past. One has to return to the cultural conditions of the past to correctly understand those times. Reflecting on the past from this vantage point and acknowledging our mistakes candidly will give us a  new horizon and hope for the future.

Pope John Paul II, the bishop reminds us, apologized in the name of the Church for the violence, persecution and mistakes of the past 2000 years at the beginning of the 3rd millennium. The Church has learned a great deal from history. In response many nations followed suit; especially of interest is the response of the Japanese Catholic Church in the  book What We Have Learned From History. The Japanese Church apologized to their Asian brothers and sisters for the crimes of Japan, but only a few in Japan are familiar with this  effort, which the bishop laments.

The article mentions that the aid to Japan from Korea after the recent earthquake was a sign of Korea's forgiveness for the crimes she suffered for many years at the hands of the Japanese.  

The bishop also mentions our own Catholic history and the incident of the only priest in Korea back in 1801. When three young men tried to save the Chinese priest by having one of them impersonate him, refusing to reveal his whereabouts, and moving him to different locations, they were killed. Learning about the killing the priest gave himself up to the authorities to stop the killing. 

These and many other historical incidents teach us a great deal and make  history  a valuable  textbook for learning what may lie ahead for us.            

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stopping Bullying Among Children

Recently there have been a spate of stories of children being bullied and sometimes taking their lives to escape from the abuse. What are we to make of this?  Remedies have been a topic of much discussion. The journalist writing on the subject in the  Catholic Times worries about his own school children.

Why have we not been able to put a stop to this? he asks. The specialists have introduced all kinds of solutions. With the emphasis we have put on achieving academic excellence, we have forgotten the importance of educating for character, for the whole  person. Our sudden progress in industrialization, finances, and knowledge has put the practice of virtue on a secondary level. Getting rich quick, pleasure-seeking, commercialization of sex, depiction of gratuitous violence in movies and in the news media, and a money-buys-all approach to life can't help but be a potent influence on our young.

And it will be our young who will be running the next generation. Our greatest help to them will be to understand them, determine what are their concerns and desires, their present internal conflicts, and to help them come to a proper appreciation of who they are.The columnist reminds us that the mass media is always talking about mutual understanding, dialogue; the magic wand that will cure all the problems. In most cases, working parents don't have the time to spend with their children, talking with them, trying to understand what is bothering them, just being with them. This is the reason for many of the problems destroying family life.

As part of the solution, the Church's effort to make parish life attractive to the young is on-going, making it a place where they are able to rid themselves of some of their stress and to recharge themselves for their life in society. Efforts made for  'one time big events' are no longer going to appeal to the young; they want and need to be listened to concerning the small but important to them daily events in their lives. 

Parents should not only teach about the faith life but be an example of this faith life in the home. The home needs to be a place where everyone will feel the warmth and intimacy of a shared life. Now is the time, he believes, for the older generation to begin solving the problems of the young by making their problems our problems. 


Monday, January 16, 2012

We The People

A columnist on the opinion page of the Catholic Times, who is also a professor and president of the teachers' pro-life movement of Korea, takes a look at some of the problems of our society, problems that he sees coming as we move from an underdeveloped country to take our place among the more developed countries of the world.  What should be our understanding of the so-called conservative and progressive viewpoints now dividing many societies of the developed world?  

Many have worked extremely hard for what they have achieved; it doesn't make much sense to have those who  have not made that effort to  ask those who have for help.This was seen recently in the election for mayor, where the central issue was whether free lunches should be provided for students. The columnist acknowledges that this was not only a welfare issue but was also intertwined with politics. The vote went in favor of the free lunches.

He reminds us that society has helped the wealthy to achieve their wealth. He also mentions that efforts were made in the recent election to distort information given to the public. There have been many efforts in the past, he said, when not all pertinent information on important issues has been divulged to the public. In a democracy, this should not be the case. Whether one is conservative or progressive, citizens have the right to have adequate information available to conscientiously elect those who will be running the country. 

To return to the question, why is it that the rich should give more of what they have to help the poor? Those who have received more, some would say, should give more because that is the uniquely generative power of a democracy.  Which can also be seen as a failure of democratic governments to provide full equality to its citizens. We have all seen from the history of the East and the West that those with wealth have often monopolized access to a country's material resources and have also become politically dominant to assure passage of laws that are predominantly self-serving.  

To act in a human way, our columnist reminds us, is to treat everybody the same no matter their background or their capabilities. Both those who give and those who receive should feel they are part of the same human family.  All agree the law of the jungle has no part of a civilized society. It would be a step in the right direction when all those who have also see the need to give, but the government also has the duty to see that all  achieve enough to live in a developed country.

The people, he muses, will soon have the privilege to act as 'king-makers' once again, as they gather this coming year to elect the 'king and his retainers.' It is important, the columnist says,  that the citizens in a democracy understand their role as kings.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bishop Emeritus--Bishop Dupont

In recent months there have been a number of articles and a documentary on Korean TV on the bishop emeritus of the Andong Diocese, Renè Dupont, a member of the  Paris Foreign Mission Society.

Bishop Dupont was born in 1929, in France, was ordained a priest in 1953 and came to Korea in 1954. He worked for 12 years in the Taejon Diocese and was elected the local superior of the Paris Foreign Mission Society in 1967. Two years later, he was made a bishop, the first of the Andong Diocese. He retired as bishop in 1990 and has lived a very simple life since, giving retreats and lecturing. He has helped many to appreciate their calling as Christians, and is  respected and loved my many.

The Kyeong Yang Magazine had a long interview with the bishop.  He made it clear he was not much interested in the past or the future but was interested in the present moment. Asked about past failings in life, he said that though they are not matters for an interview, he remembers no serious infractions of his conscience but many  small matters, which he brings to confession once a month. He has for his motto ' In Christ' and stresses that the number one virtue for a priest should be humility.

He acknowledges  a sensitivity for beauty: in nature, in personal dispositions, and in the teachings of Christ. He considered  himself one who has been struck with admiration and love for Jesus and admires all those who try to live the beautiful life, the meritorious life, no matter what they believe.

He does not like to use the word fortunate or unfortunate,  for in God's providence all things work together for good. Asked about his favorite book, he mentions the book of all books, Scripture, especially Psalms 8, 23, 63, 131, 139; Mathew ch. 5; Luke ch. 6; Romans ch.12; Ephesians ch.4-5; Colossians 3-4. Mature, he says, are  those who are honest, genuine, prayerful, patient, and serving others.  He asks the  young to be positive, happy, and to strive for a clean conscience. Don't just follow what others do and don't be afraid to be ridiculed. At the end, those who live well are recognized.

To the question on the present condition of the country, he feels there are few countries that can  equate to Korea in their quick material progress. But sadly, the general lack of joy in the country shows that spiritual growth has not accompanied the material. He  introduces us to the mission statement of the Andong Diocese: 'We live on this earth with an open heart, simply; consider life precious, share and serve others; work in the overflowing happiness of God's life."

He admires the work of the Catholic Church of Korea in its zeal, in its genuineness, and in its search for social justice. The negative would be its becoming too worldly. Society should imitate the religious values the Church teaches, he said, and not the Church imitating the values of society. When money and comfortableness become our aim, not all is well. The salt and light spoken of in Scripture have to do their work. The reason we are to be different, he said,  is that the Church "is a sign to be opposed" (Luke 2:34).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Deepening our Spiritual Life

Spirituality is a vast subject and a columnist in the Catholic Times has worked with the subject for many months and now applies what has been learned to understanding the inclinations of the heart. Using the works of Adrian van Kaam and his perspective of seeing the heart as having four natural inclinations: congeniality, compassion, compatibility and competence, he proposes that following the movement of these inclinations will lead us to deepening our spiritual lives.  

By Congeniality is meant our  congruence to the  image of God within.  It is to look for the God within and to rest in him. It is finding out who I am, and what I am to do. We are to rest in God. And by remaining in God, van Kaam means that we are to keep on searching for him. We are continually in search of God's will. Continually in communication (prayer) with him. Until we come to an understanding of our ultimate mission in life, we will not be able to act correctly, he says. When we don't know the final goal, we lose our way and life becomes a maze.
Inclination to Compassion  means that though we are weak, incomplete, limited  human beings with many emotional scars, and because of the suffering, we can reach out sympathetically to others.  We  need to be healed. We must try to understand and forgive, and be understood and forgiven. As long as we are confined to our body and mental faculties, we will not be able to grow spiritually.
Compatibility allows us to make those we come in contact with feel comfortable, avoiding critical and judgmental words that will make others feel uncomfortable. When we are not in harmony with those we are living with, it is because, says our writer, of a failure to be at one with God's will and to consider his will in our lives. When we have congeniality, compassion compatibility guiding the movements of our hearts, then the fourth quality of Competence will appear in our lives, bringing harmony. An orchestra does not remain silent but gives us beautiful melodies; so also when we have the  harmony of these elements the music will resonate in our lives. 

These four inclinations of the heart are gifts, a grace. This way of living will not only melt the 108 troubles of life (a phrase from Buddhism) but will give us 108 answers in grace to  answer these  troubles of life. By developing these four qualities so they work together in ever greater harmony will help move us closer to living a more abundant spiritual life. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another Side of Mountain Climbing

Koreans love to go mountain climbing and the spiritual page of the Catholic Times has the columnist introduce us to a religious brother whose passion is mountain climbing. The columnist has climbed with the brother, but  because of his body-build mountain climbing is a drudgery; however reaching the top  and seeing the vista is a thrill, and appreciates the brother's attachment to the mountains.

Half of the brother's vacation is spent mountain climbing,  sometimes going with his community members but more often alone. For him, climbing has become a spiritual experience. Those who love mountain climbing can't be attached to vices, he says, the aliveness of the mountain works on the greatest energies of the person to empty and purify them.

When he returns from  climbing, he is concerned with the  mountain climbing gear and sleeping bag. All the clothes and gear are cleaned, washed, his sleeping bag freed from all the sweat and refreshed. The equipment  has had decades of use. Looking on the way the brother cleans and cares for his equipment, one can easily see the attraction the mountain has for him.

However, the personal account was only an introduction to what the columnist wanted to say about mountain climbing. The brother is able by his mountain climbing to recharge himself spiritually-- appreciating  the fullness that comes with emptying oneself and finding in the providence of nature the presence of God.

He was told that to stay at the mountain shelters overnight would cost about 8 dollars.  Everybody  is the same, all are treated as equals. Everybody is invited to the same oneness and peace. However, the columnist regrets that because the gear and clothing for mountain climbing has become so expensive the climbers using the mountain shelters are told to keep their gear beside themselves while sleeping.  The cases of persons greedy for what they see makes this a  regular warning at these shelters.
There is no difference in the hearts of the climbers who love mountain climbing, but the gear shows the disparity between rich and poor. The columnist laments that mountain climbing in many cases has not been a place to empty oneself in preparation for the 'heroic' ascent but rather a place to show off one's equipment.
He pleads to the lovers of mountain climbing to keep mountains as places where we can find equality, camaraderie, and the shared exhilaration of a meditative experience. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Strength of Character--Fortitude

Our premier Catholic Magazine had an article on fortitude and education and how they relate to each other. The writer, a doctorate in cultural studies, mentions that a friend told him during a phone conversation that his son's bicycle was taken from him at school, and wanted to know what he should do. What did the son want to do? asked the writer.  The son wanted to go to the school to ask for the bike and the writer agreed, and if not returned should then speak to the teacher, he added.  But the father had problems with both solutions, worried that the son would be the object of bullying.

In this case, all worked out well for the boy. One of the worst things feared by children is getting known as squealing to parents: a big reason for bullying. The father was happy for his son but warned  that all does not work out  so nicely in life.

The way the father handled the problem was not the writer's preference. The writer would have liked to see more education emphasizing the need for courage and loyalty.  The reason for saying the one being bullied brings it upon himself, which is the common thinking of children, is not based on reality, he said. Children would believe that bullying is caused by a  lack of communication skills and living in one's own world. There is no way, he says, that this can be easily determined, and trying to rationalize what happens after the fact is, he believes, cowardly.  

He recalls Renè Girard and his theory about scapegoating. He saw it as the effort to shuffle off blame to another person to free oneself from guilt. He calls this the 'scapegoating mechanism.' Jesus, Girard says, fought against this, and did so by becoming the innocent baby lamb of the exodus. Jesus was the innocent scapegoat, and by accepting this freed all others who were being scapegoated. He should have put an end to scapegoating.

Jesus did not fight the injustice head-on but put an end to the scapegoating habit by his courage.  He put an end to the continuing reign of injustice and the rationalization of injustice by courageously facing it.
The writer asks what do we do in the Church when we are teaching our children? Do we encourage them to be courageous in facing difficulties and help them join others who are courageous? If the parish community  is not able to do it, are we  willing to introduce them to others who are?

The views expressed in the article are interesting since in the Catholic tradition fortitude  is one of the four  cardinal virtues. But care has to be taken not to fall into either of two extremes: rashness and timidity; virtue is midway between  excess and neglect; courage is a virtue  between rashness and timidity. No doubt our formation of character during our early years would tend to one extreme or the other. Hopefully, the way we have developed our personalities would enable us to distinguish between the two extremes. This would also be a reason why it is not easy to make a prudent judgement in the here and now on how to act in any particular situation. We do have, however, within Christianity those who we call saints who have given us examples of how to live, and, not forgetting our first textbook, the life of Jesus.   


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Korean Ancestors' Appreciation of Life

The culture of life column in the Peace Weekly goes back to  Korean oral history to pick out some of the customs that Korean  ancestors followed in showing concern for the environment. The columnist laments that the young are following indiscriminately the  ways of the West and have forgotten the meaning behind our customs.
Because of the ecological problems we are facing, going back to the ways our  ancestors respected and protected nature will help us to confront and eventually solve, he believes, many of these problems. He then reminds us of the ways they showed this in life--in their symbiotic relationship with nature.
There was the custom--when eating at cemeteries, during mountain climbing, or on a waterside excursion--of throwing some of the food on the ground. This was part of their belief in a spirit world  surrounding them. But the columnist makes note that the ones who benefited were the ants and other insects and animals.
This was also the case at the 'kosa,' a shamanistic practice of sharing food with one another and also with the spirits outside the house, with insects and animals mostly benefiting. And there was also what they called "food for the magpies." When they harvested fruit from the orchards, they would always leave some of the fruit for the birds and animals.

Their respect for life  was also seen in their taboos. When a magpie or swallow was killed they were thought to have taken on sin. When they confined a cicada they would have a dry spell. If you captured a bird that came into the house you would have a fire.  If you cut down a large tree you would die. If a large tree fell something bad would happen. If you burnt a lot of fire wood the mountain spirit would hate you. If a house plant died something bad would happen.  Digging up the earth without reason would bring bad luck.
They felt they would be repaid for kindness to animals. They personified the animals; you would not praise another animal in front of an ox because this would make him jealous. Farmers during the winter months would give the ox a hot bean and straw gruel and cover the ox with something warm.  They would be slow to slaughter their animals and even have rites for the animals when they died.  When there was snow on the ground and animals would come into the villages, they would not kill the animals.
We no longer follow these customs and there is no reason to do so, of course, but we should not forget, he says, that the loving concern our ancestors had for nature is admirable, and the same concern should be ours as well.                             

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seeing Beyond the Manger

Meditating on the Christmas scene many thoughts can come to mind, such as the helplessness of a baby, which is the thought a Catholic Times columnist wants his readers to consider.  A baby needs the help of others; without it the baby will die.
God came to us as a helpless infant. He came in a way that needed our help to live. He says to us, "I need clothes that will cover me, milk from the breast to nourish me, the warmth of a loving family to comfort me, and the joyful gaze to welcome me." This is the way God-man expressed his trust in, and love of, humanity. He could then grow in mind, body and soul because of the concern he received.
However, there are many young persons that are not that fortunate. In Korea  the number one reason for deaths among those  15 to 24 is suicide. In 2010 those under 19 years old who killed themselves was 353.   Statistics show that 10 percent of our youth (based on those answering a questionnaire) have had thoughts of suicide. The columnist lets us know that they are crying out, "It's too cold here....I'm not welcomed.... I'm not necessary....There's nobody that shows any interest in me."

The reasons given for the suicides: grades and preparation for college (37.8 percent), family problems (12.6 percent), loneliness (11.2 percent), financial problems (10.5 percent) and so forth.  There is even the pressure to volunteer to be of service to others. Praise is given to those who know how to take care of their own needs first; society is full of praise for those who are capable of fending for themselves.
Consequently, we need to be more concerned for those who are hurting, caring for the whole person regardless of status in life. Although there are many in society ready to give help, this has to be made known to the young. They have to know their problems will be kept private  and that they will be respected for who they are. Secondly, efforts to change the environment both in the families and the school have to accompany the counseling. Thirdly, there should be in place proven ways of providing help to students who are having difficulty in thriving under the established methods of study. Fourthly, there has to be efforts made to find work for recent graduates, and counseling for those who are unable to find work.
The columnist, who works in the field of welfare under Catholic auspices, wants the Church to take a greater interest in this problem.  The aim of Catholic education: to educate the whole person should be the incentive for the Church to be a leader in helping our students who are finding it difficult to succeed. These thoughts, he tells us, should expand our insight as we look at the Christmas scene.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Forgotten Questions

Two years ago Fr. Cha Dong-yeop of the Future Pastoral Institute of Incheon received five  sheets of paper, 24 questions,  written by one of the richest industrial tycoons of Korea. These questions were given to a priest friend of the tycoon for answers in 1987. The priest gave the questions to the then Catholic University rector who was going to meet with the industrialist, a meeting that never occurred because of his sudden death.  These are the questions that many years later Fr. Cha received from the one-time Catholic University rector. The  24 questions are the   basis for  the new book by Fr.Cha: The Forgotten Questions. 

Fr. Cha feels they are questions that all have wondered about at one time or another.  They all are questions about the nature of our existence, such as, Can you give proof for God's existence? If God loves us, why do we have pain, unhappiness and death? Why did he make some people evil? Why does he permit us to sin? If we don't believe in Catholicism, does that mean we can't go to heaven? Are the rich sinners? What is my reason for living?

We all have similar questions and do not always hear answers that are very satisfying. Fr. Cha during his recent sabbatical year spent time in  prayer and meditation preparing to write the book. He has divided the book into four parts, and in the prologue begins with the question which is behind most of our other questions, why do we have life?

The Catholic Times interviewed Fr. Cha on his reason for writing the book. It  is not meant to be a philosophical treatment of the subjects discussed, said Fr. Cha, but a book intended to be easily understood by the ordinary reader.

As soon as the book was published, he received criticism  that in these very sensitive times he is giving publicity to one of our largest business conglomerates, and being used. He answered that all his books use the same approach, an attempt to satisfy the thirst of  those living in the 21st century. We who believe in the Scriptures are told to give answers to what we believe, he said. To a priest, there is not rich or poor, high or low, but only those who are thirsting for a better life.

He uses the example of two celebrities who are very popular now in Korean society. Their message in comparison to what Jesus has given us, he said,  is unbelievably insipid and merely a temporary relief and does not satisfy the deep longing of our humanity. He feels that we are living in a generation with much anger. The Church should be one of the first to alleviate this anger and to satisfy the longing of our people for the spiritual. Our work is not only to criticize others and society, but to help bring about a new value system and lasting change. We have to keep examining  both ourselves and the world in order to see what the Church can give to society in our present reality. Fr. Cha has tried to do this by answering  the 24 questions.