Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lord Make me an Instrument of your Peace

Korean Catholics are familiar with, and enjoy reciting, the prayer for Peace of St. Francis of Assisi. A Catholic Times' columnist also finds the prayer consoling and reminds us of the well-known words:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair,hope;
where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be    consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Today, there are many who have difficulty experiencing peace. We tend to be easily upset and angered; hateful and fearful thoughts are common. And not only among those without belief but among Christians as well. Because of the difficult times nowadays, many are living lives without much peace and joy. 

The columnist believes that  without experiencing pain and the tribulations of life one will not know real joy. He compares life to a long journey, a marathon. When one puts off running because of some perceived difficulty, such as the wind, cold, heat, rain or storms, one does not relish the joy that comes at the end of the race.

Jesus reminded us that his peace is not like that given by the world. "Peace, is my farewell to you. My peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace" (John 14:27). It is a life lived with him. It is transcending our present conditions: not forgetting our difficulties but facing them with Jesus.

Existence gives off its own fragrance, and a proper attitude toward life makes that fragrance ours; our life history and vision will become our future and our ideals. Living today fully is what is important: to be thankful for the day, and to do all in our power to live each moment completely will bring us peace.

Friday, March 30, 2012

One of Korea's Hot Potatoes

 A journalist for the Catholic Times writes an opinion piece about the current 'hot potato' being passed around, dividing the country, the village and the Church. The naval base in Cheju  island also written Jeju, on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, is considered by some as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  The project to continue building the naval base has aroused strong opposition.

Environmentalists,  activists, opposition politicians, peace lovers, have all raised their voices against the project, the way it was begun and whether the naval base was needed in the first place. The opposition to the project by many Gangjeong villagers and by the larger Cheju, community has resulted in many arrests and imprisonments. The Catholic Church is also active in siding with the opposition.

Recently, Catholics went to Cheju on a walking pilgrimage and went to the Gangjeong village where they  saw the work in progress: excavators, trucks, and the like. The noise of the construction in the background the pilgrims looked out at the Gureombi Rocks--rocks that are considered by some to be a cultural heritage. Each of the pilgrims would have their different ways of viewing what was going on. Some would be praying with tears in their eyes, some with anger in their voice. Alongside those who were demonstrating against  the project would be those who supported the project; the clergy also being divided on the issue.
The lack of unity within the Church is  easily seen at the Gangjeong village. It is a school of learning for Catholics. As a journalist he sees so many crisscrossing opinions concerning  Gangjeong. We say the Church should be more active in  the world and yet  are afraid to do so:  a thought that he is not able to shake off. Embarrassingly, the solution to many of our current problems is forgotten; while perhaps 98 percent of Christians, he estimates, know what should be done, only about 2 percent have the courage to act on what they know.

The journalist feels that the fundamental problem is a lack of understanding of God, along with a lack of courage. We are not the persons we should be--persons sent out to evangelize but rather persons who are concerned about ourselves. He concludes with a quote from Hosea:  "For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, a knowledge of God, rather than holocausts" (Hosea 6:6). These words keep ringing in his head.  Without an effort to know God no sacrifice will be pleasing to him. The clue to solving our problems, including the current one surrounding the building of the naval base, can be found, the journalist believes, by opening ourselves up to a deeper understanding of God.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Flight from God

"Truth will make us free," a quote from Scripture that begins the columnist's Notes on Life, will be the source of our bliss, he says, if we live close to this truth.  However, we have to be careful in discerning its meaning; without understanding correctly we can be hurt.

Practicing truth we are also living the truthful life. But from the beginner's understanding to the loftiest, there is a great  variety of behaviors. We have many examples of this, and for a Christian Jesus is our prime example: living the  truth that overcame the natural attachment to earthly life.

This way of life requires the  preparation of the vessel and its capacity to be filled with the truth that makes us free; otherwise, with vanity, we will be faced with  embarrassment. The columnist dreams of this search for truth but not for martyrdom. He tells us of his own preparation of the vessel: not wanting to be lazy but  diligent, not wanting to be deceptive but always speaking the truth, not wanting to judge things foolishly but with a correct understanding, wanting to rid himself of greed, not indulging in overeating or drinking, be accepting of an empty stomach,and more than that, to enjoy the condition. And wanting, perhaps above all else (he is a poet), to write a better line of poetry. He considers all this preparation as bringing him coming closer to the truth. The columnist has bared his soul; he is striving for the truth, trying to achieve a little more than what he now possesses. He admits that his feelings are packaged with his own wrapping paper.

Living with self-discipline will not be detrimental to  a long life, he wants to reassure us. We know that overeating is not as beneficial as eating little, that competing  excessively, with its attendant stress, is not as healthful as living calmly with some uncomfortableness. In brief, the columnist feels that this faith life of accepting  blessings fits rather well into his philosophy of life.

The flow of civilization in the 20th and 21st centuries is decidedly against this disciplined approach to truth--not being particularly interested in things of the mind but worshiping the material. He concludes with the words of Max Picard who defined this age as "fleeing from God."

There are, he feels, too many temptations leading us away from truth. In the Analects of Confucius is found the phrase, "A virtuous man will have a long life."  In silence, living prudently, will they not lead to a long and fruitful life?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Unselfish Life of Service

Some years ago two nuns, Marianne and Margaret, left Korea to return to their home country of Austria. A bulletin for priests wrote up the story in the recent issue, perhaps to give us an example of service without seeking any return.

The nuns were asked in 1962 to come to Korea to serve leprosy patients on the island of Sorok. When they arrived, there were 6,000 patients and 200 children, and little in the way of medicines or persons to help them in their work. It wasn't long before they realized that their work on the island would be a lifetime task.

They arranged to take care of the infants, treated untold numbers, gave medicines even when the patients were uncooperative, treated wounds without gloves, and when surgery was needed they would call the necessary medical teams; they even prepared gruel for some of the patients and baked cookies. There were countless things to do for so many in need.

When Marianne and Margaret left, after forty years of service, the number of patients in the sanatorium was reduced to 600. The nuns came to Korea in their twenties and left as grandmotherly elders. They refused, during their many years of service, to be interviewed, to talk about their work, or to accept celebrations in their honor, following the instructions of their Lord and master. They were, however, recognized by their own Austrian government and by the Korean government.

The money they received from the Austrian Sisters Association was used to help those who, when cured, would be leaving for a new life outside the sanatorium.

When it came time for the nuns to leave the island they refused all farewell parties and took with them the single bag they came with 40 years before.They left early in the morning and,from a distance. seeing many of their patients on the shore waving farewell, they were overcome with emotion. They left because, being now old, they did not want to be a burden on anybody so they thanked all those who helped them over the years and all the members of the island community; and asked for forgiveness for any hurts they may have given anyone.

The Koreans are very thankful for kindnesses shown and when a priest, religious sister or brother leaves for another assignment, it usually is an elaborate send off, with gifts and nothing left undone. When one demurs, you hear the often-used proverb that even the guests and those who play the flute eat well at a farewell. It is difficult to refuse the many kind acts of those who were served. But the  two nuns knew what they wanted: an understanding of service that did not allow for these external demonstrations of love.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finding Ways to be of Help to the Needy

The  Chosun Daily newspaper profiled the religious life of a Franciscan brother. After graduating from high school and working in a small advertising company he  decided to leave it all and become a Franciscan. "What have I  accomplished now that I'm in my early thirties?" he asked himself. What have I contributed to society during those years?" These were the questions that led him to the Franciscans.

By becoming a religious brother he believed it would contribute to making the world a better place to live in.  At the age of 40, he enrolled in a nursing school. It was after becoming a Franciscan that he began to see the real plight of the poor and those who were sick. It provided the motivation for going to nursing school.

In 2008 he lived in the Philippines, on assignment, helping out in a poor area of the country. . It was during this time that he saw much that changed the way he saw life.  On one occasion, he went with a medical team from Korea to an out-of-the-way mountain village. Because of the unpaved  roads it took them a whole morning to arrive at their destination. A  young man with a growth the size of a fist on his ankle came to see them. For the young man it was just the  start of  serious problems. Why did you not come before?  he was asked. Money was his simple answer. 

In the nursing school of a class of 300, there were only 20 males, and he was the oldest. Studies did not come easy and he remembers the phrase from the past the "black are the words the white is the paper".

During the studies he kept up all the duties he had as a brother in his community. During his first year he never went to bed before two in the morning. He would get up at five to do his duties and go on to school at nine. During the second and third years he went to hospitals for practical training and would not return to the monastery before 10 at night  Last month he received accreditation as a nurse.

This year he entered a program to receive a bachelor's degree in nursing. In the fall he will be going to a monastery to take care of the older members of the Franciscan community and hopes also to be of help to the sick in the surrounding  community.  Some day his dream is to go to the North.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Women in Korean Catholic Seminaries

Most of us would not expect to hear women's voices in Catholic seminaries in Korea, but if they were to visit the campus of the Seoul seminary, they would be surprised. Their voices have been there, and plenty of them for the past 40 years, the Peace Weekly reports. Seminaries traditionally have been where men were educated for the priesthood; we now have religious and lay people studying along-side the seminarians.

Two of the lay  students when asked why they chose to attend a seminary responded first by saying that it was a question they had heard often. One said she wanted to come in touch with the basics, and that God was the adequate subject of such an inquiry. The other said she wanted to confront and solve the problems she faced in life, and believed the answers to those problems could be found in the study of theology.

Another said she believed it was necessary to get rid of the dreams of what campus life would be. There are no couples walking hand in hand, women  do not use much makeup nor do they go to classes with short skirts. One of the women remarked that this would be a distraction to the  young men.

The atmosphere is controlled by those who are studying for the priesthood, so there are limits that are set. The non-seminarians are only allowed to go to the lecture hall and the library. At lunch, the seminarians eat separately, provoking one of the female students interviewed to admit that it was not to her liking. Up until third year the seminarians are not allowed to leave the property, and after classes must return to their dormitories.

The study load is equivalent to what a third-year high-school student needs to take in preparation for college exams. 8 to 10  subjects are taken during a semester. The required subjects take most of the time, one of the students said. Homework is not excessive, but more time is required to prepare oneself for the philosophy classes. One of the women said that taking Latin, Hebrew and Greek for those who are not accustomed to the study of languages is difficult, but that was okay with her because she believed they were necessary to understand the Scriptures in depth. 

One of the lay students said that he  did not feel he belonged, but the way the professors treated the lay students made us want to study. Working on the  studies and aware of God the difficulties are overcome, he said.

A big problem for the Church in Korea is how to take advantage of these many young people with degrees in theology. This is one of the worries that the lay students are faced with as they proceed through the course. One of the  professors, expressing the same concern, said that the need was for more students with master and doctoral degrees, but where will they have an opportunity to work? he asked. At present, there are 216 students in the seminary and 72 are laity. At the graduate level, there are 151, of which 45 are laity.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Distinquishing Between Essentials and Non-essentials

Historical dramas depicting the time of the Chosen dynasty are very popular on Korean TV. The desk columnist of the Catholic Times, after being away from the country for a  number of years, comments on seeing one of these dramas and the importance given there to the expression 'royal command' often used.

Before the use of the expression, there would be bickering and discussion among the retainers but once the royal command was issued all were quick to obey. There was no longer a desire to see things differently. They recognized the authority of the king. To do otherwise was to be a traitor.

Why doesn't the king from the very start say this is a royal command? Wouldn't it save a lot of trouble and energy on the part of the king? the columnist asks.  Isn't it  the  king's intention, before using his omnipotent power, to have unity and harmony among his people?

During the Chosen dynasty one of the means of deciding the outcome of any deliberation was to discuss the problems of the country with the retainers and come to an agreement, or to let the crown prince, with the help of tradition, make the decision at some future time. Discussion of ideas led to an agreement on a way to act. Consequent to this we had the royal command which was the  summation and judgement of the discussion that preceded.

The columnist wonders if by overly using the royal command unilaterally, the king's regal authority was not in some way decreased.  He mentions the often cited phrase: "Unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things." These are the words of a 17th century Archbishop, Marco Antonio de Dominis, in his book on the Church.  Necessary things, the essentials,  the columnist considers to be few in number; doubtful things to be many.  However, he points out that where one chooses to place one's attention will result in different understandings. 

We should not be fearful of discussion in areas of doubt. When we combine what is essential and what is in doubt, and fail to make a distinction between them, we are not, he says, being charitable. The columnist clearly has a desire to address the executive part of government and its 'royal decrees.'

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Attitudes Necessary in Helping the Needy

There is no rest from a ringing telephone, reports the columnist in the Catholic Times, in his Catholic Social Welfare Center. They are receiving applications from those interested in becoming registered care workers. Besides the applications there are calls asking about expenses, requests to shorten the time of the programs, the possibility of  accreditation without the need of attendance.

When the answer is they not only educate care workers but have a responsibility to consider those for  whom they will be working, many  opt for another program. The center is interested in making the the programs  financially self supporting, but it is much more than finances. They have to be true to their mission. Why are they in the business of training care workers in the first place?

The principle of Catholic activity in social work is God's  creation which  was made good and God's  love for creation. Especially humans in which he made after his likeness, precious. Human dignity: for a Christians based on  Christ  "he worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved."

From the Second Vatican Council we have a number of principles that the columnist  elucidates as the reason for the Church's interest in  works for human dignity:

1) Respect for the liberty and dignity of those helped. (On the Laity #8)

2) All humans are fundamentally equal, their rights should not be engendered because of difference in gender, race, color, social standing, language,or religion.Modern World #29

3) Welfare works should not be for the benefit of the Church or individual Christians, efforts needed  to avoid the temptation to control  those helped. (On the Laity #8)

4) God intended the earth and all that it contains for the use of all humanity. Thus, as all men follow justice and unite in charity, created goods should abound for them on a reasonable basis. (Modern World #69) The demands of justice should be satisfied, lest the giving  of what is due in justice be represented as the offering of a charitable gift. (On the Laity #8)

5) Not only the effects but also the causes of various ills must be removed. (On the Laity #8)

6) Help should be given in such a way that the recipients may gradually be freed  from dependence  on others and become self-sufficient.( On the Laity #8)

7) There is a need  to seek out those in need of help and find them, console them with eager care and relieve them with the gift of help. (On the Laity #8)

8) There is a need to cooperate will all those who share these  values that Catholics hold. (On the Laity #27)

9) There should be a unity in these  works of welfare and the hierarchy of the Church. (On the Laity #23-25)

In the work  for the needy  it is necessary that those being served experience the love of God in service and  care, and nothing should compromise this help.The education that is given has to show this love and respect for  those in need and should continually grow. For a Christian it should be sufficient to say that we are ministering to Jesus.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prayer and Knowing Onself

"You do so much praying, why is it that you live the way you do?" is the central question posed by a seminary professor in his book Know Yourself,  recently reviewed in the Catholic Times. It's a question for not only lay people but for those who devote their lives to prayer: priests and religious. 

Living the life of faith without maturity, and other obstacles in our approach to God, can be explained in many ways.. However, if we look deeply we will see, the professor believes, that it usually involves a failure in knowing ourselves, causing unnecessary pain for others and ourselves. Knowing oneself and prayer are thought to be, unfortunately, two completely different approaches to life. 

The priest emphasizes that being aware of who we are, especially in these days, is important to Christians. He wrote the book, he said, to remind us that if we are to love and experience God, it has to start with knowing ourselves.

He shows, by citing the Scriptures, that a life of prayer doesn't always result in worthwhile changes in our life. In getting to know ourselves, it's helpful to have small-group sharing and time set aside for meditation. The book goes over the traditional teaching of the Church on this subject and the various psychological methods of self-healing. 

There are many zealous Christians who have a distorted opinion of themselves and suffer from a feeling of inferiority. Many have little self-respect and torment themselves and others for they are not in touch with their feelings.

Hindrances to our maturity, the professor says, can be eliminated once we are able to see some of the problems in our examination of self: probing the inner life; we will have come a great way in remedying the problem. Prayer and  further meditation will then become more useful in helping us overcome the obstacles to growth.

Knowing ourselves we will come to understand the changes that normally take place in our spiritual life, and be better able to deal with the jealousy, envy and pain that come with ignoring our inner life. This can be overcome, he says, if we humbly acknowledge that we have been searching for our own wills and not the will of God.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Learning from Experience

"Experience is one of the best teachers." Most of us would agree, and we often search out those with experience to help us move ahead in our field of interest.  The spirituality column in the Catholic Times introduces us to a priest whose experiences of life the columnist thought worthy of passing on to his readers.

After graduating from a secular college, he entered the seminary. Because college study had been no problem for him, he thought that would be the case in the seminary. The first two years he continued the methods of study he was used to, but in third year, during the study of philosophy and theology, all changed.  His classmates gave him the nickname 'worry wart'. During the second semester he received a 30 in an exam; a perfect score was 100. It bothered him a lot though he did say there were others who received the same grade.

Many of the students laughed off poor grades, simply increasing their efforts, but it brought change into his life in a different direction. He decided to change his interests and paid more attention to the natural world, to the trees and flowers on the seminary grounds.  He prepared seed beds for flowers and transplanted the seedlings in different areas of the seminary yard. He spent time trimming the trees on the property. Since the professors would comment on his not studying, he would work out of sight on the large seminary campus.

He realized, he said, he had been studying to pass the exams, and not studying to learn; grades seemed to be the determining factor for everything.  Working close to nature he got rid of his stress, found peace, was in touch with himself and more honest in his relationships. Close to  nature he became open and easy-going, and found that he could learn more than was  possible in the past. His grades also did not suffer. The columnist finishes the column by noting that those words of the priest, whose simple and warm personality he admired, have continued to echo within him over the years.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wisdom Gathered from the Ages

Continental drift is a theory that maintains that large landmasses are slowly moving and have done so continually for ages. There was  a single landmass called Pangaea that split up tens of  millions of  years ago, and the resulting continents eventually drifted to their present locations.  Alfred Wegener (1880-1930) introduced the theory of continental drift in the early years of the 20th century after he closely looked at the contours of the different continents and saw how they could fit together like a jig saw puzzle. The theory in the early years was ridiculed, but 30 years after Wegner's death it has gained many adherents.

A professor in a college engineering department, writing in The Kyeongyang Magazine, wants us to reflect on how the theory, if true, might affect the way we see life. The theory of plate tectonics, which is accepted by all, explains that the continents move a few centimeters each year. This understanding gives added scientific probability to Wegner's theory of continental drift.

By considering the number of generations since the appearance of humanity about 2 million years ago, the professor estimates that there have been 30,000 generations of humans. In the eyes of the creator, all is alive and moving; in our eyes, it does seem that all is at a standstill, muses the professor. The creator can see a part of humanity as being very near-sighted and the primary reason for the mistreatment of nature and the world. We are part of nature; here for only a short time. Is this not the reason, he asks that Jesus come to be with us?   

A Christian who was poor went before the altar in his church and  began praying with great sincerity: "All powerful Creator, you see all of us as small in your eyes. To you, 100 years are like one second, and one million dollars is like one penny.  Please Lord, give me just one penny."  Shortly after he heard the words: "Yes, but just wait 1 second."

We know that God is not limited by time as we are. The professor wants us to see our earthly reality with the eyes of God from the  perspective of eternity. With humor the professor brings our attention to the movements imperceptible to us but none the less
happening continually. "Eyes do not see all that is."

He concludes with examples of being hurt by rebukes from others and being scarred, often making all kinds of resolutions to live the ideal, obedient and loving life, resolutions that turn out to be only empty words.  We forget our place  in the big cosmic picture. More effort, says the professor, should be directed in being patient, wise and humble.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is My Life Beautiful?

Is My life Beautiful?, a new book by a Korean Benedictine Sister, has been reviewed in the Catholic Times.  So Heui-suk has lived the religious life for over 40 years and now has written her first book. She laments that the word 'wonder' is rarely heard. She feels that most of us don't see and thus don't experience the beauty that is all around us. She wanted to answer the question she posed for herself in her book: is the life we are now living beautiful?

All life is a mystery, she says. A crystallization of love, as she described the mystery--a mass of beauty and holiness. It's not our job to rid ourselves of this beauty, she says, but to enjoy it. And the I that I am, she tells herself, should be, first of all, the one who should be living this beautiful life.

Her experiences have been many; much of it becoming the basis for her book, including her missionary work in Africa and India. She is now responsible for a center for refugees from North Korea.

Sister would like all of us to see the beauty of life as our calling, as a vocation. The society we live in today has much distortion and perversity, which is the reason she concentrates on nature. Even though we have done, because of greed, much damage to nature, it renews itself and by self-cleansing has much to teach us about our own renewal.

Humanity of course is part of nature. But we can misunderstand our rightful role by treating nature in any way we please, forgetting that our bodies will return to nature, becoming food for the tiny creatures inhabiting the earth.  My life on this earth is just the briefest moment in time, she reminds us, compared to the age of the universe. Our lives on this earth should be, she says, a dance to life, and we should be enjoying each moment of the dance.

To live the beautiful life, the sister believes that pain is necessary, that experiencing pain helps all of us to achieve this kind of life. Living the beautiful life means we have to practice love of our neighbor, and when we see what is wrong in ourselves and the world, we should want to correct it and do what is right. We should, she says, be living in the center of the world and doing all that is possible to have all enjoy the beautiful earth that we have been given.

She feels that when we have the right relationship with nature and see our place in the totality of life, we will have the proper relationship with all our brothers and sisters. We are called to live a  life of sharing.  And especially those with faith are called to this life of sharing, there should be no hesitation on our part to run right to the center of the world,  where we are to live this life of love.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A New Beginning for a New Evangelization

Attempts at self-improvement are always valuable and welcomed. Our Catholic bishops have set their sights on life-long educational programs for clergy. An article and an editorial  in the Peace Weekly report that these programs have been in effect in many dioceses for years in the form of retreats, seminars, and sabbaticals, but that the bishops wanted to establish the programs nationally to give them more importance.

An e-mail recently received contained the well-known  poem "Desiderata," written by the American Max Ehrmann, and introduced as being on the wall of the Pope's studio. A good preamble to the programs would be one of the following lines from the poem:

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
Do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

A national program will allow for variety, a more systematic approach to renewal, and a decrease in the expenses and use of personnel in the dioceses. It will also facilitate the fellowship of the clergy beyond diocesan borders. Programs will begin this year with retreats and seminars; the number of programs for the future will be determined by the attendance this year.

Blessed John Paul II, in the Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests, expressed the need for providing our priests life-long educational opportunities, citing as reasons the rapid changes in society, the difficulties of accommodating our methods to the culture of the times, and assuring that the call to the priesthood is based on human maturity. 

Others who have worked in this area in the many research centers of the dioceses have expressed themselves similarly, especially pointing out the need to understand postmodernism, and how to deal with it and the growing secularization of culture, a vibrant atheism, and priests not acting as servants to the community but with an  authoritarian attitude. With overwork, priests can act like mere functionaries or misguided activists. Without a deep spirituality, anyone can become a victim of loneliness and listlessness; even disease, laziness, and burn-out can appear, and habitual behaviors can easily take over.

The contents of the programs will concentrate on humaneness, spirituality, knowledge, and pastoral sensitivity. The article, quoting Blessed John Paul II, said that unless the human element is present in any educational program then all the rest will be going into a  a pot without a bottom.

The editorial hopes that this new effort will be a way of recharging the priests as they begin the new evangelization here in Korea.    

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Learning from Modern Dance

Modern Dance, begun in the early 20th century, is a dance style that allows for the dancer to express feelings through movement.  It does not have the structure of  traditional ballet dancing and is not limited in its movements. A priest writing for the Catholic Times discusses his congregation's dance academy, and his own attempts to acquire some ease with the dance movements, a new and challenging pursuit for him.

He admits that his interest in the beginning was to lose weight but this quickly changed into wanting to get rid of blocked feelings that had built  up over the years. Classes began with 40 minutes of stretching exercises which he found difficult, using muscles he had never used before. However, at the end of the stretching his body felt so light it seemed that he could fly if he tried. The stress on the body and mind was gone; he was becoming acquainted again with his body in a new way.

Jumping, stretching, moving in circles with the elasticity of the body, he learned the fundamental moves. Moving the lower body and the  upper body, and shortly it seems the body knows what to do on its own. The columnist is reminded again of the truth that there are basic ways of doing practically everything.

The teacher reminds the students often: "Do the movements to the best of your ability." He feels that someday he will be able to give expression to his feelings with the body.

One day the teacher asked the class to use the length and width of the hall and just walk with ease, comfortably and freely. Hearing these words he became perplexed and his body tightened up. He had always wanted to live with internal freedom and with ease, but the words of the teacher made him freeze. There was no textbook, and she was not telling them exactly how to do the walking, leaving it up to the students to do it as best they could. Not knowing what to do, he felt lost.

He looked around to see what the teacher was doing and tried to imitate her movements, drawing a laugh from the teacher. He was looking for the proper moves; how far to bend the knees, what to do with the arms and hands, what should be the proper facial expression, and so forth. Many of us like to believe we have the right answers not only concerning how to move on a dance floor, but concerning most of life's questions.  But the older we get the more likely we are to realize that the correct answers to most of our questions are not always there.

There are times we have to go beyond the proper answers, and look to what is more human and improve the values that we have. The Pharisees and lawyers at the time of Jesus thought that they had the correct answers, and Jesus had the wrong ones, which allowed them to put him to death. The columnist hopes that he will rid himself of the heavy baggage, personality impediments and attitudes, that prevent him from being free and transparent in his life.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Essence of Character is Relationships

Being sensitive to the feelings of others, being concerned not to offend, is generally considered good advice.  At times, however, some of us do not always find it easy to follow. Pastoral workers especially find it difficult when commenting on the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church in areas that can be upsetting to many. Furthermore, speaking the truth found in sociological and other scientific studies to those who see that truth differently is often seen as a lack of compassion, sensitivity and understanding, as not being the charitable thing to do.

An article in the  Peace Weekly, headlined "Happy Parents Make for Happy Children," considers the words of a religious sister, a member of  a family research center, that would be upsetting to many.

A strong, mature relationship between husband and wife, the sister says, will determine the character of the children. The way children relate with their classmates at school will be greatly influenced by what they see in the  home. When the relationship with others is a problem, she says it is, for the most part, because the relationship between the parents is not good.

The sister, a professional counselor, has found during her years of counseling that when communication between the parents is good, the relationships of their children with others is likely to result. The problem is no different, the sister insists, whether the child is a victim or a perpetrator of bullying in school. Both are victims of parental disharmony in the home, and what was learned at home is what the children will act out in school.

The essence of character, sister maintains, is molded by our personal relationships,  To have a good relationship with others, a person must first understand their  own preciousness and dignity. All of us have a desire to be loved and recognized; without this we are lonely and easily traumatized.  

Parents, it must be kept in mind, she says, should be sensitive to what the children really want, but this does not mean doing whatever the children ask for. If they desire a famous brand name item, it's good to remember that it's because they want to be recognized as special and accepted by their classmates.

Children, from grammar school to college, generally form their relationships around some aspect of play. Recognizing this, parents need to engender a sense of responsibility that involves other aspects of life; without doing so, a mature sense of responsibility is likely to be missing. When parents tell their children to go to church, for example, but there is no time for prayer in the home or a lack of love, there are bound to be problems. When the parents are living a happy life, this will likely be what is passed on to the children.

Sister reminds us that the home is the first community, the first church, and it is there that children learn the values of love, respect and service to others.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Preparing for the Future

On the opinion page of the Catholic Times, the priest-columnist expresses his surprise on hearing that the Kodak Company declared bankruptcy. He reminds us that the main reason for the collapse was the company's inability to keep up with the digital camera boom, despite having developed the digital camera in 1975. Because the new camera did not require film, its best-selling product, they let others take the lead and were not prepared to respond effectively when the public left the conventional for digital.

The columnist uses this example of unpreparedness for something that will also come to pass when the names of the beloved hometowns of many will disappear from the map. The government is planning to change the local administrative system because of duplication in finances, to gain more efficiency and prepare for unification of the North and South. This plan has been on the books for many years and is seen as needed by both government parties.

This will also mean combining territorial areas under different names. It will be not only a vertical reorganization but a horizontal merging of territories. Currently, there is a great deal of discussion and disagreement concerning how to go about implementing the plan, but some day soon it will be a reality.

He hopes the Church is now preparing for the eventual territorial changes, for there will be changes in diocesan lines, necessitating name changes that without  preparation will prove very disconcerting for many.

Whenever we have changes, there is always a danger of preparing for the new and discounting the old in a way that causes confusion and misunderstanding, and not only with the territorial changes being discussed here. The hope of the priest is that this will not be the case within the Church, following the proposed territorial changes. He gives us the words that Patriot Ahn Joong-gun wrote three days before his death, taken from  the writings of Confucius: "if one does not plan for the future, one will face many present worries."  He hopes these words of Patriot Ahn will be taken to heart by the leadership in the Church.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Gives Meaning to Life?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" are the words that begin the Beatitudes, and which the columnist of the "Half Transparent Notes on Life" in the Korean Times finds reason for great joy. They bring consolation to him and a reason for avoiding the unruly enticements of life.

This one verse of the Beatitudes sums up, he says without fear of exaggeration, the meaning of his life. And if he could possibly achieve the goal it describes for us, he would, he says with all the sincerity he can muster, give up his life for it..

The columnist has expressed this same feeling in his other writings. He recalls a novelist appearing on a TV panel show who mentioned that someone had said that "knowing the poor can be happy gives meaning to life."  The novelist went on to say that she couldn't understand how anybody could say that. What is so good about being poor? she asked. The columnist laughed on hearing this, knowing that she had read what he had written.

Her words, he says, are understandable. Who in the world, including himself, would say that poverty is good? Everybody is striving to do away with poverty. However, despite the good intentions of many to achieve equality the poor still greatly outnumber the rich. 

He goes on to tell us the reasons this verse from the Beatitudes is so important in his life. He understands it as giving voice to those who are without power, in a world that is ruled by those who have power--financial, social, political and military power.

In the past, he had favored the thinking and goals of the powerful, but early on gave them up; not only because he was not gifted with the capabilities of the powerful. But realizing that this was not in line with the truth, he decided to side with the powerless, and came to understand that, paradoxically, it is the powerless that have true power--truth is on the side of the powerless

Lao-tzu wrote that "the greatest virtue is to be like water." The columnist sees this as similar to what Jesus expressed in the Beatitudes. When water comes up against some obstacle, it doesn't expend effort in struggle but silently and in time overcomes the temporary hindrance. Water takes the posture of the weak and overcomes the strong.

But no matter how much one tries, the columnist insists, it is impossible to say all that is included in the phrase: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The fascination it holds for him can't be captured by simple paraphrases, he says, and wonders if its profound meaning somehow comes from our knowing its divine source rather than believing it came from human thought.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lent and Lectio Divina

During Lent many desire to deepen their prayer life. A Benedictine priest who has written on prayer was interviewed by the Peace Weekly on its proper place in living a Christian life. His wise words: "We have to learn how to pray and work at it continually until, unknowingly, prayer will come to us naturally."

For over 20 years he has made a study of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) in  the early days of monasticism, and has written and lectured on the subject, enabling many to enter this world of prayer.

Asked what would be his definition of prayer, out of the many that we have, he said it would be dialogue, the interaction between God and ourselves, a lifting up of our hearts to God, completely, and preparing ourselves to hear the response. Solitude and silence, he says, are necessary for this encounter.

The interviewer mentioned that since there are steps and levels of prayer, how do we develop our prayer life? Many, the priest said, use a prayer book for their prayers and are at the level of asking for blessings. How can we go deeper? In the books on spirituality,he noted that nine steps are usually mentioned;  the journey begins with vocal prayer and ends with the prayer of transformitive union.  The higher the ascent the more God's activity is seen, and the more passive we become. God does the leading.

Contemplation, he says, is not reserved for a few but is for all. If we stay with the reading of Scripture and meditating, God will lead us to the higher levels.  Lectio Divina is reading the Scriptures with  our whole being, having it  become part of us. As St. Jerome said, if we do not know the Scriptures, we will not know Jesus.

If we divide life, as we usually do, into daily life and faith life, the interviewer asked, will prayer bring them together? The priest answered that life should not be compartmentalized into prayer life, service to others and everyday life.  It is all one. If we take the readings of Scripture that the Church gives us daily, and have them accompany us in our lives, our spiritual life will benefit greatly. We will have harmony, and all  will tend to unity.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From Loser to Healer

Alcohol-related problems are many, and programs to solve the problems are constantly being established. One of the best-known and successful has been the '12-step program'. The Peace Weekly reports on how one man, using the 12-step program, could  free himself from his addiction to alcohol, and is now helping others to do the same.

Joseph was 36 years old when alcohol made him a dropout from society. He was a graduate of a prestigious university, a recognized expert in computer science, and taught at a technical college for about  ten years. Because of his drinking, he lost his job and his marriage fell apart. His family recounts the time he spent in a mental hospital, but the help he received there was not enough to overcome the habit. 
Alcohol dependence is part of his family history, Joseph said.  His father, the president of a college, had to leave because of drink.  Joseph was dependent on drink from his college days. Even when he was a professor at the technical school, he would, during a lecture, take time out to drink.  And there were many times during his ten years of teaching when he did not show up for his lectures, and often was in and out of hospitals seeking treatment. In one year, he was admitted to a hospital 23 times.
Pride he considers his biggest problem. He thought he could control his drinking, and for a year or two he was able to go without drinking but would eventually succumb to the habit. He even took courses in order to conquer the habit, acquiring in the process all the credentials necessary to be a therapist in pastoral counseling and drug abuse therapy. He did in fact, using these credentials, find work as a therapist in a counseling center and in hospitals. At the same time, at the end of the work day, he would go to a bar for a few drinks. 

After hitting bottom in 2002, the day did come, with God's help, when he finally stopped drinking, and he hasn't had a drink since. He realized that it was beyond his power to conquer the habit. And with trust in God all changed. He started the 12-step program here in Incheon, and for those who can read Korean his 12-step program  is now helping many to become sober:

Joesph runs the center with the money he receives from lectures and from writing. More than 70 families are being helped at the center, and others are getting the necessary help, so they can help others in overcoming their dependence on drink. Joseph says he finds the greatest satisfaction in his work by knowing that he has helped a person break free of the same shackles that imprisoned him for so many years, returning him back to his family and to society.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Catholic Marriages

Doing a good thing for the wrong reasons is very common. A Korean secular paper thought it newsworthy to discuss the reasons for the popularity of Catholic Church weddings. According to the article, the desire of many to have their marriage ceremony in a Catholic Church motivates them to be baptized, not the best of reasons for becoming a Catholic.

Old churches with a colorful history and beautiful exteriors are especially attractive to those planning marriage, and entice a few to join the Church before marriage. There are so many marriages planned that in some churches, on special days, there is a drawing of lots. This past November, 200 showed up to determine the order of marriages in the Cathedral parish in Seoul, and in some parishes dates are booked to the end of the year.

We are told that a reason for this is that many entertainers have added to this popularity by having their own marriages celebrated in these churches. When a famous movie star picks one of the churches, there are many fans of the star who will do the same. The popularity of church weddings has even prompted the business world to have 'chapel halls,' which try to imitate the atmosphere of the churches.

Problems connected with the recent financial depression have added to the popularity of church weddings. Churches are cheaper than the marriage halls, and the meals are cheaper compared to the meals at a hotel. However, the article goes on to give another important reason for their popularity.

Catholic marriages require that instructions be given to the couple, with an interview before the wedding. To have time to prepare for the marriage and be concerned not only with externals is another plus, giving the participants a feeling of being cared for. In many of the marriage halls, however, there is often a marriage every half hour, which gives the couple a feeling of being rushed and their welfare of not much importance.

Another strong point: in churches, the bride and groom are center stage and not the officiator; the congregation is there to pray for the couple and to congratulate them. There are, however, certain limitations when one has a church wedding: it is not as boisterous as the marriage hall, nor as free to do what the couple and their guests want, and photographers have certain rules to follow. But it is clear that these are minor considerations that are not preventing many to seek the more significant church wedding as the couple begins their life together. It is hoped that though the motivation for having a church wedding may not have been the best, the blessings received may be sufficient to inspire them in the days to come with a love for the Church.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Uderstanding Those Who Have Left the Community

How does a church community work to bring back to the fold those who, for one reason or another, have left?  A diocesan priest, a pastor who works in a spiritual counseling center, considers the possibilities in an article in Bible & Life. He begins by telling us that the word we use to describe those who have left the church is not helpful and prejudices us from the start: the word 'tepid' means cold and indifferent.
No one is free from problems in living the spiritual life. All have the possibility of becoming tepid in their faith life. He wonders whether this may be a natural phase in life, like the teenage years: a period of contrariness. Keeping this possibility in mind, the priest would like us to be more sympathetic toward those who have left the Church.

One of the reasons for leaving, he believes, is that the life of prayer was not helpful in getting what was wanted. They were seeking their own will, and in these cases it is better to allow them on their own to come to a realization that life is not always about getting what you want, and to be content to remember them in our prayers.

Another reason for leaving would include those who had problems with priests, sisters, or members of the community. This group can be divided into two types: those who are very sensitive and, without any deliberate offense intended, were hurt--they are likely to return. The return of those who have been hurt deliberately, however, will be difficult.

A third reason would include those who have lost hope in having a relationship with God, or were doubtful of having a meaningful relationship, and gradually distanced themselves from the community. Some consider themselves atheists, have an animosity towards the sacraments, or criticize the Church as hypocritical.  Some of these expressed reasons, despite what may be said, are probably best understood as stemming from the burdens of working to support a family and thus losing contact with the Church. He feels that with some outreach by the community they have a chance of returning. Some would  be looking for a deeper spiritual life and often on their return will become zealous workers in God's vineyard.
For some, a period of rest in their spiritual life may be of help to growth, instead of living with a  lack of enthusiasm and a routine life of the spirit; this group would be looking for a deeper way of living Christianity. This, he says, should not be difficult for a priest to understand, coming from many years in the seminary, and even after. Priests, he reminds us, are also faced with doubts, and at times even consider leaving, but by working through the difficulty they may come to another level in their faith life. He concludes with the thought that confronting our doubts honestly and working through them may be the way many of us will grow in the life of faith.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Maturity of the Korean Catholic Church

The Catholic Times recently interviewed the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference on the 50th  anniversary of the formal establishment of the  Korean hierarchy.

The bishop acknowledges the rapid growth of the Catholic Church, that it's been blessed with many vocations, but he stresses that more attention has to be paid to  the inner qualities of our faith life. The Korean Church needs now, he says, to go out to other countries to give them what Korea has received. We have moved from a receiving Church to a giving Church, a local church  ready to help others.

The Korean Church in the last 50 years, with North Korea included, has grown greatly. There are 18 dioceses, 32 bishops (9 retired), more than 5 million Catholics and 4,500 priests. This external growth has been great but humbling, the bishop says. We have to confess that internal maturity has not accompanied the external growth. Because of the rapid growth we have not had the time to ripen in certain areas.

The bishop mentions that unlike many other countries the period of the catechumenate in many of our parishes is six months. Not enough time, he says, to reflect on the gift of faith received. It is not only the head that must be involved but the whole person.

He brings to mind the words of Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization, where he states that we are to become a new people, to become different persons from what we were. It is to be born again, which we are far from achieving in  Korea,  the bishop laments. Although many have been baptized, we cannot say that many have undergone this type of change in their life: adopting new values and and a new way of living.

To the  question: What will the Church of Korea contribute to Asia and the rest of the world? "To help the poorer countries of the world," was his answer. He went on to say that what the foreign missionaries did for the Korean Church, the Korean Church should do for others. He concludes with a wish that Korean clergy will dream of going out to the world to make others disciples of Jesus.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Korean Catholiic Church

Fifty years ago the Church in Korea moved from being a Vicariate Apostolic to a church of  diocesan rank: setting up a formal hierarchy.  A professor examines the meaning of this for the Korean Church, a very young church compared to Europe.  The Korean Church has not had the time to come to a full understanding of how best to acculturate the teaching of the Church into the the cultural life of the country.
After the 17th century, becoming a Christian meant an acceptance of Western culture.  It was during this period of confrontation between the East and the West that foreign missioners, by not understanding  the diversity of cultures, failed to appreciate the difficulties these cultures presented in spreading the Gospel.

In the 20th century, we have a different approach to cultures. The Gospel is not a culture but something that transcends cultures, and efforts should be made to find a way to the Gospels regardless of the culture of the country. This approach makes for a different way of transmitting the Gospel message and opens up wider  horizons for mission work.

A sign of the success of the new approach was seen in China, where six bishops were installed in 1926, becoming heads of dioceses, and religious orders began to appear with their own leaders. This growth continued in the following years, and made for a  great advance in mission studies.

It took the Korean Church 131 years, from 1831 when it became a Vicariate Apostolic, before it became a diocese in 1962. The Japanese Church was elevated in 1891, and China in 1946. Korea, since it had a formal hierarchy in 1962, was able to attend the Second Vatican Council.

The professor feels that the Vatican did not realize how far the Church of Korea had come, which was the reason, he believes, for the recent date for the elevation of the Korean Church to diocesan rank in 1962.

The inculturation of clergy was soon achieved and inculturation in other areas is continuing. This will enable the work of reform. However, the professor feels that the Church in Korea is still looked upon as immature, for it remains under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and not under the Congregation for Bishops.  The professor would like to know what are considered the signs of a mature Church. It seems to him an unmistakable fact that the Korean Church qualifies as a mature Church and should be under the Congregation for Bishops. He would like the matter reexamined by the specialists at the Vatican.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Continuity and Discontinuity

The desk columnist, in the Catholic Times, after returning from the U.S., comments on the frequent interruptions of that countries' TV dramas by advertising. This interruption repeats every 15 or 20 minutes, and  he found the discontinuity annoying in trying to keep the emotional content of the story intact.

Continuity and discontinuity is the theme the columnist wants to explore in his column. In life, there is an interchange of continuity and discontinuity in many places, especially, in the workplace and in marriage, which starts off with a desire of the partners to live in heavenly bliss, and very shortly the promise gradually loses its flavor: there is fighting,  misunderstandings, and the discontinuity from the day of the  promise. This is also true in our faith life.

Baptized as an adult, the columnist remembers the great happiness of being on fire with a sense of the holy but shortly all became habit, and even the Mass became an onerous burden. And this is also experienced by priests: fervor at ordination, but slowly disappearing as living one's life becomes more like a job than a special vocation. Again, we have discontinuity from what it was meant to be.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which sought to move the Church closer to the modern world and to revitalize itself for the new times. Using the words of theologian Ormond Rush, the columnist says the Church was seeking more continuity by discontinuity, by continuing some practices of the early years of the Church and by discontinuing some of the stiffness, the authoritarianism toward the world and the laity that  we became accustomed to. The Council wanted more continuity with the ways of Jesus, and to discontinue some of the ways we accepted and practiced before the Council in order to return to the ways of the early Church.

This does not mean that all that was done in the past has no value or was unreasonable.  In  retrospect, they helped to build the Church; all of it was a part of the continuity.

However, if what was done was excessively limited by the times in which they developed and became too rigid, isn't a change or revamping required? he asks.  Wasn't this the reason for the Council? Wasn't this the inspiration that was given to the Church Fathers of the Council?

The columnist wonders if there are serious problems with discontinuing the habits that make us less Christian, preferring the peace of continuity that we have been accustomed to.

This talk of continuance and rupture that we hear so often in the West is not part of the dialogue heard in Korea. The Koreans seem to have an easier way of understanding growth and do not see continuance and discontinuance in the black-and-white way some  Americans tend to see it. Using the word 'rupture' does not, fortunately, come easy to a Korean.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Labor: Renewing the Body and Soul

Labor, as physical or mental work, is a means of disciplining ourselves, a necessary part of life, a way of sustaining ourselves. The Church has always seen labor as an important value: a way of participating in God's work of creation.

A priest-columnist in the Peace Weekly who works in the labor apostolate reflects on present day views of manual labor. It is seen by many as lowly, something to avoid. Our laborers, for the most part, do not see the results of their labor nor do they receive fair recompense for their efforts.

He goes back to his seminary days where he experienced working in volunteer service as a member of a club. However, perhaps because of his training as a priest, he found the work was more of the head and the lips than of the whole being. While in the seminary, he decided he wanted to continue being involved with manual labor after becoming a priest, but it always remained a dream.

Last year the opportunity to do manual labor came to him when the person working with him returned to the  farm. Because of this he went to the country to help in the farm work once a month, spending many hours in the field doing back-wrenching work. He didn't realize how difficult farming was. When he hears people say that those who are unemployed should work on the farms he wants to lash out at them. 

One day while working in the field, he wanted to show what he used to do, years before, when cutting sesame plants. However, his efforts was allowing the seeds to fall to the ground. He was criticized for doing so by an older farmer; the plants, he was told, are very sensitive to any shaking and seeds are easily scattered. After the reprimand, he wondered if he wasn't more of a hindrance than a help and expressed his concern to the owner of the farm. The owner told him: "Father, don't be concerned about being a help to us; if you want to do it for yourself, you're welcome to do so. "

He realized he was not suited to manual labor even though working in the labor apostolate. He remembers many of the older priests who wanted not to forget, after becoming priests, the value of labor, disciplining themselves by cleaning their rooms and washing their clothes. When he heard this for the first time he wasn't too impressed but with time his thinking has changed; he is beginning to live a simpler lifestyle, cleaning his own room, riding public transportation, and becoming more conscious of those who do manual  labor for a living.

This spring he hopes to spend more time on farms experiencing the farmer's life. He wants to feel that he is a part of nature and believes this to be a wonderful form of prayer.  Whether it is the farm or some other workplace, he expects that manual labor will be part of his life, taking advantage of its special gift of renewing both body and soul.                                                    

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Divination Among Catholics

"All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to unveil the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe  to God alone." These are the words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 2116).

The Catholic Times describes the many ways the lack of trust in God leads to many of the superstitions of folk religion. Surveys have shown that the number of Catholics participating in different forms of folk religion is not negligible. One survey indicates that 40 percent of Catholics after baptism have at least once consulted Tojeongbigyeol (Book of Fortunes). Those who have chosen an auspicious day, changed their names, checked horoscopes, and participated in other forms of superstition are estimated to be one out of every four Catholics.

The article notes that over the years those going back to folk religion for periodic guidance is increasing. There are many who do not believe there is anything wrong with this way of acting, especially consulting with fortune tellers. Each month of the lunar year has days when harmful spirits are said to take a rest; on these days people move or begin their trips and projects. This year of the dragon the leap month is considered favorable. The different forms this takes are numerous, and there are many who make their living by providing quick and consoling answers to the difficult questions all of us encounter in life.

One pastor has seen this desire for consulting 'those who know' as a great problem among his parishioners; they see nothing wrong with what they are doing. It is a form of religion that is thought to dispense blessings. What is needed, the pastor believes, is education on what true religion is.

This whole matter of divination is an indication that many Christians do not see that God made all things good. The article ends with a reminder from a priest of the Seoul Pastoral Research Institute that those who have been called by Christ to trust in God's love and his providence, and thus made free, should not throw it all away with this kind of unwholesome curiosity.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Economy of Communion: New Way of Running a Company

"Based on an economy of sharing, the vicious circle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer can be broken." This is the headline to an article in the Peace Weekly on the "Economy of Communion," a movement of entrepreneurs, workers, managers, consumers, and financial operators. It was launched by Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement, in 1991, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, to demonstrate a possible social reality, following the example of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, that "no one of them was in need."

Repeatedly,  we hear that the middle class, and those even further down on the economic ladder, are finding their lives financially more  difficult, and at the same time we hear that the financial conglomerates are invading the world of small business, and putting many of them out of business. This criticism is also coming into focus in the political world, with the elections planned for this year. There is a growing desire for policies that will change the way the government deals with big business.

The article gives us an example of a bakery that is transparent in its running, honest in paying its  taxes, and is following the principals of the Economy of Communion. They return one third of their profits to the company and return the rest to the workers and the poor. Each month they give to the poor from 20 to 30 thousand dollars a month. The bakery employs 160 workers and is the largest, in one location, in the country. They have as their motto: "Do what we all consider the right thing to do." They seek to have a  family atmosphere and even have their own newspaper. All the workers have a voice in setting the goals of the company, and how the bakery functions on a daily basis is a joint decision, certainly something quite out of the ordinary in today's business climate.

Another example is from Brazil where the movement began. Femaq, with 60 full-time employees, makes automotive parts. Two brothers decided, in 1991, to share the running of the company and the profits with their workers, and also to contribute funds to helping the poor. Following this change, their profits increased; the new approach to running a company and treating their workers was vindicated. The firm, in 1994,  had a gross revenue of $8,200,200, making  it one of the leading firms of its kind, not only in Brazil but in South America.

The Economy of Communion has shown more interest in people than money and company growth. The economic achievements naturally come, not surprisingly, according to the principles of the movement, when a significant portion of the income goes into growing the company, helping the poor and benefiting the  workers. The problem with big business today, says the Korean  leader of the Economy of Communion, is that the bigger the company becomes the more it wants to continue growing, often at the expense of the poorer sectors of the society. The aim of the movement is to change this culture, he said.  It is not merely to help the poor but to have those who have been helped in a better position to help others.

The article concludes with the words of the one responsible for the Economy of Communion. "The conglomerates are getting into the commercial street markets   because there is money to be made." He hopes for a change: "More than income and money, there should be in any business enterprise an interest in people and relationships. This alternative proposal will be a solution to our present problems."


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Children of Illegal Workers

In the best-run  societies there will always be those who fall between the cracks. The Catholics of Korea are turning their attention to the children of foreign workers illegally in the country. The children of these foreign workers are not provided benefits other children routinely receive, such as educational and health benefits, because their births have not been registered. It is a blind spot in our societal concerns.

There are 1748 children of foreign workers now attending schools. However, it's assumed that about 8000 children between the ages of 6 and 15  are not attending school because their parents, being here illegally, fear to register the birth of these children.

However, children whose births have been registered get the privileges. The bishops' committee concerned for foreign workers met recently and publicly announced that all children should have the right to an education. Children of the illegals don't receive protection under the law, are confused about their identity, have difficulties in learning to speak Korean, and suffer because of the poor financial situation of their parents.

Concerned Catholics are hoping that there is some way of showing concern for these children. The Church also should be playing a part in resolving some of the problems that arise from the situation. The bishops said that we should not only solve the present problem but uncover the reasons we have this problem in the first place.

An article and an editorial in the Peace Weekly explain that Korea is now a multicultural society, with over 1 million 400 thousand foreigners residing in Korea; about half are foreign workers searching for the Korean dream. Even though many of these foreign workers, after their contract period is over, remain in the country illegally, creating the present problem, there needs to be found a humane way of dealing with this unfortunate condition that both the country and the illegal foreigners will find acceptable.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lay People's Vocation to the Foreign Missions

The Peace Weekly recently reported on a group of young people meeting monthly to determine whether they had a vocation to the missionary life. Meeting at the Columban Foreign Mission Society Mission Center, they were advised by Christina, a Christian missioner who has worked in the Philippines for 10 years, that "missioners overseas have to live like the poor in order to transmit the Christian message." Nine prospects from various parts of  Korea were present to hear her message and in the process to learn something about themselves.

The desire for missionary life came to the young people in different ways. One of the participants who had to travel quite a distance to be at the meetings, was attracted to service by  reading and by seeing the great happiness others have in serving. Another, who came regularly to the meetings for a year, felt the life of a missioner will deepen her experience God's love, and she wanted to share that with  others. 

Christina emphasized that missionary life is difficult. Fearing that some would have the wrong motivation for the life, she pointed out that it is not simply a life of charitable work, or service to others, but understanding and embracing others in the way Jesus did.

When they are sent to a mission area they spend the first 3 years learning the language and the culture, and returning to the simplicity of a child. One is continually being challenged, she said, and feels that having an open mind is a necessary quality in being a missioner.

Once they have decided for missionary life they sign an application and wait about two or three month before being assigned to lodge with a missioner for about 10 months.  It is during this time that they learn about the spirituality of mission, and dialogue with other religions and cultures. They also begin studying conversational English, visiting the sick and providing similar services to others, and, finally, begin a retreat to discern in more depth their call to the mission vocation.

The Columban priest responsible for the group stressed that it is in knowing God's presence in our daily lives, the God who has come to us in the love of Jesus, which is the fundamental message the missioner wants to convey to the people.