Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tossing the Ball

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, the writer reflects on the words of a colleague who told him that volley ball can help in living a more spiritual life. There is a great deal that  sports can teach us on the way to live, and although the writer never had much interest in sports, he understood what his friend was saying after seeing a volley ball game on television.

Two teams are facing each other on the court. The tall players at the net are ready to spike the ball into the opposing team's court. His friend mentioned how at  first his eyes where on the tall men on the front line, close to the net. They were the point scorers but he soon became conscious of the players who were tossing the ball to those at the net to enable them to spike the ball. His priest friend said that it was some time before he began to realize what was happening on the court.

The second line is there to toss the ball to the tall players in just the right way, with the proper height and speed, to make an easy spike of the ball into the opposite court for a point.  The players on the  opposite court prepare themselves to block the ball, with all players involved in the effort to keep the ball in play. But especially important are the players on the second line, whose task is not only to keep the ball in play but to toss the ball up to the tall players at the net to make the points.

When the writer first heard his friend speak about how watching a volley ball game can deepen one's spiritual life, he had smiled. But after watching a game on TV, he understood what he was saying.  The front line players, those actually scoring the points, were dependent on the second line, who with their knowledge and team play were actually in control of the game.

He transferred the volley ball strategy to the parish, and saw that many Christians, who are not very visible on the 'front lines,' are helping others who are more visibly involved by 'tossing' them whatever is necessary to come closer to God. They are not the leaders but are doing  whatever is necessary for the leaders to their job well.

Once this fact is pointed out to us, it's easily understood but also easy to forget. It is not always those in the limelight who are the important players. In life, our columnist   wants us to remember, there are many unacknowledged players who are tossing the ball to others on the front line who are making a difference.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Women in Korean Society

"The Lectures on Happiness," a popular column in the Peace Weekly, recently focused on the place of women in Korean society. Women, senior citizens, service and environment are often considered the primary topics of the 21st century, and the topic of women often holds center stage.

If you go to a restaurant around noontime, you will generally find that most of those present are women. You will find women crowding the markets and department stores. 60 percent of the money in circulation is in the hands of women. And although divorces among younger women have decreased,  divorces later in life have increased, and most of the divorces are wanted by women.

An estimated 70 percent of high-income  jobs, such as doctors, pharmacists, and lawyers, are held by women. A survey made in Japan of 115 companies with women on the board of trustees indicated that the price of the stocks increased by 96 percent after women were accepted as trustees of the companies. One entrepreneur is reported to have said that if 30 percent of company executives are not women, the company will fail, since women control the spending of money in most households. And who better to know, in his opinion, what women want then other women.

In Korea, in the political and social arenas, women are not a driving force. In the last parliament, women made up only 5.4 percent of the members, and in the present parliament, 12 percent are women. Although highly educated, women have found few leadership roles within society. This is also true within the Church. They are the majority of the congregation but are not the decision makers. 

The columnist believes the reason for this is the great concern for their children's education. After graduation from college, the women marry, have children and give up working.

Child psychologists say the brain at 3-5 years of age  is only 75 percent developed, so it is best not to fixate on any particular subject, such as reading the Korean script. But mothers often want to start their children early, and as a result the children miss out on other important areas of life.  He feels there should be more of an interest on learning how to live well and happily, and less attention given to spending astronomical sums of money on private education.

Mothers have their eyes fixed on getting their child prepared for entrance into a good college and often ignore the child's spiritual growth. He concludes the column with a lament that there is a lack of understanding of what is important in life. Striving to excel in school, unfortunately, trumps striving for politeness, order and service.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Alcohol in Korean Society

A priest from the Seoul diocese, who had a problem with alcohol when he was a navy chaplain, recently received his doctorate in the treatment of alcohol addiction. A secular paper, profiling his life,  tells us that he knew he was not able to overcome the problem on his own, and admitted himself to a hospital in 1988.  The following year he began helping those who were having difficulties with alcohol in the Seoul diocese.

The article was based on an interview with the priest in his rectory. Why did he start so late? he was asked. He said he felt he needed more knowledge than he had received from his formal education and from his experience. Those days had been difficult for him, he said, and for two months he was getting less than two or three hours of sleep.

The content  of his doctoral dissertation was divided into five parts:  dealing with one's actions, cognitive behavior-- reflecting on the past, the reality one faces in life, the healing powers of music, and of spirituality.

He mentioned that one of the groups of twenty he had conducted for three months had 17 members who overcame  the desire for a drink. With hospital treatment while they were  taking the drugs, they were able to refrain from drinking, but once they left and without follow up sessions, they often began drinking again,

Excessive drinking affects part of the brain that has to do with thinking and acting, so telling yourself to  quit is not going to work, and is the reason help is usually required.  He repeatedly mentioned that in Korea the culture does not make it easy to refrain from drinking.  When you go out to eat with your boss, for example, and he offers you a drink, it's difficult to refuse. The only way to avoid the difficulty is not to go out for that meal with the boss; after the drinking no one will remember, the priest feels certain, who should have been there and wasn't.

To the question what does Catholicism say about drinking, he answered by quoting some scriptural passages.  Catholicism is much more tolerant of drinking, but it is very clear that excess is not acceptable; moderation is the virtue that is taught.  It is not difficult to see, however, that Catholicism  is much more understanding of excess than Korean Protestantism. In the Korean culture, with its tolerance of excessive drinking, this may not be such a good thing.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Farmers' Day in Korea

Korean farmers are subsidized by the government, which means they can make a decent living but only with this help from the government. But the movement toward free trade continues, which is beneficial for the cities and big business but not for the farmers. How long will this last? There is no way of knowing for certain. The international price of rice is much cheaper now than Korean rice, and without the tariffs, the rice farmers can't compete.

As a result, many farmers fear the worse and are beginning to grow other crops in their paddy fields. They are now fearful of free trade with China, which would bring an influx of cheap vegetables and fruit from China, where labor and land prices are cheaper than in Korea.

The U.S.-Korea trade agreement has been signed, but an even greater and more traumatic situation would be free trade with China, because they are so close. The Catholic Church has worked to help the farmers with the "Save Our Farmland Movement," by setting up cooperatives, by offering help in marketing their produce to city dwellers, and by getting them started in organic farming.  The editorial in the Korean Times mentions the message of the bishop, president of the Peace and Justice Committee of the Bishops' Conference. The third Sunday of July was Farmers' Day Sunday, a way the Church keeps the Christians aware of farm problems. The disparity of the income of farmers compared to city dwellers is increasing, and without efforts to stem the tide this will only increase and force the farmers off the farms.
The government, as much as possible, needs to keep all the citizens happy, which is no easy task. But the effort to keep the farmers on their farms would be good for the whole country.  In the message to the Catholics on Farmers' Day, the bishop urged us to remember the early Christians and to strive for a similar humane and community life-style, especially to strive for solidarity with those on the farms. "We are all silently cultivating the land," he said. "Let us all learn from the farmers the value of life, labor, and the simple life-style."
It's not a case of helping only the farmers; we are helping ourselves as well. We are all one. We will all have the same future as the farmers if they abandon the  land. We will all suffer, not only the farmers. Consumers and producers must begin now to reach out to each other and seek for mutually beneficial solutions to this serious problem. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

Abuse of Religion

Koreans are spiritually sensitive people, which is the reason there are so many new religions appearing within the culture. Trying to keep the different denominations from splitting up and forming break-away churches is the constant concern of the Protestant Church. One break-away church given much publicity in the Catholic Press recently is the Shinchonji, Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ).

Shinchonji (shin:new, chon:heaven, ji: earth), meaning a new heaven and earth, was started in the 1980s by a pastor, now chairman, of the church, Lee Man-hee. He was born in 1931 and has been associated with the apocalyptic religions of Korea up until he started his own. The teaching of the church, put simply, centers around the belief that once there are 144,000 believers in the world the end will come, and only they will be saved. (Apparently, the above fact is not correct. One of the members of the Church has made this clear in his comment. I am sorry for the mistake.)

A Peace Weekly article tells the story of a woman who listened to her godmother and joined one of these Scripture groups conducted by Shinchonji. She had no idea that it was the Shinchonji Church and was greatly moved by what she heard. The courses were extremely interesting; parables and the importance of symbols were stressed in the teaching. She enjoyed the classes but just before she was to become a member of the Church, realizing it was not Catholic, she left. She said she was pleasantly addicted to what she had heard, and after she left no longer enjoyed listening to the sermons in the Catholic Church. Her life was now different, she said; everything was all mixed up. Since it was her godmother who introduced her to Shinchonji, she now has difficulty believing anyone. To get help she went to a group the Protestant Church has set up to give counseling to those leaving these cult-like groups.

The bishops and the dioceses have told the Christians to beware of those who say the bishops and priests approve of these cult teachings, and not to attend their classes. The Catholic Church has not been as infected as some of the other Churches, but these break-away churches do a good job of teaching, having charismatic leaders who are causing a great deal of havoc, not only in religious circles but within society.

Religion is not seen sympathetically by many in society because of the credulity, fraud, hypocrisy, lunacy and ignorance that they see related to things religious. This attitude is easily understood and puts a burden on Christians in our society. It's helpful to remember the words of St. Peter: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence..." (1 Peter 3:15).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mission Stations: Small Christian Communities

 Setting up small Christian communities is a concept the Korean Church has been working with for about 20 years. In the early years of the Church the primary interest was focused on building mission stations in the remote areas of the country where Christians would be able to meet together with a catechist. He would conduct the mission station liturgy and take care of spiritual needs. These were small Christian Communities. The catechist would function as lay deacons do in the present Church.

In the past most of the parishes would be responsible for large land areas because of the small number of priests. The understanding was that any Christian who lived 4 kms from the parish had no obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Consequently, Christians in these outlying areas of a parish would construct a building to be used as a mission station, or use a house that would serve to gather the Christians together on Sundays for the mission station liturgy.

These mission stations would not have a resident priest. The pastor of the parish to which the mission station belonged would visit the station once a month, and sometimes more frequently, for Mass, and be of help to the Christians for their spiritual needs.

In recent years the number of mission stations has decreased because more people have moved to the cities, the number of priests has increased, the ease of transportation and new and better roads. In many cases, the parishes would have vans picking up the Christians to take them to Mass and returning them to their homes after Mass.

Many of the mission station buildings are not in use today, and have fallen into disrepair. One of the journalists for the Catholic Times laments the loss of these mission stations, which have a great deal of history associated with them. There have been efforts to have the Catholics visit the remote mission stations--rediscovering mission station life-- to see what life was like for many of our ancestors in the faith.

Besides the stations that continue to be used, there are others that have become museums, and places were children would go for summer camp and retreats. To lose this memory of the past, some say, would be a catastrophe.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dissent Continues in Naju

Dissent is a word that  often describes how people react to controversial issues, many of which can lead to positive as well as negative results, causing many to question which side of these controversial issues they should be on. Resolving conflicts between proponents of a position and those opposed is often an insurmountable task. 

There are times, of course, when we readily say no, and just as easily say yes; no one has difficulty with this common occurrence. However, the word dissent usually is understood to be dissent from the majority. When we deal with the authority of the Church, it should be clear what the response should be, but as we know, it is not.

The Korean Catholic Church, for the most part, is not fragmented by dissent. We have dissent, but it is usually not publicly visible. The recent editorial in the Catholic Times mentions the dissent of a group of followers of the miracles of Naju in the diocese of Kwangju.

The Naju incident began in 1985, with the weeping statue. Despite the fact that the so-called miracle has on four different occasions been condemned by Church authority, as not in keeping with Church teaching and spirituality, the movement continues to flourish. Their members repeatedly say that the fundamental duty we all have as human beings and members of the Church is: " always to obey the certain judgment of ones conscience. If a person were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1790).

With these words they defend themselves, although the authority of the bishop, with the backing of the Vatican, has told them to give consent and return to the communion of the Church. Some of the confusion comes from the words of some senior members of the hierarchy, who in the beginning were sympathetic to the movement, and it continues to use this to defend themselves. In the words of the diocese, they are doing this to deceive their followers: for they say  they will soon have the approval of the Church.

The diocese, after investigating the so-called miracles, has made clear that there is nothing supernatural about Naju, and the diocese has asked the Christians to refrain from attending the shrine and participating in the events at the site. However, the movement continues to welcome priests from overseas, and there are priests who conduct services at the shrine. The bishop hopes that Youn Julia and her followers will humbly accept the teaching of the bishop. If not the bishop warns that he will use canon law: "A person who publicly incites his or her subjects...or who provokes the subjects to disobedience against them is to be punished by interdict or other just penalties" (canon 1373).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Benefits of Praise

The uses of praise was the topic of conversation recently among some priests who were eating together. The Daily Life and Faith Life column of the Catholic Times brings the topic to our attention with its headline: "Praise Makes Whales Dance." The column goes on to say that it makes people positive and helps them to think positively, noting that the priests had decided, following their conversation, to be more active in its use.

One priest mentioned a teacher he had in grammar school some 40 years earlier. He not only remembers his name but much more. It was the teacher's example that showed him the value of praise. In grammar school, the class had the task of making a small cloth pouch. On the outside, he wrote 1+2=3. The pouch was not that well made nor was much thought given to the outside lettering, but the teacher, seeing his careful scissor work on the borders, praised him for it.

It was not an overall "well done" or "good job" type-of-praise to the whole group, but the teacher made it clear to him that it was something special in his work that was singled out for praise. Otherwise, it would have been forgotten as unimportant, as simply polite words. This was the first time he had been singled out for something he had done and praised for it. He has never forgotten it.

However, it is easy to abuse the use of praise; it has to be merited and honestly given. When used authentically, both the one praised and the one praising are moved, keeping in mind that it is not praise for the sake of praise but to help someone grow. This use of praise is common to humanity. In the States, Mark Twin is quoted as saying that he could live two weeks on a compliment. We can also say, sadly, that criticism can bother us for as long a time, if not longer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Anger: A Serious Problem

Anger is a serious problem that many of us have to face. Lectures on Happiness, a column in the Peace Weekly, discusses the subject and, using the example of Christ, leaves us with some helpful pointers to follow. Koreans usually consider anger a disease, and it may not even appear outwardly as anger but remain simmering inside.

In chapter 8 of St. John's Gospel, we have the incident of the woman caught in adultery. Lawyers came with the woman to Jesus, asking him what was to be done? She broke the law of Moses and was to be stoned to death; they wanted to hear from Jesus. Wisely, he bent over to write on the ground, giving her accusers a chance to have their anger subside.

Jesus then tells those without sin to begin stoning the woman, as he again writes on the ground. He gave them plenty of time to reflect on the situation. They all left, and Jesus told the woman to go and not sin again.

The columnist gives us five steps to control our anger, after first advising us that when anger invades our psyche, counting to ten is a great help in regaining control.

The first step is to breathe deeply. When God made us, he breathed into us; when we have difficulty breathing, we have difficulty controlling our life.

Second: Walk. It cleans and heals our hearts. Take the rosary beads and go for a walk.

Third: Go easy on fast foods and flesh meats. We can see the effect of this in the animals that are flesh eaters and in those that are herbivore.The more natural the food we eat the less anger we will have, he says.

Fourth: Enjoy life. Take time to rest. Jesus worked six days and rested on the seventh. Seek harmony between work and rest.

Fifth: Be good to yourself. If you are happy, you will not get angry. Do not think that is going against our religious beliefs. Our Lord did say what does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and loses himself (Matt. 16:26). It is when we are happy that we can help others to be happy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Korean Catechumenate

Apostasy of a Christian during the times of persecution was always a traumatic event. A columnist of the Catholic Times discusses how catechumens were treated in those early days of the Church and what was done to accept new members into the church community.

One of the early written directions dealing with the catechumenate was "The Apostolic Tradition" by Hippolytus, who emphasized the importance of motivating the candidate and providing guidelines for living a proper life thereafter. When their occupation was not in harmony with the Christian life, they were told to leave it. They continued in the catechumenate for three years, but it was the quality of their lives, which determined the person's suitability for baptism and not their knowledge of the catechism. This, however, was not the policy of all the churches.

During the difficult days of persecution in Korea, there were few priests and the forming of a catechumenate was difficult. Those who applied had to give up their superstitious ways and follow the ten commandments and the Christian way of life. After meeting with a priest to discuss the matter, they were considered candidates, and after a period of 40 days could be baptized.

This was considered too short a time, and in 1932, the Directory for the Korean Church was published and the period of preparation was set at six months. This has continued to the present time but in recent years, there are many who feel it should be a year to understand the love of Christ and to have a feel for the Christian way of life.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), after Vatican II, is used by some parishes in forming a catechumenate. We have the three  steps; the three scrutinies during Lent, the baptism at the Easter Vigil, and the period of deepening of the Christian's spirituality after baptism--called the Mystagogy:  a  wonderful way to get the whole community to be involved in the reception of new Christians. However, when the numbers are large, it is no easy task to follow the RCIA steps.

Priests and lay people in the parishes work together zealously to form the new Christians. But despite their efforts, within three years after baptism many fall away from the community. To guard against this, it would be helpful, the columnist suggests, to have programs after baptism, and to urge the whole community to take more interest in the newly baptized. In our modern society, there are many who are divorced and have remarried; it is necessary to make the effort to regularize these marriages when the partners prepare for baptism. Those who come to Catholicism from Protestantism also would be better served if those who are entrusted to teach them had a basic understanding of Protestantism, to point out more easily the differences between the two religions. The work of formation is a difficult one but in today's culture extremely important.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Traditional Korean Medical Practices

In the culture of life column in the Peace Weekly, adoctor of oriental medicine answers a question he often hears. Why do we use more medicine than in the past? He feels, along with many of his colleagues, that the increased use of medicines that are mostly grown commercially, a cultivated product, as opposed to relying on medicines gathered from the mountains and fields in their natural state is one reason for the change. Another reason is that our health has deteriorated from what it was in the past. Because of the health advances in recent years, many more babies are living that would have died. Their resistance to infection is low and health is conspicuously weaker.

In former days in Korea, according to traditional books on care during infancy, "ten commandments of health" were recommended: Keep the back, stomach, feet and intestines warm to help digestion; keep the head and breast cool to prevent fever and distress; keep strange play things away from the hands of babies; do not breast feed until the baby stops crying, be slow in giving medicines to babies; and bathe infrequently.
It was said that it was easier to treat one man than 10 women, and 10 women would be easier than one baby. You can't ask a baby what is the problem, and taking a baby's pulse is no easy task. A baby's energy to develop is strong, which means that unless it is a serious matter, the body will take care of itself.

He mentions that it is not necessary to give medicine to break a fever, and he doesn't use a thermometer but touches the ears. If they are cold, the body will take care of the problem, he says. But if the ears are hot, it would be wise to use a fever breaker.

There are times when medicines should be used; if not, some conditions will get worse and even death is possible, or at least impede normal growth. This decision should be left up to the doctor.

Korean traditional medical practices go back to prehistoric times, and in one of their founding myths wormwood and garlic were used as curative herbs. The West would see much of this as the working of the placebo principle, and yet the East, in its medical practices, seems to be ahead of the West in its appreciation of the need to heal the whole person.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Love is Caring

Words of wisdom come to us from many sources, sometimes helpful, bringing about needed behavioral changes, and sometimes, though making a great deal of sense, have little influence on our lives. A columnist in the Catholic Times recounts a snippet of wisdom he remembers hearing from a  friend who said it influenced him throughout his life.

The friend, a priest, would go as a child, during winter vacations, to the home of his grandparents down country. He tried to find a way of relating with the children his age, but being from the city he was not accepted by the country children; so it was Blacky, the family pet, that he spent most of his time with, walking in the fields and climbing mountains.

One evening his grandmother roasted some sweet potatoes, and brought him some. He began eating the potatoes and remembered Blacky out in the dog house. Taking one of the hot simmering potatoes, he broke it in half and gave the dog the other half. Blacky swallowed the potato and let out a scream. His grandfather and mother rushed out to the dog house to see what the ghastly scream was about. It was then they realized that the boy had given the dog a hot potato. The dog after the episode stayed in the dog house  for a couple of days.

His grandmother gave him a lesson on what dogs do not like, and spent some time getting the message across. It was a lesson the priest has never forgotten. Not everybody likes what we like and the columnist concludes the column with a very simple and obvious moral. Love means many things, but the meaning he likes is 'caring.'

Working in a different culture the reality of this is often seen in what is eaten and  what is avoided  Recently, Koreans have made some changes in what they care about when it comes to eating preferences, coming to appreciate wheat products, cheese and milk, a change which has come about gradually. There are, however, areas of life in which likes and dislikes go much deeper and are probably more similar to the experience of the priest with "hot food and dogs."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Joy in the Ordinariness of Life

Our current educational system prepares us primarily for center stage performances, according to a priest writing in the pages of With Bible. He believes that the education on what to do if you don't make the stage, or come down from the stage, is not part of the curriculum.

Jesus tells us to be servants; according to many people, a very strange logic. We have plenty of teachings by Jesus on this but the one that includes them all is the washing of the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. With our weaknesses, failures and frustrations, we prepare a place for Jesus and in this emptiness is the fullness that lifts us up.

The writer tells us that his own life  was not one of grandeur but of frustrations. The family was not wealthy and he went through the hell of college entrance exams. Before entering the religious life, he spent eight years working for a weekly paycheck, and even after entering the religious life the frustrations continued. He felt he had no special talents, had difficulty with his studies and  learning a new language in a foreign country. He was like everybody else. Frustrations, weaknesses, failures; the darkness made him easily accept his ordinariness and to finally give thanks for it. Jesus repaid him with his abundance and consolation.

"Some day I will have success. Life, begins with nine innings and two outs. It is difficult, but happiness some day will come." This kind of talk is also not about weakness, he says, but the way of getting to center stage. Our success comes after death; it comes in the glory of resurrection. It is not the glory without death, scars, darkness, and pain. Without this understanding of the cross, we do not have a Christian spirituality. Both Judaism and Islam both believe in God but do not have the cross.

We feel a great fullness when we consider Jesus' empty tomb. If the disciples did not find it empty, they would have despaired. "Lord just give me your love and that will be everything" (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, #234).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hearing the cry of the poor

In a Peace Weekly column a priest explains that the Church acts most like a Church when it works to motivate society to create more humane living conditions for all. To do this, he says the Church has to identify both with Christ and with society, sharing not only what is superfluous to the Church's needs  but what is necessary.

"Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation--she herself, her ministers and each of her members--to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her abundance but also out of her necessities. Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a hierarchy of values--in the framework of the right to property--between 'having' and 'being,' especially when the 'having' of a few can be to the detriment of the 'being of many others" (#31, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis).

The Church is the sign of the reign of Christ, and many think that it  is only a relationship with Christ in the Eucharist, in the liturgy. The Church is God's tool, and we don't limit the work of the Church to the liturgical.

From the very earliest catechism classes, we learned that the Church, and we as followers of Jesus, have three assignments: to share, to relate and to serve. The terminology of the Scriptures would be kingship, priesthood and prophet.

When we give, we receive, the columnist wants us to understand. Giving without receiving is sentimentalism and romanticism. We receive more than we give. When we give without any return, this is foolishness. He compares it to pouring water into a bottomless crock: not only foolish but a waste.

Those who do not give do not receive; we are not, he says, only speaking of material things. When we do not give, "the 'having' of a few--going back to the words of the encyclical--"can be to the detriment of the 'being' of many others."

The Church, he concludes, must remember to hear the cry of the poor. "
He that stoppeth his ear against the cry of the poor, shall also cry himself and shall not be heard."( Proverbs 21:13)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Difficulties of the Young

Writing in the "Window of the Ark" column of the Catholic Times, a priest working with young people relates the story of a young man who told him that because he had lost the love of his girlfriend he felt that his life was over. He went to the top of a building  and tried to kill himself. It was nighttime and he did not see the canopy below, covering the entrance to the building, which broke his fall and saved his life, with just a few scratches. The priest said that he was soon walking around with a smile on his face and eating well. Heartbroken, the young man had caused a couple of thousand dollars of damage to the canopy,  but the expenses were on the house.

The priest reflects on the difficulties of the young. They see so much in the media, and the example of the elders is of little help.  Sexual contact between the sexes is a common occurrence, and they are not prepared for what is involved. They are not familiar with their bodies. They are not prepared for marriage and the difficulties it brings after the excitement of the romantic involvement wears off. The use of  contraceptive drugs and of abortion, the mental tension that comes with an unwanted pregnancy, the avoidance of friends, the  possibility of the relationship going  sour--all are common occurrences.

When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, adults will often resort to abortions or the so called morning-after-pill. Catholics know that this is not permissible, but the young, not being able to acquire the drugs, will often use a month or more of hormones to prevent the pregnancy, which can do a great of damage to a young person's body, preventing pregnancies in the future and bringing depression.

We can't  blame the young people because of the society we have made. The schools are hot beds for bullying. Families are not places of rest and renewal. And the churches, because of the competition for excelling in the college entrance exams, are not able to do their pastoral work with the young.

Adults are often overly concerned with making money. Society has changed more in the last 20 years, the priest says, than we have changed since the beginning of recorded history. What can we expect from the young? They are concerned more about the changes in their bodies than they are about mental maturity. And the adults? They have become the slaves of money and power, and can only deal with the young with honeyed words. This is a serious problem for the young. Tweaking the words of a well-known song, he believes they will aptly describe the youth of the future: Walking in the rain with their heads down. Without a song in their hearts.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Humility and the Spiritual Life

The first step in the spiritual life, says a Catholic Times journalist, is "to part company" with pride.He defines pride as considering oneself creator. We are not the 'word' but the one that responds to the Word. Jesus is the Word of God; this Word made the world; light appeared, and the Word came to live with us.

We mistake our word for the Word of God. We speak our word as if we are the creators. The columnist wants us prepared to receive the question: Haven't you heartily spoken your own word, when you were sent into the world, instead of speaking God's word?

It's not easy to understand what we are being asked to do here. We have the examples of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, but we desire to show off ourselves.  God wants us to exemplify his word and to carry it out in our lives. We are to be united in a relationship with God, merciful with those we meet, and in harmony with the world. God has been speaking through the world by inspiring us from the beginning of history. And Jesus has shown us the unity, mercy and harmony in the world by the example of his life.

During the Chosen Dynasty, women were socially restricted. Because of male power and male vested interests, women suffered much.  What was central and missing in all this was not understanding that the center of family life is not the husband nor the  wife nor the children; the center of family life is the mystery that is in God.

We have difficulty in believing in the providence of God and very easily trust in the strength of our human resources. If the viruses we are exposed to daily were slightly transformed, says the journalist, we could all die. It is not what we see with our eye that is important but the mostly unacknowledged graces that come into our life each day: the sun that rises in the East, every day; awakening in the morning, every day, among other commonly taken-for-granted graces that make our life possible.

If we could add some  humility to the many facets of life we think important, much would change. Constancy is important. With this change in our lives, pride would begin to weaken, and our bodies, mental faculties, and our hearts would become more spiritual, more truly what they were meant to be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Health of Body and Soul

The Catholic Times' desk columnist recalls his early years when the family kept bottles of vitamins and medicine on the dinner table.  He wondered at the time if they could  cure the ailments for which they were taken. Exercise and eating well, he thought would have been the better way.

He was not  concerned then about his health. It was mainly trying to keep away from catching a cold. At that time, a good night's rest or a nap would be enough to regain  strength. He played soccer, basketball and joku (playing volley ball with your feet). During his years of schooling, these sports  kept him in good shape.

As the years went by, things began to change. Aches and pains started to appear. Food was eaten no longer for its taste  but rather for his own taste for food. He remembers that he could make the rounds five times at a buffet table, and eat at different hours of the day without problems. But one day, coming back from a bath house, he fell to the ground because of an excruciating pain, later found to be gastritis and an esophagus problem. Even after this incident, he was not as careful, he admits, as he should have been. He now is more careful when he sits down to eat, even when it's a simple meal of noodles.

He is bothered with chronic tiredness which even a good night's sleep does not dissipate, and finds walking up to his third floor office difficult. Because of these latest symptoms, his wife also gets after him to improve his dietary regimen: including omega-3 oil, vitamins, brown rice, vegetables, beans with the rice, papaya enzymes and also, whenever possible, buying organic.

He has taken steps, he says, to provide for the lack of exercise and a good diet, supplementing with other health aids.  Seeing how this has improved his physical health, he wonders if similar steps focusing on the spiritual side of life will improve his spiritual health. He has been baptized for 30 years, but instead of making progress in spiritual maturity, he had been content, he says, with comfort and laziness. Especially pride which has brought  inflammation and hardening of the spiritual faculties.

The concern we should have for the  the body is similar to the concern we should have for the spirit.  Sunday Mass and our daily spiritual exercises, if not regular and desire is missing, may be a sign that we need to take some spiritual vitamins. They could be in the form of retreats and spiritual reading. And because of the interconnection of the body and the spirit, both need to be cared for if we are to live to the optimum of our possibilities.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

'Walking with Philosophy'

Most people are able to  separate theory from practice, knowing and doing. A scholar with great knowledge is not necessarily a virtuous person; a philosopher is not always a moral person; and a great theologian is not always a spiritual person or a saint.
However, at the  appearance on the world stage of philosophy, both in the East and in the West, this was not the case. The study of philosophy began around the 6th and 7th centuries before Christ.  It was the intellectual  search for knowledge, not generally concerned with systematization and theory but was more practical: learning how to live. The goal was to discover the right relationship with nature, things and other people.

The Catholic Times, in its "Walking with Philosophy" column, pointed out that the first philosophers, for the most part, were not interested in abstract metaphysical theories or dogmatic systems. They were interested in living the good life.

The systematization, speculation and theorizing came later, and is the reason, according to the column, we have lost interest in philosophical  studies. In the beginning, the philosophers were interested in right actions. How was a right-minded person to act? They wanted to know how a person could be consistently one in action and in thought.
From the beginning of philosophical thought in those early centuries, we have wanted to understand the significance of existence and the world we live in. This desire comes from the very nature of humanity. The word 'philosophy,' as we know, comes from the word for wisdom (sophia) and the word for love (philos). We naturally and enthusiastically search for truth to solve the problems of life. As long as they exist we will always be philosophizing, always seeking meaning and a better understanding of life.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Being of the one Doing

A priest, reminiscing with friends concerning the times they spent together on Mondays for talks on different aspects of their work, remembers that it was not easy to sit attentively while hearing lectures. He mentioned that during these lectures a few of the priests were valiantly trying to keep themselves from dozing, and the professor, seeing the effort, commented that they must have had a busy weekend.

This incident was recalled by the priest in his column for the Catholic Times. At the time, the speaker, was an assistant priest who was responsible for the funeral and wedding Masses, morning Masses, and Masses for the young; it was a busy week, he told the Professor, who was surprised at the answer. "I understand the work that you are doing, he said, "but it seems to me that when you are saying Masses it should recharge you to do your work with new vigor and energy."

From that time on, the priest never ever said he was tired from the Masses he said. Many decades have passed and the Masses and communions have been a source of recharging and renewal for the work.

The Mass has, indeed, been life-giving. An antidote to our common experience of life, which at times is difficult and tedious, leaving us with a feeling of burn out, and dreaming of the kind of existence we would like to enjoy. Stress is felt by all of us. Even priests, who have devoted their lives to the service of others, find that even relating with their parishioners and fulfilling the requirements of a sacramental life can be tiring and unsatisfying.

It is at those times that we have to reflect not on what we are doing as much as on the one doing. Our being is what is important. By focusing on the one doing the work, we nourish the work, making it more effective in helping others. Seeing  ourselves with different, more understanding eyes allows us to receive new strength for the work. God has led us to where we are. We should trust that he will continue to move us with grace, making our response one of surprise and  gratitude--and more effective.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wanting to Better the Life of the Elderly

Many, late in life, feeling a need for more education to do their work well, decide to go on for added studies. The Peace Weekly tells us of Monica, who worked  with poor and alienated women, and who decided, in her 50s, to go to Japan to get a doctorate in gerontology.

After 13 years, not knowing any Japanese when she started, she got her degree. Her dissertation was an exhaustive study of the Korean history of work with the elderly. She will translate it into Korean and plans to publish it in the future. At her age, to go on for a doctorate in another country, unfamiliar as she was with the language, is not something easy to image. Next year, she will be teaching at the Catholic University, which will make her life even busier.

She admitted to wanting to give up many times, but she overcame the difficulties and persevered with her studies, receiving help from many during her time in Japan, and has many to thank, she says. She now has the qualifications of a first-grade social worker, care-giver.  She saw a need to gain knowledge regarding the needs of the  elderly and made her decision to become a specialist in the field.

She has been  a leader in the Catholic Workers Movement and began  a home for women, becoming a Godmother to many. She received education in many different areas of study, and earned a master's degree in women's studies. She  aspires to starting a group home exclusively for the elderly with the necessary cultural accompaniments. Following England's example, she would also like to see restaurants that cater to the needs of the elderly, not only as places where they can eat and drink tea, but where they can get counseling and  enjoy their leisure time.

Her goal will continue to be, she says, to use her knowledge to further the well-being of  the elderly in Korea.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are You Happy?

When we die and go to heaven, God will ask, according to Sister Park, whether we were happy. She believes we will not be happy without living a spiritual life. 

Sister Park is a Holy Name Sister who teaches spirituality in the States, and was written up in the Catholic Times on her visit to Korea. ( Before going to the States, she was a journalist for the Times.) Spirituality for the Sister is a way of being happy. If you are happy, she says, there must be, underlying the happiness, a spirituality of some sort.   Experience in  our faith life and  experience in our daily life are not separate.  Attempting to find meaning in our lives is what spirituality is all about.

She is preparing to write a book about her experience of community life in Shamanism and in Buddhism. She wants to show the rest of the world  the understanding of community life in Korean culture. She also feels it's a good way to understand our own Scriptures.

Her  community in Korea has taught her about her own personal journey. She was given strength while in the community and wants to discover why this was so. The synergistic effect from  participation in community living is an antidote, she feels, to the present individualism of society.

The article concludes by telling us never to despair. We live within a world where money is everything, but this gross distortion of the truth can be overcome, she says. Failures are means that allow us to grow as mature persons--when we use the failures as challenges. She tells the young to keep on looking for mentors to help in the maturing process. Keep on desiring and praying, she advises, and you will find your mentors.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

North Korean Rufugees

North Korean refugees who  flee their communist homeland in order to avoid oppression and  food shortages risk their lives to resettle in the South. The number now living in South Korea is about 24,000.

The Catholic Times  tells us the story of Hong Teresa, 55 years old, who arrived in South Korea in 2008. She remembers hearing about the Catholic Church from her mother as a child and being told to be careful not to speak about this to anyone. This remembrance helped her to receive baptism, in 2009, while living in Seoul.

Teresa escaped from North Korea for the first time in 2002 and was returned to the North by the Chinese authorities. She escaped again in 2005. While in China, she saw the name of a Catholic Church written in Korean script. This brought  back the words of her mother years earlier.

Her mother told her about the foreign missioners who worked in the North and that her maternal grandfather had worked for the Church  but suffered under the Communists because of this connection.  Her family had difficulty finding work, she said, because they were considered undesirable elements within the society.

When she was in China and saw the Catholic church, she entered and introduced  herself to God as the granddaughter of her grandfather, and started to cry. The person that led her to the church gave her a prayer book which she has used ever since.  Three years after leaving the North,  she arrived in South Korea.

There are no Catholic priests in the North, about 3000 Catholics, and a mission station. She feels that the reason they have a semblance of religion there is to publicize an 'openness' to religion to the outside world.  While in Pyongyang, she never heard about the Church; she did, only when she arrived in the South.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Too Much Talk About the Environment?

Too much talk about the environment makes our attempts at eating and living well  worrisome. Some  would like the talk reduced; it tends to bring fear into our lives, says the author of the book Where are the Polar Bears Going to Go? 

Interviewed by both Catholic papers, the author, a priest with a doctorate in environmental science, says the issue is not going to go away simply because we don't want to talk about it. 

He explains why we need to take an interest in the environment: the diseases we are exposed to because of the chemical toxins that are entering the food chain, the spread  of hormones in the environment which can affect sterility, the dangers of genetic engineering, among many other areas of concern.

 Some time in the future will we be talking less about the state of our democracy, he maintains, and more about the state of our environment. At present, those who are harming democracy are penalized; the time will come when those harming the environment will also be penalized. The pollution and destruction of the environment are serious matters, but we are not sufficiently conscious of the destruction.

Koreans, generally, do not appreciate the beauty of our environment, he says, even though the natural environment of Korea is one of the most beautiful in the world, and we are taking care of it. There is no other country that has succeeded in preserving its forests like Korea has: over 65 percent of the land surface is forested. We should start celebrating the beauty of our natural environment.

The author wants religious people to read the signs of the times and be prophetic in their efforts to speak out in this area before it gets worse. He gives us a list of ten things we can do to help: 1) Love nature as we love ourselves. 2) Don't do harm to the animal and vegetable life. 3) Let us boast about the ways of simplicity and be embarrassed about luxury. 4) Have a simple diet and not  waste food. 5) Separate our waste and recycle. 6) Use electricity and water sparingly and use detergents carefully. 7) Don't use disposable products. 8) Control the use of heat and air conditioning. 9) Use the bicycle and public transportation more. 10) Reduce the emitting of methane gases.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

International Marriages

A Religious Sister mentions, in her column on pastoral work, that we are all citizens of the world. In the past, when she was asked to write about her experiences, she always refused, feeling it was like making a public confession of her life. But she has relented and shares some of her experiences with us.

She has been in the work with migrants for the last eight years, she says. In the past, it was with the heart, but now it is mostly with the mind. She is not trying to fathom the workings of the migrant's inner feelings and desires, but is more interested in helping them get ahead in the business world. It is now my desire, she says, to help make the life of the migrants understandable to our citizens.

An important aspect in her approach is to deal with the conflicted feelings concerning international marriages. Compared to how it was viewed a few years ago, much as changed--for the good. It is now something that is accepted as natural, and she is asked by many of the Christians to introduce some foreign girls to their sons. She has little difficulty in doing this,  but it is another matter to have these marriages turn out healthy, and  the family developing happily.

Most people have heard stories of  international marriages in which the woman has abandoned her husband and family, left to find work in a factory to earn money, found a man from her own country, or has not been faithful. There are many such stories.

Because of these stories, many have qualms and fears about international marriages. Our increasingly closely knit world is likely to bring us more, not less, of these marriages. But there is no need to see this negatively; we need only open ourselves, without prejudice, to the different cultures of the world.

If we ask whether the poor women who come to Korea are of an inferior status, most will answer no. When we see  things that are strange, we should ask for an explanation. When we see something we don't understand, we should be tolerant and try to explain our own culture. At times, it is our feeling of superiority in dealing with the immigrants from the poorer countries that is the problem.

International marriages can be as happy, she insists, as any other marriage. It requires getting beyond the financial difficulties and seeing others with a more open and understanding heart. We are all citizens of the world, she is fond of repeating, and we all share its joys and its sorrows. This is not all that difficult. We have the example of Jesus, who had no prejudice and considered everyone equal. He is our teacher.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Loneliness in Life

Loneliness is a part of  life.  Jesus was lonely. In Luke's chapter 9 Jesus is rejected when he passes through Samaritan country. In John 9:58 we are told, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 

When are we lonely? asks the columnist in his column on happiness in the Peace Weekly. When we are excluded, he says, by those we love, when as children we were abandoned by parents, when we are separated from someone we love, when Jesus was rejected by his beloved disciples on the day of his death--just a few instances of how we can be affected by loneliness.  

Second reason mentioned: when we have no one to help us, when there is a feeling of rejection by the whole world, and when we ask for help in a desperate situation and are refused.  

Third: the loneliness that comes when no one needs me, when I have given my resume to dozens of different companies but there is still no opportunity for work. And when refugees who have been removed from their homes have nowhere to go.  In these situations, we can't help but be lonely. 

Fourth: when we are not understood. Especially in families when we are not able to communicate, with families finding it difficult to sit together at meals and very often eating separately.

Fifth: the feeling of loneliness with the approach of death. Aging and the accompanying loss of youth and the problems of old age bring sadness.

Sixth: the loneliness that comes with sickness. Job is the prototype of this kind of loneliness, the kind that comes from a lack of personal concern for others. 

In Korea, we have many suicides, a serious disease with its possible root in loneliness. Our writer states that the reason for this is the lack of Christians living the life of faith with its positive message of love.  

Jesus came to us as the consoling one; we have not, he says, been living according to his example. 
Since we are all lonely we should know how to console, but because of hand phones, computers, the internet, and many other electronic devices we are now withdrawing from personal  contact more than ever. Isn't this the reason that Jesus asked us to love one another?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Overcoming Disabilities

A series of articles in Living with the Scriptures discuss what can be learned from the failures we experience in life. The first article is about Peter and Stephani, two young adults nearing the age of 40, with congenital cerebral palsy. Stephani, more seriously impaired, is not able to use her hands and feet.

Both gave up hope for marriage early on in life, but in May they were married in a Catholic Church in Seoul, with the  presence of many well wishers, and then went to the Philippines for their honeymoon.

Years ago Peter had asked a Religious Sister in his parish to introduce him to  a good woman. She introduced him to two women, one of whom was Stephani, who he fell in love with at first sight. This was not the case with Stephani. She had no desire for marriage; the possibility of friendship yes, but not marriage. On the day they met Peter only stayed briefly, said he was busy and left.

Shortly after, Peter called to explain himself and all went well. Thereafter he would meet Stephani in Seoul, where he worked fixing computers, whenever he had a chance, they would go out to eat and enjoy each others company. Although Peter in the past had no desire for marriage--feeling that life was just too difficult for him--he was impressed with Stephani's intelligence and sensitivity. He asked her to marry him.  

Stephani's  parents were adamantly opposed. Their daughter was not able to use her hands and was in no position to be a wife to anyone. She wasn't able to prepare meals and had even difficulty in eating. No husband would be able to live with this for long, even though Peter assured them that he would take care of the cooking.

It wasn't long before Stephani changed her mind about marriage and decided that she wanted to marry Peter; she asked her parish priest for help. He became the matchmaker with the two parents. He first went down country to the home of Stephani and convinced her parents, and then to Seoul to the home of Peter. Surprisingly, both families agreed and the marriage was on.

A  handicapped child are the parents  biggest suffering. Everybody in the family feels the pain. The handicapped  have the great difficulty of accepting their plight, and often reproach themselves, their parents and even God. Peter had tried to kill himself, and, though Stephani's spiritual life was strong, she also reproached God, which is not surprising.

As children they saw that their future was going to be difficult. Being the butt of jokes when growing up was the hardest to accept. Jesus' cross only lasted a short period of time but their agony continues for life. Peter also said that when Jesus was tortured by the Romans he even took pleasure in the thought, but he quickly realized that Jesus did  not reproach his torturers. 'Falling and getting up again," Peter said, has been their life from the beginning.

The article concludes with the words of another disabled couple, whose life was made into a documentary, Planet of Snail. The husband, who was both deaf and blind, said "I am closing my eyes to see the most valuable things. I am closing my ears to hear the most beautiful sounds. I am waiting in silence to speak the most truthful words."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Modesty in Korean Video Musicals

With globalization and the interchange between countries, the modesty that came with the Confucian and Buddhist culture is no longer influencing our society. Korea has become 'first world,' even in this area of life.

Musical videos are very popular in Korea. In the past the ear was important, now it is the eye. The business world has taken notice of this shift and is concentrating on producing visuals that appeal more to the consumer. Writing in the Catholic Times, in his column on sex in  popular culture, the researcher asks us to go to the internet to view Bo peep Bo peep to get an idea of what he is saying.

In the musical  Bo peep Bo peep, the viewer experiences the feeling of watching  soft porn; the researcher asks why? This musical is using the grammar of pornography, he says. A gorgeously decked out women goes to a club where she dances sexually, seduces a man and they go to a hotel for sex.  During sex she looks directly  at the camera on two occasions.

Up until now, he asks, have you ever seen, on TV or in the  movies, the characters staring into the camera?  This is considered a 'no, no' even for an acting novice but when you have a professional  actress looking at the camera, what does it mean?  If you ask any middle school student they will all answer "pornography."

How is it that the middle school students  answer this so quickly? The researcher tells us this is what they are exposed to daily. Only porno films use this technique to entice the men who are watching. The makers of these  films  use this code with exquisiteness.  Unconsciously the middle school  students have picked this up rather quickly.This is now part of the culture we live in. And it is frightful.

This series on sex in Korean culture will continue. Porno was always there but not so publicly accessible. Here in Korea the majority of the citizens  still have difficulty accepting what is happening in the media, and yet the underlying sexual nature of what we are being exposed to is evident everywhere, especially in advertizing.

Musical Videos are just one segment of the visual mass media that is going through this change; our one world is also changing the traditional customs of Korea. The country still has her traditional respect for modesty, and the consensus that pornography is unacceptable, actually illegal, although  easily accessible. There are many in the society working against this area of self-expression, but it will not be easy working against the lucrative business interests of so many.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Singing The Blues Away

The sadness that often comes into our lives is handled by us in many varied and interesting ways.  An example of what one priest did on returning to his monastery is recounted by a columnist in the Catholic Times.

The priest had spent many years overseas doing parish work, and the columnist remembers meeting him on a number of occasions on his return to the monastery. His disposition, the columnist said, was welcoming, disarming, enthusiastic and unpretentious.

That evening after the meal, while  drinking tea and talking with his Korean colleagues,  he decided to go to his room; he returned with a guitar and a book of popular songs from the 70-80s. He suggested a sing-along. There was a period of awkward silence;  the columnist thought it odd: 5 elderly religious being asked to sing...?

The priest, however, opened the book and from the beginning started to sing. If the song was known he would begin playing, if not, he would skip it.  His mastery of the guitar also was not very good. He paid no attention to his playing and went through the book page by page. The group would join in the singing, some looking at the ceiling, one looking out the window, and one with eyes closed--but all were singing. 

Some of the songs were greeted with applause, If a song brought back some memory, this would be mentioned. They all sang with enthusiasm. There were no  comments on the singing.  If they knew the song, they would sing. If not, they would listen. At the  end of the singing, the  priest said to his colleagues:

"Living here in the monastery, there were difficult times. Battling cancer and living overseas have created difficulties in my life, but on those occasions, I would take out the guitar and sing. It was after the singing that I would find peace."

That evening the columnist considered the group as being similar to a picture that is moved from one location to another.  A picture of sadness being removed by song. That night, before sleep, he was thankful that he was part of that picture.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dealing With Pain in Life

Mind healing, how we can heal our minds and hearts of the hurts we have suffered, was the topic of a recent desk column commentary by the editor-in-chief of the Catholic Times.  Many in today's society are hurting: wars, family and individual conflicts, cultural prejudice, workplace and educational injustices, and a host of other situations that inflict much pain. We all have to live with these painful situations every day; the only difference among them is their size. But to say that my pain is greater than yours, he says, is an attitude that makes no sense. The way we face the pain is what is important.

Some people, in the face of the pain, close their hearts and become angry and hateful, while others, precisely because of their pain, open their hearts with a better understanding of the suffering of others. To live with others is difficult; we are likely to discover aspects of ourselves we would prefer not to see.  An example would be when we see another person, completely unrelated to us, who is happy, which tends to make us acutely aware of our own unhappiness.

We can define life, he says, as a time of waiting.  The psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm tells us that humans can be described as creatures that look upward and forward to a future time, waiting for a better person to emerge and for better opportunities, waiting for their dreams to be realized, waiting for the end of their suffering.

That we wait mindlessly, he says, is the problem. What are we waiting for and and how is it important to us? are questions we need to ask ourselves.He suggests that what is important to all Christians is the consolation of family and friends. More so would be the consolation that comes from God. Also helpful is to realize that we tend to imitate those we admire and think about, and to realize that faith is also a kind of waiting, which we can see illustrated by the Scriptures.

Those that have received consolation in their suffering are the ones who can share it with others who are suffering. He mentions the tragic incident of a mother who had lost a child in an accident. Though many tried to console the mother, they were unable to do so, the tears kept coming. It was only when a friend, a mother who lost her own daughter in such an accident, approached the grieving mother with a hug that the tears stopped.  

There is a direct ratio of  pain to consolation. The greater the pain, the greater is God's consolation.  We have the example of our martyrs, whose faith and trust grew because of  God's  promises; suffering  sublimates into great hope.

All those who are suffering are walking in the way of Jesus. Let us experience his outstretched hand. Like the sun that is always there in the sky even when hidden by clouds, God is always with us,  offering us the consolation we are seeking. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Removing Unnecessary Obstacles

A priest from the diocese of Incheon writes in the priest bulletin of his frequent climbs to the top of a mountain near his parish:  the view encompasses the airport, North Mountain and the Han River.             

Recently the owner of the property near the mountain fenced about 200 meters to preserve his property, he said. Mountain climbers from the direction of the parish had  to go around to find another entrance to the mountain. This did not sit well with the priest, and like many others complained about the situation among themselves. 

On one occasion, he had the thought: "Have I also been a stumbling block to others? If I have this is not  good."

He tells us of a  conversation he had with one of his parishioners:

"Father, is it  possible  to  change some of the qualifications for attending the parish elders' college program?"

"Why?" he replied.

"Because there is the study of the Scriptures and only those who can read are accepted. My mother was very sad; she wanted badly to attend but because she can't read  she was not able to  apply."

"That is true. I will have to give it some thought," he replied.

After this conversation, the priest realized that he was preventing those who couldn't read to approach closer to God. He doesn't know how many are not able to read, but even if it is only one person, he thought, the door should not be closed.

The next time the program started the paragraph that said one had be literate was removed. Those who were illiterate would still be able to understand the lectures and gain much from the program. He apologized to the elders in the congregations for not being more understanding of others.

Blocking the way to his mountain climbing was the beginning of a long reflection on the way he was blocking others from getting closer to God. Upset as he was on seeing the fence, and experiencing first hand the anger of others in similar circumstances, did open his eyes to the ways he may have been blocking others in his own congregation from growing. If there are blocks in the way of this growth, he wants to begin removing them.