Monday, April 30, 2012

Community and Relgious Life

The writer this week in the Desk Column of the Catholic Times admits that the internet could keep him interested  a whole day. However,  there are many in the society who need the off-line  camaraderie: sitting down with others with a drink in hand feeling the warmth of  body and soul  with  human relationships. This will be more of a concern as  we get  used to the analog way of living.

This is true also of our religious life; it is not an individual or private affair. Some may think that they  stand  alone  before God but Christian teaching tells us that God is interested in the liberation of his people as a group. Christianity is a community. It is like the fingers of a hand if one gives trouble all feel it.

In the West which  has become secularized, the danger is believing without belonging tendency. The  religious heart is still there but lack of desire to belong to any institution; an individualization and self-interested  spirituality are in vogue. They consider themselves Christians but not interested in the Sacramental life; Mass attendance not considered a duty, there is no thought about community.

How about the Korean Catholic Church? The individualization from the West has entered Korea, but   Koreans have an understanding of a group orientated society; the  belonging has not disappeared from our thinking. We still have  cliques and problems with divisions, but  we  do not prefer the  independent or    the individual  approach over community.   We  still believe that the spiritual life is one in communion with others.

The problem for us, he says, is the belonging without believing. The teaching of the community does not affect our daily life. We desire to belong without following the teaching of the community. And this is especially seen in our understanding of the morality of life issues. In all the surveys that have been made, we see the big discrepancy between what is taught and what is done. The Catholics pick and choose what they want to follow.

The Church has to deal with this issue. The numbers of catechumens are not dropping off; the churches are crowded with parishioners; vocations are not decreasing by much and the friendly faces of  the parishioners  seen by the priests does not diminish the crisis that we have. To think that we need to go back and give programs that will help educate the laity is an illusion. Thought has to be given why the Catholics are not completely following the teaching of the Church. If we think, we know we will not be searching for answers.

The Church has to deal with this issue. The numbers of catechumens are not dropping off; the churches are crowded with parishioners; vocations are not decreasing by much and the friendly faces of  the parishioners  seen by the priests does not diminish the crisis that we have. To think that we need to go back and give programs that will help educate the laity is an illusion. Thought has to be given why the Catholics are not completely following the teaching of the Church. If we think, we know we will not be searching for answers.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Oneness of Faith and Life

The Bible and Life magazine had a series of articles on the family experience of faith, recently, and one of the articles by a priest asked the question: If there had to be a choice between faith or study what would the parents decide?  Most of the parents, he believes, would come down on the side of study, because we have been programed for this choice by society. And yet the question presents us with a great challenge.

If society had a proper appreciation of the family and its role as the basic unit of society, there would be a great change in society, the priest said. Our schooling, he believes, tend to weaken the role the family should have. This is also true for the religious education of the children if it is completely passed on to the Church and their Sunday school programs. A lot of the blame can be placed on the fast-changing society we live in, but the parent's non-interest can't be overlooked as contributing to the problem.

Because of the great growth of the Church in the 80s, it has not come to grips with many of these issues. One of the most important is the separation of life from faith, the failure to engage the faith in one's life. Parents are more interested in having children seek financial success and honors than being a Christian. Without the help of the family in providing the faith atmosphere for growth, children will grow up with a dysfunctional faith life, an opposition to faith, and passivity or tepidity to religious matters. He offers us three ways to keep this from happening.

First, foster an appreciation of the parent's obligation to the children: They are a gift of God and have to be led into a relationship with God by the parents.

Secondly, Because parents are teaching by everything they say and do, they are the model of what the Christian life will be to the children.

Thirdly, the parents will need help with this, and that means a relationship with the larger community of  the Church. This requires that we change from pastoral care that focuses only on the individual, and focuses more on the family, supporting them in their efforts  to become holy.

The formation of family and faith life should be seen as one. With the separation of faith from life, this often results in a  lopsided approach to living. Children have to experience the love of God, to know they are loved, and to show  this love to others. This will require, the priest says, forming holy families and helping the Church to be a loving community--a community that will be a light and salt to the greater community of society.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Contrast in East and West Thinking

Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine a Catholic philosophy professor cites a passage, from the 10-volume novel, Honbul (Fire of the Soul), which is an ode to earth. The professor feels that its author, Choi Myung-hee  expressed what the earth means to a Korean. Fire of the Soul  points out the importance of being of service to nature and having a respectful attitude toward life. In simple Korean, the professor calls it mental housekeeping. The following is a brief summary of the issues raised by Myung-hee that shows serious differences in outlook toward nature between the East and the West.

Millions of years ago, humanity appeared on earth and lived together with nature, giving humanity a unique vision.  About five thousand years ago words were written down for prosperity.  Both in the East and in the West we have written accounts appearing about the same time in Genesis and in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu.

The professor contrasts the  thinking of the East with the West. The West has the understanding that humans are to conquer and  subdue the natural world, and he quotes Aristotle being of the same mind: "Humans have been made to perfect nature"-- words similar to those used in  Genesis. However, Lao Tzu in his chapter 25 says:

Man models himself on earth.
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.
In the East, we have a living together with nature: we are to use nature as a pattern, earth as a mirror of life. The professor acknowledges that there is a new way of interpreting the words of Genesis that give new meaning to conquer and subdue, changing them to stewardship and care for nature, though the professor prefers using the word 'housekeeping.' Humanity has been created, he says, to be in rapport with all life, and was given the ability to do the housekeeping.

Korean ancestors saw everything moving, nothing was static being, everything was becoming--a coming into and out of being. Humanity was to keep pace with all of life, which was in constant motion; those who did were living the good life; those who who did not were the losers. 'Becoming' was understood as an emptying of oneself.  Their foundational thinking was not 'being' but emptiness. Everything disappears into no-thing.

Koreans, in contrast to Westerners, see the law of life in nature: sharing oneself, emptying oneself to enable others to live. This is equally true, says the professor, for the amoeba to the plant sprout; they give, in order to grow.  Without sharing there is death, he says. We are all to disappear into the potency of the universe. The last step of this division is emptiness.  In the West, there is a drive to satisfy our personal desires. In the East, there is the ideal of throwing oneself into the emptiness of the universe to receive new life. We take the example of God, in his absence, to share and empty ourselves.

Those who refuse to share, to open to others by emptying themselves, are working against life. It is this sharing and emptying, the professor says, that is  'the housekeeping law of the universe.'

Friday, April 27, 2012

50th Aniversay of the Guadalupe Missioners in Korea

This year marks the 50th year of diplomatic relations with Mexico and also 50 years during which the Guadalupe Missioners have been working in Korea.  Both Catholic Papers are profiling the society in a series of articles introducing us to  their work.

The first superior of the Guadalupe Society was the Maryknoll bishop Alonso Manuel Escalante. The first mission territory was Japan, Korea the second.  The missioners arrived in Korea in 1961. Two missioners were assigned to Pusan, at the invitation of the bishop. In 1963 two priests were assigned to the Kwangju diocese as a result of a meeting between the archbishop and the superior of the the Guadalupe Missioners during the II Vatican Council.

The Guadalupe Fathers worked  to acculturate Catholicism into the Korean culture. The article tells us about the efforts of one priest to inculturate the Mass into Korean, but it was not adopted by the bishops. The society also sent their seminarians to attend the seminaries in Korea, both in Kwangju and in Seoul. They were one of the first to build a Church distinct from the buildings  of that time and always willing to take on the difficult assignments and to go to any place where there was a  need.

The Mexican Church received help from the Spanish Church and, in gratitude, the  Guadalupe Fathers wanted to go to  other countries to do the same. Many worked on the missions  from Mexico but there was no umbrella group in Mexico to facilitate the work.  The  need was felt and some Mexicans studying in Rome, with the help of some  bishops, began discussing the issue, which resulted in two bishops starting a monthly magazine publicizing the idea.

Opposition to the idea was strong. The recent persecution of the Church (1926-1936) influenced the thinking at the time; Mexico was still trying to find its place in society. There was a lack of priests in the country, and the national financial situation  was not good.  However, despite this situation the bishops decided to have a national missionary assembly. It was at this meeting that they formed a committee to prepare plans for the foreign mission society, which was realized in 1948, received  approval from Rome, and they went on to build the first seminary.  Maryknoll Bishop Escalante, a Mexican,  was their first superior. In 1949 the Society celebrated the opening of the seminary and accepted the first students.

The first superior, the founding inspiration for the movement, worked in China for 10 years and though his primary interests were with the Orient, the Society today has missioners in Africa, Hong Kong, Angola, Peru, Brazil, and Cuba. They have 180 members and 90 working in mission countries of the world.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fighting for the Culture of Life

The cultural movement against life that continues to grow can't be directly confronted only by the medical profession, but has to engage the help of all sectors of society. An article in the Catholic Times mentions that the beginnings of life and its definition are all concerns that are understood differently by many. The Research Institute for Life and Culture at Sogang University is searching for some answers.

For two days, the Institute dealt with the topic of how to define life. In their international academic meeting this year, scientists and sociologists from many nations looked at the issue with religious eyes: What is life, its value, the culture of life, and what  should  it be?  They saw the harmful consequences of an outlook on life that ignored or denied its sacred dimension, and how that could result in a false understanding of human nature and of our natural environment; discovering solutions to this issue is considered an urgent matter.

The head of the Institute, in his inaugural talk, said that from the beginning the Institute has fought against the culture of death and has given a vision of what the culture of  life should be. He wants to devise a  systematized plan he hopes will  spread to other parts of the world.

One participant said they had discussed vigorously the ethical  beginnings and end of life but had been slow in examining the results of this in society. In order to be more effective in spreading the culture of life, he said,  there needs to be a more comprehensive effort  in making evident the moral context when discussing life issues.

Another participant mentioned the impact of materialism and consumerism on issues of life. How these attitudes marginalize humans, and lead us to destroy our environment. It is by being considerate of the other and controlling our desires, he said, that we will solve our problems and be happy in the process.

A participant from India pointed out that without concern for all species of life, our own lives are jeopardized. Another mentioned that globalization, without more sensitivity to the needs of others, can result in more disparity between those who have and those who don't, leading to more problems with the  environment. A solution suggested was to have more dialogue between scientists  and philosophers.

He also regretted that the movie culture of today fills our consciousness and dominates to such an extent that it makes forming correct moral judgements on the information received difficult. He emphasized the importance of utilizing our imagination in more creative ways to help solve the current impasse over how best to address these difficult issues.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cassock no Longer Awkward

Priests in Korea are not opposed to wearing the cassock in their parishes but seldom do so when outside the parish. A prison chaplain writing in the Pastoral Diary of  the Peace Weekly explores the benefits of wearing it while working in correctional institutions.

In the beginning it was awkward, he said, since most inmates were not sympathetic to religion, but with the passage of time he felt more comfortable, and experienced much that was new.

Now when he enters the prison wearing his cassock he's immediately recognized as being a Catholic priest, which was not the case when he wore only the roman collar.  There are ministers who wear roman collars, but with the cassock all know who he is and many more  greet him than in the past. Buddhists also find it easier to greet him when he wears the cassock.

A prison officer seeing him in a cassock came up to him and said she is not a Catholic but has seen priests in cassocks in movies and wanted to introduce herself. On one occasion a foreigner, who saw him dressed in a cassock at a restaurant near one of the prisons, found it strange to see a priest in a cassock and came up to greet him.

In one of the correctional institutes for the young, some of the Catholics asked him a number of questions:  "What is that black dress called....Why do you wear it....Can we also wear it....Why are there so many buttons?" The cassock brings out questions of this type.

Wearing the cassock has many benefits, he said. Most importantly, "I become more faithful."  It takes more effort than wearing the roman collar and makes for more earnestness in my work, he added. The inmates at first found it strange but in time it became something very natural. The Catholics, especially, liked to see him in a cassock. "It has been a long time since I have seen a priest in a cassock" is a common response of the inmates.

Even nonbelievers, when they see the priest dressed in a long black dress, find it strange and look at him curiously. The prison chaplain does not go only to the prison to say Mass but also to introduce the Catholic Church to the prisoners. Everything the priest says and does has the possibility of bringing the prisoners closer to a better understanding of the Church.

In the summer, wearing the cassock can be uncomfortably warm and in the winter somewhat cold, but it makes the Catholics happy, introduces others to Catholicism, and helps the priest to examine himself as he makes the rounds of the prisons: three favorable results with one effort. He plans to continue this approach in the future.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

No Place for Racism

The editorial in the Catholic Times brings to our attention a Filipina, who became a naturalized Korean, a member of the  National Assembly as a proportional representation candidate when the Saenuri Party (New Frontier)  won a majority in the recent parliamentary elections. Reason enough to have her attacked on the internet with all kinds of racist remarks. The editorial does mention the brutal killing of a woman by an ethnic Korean Chinese worker at that time,  helped to inflame  the hate talk, but it admits that Korea has this deep feeling of aversion for the foreigner embedded in the society.

To express feelings of racial discrimination is not Christian and goes against our teaching. We have the words of our Lord, in Matt 25:35, "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me." We are urged to deal kindly with the immigrant. This attitude of dislike for the foreigner is not only against our humanity but also contrary to our faith.

We, as Koreans, in our recent history have been the victims of this kind of discrimination, both directly and indirectly. From the time of the Japanese occupation, we have experienced scorn, contempt and persecution. Emigrating to American and Europe, Koreans have experienced great sadness because of the discrimination and the emotional scars still remain with us. The very thing that we have experienced we now see evidenced in our society.

That a single incident can tarnish a whole people lacks all reasonableness. This kind of hate is violence by society. Clearly, to prevent crimes from happening efforts have to be made, but they should not be motivated by prejudice toward the foreigners.

Agencies that have made a study of these problems have shown that the crime of foreigners is much lower than those of Koreans. Therefore there is no justification for the dislike of the foreigner.

Efforts by the Church, both nationally and in each diocese, have been made to take care of the difficulties foreigners experience in adapting to a strange culture. This is not only done because of our similar humanity, but because of  the mission that we have as Christians to make a just society. This requires that we have a correct attitude towards the foreigner, and because of their marginalized status make them one of our first concerns, and not be miserly in our efforts to welcome them into our society.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Formation and Information in the Spiritual Life

Inviting us to a spiritual life, the columnist  in the Catholic Times reminds us that we are fugitives and aliens if our aim in life is worldly success or money. Looking at this style of life from a spiritual perspective we are escaping from God's world.

Looking at it from God's point of view we were created to be spiritual beings. This is the mystery of formation. If all that we are concerned about is our personal interests than we are fleeing from what we are meant to be. We are living a life not in consonance with the blueprint that is our default plan.

We have been made to live in harmony with all of creation, but many are not in harmony with this plan, either because of dullness or because we do not care to see otherwise.  We have been called to be God's people and his lover.

Consonance means form and the luster of formation. All of God's creation has a form or shape. A frog, a peach, all have their form and to intend the form that God endowed each creature is the work of formation. When the formation does not harmonize to what was meant at creation we have non-formation.

It is our duty to follow what God intended for our formation. This is the true meaning of life. What was my form as a baby, in middle school, what is it now, what will it be in 20 years? It may be good or not; it  is my job to make it good.

Of course, we are not talking about our exterior form, which can be changed with cosmetics, diet, and so forth.  We should take an interest in the exterior, but we are talking about the interior form. To achieve this we have to be concerned with formation, which is difficult. And the reason this is so, the columnist reminds us, is because information is required.

In all information there is an interior element which we should be of interest to us.  When we see the information of a flower blooming we should be able to see the formation that God has intended. This requires prayer and meditation.  

From the information we received we should be able to understand the formation that is required. This will change the way we see reality and we will desire liberation and to be one with God. We will desire to be in harmony with God's will and united with him. This, says our columnist, is the reason Jesus came to us.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Working for the Common Good

Embracing diversity in Korean society was the topic in the Catholic Times' column written by a diocesan priest. We see many issues that are disputed within society, which poses a problem when you have a need for policy statements for the whole of society. It is not like in the past where you had those for and against democracy; today it is environment, feminism, finding work for the young, all kinds of different societal issues that are taken up by the mass media and reacted to by the citizens.

Catholics, depending on age, gender, place in society, location, and interests, hold different positions on these issues. There was once  a solidarity among Catholics but today with social issues this is no longer true. Each one expresses strongly his individual position and this will continue to be the case.

Whether a fact or not, the priest wonders if this is the reason why many Catholics have difficulty with the Church speaking out on single issues so forcibly. There are  certain positive results for this approach: single issue confrontation gets better results, the issue is made clear, and we have less discord. In the process of  working for the truth  much is learned, all for the good. This was seen in the Church's involvement with the democratization issue in the past.

The problem here is that in a pluralistic society, when confrontational issues are disputed, we often see one segment of society against the majority. Discord can be settled with compromise and mediation but there is also conflict  that requires the selection of one of two  positions.

The first type of discord may have a political solution which can mitigate the discord. In the second case we have a choice for the truth or not. This calls for an intense battle. This dichotomy between good and evil is very clear for many Catholics  but we are not the only ones living in this world.

Different nations have come to an administrative decision; so what has to be contemplated is our response for the common good.

The columnist wants us to consider an "Enhancing Diversity Management"  approach to the problems. It is not simply adapting to the diversity, but to do all that is possible to work with what we have been given for the common good. This is understood not to compromise what we hold as true but to  make the effort to understand and respect the differences of others and to act as  people of faith. We are dealing with traits that are part of our calling: magnanimity, generosity and thoughtfulness.

He hopes that the 19th  National Assembly will be accepting of diversity as the leadership takes office.  The values of diversity, the market and culture are all to be considered, and also the opposing values, and to work toward a synthesis for the common good. He concludes with the hope of St. Paul that we work for the building of one community.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Understanding Lay Christians

The Korean custom during the  weeks before Easter is to visit the different parishes in a deanery for confession with the other priests of the deanery. It's a time for prayer and hours in the confessional, but also time for camaraderie among the priests, with good food and table conversation.

Writing on spirituality in the Catholic Times a priest talks about what was discussed during one of the meals. Each priest had much to say about the time they had spent in the seminary, their pastoral work and daily life--all interesting and enjoyable. There was also a touching admission by one of the priests who had left the priesthood, temporarily, because of serious conflicts in his life and worries that were too much for him to overcome. He opened a sandwich shop for over a year, he said, and learned a great deal about life, and big changes developed which continued after he returned to the priesthood.

He saw the life of the layperson differently. Selling sandwiches, he soon learned that there was going to be little income to live on. He wondered about the life of the Catholics who also had limited incomes and yet were asked to support the church. He was very thankful for what they were giving to the church. It was, he said, after hitting bottom, that he could  appreciate the life of the layperson.

The other priests, after hearing the confession of their comrade, saw with different eyes the service of the women who were preparing the meal and the refreshments for the priests during their breaks from the confessional. They were all moved by the words of the priest, which helped them to make an effort to live more simply and humbly. 

There have been interesting accounts of priests who have decided to spend time during their sabbatical year working, and one interesting  example was the priest who took the time to work as a taxi driver to learn about the life of the lay folks. It was an eye opener, he said, in many ways. The abuse and the kindness he experienced as a taxi driver helped him in dealing with his parishioners in a way that books would never be able to do.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Money and Church Attendance

Some years ago a priest, writing in a pastoral bulletin, attended  a village meeting of Catholics where a woman told a group of housewives what she told a neighbor about the expenses of going  to church. The neighbor wanted to know what the financial burden was for a family interested in going to church.

The woman explained all the possibilities: Sunday collections, monthly offerings, support for vocations, building fund, and so forth., but that it was all free will offerings; you give what you feel able to give, she made clear. The neighbor told her what she was giving, and that was the end of her interest in the church.

There are families that find it difficult to prepare the family with the necessary offerings each Sunday because of their limited income.  And when they attend they hear about the money that is needed, and this is stressful to many and makes going to church difficult.

One parish in the country levied each family 3,000 dollars for the building fund, which was the reason many stopped going to church. Money, the priest feels, is why many do not go to church.

The Church grew from the time of the persecution because of the poor that came into the Church.  After the Korean war it grew greatly, and for the most part because of the poor. There was not the pressure to give. However, the Church today, compared to that time, is rich and now the poor have been alienated.

In the West, half of the churches have been closed, and in many churches many of the seats are empty. First, it was the workers and the poor that left; after this the intelligentsia left. This is also happening in Korea, he says. Jesus had a special love for the poor and when we are not concerned with the poor, we are separating ourselves from Jesus.

It has been said by one of the dioceses that the reason for the money pressures on the Christians is the building programs. It is necessary to build because of the increase in the numbers but there are buildings that are large and luxurious, and some of them are not being used. It is a crime, the priest says, that this pain is being inflicted on the Christians.

The 50th anniversary of  many parishes and dioceses is being commemorated this year with building programs. In the Scriptures, the Jubilee Year was a year of liberation, freeing Christians from their many obligations; now the Jubilee year imposes more financial burdens, not giving joy but pain.  

Genghis Khan was a first class tactician when it came to leading his people, the priest said.  Better than thinking of plans to help the people, Genghis Khan said that it is wiser to take away some of the burdens they are presently struggling with. That would be more helpful than plans believed to be helpful.             

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prayer and Work (Ora et Labora)

The pray and work, (Ora et Labora) principles of the Benedictine religious life has remained with us for 1500 years, coming to us from the time of St. Benedict. Although the saint is not known to have used these words, his rule of life can be expressed with these words.

The diocesan bulletin has an article that introduces us to the life of the Benedictines in our own day. The writer is the novice master of the Benedictine monastery in Waegwan. Because of the influence Benedict had on European culture, Pope Paul VI, in 1964, proclaimed Benedict the patron saint of Europe. 

The novice master tells us that when he arrived at the monastery 20 years ago it didn't take him long before he knew what those two words meant. It was in that year that the Benedictines began  planting rice  fields without the use of insecticides. Their environmentally friendly approach to farming was a stark contrast to the neighboring rice fields. More than ten monks worked all day in the muddy fields, constantly fighting the weeds. 

There is also the work in the carpenter shop, making benches, kneelers, altars and other church articles.   Wood has to be dried, which takes two to three years of seasoning.

If this was all that the monks did, religious life would be difficult. At five o'clock, they wash up and prepare for chapel and prayers, often fighting the desire to doze. The old and young monks arrive together to the chapel, after the sweat of the day, with one heart and one voice praising God; you feel, said the novice master, that the prayer and the work are the same offering to God.

The chapel, the refectory and the different work areas become the life of the monks. They meet five times a day in the chapel, three times in the refectory, and in the different work places were they cooperate with one another. Without this rhythm in their lives there would be problems.

The novice master concludes the article by reminding us that the family dinner hour is disappearing: many parents and children no longer eating together. The result is a lack of dialogue, intimacy, and a lack of prayer. Isn't it important that there is a balance between work and prayer?  The monk feels that the Benedictine practice of combining work and prayer is an ancient wisdom tradition that should also become a part of our daily routine.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Humor Can Be Dangerous

Trying to be funny can be dangerous to your health, says the desk columnist of the Catholic Times. Expecting someone to laugh and fearing for your life at the same time is the topic he wants to explore in his column.

What is it they want us to laugh about? he asks. He goes to the Scriptures for some help in understanding what is meant. Jesus experienced all the emotions of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure, but we understand that he was too busy with his mission to enjoy making people laugh or to find reasons to laugh. He knew well the bitter chalice of the cross that awaited him, yet we get an inkling of his refined humor.

When asked on whose authority do you teach in the temple, he, in turn, asked them from whom did John the Baptist's authority come? From heaven or from earth? The question was cleverly phrased. When they could not answer he also refused to answer. He wore the white uniform of ghosts and walked on the water like a spirit hovering over the water. After the resurrection, he appeared to the disciples gathered in the upper room with the doors locked and asked, Are you in peace? The journalist  feels that they must have come close to fainting when he unexpectedly appeared. .

These incidents can be seen with some  humor, and yet they were filled with love for the disciples. Jesus showed his power and  concern for them. His humor was based on truth in God; without this it is difficult to understand the crucifixion and resurrection.

Jesus was open to his surroundings even though many were opposed to everything he stood for. He was quick to go beyond whatever prevented him from  showing love and mercy. Everybody,no matter where they were, had the possibility of experiencing freedom by taking his words and actions to heart.

We find in life those who want others to laugh and have to fear for their life. This is true especially for entertainers and comics who are often closely scrutinized for what they say. Some sensitive religious people can also overly scrutinize movies that are seen as slightly defaming of religion, with the result, sometimes, of inciting a movement to censor the movie. There are times when some religious symbols are made light of  with no desire to ridicule them, but some are moved to 'kill' the perpetrators.

What is the reason for this? Is it a case of a black and white approach to life? Or is it the difficulty of living in our competitive society? Are we losing the ability to laugh. One reason suggested by the columnist is a lack of love and, consequently, little toleration for others who are not like us, not accepting them with with respect and honor and an inability to accept their perceived weaknesses or foibles with humor. 

More disconcerting than our sometimes overzealous desire for knowing the truth is our fanatically unhealthy attachment to the truth when we finally believe we know the truth, disparaging truths that seem out of line with ours. In good faith we need to  respect the certainty of another, but selfishness cuts us off from the other by our lack of good will. Reasons for my certainty should allow me to acknowledge reasons and grounds for the certainty of the other. Rather than trying to convince the other by love, we condemn and use pressure in attacking the views of the other. This tires out both parties to the dispute. When we are asked to laugh, let us laugh and after we laugh it is not too late to return to the dispute, refreshed. 

Translating this column I liked what was said, but I wonder if all was said that could have been said and should have been said. An important topic, but one that  needed more words than were used, granting that the  attempt at the summary had serious problems, and yet I thought it worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Living the Good Life

The happy life is thought to be virtuous; a virtuous life requires exertion and does not consist in amusement." An article in the Kyeogyang magazine, by a priest professor of philosophy,  begins with  the words from the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, who defines the good life as happiness and a life one  daily tries to understand. It is not what we see presently with the  eyes but is composed of our history, our outlook towards a future joined to our ultimate purpose in life.

Life is not just the passage of time but a continuous disciplining activity, which attains life's ultimate objective by our completing a dynamic journey. It  has to be distinguished  from  existence, for the good life is an ideal pattern that is made clear to us. With Aristotle, the good life and  life itself are distinguishable; however, we  feel some regret in the way he expressed it.

The reason for this, the professor believes, is that we are not able to see much beyond what we  momentarily face in life, the coarseness and the present pressures, making it difficult to see what the  philosophers think is important: seeing beyond the present moment to a totally grace-filled life.

He goes on to tell us that to live the good life with joy, it is necessary not to overlook the abyss we live in, and the constant pressures of life.  The word 'life' brings many thoughts to mind, both  bewildering and difficulty.  And yet those who can say the word 'life'  serenely, simply and positively, is a sign that the person is living  the good life, the professor says.

However, compared to those who see the happiness and elegance of life, a greater number feel the anguish and the extreme sadness of life, kept from living the good life by focusing on the future pressures of life that await them.

The wise from all the different cultures of the world and in different ages have seen the beauty of life, and many living today lament that the life they live is not in that mold. But we forget that the good life does not depend on our situation in life.

He gives examples of 'survivors,' who have not been destroyed by what they have experienced. One is the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote the masterpiece, Princess Mononoke; also two Chinese novelists, Yu Hwa in his novel To Live , and Mo Yan in Life and  Death Are Wearing Me Out. These writers have praised the nobility of life, and without needing to say so personally have by their creative works shown a desire for the good life.  

The exalted life of a survivor is the fruit of one who has understood the meaning of life, its fundamental goodness, and is earnestly in search for happiness in the  journey of life.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Korean New National Assembly

This past Wednesday, the 11th, we had the national elections for parliament. The editorial in the Catholic Times expressed expectations of what they would like to see from those elected to the assembly.

There were Catholics elected and yet a lot of sadness because of what had not been accomplished in the past by many who were elected to the assembly. The editorial expresses hope that being elected is not only a reason for thanks and celebration but also an opportunity for all  to see what part of their service has been carried out with fidelity to the common good.

The Second Vatican Council expressed what is expected of our elected officials, in # 75 of the Pastoral Constitution: "Political parties should not prefer their own advantage over the common good." Those elected should have the will of the people in mind, the editorial said,  and for the Christian elected members, it hopes that they will follow Christian teaching.

For the Catholic, their Gospel vocation will be asking much of them. Of primary importance, we are told, is to get rid of self-interest and desire, and to resolutely  overcome an excessive concern for party interests and tactics. The domain of politics, the editorial pointed out, should be guided by virtue, morality and the common good.  For the person of faith, respect for life and for the inalienable rights of each person is a serious obligation.  Those who are Christians will work, it is hoped for the common good with unselfish service. The upcoming activities of the assembly are sure to be measured, criticized and judged, said the editorial, with a precise yardstick.

Surprising to many were the election results since it was thought that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the administration. In the past, a 55 percent voter turnout was a good indication that the opposition would benefit, but this was not the case this time. The conservative Saenuri Party (New Frontier Party) won with a small majority in parliament, which is a sign to many that the opposition did not win its case with the people, with its opposition to the Free Trade Act and some other controversial issues backed by the administration. The daughter of past President Park Chung-hee, Park Geun-hye, now the leader of the party, was given credit by many for the surprising election results.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sincerity and Genuiness in making One's Case

A  Catholic Religious Sister  was not too happy when seeing a cartoon showing the values of the Free Trade Act between Korea and  the United States. Writing in the "Window From the Ark" column in the Catholic Times, she wonders if there is anything that can move us like sincerity. It is, she says, what our society needs more than anything else. With sincerity we can  forgive mistakes, and separated hearts can be joined together again; our strength comes from sincerity. 

She feels that sincerity can do a great deal in healing some of the problems of our society. The compassion  Koreans showed during the IMF period a few years ago, when Korea had problems with foreign exchange, is a good example.  Citizens helped to overcome the problems by  converting what they couldn't convert--precious wedding gifts, golden rings given to babies on their birthdays--to help increase the gold reserve of the country.

The cartoon was captioned: "With the American and Korean Free Trade Act our daughter will change." Seeing the cartoon, Sister felt wretched. "Lemons, oranges, cheese, etc. at a good price; complexions will improve, easy diets.... American cosmetics, handbags, etc., at cheap prices; the increase of foreign investment will increase  jobs."

This pro FTA cartoon issued by the government was hard for her to accept.  It lacked sincerity. She was hoping for facts, the pros and cons to help make a good decision, but this was not forthcoming. Citizens have a right to know what the facts are in order to make an informed decision on the wisdom of the FTA.

Her problem with the cartoon was twofold. If it is recognized as a serious policy issue and is treated with this kind of lightness, there is a lack of morality.On the other hand if the issue is not recognized as serious than there is a lack of understanding of our society.

The second problem is the way women are seen. Are women so dull-witted that the seriousness of the problem is on the back burner, and all they are concerned about is their appearance? She felt it was looking down on women, seeing them as a nicely wrapped commodity, interested only in themselves and making commodity buying cheaper.

Some of the younger generation will be happy with the change to free trade, but we should not forget those who will not benefit. For them, life will be more difficult. And shouldn't their future predicament be also our present concern? With more sincerity, the sister says, our citizens  will be happier and more at peace.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Need for Some Knowledge of Philosophy

"The Catholic Church in Korea has grown quickly; that the Catholic culture has been internalized by the Christians is not as easily said, but it is an area of concern that will be addressed philosophically by the Church in the future." Such were the words of the president of the Catholic Philosophical Society in a recent interview by the Catholic Times. 

Korea has benefited a great deal from the Confucian ethic and culture that was prevalent during the Joseon dynasty. It lasted over 500 years and still has a strong influence on the thinking of modern-day Koreans, he said.  Along with the influence of Buddhism, Christianity did not start off with a 'blank tablet' but with a strong understanding of the natural law thinking with which Christians are familiar. However, this basic understanding of who we are and how we are to live is no longer a common understanding of society.

Philosophical thinking is a way of maintaining the ethical way of living that Korea has experienced throughout its long history. "Philosophy is considered difficult, not part of us," the president said, and in the recent past, he went on to say, it was not easy to express oneself in concrete ways about our present problems, and many philosophers escaped into theories. But it is philosophy that can help solve many of the problems we now face.

The Catholic Philosophy movement has had two seminars yearly, and has published papers each year but has not been very good in making its work known to the public. The new president wants to change this by making known what the philosophers are doing to help the Catholic culture take root in Catholic thinking.

To help understand our present situation is the work of philosophy, he says. He gives us the example of the term: the common good. The common good of the United States or Europe is not the same as the common good of Korea. When we read the Catholic culture through the eyes of philosophy and apply it to our Korean way of thinking, our cultural approach to life changes, he  said.

The president makes clear that Catholic philosophy does not change our culture directly. Catholic philosophy began in the West and brought to Korea a Catholic culture whose strangeness has disappeared. But its melding into the feeling and conscientiousness of Catholic thinking by Koreans, in the final process of inculturation, will take much time before we have a Catholic culture that is part of our Christian way of thinking.

Looking over the present situation in Korea, there is sadness that much of what the young are importing from the West is a culture far removed from Christianity. To know this is in itself a big step in attempts to distinguish between what is helpful and what is destructive to the traditional Korean way of life. Hopefully, with a grounding in  philosophy the young will have the tools to make a wiser judgement on what to accept and what to reject.

Friday, April 13, 2012

'Pro Bono' Giving of Gifts

A journalist of the Catholic Times introduces us to the Latin phrase  'pro bono publico,' which is usually shortened to pro bono, meaning an offering of services or knowledge to the public, free of charge. It is often used by lawyers who offer their services to the poor to defend them before the law.

She tells us that this common Western custom is taking hold here in Korea with entertainers and prominent people in society, who are offering their talents free of charge for the public good.

When one gives monetarily this can easily be a one-time gift  but when giving your talent and special knowledge, this continues the giving.  Donating one's gifts  is changing the face of the culture of donations with a new model.

She gives us the example of a parish where persons offered their special talents, vocal, literary and artistic, to help in efforts to rebuild their church.

This is now a common element in our society. It is not only those who are eminent in society but ordinary  citizens who are offering their special gifts. And groups with common purposes are also willing to use their activities for the common good. In these efforts, more is contributed than what the giver materially offers, as it tends to involve everyone, increasing interest and participation in what is being attempted.

For the Christian, she says, it also is a way of giving thanks to God for the gifts received. She hopes that these responses will continue: using our talents and capabilities to make the world a better place for all, without any desire for remuneration, only being done for the joy of helping others.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Making our Lives a Masterpiece.

The editor-in-chief of the Catholic Times reminds us that this is a bad time for most items being sold in the market today. Expensive items, however, are doing very well in department and duty-free stores. The present dull market has had no influence in this area of the economy; there are no sales when it comes to masterpieces. This is also a time where many fakes make it to the market, imitating  expensive brands.
He gives us an easy and humorous way of distinguishing a fine item from a fake. A man asked his friend if he could  tell the difference between an expensive brand handbag and a counterfeit.  The friend answered that even the specialists have difficulty distinguishing them. The man then told his friend how to tell the real from the fake: When a sudden rain-shower comes, the person with the fake bag will be seen using the bag as a temporary umbrella while the person with the genuine bag will try to keep it from the rain.

There are those who buy a well-made item, believing it to be an important possession. And there are those who want to showoff their wealth by buying something expensive. The difference between the two, he says, is no small matter.

Because something is expensive and well-made is not the only reason it's considered worth the expensive price tag: a great deal of time and care went into producing it, to making it the finest example of its kind. He would like us to do the same with our own lives, creating masterpieces.  He puts the difference in the details that distinguishes the masterpiece from a fake.

A religious life, he points out, can also be similar to the difference between the fake and the real thing. The real thing takes a great deal of time and effort to achieve; it's the difference, he suggests, between the pro and the amateur performer.

He goes on to distinguish between two types of self-esteem. One type has eyes on others; the other sees his own worth and dignity. Here we have the difference between pride and humility.

Our life as a masterpiece is not something we have received ready-made but must, with the grace of God, develop and be fostered. It takes insight to look ahead into the future, to love genuinely, to be true to oneself, understanding oneself and others. It is this wisdom that makes for a genuine faith life, not thinking only of oneself but of others and society. Isn't this what makes our religious life a masterpiece?            

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eating for a New Enviroment

Last year because of  hoof and mouth disease 300,000 cattle and pigs were buried alive.  A professor writing in the Catholic Times reflects on the present threat of infectious diseases among animals raised in Korea and how this threat can be minimized.

Many opinions have been expressed but generally all agree that the problem has a great deal to do with how the animals are fed. In the past, the amount of meat consumed was little but with the economic improvement of the country this has changed. Protein from animals is considered important for our health, but too much can be harmful. The so-called cultural diseases can be attributed to the overeating of meat. From the year 2002, the raising of cattle, pigs and chickens has doubled.

What we used to eat only on our holidays, he reminds us, is now part of our daily fare. This big change in our eating habits is difficult for the body to accept. At one time, our bodies were accustomed to a minimum of nutriments and calories; today, there is often a surfeit that is said to contribute to our  many diseases. He reminds us of an old Korean proverb: "It is only a person who eats meat that knows the taste of meat." Eating too much meat is not a way of achieving happiness but a cause of worry. That is why those who are concerned with living healthfully often eat vegetables, boiled rice and other grains.

Korea is a small country and to keep up with the demand for meat requires raising our animals factory-style, making it necessary to use many antibiotics, which enter our bodies when we eat the meat. Decreasing the amount of meat will ultimately force the food industry to change the way they raise animals.

This will also improve our environment: today one kilogram of meat requires 2000 to 5000 liters of water. For one kg of beef, we use 24,000 liters of water. The raising of 10,000 head of cattle and the waste that is produced, he says, can be compared to the waste produced by a city of 111,000 inhabitants. The professor urges us to reflect on the damage that is being done not only to our environment but to our health by our current eating habits.  We have come to a point where we can decide what and how much we want to eat. However, he warns us, that unless we practice moderation and more skillful eating habits, our bodies and the environment will suffer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reviewing the Catholic Press in Korea

A columnist reflects on the impact the Catholic Times has had on the Korean scene, since making its first appearance in print in 1927.  One of the missions of the media is to criticize the misuse of power but the Catholic press goes beyond that and yet does not achieve much in that area; it's not easy dealing with authority in a critical way. Usually the religious press is concerned with general principles of truth that are manifested in our daily activities. This self-imposed limitation of the Catholic press causes frustration but at the same time pride in the work we are able to do.

What is done by the Catholic press, sometimes out of habit, has to be looked at objectively, he says. It is necessary to see if we  have been prophetic in dealing with the news. Some will say we have gone along with the times because of social and political pressure, and that we should be open to hearing this criticism. The paper has almost spent a hundred years reviewing modern church history.

Reviewing this history, the columnist was of necessity also looking over the  history of the paper, and by reading the important articles during this period, he got a feel for the period. Even though there were many times that the paper was not free to oppose what was happening in society, reading between the lines he was able to understand the darkness of the times. There were incidents that we have criticized in the past but do not see them referred to in recent times.

Among them were the Japanese occupation and its cruelty, the problems during liberation, the political  dictatorship--all events that have been duly criticized and examined. There were church leaders who, instead of siding with the citizens, were on the sidelines. Lay people who were involved with the citizens were criticized by the Church authorities. An example of this would be patriot Ahn. Church authorities were for the most part passive during these hard times; it was the laity that entered the fray.

In the Church today we have the opposite happening. Most of the bishops are very open to speaking about problems in society, while many of the laity are passive or against the church speaking out.

However, it's clear that during those times, the Church separated itself from society, which is not the teaching of Jesus or the Church. Just recently Pope Benedict, during his trip to Mexico and Cuba, made it clear that the Church has to do more in advancing justice in society, that we have to discuss more in detail  what constitutes a just society.

Recently we have had religious people, priests and ministers, arrested for breaking the law by demonstrating against the naval port in Jeju. There are those that are not happy to see the bishops remaining silent about the arrests and imprisonments. Here we have a difficult position for the bishops to deal with.  Prudent judgements about the matter and determining what is clearly an unambiguous truth for a Catholic are not always easy, and no doubt have contributed to the bishops' public silence on this issue. Speaking out on matters involving prudent judgements on the part of Catholics is respected, but to what degree should this be encouraged or defended are matters that may have to be decided by one's own conscience.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Young Catholics in a Postmodern Society

The 2010 statistics for the Seoul diocese shows that only about 7 percent of the young are going to Sunday Mass, according to the Catholic Times in its cover story on young persons in the Church.  Without the youth, of course, the Church has no future, and the Catholic Times raises the question whether in fact the Church is no longer of any interest to the younger generation. For this tendency to change, it was suggested, the older generation has to come to grips with the situation and come up with viable solutions.

The fault is thought to lie primarily within the present conditions of our society, and the influence of postmodernist thought, particularly its attacks on the possibility of achieving objective truth. Pastoral workers and educational psychologists have for many years pointed out the problems, proposing solutions but receiving little interest. One priest who works with the youth acknowledges that it is not that simple to solve the problem; that perhaps a long-range outlook is needed. In the early 1980s, when the Church was in the vanguard of the democratization movement, the young flocked to the Church. Toward the end of the 80s, however, they began leaving, and with the inception of the video age, and the attraction of a more sensory oriented experience, the appeal of the spiritual receded. It was at that time that the dioceses began to take an interest in youth affairs.

Although the Church now considers the younger generation as a high priority concern, whether that concern has filtered down into the parochial life of the Church is another question. Some feel that all that is necessary is for that concern to be expressed on the part of parish leaders and change will naturally occur, believing that if the basic instructions of the faith have been given, the young will return.

The article concludes with some of the mistakes that were made: not sufficiently understanding the current difficulties of growing up in our fiercely secular culture; a vertical system of authority within the Church, making it difficult for them to feel at home there; groups  in the  church were for the benefit of the community and not for the youth;  and not enough meaningful work assigned to the youth of the parish, instead of the miscellaneous work usually given--all of which tended to alienate the young from the Church. 

While most believed they were conscious of the problems today's youth have to face, this is far from the truth, the article makes clear. Efforts on the part of the church community must continue to search for ways to change how the young feel about finding meaning within the church community, and to help them grow into responsible adults and persons of faith within that community.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter

Bishops, on the big feasts of the liturgical year, send out a pastoral letter. Below is a summary of the bishop of Inchon's letter commemorating the feast of Easter.
Mark, in 10:33-34, announced Jesus' resurrection: "They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit at him, flog him and finally kill him. But three days later he will rise."

As he said, he rose from the dead. "I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die" (John 11:26).

We are all going to die. In Sirach 40:2, "What is on their mind, what they fear in their heart, is the day of their death." We will all be leaving this earth but there is no need to worry for our bodies, St. Paul says, will change into spiritual bodies (I Cor.15:44). In 1 Peter 1:3-4 we hear: "Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he who in his great mercy gave us new birth, a birth unto  hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...."  That is not all; St. Paul makes clear: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised our preaching is void of content, and your faith is empty too." (1Cor. 15:13-14)

We will also, like Jesus, be raised from the dead. This is our hope, our happiness. It is the center of our faith life and the reason for our gratitude.  We do not only have hope for the present and for doing our best for the goods of this world.

We are not only to keep this happiness for ourselves but to spread it to others. We are to be witnesses to this life of happiness and hope in the future. There are many who do not have this hope, and we strive to make it known. The gap between the rich and poor is getting larger. When we forget the poor and those suffering and go ahead enjoying our own happiness, the Gospel is not being preached. We need also an open heart to those hurting.

The degree to which we believe in the resurrected life is the index of our faith life. Quoting from St. Paul: "I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from his resurrection, and also to know how to share in his suffering by being formed into the pattern of his death. Thus do I hope to arrive at the resurrection from the dead."
(Phil  3:10-11).

The bishop reminds us that the goal for the diocese in this year's pastoral message was to reach the 500,000 mark for  Catholics, and asks us to remember this and pray and work to achieve the  goal, remembering that Jesus is the  way, the truth, and the life.

In conclusion, he prays for God's blessings--especially on the sick, those in hospitals and those with financial problems--that all  will gather strength and courage from the resurrected Christ in whom we believe, and prays for God's blessing on all of us this Easter.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Culture of Life

Those familiar with the Scriptures and Church teaching have no difficulty accepting the obvious need for respecting life, and getting behind the culture of life movement. Writing in the Peace Weekly a professor of philosophy returns again to the subject and the reasons for understanding the culture of life. However, in our current  society, respect for life teaching is not given much notice.

The first chapter  of the Scriptures tells us we are made in the image of God. God's existence is poured into us. We know this is not our external appearance but that our existence is grounded in that of God. No one has seen God but the professor wants us to understand, when we see another person, that the person we see daily, the one we fight with, the one we hate--is another way of encountering God.

God is not distant from us but comes into our presence daily. Knowing this we respect God when we respect the other. This teaching is exemplified by our study of life. Nature and life have come down to us by a historical  process; life is a historical result. If we are to understand life we have to know history. Life appeared in history at a certain time. Science doesn't have the competence to tell us the purpose of life.

All life has the same origin even if there are different varieties; they all have the same mechanisms and systems. Humans, together with all of life, have the same origin but it is only humans that can understand and interpret this history of life: this is the image that was given to us by God. This is not to do what we please with all other forms of life. Rather it is to cooperate with creation and carry out  its purposes. Here we find the reason for respect for life and the mission to enhance life.

When we disregard this duty, we are going against the image that has been placed in us by God. Humans, by our existence and actions, are deciding the future of life and the meaning it will have for us. The nature of life is within us. The culture of life allows us to live and enjoy life more fully. Happy Easter

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Good Samaritan

The first page of the Peace Weekly had an interview with a man who is both a cosmetic surgeon and a a dentist. Having one such professional license is difficult, having  two is not what you ordinarily see. Dr. Han is one who operates on those with facial deformities who are too poor to receive the necessary help.

He wonders if there is any other nation that judges a person on their outer appearance as much as Korea. When he was in school, he remembers the times his friends made fun of him because of his short stature, which helped him appreciate those with deformed facial features.

He has given new life to 40 sick persons: a sampling includes a  five-year-old child without an ear, a high school girl who was stoned because of her large chin, a woman peddler who didn't have a jaw, and hare-lipped children from Mongolia who were given the ability to smile again. 

While in dental school, he went to Japan and saw cancerous cells being removed from the face of a patient; cosmetic surgery gave the patient back his former face. He always thought the doctor's role was to save life, but this showed him another side of a doctor's work.

Seeing what could be done with cosmetic surgery, he decided to go on for a medical degree.  It took him 13 years of study before receiving the dental and medical degrees. He was ridiculed by many who didn't understand why he didn't just practice dentistry and live easily and well with the money he made. He knew there was more to life than making money;  he decided to go to Germany for studies in cosmetic surgery. He mentions that coming from a small Asian country, he had to endure the cold treatment from many of the doctors there. With his teeth clenched he studied and worked night and day for a year and half to improve his surgical technique.

He still works out of a rented building and hopes that he will be able to reach over 400 free cases before he retires. He's thankful to those who help him with donations, so he can continue his charity work, and gives credit to his father who told him to do good deeds and participate in God's work. He does not feel that he was put on this earth to live the easy life but to help the needy poor who come to him. God will be welcoming, he feels, when it comes time to meet him.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fair Trade

A movement developing in many parts of the world is a desire for trade that will not unduly benefit the importing countries and harm the exporting countries.  The Fair Trade Movement is intent on considering the development of the exporting countries, helping them to find a way out of their poverty. The bishop writing his column on faith and finances in the Catholic Times believes that the Movement's aims have entered into the thoughts of many in recent years.

According to Oxfam, the English International Aid Agency, if trade of the developed countries had just 1% more concern for the welfare of their less economically developed partners, millions would rid themselves of poverty; this can be expanded to travel, consumerism, fashion, and the like. We hear often nowadays the word 'moral' attached to many of our actions, which gives us an indication that something is not what it should be.

England's coffee import from Uganda in the years 2001 to 2002 is an example of current fair trade practices: Money returned to the producers of the coffee amounted to 0.5 percent of the total. 99.5 percent was divided among the processors, the sellers, and the brokers.     

Another example the bishop mentions is how the soccer balls used in many tournaments are produced. Young children of Pakistan are used to sew 32 pieces of leather 700 times to finish one soccer ball. Because many countries would term this use of children as slave labor, many of them have boycotted  the product.

From the 1950s, when the Movement sought to achieve recognition for its program, until 2007, when England and the United States have taken the lead in the Fair Trade  Movement, there are now clear guidelines that describe what constitutes fair trade: equal treatment for men and women, refusing to use child labor, guaranteeing the producing country an honest price, helping to develop more skilled workers and better products, and helping to promote greater awareness for caring for the environment.

The bishop is happy to see that the Korean Church is increasingly getting behind the movement for fair trade, and believes that this participation is leading us in a direction that God wants for us.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Prayer versus Activity

In the column on spirituality in the Catholic Times, the writer recalls, while walking to a nearby convent for Mass, reading about a street person who froze to death. The experience caused him to see street people with a different eye. Furthermore, the problems facing the country and the demonstrations in Seoul flashed through his mind:  "What are the thoughts that I consider important?" he mused.

Arriving at the convent, he saw the sisters in the chapel in prayer.  Everything was in place and  very cozy. Wouldn't it be better, he thought, if they went out into the streets and brought some hot water to the street people. In the world today there are many fighting for a fair distribution of goods and for justice--and these nuns are praying. Wouldn't it be better to have them doing something practical?

After Mass and  during meditation after Communion, a different sound resonated in his head: "Don't be deceived by efficiency; once you have the basics all will correctly follow."

Efficiency enters our thinking and affects all our values. The reason is that efficiency can be understood as another word for love in action. Efficiency supersedes prayer and silence. Activity is considered  true prayer and silence and prayer take a whack.  Yes, to go into the world with love and service, working for peace and justice: doing something about the street person who froze to death is a work we have been given, and we can't emphasis it too much.

However, when we do not attend to the basics and just push activity, in time desire weakens and we get tired; the passion for justice erodes, and we go into the human default of laziness. If we take care of the basics this should not happen. Silence and prayer should be our starting point.     

Our Lord, by his life, gave us the example, if one seems necessary.  He would get up early and go to a lonely spot to pray before his activity.  We should not be deceived by the lure of efficiency, an ever present temptation, thinking we do not have time for prayer. We all tend to lose energy and motivation as we go through our daily routines. Recharging ourselves with moments of silence and prayer can work wonders for us in returning us refreshed for the activities of the day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Young Person's Dictionary

A priest of the Seoul Diocese, who has worked with young people for many years, has recently written A Young Person's Dictionary, whose main message is that parents and children often fail to understand each other because many of the words used in their conversations are understood differently. And to have a meaningful conversation, he reminds us, the words being used must be understood to have the same meaning for both the parent and the child.

The book draws on the priest's many years of experience working with youth. It was reviewed in the Catholic press and in one of the secular papers. He feels that parents, no matter their maturity, are often blind when they attempt to judge  their children, believing that no one knows 'my child the way I do.'

Children keep on growing but parents only remain with the remembrance of the past, the priest asserts, and miss the world the child lives in.

Below is a partial list of words that often have different meanings, he claims, for the parent and the child. 

* Bullying
A parent would understand this as shunning or being shunned; a child, as something that he will experience, if not careful.

* A teacher
For a parent: someone who instructs others; for a child: someone who can be clueness even about the meaning of existence.

* Sex
For a parent: sensual contact between male and female bodies; for a child: something embarrassing.

For a parent: an exchange of thoughts on a subject of mutual interest; for a child: something he or she wanted to do but couldn't, or something of little value. 

For a parent: assessing the merits of two or more things; For a child: a means of squashing the child's spirit.

For a parent: trust and firm belief in oneself; for a child: something parents continually want them to have, but that they feel is impossible to acheive. 

The priest feels that the impoverished poor in society are our children. He ends the interview with the words of Don Bosco: "Just to love our children is insufficient; they have to feel that love. The grimmer the school and society become, the more important it is for teachers and parents to grow this feeling in their hearts."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oh China, Oh China

Oh China, Oh China, a novel from the time of the Boxer rebellion to the 1920s and the rise of Communism, is a saga of those who lived through those times, giving us a picture of Christianity in China. A priest writing for other priests tells us how interesting and moving he found the book and that those to whom he recommended the book also found it difficult to put down.

The aggressive response of the world powers to the boxer rebellion is the main focus of the book. England was the first to become involved, soon followed by other countries, disputing among themselves, about the selling of opium and its spreading influence within China. The confiscation and burning of the opium, the two so-called  opium wars, and the embarrassing treaties and indemnity exacted from the Chinese--all form the background for the novel.

One of the conditions of the treaties was to allow Christians to evangelize freely in China. It was from this time on that the average Chinese saw the West, their own opium use, and the practice of Christianity as being in the same boat, going in the same direction.

Christian missionaries were seen as being more attached to the foreign powers than concerned for the welfare of the Chinese. With war, violence, and all kinds of corruption that the people had to endure, what value was there in preaching Christ? In the novel, a missioner says: "What have we been able to show the Chinese? I did not help to change China but China changed me; that is the result of my 17 years of missionary work."

Gradually, the novel shows us how the Chinese came to see their situation from a common perspective.The boxer rebellion was the manifestation of the resentment that was building up against the foreigners. And when they lost the war, had to pay the indemnity to the foreign powers, and suffered its embarrassment, their defeated spirit help to create the background and confusion that prepared the fertile ground for the Communist movement to take hold and spread so quickly, returning to them a feeling of dignity and patriotism.

The novelist is a Perpetual Help Religious Sister who teaches philosophy  in a university in Taiwan. She is quoted at the end of the book review: " much pain and trials the Chinese had to face  to appreciate their dignity? This is a struggle that all sincere people, transcending  place and time, strive to attain; it's the struggle and aim of all believers. The discussion I have had in prayer with God, I wanted to have with my readers. This has been my reason for writing the novel."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

New Way of Making Stained Glass

Articles in the Catholic Weeklies introduce us to Fr. Cho Kwang-ho, a professor in the Incheon Catholic University of Art and Design. His new art-stained, glass negative layer method of making stained glass will change, it has been said, the way we look at stained glass making. He has received a patent on the invention.
Stained glass, as we know, has been used in churches for hundreds of years, but is not limited to churches; it is seen in many commercial buildings and even in subways. Fr. Cho is a representative of the Korean Research Institute of Art and Design, and has worked with stained glass for many years. His method is cheaper, takes less time and, since lead will not be used, is environmentally friendly.
The technique, as in printing, uses a dye that is spread uniformly on the surface of the glass pane that has the desired design. The glass pane is then heated over  700 degrees Celsius. With the old methods, one is limited in many ways; with this method you can determine easily the colors, the brightness, saturation, and gradation of colors. And, in addition, it can capture what is lost with the old methods: the fine details such as hairs of the head and the texture of clothing.
In the years of working in art, he has felt many limitations in what he could do.  Fr. Cho studied art in Germany;  with his studies in stained glass, etching, and icons and the  experience in Korea came up with this new way of making stained glass.
Fr. Cho has shown the practicality of this way of working with stained glass in his many creations that now are located throughout Korea. They have stood up well with the passage of time. He eagerly looks forward to making the method better known at the Construction Material Exhibition in April this year.