Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Dream of Dreams


To dream is natural, and to have a dream of what the future will be like is a natural part of our growing-up years.  For many, faced with the present reality, the years of dreaming have ceased, as we become somewhat satisfied with the lives we live. With these words, the desk columnist of the Catholic Times wants us to reflect on how much of  our life allows us to dream.
 

The one who dreams is happy, he says. Without a dream we are persons without goals, which means life can be boring and lack flavor. Those with a dream have very clear goals that engender patience, and energizes them for finding happiness. Aristotle defined the goal of life as the search for happiness. Everyone wants happiness, but it's only those who dream, according to the columnist, who will find it.

Humans are the only ones who dream, have hope and motivation. Dreams are necessary to develop ideals and realize meaning and satisfaction in life. Consequently, the columnist says, those who dream are happy.

Those who dream are those who used yesterday as the mirror for today. They are the ones that do all that comes their way to the best of their ability. Everyone dreams about living the happy life. Each person, according to their given circumstances and values, forms his or her dreams and goals. Those without health, dream of health, and those without enough material goods feel that if only they had more material abundance they would find happiness.  However, nobody can guarantee that attaining these goals will bring the hoped for happiness.
 

To dream for an ideal to be realized in the future is natural, but being concerned about the small things in life and to be happy and thankful for them are also important. We have to ask ourselves: What are my priorities? What is in first place? Is it money, my work, children, love? Many have limits to their dreams,  and when these limited dreams are realized, they often find themselves faced with emptiness.
 

Christians have to have dreams that are not measured by earthly  standards. God wants us to dream; we should plant within our hearts the dream that God has put in us. The work we have been called to do is not everything. No matter what are 'calling' is, we are, first and foremost, to be tools to realize God's given dream. To want to change the world and to do God's will is our dream. We can live either with resentment and dissatisfaction in our hearts or with gratitude and joy in our hearts. The choice is ours to make. Our mission is to join our dream to God's dream--if we want to find the sure way to happiness. 

Happy Chuseok (Happy Moon Festival)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Silent Screams in Society

Life can be kind to some and cruel to others, who have more to cry about. And probably the biggest problem is that many do not hear the cries, mostly because the cries are silent. 

Writing in the Kyeongyang Magazine, a creator of a documentary radio program for over 30 years gives us his thoughts on  "The Scream," by Edvard Munch. The painting helps the writer recall  when his cry became vocal, and he says it was with the help of alcohol. In his life, the years of growing up were not what he expected. There was poverty, sickness and fear about the future. It was his mother who gave him the strength to overcome the difficulties. The crying was there but silent.

"The Scream," for our writer, is a depiction of an audible scream. Having worked in radio for so many years what he reads and sees is easily translated into sound. He can even hear the sound of a piece of white paper. A reason the painting means so much to him.

He quotes from the writing of Munch for the motivation behind the painting."I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature." The life of Munch was filled with plentiful reasons for the "The Scream."

The writer then brings to our attentions a horrible crime that was committed by a knife-wielding criminal. Victims of the crime were many, families were involved, and fear was experienced, with emotional scars never to be healed

However, seeing the bent-over  figure of the criminal in the papers brings other thoughts to mind and gives those that see him a heavy heart. He has no credit card, no money, no telephone, no house--a loner.  He has not even one friend with whom to exchange some words. He  even shakes his fist at the mother who wants to help him. Hasn't he also been silently screaming?  How much of our society has  been able to hear these screams?

We are able to see beauty in paintings but there are also paintings that show us a seamier way of life: A life that is not so beautiful, with faces distorted and bodies disfigured, showing us a different facet of life. The writer has been moved by this school of expressionists. Seeing this sadness in life helps him to purify his own sadness, and seeing the screams  he also screams. He wants us to reflect on the many who are screaming but are not heard.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Helping Street People with Music

Street people, we know, are those that have no home and wander the streets. Often they have mental problems, reversals in life, poverty, sickness and those who have given up on society and prefer going it alone.  Drink is a serious problem with street people, and Korea has taken the violence that follows drinking to a new level of concern. There are 39 places of rest for street people in Seoul and many places offering free meals.

The government, private organizations and religious groups all are involved in helping those who are homeless.  The Seoul railroad station is the home for many of these wanderers. The Peace Weekly has an article acquainting us with the work of the "Warm Meeting Place," a place not only where a homeless person can get a free meal but also can attend a choir practice. The addition of this choral group was well received, with 25 to 40 attending singing practice.

Just having a place to eat, of course, does not solve the problems of the street  people. However, being a member of the choir gives the street people a feeling of belonging. With music, they are consoled and some find the strength to return to society.

Started by a community of sisters, the choir has its own choir director. They begin practicing on Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m., and are now practicing about once a week. There is even  some well-known  vocalist who helps in the directing.

The Peace Weekly article on the choir mentions that a change  has taken place with some of those attending. Not only is there a change in the clothes they wear, but their desire to return to a normal life is noticed during the period of practicing. One of the Sisters said the results of music can be keenly felt. In just a few weeks a change can be seen in the confidence they acquire with attendance.

The musical repertoire usually consists of folk songs and songs from the movies, but the street people say they prefer the classical songs. They also have a desire to enunciate clearly and to study the intricacy of choral singing, which energizes those who are there to teach.

The time spent in singing and learning the music enables the street people to find themselves and gain confidence. They begin to dream of returning to society and finding a job. The thought of forming a group of street people to come together to sing sounds preposterous. And yet the possibility of teaching this segment of society to sing as a choir makes us reflect on how limited we are by our prejudices and fixed ideas of what is possible and what is not. Another example of not letting our possibilities be limited by our perceived limitations but to see what can be accomplished and to work toward its realization.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sanctity in the World

One of the founders of a famous Korean conglomerate left behind after he died 24 questions about religion that made the news last year. After seeing the questions, the founder of the YUDO Group decided to write a book answering the questions. He spent seven months writing the book, which was recently published. He wanted to answer the questions from his own life experience. The response was his answer in gratitude to Catholicism for all it has done for him in life.

The Peace Weekly interviewed the YUDO president, who is a  fourth-generation Catholic. As a child he always dreamed of being a priest. He spent 14 years preparing to be a priest and had no difficulties with studies, health or women, but was told before the diaconate that he was not suited for the  priesthood. He was bright but too much of a free spirit, and after much thought the faculty thought he would be happier in society than living as a priest.

For a while, he found it difficult to come to terms with the dismissal from the seminary. His hometown acquaintances  rented a bus and went to see the bishop to remonstrate, he says laughing. Fortunately,  with time he accepted the dismissal serenely. Out on the streets and thinking about how he was to make a living, he  even considered  selling  lighters. It was at this time that he heard in his head the words  'sanctity in the world'. This began the journey to the  CEO of the YUDO Group.

The building of the company, he says, was accompanied with a lot of tears and frustration. The name of the company is a combination of his own surname, Yu, and the word Do meaning 'way'. The way is  Jesus from John 14:6. God is in charge with 51 percent of the responsibility, but the reason that Yu precedes the Do is that if the company fails, he takes responsibility, and he will take to the streets.

He has made clear to his family what he wants on his tombstone. "Here lies an artistic salesperson who was in search of sanctity." When later generations happen by his tomb stone, he hopes they will have only nice things to say about his life. He spent 14 years studying for the priesthood and 38 running a company; they were beautiful  years, he says, and he is full of gratitude. He wants to thank God for what he has received, and to live his life so that those who pass his stone will have a reason to give a kind nod of approval for the life he lived.

Mr. Yu has been very good with his material goods in helping others. 15 percent of the profits go back to the workers, and he has also been very generous with his money in helping the poor in society,  students, and retired priests. He is a good example of not letting a reversal in life change the ideal he once had, only the  way the ideal was to be realized.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Copy-cat Suicides

The Werther Effect gets its name from the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe. The Culture of Life column in the Peace Weekly visits again the high suicide rate in Korea and relates it to the Werther Effect. The hero of the novel, infatuated with a woman who is engaged to another, could not stand the internal pressures that were unleashed and killed himself with a pistol. The novel was a best-seller, and the columnist  mentions that because of copycat suicides that followed--over 2000--the selling of the book in certain parts of Europe was discontinued. The Werther Effect has become the name used to describe copycat suicides that follow the publicity given to suicides in the mass media.
 

Looking at the continuing material prosperity of Korea, the reasons for the continuing increase of  suicides can't be  related only to financial problems but to other factors in society: the breakdown of families, the increase of divorce, our change of values, and the like. The rate of male suicides was almost 3 times that of women but this has continued to decrease, and when focusing on the women in their twenties it is practically the same or even higher. The reason is the society safety net is no longer operative for this group.

Among the young especially, this copycat contagion of suicides is often noticed. Surprisingly, we are mostly unconscious of the influence of the mass media on our behavior. The spread of cyberspace technology has also increased the volume and variety of what we see and hear, bringing rapid and questionable changes in behavior, such as suicides. 
 

Although suicide is an individual act, it can no longer be seen as an isolated phenomenon independent of the mores of society. We are being formed to succeed and exceed; consequently, the failure in achievements will bring frustration and sadness. The analogies from the track and field events are apropos: number one is happy with achievement; number two sees the one ahead and feels disappointment, and the third is happy to have made the third position, seeing all those behind. This narrow view of what life is all about is not helpful in living the happy  life. The low happiness index of our citizens is not unrelated to the number of suicides.
 

The columnist mentions the success that Hungary had in decreasing the high rate of suicides to half of what it was from 1970-80. Korea has recently also decided to face head-on our problem with an emphasis on respect for life. To search for the ideal in life is noble but when this precludes happiness, something is wrong. To live in peace with our neighbors is also a beautiful ideal. Even when there is both a lack of money and a lack of respect, living happily is a sufficient goal when it is accompanied by the love and blessing of those around us.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Purifying our motives

Not all we do is done with the best of motives, and acknowledging this is healthy. Feelings of superiority are common and can prevent us from being childlike and enjoying a great deal of what comes our way. A dance teacher reveals her struggle to overcome these feelings that were eating away at the opportunity of enjoying a new experience.

The column "Daily Life and Faith Life" tells us how a professional dancer was asked to help out in a performance of modern dance. She was a teacher of traditional Korean  dance and accepted the invitation to practice with a choreographer who was preparing  for a dance recital and needing to recruit members. The columnist, seeing her during practice, gave her high marks for her openness to a new dance category. 

On one occasion, he was invited to eat with the modern dance company  and had the opportunity to talk to the Korean dance professional. After the meal, while they were both drinking beer, he asked her if it was difficult for a teacher of traditional dance to learn the movements of modern dance.

The beer she was drinking helped her to speak honestly, she said. She accepted the invitation to work out with the modern dance company because of her desire to learn something about a new kind of dance but she admitted to feeling anxious about it; would she be able to follow the younger dancers? she wondered. Returning home, however, she continued to practice.

She doesn't remember when it happened, but she began to regret that she said yes, and felt the uneasiness returning. She was even thinking of telling the choreographer that she would have to give up the practice.

Even though she was entertaining these thoughts, she enjoyed the dancing. She always found the movements of the body invigorating and a joy. Why was she feeling this way? she asked herself. Her whole body was telling her that before dancing, she had to take over control of her body; she had to grow up.

This voice to grow up was not because she was learning a new type of dance but because of her feelings of superiority. Whenever the young dance choreographer was giving her instructions, her inner voice was telling her that she was a professional dancer. When she began to look deeply into her feelings, the obstacles to participating disappeared, and she began enjoying the workouts.

The columnist wonders how many have given up their work of service in the parishes precisely because of a superiority complex. We have to make sure when we are helping others that we are doing it for the right motive. It's possible that we are servicing others to be  acknowledged for our goodness, our ability, and not doing it out of love. If this is the case, the columnist concludes, the body will give up on us.

Monday, September 24, 2012

How Does God Act in Creation?


How does God work in his creation?  This is a question that not only Christians but the general public directs to the Church. This is the question  at the center of Theology. Many Christians have heard that evolution is not a problem for Catholic theology but few understand why this is the case.

The Catholic Times' interview with Fr. Oh Kyeong-hwan introduces us to the recent book he translated into Korean, How God Acts: Creation, Redemption and Special Divine Action, by Prof. Denis Edwards. In the Korean Church there are few who are studying the relationship of Science and Religion, Fr. Oh  laments.  He spends a great deal of time acquainting us with the compatibility of science and religion with his website, research team, and lectures.

Fr. Oh spent over a year working on translating the book by Prof Denis Edwards, a senior lecturer in systematic theology in the School of Theology of Flinders University, South Australia. He made efforts to put the words into Korean that the ordinary readers would have little difficulty understanding. The book shows us the way God is working in his creation.

Fr. Edwards shows that God does not interfere in his creation with  arbitrary acts contrary to the laws of nature. To create, he follows the self-regulatory laws of creation, of evolution, chance and order. Fr. Oh explains that Fr. Edwards emphasizes that God does not break these laws of nature with miracles. Although there are no miracles that break these laws, there are many incidents that we are not able to understand with the knowledge that we have presently of the laws of nature. We can not use our beliefs to disregard the discoveries of science. As Pope John Paul II said, "Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes."

Fr. Oh hopes that we will have many more who will try to explain the place of science in our lives and to see the relationship between science and religion.The conflict is certainly present but it is the conflict between some of the scientists and some of the religious people but not between  science and religion. Truth is one. There are different ways of arriving at truth and different concerns of those seeking the truth but truth does not contradict itself. A well-known cardinal said many hundreds of years ago, "Religion teaches us the way to go to heaven and not how the heavens go."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Educating for Happiness

Catholic education in many parts of the world means little; for  the Catholic element is seen as peripheral to the educational process. This is not the case in Korea. Pope Benedict said in regard to education: "Are we ready to commit our entire self--intellect and will, mind and heart--to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God's creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold." These words and similar words addressed to educators by the Church are taken seriously in Korea.

Both Catholic papers introduce us to the new president of Sangji, a two and four year technical school in the Andong Diocese.  One of the first Catholic technical schools in Korea, it was founded by three Luxembourgian nuns of the order Soeurs de la Doctrine Chr├ętienne.

The purpose of the school is to educate students for  an occupation. This choice will help them find  happiness in the life which will soon be known, some believe, as 'Homo-Hundred'. Until 1990, there was no country where the average lifespan exceeded 80 years. Since then, six nations, including Japan, Italy and Australia, have exceeded this average lifespan, and in 2020 it will be over 30, including Korea.

The president of Sangji says the school will be 'teaching for happiness'. Striving to be number one is not what the school is all about, he said, but to form students who will be happy in life. Those that find the present emphasis on competition foreign to their way of thinking, he recommends their going to the Sangji Technical School. They will find there, he said, a different kind of competition. Too many students, in the usual school environment, have to deal with stress and Sangji is forming students for a different goal.

They present their students with small goals which, when achieved systematically, will give them the courage and the ability to dream and go on for loftier goals.

All students during a semester have to  spend 40 hours in service to others. Mass is offered daily at the school, and 30 religious sisters are there to guide the students, giving the school a Catholic atmosphere. Technical knowledge is imparted but combined with the holistic formation of the person.

Over 80 percent of their graduates have  found work after graduation, and the school is aiming still higher.This emphasis on something else besides marks and success is a welcomed relief. Parents should be thankful that such schools as Sangji exist, providing them with the opportunity to send their children to a school where educating the whole person is the top priority.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Living is Spirituality

"Living is spirituality," words difficult to understand and requiring many more words to get the point. The columnist of the Catholic Times recounts how he was able to come to an  understanding and used these words as the title of his column.  

The columnist recalls attending the funeral of a religious hermit. After the funeral service and while drinking tea with a follow priest, a classmate of the deceased approached them and asked how they knew the deceased. He introduced himself as a classmate of the deceased. 

He received them with great joy and after the columnist heard that the classmate  was a counselor on spirituality the writer asked him what does he understand spirituality to be. The answer was brief and puzzling: "living is spirituality." The writer was expecting something quite different which he showed by the expression on his face. "Father, that is not all there is to say on spirituality,is it? What are your real thoughts on spirituality? Realizing that the columnist wanted more he explained what he meant to say.

He reiterated what he said that spirituality for him was life, and he explained. The reason he expressed it in the way he did  was because we can  tell what a person's spirituality is  by the way one lives. And the quality of our life will often tell us whether there's  a relationship with God, which will also tell us, he added, about their relationship with the world.

Ultimately,  spirituality appears in the way a person lives, and is the reason, the counselor said, for making the statement that puzzled the columnist.The way life is lived is a sign of the spirituality we possess and a healthy spirituality will show harmony and balance in life. God has put this image of himself in us and when this become activated we have  harmony and balance in life.

Hearing the explanation, the columnist realized there was no need to be puzzled, now understanding the counselor's cryptic statement was saying that doing all that we can do in life to the best of our ability is spirituality, doing the right thing with all the energy we can muster, and avoiding evil with all our strength. Micah expressed it somewhat differently but with the same meaning:"Only do the right and to  love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.(Micah 6:8).                                                                                                                                  

On returning to his own monastery the  columnist resolved to live with this admonition as his goal, and sang the hymn that the deceased enjoyed reciting: God, you have given us an abundance of mercy; we return this in life with joy and happiness."

Expressing our spirituality can be done in many ways, and the simpler the better. For a Christian, our spirituality is primarily God working within us; we cooperate by saying yes. The life we live will show the results of God's work in our lives.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Catholic World View

What is a Catholic world view?  Simply put: A comprehensive view of life that provides us with a way of living guided by the teachings of Jesus, with God as the source of true joy. "Whatever brings us true joy, whether the small joys of each day or the greatest joys in life, has its source in God, even if this does not seem immediately obvious" were the words addressed this year to the young people on Youth Sunday. Joy is a sign of a life lived according to the teachings of Jesus; sadly this is not always understood. Overwhelmed by so many other teachings, we sometimes forget why the other teachings are there.

Our young people are no longer attending our community functions as in the past, most dioceses acknowledging this fact as the most serious  problem now facing the Church. How to deal with this problem is certainly not a one-time  effort, but an ongoing pastoral concern. The Christian values given to the young have not been able to withstand  the pressures to conform to the secular values of society and the pervasive materialistic concerns of the present age, particularly as it manifests in our educational system and in the media.  That the Catholic world view was not able to withstand the assault was not the problem of the world view but its absence, the failure to successfully evangelize this core message of the faith.

The Year of Faith is an attempt to focus our energies on improving this evangelization process, especially with regard to our youth. Picking up on this important issue, two editorials in the Catholic Times have recently discussed the youth problem as a manifestation of systemic problems both in society and in the Church. The first concern discussed was the need to show a more pastoral interest in young people, and a willingness to use our finances to promote the work with the young. The second concern was the large number of suicides in Korean society and the widespread discontent of the younger generation. Among developed countries, Korea leads in both of these categories, with suicides among the young the number-one  reason for deaths in this age group.

One editorial mentions that many of the dioceses are taking great interest in the pastoral care of the young precisely because of the lack of values, pluralism, the ever-present secularization and relativism of society. The need for a new mentoring system was suggested as a possible help for young people in finding their rightful place in the present and future future society. 

Putting these thoughts together with the large numbers of youthful suicides, we can see a connection. Society has improved economically, doubling where it stood in 2000, and yet the rate of suicides continues to climb, more than doubling where it was in 2000. The increase of material prosperity has not increased the happiness quotient of Koreans. According to the OECD,  Korea ranks 31st of 32 countries surveyed in the happiness index.

The number of suicides is a good indication of the health of a society. With Korea's high rate of suicides, it is difficult to say we are a developed country. The government  should of course not hinder but help its citizens to find happiness, and the Catholic Church also needs to determine how much of the unhappiness in society is due to  the cultural climate we have created.

It should be remembered that the fullness of a Christian life will overcome all the difficulties of life, even a toxic culture, and give us a joy that nothing can take away. In an attempt to make this reality more available to all, parishes are looking for ways to be more welcoming to their members.  Fellowship and a family atmosphere are often missing in the typical parish, resulting in more Catholics leaving the faith, and less success in attracting more converts. We can go a long way toward changing this troubling scenario by combining our Catholic worldview with a warm loving atmosphere whenever we gather together. This will help put Jesus and the joy he came to give us back into our lives.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mentoring

In big business we see  a mentoring system which works well. We have the older worker mentoring the young. The mentees are given the knowledge that their seniors in the work force have gained over the years. There is a relationship built up between the mentor and the mentee that is good for the individuals and for the company. This mentoring system is part of the strategy of the  work place where the seniors help the juniors  become competent in their work.

Within the Church an almost perfect mentoring system was handed down from  ancient times. A priest, writing in the Catholic Times,  laments what we have lost, and reminds us what it was.

The family would be responsible for teaching the newly added member of the family the Christian way of life.  Baptism would incorporate the new member into a larger family of the faith and the parents would begin teaching the child. The family would feel a need for outside help and there you have the godparents to help in the  raising of the child. And besides, when baptized you gave a child the name of saint whose example would always be there to spur the person on to imitate them in the way they imitated Jesus.

This system looked at objectively seems ideal and yet the reality we have is quite different. Those that follow the intentions of the mentoring system are few and what we have in the books has become a formality and without meaning,  there are little results to show. No matter how wise certain programs are when they are done without meaning and perfunctorily the results  are easily seen.

Tertullian said in the ancient Church that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith. In 1984 Pope John Paul canonized 103 martyrs. How many of our Catholics know and are familiar with the lives of these martyrs? He asks. We have another 125 that have been researched and are waiting for approval from Rome for beatification and canonization. These are all worthy examples to help us to be more serious followers of Jesus. And yet the writer feels that we show little concern for  these elders in the faith.

This month is the month of the martyrs and we will begin  the year of Faith next month. We need a new mentoring system. The Protestants have a one on one approach. The Catholic Church has recommended that we have a spiritual director but this is no  easy step for many to make. We need help to travel the journey that we have been given and to do it with joy requires companions in the faith. He hopes that with the beginning of the 'Year of Faith' we will see some results in the new evangelization with a mentoring system that fits our present reality.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Catholicism and the New Religions

The loss of Christians to new religions is a common occurrence when there is a sudden change in the way of life of the citizens. This is especially true in Korea, says a professor emeritus, interviewed by the Catholic Times for its four page coverage of this issue.

Drawing on his life-long study of new religions, the professor believes that Korea provides a fertile breeding place for new religions because of the country's unique religious culture and the structure of its society. The rapid transformation of the culture has brought unexpected changes affecting the lives of many, says the professor, leaving them feeling uprooted, insecure, weary, and searching for a more meaningful life.
 

Another reason cited by the professor: The established religions have not been able to answer the desire for a deeper spirituality, being more concerned with gathering new converts and failing to respond to the needs of their own members when they feel hurt, alienated and oppressed.

The new religions found their reason-for-being, the professor says, in Protestant fundamentalism, with its emphasis on doctrinal exclusivity, its interest in growth and opposition to the mainline Protestant churches. The professor sees these new religions as providing a quick and easy way of escaping what many consider the heartless pursuit of materialistic goals, and returning us to a world we once knew: open to mysticism, transcendence, and spirituality.

The charismatic leaders of the new religions, with passion and enthusiasm, are giving their members what they desire. Their teachings, according to the professor, emphasize the emotional content of belief rather than its intellectual content, which many find easier to accept. He believes this feeling approach to ones faith should prod the Catholic hierarchy to work at developing more fellowship as a first step in answering the desire for more spirituality among its members.

The professor mentions the well-known fact that these new religions find it easier to approach Catholics more than they do Protestants. The encounter with Catholics is not only easier but more productive, he says. Leaders of these new religions are quick to say that many of their members were once Catholics. The reason for this, according to the professor, is the failure on the part of many Catholics to make the connection between their personal concerns and their Catholicism. Protestants are also better grounded in Scripture than are Catholics, who often don't have an adequate understanding of Catholic teaching, he says. Furthermore, Protestants are instructed about heretical ideas, which makes it more difficult for the new religions to find a willing listener.

Although there are more than 5 million Catholics in Korea, the professor feels that until Catholics understand their faith in more depth, making it their own, the  real number of Catholics would be much less. He recommends that the Church study the new religions, with an eye toward cutting down the number of Catholics who leave the faith, and also provide programs to debrief those who leave these religions and want to return 'home'--all the while endeavoring to make that home more welcoming for them than it had been in the past.
                          

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Voice in the Wilderness

September is the month dedicated to the martyrs in Korea.  When Catholics hear the place names of the persecutions: Sinyu, Chonghai, Ulhae--memories come to mind, bringing a heaviness to the heart. And the memory of this time is not only distressful to Catholics but to all those who know the history of martyrdom in Korea. A bishop emeritus writing in a Catholic Weekly hopes this feeling of oneness with the martyrs will not disappear but act to stimulate a more dedicated life.

The Church is now researching, we are told by the bishop, the lives of  past and recent martyrs; news we all can be thankful for. In the past, looking for answers concerning the deaths of  Catholics who died at the hands of the Communist in the North, from 1949 to 1952, was not encouraged. The political stalemate in  Korea required a more prudent response, a desire not to put more live coals on a volatile situation. The need for caution has for the most part disappeared, and the process to beatify the 38 martyrs of the North is underway and nearing completion. The bishop, who has been involved with the beatification process, is asking his readers if they fully understand what is meant by "martyrdom." Whether they believe there are martyrs today and not only among Catholics. These are questions normally asked during the month of the martyrs.

There are many reasons for the questions, he explains. Today, there will be no "deny your faith or lose your head." Today's martyrs, called by many the nameless ones, our gray martyrs, will not be as easily recognizable nor their beliefs as clearly set forth as they were in the past.

Nowadays, it's not easy, says the bishop, to give up everything for one's belief or convictions.  Even when a person does sacrifice his or her life, whether actually or by refusing the material comforts of life, the reason for the sacrifice is often not apparent.          

We are now more conscious, living in our increasingly pluralistic world, that many of our citizens are being guided in life by very different values from our own Christian values. This moral discrepancy is an obstacle to our coming together and working for the common good. Even giving witness to one's strongly held moral convictions becomes difficult, and human actions, now often judged by personal convictions, have lost their intrinsic meanings. Those who speak out against the moral confusion are, like the martyrs we are honoring this month, voices in the wilderness. Nobody seems to be there to hear.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sharing: Foundation for Happiness

"Sharing is the foundation of happiness. Sharing our material things is sharing a little. Sharing our wisdom is sharing a lot. Sharing our love is sharing everything"--a quotation that introduces the comments of the desk columnist of the Catholic Times, who goes on to tell us about a fortunate person, an orphan, who receives an unexpected gift.

Jerusha Abbott, the orphan and heroine of Jean Webster's novel Daddy Long-Legs and of several movie adaptations, including the Korean movie "Kidan Ajeossi, is the beneficiary of someone who decides to share. Jerusha, now 18 years of age and working at the orphanage where she was brought up, is told that a benefactor would  help her financially and give her what is necessary to live during her college years;  she has only to write him once a month, addressing the letters to a made-up name. He will never reply to her letters, which take up most of the novel, nor will she ever know his identity. She did catch a glimpse of him once, leaving the orphanage, but noticed only that he was tall and long-legged. 
 

Though the unselfish motive of the benefactor, content to give anonymously, is to be applauded, the columnist believes we all have a desire to know our "Daddy Long-Legs," to know who has helped us and to express our gratitude for what was received. 

All have different possessions to share. Some have an abundance of material things; others have wisdom and knowledge to share, while others little of these to share, but possess a loving heart. However, just possessing means little.  Sometimes the sharing of love is the best way to know it was in our possession to begin with, and is the surest and the most direct way to experience happiness.


Jesus has shown us this kind of love, and we have been commissioned to show this love to others, but we often are content to express only a verbal 'thank you' for the love received--in whatever form it's given--without sharing it with others.

We are by nature social creatures and cannot be truly satisfied without relating and sharing with others. Sharing what we possess to help others, and receiving from others what we need should be a second-nature response. Being a "Daddy Long-Legs" to others is a win-win situation for all of us. 
            

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stumbling Stones becoming Stepping Stones


We come across all kinds of obstacles in daily life. Some are called stumbling stones; others are called stepping stones. Writing in a bulletin for priests, a pastor reflects on the results such 'stones' may have in a person's life.

A 90-year old grandmother in his parish, who rarely misses Mass, met with him to discuss a problem in the family.  Among her many children her daughter's husband  died and shortly the daughter  died, leaving the grandmother  to raise their two children. One child, who attends morning Mass with her, is mentally handicapped; the other had been in a car accident 10 years ago and now solves his problems by excessive drinking; both are unmarried.

The grandmother wanted the priest to make contact with city hall to find out what they would suggest for her grandson's drinking problem. The priest did arrange for a rehab program but when the grandmother talked it over with her grandson and was told he was not interested, she asked the priest to cancel the program. It was then that he began wondering  whether the grandchildren were stumbling stones or stepping stones for the grandmother.

If we look, he says, only at the heartaches and the worries, the grandchildren can be seen as stumbling stones. If we look, instead, at this troubling situation as an opportunity to bring added meaning into the grandmother's life, then the grandsons, even though causing her much grief, can be seen as stepping stones.

In each life there is bound to be many obstacles, but whether they become stumbling stones or stepping stones will  depend on the way we accept the troubling situations. When we rest in the knowledge of God's love, the priest says, stumbling stones can become stepping stones.

Philippians (4:6-7) tells us "Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude. Then God's own  peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus."

It's helpful to meditate on the chameleon-like nature of the obstacles that come into our life. When we fully realize that how we behave is largely determined by how we see reality, and while resting in the peace beyond all understanding, turning stumbling stones into stepping stones will become commonplace. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Importance of Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity, a word often used to refer to an important principle discussed in the social gospel of the Church and sometimes causing confusion, is not difficult to understand. Our dignity as humans is protected by this principle, which is on the shortlist of important principles that should govern the way we should see, judge and act.

Church teaching explains the principle of subsidiarity in the following manner: "A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good" (#1883 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

The Korean Church has worked to develop a sensitivity not only to the subsidiarity issue but to all issues of justice that affect many of our societal problems today. The lack of a Christian understanding of these problems has prompted the Church to begin conscientizing our Catholics by bringing greater awareness of the social teachings of the Church through lectures, educational programs and publications. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, identifies four principles of Catholic social teaching that are valid always and everywhere: human dignity,  the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. Let us look more closely at the principle of subsidiary as explained by a diocesan bulletin.

When a person or a group is able to handle a problem it should not be interfered with by a group belonging to  a higher order. This is regarded as an obvious truth. When a child, for instance, is finally able to tie his or her shoelaces, the parents should stop doing it for the child.

Subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization and bureaucratization.
The non-governmental groupings in society should be helped to foster the common good and the participation of all the citizens. This participation is an important component of the subsidiarity principle. 
 

For the principle to work effectively, citizens should have the education, the information, the  right standard of values and view of history that will  contribute to mature citizenship, preparing them to select the most qualified people to work in government. When this functions properly the higher ranks of society will be helping the lower ranks to fulfill their rightful role.
 
Misunderstanding the social gospel teachings becomes more likely when there is "either/or thinking" instead of "both/and thinking." When we are concerned with our brothers and sisters, this does not mean we cease being concerned with our relationship with God. Matthew 25:32 gives us plenty of reasons why the two are seen as one in the teaching of Jesus.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Joy of Writing at any Age

For most of us, the aging of the body is not something  we can control, responding to our bidding whenever we would like. When we see the elderly full of energy and life despite their advancing years, all of us take notice of this unexpected achievement. And that is what the Catholic Times did recently with its interview of  86-year old Teresa Hong, who has recently published her 17th  book of poetry.

Although she has had two serious operations recently, she continues her reading and writing, and has no plans to stop. "When my hand is no longer able to hold the pen, that may be the end to my writing," she says, adding a "but" at the end, perhaps implying that even then she will find a way to continue writing. She admits to having misgivings about much of what she has written--and she has written since 1945--telling the interviewer she no longer desires to hear her poetry read, though she is resigned to these inevitable events. Her satisfaction now comes, she says, from recalling 70 years of loving relationships with others; the joys, the suffering, and the pleasures of life have all become part of her story, and part of her poetry.

Whatever she has seen, heard and thought during her long years of life have found their way into her poetry and other writings. Writing for her is like breathing, she says, but she never thought her writing had any great merit. Though people call her a poet, and she accepts the title, all she is doing, she insists, is answering the call to write, and the pages just follow naturally.

When she finished her 15th book of poetry, she thought that was a sufficient goal to have in life, but she has exceeded that goal by two. It was during this time that she had the operations and was distressed that her writing years might be over, but God allowed her to take pen in hand again and continue writing. The pain and personal struggles she endured during this time have been the miracle drugs, she says,  that enabled her to return to writing, purified and hardened.

More than the  energy that comes to her when she writes, it is her faith, she says, that is all important,  even though she has not been consistently faithful. She is always conscious of the many graces she has received in life, and grateful for being a life-long  Catholic. After publishing her  last book of poems, all that is left, she says, is to prepare for death with dignity and a firm resolve. Thankfully, she will leave behind a remarkable body of work for all of us to reflect on and  enjoy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Answers to Prayer

That prayers are not answered is a common  complaint and can bring the obvious question: Is there a God to answer our prayers? Our ancestors were faced with the same questions."Even when I cry out for help, he stops my prayer. He has blocked my ways with fitted stones, and turned my paths aside" (Lamentations 3:8-9).  "Oh my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; by night and there is no relief for me" (Psalm 22:3).

In his article in Bible & Life, a priest reminds us that our ancestors in the faith, being unconcerned whether an answer was received or not, continued in prayer and examined themselves, finding a response by redoubling their efforts in following the will of God.

It was prayer that helped them uncover God's will.  The response to the prayer was not as important as the relationship, the intimate conversation, the daily understanding--all of it came as a gift of love, the essence of prayer.

If we are to discover God's will--unconcerned with our own--patient waiting is necessary. The answer to prayer may take a lifetime. God's way is not our way, scripture tells us. Consequently, when praying we need to pray from the heart and give words to our prayer that is pleasing to God.

And yet, many have spent hours in fervent prayer with important requests...but the loved one died, a son never returned from the war, a business failed, and the divorce did happen. Not surprisingly, many of them gave up prayer as useless. 

Scripture tells us to ask and it will be given to us, but this is not what most of us experience. The priest wants us to know that in prayerful asking we are asking for the Holy Spirit, and that everything comes with this gift. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be unconcerned about whatever comes our way, welcoming both the inevitable sorrows and the joys of life. The more empty we are of ourselves, he points out, the freer the Spirit is to work within us.

When a favorable breeze blows we do not need the oars. When the Spirit within us is allowed the freedom to move us, prayer becomes easy and a joy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Who is Healthy?

A doctor, writing in the  Catholic Digest, asks "Who is the healthy person?" The dictionary meaning of health, often cited and generally thought to be accurate, is to be free of mental and physical ailments, and to have a robust constitution. According to this definition, the doctor says he would have to exclude many friends, acquaintances, and patients he considers healthy. He gives examples of what he means. 

A friend of his, another doctor, who has a crippled leg from polio, doesn't hesitate whenever his patients need his help, often being the first one to be at their bedside. At home, though often tired from long hours at work, he plays hide-and-seek with his daughter--not an easy game for someone with a crippled leg. And when his son, like all inquisitive children, asks a difficult question, he always takes the time to respond thoughtfully and appropriately. Can we say, he asks, that his friend does not have good health.

A man in his fifties, having recently climbed one of the highest peaks in Korea, was told a few days later that he had stomach cancer. Are we to think that from the moment he had the diagnosis he no longer was healthy? That he somehow lost the health that enabled him to climb that mountain? Or for that matter, should anything in the natural world that once was young and vigorous be described as having lost health as it ages?

A  78-year old diabetic grandmother,  overly preoccupied with health, leaving the doctor's office asked: Doctor are you  in good health? She just completed a physical exam, and yet she wants another MRI, just to make sure she's healthy. Can we say she is in good health?

We don't normally consider anything old as being healthy. But even in the natural world, taking as an example an old persimmon tree. Yes, it was once vigorous and producing fine fruit but now is producing small, ugly fruit, eaten only by birds. Who would consider the tree as not being healthy? Some of course would, but not our doctor.

He clearly has difficulty with the generally accepted meaning of health that restricts the word to a period of life where physical growth and fruitfulness are most evident, and that describes the period of life where physical powers decline as a lack of health. To focus solely on the physical manifestations of health. he says, will lead to many contradictions. 

Instead of  saying that health is the absence of any physical and mental problems, the doctor would prefer to say a person who lives his daily life without insecurity, and  enjoys physical, mental and spiritual peace is the healthy person. This more holistic understanding of health  includes even those who take medicines to control their high blood pressure, those who have been operated on for cancer and are living a normal life, those who are taking medicines to control depression and yet are able to work helping others, those who are handicapped and are out there teaching others--all of them could be considered healthy, the doctor insists, despite their physical problems.

A grandfather, after x-rays revealed the possibility of TB, was told to undergo more tests to be sure. The doctor did not  want him to take strong drugs that may not be necessary  and may prove harmful, but the grandfather wanted to start taking the drugs, not for his own health but not to  endanger the health of his grandchildren. He had lived a  full life and the health of his grandchildren was now his primary concern. Can we say the grandfather was not in good health?

He gives us another example. A 45-year old man who was diabetic and obese, not wanting others to think he was unhealthy, refused medicine but decided to exercise 4 hours a day, eating only the best food. During the weekends, he would go golfing and mountain climbing. He also cut down on his weekly workload and avoided foods he previously wanted to eat. The family did not enter into the picture and were very much upset by his decision. Let us suppose, the doctor says, that everything turned out normal after his efforts, can we say he was in good  health?

The doctor suggests that a first step in correcting this misunderstanding of true health might start with changing how we greet one another, which would also help rid us of what he calls the "health neurosis" of our society.  Better than wishing other people good health, which is normally understood to mean physical health, he wants us to get into the habit of wishing them "Joy of life," "Be filled with God's graces," "Be happy," 'May your wishes come true"--all stressing the importance of mental and spiritual health. It is our narrow preoccupation with physical health, he says, that deflects many of us from pursuing the health that counts, The real health that makes any physical ailment of little significance.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Foreign Brides' Language Problems

There are few of us who have not had difficulty communicating our thoughts and feelings. The problem often exists where we least expect to  find it: in the best of marriages. Regardless of the shared goals of the partners and the love they have for each other, there is bound to be some discord, some lack of communication. Imagine what it would be like if one of the partners was unfamiliar with the culture and language of the other. Yes, it would be difficult to imagine; such an obstacle to a successful life together would seem almost insurmountable.

International marriages struggling to overcome the language and cultural differences of the partners are not uncommon in Korea, but marriages in which the couples are not able to communicate because the language barrier is too difficult to overcome is a recent and disturbing phenomenon.  When society was simpler and the disparity between the country and city, rich and poor, educated and uneducated was not as pronounced, the problem had easier solutions.  A religious sister, attempting to find current solutions to the problem, works with women who have emigrated to Korea, many of them as foreign brides. Because most of the husbands are struggling financially, most of them, after learning a little Korean, will look for work in the factory area of the diocese. Working in the factories, beginning a family, and doing the household chores leaves the new bride little time to study the language.

Writing in the Bible and Life magazine, the sister stresses how important it is for these women to learn Korean. Without the language, they will not be able to have first-hand knowledge of the culture, or communicate with their husbands, their children, and their neighbors. Many of the most distressing problems they are now experiencing, such as depression and conflicts within the family are caused, she says, from the inability to communicate.

Tien, a young woman from Thailand, a college graduate, is typical, the sister says, of women who come to see her. Married to an earnest, hard-working young man, Tien has been in the country for 10 years.  Around the time of the birth of their third child, she had to admit to herself that living in a foreign country is far from easy. Because she kept putting off the study of Korean, Tien was incapable of helping her children with their schoolwork, and even simple conversations were difficult . But it still was a shock--from which she's never recovered--she told the sister, when she overheard the oldest son ask his father if it was possible to find a Korean woman to marry.

An incident at the children's center prompted Tien to contact the sister. Her youngest child was given medicine for her cold. Tien had asked her teachers to give  the child a spoonful of cough medicine every four hours. When the child came home with the empty medicine bottle, she realized they had given her child too much. She complained but was told there had been a misunderstanding, implying the blame was hers because she had difficulty with the language, while making light of  the whole affair.  She wanted to change to another children's center but her husband gave her no sympathy and made matters worse by siding with the teachers and blaming her for the misunderstanding with the teachers. Tien told sister that because of her difficulty learning the language, she now believes it is beginning to harm the health of her children; she then broke down and  began to cry.

The sister feels that similar incidents will continue to occur until Tien  and the other foreign brides become  proficient in the language.  She hopes they will have the commonsense to avoid them by setting aside enough time to learn the language. How diligent they are in pursuing this goal will determine to a large extent the future happiness of the women and their families.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Year of Faith: New Evangelization


"When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" A  strange question abruptly asked by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (18:8). In today's world the question is no longer as strange as it once was. Pope Benedict brings up the subject of faith in the life of the Church with his Apostolic Letter of Oct. 11, 2011, Porta Fidei (Door of Faith), which proclaimed that a "Year of Faith" would begin on Oct. 11, 2012 and end on Nov. 24, 2013. 

In conjunction with the Pope's announcement, the 13th Synod of Bishops will meet in Rome, Oct. 7, preceding the opening of the Year of Faith, and conclude Oct. 27. About 300 bishops from around the world will discuss the need for a new approach to spreading the faith, guided by the theme: "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith." During the deliberations, the Year of Faith will be formally proclaimed, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth  anniversary of the publication of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." The Korean Church is responding to the event enthusiastically; hopefully the words and ideas exchanged and debated will not be relegated to our personal archives, and forgotten. The working document for the Bishops Synod has been published by the Vatican and can be accessed by typing Instrumentum Laboris in a search engine.

The president of the Bishops Committee on Evangelization held a press conference recently to provide details on the Year of Faith and the Bishops Synod.  A journalist for the Catholic Times, commenting on the Bishop's press conference, said  the term "New Evangelization" is not well understood by most Catholics. New ramifications have surfaced, broadening the meaning of the term and requiring a change of perspective on how best to spread the Gospel message. How this change will translate to the current situation in Korea is too early to tell, the columnist says.

Successful implementation of the evangelization process, according to Blessed Pope John Paul, will depend on how well we can bring to our work new passion, new methods, and new aspirations of what can be accomplished, and how mindful we are that changing a culture requires a change in the methods used.  The bishop in the press conference speaking from the  heart wonders if the change, first of all, has to begin with  himself. We need to experience God.  What our society needs is not more teachers, but men and women who witness to what they believe. 
 

The need for discussion has been felt for sometime for the countries that have been traditionally the bastions of Catholicism are no longer so, and the hope is to change the present reality.  The effort will have to begin with each one of us  examining  our faith life, face the results, and  begin to evangelize ourselves with a new vocabulary and practices.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Cry of the Poor and of Nature

In the Scriptures, we hear the cry of the Israelites in Egypt,  the cry of the poor and oppressed. "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of  complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering" (Exodus 3:7). There is also the cry of creation, the ecological cry. " Yes, we  know that all creation groans and is in agony even until now" (Rom. 8:22).

There is a common element in  these two cries: The cry that comes from the failure to fulfill our social and economic obligations and to recognize our solidarity with all humans, and the cry that comes from a lack of harmony between humanity and nature--the despoiling of nature often justified by putting commercial concerns before human concerns. Both cries call out to us because of the same injustice and the same suffering. 

In both injustices, the poor are the ones who suffer. Social injustice brings about ecologic injustice, and ecologic injustice brings about social injustice. As Christians we need to attune our ears to this cry and, like the Old Testament prophets, express our just anger against this injustice, against the exploitation of the poor and oppressed.  Social and ecological justice, closely related, are fighting the same enemy: exploitation of the powerless, in most cases for personal gain.

Our relationship with nature should be a familial relationship that seeks a sustainable development for both partners. If we want to free ourselves from all that enslaves us, writes a professor of scripture, we must start by living in harmony with nature. By working for the liberation of the poor, and by identifying with the poor, we are liberating ourselves.

The professor ends his article by reminding us it's not enough to acknowledge the close relationship of social and ecological justice, we need also more study and discussion of this relationship to help us complement their interconnectedness. As we work toward this goal, not only will our political, economic, and social concerns change for the better, but when we link this change with a heightened appreciation of our ecological responsibilities, and when all four concerns are seen as belonging to one undivided whole, then we will experience the liberation we are all seeking. And the Christian response will naturally follow.





Saturday, September 8, 2012

Is sex a sport, a game, a leisure-time activity? According to a recent news article, this is the message now being received by our children--in music videos, at pop concerts, in pervasive media coverage of the personal, primarily sexual, lives of celebrities.

Children most at risk have working parents who are not able to give their children the attention they need. When midterm exams are over and  parents are at work, surfing the web for porn and throwing sex parties in the homes become popular pastimes. The current view of sex of many young people can perhaps be best appreciated, the article points out, by the answer of a young girl when asked what sex means to her. "It's good for the complexion," she said. With this frivolous understanding of sex--not too surprising considering the widespread debasing of sex in our society--it is only natural that our children are eager for their first sexual experience.

While many observers interested in cultural matters have noted this growing irresponsible sexual activity among the young, teachers in many of the youth centers in Korea  have often expressed astonishment at the behavior of young people, primarily because of the coarseness of their language and their shallow, reckless understanding of sex. These same observers single out the music video industry as deserving a big part of the blame.

In one popular music video, a young girl meets a man at a night club and then goes to a motel with him. On the way there, the camera focuses on the girl, who looks directly into the camera with a quizzical look in her eyes, as the video ends. Why is the girl looking directly at the viewers? When adults are asked this question, the writer of the article reports that it take them about 30 minutes to come up with the right answer, high-school students 10 minutes, and grammar school children 1 minute. The correct answer?  "Do what I am doing."

The grammar school children, the writer goes on to say, are so accustomed to seeing porn on the internet the answer was obvious to them. In many cases the actresses will gaze into the  camera repeatedly, in effect inviting the viewer, with its subliminal message: "Do what I am doing. you have no idea how great this is."


Some music videos are so sexually explicit a grammar school student of years past would probably not have been capable of imagining its content, nor would many even have been interested; that is clearly no longer the case.Today's grammar school children have knowledge of areas of life that should not be a part of their education. Sadly, this is the way society is programing our young. Unless society takes steps to address this ominous trend, we are likely to see greater harm inflicted on our children. And what price will society have to pay in the future, we need to ask ourselves, for allowing this rampant permissiveness to continue?
 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Forming Small Christian Communities


Every pastoral worker involved with "'small Christian communities" has a different understanding of this new concept in evangelization, says a priest just days after completing a workshop on the subject. Reflecting on that experience in a recent bulletin for priests, he explains the confusion over the precise nature of these communities as stemming from the words themselves; they tell us little of what these communities do. To fill the gaps in our knowledge, he suggests that we see these communities in the same way as we see normal families. In the beginning, children are completely dependent on the parents. Gradually the children begin to enjoy some freedom, which soon takes them into a position of equality, until, finally, the parents are receiving help from the children.

The priest feels this way of seeing the close relationship of clergy and laity, as it is most clearly experienced in these small communities, is more Gospel-oriented than the pastor and sheep analogy, with clergy prominently in the center. Even calling the priest 'Father,' he says, gives an inkling of what the beginning state of these communities should be.

For our writer, the more he thinks about these communities the more convinced he is of their importance, particularly in the evangelizing process; their contribution in furthering this work, he says, can be enormously valuable. Focusing  his attention on the laity--they make up the greater part of God's people--he points out that lay people are constrained to live the Gospel-life where they are, in whatever role in life they find themselves.  If the pastoral worker sees the laity as a partner, then he will have, the priest says, the right approach to the small communities.

The pastoral work of these communities has to begin from below, with the laity, and be self-starting; if not, the right understanding of the work will not be possible, he says, and the work will suffer. In many parts of South America and Africa, the small Christian community has shown it can be effective, no matter the difficulties faced, when a group of lay people, without the help of clergy, band together to accomplish their pastoral goals.

The priest, mindful that these communities often accomplish their goals without much public attention and respect, recalls that the doctor who generally gets the most attention and respect is the one who saves seriously ill persons from death. But a more wonderful doctor, he goes on to say, is the doctor who prevents the disease in the first place. Although his efforts are not as readily seen as they would be when attempting to cure disease, no one would have to think twice in deciding which doctor's approach is preferable. In the same way, we should become more aware of the troublesome issues now confronting the Church, before they turn into deep seated problems. This task can be ably handled by the small Christian communities, beginning by exposing some of the present problems faced by the Church and by taking steps to keep problems from recurring.
 
Pope Benedict XVl recently talking to the lay people said  the laity should be seen as truly "co-responsible" for the Church, and not just "collaborators" with the clergy. "Co-responsibility requires a change in mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the laity in the Church," the Holy Father said. This is pertinent  to what was said in forming Small Christian Communities.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wrestling With the Problems in the World


Religion, and spirituality in general, continues to receive the respect of many Koreans, even though most have no religion and despite an increasingly secular lifestyle approaching that of the West.

Surveys over the years have consistently shown that Catholic clergy are very much respected and trusted for what has been described as their "authenticity" and "sincerity." They placed first in this category in surveys taken in 1970 through 2000; after 2000, respect for the  priesthood slid to 11th place overall, perhaps due to the increase in the number of priests. (Firemen came in first, nurses second, environmental workers third. ) However, within the field of religion priests still came in first.

Regarding the respect factor generated by organizations, the Catholic Church placed first, ahead of the Buddhists, and  Protestants.  A monthly bulletin for priests attributes the high rating to the involvement of the Church in past human rights issues.

In one survey that sought to determine the happiness index of workers from a variety of occupations, 100 in all, the priesthood placed 4th. Although the  priesthood is not considered an occupation by the Church, most people see it as a job just like any secular activity that receives remuneration. (Grammar school principals were first)

In 2006, a survey of 143 priests in a Korean diocese revealed that personal relationships among some priests were not ideal. Among fellow priests 37.1 percent were uncomfortable with the relationship, and 27.3 percent of them considered their relationship with the ordinary and bishop uncomfortable. It's the quality of the relationship with the bishop, according to the monthly bulletin, that will determine  to a great extent the spirit of the priest.

Although the Holy Spirit is active in the work of the Church, this does not guarantee that all priests will be in a trusting relationship with their bishop.

It's important to remember that the Church is not a place where clergy and laity are looking for ease and comfort or even looking for respect; nor is it an association of friends. It should be a place, the writer says, where we wrestle with the problems in the world, and work for peace. This is the work given to us as our core ministry by Jesus.