Monday, December 31, 2012

Overcoming Misery in Life

The novel Les Miserables, written by Victor Hugo in 1862, has been very popular here in Korea over the years in movie, musical and TV drama versions. A young woman in the French department of Seoul University has written an article in the Catholic Times on her impressions of the novel.  She believes the reason for the story's power resides in Hugo's sympathetic treatment of  persons who are faced with wretched circumstances and yet are able to overcome their problems with determination, skill and and unbending belief.

The expression Les Miserables means the pitiful people. The novel recounts the lives of people who lack virtue, the lives of the poor, and the unfortunate. The portrayal, she says, is realistic and severe. But the misery and  wretchedness is not only described negatively but allows us to see how such circumstances can be  surmounted.

This is especially seen in the fate of the  main character, Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal who was released from prison. He was welcomed into the house of a bishop when all the others refused him shelter, and while in the house he stole the silverware. When he was arrested by the police, the bishop told them that it was his gift to Jean Valjean, which got him released. This was not enough to get him to change his life, however, but he did so after an incident that  happened  shortly after.

He stole a  coin from a child.This was the first time that his conscience gave him trouble and brought a  change in his life. He was able, said the writer, to achieve goodness through the evil that he experienced. Misery, pain, poverty, sin--all present in and maintained by society are what we have to continually strive to overcome. This is the driving force behind progress and in the process of overcoming these difficulties we become strong.

Although Victor Hugo was not  Catholic, says the writer, he rejected Catholic teachings and rituals but he served a God of love and mercy.To Hugo, God was justice and truth, mercy and law, and the God of love. The God of Les Miserables is not the all-knowing and almighty God who, in the minds of some, determines our fate and instils fear but he who  makes one surpass their will and actions by working toward an ideal. It is for this reason that Jean Vajean is seen as a Jesus  figure. Like Jesus--God  becoming  man--Jean Valjean in overcoming hardships, was man becoming God. He surpassed the bishop in his passive mercy for he went into the marketplace expressing mercy to those he met.

In 1789, with the beginning of the French Revolution, the curtain came down on an era in which  people entrusted everything to God. Now humanity accepts responsibility for making history and for deciding the future direction of society. In the second part of the book, after the June Revolt of 1832, this is made very clear as the the search for freedom and justice becomes the central focus of the story.

However, misery does not easily disappear. There is the cunning and evil innkeeper, the women who in order to live have to sell their bodies, the police office using force and unfair  laws to get his way, and the continual existence of poverty, misery and pain. And yet by facing these difficult circumstances with  positive values, humanity will end up the victor and  be directed to God.

Jean Valjean is Victor Hugo's ideal human. He lived justly, but to the very last moment of life he suffered and died lonely, embracing  and forgiving all. In Valjean, we can see the image of Jesus, of Prometheus who stole fire for humankind, and of Sisyphus who continues to roll the stone uphill, only to have it fall back to the bottom again,requiring still more effort to push it once more uphill, in a seemingly hopeless task. 

A question does arise for many after reading the book or seeing one of its many adaptations and wondering why was it on the list of forbidden books of the Catholic Church. To answer correctly such a question we have to locate ourselves in the times and the Europe in which the book was published. See what was happening in society and how the book would be received by the Catholics. Victor Hugo was brought up Catholic, kept his faith in God  but gradually lost all  sympathy for the Catholic Church. His view of life  in any event would have been in some way formed by what he grew up with even though in later years he was  turned off by what he saw and experienced in the Catholicism of his times.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Feast of the Holy Family

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family, and the editorial in the Peace Weekly stresses the  importance of family life, especially because of its influence on the health of our society. Starting on the 30th of December, a week will be set aside for reflections on the family and its sanctification.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one means that everybody will be busy with many things. However, during this busy time we need to reflect on what a family is and how to make it a small domestic church. In his message for the Feast Day, the bishop responsible for overseeing the health of family life in the diocese says families are finding it difficult to withstand the distorted values of society, and the bonds of family are weakening. The role of parents in correcting the situation cannot be stressed enough, he said, and  noted that we should not pass over lightly the causes and solutions that are implied.

In these times, we have many young people who are hurting, because of the distorted values that have infiltrated family life. Pope John Paul saw the family  as the "intimate community of love." And yet there remains in many families selfish decisions, parents desiring satisfaction through their children, spouses demanding a one-way sacrifice of the other, lack of understanding, and the like, which makes for instability of the family. Today it is even difficult to find unconditional love in the family. Problems with the young are often caused by societal and educational difficulties, which are usually preceded to a great extent by the breakdown of family values.

The Church sees the family in a much deeper and spiritual way than does society. Parents are to love each other as Christ loved the Church. It is this example of love that all parents should have. Before  the desire for their children to enter a first-rate college and succeed in life, they should be concerned with having the Gospel values introduced to their children.

Mother's role in the family is central. All of us received our first feeding at our mother's bosom, and learned something about love and courage from our mothers. The mother's hands extending to the child should be like the extended hands of God. In this way, the child will grow in love.

Fathers should have the same trust and faith that Joesph had in God when Joseph took care of Jesus and his mother. The place of the father in the family is obviously of great importance. No matter how difficult the situation may turn out to be, he is responsible for the welfare of the family.

We are coming to the end of the year and the editorial hopes that every family will get together to talk about how they will become a holier family in the new year. 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Something to Think About

Because the relationship between husband and wife is so close, it's not surprising that they can be easily hurt by the words they say to each other. The words that tend to cause hurt feelings depend, according to the priest-columnist of the Peace Weekly, on the biological differences between male and female. In his weekly column on happiness, he explores the effect of our gender differences on a couple's happiness.  Whether this is mostly myth is the reader's choice to make; it does make for interesting reading.

In the male, speech is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain; in the female both the left and right hemisphere control speech. When the left hemisphere  of the brain in both the male and female is damaged, as sometimes happens in a violent accident, the male loses his ability to speak, the female does not.

From the time of creation God made man to speak 10,000 words a day while the woman was made to speak 25,000 words, says the columnist.  Let us suppose, says the columnist, that during the day both the husband and wife, at work or in the home, have spoken 10,000 words. Then that evening when they are together, let us also suppose that the husband doesn't want to talk anymore while the wife still has 15,000 words she wants to share with him. It's easy to understand why the woman becomes frustrated, believing that he simply does not want to talk.

Continuing with the gender differences as they manifest in our everyday behaviors, the columnist says the male can do only one thing at a time while the female can do many things. The woman while active doing something, let's say cooking, can also do a number of other things, like listening to what is being said, talking on the telephone, among other things; the man, supposedly, can do only one thing at a time. He says the woman's sight is also more developed than the man's, distinguishing more colors.  When a couple goes shopping for clothes, determining what goes with what is often a contentious issue. The woman also has better visual memory than a man's. At any large gathering of people, the man will remember only a few of those he meets, the woman will remember many. The man also loses more of his hearing ability than the woman.

The woman, however, finds it more difficult to follow directions. And with age the woman loses spacial cognitive abilities.This is something husbands would do well to remember, he advises.

Man's skin is four times the thickness of the woman's. She, however, has more fat which allows her to endure the cold better than the man. However, with age she shows her age quicker than the male because of her thinner skin.

The woman's senses are also more acute and she is more emotional. When the husband is sick she often begins her caring efforts with words of comfort and then prepares the medicines and food. When the wife is sick many husbands do not know what to do. He is often less perceptive of what his wife is feeling, sometimes only noticing his wife's anger after the instigating situation has passed. With a husband whose senses are dull, and a wife who is very sensitive, there is bound to be conflict.

The obvious consequence of these gender differences for a man and a woman living together is likely to be unhappiness, unless, says the columnist, the couple learn to accept the differences between the sexes, and refuse to make them into an obstacle in achieving happiness together.  Once this is accomplished, a beautiful harmony becomes possible, with the man and the woman taking turns deferring to the other in areas where the other is more competent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christians' Love for Society

Liturgically, we have greeted again the baby Jesus with joy and praise as we come to the end of an eventful 2012. The Catholic Times' editorial reminds us that at this time of year we tend to look back on the passing year with regret, and forward to the new year with some trepidation.

Our present society is facing unprecedented changes and difficulties. The economic problems now being faced by Korea rank second only to the conditions that required the IMF bailout; the country is suffering the pains of  a stagnant economy. There is generational and class discord, which makes us lose our societal balance; the efforts of our citizens working for a good and human society end up dispersed and diffused.

How is it with our Christians? How much of our trusting in the Gospels accompanies us as we go about our daily tasks? Not much, it's safe to say. For this reason the Pope, with concern for Christians who in these troubled times are disturbed in their faith life, has given us this Year of Faith.

The Year of Faith may be directed mainly for the struggling Christianity of the West, despite its rich and deep-rooted heritage, but we also see the signs of this weakness in faith life in Korea. If we do not attempt to fight against this drift in society, these same problems will come to us shortly.

We can't deny that within  Catholicism in Korea, there is  the attachment to an individualized and personal religious life: a desire  to hold firmly  to one's spirituality, live morally, and  seek salvation.

However, the Church teaches that the true Christian is to go beyond the self, relate to the community and society, and desire the salvation of the world. We should have a desire to see the world changed to the values we have received from Christ and be involved in the attainment of this goal by our participation. The editorial ends by asking us to reflect on what does it mean for us to say we are true disciples of Christ.

For a Christian, this desire to see the teachings of Christ accepted is not a desire to be on the winning side or push a  certain opinion, but it is a  matter of love for the world and our brothers and sisters. Christians believe that this is the way to  find happiness in life.We see the many problems that we have in society. Big and small conflicts, suicides, horrible crimes, mental  and  physical difficulties, frustrations, loss of hope and not knowing why we are here in the first place. Christians should feel we have some of the answers to these problems. And as Pope John Paul II said it is not a desire to  impose these values but  proposing them. This requires, first of all, that we as Christians truly believe we have the remedies for the many ills afflicting society.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Need for Basic Christian Communities

Catholic media in Korea has for some time  emphasized in stories and articles the importance of community in our spiritual life. With the ascendency of individualism in society this has been a very difficult sell. The Catholic Times' journalist headlines his article with: "Need to Bring Joy into the Life of Community."  Community life, it is true, often interferes with  individual plans and for many becomes an obstacle to participation in community activities.

One Catholic asked, "Do I have to go to confession? I have not sinned. I pray the rosary morning and evening, and never miss Mass. Why do I have to go to confession?"  The priest asked what have you done for the poor? Have you prayed for the poor? The parishioner replied, "Do I also have to do that?"

This is the way a priest explains individualism as it appears in parish life. More than something wrong, he hears this with sadness. In the Our Father we pray 'Our' but many still ask only for what satisfies personal needs.

In response to this situation, the Korean church, realizing that many Catholics were satisfied with a personal faith life  has in recent years endeavored  to bring small community life more directly into the life of our Christians, increasing fellowship, connecting faith life with daily life, and strengthening the Christians' initiative and spontaneity.  The efforts have not all been successful, sometimes colliding with problems already existing within some parishes.  However, even with the problems it is a good alternative, the columnist believes, to a distorted individualism.

One pastor quoted by the journalist wrote that the small community initiative was encouraged by the Second Vatican Council and is a sign of the future direction of the Church. It's a way of incorporating the poor into the life of the church and bringing joy and intimacy into the community.

At the beginning of the Church, these small communities gave life to the Church. In our own Korean beginnings, the early Christians were not interested only in their own salvation. Even in difficult circumstances, they were living according to the teachings of the church, and going out to their neighbors in love. Recently, the building of large parish churches has closed many mission stations where community life was strong. When the mission stations joined the large parish communities, there was a loss of intimacy and a feeling of alienation.

Bringing back the joy of a shared faith life will be an important part of the future Church. Dioceses are working to make the small Christian communities an attractive option for their members and consider this an important pastoral initiative. One pastor expresses the hope that ultimately those working to build community, when they experience the joy, satisfaction and benefits of community, will be the movement's best teachers.                                                             

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Misfortune Turns into Good Fortune

He spent two and half years in prison for fraud and embezzlement and now is a volunteer in prison pastoral work. Released from prison in 2007, Andrew, now 58, was interviewed recently by the Catholic Times. For ten years, he explained, he worked as a division head for a large corporation. He lived comfortably, not envying anybody. However, he decided to leave and  get into the construction business, which ran into difficulties, and those who had invested in the business were not informed. He admits the business failed because of mistakes stemming from his prideful nature and disregard for the legitimate interests of his investors. His only interest was in doing things his way; that alone, he said, made him happy.

When the prison sentence was given, all his acquaintances left him and problems arose within the family; leading very  close to a divorce from his wife. His life unraveled, and he fell into complete despair.

Prison life for Andrew was hell. He was afraid, found it difficult to eat or sleep and was full of resentment, living in a daze. He wondered if he would be able to keep his sanity in the prison situation. He felt it was a place he didn't deserve to be in.

He soon found, however, that his great misfortune was turning into a blessing. Relating with those who came to the prison to help the inmates, he began to see life through the life of faith he once possessed. Seeing the volunteers coming to help the prisoners with no financial incentive made him reflect on his own life of greed. He had been baptized and married in the Catholic Church but that was the extent of his faith life. 

His thoughts began to change, and he began to see that his life was a mess. Each day he would think of the many things he did wrong and began to repent. A great change took place, and he became involved with the Catholic prisoners who had formed themselves into a community. He was a lector at Mass and became a leader in the community; joy returned to his life.

Andrew, after release from prison Nov. 30, 2007 (coincidentally his name day) went to the nearest church to pray, gave thanks and promised to spend the rest of his life in service to those in prison. He has finished a training program for mission, and is now taking a university course in theology. He has nothing to be proud of from his past, but his own experience in prison has made him a missioner to those who still find prison life only a negative experience. He wants to help them find new reasons to make their lives worth living.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Being Born Again Daily: Christmas Every Day

"We are waiting for the liturgical feast of Christmas. Coming to the end of the year, wearied and somewhat depleted, we find consolation in the coming feast." With these words a priest, also a philosophy professor, begins his article, in the With Bible magazine, on the world's greatest story.   Those who are not Christian, he says, often have the same feelings we Christians have. Hannah Arendt a Jew and a philosopher  also had these feelings.

A student of Martin Heidegger and Carl Jaspers, she fled to the States during the Nazi period in Germany. Her book, The Human Condition, influenced many during the second half of the 20th century, particularly the chapter on action. She begins the chapter with the words of Isak Dinesen, the author of Babette's Feast, "All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them."

Arendt says that the power of the story comes when we finally disclose in narrative form who we are by noting our actions and words. When we become conscious of our life in this way, as recounted in our actions and words, we can begin to see our life as part of the fabric of the society we live in. Realizing that our lives are individual stories enacted between a birth and a death, we understand and pass on our stories, says Arendt, by acknowledging our weaknesses and our inability to foresee the future. However, within this imperfect reality, we nevertheless must act and speak.

This perception comes from her understanding of the word 'natality.' The professor notes that her idea is the mirror image of what her teacher Heidegger taught: "Being unto death." For Arendt, birth was a new beginning, giving the person trust and hope that even the wisdom of the Greeks was not able to discover, and that Arendt, though not a Christian, was able to comprehend. She ended her reflections on this point with the words: "Humanity in this world has been given trust and hope expressed in the joy that comes with the Christmas story: the birth of a child."

To understand the word 'natality' that Arendt uses, the professor says we must understand her use of the words 'forgiveness' and 'promise.' The past cannot be undone, and we do not know what the future holds for us. Because of our innate weakness--the weakness of a newborn--we become dependent on our willingness to extend forgiveness, both to others and to ourselves. And since we do not know what the future will be, we become dependent on the promise of a better future, which gives us hope to go into that future to "build islands in the big ocean of life." Arendt says it was Jesus who gave us this hope for forgiveness and promise.

We are not born to die but to be reborn into a new beginning. We can know happiness, says Arendt, by using the twin tools of forgiveness and promise. The same good news of the Gospels we try to live daily. Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What Does God Do All Day?

Walking the city streets, we see many symbols of Christmas but few that are  close to the meaning of what the day should mean. We see Christmas trees, wreathes, stars, candles, bells, Santa Claus, candy canes, stockings, and many other symbols which in years past had a clear association with the Christ event. Today they are merely attempts to increase sales and make more money. So begins the column on View from the Ark in the Catholic Times.

This is a good indication of what has happened in all aspects of our society. We give meanings to symbols that fit our view of life. And for many the Christmas event has lost its meaning. It is a time to be merry and probably has more to do with the winter solstice than with Christ.
Recently, a woman without religious beliefs asked me a question I had never been asked before; it made me laugh, but also think. What does God do all day? I was surprised by the question but did quickly find an answer.And the more I  thought about it, the  more I 

thought it was  one of the best questions I  had ever been asked.

We hear in John I, 4:8 that God is love. The answer came rather easily, remembering these words: God spends his time in loving. The answer did seem to say something to the woman, and it said more to me.  "God's love was revealed in our midst in this way: he sent his only Son to the world that we might have life through him."

For a Christian, if God ever forgot the world and his creation for a moment, we would all cease to exist. What keeps the world and the universe in existence, though not for the scientist or philosopher but for a Christian, is the love that God has for what he has made. He showed us this love with a visual aid that can't be surpassed. He came to earth to live with us. It would be hard to beat that even in the world of children nursery and fairy tales.

The editorial in the Peace Weekly would like to know what questions he would have for us today. And wonders what would be our answers. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Quest for Happiness

A Catholic priest philosopher, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, headlined his article: Those Who Want Happiness Need to Walk the Way of Love. He then gives us some examples of this theme.

For St.Thomas the answer to the question What is happiness? was the beatific vision. Many have difficulty with his "sugared, intellectualized," as it has been called, meaning of happiness. The writer goes on to say that this happiness that comes with  gazing (the beatific vision) is the purified and completeness of love. When St.Thomas speaks about happiness what is presupposed for him is that full knowledge equals full love. Shakespeare said something similar: “Love talks with better knowledge, and knowledge with dearer love."

The answer to the meaning of love is love. We learn love by loving. We have to find the way of love to get to happiness. We are all weak and scared individuals, but the first step on this road to love is the way to happiness.

The musical made from The Tale of Two Cites was popular here in Korea, and the priest uses the story as an example of love. It is a melodrama, with the French revolution as background. Old fashioned but with skill in the presentation, the musical leaves a strong impression on the viewer. Sydney Carton, a very talented lawyer, has lost faith in himself and in society. His unreciprocated love for Lucy, pure and full of mercy, remains and, in thanks for what he was given, offers up his life for love. The last scene shows the  saintly and happy death of this once lost soul.

The thesis that love  is happiness is known by those who walk tirelessly along this way.  Is this not the love of imperfect human beings for other imperfect humans? Though this love is still finite and selfish, is it not the imitation of infinite love and the beginning step on the way to happiness?

Another example in our times is the sister Emmanuelle, who lived with the trash collectors in Cairo for 20 years, showing her love to a forgotten segment of society, living in their poverty-like circumstances. In her words: "Many people carry within themselves the eternal face. Their gaze gives a response to love. They very naturally grow close to those they meet. Even their everyday duties, which are repeated over and over again to accomplish their tasks, are freed from emptiness and finiteness." Isn't this the result of love?

The priest concludes that his love is his happiness. For his happiness to be real he has to eagerly desire that his love be real. St. Augustine said after finishing writing one of his books, the book is finished but the quest is not. He ends  his article on happiness by wishing that we all continue the quest in learning how to love.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Letting our Mental Faculties Rest

Many  seeing those dying of hunger in Africa, the agony of families losing everything in natural disasters, and not mentioned by our spiritual columnist in the Catholic Times, the recent horrible killing of 20 kindergarten children, who has not been deeply saddened by these tragic events.

Here it is not the head but the heart that is moved. The head has no need to think, examine or cross examine; there is an immediate response from the heart (the spirit). We are in harmony with the will of God; the head rests, and we give ourselves over to  the spirit.

This is true also with a devote reading of the Scriptures. If we have only a rudimentary knowledge of Scripture and do not understand, we still read. With greater knowledge we understand more but even then we need to  stop our thinking and read with the heart. We leave aside our rationalizations and  rest in the fullness of the words. We can remain a whole day with a few words of the Scriptures: "found it very good" from the first chapter of Genesis, pondering over these words as our prayer. All becomes one and simple because we have given the mental faculties a temporary rest.

The mental faculties are good but when they are overused problems develop. At present in Korea the intellect has primacy. From grammar school on to college too many adults, according to the columnist, are living in the head: centering on the 'I' and seeking personal fulfillment. We are not giving the spiritual its rightful place.

In Korea, there are many who are addicted to internet games. They have not been able to surmount the mental, which often develop into addictions to the internet and gambling, and fantasizing about sex. And these problems are not restricted to a  few special people, repeats the columnist, but mostly those who live entirely within the head.

Reflect for a moment on a person kneeling before the remains of a loved one. For the moment he or she  has left the thinking faculties and cherishes the memory of the dead person, crying in the heart and spirit. In these cases few are  those who are still there with the ego, or worrying about work, or absorbed with future plans, but only present to  the dead person. It is a a time when one is lost in silence. It is not a silence that is intended but comes naturally. That is the way we are made. Most of us are not familiar with this way of behaving that comes with putting  aside our thinking faculties.

Putting ourselves out in front, criticizing others, does not appear when we are concerned in forming the self in harmony with the will of God. We get rid of our thinking and are content to rest in the abundance of our spirit. It is truly a precious present we have been given. It is here we experience the fullness of  truth.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Dream Dreams but...

Life is often like walking a tightrope: needing  to dream and at the same time needing to keep our feet firmly on the ground to escape unhappiness--if we are to keep our ideals and reality in the proper perspective. If we only go in search of our ideals, there is a chance they will disappear, and if the present reality is all we trust, there is no guarantee we will always possess it.

There are many that dream big: they will change the world, become rich, a great scientist... these dreams help in achieving one's goals. However, many will run up against reality, and have to deflate the dreams to make them more realistic.

In life, we have  success and failures. New beginnings, new efforts making new dreams, practicing becoming more of what we should be. The efforts are tiring but they  also add to the beauty of life. If before the wall of reality is encountered, we feel frustrated and give up, not giving it our best, we are not searching for our ideals. Even if we fail we need to search and try our best to achieve our ideals.

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times gives us the example of a taxi driver who envied all those he saw who were successful; he wanted to get into the business world but because of poverty began driving a taxi to support his family. He expressed this feeling of disappointed to a passenger who looked prosperous. The passenger told him to leave what he was doing and begin to work to achieve his dream. The taxi driver told him that was impossible because of the needs of his family. The passenger told the driver that he should not demean what he was doing, that there were people who would gladly exchange their jobs for his. But if he wanted to quit his job, he should search for another dream and make plans systematically to achieve it.

When one is dissatisfied by what he is doing the dream is usually missing. Dreams are what motivates us. But when we distort and stubbornly cling to our unrealistic dreams we may be running away from reality and sinking into shame, says the columnist. We have to be prepared to jettison unrealistic dreams.

For a Christian, following Jesus is both our ideal and  our reality. We trust and rely on him; we do not use the yardstick given to us by the  the world. Jesus' way is not always what we would like, but it is the way we need to go. He told us not to be afraid and to trust.

The columnist ends by telling us that it is necessary to dream. Without dreams, we are going to be miserable. If we do not know where we want to go, how can we find strength. We will have to decide on how this is going to be expressed in our lives. What is important is not to give up, to have passion, and to make the effort.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mass Is Not the Sermon

Sermons are an important part of the Catholic liturgy but they are not the heart of what happens at the altar.  And yet many will leave the church having decided that what happened during the Mass was boring; the sermon was uninteresting. The sermon receives more importance than it deserves. But even a poor sermon can add to our growth in the totality of the Mass. 
The whole Mass is a audio-visual sermon. A representation and memorial of the love that Jesus showed us by his life, death and resurrection while here on earth.  We are not present at Mass as passive viewers but as active friends of Jesus who want to deepen our relationship with him by listening to him, by talking to him, by questioning him, by spending time in understanding his call to discipleship. And by becoming one with him. With this  active understanding of the Mass, we have no time to be bored because we are offering the Mass with the priest.

The columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times mentions a priest who was well-known for giving inspiring sermons. He gives us a  glimpse of  the thoughts of his friend when preparing his sermons. Though he spent a great deal of time preparing them and saw them as very important, and was able to move the hearts of the parishioners, the columnist said that the priest didn't accept the praise uncritically.

He explained: "If my sermons are all that they remember and yet they do not pay attention to what is happening at the altar, forgetting what is being represented and what we are remembering, and do not experience  the joy and happiness of the liturgy, then there's a problem. If all that is remembered after the Mass is the sermon, then I have the fear that I pandered to a desire to be popular. I'm saying with sugary words what they want to hear, and that is not what it's all about."

For a Catholic, the sermon should draw us closer to Jesus, but this is done through the whole of the Mass, and it should not depend on the quality of the sermon. If we are receptive and have a desire to grow spiritually then the reception of  God's grace in our hearts will not be prevented by a poor sermon.

It cannot be stressed enough that though sermons are important and nourish us, they are only part of what is happening at Mass. We are renewing again the relationship with our Lord and preparing ourselves for the work he has given us. The word 'liturgy' means unpaid labor exacted by lawful authority. Jesus asks us to get involved in this work. The word 'Mass' derives from the word of dismissal taken from the Latin.  Showing our thanks for the trust he shows us, we answer with gratitude, in the last words of the Mass: "Thanks be to God."
Since we have been united with Jesus in the Eucharist, the gratitude can not be exaggerated. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Knowing Oneself

"Know Yourself" words we know well, that have come down to us from the time of the Greek  philosophers; and very difficult to achieve. A professor of philosophy at the Catholic University, on the  education page of the Catholic Times,  prepares  a short meditation on the subject by using Kant's famous four questions.

Kant in his old age, looking back on his life, believed the subject of philosophy could be summed up by the answers to four questions. What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? What does it mean to be human?  Attempting to give answers to these four questions he arrived at his philosophy.

To the first question, What can I know, he discusses the nature and scope of knowledge. To the second, What should I do, he discusses ethics. To the third, What may I hope for, he discusses religion and beliefs. The answer to the fourth question, What does it mean to be human, follows naturally from the answers to the previous three questions. With his 

answer to this last question, Kant believed he had summed up and answered all previous philosophical questions.

Humanity has tried to answer these questions over the centuries, speculating far and wide but not satisfied with the answers  kept on searching. Humans will continue to ask these questions until death intervenes, and when doubt appears they will look for better answers. It is from these questions that philosophy developed. There are all kinds of definitions for philosophy, but at the end it comes down to questioning our humanity and looking for answers. The results of our understanding will decide the way we will live, and in this sense all of us are philosophizing.

By philosophizing, we sometimes come to a new understanding of ourselves and look upon ourselves with different eyes. This enables us to see others differently and to initiate new relationships. A person, when viewed philosophically, becomes not merely another object but one I can love or hate. A stranger can become a neighbor, and a person hurting can become the stimulus for selfless giving.  The way I will understand and accept others will depend on how I understand myself. And my philosophy will determine, in many cases, how I will act.

Christianity is a revealed religion but many, without any reference to Christianity, have deduced many of its teachings from their own personal philosophies. "Faith implies reason and perfects it" would be the Christian formulation of how we are to arrive at a life enhancing philosophy. Or, put another way, how the supernatural  builds on the natural, or how grace, as St. Thomas said, builds on nature. In the  past philosophy was considered the handmaid of theology but there would be few philosophers today who would feel comfortable with theology let alone see philosophy as a handmaid. But whether handmaid or not, the Church teaches that both philosophy and theology are necessary for a proper understanding of the fourth question posed by Kant: What does it mean to be human?                                      

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Meaning of the New Evangelization

The difficulties now being experienced in Korea because of the increased presence of foreign workers, interracial marriages, and the school-related problems faced by the children of these marriages, which has resulted in prejudice throughout the country, has gone all the way to the UN, says the priest-columnist writing for the Catholic Times. Korea once took pride in considering itself a homogeneous  people. "The white-clad folks, the unsullied virgin" was our thinking in the past. Today we are in a time where harmony and communication are seen as indispensable ingredients for creating a peaceful world, and the elitist attitudes of the past are seen as stumbling blocks in creating such a world.

The United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has pointed out that Korea has encouraged a belief in the superiority of their culture based on racial discrimination: "purity of blood" beliefs, using words such as  "mixed blood children," and similar derogatory descriptions, that have worsened social conditions within the country. The columnist wants us to now face the problems we have created by our prejudicial attitudes by emphasizing the need for better communication, using the example of people who have come to Korea from other cultures. 

There is little difficulty understanding how children of interracial marriages feel when they hear "mixed blood" and similar words.  There needs to be openness and magnanimity when relating with persons of another culture, he says, particularly when the culture and language is not easy to assimilate, as is the case with Korean. Understanding this simple fact will go a long way toward better communication with those who are struggling with the culture. 

The priest mentions the efforts that have been made to translate the words of Scripture correctly so that we, centuries removed, can understand them.  This requires that the translators know the culture of Jesus' time and the meaning they understood by the words they used; it's an important task.

The world continues to change and seemingly at an ever quicker pace, and new ways of communicating must be found if we are to achieve the peaceful world we all would like. This is especially true if we want to present the teachings of Christ to our generation. Pope John Paul II wanted  to achieve this goal with a new way of delivering the message: which he called the new evangelization. The message is the same, the way we expound it will be different.

If we do not know the young people in our society, we will fail to reach them, no matter how hard we try to communicate with them. It is imperative that we understand the typical mindset of the young and what they hold important if we want to communicate with them.

In the first chapters of Genesis, we read that there has been a confusion of languages and a failure to communicate because of sin. It exists everywhere and perhaps most disconcertingly in our families, where we often don't take the time to uncover the root cause of the problem.  We have been taught to listen and obey our elders, which is a beautiful part of  our culture but no one pays attention to this "old way" anymore. In today's society, the inter-generational divide between the young and the old is looming larger than ever before. If we think we can continue to transmit the message of the gospel as in the past, we will fail.

One of the biggest problems in transmitting the message is the reliance on an older, previously successful authoritarian attitude that no longer speaks to the young. The attitude that pervaded the Second Vatican Council was to open up to newer methods of communication to achieve peace and harmony among all people. To continue the old way of communicating is to go counter to the teachings of Vatican II and against what we mean by evangelization for our times. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

To the Korean Presidential Candidates

Taken from the Catholic  Bishops' Conference of Korea News Letter

A Question to the Candidates for the Presidential Election

Among the many questions posed to the candidates before the 18th presidential election on December 19, 2012, one which must be taken into sincere deliberation to find a proper answer is critical: "Should we give priority to the reconciliation of the two Koreas or should we solve first and foremost the problem of conflict and/or social polarization within South Korea?"

From the beginning, the present government with President Lee Myeong-bak came up with an inter-Korean policy which is almost impossible for North Korea to accept. The South Korean government said it would cooperate with North Korea, so that the North, having given up nuclear arms, could reach the mark of 3,000 USD on GNP per capita within ten years after opening its border to the outer world. Besides, the present government denounced the so-called "Sunshine Policy" of the two late presidents, Mr. Kim Dae-jung and Mr. Roh Mu-hyeon, arguing that those 10 years of their successive presidencies were lost and in vain. Consequently, the relationship between North and South Korea grew worse, as both Koreas entered into a phase of mutual defamation, disagreement, and even military conflict.

Those who argue for tougher measures against North Korea say that the Sunshine Policy contributed to increasing resources for the dictatorship and nuclear arms in North Korea and made the South dance in humiliation to the piping of the North. On the other hand, those affirming the Sunshine Policy assert that the government escalated the tension between the two Koreas with hard-line policies that resulted in the collapse of inter-Korean economic cooperation. It is said that North Korea yielded the mining rights on abundant minerals in its territory to the People's Republic of China (PRC), as North Korea inclined toward de facto economic and political subordination to the PRC in its struggle for bare survival under international pressures.

What the North Korean regime fears most is the North Korean people, not the military might of South Korea or of the USA. In fact, the North Korean regime as well as the conservative camp of South Korea might want to shun by all means the allegedly "dangerous" dĕnte between the two Koreas which started with the Sunshine Policy.

The North Korean regime might want to create more tension between the two Koreas with provocative means, if and when South Korea tries to spread the warmth of the Sunshine Policy to the North Korean people. At the same time, the conservative camp of South Korea would ask the government for more hard-line policies for the inter-Korean relationship on the pretext that such  measures are appropriate for North Korea.

It is not humiliation but tolerance that leads a strong and wealthy party to be generous enough to accommodate the mistakes of its counterpart. To accommodate North Korea with the spirit of infinite forgiveness and love for mutual benefits may well be the cross which our nation should bear. In this regard, I would like to ask the presidential candidates about their concrete policies or visions for the reconciliation of the two Koreas as the first step towards the unification of Korea.

Fr. Thaddaeus Lee Ki-rak
Executive Secretary of the CBCK

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life without Alcohol

Eating together they all raised their glasses in a toast but the glasses only held soft drinks. Not a drop of liquor to drink but the topic of conversation was entirely on drinking. They were members of the Sobriety Movement in the diocese of Seoul. The journalist who wrote the story that appeared in the Peace Weekly attended the meal. He began drinking during his first year of college and continued for the next fifteen years, mostly when eating out and attending many year-end festivities. Not once was he without a drink, he said, until that evening.

The drinking culture of Korea pervades all strata of society and is well-known. There have been changes in recent years because of the serious consequences from excessive drinking. And these efforts have met with some success. But he goes on to say that the practice of heavy drinking continues, usually when there is a business meeting or when friends get together.

He mentioned that when he goes eating with friends, even before the side dishes come out they have finished drinking one or two bottles of soju (the popular cheap distilled liquor). At the end of eating and drinking with male friends they often  go to a second and third place, changing the atmosphere but continuing the drinking and talking. This group, however, goes to  tea rooms or coffee shops. He admits that during the meal with the sobriety members, it was not easy to produce a pleasant atmosphere without the usual drinking. A worker at the Center said that all their meals and events would be of this type--no liquor would be served.

The priest who heads the Center recalled when going out meant just 'pour and drink'. In Korea, one usually does not pour his own liquor, and a little force helping others to join in the drinking is permissible. Nowadays, the eating and the drinking are separated, said the priest. And if you drink too much that is a reason for losing your job and, in the conglomerate world, a black mark against you when it comes to promotions.

The article mentioned two men who after they had stopped drinking found everything working for the good, One said his business began to take off and the other said he began a new life;  even the conversations were more memorable for he could remember them. He refuted the notion that liquor helps dialoguing with others.

The priest recounted his own story of heavy drinking and confessed that his parishioners over the years sent complaints  to the diocese about his drinking; the complaints were enough, he said, to fill three bags. Before he stopped not only was his spiritual life a mess but his mental and emotional life as well.

That evening, during the liquor-less meal, those present mentioned how difficult it was to give up their old way of life. They all said that the most difficult time is when they are celebrating a personal event or a promotion and have to refuse the drink that is offered. They have found that refusing a drink becomes easier when they admit to having an alcoholic problem or have learned to refuse politely. But probably the most successful strategy mentioned was to avoid the occasions where drink is being served.

That evening, without drinks being available, the journalist said it all came to an end in about an hour and a half, much less than it would normally have taken if there had been drinking. Drink does help intimacy because of the vulnerability and the exposure of one's humanity, both attractive traits, but there are other ways that this laudable result can be achieved. 

We need to find how to make living without alcohol more attractive to those who find it difficult to do so. Providing an example for others by living  alcohol-free, as the members of the Sobriety Movement attempt to do, is a first step in the right direction.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ending the Hopeless Efforts to Extend Life

A doctor recounts the story of an old priest who found consolation in the hospice section of a hospital for the alleviation of pain from cancer. His father had died when he was only two years old so he doesn't remember his father. This left him alone with his mother. The church in the village was the refuge for the mother, and the son also grew close to the church community. One of his relatives was a religious sister and the thought did come to him of entering the priesthood and in high school this became his decision. He often said it was the prayers of his mother that enabled him to become a priest. A picture taken together with his mother when he entered the seminary is in his wallet and in a frame that continues to be on his desk at home. His mother was his father, teacher, friend and sweetheart. The person who would have been the happiest on the day of his ordination. But she  collapsed suddenly two month before his ordination and died shortly after.

Now in the hospital he would frequently call out to his mother when experiencing pain, wrote his attending doctor in the culture of life column of the Peace Weekly. Medically there was no more that could be done. The cancer had spread throughout the body and there was no medical way of controlling the pain. This is difficult, the doctor said, not only for the patient but for all those who are taking care of the patient. This common occurrence is frustrating for the medical profession and leaves most doctors with a feeling of helplessness.

He recounts the Greek myth of Alcyone and Ceyx.  The husband Ceyx went on a trip by boat and did not return. Alcyone went to the port daily waiting for his return and praying to the gods for his safe return. One of the gods felt sorry for Alcyone whose husband had died in a shipwreck, so he had Morpheus make her husband appear in a dream that would make clear what had happened to him. With this news she went back to the ocean and prayed for his heavenly bliss.

During the priest's pastoral days, whenever his mother was mentioned, all the Christians knew that tears would come to the priest's eyes. When he was diagnosed with cancer and became weak, the thought of his mother came often. When he was in pain he used to say that his mother would appear to him in a dream.

It was only when he relied on morphine that he was able to rid himself of the pain of cancer and get some sleep. It was at that time that the expression on his face would become peaceful. It was also at that time that 'Morpheus' allowed his mother to appear to him in sleep, as the daily dose of morphine was increased to get rid of the pain. Because of the morphine the priest would not regain consciousness. During this time of sleep in God's time, very naturally, the breathing and heart will stop.

The doctor said he noticed on the face of the priest a gentle smile, during his last moments. He had no doubts that the priest was seeing his mother at his ordination Mass and also at his first Mass, praying for her son.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Opposition of the I to the We

"The we disappears and the I appears before God" headlines an article that bemoans the distorted understanding of secularization that gives rise to individualism and passivity. Rather than discovering our authentic faith during the Year of Faith, the article contends that we are likely to find, under the banner of the new evangelization, according to many scholars and theologians in Korea, that the biggest obstacle to  our faith is an increasing individualism.

Individual  spirituality is making  inroads within the faith life of our Christians. Pope Benedict has alluded to this tendency in one of his interviews, saying
that passive and individual spirituality can now be seen in the life of the Church. Korean scholars see personal profit, satisfaction, and the increase of excessive selfishness as derivative of this thinking. No matter how strong the idea of the holy may be, centering on oneself is growing stronger. Individualism can readily be seen in the globalization that is taking place in Korea.

Many see this drift towards individualism as the key in reading the future. 
Religion is  influenced by this trend in society.  When religion is reduced to the private, the social elements are discarded.

One theologian says it's difficult to import the st
andards used in the West to determine the results of this transformation within Korean society. We can see the drift away from community by those who have ceased going to Mass and confession and have become tepid. This has been operative in the Church for sometime. Another scholar sees postmodernism and its stress on the 'me' against the 'we' as having a destructive influence on the understanding of religion for many.

One element of  this change is the reliance on religion to make one feel good and
to provide blessings. One of the surveys made in 1998 found that most people when praying are interested in their own or family needs. In Korea with our folk religion, which is centered on the self, this modern tendency fits in well. And one scholar feels that it is developing into worship of the self.

A Catholic Time's survey
on spiritual life and community, first made in 1987, found that 73 percent of those surveyed thought community life important.  The same questions, asked  again in 1998, found that 63 percent considered community important. In the last survey in 2006, only 38.6 percent considered community important. A clear sign of a  continual drop in the way Christians see community life, and supporting evidence for those who see the tendency toward individualism. 

In conclusion, a leader in the the studies of Catholic culture says that although we have a statistical increase in the number of  Catholics, there is a decrease in identifying with the community, a lessening of religious sensibilities, and fewer people who are willing to sacrifice for a cause.
The mystery of church community and of a community of love as being essential to Christianity are goals that the Church has to address in its teaching, liturgy, and ways of living the faith as it moves forward into the future.