Thursday, February 28, 2013

Developing Oneself Creatively

Our leisure time can be spent in many ways, sometimes useful and sometimes not so useful. Taking up a hobby is a useful way to develop our potential talents creatively, to grow spiritually, mentally, physically and socially. There is no way we can separate what we do in leisure time from what we do in our working hours. Whatever is done, in leisure or working time, is sure to nurture the self, says a graduate of an engineering college.

Writing in a diocesan bulletin, he recounts how he spent 15 years working for his company when he suddenly at the age of forty had the desire to draw. From the time he was in middle school, he had never indulged this desire, but now felt the need to express his gratitude for all that he had been given by bringing what he had been given to life by the skill of his hands.

There were no teachers of art where he was living; if he wanted lessons he would have to travel to an art school, which would be difficult with his busy work schedule. So he found an easier way to start. He went to a department store, bought a beginner's book on the subject, a notebook, a drawing pen, and began drawing.

He began by drawing the simple things he found around him, often no bigger than the size of his hand: his wallet, identification card, hand phone; objects he had once used daily without much interest were now of interest. Improvement at first was not noticeable, but he did not demand much of himself and did not compare himself with others. His only competitor was his own past works.

After about 100 hours of effort, he noted that he could move his hand more easily to carry out what his eyes were perceiving.  At that time, he began to draw the objects that meant so much  to him from his past: his desk, a small child's hat, a T-shirt, the shoes his wife had bought him. After drawing for 18 months he gathered all his drawings and made a book of the drawings, exhibiting his work in a bookstore. The drawings were his way of appreciating and sharing the beauty that is in the world, especially as it is found in the ordinary things of life, which he now saw as gifts.

If you want to be happy, he says God will help you in your quest. There is no need to ask for  gifts. We need only ask for enthusiasm and the will to persevere to find what it is that we enjoy and then to share it with others. True happiness does not come by possessing  but by doing and sharing. He hopes that his talent will help make God's joy, as he is experiencing it, better known through his drawings. His constant  prayer is that he will be thankful for the gifts he has received, and that God will use him in any way he desires.  He only wants to be his tool.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Korean Religious Sisters

Globalization can include the less publicized idea that we are coming closer together, not only economically, but by sharing our thinking and acting in other areas of life. This increasingly smaller world of ours is influencing us for good or ill. And this merging of cultures will exert its influence, knowingly or unknowingly on each of us, depending on the values we hold. A daily secular paper refers to this particular 'globalizing influence' as possibly contributing to the recent lack of women entering the convent in Korea.

A sister, in her sixties, meeting the wife of her brother, laments, "We don't have any young sisters anymore. Not having younger sisters available, parish work is no longer going as smoothly as in the past, she said. One sister said that her community in recent years has had no prospects.

What we have seen in Europe, where Catholicism was once strong, we are beginning to experience here in Korea. In the year 2000, 318 sisters entered the order; in 2013, 112 entered.

Although the number of Catholics has increased, the number of vocations to the religious life has decreased. Those who have studied the issue believe that the changing, more secular values of the younger generation and the change in family life are mainly responsible for the lack of vocations.  A religious sister teaching in the religious studies department of the Catholic University says the more open a society becomes, the fewer are the  number of vocations. Today, women have easier access to the workplace, and more opportunities to develop themselves in the way they want. This greater freedom in the workplace for women will make it difficult for them to choose the restrictive lifestyle of the convent.

Devout Catholics, for the most part, have looked upon a vocation to the religious life as a blessing. And even though the desire for grandchildren was strong they were willing sacrifice for what they considered a greater good. Today, with many families content to having one or two children, this way of thinking is disappearing.

With less sisters available, the work in the parishes is taking a serious blow, as well as the welfare work of the church. In the 60s and 70s, the sisters were working with orphans, nurseries and day-care centers. Now they are working with unmarried mothers and the elders--perhaps the clearest sign of the changing values of our society.

A seminary rector said, "This is not just a Catholic thing; we see this happening in most of the religious world." What is not easily seen, he went on to say, is overlooked by society. One sister said that the values of society, materialism and pleasure seeking do not fit in with the values of the religious life. One sister who has worked in the medical field feels that if this trend continues, the future prospects of Catholic hospitals will be jeopardized.

Another opinion was expressed by a sister who said that the religious were doing the work that society should have been doing all along. Now that the government has gotten involved by providing the necessary personnel and finances, the work of the sisters is no longer necessary. She believes there is no need for concern.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We All Want to be Happy

St. Augustine said, "All persons want to be happy and no one is happy who does not have what they want." An obvious fact, perhaps, but a layperson writing in the Seoul diocesan bulletin believes that what we want must not  be influenced by our moods or by any particular environment we find ourselves in. It must be based, he says, on something more permanent than these transient things.

He recalls his days in the military, in his early 20s, at which time he received word that his mother had died in an accident, and a few years later his father  died following an illness. 

His whole life changed in the coming years. He had to work part-time while going to school, and for a number of years, he was faced with both mental and physical problems, which he said were difficult to describe.  Some years later, he met his future wife, became a Catholic, and started a family. He now considers himself a very happy man and is able daily to find meaning in life.  He feels this was all arranged in God's providence: the call we all have received.

As a family man, a worker, and a Christian, the value he considers primary is happiness. For this reason, he has as an aim in life to help others find happiness. We all have been created to be happy, he says. Our loving God wants us to be happy, having sowed the seed of happiness within all of us. Only those who want to be happy will be happy, he says;  those not happy can do nothing to help those who want to be happy.

Happiness does not come to us as if it's separate from our daily lives. It's always there: On our way to work, at the workplace, in the family, in our meetings with others. Happiness is nurtured with politeness, attentive listening, and caring conversation. Sharing happiness we increase it, not only with
material things but by our visible concern and by our smiles--whatever will serve to show our interest in the welfare and happiness of others.

Happiness also comes by acknowledging a certain personal lack. It does not mean to have more but to be interested in what we presently have. We have many things right now but are we taking an interest in what we have?  Balance and  leisure are necessary; living in the fast lane will not bring us lasting happiness. How much of the 24 hours that we have each day is set aside for God? he wonders. Pope John Paul II before he died said,  "I am happy; you should be, too." What did we do today to be happy? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Resignation of Pope Benedict

The coming resignation of Pope Benedict at the end of this month did not generate much sympathy in the mass media of the West, according to the desk columnist of the Catholic Times. The media generally saw the resignation as resulting from the clerical sexual abuse scandal, from the so-called Vatican leaks and the infighting within the Vatican itself.

Although a well-respected journalist writing on the Vatican says it's difficult to say these problems had nothing to do with the resignation, and another journalist, quoting a Cardinal, believes the Vatican Leaks probably did have something to do with the pope's decision, our writer believes it's necessary to see the issue with a little more impartiality.To say these problems were the only reasons for the resignation, he says, is to deal in sensationalism and exaggeration. That the Vatican is in need of purification  and reformation is nothing new. The Church is not a community of  angels but of human beings with all the faults that come along with being human.

Are the problems faced by the pope  any different from the scandal of worldwide poverty? Of abortions? The frequency of local wars and terrorism? The relativism and secularism that threaten religions? Are they really any different from the scandals in the Vatican? Can one say with any certainty that Vatican-related problems had more to do with the resignation of the pope than the problems that threaten the stability of the whole world?

Most likely the reason for the resignation, the columnist imagines, is the pope's desire to see someone replacing him who is younger, with the vigor and enthusiasm that comes with youth, and thus better able to deal with the present crisis facing the Church and the world. There is no need to look for worldly motives, or to look at the resignation with gloom as something full of intrigue. He believes it was simply the humble move of a pope who, because of age and health problems,
decided that what the Church needs now is someone who would do a better job than he's capable of doing at this point in his life.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Small Basic Christian Communities

In January of this year,  an Intercontinental  Symposium was organized by Adveniat, Missio and the University of Tubingen. The general manager of the Bishops' Committee for Small Christian Communities, who attended as a representative from Asia, reported in the Catholic Times on the 3-day meeting.

In attendance were about 240 pastoral workers, theologians and students of theology, ranging in age from 20 to 80. The theme of the symposium was taken from  I John 1:3, "What we have seen and heard we proclaim," which was to be an overview of how the teaching of Vatican II was implemented, a preview of the possible direction the Church would take in the future, how the different continents have fostered the small basic Christian community movement, and what they have learned over the years.
Europe is having great difficulty in  continuing  the ways of the past. Old and in crisis, it is searching for new ways of being church.The lack of priests and vocations, the closing of churches, and the aging population of Christians were the reasons given for the increased interest in moving toward Small Basic Christian Communities.

A Sister from South America talked about their small communities which were working for justice and peace in order to establish God's  kingdom of love. They passed through difficulties and opposition, she said, but because of the laity's enthusiasm and creativity, they were able to persevere, and the communities have thrived. A professor from the Philippines said there is a tendency to see the small community movement as a special program or organization rather than, more accurately, seeing it more as a vision for the future Church.

A professor from Germany told about the help that was given to Germany by the LUMKO Research Institute so that the Scriptures could more easily be shared with one another. Since 2000, the German Church has been looking for ways to make the Basic Christian Community fit into their culture.

Each continent will have to find ways in which the movement will best find a home in  their culture. The effort is to meet Jesus in the word that he has left us and  to experience the fellowship  of being together with others, especially the poor and those  alienated from society; our efforts will thus be channeled in the direction that Jesus wants us to take in these difficult times.
The Korean Church has put much effort into developing the movement.  There has been problems but they continue to see the importance of educating the participants for greater understanding and  efforts made  to increase the numbers participating in these basic communities.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Using Our Leisure Time Wisely

In the Seoul diocesan bulletin, a person working in the field of communications writes about buying  a smartphone about a year ago. He had a feeling of satisfaction in having become one of the smart ones and used the phone in a variety of ways. He could send messages without cost, listen to music, and keep up with the news. This small instrument no bigger than his hand was giving him a lot of pleasure.

Waiting for a bus or an elevator, he would be bent over the smartphone toying with the keyboard. Seemingly, he was using his spare time wisely, but the reality was very different. The number of books he was accustomed to reading decreased by one fourth.  He was always busy and concerned about such matters as how much battery time did he have left. Even when he was with his family, he would be busy at the small monitor of the smartphone. The day would start with the smartphone and end with the smartphone.

According to the ads on TV, having a smartphone was being chic and happy; according to the writer, it was just the opposite. What was unnecessary to do he found himself doing diligently and smartly. What was happening to him? he began to wonder. He came to feel that he wasn't using his smartphone; his phone was using him. At the beginning of the New Year, he resolved not to use it during weekends and after work hours.

This was done not to distance himself from the digital world but to bring more balance into his life. When the smartphone was turned off no catastrophic change came into his life. He was able to spend time reading, meditating and praying, and was able to spend precious time with his family, and to appreciate the beauties of creation. The time between the busy and slow times in his life were now opportunities he used to make them creative, restoring the balance in his life that he had lost.

Time is God's precious gift. We are like a container, prepared to receive many precious seeds but we can also fill the container with bad seeds. We should be  vigilant in discerning what we are filling our container with. Avoiding the so-called "smart" commodities that we are being induced to buy, may in fact be the smartest thing we can do in our aggressively commercialized  society. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Partnership Within the Church

Most pastoral workers, including priests, would like to see more cooperation among workers who have been entrusted to care for the parish community. Writing in a bulletin for priests, a pastor discusses the difficulties of activating the Gospel message of love and unity within the community setting.  But when this does become the common responsibility of all Christians, the pastor said, the attraction of Jesus' message is made visible for all to see.

Even though many pastoral workers have this ideal in mind and work diligently to achieve a viable community, knowing it was Jesus' intention in sending his disciples out  in pairs, we know, said the pastor, that working together with others is  difficult. It requires planning together, drawing up the steps to be taken, and going ahead together to promote the work. It's a painstaking process that often brings disharmony, and a reason many are tempted to do it alone; it's much easier and the results come more quickly--but at the same time, the community becomes less vital and less important. 

The difficulties of working together are easy to understand: the Korean family structure is patriarchal, shaped by the Confucian culture that influenced the society for hundreds of years. It's the reason many give for explaining why priests tend to push ahead with projects on their own, not knowing how to work well with others. Living alone, a priest does not find it easy to work with others, and the longer this is the case the more difficult it will be for him to leave the comfort of doing it alone and work with others.

Despite these difficulties, the pastor stresses the necessity for a priest to periodically discuss matters important to the community, to hear various opinions and then decide together how best to proceed. It is during this process, the pastor said, that we receive encouragement, face challenges and are able to acquire wisdom and experience.

There are many cases, however,  where the priests, assistants, religious, and laity are working together but do not find satisfaction nor are they happy in the results of their efforts. The pattern of working together is there but the expected satisfaction is missing. There is often an unfulfilled need for feeling more at ease when expressing opinions, especially when they don't agree with those of the priest, and a need to create a more enthusiastic and creative working environment where everyone feels like an equal participant.

The priest should be able to ask everyone he's working with--his assistant priest, the sister, the president of the pastoral council, all those involved with managing the community affairs--Are you happy working together? At first, they may not speak from the heart, but with time, knowing the sincerity of the question, they will have an honest answer to give. Jesus was always interested in what people expected from him. The pastor feels that another good question to ask those working in community is, What is it that you desire? The answers to both questions could help define the future direction of the parish community.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Selecting One who is Wise and Holy

With the disappearance of the last moth the chapter on small white caterpillars appearing on the kitchenette ceiling of the rectory came to an end. Some two months ago each morning the ceiling would be crawling with caterpillars. Each morning an effort was made to rid the ceiling of  the  unsightly creatures and  figure out where they were coming from.

Faced with the daily appearance of the larvae, I took a few of them and showed them to the Christians. They surmised that it could be some animal  that had died somewhere about the ceiling. It looked like the larvae you would find in a bag of rice, they said,  and recommended looking for the dead animal, or fumigating the house.

After a few more days of ridding the ceiling  of the larvae I called the community to the  rectory after Mass. About 10 of the Catholics came to the rectory and starting examining the area. Some looked for places that would allow the caterpillars to come down from above and one woman, in particular, started opening all the cabinet doors and checking the contents.  This had been done many times before without results. Suggestions were coming from the group when the woman took a box of oat meal  that had never been opened: took off the top and   showed us the origin of the larvae. They had eaten most of the contents.

Without doubt the discovery would have been made before efforts at fumigation or looking for dead animals. The  woman who made the discovery was  working from  personal  experience, knowledge and natural wisdom, sure that it was coming from below rather than  above. The  caterpillars disappeared gradually from the ceiling and in their place the  moths.

In this situation everyone knew the woman had found the reason for the larvae. There was no argument only acquiescence  at the discovery. Most of our problems however are not of this type but opinions without the possibilities in most cases of a  clear and unequivocal answers.

And  yet the wisdom of the past both in the East and West  acknowledged that  certain persons were better adept in judging and giving solutions. In most cultures they were the  wise  and holy people, standards that were not always the same. These person were for one reason or another persons you went to  for help.

Money, numbers, sympathizers and the mass media, for good or bad, are what seems to move us and take the place of the 'enlightened' ones of years past. As bad as the system may be,  many believe it  still is  the best available. However, the Cardinals will be getting together in a few weeks to select the new pope. Each of them will, in effect, want to select a person who for them is a wise and a holy person. They will pray that it is the choice God wants at this time and trust they can do it with simplicity and humility.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Beauty of Life

A farmer and his son are on their way to the  market in a distant city to sell their harvested crops. A Jesuit priest tells the story of that trip, 68 years ago, that changed the course of the son's life forever.

They left early in the morning and, according to the son's calculations, if they walked without resting would arrive at the market early the following morning. The father, however, wanted to give the ox time to rest and was not too concerned with the calculations of the son, who wanted to arrive at the market early to get a better price for their products. While the ox rested, the father got on the cart for a nap himself. After the rest, he took the reigns from the son and coming to a fork in the road took the road on the left; his son reminded him that the road on the right was the shorter way. The father agreed but said the other was more scenic.

"Do you have no appreciation of the value of time?" the son asked. "That's not true," his father replied. "I have a keen awareness of time, that's why I want to take time to see the beauties of nature." That night the son was so upset he paid no attention to the beauty of the sunset or the scent of the flowers by the side of the road, which were of so much interest to the father. Let us rest here for the night, said the father, and have the ox share our rest. The son told the father he was not going to join him at the market because he thought more about  the flowers and the sunset than in making money. The father with a smile on his face went to sleep; the son was so upset he couldn't sleep.

Next morning they came across a farmer whose oxcart was stuck in the mud. The father insisted they stop to help the farmer, even though the city was still quit a distance away. It was then that they saw a lightening-like flash in the sky and heard what sounded like thunder, followed by the whole sky beyond the hills being engulfed in a rain of ashes. The son sullenly reminded the father that if they had not rested they would by this time be on the way home with the money from the farm products in their pocket. The father told his son that his life as a farmer was not for only a few years but for a lifetime. "You should be enjoying every moment of it," he said.

When they came to the road leading down to what was once the city of Hiroshima, they stood in uncomprehending silence as they viewed the scene before them. The son, turning to his father, said, "I now understand what you were saying." It was the morning of August 6, 1945. 

Life for many, said the priest, is a constant search to do more and at a quicker pace.  Is that what life should be? he asks. He would like us to take seriously the words of the father to his son: to appreciate the beauty of each moment of life and when standing before the throne of God be able to say, "How beautiful all life is!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Enemies of the Culture of LIfe

The Seoul subway system is probably the world's most extensive and because of recently installed platform screen doors--the only subway to do so--one of the safest. With this change, the number of those who have committed suicide by jumping in front of an on-coming train has declined dramatically. Suicides of those jumping into the Han River, however, have increased, with most taking place at the Mapo Bridge. In an effort to change the negative image of the bridge, colorful pictures and life-affirming words can be seen posted around the bridge to dissuade future suicides.

The Culture of Life column of the Peace Weekly once again reports on this suicide problem in Korea, suggesting that several causal factors may be responsible for the increase: the rapid change to an industrialized society, the difficult experience during the IMF period, and the advancing age of the population.

The column notes that in 2010 there were 15,566 suicides, an increase of 19 percent from the previous year, and three times the average of the OECD countries. One person's death by suicide affects, the columnist says, at least 6 people. And for every suicide the conjecture is that 10 times that number have attempted suicide, and 10 times the number of attempted suicides have considered suicide. She comes up with an overall figure of about 5 percent of the population that have been directly or indirectly affected by the problem.

In New York City there are 5.5 suicides per 100,000 people, in London 9, Hong Kong 18.2, Tokyo 23, and in Seoul 26. What are we to make of these numbers? she asks. Why is New York City so low?  She believes that because of the 9/11 terror attack, New Yorkers have become more sensitive to the needs of fellow citizens and this concern has spread throughout the city. And the city government has also helped by setting up a city-wide aid system.

In Korea the older the person the more likely the suicide. For those over seventy, the rate of suicides per 100,000 is over 100. In all age categories, the men have a higher suicide rate than the women, except for men in their twenties, where it's the same as it is for the women. The reasons generally given for the country's high suicide rates are many, but usually include the increasing divorce rate, childless marriages, the number of those living alone in the country, the lack of family time together, and an insensitivity for those unable to thrive in our competitive society, because of age or lack of skills.

The columnist believes the main reasons for suicides are 'being alone', being out of work, the loss of a loved one, a mental trauma, dependence on alcohol, and despondency--perhaps the most important factor contributing to the high rate of suicides. Many with serious diseases are also vulnerable to suicidal thoughts when a feeling of helplessness takes over. 


What may be needed to prevent suicides, the columnist suggests, may be no more complicated than for each of us to become more compassionate, more sensitive and empathetic to the suffering experienced by many in our society. When these problems arise we need to provide opportunities for those who are struggling by offering them ongoing assistance until they can help themselves. And the mass media should do their part by publicizing the available programs, such as the Gatekeeper program, which intends to make us more sensitive to those who are struggling to make it in our society. But even without these worthwhile programs, we must remember that all of us have a mission to further the culture of life and to bring hope to those who have lost it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Complementarity of Science and Religion

Science and its remarkable technological achievements in recent years have influenced the lives of all of us and raised doubts about the religious understanding of life. Believing that religion and science  are mutually antagonistic thought systems, with religion relying for its truth on subjective, unverifiable experience, and science relying on objective, verifiable evidence, science now gives us their standards by which to judge truth, and even the existence of God,  Two scientists writing in the Catholic Times refuse to accept this understanding; both science and religion are necessary, they say, for a complete understanding of the truth.
They cite the principle of complementarity of Niels Bohr, one of the founders of the new science of quantum physics, who said that our views of the nature of things are often inconsistent and contradictory because whatever is viewed is viewed from any of many possible and valid points of view, depending on the nature and background of the observer. Ultimately, however, Bohr said these views must complement each other, and are required for a complete understanding of the truth. 

According to the article, belief without science can become religious fanaticism and superstition. Science without belief can become a closed-ended hypothesis, neglectful of the possibility of the transcendent dimension. There is both the search for truth using the inductive methods of science, and the search for truth using the intuitive wisdom that speaks to us directly from our experience of life.

Religion can transcend the intellect, but it can't be opposed to the knowledge that comes from our intellectual pursuits. When it refuses to accept them, fanaticism, superstition and pseudo-religion are likely to follow. Since we are intelligent beings, made in the image of God, it is imperative that we  follow the dictates of our  intellect.

One of the scientists mentioned a well-known philosopher who said that those who believe in Christ and think  themselves physicists are quacks. If that is true, the scientist said he considers himself a quack. Sadly, he says that years ago there were many Christian scientists; today this is no longer true. Even within the Church, one has the feeling that if you get too  involved with science, you will lose your faith, so they stay away from it, he said.  However, he added, when we are threatened and yet overcome the threat, we become stronger.

He gives us an example from his high school years when a teacher said that Christians believe in predestination. That was not his understanding so he asked his parish priest and was told that Christians believe in freedom of the will. It was at that time he read a book on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In contrast to Newton's deterministic, static principles of physics, he read that if you shot a gun and later shot the gun under the same conditions you may not hit the same object. This was his introduction to the anti-deterministic physics of quantum theory, and confirmation of the underlying freedom present within nature.
In graduate school he noticed how many had left behind their Catholicism. He believed the reason was a lack of a mature spiritual life. Politics, the culture, and the desire for money had something to do with it, but for him he placed the blame on a spirituality that was not able to provide guidelines to overcome these difficulties. The article ends by telling us that humility needs to be part of the way we look at science and religion and the  search for truth. There are limits to any search for truth, whether scientific or religious. As noted in scripture: "Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror...."


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Understanding the Church in China

Both Catholic papers carried  the story of a Chinese priest invited by the Cardinal Kim Research Center in Seoul to discuss the current condition of the Church in China and its prospects for the future. Reliable accounts are difficult to find because Catholicism there is split into two factions: the patriotic (approved by the government) and the so-called underground Church. The government diligently guards against all interference from outside the country and everyone is told (including religious persons) that their country must come first before all other considerations.Those who have refused to accept this mandate are what has been called the underground Church.

In his speech the priest stressed the importance of having men like Cardinal Kim in the Chinese Church, which needs organizing around the metaphor of the circle rather than the more traditional structure of a pyramid. He also pointed out that the Catholics of China do not have a strong evangelizing spirit, but leave this task to the priests and sisters. This problem can be solved, he believes, if the Church is seen more as a tightly knit community, with members sharing their beliefs and putting them into action in the community setting (the circle metaphor), instead of relying on the pyramid metaphor: seeing the Church as a loose collection of members waiting for instructions from the top of the organization before taking action. Although the Church is ultimately responsible, he said, for its weak position in Chinese society, with few capable leaders, a lack of good formation programs for seminarians, and little ongoing education for priests, he explained that the materialism and hedonism of the society stifles whatever message the Church succeeds in publicizing. 

There are about 6 million Catholics in China, recognized by the government, and about 6 million more, he says, in the underground Church. The government recognizes five religious groups: Buddhists, Protestants, Muslims, Taoists, and Catholics. In 1949, with the inception of the Republic of China, there were 3 million Catholics and about 700,000 Protestants in the country. The tendency of Buddhism to stress blessings,  and the strong missionary efforts of the Protestants have made these two religions the largest in China. And today, many Chinese holding influential positions in society are converting to Buddhism.

Catholic vocations are few, and the formation of seminarians is poorly done and, as expected, the underground church is struggling. The one-child per family decree has added to the problem but the example of the priests on the young, he says, is not one the young want to follow.

After the talk, a Korean priest of the Foreign Missionary Society of Korea said he had a problem with how the circle and pyramid styles of the Church had been explained. He agrees that the ideal way to understand the metaphors is to give the Pope his rightful place within the circle; he felt that China has opted for the  Anglican model of Church.  It is this model, the Korean priest believes, that the Chinese government wants all religions in their country to follow. If successful, this approach, he says, could be used by the government to making Catholicism independent of world Catholicism. Which is exactly what has happened.

The Chinese priest, in his final remarks, said he was glad to receive the invitation to speak. And Since China had a great deal to do with bringing Christianity to Korea, he sees his invitation as a call for mutual help between the two countries. He hopes that his country will eventually have many men like Cardinal Kim, a man who had great love for his country of Korea, and was a great example to his people.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Music as Healer

One of the most often used words in church articles this past year was the word 'healing'. Best-selling books often had the word in their title. TV programs appeared with healing themes, healing foods; concerts and talk shows that healed seemed to be everywhere. Can we doubt that our society has a need for healing?

A member of the Spirituality Research Center at the Inchon Catholic University, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine on his experience as a professional using music to heal, states that the art of  music is ever-present in our lives, a sound form we are familiar with, from our time in the womb until the time we die.

Music enters through the ear, and from there to the  brain and then to our whole being, where it influences us in many ways, working on our emotions, knowingly and unknowingly. We know this, he says, from the background music we hear so often in restaurants and theaters. This being the case, what music should we be listening to? he asks. There is no correct answer, he says. What is right for one person or situation might not be right for another person or situation. Of course, a person knowledgeable in the field will be of help, but it is not necessary, he says. Choose the music you like, he advises, and learn to savor its message.

Another way of getting the benefits of music is to sing. The music will affect our emotions and even strengthen our immune system, he says. He gives an example of a  woman who was depressed for 15 years. By using singing as treatment for her depression, she was able to overcome the depression. She finally could make contact with her feelings, give them expression and control them. He would like to tell all mothers  when washing dishes, to sing out loud some of their favorite songs. It would be an opportunity for healing.

For  a Catholic, healing is the work of God. We try try to respond to his great love without condition and judgment, and to surrender to him for the great joy of being one with him. It is when we have given up all that we hold precious and have worked to achieve that we experience oneness with him and find self-healing. If we live this way, no other healing is necessary. 

One of the best ways of accomplishing this healing is to sing hymns. And at our next Mass, he says we should make this a priority, savoring the words of the hymn, letting each word fill our heart with its appropriate message.  And if we listen carefully, he believes we will hear God's voice in the singing.                                                                                                             

Friday, February 15, 2013

Searching for Meaning

Those addicted to 'fun'  would do well to uncover the meaning of this addiction, writes a  Salesian sister, with a background in media studies, in the Kyeongyang Magazine. Boredom, she says, may be causing the addiction. Though in the past boredom was a catalyst for change, today many find it difficult to accept, a thing to avoid at all costs.

We have heard the saying: "When you play you  play, when you work you work."  Today we often want our work to be pleasurable, and don't mind if our leisure time is taken up by intense study or stressful activities. When we are tired we flick on the TV or engage in conversation or do something, anything, as long as it keeps us from feeling bored. But all this does, she says, is add to our mental turmoil. There's no avoiding 'doing,' she admits, but we must also understand, she emphasizes, that 'not-doing' is something positive and creative.

She reflects on the times in the subway when just sitting becomes awkward and we take out our smart phones and begin toying with them. Conversation can start up with someone sitting beside us, but when a call comes during the conversation, we most likely will take the opportunity to go back to our smartphone.

She asks if we have ever for even an hour taken time to do nothing but be with ourselves in silence.  A time when we can give our thinking a rest, letting our thoughts ripen and the stress and frustrations of the day pass from mind--a time to get to know ourselves.

In the digital society we live in, the more dependent we become on the digital resources now available, and the more concerned with things outside of ourselves, the more impoverished  our internal life becomes. Reading becomes unbearable, and deep reflection nearly impossible; we forget the meaning of life and its values. We end up, sister says, thinking with our feelings and judging with our emotions.

We are living in a society where fun is often the goal of every pursuit. Our emotions are given priority, and the effort to delve deeply into our experiences is missing. In Korea we are all familiar with the Gangnam Style, a term describing both the phenomenally successful music video and the lifestyle "where everything is cool." Though many have been critical of this recent cultural craze that has spread throughout the world, there's no denying that many have embraced its lavish, carefree lifestyle, if only in spirit. 

The video is not the sole possession of those who made it, she reminds us, but now belongs to anyone who has seen it and is moved by what they see; they are the owners as well. The sister wants us to realize that besides those who found the text 'fun,' thrilled by what they saw and heard, many others had even more fun by examining the meaning of  this 'fun' event.

More than  being overcome with the 'fun' of the moment is to examine what is seen for meaning. It is this meaning that will  add a great deal to the 'fun' that we have in life.According to Ecclesiastes 2:10: "All that I undertook I enjoyed, and that was my reward for my work." Sister hopes that we will find the same joy in everything we do in life. It all starts, she says, not with those who are content to have fun without looking for its meaning, but with those who search for meaning, and see with the eyes of Christ.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Silence and the Spiritual Life

What is the prayer of silence? It can be as simple, says a Salesian priest, in a recent issue of Bible & Life, as what occurred to him while visiting the birthplace of St. Francis de Sales: being awe-struck by the beauty of the alps and the snow-capped mountains. Because of this experience he is not surprised at the Saint's dispositions for the spiritual life. We are very much affected, he says, by our environment.

We are often brought to silence, he says, when we find that no words can adequately give voice to the beauties of creation. One of highest manifestations of the beauty of creation is humanity, he goes on to say. The actions of people often surprise him by how well they express the love and beauty at the core of existence. This keeps him motivated, he says, and in the throes of hell-like problems helps him to respond with a hearty laugh. And when seeing the happiness of another human being, spontaneously joyful from life itself, he also feels energized by the same joyful presence. 

This experience is similar, he says, to our deepening relationship of love with God. When our love of God deepens and grows, the words we use in prayer decrease. Within silence, having put aside our worldly concerns, we are content to be in his presence, alone, just as our predecessors in the faith did before us, discovering that the best response to God's love is often a silent listening. Though praying fluently and freely is thought to be a sign of one who prays well, and that praying by using different prayers is a sign of a prayerful person, this is a misunderstanding of prayer. Without silence, he says, as the background for our prayer life, our words will be an obstacle to true prayer.

When we reflect on the love of God for us, the thoughts themselves are prayer. To reflect on this and the graces received, our whole being becomes a silent, prayerful response.

He recalls several New Testament accounts of this kind of silent prayer. Mary Magdalena, according to the Gospel writers, had seven devils which were driven out by Jesus.  She was not the kind of person that would have friends, and she must have suffered much with her condition. But meeting Jesus her whole life changed; she became a new person. In a moment, her pain and grief disappeared, replaced by joy. The only thing that interested her now was to be with Jesus, hear his words, and to live them.

Other examples were St. Joseph and Mary. And though Joseph obviously was a great influence, along with Mary, in the life of Jesus, a great deal of silence surrounds him in the Scriptures.  He was clearly a person whose whole life was a life of silence in obedience. Like Mary, there were many things he did not understand, but he obeyed: marrying Mary, seeking refuge in Egypt, and returning to Israel. Mary's silence is referred to as: "[she] treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart."

When resting in silence, the foundation of all prayer, we are able to hear the sounds coming  to us from all sides: the sounds of nature, our brothers' pleas, the sounds from God, and the sounds coming from inside ourselves. From silence comes our spiritual life. Within this silence--as scripture counsels "Be still and know that I am God"--we come in contact with God. And in this silence, if sufficiently still, dying to all we believe ourselves to be, we are brought to a grateful appreciation of the life we have been given, and to an all-encompassing love for the source of that life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Is the Church Obsolete?

Is the Church obsolete? A relic of the past that is no longer relevant in the modern world, especially for our young people? Looking over the statistics for 2010, a professor at Sogang University notes that although attendance of adults at Sunday Mass is low (30 percent), attendance of the young is even lower, much lower at less than 7 percent. The young people, he says, are leaving the Church quietly.

Expressing his opinion on the open forum page of the Catholic Times, he believes this situation could have been foreseen by the way the young students were not attending their Sunday school classes. They did attend while in grammar school, but on entering middle and high school the expectations to do well, along with the intense  preparations for the college entrance exams, was more important to them than attending Mass. More attention should be given, he says, to educating the parents on what is necessary for raising mature and responsible Christians.

The young are not only leaving the Church because of outside interests. Being Catholic, he says, no longer has the attraction it once did for many of them.  Compared to what it was like in the 70s, when large numbers of young people and the  well-educated  were coming into the Church, the numbers have steadily decreased. He reminds us of the saying that the Church in the West lost the workers in the 19th century, and the young in the 20th century. In Korea, we lost the workers in the 1990s, and can we now say we are losing the  youth in the 21st century?

When the young are no longer coming out to the Church and those who are in the Church are leaving, the future of the Church is not  bright. And the situation is no better with the religious orders, which have also experienced a decrease in numbers. Even among those who do show an interest, the quality of life and understanding of the commitment involved is not what it once was. This is not a good omen for the future of the Church. His recommendation is that the dioceses and religious orders need to work together, and fund the efforts to prepare for the future. We should not be content with one-time efforts or a display of energy, but draw up 10-year plans to do something about the situation.

The professor mentions two examples of young people who have joined together to affect change in the Church. In Korea, it's the Movement of Scripture and Faith Sharing, which has been going strong for over 30 years. Outside Korea, he mentions the Taizè Community meeting in Rome at the end of last year. 45,000 young adults  came together to pray with Pope Benedict XVI.

The common element in these meetings that he believes is responsible  for their success is having the youth in control of the meetings. Their input is encouraged and appreciated; they are not  there as guests but as the hosts--they are running the show.  A second element that makes these meetings a success is having God at the center. In the Taizè meeting they get together 3 times during the day to pray. They want something that the world cannot give, which prompted the professor to recall the words of St. Peter to describe the nature of their commitment: "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:69).

He mentions that when Pope John Paul II brought up the idea of having a Youth World Day, those around him tried to dissuade him. The young would not be interested, they told him. He went ahead with the idea, as we know, and with great success.

The professor ends his remarks by repeating that if the Church is not to lose the young people, they have to be the pastoral agents; they must be encouraged to come together to experience the power of the Scriptures. The only remaining question that needs to be answered is, Who will be the leaders of this movement in the future Church? 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is Knowledge Power?

"Knowledge is power" said the 16th century philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon. And a fellow Englishman disagreed, saying "Knowledge is only possibility, action is power." The words of Francis Bacon are heard often, the other clarifying words are never or seldom heard. A writer in the open forum page of the Catholic Times agrees with Bacon's contemporary: Knowledge by itself is not enough. Personal experience of what is known is required.

Knowledge that is not put into practice is not full knowledge, says the writer. Putting into practice what we know is what is important. No matter the plans we may make or how intense our desires may be, if not carried out, the plans and the desires are worthless. It's an important consideration to keep in mind, he points out, now that we are again approaching the lunar New Year, a time for resolutions; such as how do we make more money, how do we achieve better health?

We may retort that it's better than having no plans. But is it? When the results are the same. Knowledge, with or without a plan, is power when we act from the knowledge we have.

Being fortunate to be living in the information age, we have access to the possibility of all kinds of knowledge.  All we have to do is go to our smart phones, find the relevant information we're looking for, and put it into practice. He quotes a Japanese writer who says that many have the knowledge at their finger tips, but only one percent put it into practice. How much of what we know do we actually put into practice?  he asks. Of course we explain our lack of action by saying we store it away to be used some day when necessary. Our writer calls the ones who do put into practice what they know the wise of the world.

The same can be said for our faith life. We are often told that what we believe, if not put into practice, is dead. We as Christians have to discern what is from God before we put it into practice. Knowing what God wants is important, and this knowledge comes to us in the words of revelation. Our prayers, we must never forget, should be listening prayer, if we are to find out what God wants from us now.

Putting into practice our knowledge will provide us with the strength to persevere through the inevitable hardships of life. Knowledge that is not put into practice is only self-satisfaction. Those who push on into action are those with courage and conviction, moving them in the direction of success. If we hope to catch fish by looking at the water and imagining the fish we are going to catch, we're  going to be disappointed unless  we spring into action and drop a  fish line into the water. And our faith life, without a similar action on our part, will  also be fruitless, without meaningful change, stuck in the old ways. With the beginning of the lunar New Year let us resolve to be
not a person of knowledge only but a person of action.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Living the Spiritual Life

What does it mean to live spiritually? What change, if any, does it bring to our life? A columnist of the Catholic Times answers by saying that to live spiritually is to align oneself with the will of God. And he uses the marriage union to show how the divine gift of love that animates everything that exists transforms all our activities, and most intimately in the marital union. But when this love is seen, mistakenly, as arising from merely physical and mental causes, we are likely to have a marriage whose joy is limited to the bodily and mental dimensions. 

The mystery of marriage is best seen, he says, when the partners are aware of its spiritual basis, and gives thanks for the union. Without the spiritual, God is not at the center but only the two partners of the marriage, and the body and mental faculties tend to be over emphasized. To place the body and the mental faculties in the proper perspective, they need to be seen as a manifestation of the divine love being shared in the marital union. 

A large segment of our society seems to think that only the body and mental faculties are important. It's a problem not only in Korea but in all societies. From the beginning it was God's plan to have us grow in the spiritual, mental and bodily dimensions of life, but humanity has always been more interested in what was easily perceived, believing it to be all that exists.

To live spiritually, says the columnist, is like having all three wheels of a tricycle functioning perfectly. One wheel aligns all our activities, including our personal  problems, with the will of God. The second wheel opens our heart in loving response to our brothers and sisters. And the third wheel energizes us to work for the reconciliation of society and solving its problems. He feels that the wheel most often missing, and causing us the most difficulty, is the one that aligns us with the will of God.

In Korean culture the spiritual dimension was acknowledged even if vaguely. And over many school gates in years past were the three words: body, knowledge, virtue. Granted that virtue can be a very natural attribute with no spiritual overtones, but it was better than what is generally considered today's primary goals for our young people: dreams,  success and health. These goals are similar to the attempts to satisfy just bodily and mental needs in marriage, while paying no  attention to the spiritual dimension. Without acknowledging the larger, spiritual dimension of life which makes possible our wise  pursuit of all limited goals, life ultimately becomes meaningless.           

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teaching that Speaks to the Needs of the Listener

How often have we heard the complaint that sermons are dull and boring, that they do not address the daily life concerns of the parishioners, that they are concerned with theological issues having little meaning for many? A priest writing in a pastoral bulletin mentions the typical example of the well-meaning but overly scholarly sermon of a priest, having recently returned from studies overseas with a doctorate, talking at length on issues of little interest to the parishioners.

The writer mentions hearing of a similar incident recently. A young man working in a textile factory, when preparing for baptism class, was told about the sacredness of work. He quickly disagreed, saying, "Those are the kind of words you only find in books. For me, work is difficult and tedious. Those who talk about the sacredness of work would not be using the word 'sacred' if they had the experience of doing tedious and painful work." Without understanding the difficulties of workers, teaching catechism to workers, without presenting both the negative and positive aspects of the work environment, will be difficult, the priest said.

"Blessed are the poor" is another example of a Gospel truth that we have difficulty explaining to those who see nothing good about poverty. Those who have not known poverty but speak about the benefits of poverty, the priest said, will find their words not accepted. In his experience, those who have known poverty can see its positive contributions to a fulfilling life but know the serious problems that come with the lack of material goods.

Those who have experienced the small basic community environment--where discussions start with the truths of Scripture and extend into the practical affairs of their daily lives--frequently see a great deepening in their faith lives. This was also Jesus' method of teaching. Even those who did not have any education could understand what he was saying. This was also the way the wise of the East taught in the past. Today we have, he says, the Greek method of teaching, with its abstract reasoning and speculative meanderings.

He concludes his article by acknowledging that a theological presentation of the truths of the Church needs the input of people who are committed believers and are willing to delve more deeply into their faith experience. He feels we have a movement in Korea that is trying to bring this into being, but for a lack of leaders it seems to be losing steam. In the meantime, let us be content to speak in a language that is readily understood and practical, consigning our dull and boring sermons to the nearest wastebasket.  

Happy Lunar New Year!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The March For Life

We will soon begin Lent, a time for sacrifice. And with fasting and abstinence, we will reflect on the sufferings of our Lord, but always with an eye on the joys of Easter. Like the Israelites wandering for 40 years in the desert, we hope to never lose sight of the goal.

The editorial and desk  columnist of the Catholic Times asks us to meditate on the number 40. A few days after the inauguration of Obama for his second term, the latest March for Life took place in Washington. 40 years earlier, in January 1973, the US Supreme Court declared abortion constitutional, the so-called Roe v Wade decision. From that time on, we have had a March of Life, this year being the 40th.

And 40 years later, the opposition is still as vocal as ever and getting louder.Even with libertarian thinking, hedonism and the permissiveness of society, the number of young people marching in protest to Roe v Wade has increased, to the surprise of our columnist. Although the efforts have not brought much change in legislative action, there have been encouraging results.

Not only in Washington but Marches for Life have spread to other cities of the world and even to Korea. “These Marches for Life that are taking place across the United States are very important, not only for the country but for the whole world,” said Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The Holy Father, in his Twitter blog, also gave support to the March.

The columnist mentions Cardinal Francis Stafford, former archbishop of Denver, who is quoted as saying he no longer considers America his country because of the abortion issue.The cardinal said the legalization of abortion was the result of a flawed idea about freedom deeply rooted in American history.The Enlightenment taught that liberty was essentially a matter of choice between various options. The Christian teaching is that freedom is not the freedom to do what you want to do but to do what you ought. Freedom is realized in the  pursuit of virtue. This wrong understanding of freedom is the reason the U.S. government once denied the freedom and dignity of black people. 

And 40 years ago in Korea, on February 8, 1973, the Maternal and Child Health Law, which allowed abortion, was passed in Korea, two weeks after Roe v Wade. And in biblical times, Moses did not have the joy of personally entering  the promised land after 40 years in the desert. The marchers hope it will be different for them in the year 2013.

He concludes the column by praising the young people who took a 24-hour bus ride from Kansas to Washington to take part in the March. Now, 40 years after Roe v Wade, the columnist hopes that the sacrifice and efforts of the marchers will soon be rewarded with success.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Sunday School Teachers

Christian doctrine teachers have been given an important mission by the local parishes to form mature Christians. In addition to teaching doctrine (and perhaps more importantly) teachers  of doctrine are expected to be guides to the young in living the spiritual life, eradicating what endangers their spiritual growth as the teachers themselves accompany the young on their journey of the spirit.

A Salesian priest has traveled throughout the country giving retreats and conducting programs for these  teachers,  and now reports on what he has heard wanting to convey what he feels is necessary on their behalf. However, what should also be of interest, he says, is to help the teachers deepen their own faith life, and impress on them the importance of what they are doing, preparing them with possibilities for studies and seminars that will help them be better teachers.

Dealing with  teachers, we sometimes get overly involved, he says, with teaching methods and teaching tools, and yet what is important is to be concerned with the teachers themselves. It is easy to forget the crisis of faith that many may be having when faced with difficult student relationships. Instead of being a support to the students, the teachers may end up losing their faith, which leads us to reflect more deeply on the mission of the Church and the teaching mission of the teachers.

They began their teaching vocation in service to the Church, the priest reminds us. We should now do whatever is necessary to prepare them for this difficult journey of life, which is often filled, along with the gratifying moments, with painful experiences. Pastors especially should be concerned for the spiritual growth of these teachers, who are being intrusted with teaching our children to take their rightful place within the Catholic community. These teachers are a much valued and respected resource for the Church. The time and money spent in their proper formation will assure the health of the present and future Church.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Making the Liturgy Meaningful

"Active Participation in the liturgy is the way to a mature faith life" is the headline of the front page article in the Catholic Times. Even though the Year of Faith has motivated many dioceses to conduct surveys, schedule workshops, seminars and lectures, the article focuses on the importance of liturgy, which over the past ten years has become less important in the life of  the ordinary Catholic. During this time there has been a significant decrease in those coming to Mass and frequenting the sacraments. All agree that this sign of  weakness in Catholic faith life should be a primary concern of the Church.

If attendance at Mass is limited mostly to Sundays to fulfill the obligation to do so, and if the liturgy is not fully understood and received passively, the rewards will also be limited. However, there are many in the Church who feel that the fault lies less with lax Catholics and more with a liturgy that is no longer speaking to today's Catholic, and that this is a contributing factor to the large numbers who leave the community and become tepid.

For some Church observers the solution is a return to the Latin Mass, but here in Korea the movement for the pre-Vatican II Mass is not strong. The Novus Ordo Mass  that came after Vatican II is what most Catholics, having entered the Church after Vatican II, are familiar with. How then does one prepare the congregation to participate actively in the liturgy?

Critically important, according to the article, is the need to examine the way the Mass is celebrated and to awaken a desire on the part of both priests and parishioners to devote more time to grasping the full meaning of the liturgy, the "source and summit" of the Christian life. Toward this end, The Congregation for Divine Worship and The Sacraments is preparing a booklet to help priests celebrate the Mass more effectively so that everyone in attendance will be able to follow along. The prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Canizares, summed up this current effort to revitalize interest in the liturgy in the most forceful manner when he said that "the renewal of the Church will come with a renewal of the liturgy."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Avoiding Pastoral Council Membership

"Won't I be eating insults...Won't I be  hurt and scared...Won't I have less time?" were the typical answers to the question: What did you fear the most when becoming a member of the parish council? It is for such reasons that many refuse to participate in these councils intrusted with managing the pastoral activities of the parish.

An article and editorial in the Peace Weekly examine the problems likely to be faced by parish councils, which by canon law should be advisory groups, but which are actually the decision makers (though still in conformity with canon law) in many parishes because of the pastoral orientation of the priest. A good sign, says the editorial, that councils are reflecting the wishes of the parishioners.

However, there are parishes where the pastor and council are not working together. Sometimes the pastor arbitrarily makes his own decisions without consultation,  irritating  the council, and sometimes the parish council goes ahead without consulting with the pastor, even against the wishes of the pastor. The council also occasionally does not present the opinion of the parishioners to the pastor, and sometimes the council is in conflict with the parishioners.

For this reason, there are many who do not want to serve on the council. If they do well they will suffer, if they don't do well they will be insulted. There are also members of the council who treat it like a government position, and some who use it to further their own business interests. Obviously not the proper motivations for a Christian.

To help pastoral council members adapt, understand, and find satisfaction in their work, the Seoul diocese has devised a study and training program for new members.  At the beginning of the program, they were told that more important than the work are the people involved and their relationship with one another. With this in mind the work would be more easily accomplished.

Several factors, however, needed to be addressed to achieve the goal:  maintain an interest in others, keep promises, take the lead, praise and encourage, be generous in recognizing and supporting others. There will be another meeting at the end of this month for this first group appointed to their parish councils.The editorial hopes this initiative for improving the quality of pastoral work will spread throughout the Korean Church.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Costa Rica the Land of Happiness

Costa Rica, one of the poorest countries, continues to lead the world with the highest happiness index. A diocesan priest, reflecting on this curious fact after reading an article last year that perked his curiosity, and  wanting to learn more, read a book about Costa Rica that prompted him to collect his reflections on this small Central American country in a monthly bulletin for priests. The Japanese author of the book felt the same as he did about this unusual country that had dismantled its army in 1983, despite numerous wars and civil insurrections.

That it has no army comes as a surprise to many, but by working closely with the United Nations and its diplomatic corp, with peace, human rights and democratic organizations, the country hopes to avoid getting entangled in international disputes.

The Central American countries are probably nervously watching the US, one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of weapons worldwide, and thinking, says the priest, that the US cannot be pleased with Costa Rica's decision not to have an army. Though the US considers itself a peacemaker, promoting freedom and democracy in the world, the priest reminds us that it continues to get involved in wars. 

Like the  United States, Costa Rica promotes itself as a country advocating for peace and freedom, a fact which probably enabled them to overcome the opposition of the States to their disbanding the army. To Costa Ricans, not to have war does not mean having peace.  What is peace to Costa Ricans?  When you have a person in a village who is not able to go to the hospital when sick because of the expense,  there is no peace in that village,  When a child in a home is not able to go to school because of the expense, there is no peace in that home. Peace is not a one-time thing but a never-ending condition.

The country recently had an election and during the election year, the whole country celebrated.  Everyone can speak up for their candidate regardless of the many party programs available. Before the election, children are allowed to fill out straw ballots to prepare them for future voting. The straw ballots do not of course influence the election, but the results are made public a few days ahead of the national election.

Democracy in Costa Rica allows everyone, even the most marginalized, the foreigners, to have a voice in any public debate. In comparison, the priest feels that in Korea, the role of the media and the freedom to express oneself is more restrictive. When the United States went to war against Iraq, Korea and some of the countries of Central America sent troops. The president of Costa Rica, though the head of a country without an army, declared support for the Americans, which led one college student to file a petition against the president for not abiding by the country's constitution. The college student won his case at the constitutional court, and the president withdrew the country's support for the war. At the next election, his party, the government in power, lost badly and became a minority party.

Costa Rica is setting an enviable standard for the democracies of the world. A democracy that would allow that much influence in the political sphere to those not generally recognized as having influence, such as a college student, is by any standard living up to its name: a democracy with "government of the people, by the people, for the people." And should be the model  for other democracies who consistently fall short of the Costa Rican example.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Fidei Donum (Gift of Faith)

 In the 1957 encyclical Fidei Donum (Gift of Faith), Pope Pius XII asked local churches with a surplus of priests to send them to countries in need.  Both Catholic papers, commenting on the relatively large number of priests in Korea, mentioned that the Korean Church was now in a position to answer the pope's wishes in Fidei Donum.

The Peace Weekly reported on the plight of a diocese in France where four years ago only one priest was ordained and since then have had no ordinations or seminarians. The French diocese is asking Korea to send them priests, and our bishops, who have worked diligently to foster vocations in recent years, are now able to respond to their need.

Several new approaches to increase vocations have been tried. The high school seminary  approach, discontinued in 1983, was replaced with monthly meetings of those interested in the priesthood while still in their middle and high school years. This proved helpful, but the Seoul diocese decided to test another approach, setting aside a class for future seminarians in one of their high schools. The students would follow the same class schedule as did all the other high school students, with more freedom allowed for after-school hours to associate with students from the other classes. In addition, a dormitory is planned that will accommodate 200 students. This is not a return to the high school seminary days but an effort to start educating students for the priesthood while living with other students their age, experiencing the life of the typical teenager and yet preparing for entrance  to the seminary.

This year, out of a first class of 27 graduates from the seminary preparation class 14 passed the government exam for college entrance. Those that failed will try again next year.

To see this in perspective, let us see what happened last year; out of the 24 applicants who were accepted by the seminary, six were 3rd year high-school students who had passed the government exam. The rest were students who had taken the government exam and had failed and later passed the retake exam, or were transfers from other colleges, or were college graduates. This year 19 students in 3rd year high school passed the government exam; 14 of them were members of the seminary preparation class who had graduated from the Catholic High School.

It is apparent that the experiment by the Seoul diocese has been a success, and in the coming years will be better prepared, along with other dioceses, to respond to the pope's appeal in Fidei Donum.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Scientism And Catholicism

Who are we? Why are we here? What is life all about? We all have asked these questions, and from the earliest times religion has given us answers. In modern times, science has sometimes attempted to answer the questions from a strictly scientific, materialistic perspective. Those with a religious perspective would see this as scientism: the view that science should be the ultimate authority for understanding all of life, the sole arbiter for determining what is true and what is false. The article on "Scientism and Catholicism" in the Catholic Times examines this perennial debate. 

Pope Benedict in Porta Fidei sums up the Church's position on the subject. "To a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising, especially today, from a changed mentality that limits the field of rational certainties to scientific and technological discoveries. Nevertheless, the Church has never been afraid of demonstrating that there cannot be any conflict between faith and genuine science, because both, albeit via different routes, tend toward the truth."

We have all benefited from the discoveries of science and technology, but they do not give us the answers to the meaning of life. The scientific, materialistic answer of no meaning, which comes from misunderstanding the legitimate role of science, has greatly influenced the spread of atheism in recent years, and is deeply troubling to the Church.

The article mentions the scientist Richard Dawkins, and others, the so-called "new atheists," who see God as a wild fantasy and religion as unwittingly evil. Those opposed to the new atheists--like Alister McGrath--see this new breed of atheists as laying the foundation a new religion based on scientific fundamentalism.

"The human being is made by gift and for gift-giving, which expresses and makes present humanity's transcendent dimension. Sometimes, modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society." These words from Charity in Truth point directly to the problem: Did humanity naturally appear on earth or are we from God?

The article mentions in unfavorable terms the collusion of science and capitalism, resulting in humans being treated as commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace: embryonic cells, blood, body organs, and so forth. It is changing the way we see life and the culture we should be working to achieve.

The article make clear that the Church has not been able to keep up with the development of science that now challenges the Church's worldview and its understanding of creation. The well-meaning but non-scientific responses to the advances of science have given the impression that the Church is opposed to science, a false view which many scientists readily acknowledge. And the Church has itself acknowledged the good that science has done.

That science has changed the way we see the world is now beyond dispute. The thinking of the Church is rather clear about the important role science has played in shaping our present world. But the dangers of using the advances in science and technology intemperately are always present. Instead of using, for instance, the discoveries in  medical science  for the health and welfare of humanity, they can be used for cloning and similar unethical experiments. The same can be said of nuclear energy and chemical weapons. These are the concerns that many have expressed repeatedly over the years. The concerns are best answered not by a science that roams outside its legitimate domain, but by an enlightened, scientific understanding that respects the religious perspective.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Give and Take of Life

The expression "give" is missing from the internal dictionary of many of our contemporaries; only the word 'take' seems to be there, says the columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times. From parents, from nature, from neighbors, from the Creator we are content to take and are not accustomed to the practice of giving. Isn't this, the columnist asks, the reason our marriages, society, culture, politics have problems?

Even when it comes to 'love', a word that should mean to give in the highest sense, our internal dictionary is content to use it most often to describe the taking and receiving of pleasure from a sexual attraction. But it's the give and take of life that is the way of  providence, he says, the way  we have been made and the way we are to grow.

Many of us have forgotten this principle, which, regrettably, can also be seen, he says, in the lives of religious and priests, when receiving takes precedence over giving. A sign, he asserts, that the formation was not properly done.

Giving includes many things besides material things. It can be as simple as a smile on our face, and a bowing of our head in greeting one another. We have forgotten, he says, this simple act of giving, and the ease it brings when we acknowledge the presence of others.

Close our eyes, he tells us, and reflect on the ways we can give. Think of the many things the sun, the trees and all earthly things continue to give us. Are we not to return this giving? he asks. It is when we give that we  become beautiful. An easy way to undergo a facial transformation, he says.

He has read many books on philosophy and theology, and other books of eminent thinkers. And he has carried away the same message from all of them: We have been created beautiful; our eyes were made to see the beauty of creation; our minds to have beautiful thoughts; our mouths to say beautiful things; and our hands and feet to do beautiful things. 

All that we encounter during the day enables us to come in contact with God. God has made the night for us to rid ourselves, he says, of the noise of the day. Do we use the quiet of the night to make contact with God? he wonders. The give and take of  everything in the universe should allow us, as we joyfully join this give and take, to find our rightful place in God, making our lives and the lives of others more beautiful.