Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

From the distant past, a custom from China was commonly observed in Korea at the start of every new year. A red bean porridge was prepared and employed to ward off evil spirits by applying the bean paste to the walls and  door posts of the house. Disease and misfortunes, it was thought, would be avoided, assuring them a new year of happiness.

We no longer hear of this custom, but it's similar to what the Israelites did to receive their liberation from the Egyptians after their years of slavery. They killed a lamb and used the blood to sprinkle the door posts to prepare for their delivery from slavery.  Today, the Seder meal for Jews commemorates this liberation from slavery in Egypt. Christians at Easter remember their own liberation received from Christ by his sacrifice on the cross.

A religious sister, a theologian, explains in the Kyeongyang magazine the idea of the Easter appearances in the Gospel of John. She wants us to examine the word passover (meaning passage) and reflect on its meaning for us today.  If the Jews had not been able to 'passover' the situation they found themselves in, then freedom would have been impossible for them.

Courage was needed to overcome  slavery, faith was needed to overcome the ignorance concerning how best to deal with it, and strength of will was needed to accept the difficult years in the dessert, before arriving in the promised land. 

Christians are being asked at this time of year to passover to a faith in Jesus, who is the beginning and the end of our life. This requires that we move from the life of the dead to the life of those fully alive. This faith allows us to overcome the worries and fears that normally are present in every life, due to greed and selfishness, and to overcome estrangements and permit an openness to others.

Our Easter faith allows us to overcome the small self and embrace an affirming hope with courage. We tend to forget we have entered the Easter life, our immortal life, with our baptism, and that death no longer exists for us as Christians. This kind of thinking does not come easy, but with a firm resolve to passover to a life of faith in Jesus, we will come to understand what salvation and liberation should mean to us as Christians. Happy Easter.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pope Francis

The  selection of our new pope came more quickly than expected. The Catholic Times desk columnist goes over the weeks that have come and gone since then, with thoughts on the events that no one foresaw except the cardinals. It appeared to be the start of a new style, with a common touch and appearance, a cheerful and humorous manner not tied to the rigid habits of the past--a happy conclusion to what many believed would be the beginning of more emphasis on having a Church of and for the poor.

That the new pope Francis bowed his head and asked for our prayers before giving his blessing was, the columnist said, a shock, not what he expected. In church, we are always bowing our heads but we don't see many who bow their heads to us, he said. Isn't this the reason, he added, that what happened recently in Rome seemed to come out of nowhere, without any hint of what was to come?

The pope's choosing the name Francis moved the columnist to feel that the Assisi connection points to the direction that life itself should take, and that the accompanying values associated with the name are what the Church needs to emphasize today.  More than system or structural changes we need, he said, a fundamental change in attitude and mode of living.

The reformation that St.Francis began was one of simplicity and humility in life. It started very simply in a time of great Church power, riches, honors, and luxury that in the long run was the starting point for change. Today, there are also calls within and outside the Church for change, though not all are in accordance with the Gospel message. The clerical sexual abuse scandal is only one of several problems that need to be addressed by the new pope. Francis, from where he has positioned himself by his brief statements, appears to be the right person to start the ball rolling in the direction of a fundamental change of attitude.

The columnist uses the words of a theologian to point out that there is no need to tell the pope what the problems are in the Church; he is well acquainted with what ails the Church. And he quotes a Church historian as saying the cardinals made it clear they did not want a continuation of the past by choosing a Jesuit, who was not a member of the Vatican inner circle. It is understood that he will be making changes in the curia, the administrative arm of the Vatican.

The change the columnist believes is coming, however, does not mean just in personnel but in the tone and policies for a pastoral outreach. We will be seeing the direction the pope will be taking the universal Church in the future, and we trust it will be in the direction the name Francis indicates. We are not only hoping for changes in the Vatican but also hoping for changes here in Korea.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Passion Narratives

Twice during Holy Week the passion Gospels are read, the first reading on Passion Sunday and the second on Good Friday. The passion narratives are filled with a great deal of information that helps us to understand what we do at Mass each day.

The Salt Pot of Bible Life magazine divides the persons in the passion narratives into three groups: the religious leaders and their hypocrisy; the Roman politicians and their indifference and avoidance of responsibility; and the crowd with their selfish and fickle religiosity, first welcoming and then turning completely against Jesus, and wanting his death.

There are also persons in the passion narratives who showed great strength and helped support Jesus in his trial. What distinguishes this group of sympathizers from the other groups is that they were not the ones considered by the establishment as the  saner and stronger segment of society. They did not follow the crowd, or do the  diplomatic thing. They were the women who gathered at the cross, those who wept  for him, the Roman centurion, the condemned man hanging on the cross next to Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea--the Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin that condemned him--and the other Pharisee Nicodemus who anointed his  body after his death, and Simon from the country who helped carry his cross, though unwillingly.

Those who should have been at the cross were not, and those we would not expect to be there were. That is a lesson that gives us much to think about. The paradoxes in the life of Jesus that can teach us about life are easy to see on reflection.

Today, Good Friday, is the only day of the year without a Mass. To allow us to meditate on the reality of what happened on that day, without the usual support of a commemorating Mass, is the reason we read the passion, meditate on its  meaning and venerate the cross. We have the Liturgy of the Word today and participate in the communion rite from the Eucharist consecrated on Holy Thursday.

In Korea as in most parts of the Catholic World, we call the day Holy Friday, which does not need an explanation as does the word  'good' in "Good Friday," the term normally used in the English-speaking world. Paradoxes stand our strongly during this day's liturgy. God in the person of Jesus became man, and yet lacked all that the world of the East considers important for happiness.The Koreans have the expression 'five blessings' which names what the tradition considers necessary for earthly happiness; this was also true of the Israelites of the Old Testament. Jesus didn't possess even one of these blessings. This is a good lesson for us to bring to mind when we see what society presents to us as the great values of life.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Medium is the Message

The need to communicate has been a part of life from the beginning of time, from the first word-of-mouth exchanges to the written messages of more recent times, and from our even more recent television, Internet, and smart phone culture of today. Any individual with the use of an electronic device can now either set up a personal blog or access the growing number of interactive social media to wield the same, and sometimes greater, influence globally than many giant media corporations have in the past. This expanded, sophisticated use of mass media will play an increasingly important role in our world, with potentially detrimental consequences, according to a scholar on the media who spoke at a recent meeting of the Korean bishops. He discussed how the porn industry has taken advantage of our enhanced mass media to distort and sensationalize sex in efforts to reach our most vulnerable citizens, our younger people who are always on the lookout for new experiences and delving into rebellious behavior. It is an area, he warned, that requires serious pastoral concerns.

The media has influenced not only how the porn industry operates today but how many other areas of life have been affected, including, he reported, the recent downtrend in priestly vocations. What would be the most effective measures to deal with the overall media problem? he asked. The morally healthy intentions of our hearts are fostered by what comes in from the outside, he said. So the suggestive images that flood the mass media are going to influence our young people.

The bishops at the meeting agreed and began a discussion of how to deal with the  situation, especially with an internet culture liberally sprinkled with lewdness and the sensationalizing displays in the media of mindless hedonism within society itself.

However, despite the obvious problems there is little that has been done by the Church to deal with the problems, no education provided for making us more media-savy, and not any great advances in the sex education of our young people. Without allocating  personnel and finances to help solve the problem, the Church can do little to compete with the way the mass media  has infiltrated and influenced society, the scholar said.  

The young people who have been influenced by the mass media to accept a distorted value system are not going to be open to accepting the teachings of the Church. Since our young people's understanding of sex and morality is often formed by the media's distorted value system, governed by the always present financial bottom line, this is where our efforts have to be applied. Like the effort made under the dictatorship  to maximize and monitor the influence of the government over its citizens, the same effort needs to be made, he said, to restrain the power of a disturbingly secular culture and mass media. Educating our citizens to this reality should not be limited to a one-time approach but be ongoing. A sister working in this area says we should have the same concern for the increasingly polluted social environment the mass media has created that we have for our natural  environment.  One priest said that the number of abortions and suicides is influenced by popular culture and that the Church, according to the priest, has said little on the influence of the mass media on this matter.

In teaching the social gospel, we should not limit the topics to politics, finances, and social problems but deal also with the values of popular culture, both the good and the bad values. Discerning one from the other should be an ongoing educational priority for society and, especially, for the Church. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Deeply Moving Experience

Have you ever been moved deeply by an unexpected encounter in your life? A Catholic Times' columnist raises the question, but he doesn't mean seeing a beautiful landscape, an inspiring movie, play or painting, or meeting some extraordinary person. He means having such an experience in circumstances least likely to create such an experience--on an ordinary day in the presence of an ordinary person.

An elderly religious brother came to the columnist's room and said he needed to drink some beer; would he go out and buy two cans of beer for him. The columnist knew the brother had been sick with a cold and fever, and to hear him ask for beer was startling. Dumbfounded, he gently asked, "Brother, you were very sick for a number of days, will it be alright to have a beer?"

The brother quickly answered, "If I have some beer, all will disappear." The brother went back to his room, and the columnist put on some clothes, went to the nearest store to buy the beer, and brought them to the brother's room. He was sitting in a chair in his long underwear, a blanket wrapped around him, his face showing the effects of the cold and fever. He thanked the columnist and gulp down the first of the two cans of beer.

Though the columnist knew that drinking a can of beer and getting rid of a cold had no reasonable connection, he saw the brother, after drinking the beer, get up from his chair, go to his cassette player and insert Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." He turned the room light off, clicked on the small light by the bed and, slightly bent over, stood on the floor mattress which became his stage. "The reason I asked you to buy the beer," he said, "was to sing this song."  With a broad smile, he began lip-synching the song with all the mannerism of the singer. Finishing the song, he inserted two other pop songs and similarly sang them with lip movements and body gestures, mimicking the pop singer.

The columnist was teary-eyed seeing the old religious on his makeshift stage, lip-singing the songs. He didn't want to be a burden on his fellow religious and had found a way to overcome the body's indisposition by willing himself well so he could give what had to be the world's smallest musical performance. And the columnist was there, as an audience of one, in the best seat in the house. When he returned to his room, he was so overcome with feeling at what he had witnessed that he could not go to sleep. 

What other activities--despite the obstacles that normally are present to frustrate those activities--are we capable of, we might ask ourselves, if only we would bring to our desires the same commitment of will as did the religious brother.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We have to Change First

"Our modern culture is an obstacle to the religious life but it is the reality we have to face." This was the headline on the write-up on one of the participants to a symposium sponsored by the research center of the bishops on religious education in our present environment. The Catholic Times reported on the results of the symposium.

A predominantly secular culture, the sole reliance on science to uncover the truths of life, and capitalism were among the major challenges to the new evangelization discussed by participants to the symposium. The article considered secularism and the scientific world view  the result of a capitalistic way of life. This gave birth to problems, he said, like despondency and suicide, and the resulting emphasis on the need for a healing culture, separate from that provided by religion.

The first talk by a seminary professor explored the problems that come from a secularism devoid of the religious, the ascendency of atheism, the functionality of religion, and the scientific mind cast that evangelization has to face. The professor suggested that nothing is gained from continuing to see the culture we live in as the enemy, and to be satisfied in merely criticizing that culture.

Paradoxically, this culture enables many, he said, to see the value of the material creation and its sacredness, the importance of living fully here and now, and seeing all of nature and the universe with different eyes, eyes with more self-awareness.

Modern culture is not to be seen as the enemy of the Christian culture but to see Christianity as existing within this modern culture. We need to avoid, he added, the objectification of culture, calling it secularism and then criticizing it. He wonders if within the Church itself secularism is not the bigger problem. He wants to know how do we profess our Christianity within this secularist culture and make it vital. If we don't analyze and reflect to discover ways to live within this culture, our criticism will be either empty or hypocritical, he said.

In conclusion, the professor wants us to work with the methods Jesus used, as we search for new programs to implement the new evangelization. Criticism alone is not enough, he said. The Church has to change itself before we can change the world. Church renewal has to come first.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Home Mission with Catholic Podcast

"Welcome to the San Diego Korean Catholic Podcast! This is a not-for-profit program intended to promote the good words of Our Lord and share the songs that praise His name-- brought to you by two hosts, Cecilia and Jini, and their technical supporter Fred, who are parishioners of the St. Columba Catholic Church in San Diego, CA." These are the words that two young women introduce their Podcast, They are second generation Koreans who live in California and are using the internet as stay at home  missioners. There studio is their car, house  and bureau drawers.

The Peace Weekly has an article on the work  of these two young  women who have their Internet radio podcast that can be reached at ( They are second generation Koreans who want the whole world to experience the love of Jesus. Each broadcast lasts for 20 minutes and in preparation they are not limited by time or place for with their smart phones, they are able to record and upload to the Internet at will. Both are updating  twice during the week.

The contents of the podcast: the life of Korean Catholics  in the States, Catholic news, questions and answers, hymns, English expressions that are interesting to the Korean audience. They are able to explain many State-side Catholic customs to the listeners throughout the world.

They began in August of last year and have had 45 broadcasts, which are now listed as part of the Catholic media. Both had been working at a radio station and decided to use their talents to do God's work, the beginning of the Korean Catholic Podcast. Surprisingly, they were given a gift of a portable music recorder,  and another person gave them a broadcast editing  program, this they considered affirmation from God on the direction  they were taking.

Everything is done very simply; they have problems with voice and background music because of lack of equipment, but it has not been without  benefits for they have grown in grace. They have worked from nothing to something, a lot of work, reading the scriptures, spiritual books, preparing the scripts often working through the night: frustrations but done with joy.

Cecilia is a housewife and the mother of two children. When she hears her children humming some of the hymns from the program, and at Church some of the Christians say they were moved by a special broadcast, she feels that God is pleased. Jini was only a Sunday Catholic but in this work she has gained  a greater knowledge of her faith and with interviews and developing the podcast she has deepened this faith, and hopes they will get more listeners and continue to participate in building  God's kingdom.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Preparing for Holy Week

Lent is coming to an end. This Sunday is Passion Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the climax of the liturgical year. Both Catholic papers prepare us for our own renewal and rebirth. One spiritual writer explains the need for the forty days. We need the time to reflect on what God desires of us, obeying, being reconciled with others and  showing mercy.

When we visit the Blessed Sacrament, attend Mass,  read the scriptures, we are always open to receiving directions for our life. We have to prepare the receptacle remembering the words of St. Thomas: "Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver." Which means that we can do much to distort the message we receive with our personal receiving set. 

The spiritual life includes all of life, everything we do all the time. The writer mentions that to become proficient in mathematics you have to start with something like the multiplication table; to learn English you need to know vocabulary with these basics you begin the mastery of your subject: the same is true in the spiritual life.

There are those that say you don't need a religion to be good, to love your neighbor, to be humble. Yes, but without a rock-like  foundation, he says, all will crumble. We have to know why we are to be good, be humble. It is when we know the answers that when the rain comes we will not be overcome.

With the rock foundation, we are changing every day. Every day is met with freshness, and hope. There are so many who meet the new day, he laments, without meaning. They are fools he says.

With a mature spiritual life, each day is full of great joy and expectation we can enjoy to the full; the morrow  is momentous and precious. God has put everything that we need inside of us. We are programed to follow God's blue print for us. Those who have done this know the joy that comes from this kind of life.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Working for the Common Good of Northeast Asia

Land disputes and North Korea's nuclear aspirations are just two of many issues causing tension in Northeast Asia. Japan's move to the political right, the weakening global influence of the United States, and China's increasing influence in the region are being watched closely.

Writing in the opinion column of the Catholic Times, a Jesuit professor of sociology sees these developments as having a great impact on Korea. Because of the geographical location of Korea, her future--political, financial, cultural--will be influenced by Japan, China, and of course by North Korea, and as always by the still substantial economic, political and military outreach of the United States.

Historically, the influence on Korea in the first half of the 20th century was wielded primarily by Japan; in the second half of the century by the United States, and it now is obvious to many that China will be the big influence on Korea during the first half of the 21st century. If this turns out to be the case, the Church, with its concern for peace and the common good of Northeast Asia, will also have to prepare for the changes to come. Though the threat of instability that this shift in influence suggests, desiring peace for our country alone, the professor says, is a short-sighted goal without the possibility of success.  If there is a head-on collision between China and Japan, as in the past, Korea will be involved so the Church needs to be concerned with the problems of the region.

The social doctrine of the Church (unfortunately not well-known) should be propagated in every way possible, he says, to mitigate the likely negative effects resulting from shifting geopolitical influences in the region. By emphasizing the need to search for  the common good, the reduction of armaments, the solidarity of humanity, and the other universal principles in its social message, the Church, he believes, should be working to  spread its message throughout the Northeast Asia region, making the evangelization of the region one of its priorities. The 16th century Catholic Church did not hold back on the personnel sent or the monies it spent in evangelizing China and Japan, but despite all the efforts and resources the results were small, and Catholicism in these two countries is still considered a foreign import.

Korea on the other hand did not receive the personnel nor the financial help given to China and Japan, and yet the results in Korea are far superior.  The Church after the Second Vatican Council was involved in trying to solve the  many social   issues that Korea faced which he feels contributed to  the development of Catholicism in Korea.

He wants the  Church to  transmit this learning experience to Northeast Asia.  Cardinal Stephen Kim often said that the Church does not exist for itself but for the world. More important than personnel and monies, the learning that the Korean Church has garnered from its experience should be given to the churches of these countries. He hopes the religious leaders of Korea, China and Japan will continue to meet often to deepen this learning experience and their understanding of their common mission in the region.

The professor sums up his thoughts by recalling how, after liberation, the Korean elite were educated by America, and he fears that there will be a similar educational move by the pro-American and pro-Chinese  factions within the country, if the common good is ignored, that could lead to conflict. This is reason enough, he says, to use the social doctrine of the Church to educate our future leaders to work for the common good of the region.                                                                                   

Friday, March 22, 2013

The New Pope's Intuition

Usually the secular press has little interest in things Catholic, but with the resignation of Benedict and the new Pope Francis, we have seen an increase in media coverage. One journalist expressed joy in reading about the new pope, noting that this pope doesn't make anyone feel uncomfortable by what he does, like some of the saints of the past. What Pope Francis has done the past few days anybody could do, which gave him much peace, the journalist said.

The pope's actions brought to mind, he said, religious leaders--Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist--who were of the same mold. There were some negative remarks made, he said, but they have subsided; he takes this as a sign that Francis had already won the hearts of many who might at first had reservations. 

When the pope came out on the balcony, for his first public appearance after becoming pope, his face seemed at peace; it is the face, he says, that often shows what is in the  heart. The pope's first words were words of humility, referring to himself not as the pope but as the bishop of Rome, and said the cardinals had to go to the ends of the world to find him, and jokingly asking God to forgive them for electing him.

He has already shown that he will continue living the life of poverty that he did in the past as the ordinary of Buenos Aires. Once he  figures out what to do with his police escort, the columnist sees the possibility of meeting him someday riding in the same subway car. 

The journalist  comments on the many problems the Church faces: bureaucracy, financial abuses, fallen-away Catholics, the sexual abuse of children, and an increasingly vocal society asking for a change in the Catholic understanding of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, same-sex marriages, woman priests, and the like. Priests themselves are also divided into conservative and progressive camps, and there are also European and non-European differences in outlook.

Francis has given us an answer to this confused state of affairs by his simplicity and humility. Although in doctrinal matters he is conservative, he has indicated that he will work to alleviate poverty and alienation wherever it is found, which will go a long way, the journalist says, to help close the gap between the conservative and progressive factions within the Church. With his warm disposition and casual, unpretentious manner, the new pope has given hope to many that at least some of the problems the Church currently faces will be addressed and solved.

The 115 Cardinals had to have the help of God to pick Francis for it took only a few days to realize that they had made the right choice. There was no brain storming on what to do after getting the votes of the Cardinals, Francis knew intuitively  what was needed and acted accordingly, very much in  harmony with the Cardinals who elected him. 

Their success should serve as a model, the journalist suggests, for both political parties here in Korea. If they were to study the cardinals' two-days of deliberations and their quick agreement concerning the best way for the Church to move forward in the years ahead, he believes the politicians of both Korean parties might succeed in uncovering what has been bothering our citizens for the past few months, and do something finally to resolve the matter. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Lesson learned in Mongolia

The first trip overseas by a priest who is now working here with seamen and the foreign community was to the land of the descendents of Genghis Khan. He took note of the wide-open plains, the blue sky and the many horses and sheep. Though the language was different, their facial features were the same as his own.

He went to Mongolia to help a Korean missionary priest who had gone there some ten years earlier. During the priest's visit, he traveled far and wide and ended up at an isolated ranch. Mongolians are famous for their portable  tents, and it was in these circumstances that he had his first experience of  the nomadic life. No electricity, no water and no toilets made life extremely difficult, but it was the lack of toilets that was the biggest hardship.

A small hole in the ground, surrounded by a fence, right behind the tent, was his toilet. Eating and defecating were seen as similar activities, both without needing privacy; in fact there were no rocks, trees or other objects that would provide privacy. The children, especially, felt no need to find a  private place, any place would do. They just lowered their pants and did their business. There was no need to avoid the eyes of others; laughing, they would look at you. It was the priest who was embarrassed. 

Last week, the priest went to a center for children of foreign workers. The weather was cold, and he wondered how the Mongolians in their country were making out. The recent move of the children's center to this new area, which was a factory area, had been completed and everything was in order. The Mongolians here in the city are no longer nomads but making money in the factories. On that day he was caring for three of the Mongolian children who were sometimes crawling on the floor and sometimes walking and falling, and always shouting.

He spent time playing with the children using the  toys available. Conscious of a strange smell he thought was from the factories surrounding the center, he took one of the children and placed him on his knee while riding a toy horse. He noticed that the child was wet with a chestnut-sized dropping from the back side of the child; the child was laughing. Too much dissimulation is not a good thing, the priest reflected, when eating and excreting waste from the body is part of the natural process.

He lowered the child's pants and saw the big 'Mongolian spot' and the child laughing all the while. He remembered the children he met 10 years ago in Mongolia who were out behind the tent, laughing and relieving themselves. You guys grow up strong, he silently wished, and hoped that their lives back in their country riding their horses would be happy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Search for Happiness

Everybody wants to be happy, and there's plenty of advice making the rounds on how to find happiness. For the  religious person, happiness is not something you find or achieve but is a by-product of a life lived well. And if we look for happiness outside of ourselves,the columnist in the open forum of the Catholic Times says,    we will always remain unsatisfied.

This external search for happiness usually results in a belief that if only we had this, or had that, we would be happy, but most know this is rarely the case. He recalls the time, not that long ago, when Koreans experienced what was called the 'barley hump' period before the early spring barley harvest. At that time, after the fall harvest had been consumed, many Koreans would be looking for edible grasses and herbs in the mountains and surrounding areas. Few of them would say they are happier today simply because of a "full stomach."

The columnist wonders if we tend to look for the big things, the unusual things of life, and forget to give thanks for the more common, but precious little things;  it's a great loss, he says.  We are running after the big things, even though we would find it difficult to explain why; maybe the reason, he suggests, is because everybody else seems to be doing it. 

One of the more common, precious little things of life we could not do without is of course the brain. Though a small part of our body, it does a great deal of the work, and a great deal of gratitude needs to be given to that body part. Today I was able to study, the columnist says, have breakfast, go to work, and write and read this message. There are people praying for me, we have enumerable number of things for which we can give thanks. When Jesus said the poor in spirit are happy, isn't this what he meant?

Like the morning fog, however, everything in this world has limits. Honors and power, especially, along with what most of us desire, don't last for long, he reminds us. The family wealth passed on to children, he says, rarely lasts for more than three generations. This is not saying we do not need material things. A follower of Jesus still works diligently, and is thankful for the honors and material wealth given, and uses it for the alienated and poor in society.

But when our hearts are filled with material things then no matter how precious, beautiful and vital are the non-material things surrounding us, there often is no room left in our hearts for bringing these higher values into our lives. The columnist would like us to reflect on this during these last days of Lent, and to find ways of doing less with the material values of life and doing more with the higher values that give meaning to our lives. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Modern LIfe and Depression

 We are living at a time of great change, with the need for the economy to respond quickly to recent developments in technology. As a result, industry is cutting back, firing is common, and the resort to mergers is adding to the 'downsizing' syndrome, and more unemployment. Having a life time job has pretty much disappeared. Unlimited competition, the flexibility of employers to hire irregular workers, the government's emphasis on economic development, the numbers of unemployed and suicides are all related.

A professor in preventive medicine at the Catholic University medical school begins her culture of life column in the Peace Weekly with the above observations. She makes clear that what is happening in the financial world is having a decided influence on  those in their forties who are suicide-prone. Family ties and societal support systems are  weak and are not able to overcome the daily stresses people routinely encounter today.

Stress, we know, is a part of  life; it permeates all of society, but many are not able to deal effectively with it. A survey of 600 workers found that 33 percent believed the work they were doing was excessive. Many found the pressure was too much and contemplated leaving their work. One out of three had some psychogenic illness and felt they were heading toward burnout.

When faced with stress, she says, there is a change in our bodies and minds. Our minds become troubled, putting us on edge and irritated, often without any good reason. Because of these feelings of uneasiness and depression, the quality of our lives is greatly diminished.

Depression is now as prevalent in our society, the professor says, as the common cold, and is a problem we have yet to deal with successfully. One out of four women struggles with it, and one out of ten men.  All ages and classes, in fact, are susceptible to bouts of depression, but those from 40 to 50 are said to be the most vulnerable.

Because of a loss of confidence in dealing with life, a loss of self respect, many depressed people consider themselves losers, failures. And there is nobody, they think, that can help them resolve the problems they face. And when they reach bottom, without hope, suicide becomes a possible way out for them. Some try to alleviate the problem by drinking, which only makes matters worse. But in the beginning stages, 80 to 90 percent can be helped to return to a normal life.

All of society has to be concerned with this problem. We have to see it as something that can be overcome and not give up our attempts to help. There are of course different ways to do this, to give strength to those having difficulties: Government, especially, has to increase society's safety net, along with all of us pitching in, preparing ourselves to help those facing stress by offering to  do whatever is necessary to help those who see life without hope to see it less pessimistically.  And in the religious world, we have to make it easier for people to express  their worries and problems, as well as being there for them with words of encouragement.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Korean Catholic Church's Overseas Missions

During the general meeting of the Seoul diocesan priests, the topic receiving the most discussion was how to find ways of shortening the time assistant priests have to wait before becoming pastors. A priest who is pastor of the Bishops Committee for Missionary Work Overseas expresses his opinion on the topic in a recent issue of the Peace Weekly dealing with the encyclical of Pius XII, Fidei Donum, which called on bishops to face the challenges of the universal mission of the Church by making priests available to other continents.

Answering  the call of the Pope to go to mission countries, he says, may be the answer for those priests who feel their talents are not being effectively used by the home church. He was saddened, he said, to learn of the large number of priests who are frustrated and not able to do what they feel capable of doing as assistants.

The pastor had himself spent six years as a missioner in Chile, where there were over 4 million Catholics in his diocese. In the year he returned to Korea, the diocese in Chile had only one ordination to the priesthood. Today, two-thirds of the priests in Central and South America can be called Fidei Donum priests, but most of them are now elderly.

About 200 priests, religious and lay people from Korea are now working as missioners in Central and South America, where the work is often difficult.  One priest has 60 mission stations to take care of. Over 80 missioners are in Africa, where they are exposed to malaria  and a rugged life. Others work in South Asia, Oceania, Europe, and in other parts of the world. Those who return have a soft spot for mission work and do miss the time spent in these countries, despite the difficulties.

The priest uses his writing to recruit volunteers for these mission countries, but is aware that the allure of materialism tends to corrupt our way of thinking, making us content to live the easy life and to justify it--reliving the faults of the Pharisees recorded in the scriptures. So when a priest becomes  a Fidei Donum priest, we should all rejoice; the diocese will be blessed, and new life will be born.

In order to encourage the process, the diocese has to invest money in the education of these priests and  have programs to facilitate the study of languages. He tells those interested that they will experience the help of God in language learning, and not to fear the study of  languages. Financial help also needs to be given overseas because these areas of the world are often very poor. He ends by promising those who do become Fidei Donum priests that they will be rewarded many times over for their labors on behalf of the poor in the most needy countries of the world.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Korean Catholic Senior Citizens

'Future change' seems to be here now, permeating our present life and doing so at super-speed, says a writer in the diocesan bulletin. Using the words of a futurist, he wants us to be conscious of this reality. If we decide to ignore what is happening, content to "walk in place," as he puts it, we will be fighting against this change and not be ready for living in the twenty-first century.

One of the big changes now is the aging of society. Economic development and scientific discoveries, along with the low birthrate, have brought this about, he says. According to the  office of government statistics, our country is already an aging society. When a country has 7 percent of the population over 65 years of age, that is the accepted sign that we are an aging society; if over 14 percent, we are called an aged-society; over 21 percent, we are called a super-aged society. Korea is one of the fastest aging societies and will be the fastest such society in 2018. In 2026, it is predicted to reach the super-aged society.

Compared to other societies, it will take us less time to reach an aged-society, the writer believes. It took France 115 years to go  from an aging society to an aged-society. Sweden in 1973 became the first aged-society; it took them 85 years for that to happen. Japan took 26 years; He believes it will take Korea only 18 years.

What does this mean for the Catholic Church in Korea? he asks. The Church has already gone ahead of society in becoming aged. Church statistics in 2011 showed that the aging of Church members was 4.5 percent higher than society at large. In 2022, over 30 percent of Catholics will be more than 65 years old. This means that the numbers of  the zealous and dependable parishioners will be in this group, and if they are excluded as active members of the Church because of age, we will have difficulty finding those who will do volunteer work in the Church.
If this group of the aged is going to be a concern of the community, as needing the care of the community, then there will be serious problems for the community to continue its pastoral work and services. It is even now difficult to find laity who are willing to be members of the parish council, or leaders of the small communities, or members of parish societies, and become involved in parish work. It will also be difficult to find women able to help out in the parish, as they have done so generously in the past because of work outside the home. With these likely future problems close at hand, it is easy to see what the church will be faced with in a short period of time.

The Church has spent money and time in determining how to work with the young; it is now time to see the aged as a pastoral concern. Up until now, it has not been an issue, but this will soon change. Priests will have to be educated in this area of pastoral work while still in the seminary. For those in pastoral work, we will need seminars and educational programs to help change how we currently see and respond to our senior citizens. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Am I the Authentic Person I am meant to be?

Recently, one of our diplomats was stopped by a policeman for drunken driving, and the individual in anger said to the policeman: Do you know who I am? Writing in a pastoral bulletin, the priest recalled a time when such responses were not rare. He has never experienced this kind of talk but has heard of persons using their position in society to crudely put down others.

The priest from his time in the seminary has been interested in the nature of personal identity: What does a person consider himself to be? What is he or she conscious of? Who am I?  What is a Christian?  What is a priest? Our diplomat, by his remark, was showing, says the priest, that he was not conscious of his true identity.

A diplomat residing in the country to which he is sent is expected to represent his mother country with prudence and discretion. By driving under the influence of liquor, he not only forgot the need to behave responsibly, as expected from someone in his position, but he attempted to use his position to escape the legitimate penalty of breaking a law of the country.

The priest remembers the words heard in a recent liturgy, from Jeremiah: "Teaching will not perish for want of a priest, nor will there be a lack of wise men to give counsel, or prophets to proclaim the word." These words of those who were plotting against Jeremiah made an impression on the writer. Predominating nowadays in those who  have a faith life is peace of mind instead of liberation and salvation. He wonders about his own motivation.

Repentance is not a place we want to remain in; leaving it behind we must return, he says, to our Lord. The priest wonders whether his life is filled with speaking flowery words and encouraging vague actions to those who are feeling discomfit and are anxious to hear such words.  Is he at times uttering words like a false prophet? he wonders.

Lent is a time to look at the unwise  choices we have made and determine to rectify our relationship with our Lord. We do not ask the kind of question the diplomat asked, but instead ask ourselves, who am I? During this Lent, the priest wants to make sure that he is in touch with the real person that he was meant to be.

The recent election of Pope Francis has already revealed many signs of the kind of person our next pope is and will continue to be. We will gradually see how this translates into the words and actions of his pontificate. Hopefully, the criticisms of the way he acted in the past, in very serious circumstances, will not detract from the current and forthcoming words and actions of the Pope, preventing us from seeing him as the truly authentic person he appears to be, and we all wish to be.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Missing Element in Formation of Christians

"Religious education is seen as a means of deepening our faith life, but in reality the reason for the education is to have an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. " With these words a seminary professor begins his interview with the Catholic Times.

Before we make an assessment on our religious education programs, he said we have to decide on the meaning and object of religious education. For those who do not know Jesus, these programs, he explains, are a means of introducing them to the good news, to the gospel message, in order that they might more easily give themselves wholly to Jesus and to understand more fully what he teaches.

The professor feels that the greatest difficulty with religious education is that many do not feel a need for it, no matter how much effort is expended on such programs. Secular values are more important, and even if there is some awareness of the need for more religious education, secular values take precedence. Many feel no  serious  disadvantage in not knowing  more than they presently know about the spiritual life. The pace of modern life does not allow the opportunity or the time to do any deep reflection.

Another way of describing the situation is to say that we get our religious education at church, our knowledge from school, and our common sense from daily  life. This is the way we bring stress into our lives by dividing life into compartments. The religious education that children used to get in the home in years past, as an antidote to a compartmentalized life, is no longer the case. Now it is expected that the Church will take care of this area of life.

The whole person has to grow in knowledge, in ethical behavior and spirituality is rarely a concern. When we see growth in  maturity as many faceted and our way of thinking becomes less directed to the individual and more communal, we will see a religious education that will begin in the home, where it should begin.

At present, there is no ongoing system of religious education for our Christians that begins in infancy and goes on to old age. This has to begin by putting in place a welcoming environment and encouraging personal desire. The present situation in Korea, however, is that there is a lack of commitment, a failure to live the faith we say we believe in. The numbers that have dropped out from the community, the decrease in Mass attendance and of sacramental life, all point to something seriously wrong with the faith life of our Catholics.
A clear understanding of what it means to be a Catholic is missing in the lives of many. The content of our tradition is enormous and the lives of those who have lived it well are recorded, but a desire on the part of many to emulate what has been handed down to us to follow is missing. This 'Year of Faith' will continue to bring many more thoughts to the mix, which will undoubtedly bring a change to our parish life and the way we go about forming our Christians.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The faces of many Catholics at Mass are not happy faces, says the columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times. An example of this sad situation that readily came to mind was a person he knew; she was living a life without hope because of the pressure of sin. The only word uppermost on her mind was repentance.

Of course, this is different for all, he reminds us. Some see themselves with 10 percent negativity (sin) in their lives, and others see 80 percent. The experience of sin will be different for everyone according to the lifestyle of each one. Those who are dealing with 10 percent failure should look upon the 90 percent and give thanks; those who have 80 percent to deal with should quickly break the surrounding darkness to get to the light.

Educational programs for those in prison may be best advised not to focus too directly on having sorrow for what was done, he says.  Repentance for what we have sinfully done is healthy, but we know that those who want to change do not find it easy to do so. Better it is, he says, to accept our weaknesses and rely on our spiritual faculties to come to our aid. It takes time for some changes to occur, especially when we have been overcome by our faults.

To be sorry for our sins is important but change is also important. Let us consider, he suggests, a husband who drinks and often shouts at his wife. He goes to confession and pledges he will not be violent in his behavior again. The chances are 9 out of 10  that within a week or a month he will be back at his old ways, regardless of the sorrow he felt at the time of his confession.

One step beyond sorrow, the columnist says, is to have an inner change, a spiritual renewal. Something different has to take place within the person. It is good to remember that the word we translate into the different languages to mean repentance is the Greek word 'metanoia', which means a 'changed mind'. This change will not come easily; we need God's help to make this happen, to give us a new way of looking at life, a new way of living our lives.  Without this new way we will continue to return to the past. We have to forget the past (it's no longer here), We have to make the past come into the present and be directed towards the future. This is the work of the spirit. 

God, the columnist reminds us, does not bind us to the the sins of the  past. He released Israel from Egypt and again from Babylon captivity. We need not be chained to the past. We acknowledge what was done but then must move on. If we spend too much time in the past we will become exhausted; we have to move to another level and give ourselves over to a new spiritual energy to change. We have to experience God, and that can only be done here, now. By experiencing God, says the columnist,  we will resonate with the strength that he gives us, without this we will have more vacillation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What Make Us Beautiful?

"One need not adorn the beauty that we have" begins an article by a priest writing in a diocesan bulletin. He selects a number of  commentaries by a famous vocalist and a judge of auditions for vocalists on TV that he believes important for those who intend to follow a singing career. "A vocalist should not dislike their voice....If the vocalist is not familiar with their voice they will not sing well....The vocalist should not try to imitate the original singer of the song....More important than singing well is to convey what the vocalist wishes to express in the song....The tone-color of the voice, and what that is able to convey is more important than singing well."

Simply expressed, the priest says, when we sing with our voice and from the heart without adornment we are being authentic, and those listening will be moved. We want always to be ourselves, to love ourselves, and to express this in our singing--that is what is important.

Applying this advice to life, the priest goes on to say that we should at all times strive to be authentic and avoid being a copy of what we would like to be. We are made by God and loved and are his masterpieces (Ephesian 2:10). We are precious, loved by God and need to  love ourselves, which will enable us to be more free in whatever we are doing. God will then be able to work through us to accomplish his plans.

There is nothing we need do to receive God's love or to be considered precious.That is our birthright, he says. We can however refuse the love and ignore our preciousness.  We are not changed into a person that is precious; we are precious to begin with, and that is the reason we do not need to adorn who we are.

The priest ends his article by adding another statement of the vocalist: "We are not beautiful because we were born so, but because we lose ourselves in what we love; that is what makes us beautiful. This has nothing to do with our exterior." We are beautiful because we love ourselves, because we love others, and because we love God. When we sincerely love others, everybody becomes beautiful, regardless of what they may appear to be.

Anything said can be used in a way that fails to understand what was intended, and consequently becomes distorted. His article, if understood correctly, is not recommending vanity, self-absorption, or any unhealthy self-esteem. It recommends understanding who we are and doing away with the obstacles that prevent God's love from being accepted. His love will enable us to respond with love. When God is in the picture, whatever aberrations of unhealthy self-love remain are controlled. "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8).     

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Importance of Communication Within the Church

The general meeting of all the archdiocesan priests clearly showed that communication was an important issue, that increasing understanding between the diocese and priests will be an ongoing concern. The archbishop, Yeom Soo-jung, is quoted as saying he thought he should always be solemn but communicating is wonderful.  He has made this an important value in  the way the work of the archdiocese will be conducted, with more use of the digital media.

Both the Social network services (SNS) and the participation of the archbishop were warmly praised by the priests and Christians. There will be a Korean and an English version of the Facebook page. 


The intention is to inform the archdiocese of what has been planned, including the archbishop's informal daily plans. It is an attempt to realize the desire for more communication within the diocese: between the archbishop and priests, among the priests, and between the diocese and laity. In the past, the means of communication were few; now with the digital possibilities available, this will change.

With the English Facebook page, information will be available to all who are interested in the Korean Church, wherever they may be. It will also enable news to come more easily to the Korean Church. The efforts that have been made to communicate have been taken seriously. This should affect how the dioceses will function in the future.

The Peace Weekly interviewed the archbishop concerning the views expressed at the general meeting.  He thanked all the priests for their comments during the meeting. The interviewer asked him to say more about how he would improve the lines of communication between pastors and their assistants, and between pastors and the laity. Jesus was an expert communicator, the archbishop said. Jesus told his disciples that what they wanted from others, they were first to do to others. To be a good communicator, he said, is to understand what the other person wants to say, to be concerned, and to strive to understand the position of the other person. More important than expressing your opinion, or to convince the other of your thinking, is to listen with sympathy to what the other has to say.

The Archbishop has not only expressed himself very clearly on his efforts to be open to everybody, but has also taken steps that show he is earnest about doing what he preaches. At a meeting  of 100 or so diocesan society members, he listened patiently and encouraged them as they made their reports. He later said Mass for the group.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sant'Egidio in Korea

Korean Catholicism has always been a fertile field for new movements. They have done well here and continue to do well. The community of Sant'Egidio began in Rome right after the Second Vatican Council. It is a lay movement with over 50,000 members in 73 countries. This month, Korea will join the movement with its own small group of about 20, sharing the spirituality and principles of Sant'Egidio. The Catholic Times reports on their first meeting in Seoul with the Sant'Egidio representative from Asia.

Prayer, they were told, is at the center of their community life, as well as spreading the Gospel message to all who are seeking to live a meaningful life, in solidarity with the poor, in voluntary and gratuitous service. The movement started in 1968, when a young man, Andrea Riccardi, only 19 years old, along with a group of high-school students, decided to put the words of the Gospel into practice, very much like the beginnings of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles.

After hearing the brief history of the movement, and following a question and answer period, they went to the Martyr's  shrine in Seoul for Mass, where the priest, during the sermon, stressed that a distinguishing mark of the Sant'Egidio community was to take attention off themselves and direct their attention to God. The movement in Korea has started with few members, he said, but with God's grace we will see miracles.

The movement says that war is the mother of poverty. Working for the poor gradually developed into working for peace: protecting, rebuilding and helping to work toward dialogue. The members have been facilitators in working for peace in the world. Where this is impossible, they help to bring humanitarian aid where most needed. The news services have mentioned that Sant'Egidio members have brought aid to the hungry of North Korea at the request of their diplomats in Rome.

Ecumenism is another area in which they have taken great interest, wanting to facilitate dialogue, as well as striving to understand each other better in order to bring about a more peaceful world. It is with this dream that the Sant'Egidio members continue  to work in many of the most difficult areas of the world.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Need for Spiritual Direction

The numbers of those without a healthy religion are considerable, begins the article on a  priest psycho-spiritual counselor. The Catholic Times journalist who interviewed the priest-professor had some interesting points to make, especially when she asks:  What is my own spirituality health index?

The psycho-spiritual counselor, in addition to teaching at the Catholic Center for Psycho-Spiritual Counseling, and being a pastor and a seminary professor, teaches a three-week  course on becoming a Christian dealing with the psychology of the spiritual life. The program has been very well received by parishioners. The following questions: What is a healthy spiritual life? And what is the relationship of  mental health and our faith life? form the heart of the program. The journey from anger to gratitude is also dealt with in detail during the program.

The journalist, who meets many Catholics while engaged in her work, knows that many have an emptiness in their spiritual life.  Even those  who are known to be outstanding Catholics jokingly say they are half-hearted believers. There does not seem to be an interest in nurturing a healthy spirituality. However, probably different from most people of the West, Koreans do not pride themselves in  being independent of the community to which they belong. Individualism has still not become a mark of the Korean believer. They do not consider being 'a la carte' Christians as a good thing, even though they may be such.

The relation they have with God and the way they  look at this relationship is often distorted, says the journalist. Consequently, she says they are not able to fill the  emptiness in their hearts. The first step of the counselor, she says, is to have the troubled person discover the obstacles that are preventing spiritual growth. One can see that religion is often an obstacle that  prevents one from being happy. An example would be the person that is not doing what is necessary in the home but is faithful in going to Church. And there are those Catholics who carry their anger inside, only to have it manifest when certain circumstances arise.

The  Church, says the priest, has a long  tradition of healing both body and soul, but many Christians are lost, and try to find healing in pseudo and newly-formulated religions. It is the hope of the psycho-spiritual counselor that they will be able to help those who seek consolation in this way to discover the root problems they are dealing with.

Each of us has certain habits or failings that need to be changed by this type of counseling. He recommends a network to make this a possibility. One of the problems that must be addressed, he said, is that pastoral workers often disapprove of these efforts. Counseling should be a way of life, and getting help in ridding oneself of obstacles to maturity should be welcomed. It doesn't mean getting rid of all the darkness but such counseling can help be the first step in finding a small light in the darkness.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Koreans and Election of the Pope

The  cardinals of the Catholic Church, as they gather together at the Vatican to elect the next pope, are being treated like Hollywood celebrities. The world press is approaching these men in red and asking for their opinions on both secular and religious matters, and, of course, the currently most urgent question: who will be the next pope. The desk columnist of the Catholic Times reveals his  thinking on the all-important issue of selecting the next temporal leader of the Church.

In the  recent elections for president, we saw,  the two parties either affirming their own candidate or trying to diminish the status of the opposition. The elections, says the columnist, were as enjoyable to most Koreans as a horse race, as expected there is little interest on the part of the ordinary Korean on the election for pope.  

For Catholics, what is of interest may be simply the awe of the unknown surrounding the election of the pope. Many see the the secret election at the conclave as the work of the Holy Spirit, as something sacred, worthy of respect. And though well over a hundred cardinals will vote for the next pope, most Catholics believe that the ultimate person selected will be decided by the Holy Spirit. But the columnist reminds us that the election of the pope is done by humans, and he knows it is impossible to avoid the human element in the election. He believes that to think so is to be blind to history or simply mentally lazy. In any event, the columnist recommends that we remain immune to the wild, and sometimes not so wild, conjectures of the Western media concerning the "most likely candidates."

One cardinal when asked what happens in the conclave answered jokingly that not much happens, that it was rather boring: "We pray and vote, wait...pray and vote, wait...." More than a mystical experience, he said it's a time for patience and endurance, love for the Church, and trust in God.  

Each cardinal is thinking: in what direction do I want the Church to go? What are the areas of greatest concern for the Church in its relationship with the world in the second decade, and beyond, of the 21st century? What kind of personality and character, spirituality and tendencies, do I want in the new pope?

The mass media is giving us the pros and cons of the different candidates; the cardinals, for the most part, are doing this all internally. The media continues to focus its attention on the scandals that have plagued the Vatican.The columnist recommends that we develop an immunity to this static and talk without any foundation in reality, and even to talk with some basis in reality. And trust in God that in his providence all will work out for the best.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Diagnosis of a Middle Class Parish

The parish with the largest percentage of Catholics in the Seoul diocese, with over 30 percent, recently made an in-depth study of its  pastoral situation. The results of the study, undertaken by a  professional center equipped for this type of diagnosis, and published in the Peace weekly, will help in planning for the future. Of the 6000 parishioners, 2370 participated by answering questionnaires and being interviewed.

The socioeconomic status of the surveyed parish was considered middle class, and the goal the parishioners selected as being the most important was Christian maturity, followed by peace of mind, a happy family life, a genuine faith life, and health, in that order.

Concern for community life and its needs, however, did not rank very high. Only 10 percent of the parishioners were involved in parish activity as members of a group. Members of the Legion of Mary had the highest number of participants. Concern for individual spiritual health was seen as uppermost by the parishioners, but there was not much interest by the  parents in giving their children a religious education, with many parents believing that a religious education was less important in life than having a good secular education. Half of the children answering the questionnaire said that their parents did not want them to go to church. Getting a good job was the parents primary concern for their children, and doing well in school would be more helpful in the business world than would living a virtuous life.

This same thinking was seen as the number-one reason for not going to church: making a living and studies. Over 30 percent of those who are tepid, stopped going to church within three years after baptism. Over 64 percent had no help from their guardians or god parents. 56 percent said they didn't know any parishioners when they stopped going to church. Only 9 percent said they had at one time belonged to a parish society before becoming tepid.

Being a middle class parish the enthusiasm for faith life and daily life was noticeably different. The idea that all life is one was not of special concern. The results of the diagnosis are intended to direct future plans to improve community life, help new evangelizing efforts, educate parents to take more of an interest in their children's spiritual health, to spend more time on the pastoral education of the parishioners rather than spending more money on construction projects, and to be more actively involved with the poor, and with issues of peace and justice.

The pastoral center stressed that the study and the recommended efforts to implement the most pressing needs uncovered by the study will have to be continued for years to come and should  be the concern of all. Not only the quantity but the quality of effort has to be emphasized, and the necessary infrastructure has to be put in place to continue the work. A report of the study will be summarized and given to each household within the parish. The pastor will use the study to make plans for the future. He hopes it will be the means of maturing the Christian life of the parish.