Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Morally Dubious Experiments

In 2008 the Vatican published a list of new social sins that at the time gave the media something to talk about and a reason to laugh. The sins listed were bio-ethical violations, such as birth control; morally dubious experiments, such as stem cell research; drug abuse; environmental pollution; contributing to widening the divide between rich and poor; excessive wealth; and creating conditions for poverty. The  Kyeongyang magazine has taken a close look at each of these offenses, separately and in detail. This month a professor at the Catholic University of Daegu discusses "morally dubious experiments."

These experiments, he says, are like thorns on a rose bush, a two-edged sword, which under the guise of scientific experiments causes a lot of trouble. The human medical experiments run by Unit 731 of the Japanese army in China on Koreans and the Chinese are well-known. They  injected prisoners of war with anthrax bacteria and small pox germs to follow the progress of the contamination. There were other experiments but far too many to mention and the barbarity of what was done even difficult to speak about.

The professor also mentions the gruesome experiments performed by the Nazis on their Jewish prisoners. Also mentioned were the experiments, in1932, on Southern Blacks, by the U.S. Public Health Service, to determine the progress of syphilis, and even though medicine for the disease was available, it was not given to the patients. A similar experiment by the U. S. was conducted on prisoners and the mentally sick in Guatemala; here they were infected with syphilis to determine how useful penicillin would be in curing the disease. There were also the experiments by the CIA, until 1973, during which the government experimented on how to control behavior by drugs, electric shock, radiation, supersonic waves, and the like.

Denunciation of these immoral human experiments had good results. Those that participated in these experiments during the Second World War were given serious punishment. In 1947 a set of guidelines, called the Nuremberg Principles, was proclaimed by the United Nations, detailing what is permissible in medical experiments. In1964, the Declaration of Helsinki was a means of governing international research, providing guidelines for biomedical research involving human subjects. Korea has also established, he says, what is allowed in clinical trials, as well as setting up other regulations in medical matters.

Even though there are international regulations governing these matters, because of the sovereignty of each nation, unethical experiments are still occurring, such as nuclear testing. From 1945 to 1998, there have been 1,851 nuclear experiments. In 1963, because of the radioactive nuclear fallout, Russia and the U. S. agreed to stop the atmospheric experiments and to limit the experiments to the underground.

The amount of plutonium in our atmosphere because of nuclear testing, the professor surmises, is about 3.5 tons and its lethal effects will take thousands of years to dissipate. Another likely destructive scenario, but potentially more immanently catastrophic for humanity, the professor believes, will be the nuclear fallout from our energy generating nuclear plants, similar to what happened at Fukushima, Japan. The possible destruction of nature and human life are not being considered as we continue to experiment with nuclear energy. The professor would like to see a Maginot Line put in place that would block any more experiments of this type. If we don't heed the calls for stopping these experiments, he's convinced that the future will be a perilous time for both humanity and the planet.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Meditating on the Martyrs

Once a month a group of Christians goes on pilgrimage to a martyr's shrine, after having selected a topic which the shrine will help to elucidate. The columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times, a member of the group, mentions that he contacted a professor of history familiar with the lives of the martyrs to gather background on the martyrs which would help him participate more fully in the discussion they were going to have at the shrine.

During the conversation with the professor, he asked--what he later described as a foolish question--if she found the study of the martyrs interesting. She said that translating the letters of the foreign missioners, during and after the persecution, brought tears to her eyes. Reading about the cruel persecution of those days and the deaths of the missioners, however, did bring solace and peace into her daily life.  The exchange of letters among the missioners, accomplished under the most trying circumstances imaginable, showed their love for God and for the people which is impossible to express with words. To answer his question more directly, she said that the study of the martyrs was like being near a warm stove during a cold winter's night; it inspired her to love more. Rather than teaching just the history of the martyrs, she explained that focusing on the details of their lives helps us to live with more enthusiasm and joy. She told him it was no exaggeration to say that she has fallen in love with the martyrs.

On the way home on the bus, the columnist found himself musing that now, close to 200 years since the persecution, would be a good time to return to God. The day at the shrine, he said, had been sunny, with a gentle breeze, just like the days, according to historical records, during which the martyrs met their death.

That breeze entered his own being, the columnist said, and seemed to invite him to pattern his life after the lives of the martyrs. The professor mentioned her unrequited but steadfast love for the martyrs. Like the professor's love he hopes that his feeling is not some passing sentiment but a permanent attitude that will be with him as he relates with everyone he meets, and that it will last until he is called by God.     

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Loving but not in Our Way

Can there be a more tormenting experience for a mother than to hear that her child has attempted or committed suicide? Recently a mother received such news: a phone call from a hospital doctor informing her that "the crisis was over," but that her son will continue to need hospital care. When she was allowed to see him later that day, the face of her child, a 2nd-year middle school student, was pale but peaceful. In his farewell note to his parents and younger sibling, he said he was sorry for not having been any help to them.

The Sogang University professor who discusses the incident in her column in the Peace Weekly mentions that the boy often did  cause trouble. Frequently impetuous and unable to accept being unfairly treated, he would quickly resort to using his fists to settle an argument. The mother, who regularly attended parent-teacher meetings, would apologize for her son's unruly behavior, and on one occasion, when he had ruptured the ear drum of a classmate, she kneeled  before the student, and asked him to forgive her son.

Her son's school marks would fluctuate from very good to very bad, usually dependent on his emotional life, provoking anger from his father, who would then ask him if he knows how difficult it is for him to support the family. And does he know how much it costs to send him to the academy. And if this is the best he can do, why not give up.

The mother's more benign responses usually focused on urging her son to study more, which she did frequently. When he said he didn't want to go to the academy, she would ask how was he going to make a living as an adult. There was no conversation with the child to find out what he wanted; it was always about what the parents wanted for him. He would at times kick the walls of his room and bang his head against the wall, which she passed off as prompted by the onset of puberty. She doesn't remember that she ever had a heart-to-heart talk with him.

In the dark hospital room where her son was recovering she shed many tears. Thinking of the role she played in causing his rebellious behavior and attempted suicide, her attitude toward him changed completely. She finally came to the conclusion that his life was the thing she cared most about in her own life.

No longer taking the initiative but determined to support her son, she changed into a person whose new relationship with her son could be described as "being a step behind and no longer out in front." The boy soon began to make judgements and decisions on his own.

The professor mentioned in her column three ways for parents to support their children. One way is "to be out in front of the child," leading the child according to what the parents want for their child, which means the child has no life of his own. The second way is "to walk together with the child," sharing the child's experiences. The problem with this second way is that the child learns to depend upon the parents for everything. The third way is "to be behind the child," putting everything into the child's hands. This is a slower way, using the trial and error method, but the child learns self-reliance and creativity with this third way.

The professor sums up her account by saying the mother realized that by dying to herself, the son could live more authentically, more as his own person. She learned that by ridding herself of her methods of loving and taking a step back to watch, and when necessary stepping in to help, was a wiser way to love. Our society is a difficult place for our youngsters to find their way, the professor says. But not because there is a lack of love. It's because we demand that love be expressed in our own personal way.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The End does not Justify the Means

In a recent criminal case, the judge sentenced an industrialist to three years in prison, although what he had done he considered a good thing. The judge said he could not justify unlawful means to achieve a good end. In the words of the editorial in the Catholic Times, echoing a well-known moral principle: The end does not justify the means.

This is a basic principle of Catholic teaching on morality. If the means to achieve a goal are not good, no matter how good our intention may be and no matter how good the end to be achieved may be, the means to achieve that end is morally not permitted.                                                     

We often see many cases where we justify what we do by the good end we hope to achieve. A Korean proverb states: Earn your money like a dog and spend it like a prime minister. This seemingly puzzling advice can be understood in at least two ways. Positively: No matter how humble the work you do to earn a living, spend it wisely. And not so positively: It doesn't make any difference the way you earn your money but spend it wisely. This second interpretation is the way many understand the proverb and justify the use of questionable means to achieve their goals.

This understanding can be seen by the way we look upon life issues and the influence on our thinking of a materialistic mindset. That the judge affirmed by his sentence that the end does not justify the means is a good sign for our society, and should be highly commended. Not to be concerned with the means we use to achieve a goal is not a sign of a healthy society. The end, no matter how worthwhile it may be, does not justify a means that disregards the moral code, and we as citizens should be working to see that this principle is upheld in society.

We are bombarded with all types of theories that often justify any action, provided that our intention is good. This is a reason for many of our problems in politics, education and religion. As long as our focus is only on the perceived good end, ignoring the morality of the means to achieve that end, we know what is likely to result from acquiescing to this way of thinking.  With some serious thought, forgetting the self and thinking of the common good, we can arrive at a proper understanding of ends and means that would easily clear up the confusion surrounding this sometimes contentious issue.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Fruits of Trust

A priest writes in the Catholic Digest how he wanted to meet the teacher he had in first-year grammar school. He was told he could find the teacher by going to the I love School website, but learned that the teacher had been retired for many years and no other information was available.

He was convinced he would find her because of his great desire. A woman he knew, whose husband worked at the department of education, after a week of searching gave the priest the address and telephone number.

The teacher, surprised at the call, was happy to hear from a student she had taught some 43 years ago. Eager to find how he had fared during all those years since first grade, she agreed to meet him.

The reason he wanted to meet the teacher came from a talk he had heard.  The lecturer said we all want to receive trust, which is often the reason we need to show trust toward others. He told the story of a famous convict, who after many thefts, prison stays and escapes, ended his life in prison.  As a child the convict one day did not bring crayons to school, and the teacher told him that even if he had to steal them, he should have brought crayons to class. This was the reason, the convict said, that started him on his road of crime. Not once did he ever receive a pat on the back during his schooling. The story reminded the priest of his own experience with crayons.

His  family was very poor, he says, and he too did not have have any crayons for art class. He would always have to use the crayons of the student seated next to him in class. This was alright for one or two times, but he didn't feel right doing it continually, so he asked his mother for money to buy the crayons. He  was shy and during art class always felt stressed, he says, so he decided to handle the situation by telling his mother that without the crayons he was not going to school.

What mother would not buy crayons for their children? he asks. Though knowing she had little money to spend for such things, he did not go to school the next day, which prompted his mother to give him a good flogging. That night he cried bitterly at the unfairness of it all. Besides not having the crayons, which he thought he should have, he was now being beaten for making this simple request. When his mother made it up to him by putting medicine on his legs and consoling him, his anger subsided but he was still fearful of going to school the next day.

How was he going to explain being absent? And how would the teacher react? he kept wondering.  He went to school with a heavy heart. The teacher, seeing his awkwardness and dispirited attitude, quietly hugged him. At that moment, he said, he was freed from fear. The trust from the teacher made all the difference, and he returned to his cheery self.

From that time on, he had a great deal of trust in teachers. If he had not received that affirmation, he wonders what would have happened to him and whether he would now have a correct outlook on life.

Trusting another is a sign of love, he says. If you are only trusted when you do the right thing and not trusted when you do something wrong, that is not a sign of love. It is especially when you do something wrong, and someone still shows trust in you that you will be affected, often leading to a new and more trusting way of life.  This, he concludes, is what the teacher did  for him.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Moment Never to be Erased

Every other week a dentist travels to the St. Joseph Clinic to help the homeless and the poor who need dental work. He writes about this voluntary service in a recent issue of the Korean Catholic Digest. Offering to help the poor did not come easy, he said. He felt ill-equipped to provide such care. His life was unexceptional, and a few years before, he had lost almost all of his possessions, which made him lose confidence in himself. How could he even attempt to help others, he asked himself, when he could not manage his own life.

He was also plagued by the question that kept coming to mind: How could all those who volunteer their services do it for free? He found it difficult to understand; he knew that even a charity hospital has difficulty providing free service. Thinking there must be an explanation, he checked out the clinic using the Internet. And while reading what he could find in other media, he learned of the death of the founder, who began the clinic in 1987. He was a well-known doctor with an exceptional personal history. He had given up his private practice, his possessions and even marriage, to work full-time at the clinic--helping the sick who could not afford to pay for medical treatment--until his death by cancer. He felt embarrassed by the negative thoughts he had about the clinic.

He soon offered his services to the clinic and was surprised to learn of the uncertainty that life holds for so many people who must live without financial security. Some of his patients were orphans from the very beginning of their lives; some because of sickness or accident were separated from their family; some because of the immorality of a spouse left home. Even eminent persons in their fields of endeavor, such as presidents of corporations in difficult straits, were forced to come to St. Joseph's or similar clinics. He would reflect, he said, on how circumstances could get so bad that we end up in such straits. He even wondered, at times, if he came to the clinic to help or to learn about life.

Working late one evening he heard the music from a Mass being celebrated in a room separated from his only by a folding partition.  Hearing the hymns being sung he said it felt as if he were somehow in heaven while working on his patient on earth.  

On one occasion, planning to operate on the socket  of a tooth of a patient who was not able to eat because of the pain, he noticed from the X-rays a tumor next to the tooth he would be working on. He removed the tumor and then worked on the socket of the tooth. Profuse bleeding soon filled the area of the mouth he was working on, which brought to mind past experiences that proved to be difficult, so with a heavy heart he checked all vital signs and continued the operation. At the same time, a Mass was beginning in the adjacent room. After the final suturing he had a desire to receive communion; all the worries now gone, he was at peace.

One of the dental assistants opened the folding partition, and he entered the room where Mass was taking place, approached the altar and received communion. The feeling he had at that moment, he said, has never been erased. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Acquiring Specs for the Soul

"Let us collect the 'specs' necessary for the soul" says a Jesuit priest recently interviewed by the Peace Weekly. Specs, a code word, refers to what society considers necessary if college students are to find good-paying jobs. Addressing this issue, the priest wrote Where Am I Now?--a book intended to help young people learn not only with the head but with the heart. The Korean word he uses to convey this idea is 'maeum.'  It can be understood, he explains, as our deeper self, variously described as combining heart, mind, soul, spirit.

The interviewer felt that the book was permeated by a feeling of sadness concerning our young people. Although the priest says he admires what they have accomplished, many of them having studied overseas, speaking several languages, learning to handle various tasks equally well, and even contributing to society by volunteering their services, he yet wants to know how much have they looked into themselves. It's more important, he says, to pile up specs for the soul and spirit than piling up specs for their future work.

Our society seems to think cerebral knowledge is everything. This was not true, he says, of our ancestors. For them knowledge was meant to educate without differentiating between head and heart.  Knowledge today has been reduced to getting a good-paying job in a big corporation. We have forgotten our 'maeums', he says, and have turned our deepest inner self into a wasteland, strewn with suicides, bullying, corruption and all kinds of wrong doing. We have relativized the good and the bad to match our personal views of reality, forgetting we are living with others.

What does it mean to learn with the 'maeum'?  Getting in touch with our spiritual dimension, he says. Seeing it with religious eyes, we would have more meditation and contemplative prayer, more cultivation of the habit of reflection. Knowledge that the head seeks remains in the head, while what the 'maeum' seeks is the whole person, which will lead us to an intuitive grasp of our existence. How do we become truly human? What is the meaning of existence? It does not come just by prayer, meditation and reflection, he says, but by living with the 'maeum' clearly in our awareness. 

However, it does take time and effort to learn with the 'maeum'. When we trouble ourselves with the difficulties that normally appear in every life, and are confronted with serious doubts, we can be sure, he warns us, that something is wrong. It's a sign that study of the 'maeum' is necessary.

The interview ends with a question about healing. The healing we usually talk about, the priest says, does not have much to do with the spirit. This talk usually is about the psychological and intellectual dimensions of healing, which he believes are merely first-aid treatments. It may seem that healing occurs, but for true healing it's necessary, he emphasizes, to go deeper, to go into the 'maeum'. Without such contact, he says we are likely to be fatigued and depressed by life's demands. If we want to change this distortion of life, we need a new awareness of life, an awareness that can only come from the 'maeum'. The choice is up to us, he says, and we need to begin now.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stealing the Hearts of the Grandparents

Many ethnic parishes still exist in the States, and the Korean parish would be one of the more recent. The Korean pastor of one of them recounts, in the Korean Catholic Digest, what he heard about the trip of Sarah and Taihyoun, who spent their summer vacation with their grandparents in Korea.

There are  many Korean children in the States who not only speak English perfectly and obey their parents, but also speak Korean fluently. When they speak among themselves, they use English; when they speak to their pastor it's in Korean, as a sign of respect. Sarah, a beautiful child, and Taihyoun, mischievous but likeable, are two such children. Their parents are exemplary parishioners, and the mother a paragon of what charm is meant to mean, said the pastor.

During the children's stay in Korea, something very unexpected happened. The children "stole the hearts of their grandparents," was the way the pastor put it.  They would be constantly holding on to the apron strings of the grandmother, he was told, and going wherever  she went. And in the evening they massaged the aching legs and arms of the grandfather. Although a special room was prepared for them, they preferred to sleep with the grandparents. He was surprised to hear this since Korean children usually shun older people because of the body odor. But Sarah and Taihyoun were different, they wanted to be near their grandparents at all times.

Hearing that the children spoke Korean, even though born and raised in the States, made the pastor feel proud of being Korean. Sarah remembered some of the meals her grandmother had prepared during previous trips and begged her to prepare them, which she always did with great joy.

When it came time for the children to return to the States, the grandparents wondered how they would get along without them. Hugging the children and crying, it seemed as if the whole village were joining the grandparents as they shed tears on the departure of the children. Soon after, the grandfather called his son and  thanked him for raising such wonderful children. And not much later the father received a letter from the brother of his wife, a teacher, who explained that he tried to inculcate in his students some of the traits he saw in the children, but with little success. Having seen the way the children behaved with their grandparents and feeling embarrassed at his own failure as a teacher, he asked in his letter how they had managed to raise such wonderful children.

The children, of course, had no idea of the impression they were making on the grandparents and villagers. Just looking at their faces, the brother-in-law said, you knew they had no idea why they were being praised. They were simply enjoying themselves, eating and playing and just being themselves, oblivious of the effect they were having on others. A state of mind, perhaps, that more of us should incorporate into our daily lives.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Christian Responses

On the open forum page of the Catholic Times,  the columnist explores a troubling matter that has bothered him since middle school: when is behavior a conditioned response, one that is learned; and when is behavior unconditioned, not learned, but the natural response in the presence of stimuli?

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), in his experiments with dogs, discovered that though a dog's unconditioned, natural response to food is to salivate, it can be made to salivate to a stimulus that does not normally cause the secretion of saliva. The stimulus he used, as many may know, was the ringing of a bell which the dog would hear whenever food was given. After this was done on numerous occasions, the dog would salivate whenever the bell was rung, even when no food was present. He also was able to show that by manipulating stimuli the conditioning could be changed: increased, decreased or erased completely.  

The writer states that since everybody basically has the identical unconditioned responses to stimuli, he finds the conditioned responses more interesting and recounts his own experience playing in a reservoir, when he almost drowned. His fear of the water from that moment on kept him from learning to swim. He doesn't know exactly what happened, but remembers that his feet lost contact with the ground, and he panicked, fearing he would drown. Since then, even in a bathhouse, whenever his foot goes into the water the memory of the near drowning returns, along with a swooning sensation. And this happens not only with water, he explains, but also in tunnels, subways, and in cable cars. 

The conditioning present in our lives is not that simple or that obvious, he points out. In his own case, he says the drowning incident has affected not only him but has affected in some way those he comes in contact with. Mindful of this possibility, he recommends that we strive to be conscious of what  stimuli we are unknowingly reacting to in our daily lives.

We should be aware of the reflex reactions that others see coming from us. Are we like  the dog who was conditioned by the bell  to salivate and then not given the food? There is a certain conditioning that has taken place in our lives as a Christian. There are expectations that others have of us: are we  disappointing those who expect a Christian response from us and not receiving it? He concludes with the admonition that we not be like a bell heard by the dog without the appropriate response.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Korea of 2050

The U.S. firm of Goldman Sachs has published information the columnist of the Catholic Times' View from the Window uses to prophesy that Korea will move up to second place as an economic power in 2050. He wonders how many Koreans would agree with him. But there is a catch, he admits, the Goldman Sachs report said a unified Korea would surpass the economic power of France, Germany and Japan in gross domestic product, and do so because of the mineral riches of the North.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of optimism for unification. And judging by the present political climate, with the North threatening nuclear war, unification seems impossible. But the columnist relates another unlikely scenario that turned out well. In Numbers 13-14, Moses sent twelve scouts to the land of Canaan to reconnoiter the land in preparation for an invasion. Ten returned with a negative report, seeing themselves as grasshoppers compared to the giants in the territory. Only two saw the possibility of success. Here, says the columnist, we have the image of a great leader who did not simply follow the suggestion of the majority. Instead, after weighing the merits of both sides, he chose to heed the advice of the minority and went on to victory. 

Today, a greatly improved economic life for all the Korean people is possible, the columnist assures us, despite the obvious difficulties, if unification becomes a reality.  Less than 10 years ago there were trips to the North to visit family and the popular destination Diamond Mountain.  Now our deteriorating relationship with the North is like riding a roller-coaster; no one is comfortable with the relationship.

To see meaningful change, he says, we will need leadership like that shown by Lincoln during the American Civil War.  After the defeat of the South, the North showed respect for the South. The Korean North and South must also respect each other, as well as improving the negotiating skills on the part of the South and encouraging the belief among all Koreans that unification and peace is possible.

Obviously, negotiating with the North is a very delicate matter but the results of a rapprochement, he insists, will affect the whole region, leading to a peaceful North East Asia. But regardless of our most hopeful plans, we have learned in the last 50 years that we can lose it all if we resort to war to solve our problems. The columnist presents his own scenario for the next 50 years.

By 2020, enter a peace agreement with the North and agree to provide economic assistance. Work on the highway from Kaesong to Sinuiju to Chongjin. Construct North-South factory districts and complete the rail line to Siberia. Agree to unrestricted family visits, both in the North and in the South, and facilitate cultural and educational exchanges. By 2040, significantly reduce the income differences between the North and the South. And by 2050, we will have, he believes, the birth of a great nation--a united and prosperous Korea.

Is this only a dream? he asks. It is no exaggeration to say we may need a  leader like Lincoln or Moses to realize the dream. But he wants us to think about the possibilities, and to remember that what is finally achieved will depend on God.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

St. Francis and St. Clare

A Korean lawyer and vocalist, who studied in the States, writes about a spiritual insight she had in her third year of law school. Not until she saw a movie about St. Francis and St.Clare, she explained in her article in the Seoul Bulletin, did she have any interest in saints. And the Italian actor who played the part of Francis was so handsome, she said, that at first he was the focus of her attention, along with the remarkable cast of actors. But she soon forgot them and the beauty of the Assisi countryside, as the force of Francis' personality, particularly his decision to live a life of poverty, resonated with her need to find something she could dedicate her life to.

Though he was the son of a rich cloth merchant and could afford the finest clothes, he gave his fine clothes away, content to wear a rough woolen coat tied about him with a rope (the habit that would soon clothe his first followers), and decided to live a life of intense poverty. Greatly moved by his progress in spirituality, she began to read everything she could find about her now favorite saint, as well as his own poetry and prose. He was, she decided, the saint she would follow.

The words of Jesus, "Take nothing for the journey," and "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps" were the reason he became a mendicant monk, she discovered.

She then goes on to tell us about her struggle to understand and live these same words, and confesses that they made her think a great deal. She felt strongly the need to succeed in life, to do better than others, and be financially independent.  She had dreamed of making her mark on the world, but now the thought of living a life of poverty and renouncing the self sounded crazy. Francis' life seemed to her to make little sense in our modern world.

With these thoughts on her mind, she talked to a priest about what was bothering her, and received from him help in justifying her own life. Is it wrong, she asked, to desire to live the comfortable life?  Wanting to know what she thought poverty was, he asked, "What does it mean to deny yourself?" The priest answered for her. Poverty is of many kinds: the difficulties we experience, such as loneliness, stress, uncertainty, sickness, and in general the frustrations that come with living--these are all part of our poverty, he said.  To accept these trials with our whole being, without bitterness, and happily accepting whatever difficulties come our way is to choose poverty and to carry the cross.

The priest's words put her heart at rest, and she thanked God for leading her, by that good-looking actor, to a new understanding of poverty. Pope Francis has done much to bring the attention of many Koreans to the saint from Assisi. Many are reading in the daily papers brief accounts of his life, and why the pope picked the name Francis. Nearly everyone would find the life of St. Francis rather odd, but they would also have a chance to reflect on a way of life without possessions and what such a life might mean in living a more fulfilling life for us who live in a consumer-oriented world.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The "Rescuing Hug"

The "Rescuing Hug" was discussed in the Taegu Diocese Bulletin this past week, as it recounted the story, originally appearing in the American press many years ago, of twin baby girls, Kyrie and Brielle, born prematurely and each weighing about one kilogram. It's a story that is sure to touch the hearts of many in Taegu this week.

The twin sisters were put in incubators, but Brielle was not doing well, her heart was weak and she was not putting on weight like Kyrie, the sister born first. It looked like Brielle was not going to make it. The nurse taking care of them suggested to the doctor that they be put in the same incubator, since they were together in the womb. Though not permitted by hospital rules, the doctor gave his permission.

Now together in the incubator, the first born twin put her arms around her sister, astonishing those who saw it and, miracle-like, her vital signs--breathing and blood pressure--soon began to improve. It was not long before Brielle recovered completely.

Premature twins are usually placed in separate incubators, but after this incident, co-bedding for multiple birth babies became the standard procedure in this hospital, the practice soon spreading to other hospitals.

Many similar stories documenting the healing power of human touch can be found in many parts of the world. Babies who lost their parents and were put in hospitals in years past, receiving no loving care, would often die, and even if they managed to live, we are told the integrity of the adult personality was seriously affected.  
The bulletin article recommends that we also reach out to others by offering a healing touch whenever appropriate. A hug, a reassuring tap on the shoulder or arm, a handshake--all show a loving concern for the other. This show of human warmth and love, judging by the many remarkable healings that have resulted from such simple gestures, may at times be more important than medical help.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Retirement in a Mission Station

"I eat, play and  live well. I like the quiet life, and  this mission station  is perfect for me"--words of Bishop Chang Ik, retired from the Chunchon diocese in 2010 and now living in a small village mission station taking care of the spiritual needs of the community.

His life as bishop was very satisfying, he explained during a recent interview by the Peace Weekly, but said he was always pressed for time; now he has the time to reflect and see the world through refreshed eyes, and regrets that so many do not have the same leisure time he has to fully appreciate their  lives. In the old days getting information was difficult, he said; today it is at your finger tips. But we still have seen, he said, a drop in the number of readers which comes as a  surprise to him.

Our young people, especially today, are living on the fast track because of the demands of the digital world they live in. But fruits do not ripen quickly, he reminds us, and we can't make rice grow any quicker by pulling at the rice stock. Desiring a faster lifestyle, he warns, is just going to bring us more problems.

The bishop laments  the loss  of our value for truth and the acceptance of relativism. With each person having a different take on what is happening, there is less opportunity to sympathize with another person's opinion, and our understanding of universal truth is quickly disappearing. Because the majority thinks one way, he added, does not necessarily  mean that is the correct way.

When asked what can the Church do when relativism is so wide spread, he recommends that all of us in the Church follow the example of  Pope Francis, who took upon himself the role of a servant and is preaching by example. The bishop believes that is what we all should do.

He told the interviewer he was reading Smell the Mother Three Hours Each Day, which surprised the interviewer who felt that the book, judging by its title, did not match his serious demeanor; the bishop admitted he learned about the book from a radio broadcast.

He recommends that parents read the book, especially parents. There are too many children today who live separated from their mothers, he said. Up to the age of three, children should spend at least 3 hours with their mother to ensure emotional health. The book also lays out the basic reasons young people are having problems adjusting to our society. That bit of information alone should make the book a valuable contribution to our efforts toward solving our many societal problems. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Knowledge in Search of Wisdom

We have been hearing lately the same sad refrain about the need to change society but few positive suggestions on how to bring about meaningful change. Our society, according to most observers, seems fatigued and in danger mode. Writing in the Peace Weekly, a professor in the Sogang University philosophy research department turns to a Korean scholar who  teaches in Germany and is the author of The Society of Fatigue, in which he writes that "Everyone living in the self-displaying modern society has been worn out and frustrated."

Our society is sick and drifting, the writer says, and we don't know where it is headed. She  goes on to cite several reasons for this dire assessment, calling it a crisis of life: intense competition for college entrance, graduates  are finding it difficult to find work, high unemployment, escalating small business bankruptcies, more 'tin house' transactions (Buying a house and finding that the present price is 80 percent lower than the price you paid years earlier),  increase of the homeless, the skyrocketing suicide rate--all  indications we are living in a severely dysfunctional society and the reason so many are looking for healing.

The writer tells us about a young woman who, while in college, was filled with energy even though her situation at the time was difficult. Today, with no steady employment, she looks tired and without a sense of belonging. She is attending an academy at government expense and working part-time in a Shabu Shabu  shop, making about 400 dollars a month. Never did she imagine  this as a possibility for a graduate of a distinguished teachers college. Although we can say there are no  noble or  base occupations, when college graduates are forced to look for jobs as domestic helpers, they are taking the work that normally goes to older women. Where are the older women going to go?

The numbers going to college have increased but not enough jobs are available when they graduate. What is the reason for this situation? the writer asks. She feels that we have not been educated in a way that will help in solving these societal problems. The emphasis on memory-style education, she says, leaves no room for creativity, and when faced with problems, we find it easy to give up. Living means that we are going to have problems, but they are solvable problems, she says, when we are properly educated.

To illustrate what she means, she quotes a line from the Analects of Confucius. "When we learn only by gathering information and don't think, we will perish; and learning only by thinking without sufficient information is dangerous." She adds that knowledge that does not bring luster to our lives is dry knowledge. Our college students these day learn to meet specifications that society has given them to succeed, but this is not going in search of wisdom, she says, and ends by expressing her desire that our educational methods will ultimately educate the whole person and enable our students to think creatively and search for  wisdom. Creative thinking and wisdom will help in the urgent tasks of solving our societal problems.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Influenced by St. Francis and St. Ignatius

A Jesuit priest writing in the Catholic Times tells us of two saints he admires, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius Loyola. Francis lived a life of sagacious poverty and Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, enlarged the horizons of the Church.

The writer said he fell in love with Francis when seeing the movie about his life, during his second year of college. He then read every book published in Korean about the saint, and some of them twice. During the lifetime of Francis (1181-1226), the power of the papacy was at its zenith, with many movements working for reformation and renewal. Francis was not interested in such activities. Being attracted to Jesus and the example of his life, and consequently loyal to the Church, he decided his spiritual path would be a simple imitation of Jesus. Though apparently an inconsequential decision at the time, it would lead to a radical change in the lives of many Christians, which brought about a new way of being Church.

A few years after seeing the Francis movie, the writer encountered Ignatius for the first time and was deeply moved, seeing him as a romantic and fabricator of grand dreams. Reading the autobiography of St. Ignatius, you would not easily understand who he was, he said. Only after the writer entered the Society of Jesus and took the one month Ignatian spiritual exercises did he fully appreciate the genius of Ignatius and his trust in providence.

Although there are many differences between the two saints, the writer points out significant similarities. Both were mystics; both had the crucified Christ as their motivation and goal; and both considered themselves as nothing. They knew the light and love that came from Jesus, and consequently also knew their avarice and weakness, which made them humble. Instead of blaming others they were merciful toward others. And both had a great love for poverty; Francis called poverty his esteemed wife; Ignatius loved poverty as he loved his mother. They both had no need to talk about poverty, they lived it. They were loyal to the Church, but living at a time which called for change they also desired to see it reformed. They did not however agitate for reform or make plans for renewal, but were content to experience the mystery of Jesus; imitating Jesus was their only goal, and yet their  influence, paradoxically, was felt far and wide.

At the time of St. Francis the movement of the Waldensians was calling for the reformation of the Church. They started out as reformers but ended by leaving the Church. At the time of St. Ignatius the Protestant Reformation had plunged all of Europe in turmoil.  Luther, seeing the corruption in the Church, in protest chose to leave the Church. And within the Church itself, there was a growing skepticism and opposition to Francis and Ignatius, and yet they remained loyal to the Church to the very end. Many young people were moved by what they saw and joined their movements, which helped to renew the Church.

Our new pope, a member of the religious order founded by Ignatius, was selected from a country considered outside the center.  A cardinal from Brazil, when congratulating the newly elected pope, asked him not to forget the poor during his pontificate, which immediately brought to mind Francis of Assisi and convinced him that would be the name he would choose as pope. The legacies of Francis and Ignatius having come together in this new pontificate will undoubted give direction to the pope's pastoral and teaching role in the years to come, a direction the priest hopes will inspire the followers of Francis and Ignatius, and all of us, to be more understanding and friendly to the poor.


Monday, April 15, 2013

What is True Healing?

Books on the bestseller lists often deal with healing and the young, an increasingly  popular topic of discussion for nearly everyone nowadays. And now even religion has joined in by offering  remedies for what ails us.How does religion help? asks a priest writing for priests.

He offers several ways that have been suggested by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck. He argues that our modern society is fostering sickness by encouraging a change from loyalty to the institutions of society to an extreme concern for ones personal welfare; the individual self is becoming, he says,the primary agent of meaning. The traditional structures of society--religion, family, nation--for the most part have been pushed into the background, and their legitimacy seriously questioned. As a result, religion, family and community have been weakened, making society less harmonious, the person all important. In the process we are losing our original self, which is social by nature, becoming more isolated, and damaging the long-term health of our community.

The writer wonders whether the  strong movement toward healing is a sign that societal problems have begun to affect our daily lives, creating more personal problems for us to deal with. Healing takes for granted that we have areas that are hurting. Why have these hurts begun to appear? Examining carefully, the reasons for the pain is the first step to finding a remedy for the pain.

He refers to the plot of a famous novel and movie: A young boy, the only son of his mother, was kidnapped and killed. The murderer was caught and put in prison. The mother became a Christian and was convinced by others that she should forgive the killer, who was waiting for the day of his execution. When she went to the prison to forgive him, she was surprised to see the peaceful look on his face and was told that he was forgiven by God. Being told he had been  forgiven by God, she was so upset that God had seemingly taken away the right she had to forgive that she renounced her Christianity and fell into deep despondency.

Her religious belief were no help to her in healing her pain. Rather, it enabled her to deceive herself; it was a drug to sooth her, a refuge. She had been using her belief to heal herself from the pain she did not want to feel, and never went beyond that.

Healing is not something distant from us, nor something that others bring to us. When  we are in crisis and come up against opposition, losing our equilibrium, illusive feel-good feelings alone will not help. We should be looking for healing that will last and support us in all difficulties. He quotes a famous phrase: True light is not one that glitters. We have to 'stay the course' and in silence go the way we know. Faith is not a superficial exercise in our search for the truth, but the central motive behind the search for the truth that will set us free, allowing us to live in  a way that will promote healing for all. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Education for a New Level of Faith Life

With the passage of time, our faith life is becoming more individualistic and self-contained, according to an editorial in the Peace Weekly. Jesus came on earth to proclaim his kingdom and bring us salvation. When we put this call on hold, concerned only for personal peace, the central message of Christianity is being distorted.

Peace of mind is the natural first desire of many people; without it we will not be interested in the poor nor in working for the common good. These days life is difficult and the future unclear;  peace of mind can't help but be important. However, when one believes that by focusing on a personal spirituality we are becoming more spiritual, even though it often means moving away from the Church and its teachings, there is a misunderstanding of the meaning of spirituality, which always includes in some fashion communal life. Christians meeting at the table of the Lord and becoming one with the other members is no longer seen as important.

If we seek and rely on personal spirituality, it's easy to understand how looking for blessings is the upper most thing in one's thoughts. Looking for happiness and spiritual peace, we use God as a means to gain what we want. God becomes a means to achieve our earthly ends. This is superstition and not true religion.

Christians are not just to see the partial, individualistic goals, but to have a view of the whole. The desire for healing all manner of ills is a very important element in our society but it is not the central message of Christianity. Sermons to always address this  point  and desire to give comfort is not what the sermon is  meant to do. Why did Christ come to us, die on the cross and leave us with a mission has to be explained.

The limited, individualistic way of Christian thinking is not only a trait of Korean Catholics but a common trait among all believers. A seminary professor is quoted in an accompanying article as saying that Koreans have a desire to rid themselves of Han (unresolved resentment to some injustice received) more than having a desire to accept and understand the teachings of Christianity and truth. They have a great interest in the spiritual life but less interest on what exactly needs to be done to live this life. Because of a general uneasiness evident in our society, religion for many is seen as a way to resolve the uneasiness.

Those who have studied the problem make it clear that the Church is not interested in setting the blame for this limited understanding of Christianity, but is trying to lead its members to a more mature understanding. That many of our Christians are still looking for blessings is not surprising, but the work of the pastoral workers is to help purify the motivation of Christians, so they can move up to a new level of belief.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Passion for LIfe

The word for insanity in Korean can be used both positively and negatively. Ordinarily, it is used in its negative sense, to be out of one's mind, but the writer on the open forum page of the Catholic Times prefers its positive meaning: having passion or enthusiasm. In our present society, he believes that without this "madness," as he calls it, you are not going to get very far.

To illustrate what he means, he refers to the time he interviewed a well-known vocalist whose life had been difficult, with many crisis and struggles from childhood on, she was the mixed race child born 56 years ago in Korea,  and yet when talking with her he was impressed by her enthusiastic demeanor. It was her passion for what she was doing, he said, that motivated her to be where she is today .

He asks: have any of us ever been madly enthused about something, feeling our heart bursting with joy, ecstatic with happiness? If you haven't, when it comes time to die, won't there be regret? he asks. To guard against this possibility, he suggests we use our time correctly.

How do we give ourselves over to this enthusiasm?  We first must scrupulously reflect and examine ourselves, he says, otherwise we will be seen as a person without sense. Our values and philosophy of life have to enter the picture. The object of our passion must not interfere with our home life, injure our health, or suddenly change our value system. To give ourselves passionately does not mean to leave our wits behind but to muster everything to achieve our goal, and then to go for it. He cites athletes as good examples of those who are passionately involved in what they are doing. There is a difference in doing something zealously and doing it with passion; it is, he says, a question of degree.

In the Gospels, we find Jesus with this kind of passion. He loved God and people with passion. Building up God's kingdom was his mission, giving everyone membership in this kingdom with his love and  words.  We have not chosen Jesus, but he has chosen us. His love and passion has taken hold of us, changed us, and is leading us into a faith life. Passion can change us. The original disciples became the dynamic workers that spread the gospel message throughout the world when they were moved by the love and passion they found in Jesus.

Some people say we are living at a time without passion, passion of the positive kind.  Let us be on fire with the passion that Jesus showed us. Passion is the symphony of life, the columnist lyrically muses. This symphony impresses heaven and moves the earth, oceans dance and the earth becomes jubilant. This earth is meant, he says, for those that are on fire with passion; the columnist would like to be one of them.

Friday, April 12, 2013

To Evangelize or Proselytize

In a democratic society, we respect the religious freedom of others and their right  to spread their teachings. Proselytizing has a bad connotation in English, so there is a need to avoid the word for the softer understanding of the word evangelizing. Catholics are asked to be sensitive when doing missionary work but also to understand the right and freedom to publicly profess, practice, propagate and to change one's religion.

Deception and coercive methods to win converts is to be repudiated for there must be respect for the conscience, the dignity and convictions of  others. Evangelizing is witnessing to our faith and respecting the freedom of the other.  As Pope Paul II said, we do not want to impose but to propose. A Peace Weekly editorial has brought to our attention the Shinchonji movement  of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony. One person said that once they start teaching and using  the book of Revelation, there are few that do not accept what is proffered. The members of the movement are well-prepared, employing a one-on-one effort and interesting examples and parables. However, it should be a warning that not all that is done well and has sincerity as a motive is good for the health of those that accept what is being taught. 

The movement is using a hard-sell method that offends many but is justified, they say, because of the importance of what they are about. They were mostly interested in getting converts from other Protestant Churches  but this has changed, and Catholics are now being selected; Protestants, it is said, have hardened against them. Catholics, on the other hand, are not as prepared for efforts of this type and so the Catholic media has begun to publicize their teachings and the structure of the movement.The Peace Weekly in four installments will deal with the make up of the movement and the strategy they use to make converts. The Peace Weekly will also present ways of dealing effectively with them, giving reasons why people accept what is taught and offering a pastoral proposal, also noting that Korea has lately been a home for many of these apocalyptic religions.

The editorial mentioned a few problems that came from the Shinchonji movement. In one diocese, something happened among the clergy that the editorial found embarrassing to speak about.  In a  parish  two of the parishioners went over to Sinchonji, which caused much trouble before it returned to normal. All have a right to express their opinion and gain converts to their movement, but the means used should not be  overlooked.

An article that accompanied the editorial mentions what is necessary to receive an identity card for eternal life, and the requirements for entrance into the movement: introducing two others to Shinchonji, scoring at least 80 percent on the 500 questions that are asked at the completion of the introductory course, and getting those interested to go on for the advanced status by means that do not respect freedom.  Even after a person is accepted into the movement, more education is required, which the article mentions is frank and intense in divinizing the chairman  of the movement. A blog on the Sinchonji was presented on July 27, 1212.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Environmentally Friendly Spirituality

The Eco-forum of the Seoul Pastoral Environmental Committee and the Catholic University, written up by the Peace Weekly, was recently held to discuss the thought of Thomas Berry (1914-2009), the Passionist priest who was internationally known as an authority in the field of ecology. The first presenter was a professor from Canada, a disciple of Berry's; the second was a Korean priest from the Catholic University.

Berry was not only a cultural historian but a critic of the intellectual and spiritual history of the twentieth century. His thought about ecology was not limited to the environment but influenced religion, politics and the arts.

He felt that we have destroyed so much of our environment that to continue to live as we have would bring on an ecological disaster. We have not understood the place of humanity in God's creation, he said, and by separating  ourselves from creation are destroying it. Humanity is not the center of the universe and even when we realized this, he pointed out, we didn't  appreciate the divine in the creation which gave rise to the environmental problems we are now experiencing.

Berry felt that it was necessary to have a spirituality that includes a functional cosmological vision, if we are to solve the ecological problem. How do we achieve this vision of the universe that would allow us to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong in our relationship with creation? Changing our actions that destroy the environment to actions that make it flourish.

We are all part of the cosmos, all related, all one family. Berry stressed that the  breath of God that has entered all of creation is what is drawing us to be one community.  After the universe's billions of  years of evolving, Jesus took on flesh and became one with us. He becomes one with all the matter of creation and shows the divine within creation.

Berry says that all creation has the right to exist, the right to seek its particular goal, and also the right to have what is necessary to achieve that goal. It is necessary, according to Berry, that the relationship  between the earth and humanity be mutually beneficial. This will require a vision of the universe that will encompass theology, economics and  morality.

In the second presentation, the priest mentioned that Berry considered Asian thought and religion as vital contributions to human thought and behavior.  A great deal of God's revelations can be found within it: wisdom which  can lead us into  the future. After the II Vatican Council, our theology in Asia had been concerned with inculturation, liberation theology, and feminist theology. It is now time to have an understanding of our ecological problems and seek ways to heal our environment with a theology that will serve this purpose. Thomas Berry, according to the priest, is one who can help us to achieve this goal.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Living With Hope

A million-book best seller helps greatly in bringing other books by the author to the attention of the public. Fr. Cha Dong-yeop, a priest of the Inchon diocese, wrote the best seller Blessing of the Rainbow, and now the Catholic Times reviews his new book, Return of Hope.

Father Cha is the founder and head of the Future Pastoral Institute. His new book treats 
hope as the answer to our many problems.Those in their 20s and 30s, he says, have tasted the bitterness of the ever-present competition; those in their 40s, in search of success, have been overcome with fatigue and are worn out; and those in their 50s and 60s feel left out of society's mainstream.These characteristics are our self portrait, he says.To deal with these problems, he says, is to find hope in what appears to be hopeless situations. 

We are programed to be happy, to love and have peace, he says, but instead these values are trumped by a society that induces us to run after money and success.  The result is fatigue, overwork, and frustration; the antidote we are given is to seek solace and healing. For Fr. Cha, however, the answer is in the return of hope.

As sure as we are that  spring follows winter, we have to awaken the hope that remains within us, says Fr. Cha. We have been made in the likeness of God, with the capacity to love and create, as we continue the creation that God started. This ability is hidden within us but with our dreams nourished by hope it comes out to the light.

He makes a distinction between hopes and dreams: hopes being abstract affirmations of the future and dreams being formulations of goals to work toward. Hope is the more important of the two since it precedes the other as an affirmation of what lies deepest in us, and makes possible the ability to dream. Included with the hope, he says, are all the obstacles we encounter in life. When we are energized by hope, dreams materialize. The aim is to free the hope that is within everyone; too many have hope within easy reach, he says, and yet complain of its absence.

The spurs to hope can be found all around us,  and we do not see them and so keep on looking. We are so concerned about so many things that we miss the opportunities that come to us. The article concludes with the words of St. Peter (I Peter 3:15), "Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply...."   Christians have to be specialists in the field of hope, Fr. Cha reminds us.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Living an Environmentally Friendly Life

A journalist writing for the Catholic Times recounts opening his lunch box to find the usual egg on top of his rice, but for some reason it did not look the same as in the past: the colors were different for both the egg yolk and the white. He asked his wife and was told that she was not able to buy the organic eggs as in the past. She also mentioned that the outside of the eggs were clean in comparison to the organic eggs. Often the natural cuticle that covers the egg is washed away in cleaning the eggs, he said. These thoughts made him reflect on the recent opening of the Ecological Learning Center in the Pusan Diocese on April 6th.

Ecology and environment-friendly living is a frequent topic in the Catholic press. The diocese of Pusan has done something about living more conscientiously with the natural environment when they began construction of the Center in 2011, without any publicity. The intent was to search for the essence of creation and to see how it is to be lived in the here and now, and how to do this practically, by encouraging direct experience.

It will be a place of learning for those dreaming of going  back to the farm, a place for children to learn about nature, and for all of us to experience what is possible in a naturally friendly environment. Zero emissions is the goal:  energy sources are to emit no waste products that pollute the environment or disrupt the climate, and heating is to be all solar. They use Bacteria Mineral Water and have a building for recycling and an ecological pond.

Plans are to have a daily Mass, lectures on ecology, retreats, and meditations for healing. This year they want to begin with the school for ecology, followed by programs on how to experience what is presented, setting up a camp for children and providing training for those who want to return to the farm. The Center will have rice and dry fields and orchards, where hands-on  farming will be possible.

This is the first such Center in the country, built entirely from the finances of the diocese. It is an unprecedented effort to put into practice what many have simply talked about, providing a place where anyone who desires to do something about the environment can now do so, finding out first-hand what it means to have a friendly relationship to the environment.

Behind the efforts of the Center is their aim to provide the learning needed to live a simpler life, to anyone interested; which in practical terms means to live more poorly. But the Center not only intends to teach us the ways to relate to the  environment. It also intends to help us relate to one another more simply, and with more initiative and spontaneity.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Presuppositions for Renewal

Hooked on TV dramas, a columnist in the Catholic Times said he decided recently to watch some old re-runs of dramas he liked. He tells us about a scene where a brother decides to tell his younger sister that he was the one responsible, though accidentally, for her husband's  death. Forced by circumstances to tell his sister about his part in the death, he was prepared to confess but before he could she yelled "Don't tell me what you are going to say."

The sister had already surmised that her brother was involved and never got rid of the hurt in her heart. She was always playing with the idea of finding the culprit, and kept the resentment in her heart for the last twenty years. If he had confessed, she felt the last twenty years would have been spent in vain. She wanted either to have heard him confess when it happened and been forgiven, or to remain silent without the obligation of asking for forgiveness. The sister did not want to see his burden of guilt diminished, which was the reason for not wanting to hear his confession.

In a population of 60 million, it is not unheard of to hear this kind of story.  Although it is necessary that we are sorry for our own faults, the presupposition is that before it is brought to our attention by others, it is necessary to acknowledge what was done and be willing to freely take on the responsibility for the act. When we try to hide and avoid our responsibility, there is less of a chance of our being forgiven and receiving leniency.

The same is true in the sacrament of confession. All sins are forgivable, as long as we are sorry and the sorrow is genuine. We have all had that experience growing up. After doing something wrong and going to our mothers to confess, we often received a smile of approval, knowing all the while what we had done. A response quite different from the one from the sister in our example: "Don't tell me what you have done."

In a recent issue the Catholic Times commented on a survey of theologians, which indicated they saw a need for Church renewal. For a long time, there have been efforts to hide and avoid responsibility for the problems that have recently become public, such as the so-called  Vatican Leaks. This is also true in the West concerning the sexual abuse of minors. The efforts to hide and ignore the seriousness of what happened multiplied the seriousness of the problem and helped it to continue, resulting not only in the tragic consequences of making more youngsters vulnerable to abuse but also in the selling of church property in the effort to pay out the huge sums of money in penalty for what was done.

We have to learn the virtue of speaking, everywhere and at all times, the truth. Even before we are questioned by others, we have to examine ourselves, acknowledge our faults, and  make them known. To make our personal or communal faults known is the presupposition for renewal.  Pope Francis is aiming to do this for the Church. Is this not also what the Korean Church has to do?  Is this not the time for us as a community to strive for renewal and reformation? And to have this aspiration as an urgent topic for serious discussion?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spirituality in the Middle Ages

History is not a subject that interests most Koreans, says a priest-professor who teaches spirituality and history. Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, he notes that when Korean students select subjects for the college entrance exams, history is usually at the bottom of the list, which seems strange to the professor since Koreans are well-known for their sensitivity. And yet, though they are not interested, they want the people of the neighboring countries, he says, to study history because of the distortions that appear in history books concerning Korea. The article goes on to deal with the  laity's search for spirituality in the Middle Ages of Europe.  

The Koreans, he says, are familiar with the dark ages of Europe. Most Koreans vaguely think that Christianity was the reason for this darkness. Christianity had a great deal to do with this period of history, but the history of Europe itself greatly influenced Christianity, both for good and ill. 

During this period, people found it difficult to settle in any one place and to find opportunities for education. With the beginning of the Benedictine monasteries and a more settled life, there is a noticeable change in lifestyle. It was at this time that the Church sent missioners to evangelize the north of Europe.

The monasteries were not like those in the deserts of Egypt, where the interest of the monks was directed toward their own personal spirituality. The monasteries of Europe were dedicated to defending the Church and spreading the faith. They gathered together talented people and the monasteries became well-structured institutions, which led to the disparity between the educated monks and the uneducated laity. The influence of the monasteries did not extend to many of the country areas. The clergy were often taken from the uneducated classes to serve as parish priests, which made the gulf between the educated and uneducated members of the Church even greater.

Members of the royalty and nobles sponsored many of the monasteries, which sometimes resulted in having married men as abbots of the monastery--with family members in residence--obviously not a good influence on the monks.  These abbots were also involved in society, and their presence and status in society, along with their newly appointed status as monastery heads, tended to bring into the monastic setting worldly ideas and pride.

At this time, the Cluny Abbeys appeared on the scene, spreading quickly throughout Europe, and very much helped to elevate the spirituality of the period. However, here again the laity had difficulty in identifying with the liturgy because of its language and individualistic orientation. The mendicant orders also appeared around this time, but the monks had little education and did little to raise the educational level of the Christians. They were not clerics, and the laity were no nearer to understanding the liturgy and what constituted a faith life. The sermons were mostly centered on the humanity of Jesus and directed to the emotions, developing into superstition and far from the teachings of the Church.

Speculative theology, scholasticism, came to the fore but this was little help to the laity. There was a movement of laity that had great difficulty with this intellectual type of spirituality.  Around the Rhine River in Germany, there was a movement of people that left the parishes and walls of the monasteries to be closer to the common people. They used the scriptures as the basis for their spirituality and, not understanding the tradition of Christianity as embodied in the theological teachings, began to understand the scriptures as they thought best in search of a more personal spirituality. This gave birth to many aberrations from orthodoxy. They did not follow the traditional spirituality of Catholicism, but they still considered themselves Catholics.

The professor says the problems of the Middle Ages was not only limited to those times. They are present even today when one leaves, as he puts it, "the bosom of the Church," there is a possibility that the spirituality that is sought may not be for the person's good.