Sunday, June 30, 2013

North South Conflict Remains After 60 years

Most people  are not pleased with their personality or situation in life and would like to see a change, says the Catholic Times columnist writing in a recent View from the Ark. This is not all, he continues, for they want also to change the world. This wanting to change the world is stronger in the young, for they have the higher ideals, and a greater dissatisfaction. Most of the changes in the world come, he believes, from those who have this  dissatisfaction, and one might even say, he points out, that those who have attempted reformation, revolution, and innovation are similarly motivated.

The Chinese character used in  the above three words--reformation, revolution, innovation--refers to leather, and the verb would be 'to embellish leather.' With the passage of  time, the meaning becomes 'to change' and 'to fix'. To clean and polish any fine article requires care and earnestness. This is also true for the changes in the world, which only humans can accomplish. What is necessary to change the world? he asks. Without the need for discussion, the only thing necessary, he says, is a changed heart; and young people actually want to see this change.

What enables a person to change his way of thinking? Is it criticism, ridicule, pressure? This can develop quickly into conflict, as history tells us. One of the famous nationalists and patriots, Shin Chae-ho, expressed a view of history that evolves around competition between the “I” and the “non-I”.This has been a fact of our history, and we know it leaves aftereffects. There is no quicker way to bring about change, he says, but it's also the way of inflicting much pain and sorrow to both winners and losers.

We have seen this in our conflict between the North and South: Even after  60 years we are still experiencing the aftereffects. The results of change that come from war show that it was better never to have gone to war. With war, we leave the area of the heart and enter the material realm to achieve our purpose.

With war we have left behind the interior dimensions of the heart and opted for the material. Using our material strength we bring about great devastation. Obviously this is not the best way to bring about change. Conflict and war presupposes hostility between the parties, which is seen as  criticism, ridicule, pressure.This is certainly better than conflict and war but when it happens those who should be subjects are made into objects.

What each party to a conflict should try to understand, he says, is to see the situation through the eyes of the other. There has to be sincerity and love for this to succeed, only then will we see change. This will enable the two parties to acquire what each one lacks. This is the teaching of all religious leaders of all persuasions. Sincerity and love will naturally be followed by praise and awe. And with humility, each party will not be afraid to do what the world would naturally affirm as the right thing to do.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Obstacles in Building Small Christian Communities

Setting up small christian communities has been an important goal the Church in Korea has been endeavoring to achieve for the last 20 years. The results are not as favorable as many would like, and efforts have been made over the years to improve them. Recently, the Bishops Pastoral Research Center conducted a workshop for priests from nine dioceses; 23 priests attended whose specialty and expertise were working with small communities. They  discussed the problems and aimed to draw up a Korean model for what these communities should be. The Catholic Times had an editorial on the workshop and two articles that summarized some of the ideas that were shared during the workshop.

Several presentations on the small community concept, and the discussions that followed on what has already been accomplished, dealt with diagnosis and assessment. Important as these were, more interest was shown over the proper role of the pastoral leader in the small community.

Is it possible to build small christian communities in Korea? was a question that was often raised during discussions. The clergy in Korea have been so central to the work that to overcome this thinking and the secularization that has been experienced by the Christians will make a return to the Gospel message very difficult. The place of small communities in the  pastoral vision is not helped by  the understanding of the common good held in our society. But more to the point: the Church has not  stressed enough the place of fellowship in community. Consequently, as one of the participants suggested, if we look at our situation dispassionately will we not agree that we have built a middle-class Church?

The small communities were to be the future, a new way of doing pastoral work--a variety of different expressions were used to describe our intentions, but most turned out to be little more than empty words. On the parish level, where they were working with the small communities, there were serious problems in their successful implementation. We were not able to have a model for our people that fit the situation. The attempts at inculturation and making it fit our Korean situation have been slow.

The Church has been more intent in facing and coming to grips with our everyday challenges, according to the Catholic Times, than having a Christ-like vision for the work. We have to make our own a common vision of pastoral ministry, and do away with the imperial authority structures for the proper evangelization that is the mission of the Church. When this problem is acknowledged, this will be the first step in the shortcut that will facilitate the building of successful small communities and constructing a workable model for small communities here in Korea.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Janitor in a Korean Sauna

In the Kyeongyang magazine, a man who retired from his government job writes of his recent experience as a janitor in a Jjimjilbang, a gender-segregated public bathhouse furnished with the traditional Korean saunas and massage areas, and places to eat and sleep, all for a reasonable price. It was not what he expected to be doing after retirement; he saw himself doing some kind of volunteer service work. 

However, after his severance pay was gone and needing pocket money, he looked around for work. Though he appeared to be in his fifties, his life history made it clear he was at that time in his late sixties (now 75). Nobody was  interested; if an accident happened there would be serious problems, he was repeatedly told.

For a couple of years, he continued to look for work without any results. He then heard there was work available in a Jjimjilbang; without any thought of what kind of work it would be, he accepted the job. Not only did he have to sweep and clean the premises but all the accumulated trash had to be separated and readied for disposal, which was difficult to do at his age. Even using a mask, he found the smell awful. And in the winter his fingers would become ice cold, and in the summer he would perspire so much it felt as if he were in a sauna. But he did manage to stay with the job,now going on for three years.

During this time he was the secretary of the parish purgatorial society, but found he could no longer manage both jobs and told the priest he had to leave his parish work. He said he was doing the janitorial work for money, but it was also penance for the sins in his past life. He had been very active in the parish over many years, serving as parish council president and the president of many parish groups. 

Because of his work in the Jjimjilbang, he met many Catholics and workers that he knew from his past work places, and felt embarrassed, he said, to be seen doing janitorial work. One visitor to the Jjimjilbang was a subordinate he used to work with; the man told him he found it difficult to continue coming to the sauna and seeing his old boss working as the janitor.  Overcoming the problem of 'saving-face', he realized, was also a problem that others had to deal with when they met him in this situation. He remembers reading that humility is a difficult virtue to practice, and without God's help difficult also to understand.

Whenever he's asked now about his work, he answers without hesitation: a janitor. Putting into practice what he has learned about humility, he is perfectly at peace and has no problems with the work. Jesus used the word peace, after the resurrection, to greet those he met. Without God's help, it is difficult to experience this peace. He ends his article with a request: asking his readers for their prayers as he continues to work to clean his own interior of the garbage that is still there.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Learning to be Friends to the Disabled

A priest recently assigned to head a center for the disabled writes about an incident that brought sadness to the inhabitants of the center, and vividly shows the difficulties the disabled have to face in society.

A middle school child whose disability was not serious came to the center to attend one of the programs. After the introductions were over, he said he wanted to go to the toilet. When he did not return to the class, the priest sent someone to find out what happened and  was told they found the boy in the flower bed in the back of the building. The priest called for an ambulance and the boy was taken to a hospital. There was no danger to life, but he would have  a long period of treatment and convalescence.

The priest asked him why he threw himself out of the small window of the fourth-floor toilet, and was told he no longer wanted to live. The priest on the way to the hospital was filled with a thousand different feelings. Why would the young man want to kill himself? He felt miserable.

The boy had a problem with tics, which made it difficult to control certain bodily movements, provoking misunderstanding and causing his classmates to shun him, and some of the rougher students to beat him. The world  he had to face was filled with exclusion and avoidance, alienation and loneliness. These experiences left the boy with distrust of others and fear of the world.

In the introduction on that day of the accident, the boy expressed his despair by the way he introduced himself, which the priest found deeply moving. To live in such circumstances, the priest knew, would be difficult for anyone to accept.

Even though the center is separated by a large road from residential apartment buildings, there was opposition to building a center for the disabled. The main reason was  the belief that such a center would change the atmosphere of the neighborhood, and property values would decline. This is the way society looks upon those they consider losers in life, the weak who can't compete successfully with others.

Adults are the mirror for the young. When adults have little sympathy for the weak and the disabled, the children will very likely have the same feelings. Rather than embracing the weak, the delicate, the disabled among us, and helping to defend them; we are more likely to find that living with them is uncomfortable, and sometimes give vent to our feelings by using violence against them.

The priest mentions that he found it difficult, at first, to accept the assignment to the center, acknowledging feelings of resentment for having to accept such an assignment. However, living among the disabled, he was able, little by little, to appreciate the depth of the sadness they have to live with daily. His heart has been changed, he says, to one full of gratitude, and he asks for prayers that he may continue to be a good friend to them.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Learning from Water

The possibility of less water for human use, some are predicting, could be a concern for future generations; some even stating it could be the reason for the start of the 3rd World War. This warning begins an article by a research philosopher at the Sogang Philosophy Research Center. The World Water Forum is currently trying to solve the problems associated with having less available water in the future. The research professor attempts to add to the suggestions, in her article in the Peace Weekly, by recalling the way Asians traditionally viewed the attributes of water, and the lessons that were learned.

Looking at water resting in a washbasin, the ancients were reminded, she says, of the needs of the body and spirit and the desire for purification. In the Analects, Confucius says that those who are wise love water and those who are gentle love the mountain. In this tradition, water is the sign of daily renewal, a sign of wisdom. When water stagnates, it putrefies and is not able to give life. When water continues to flow, however, it continually renews itself and is then able to give life. The strength of water comes from its softness.There is, in this traditional view, an intimate relationship between softness and life.

In the philosophy of Lao Tzu, the softness of water is the origin of its vitality. Humans while living are soft; at death they become stiff. The world in which we live is always changing and if our thoughts and heart become hardened, we will have difficulty adapting. If we are careless about disciplining ourselves, we also lose our flexibility and our ability to communicate with others. Inability to communicate means death. Flexibility allows us to communicate well with all manner of persons, and tends to nurture the life of all creatures. Consequentially, she advises, if we are to keep on going along the way of softness and flexibility, we have to fight to maintain these life-nurturing qualities.

When water enters dry objects it makes them soft: land, trees, any dried up plant, when water is received, they become soft and return to vibrant life. There is nothing softer than water, and yet it still is able to overcome the hardest objects on earth. Wisdom, she says, is having the freedom to communicate like water.

Water is the visible aspect of the way (virtue) in Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching. In chapter 8 there is the verse:

The highest good is like water.
Because water excels in benefiting the myriad creatures
without contending with them and settles where none would like to be,
it comes close to the way.

In a home it is the site that matters;
In quality of mind it is depth that matters;
In an ally it is benevolence that matters;
In speech it is good faith that matters;
In government it is order that matters;
In affairs it is ability that matters; 
In action it is timeliness that matters.

It is because it does not contend that it is never at fault.

There were other sages who expressed similar ideas, the professor reminds us; she ends with chapter 66 of the Tao Te Ching.

"The reason why the River and the Sea are able to be king of the hundred valleys is that they excel in taking the lower position. Hence they are able to be king of the hundred alleys." When a statesman follows this wisdom and lowers himself and works for the benefit of the people he very naturally takes the position of leader.

When we realize that these thoughts on water are all from reflections on life without the benefit of revelation, we can appreciate how these wise men of the East prepared many for accepting the teachings of Jesus. The professor sees the possibility of solving the problems we are likely to have with water with  the lessons these wise men passed down to us. Simply put, she says we must learn to think like water, and to live like water.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Living What we Believe is Evangelization

"Those who study the teaching of Jesus and want to be his disciples receive baptism. All those who are baptized are missioners. All believers can do it and must be missioners. However, the majority feels that all that is necessary is to attend Mass and become a member of a parish religious group."

A priest, a professor of missiology interviewed by the Catholic Times, summed up his views on missionary work with the above words. To be a missioner, he added, is to speak like Jesus, to act like Jesus, and to live like Jesus. A missioner is one who wants to imitate Jesus. Most Christians, he said, see this work as belonging to others who have made a life commitment to do it. Although they have a vague idea that as Christians they are called to this life, they find it a great burden, which he feels results in many fallen-away Catholics. That the catechumenate does not make this an important element in its teaching, he said, is another crucial factor why evangelization is not properly understood.

Another reason, he noted, is that many who become Catholic do it as an expediency, a convenience, merely as a change in their way of thinking. They have little interest in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. They do not see the importance of the faith-life and lack confidence in the teachings, so the missionary aspects of their call as disciples is bound to be missing. The first thing that is necessary, he said, is to believe with a firm faith. 

To fully understand what is meant by evangelizing, he explained, it's necessary to change how we think about missionary work.  To evangelize one-on-one or to go to the streets to proclaim Jesus is okay, but what is most important in the evangelizing process is not the word but the life of the evangelist.  When we live the Christ life we are evangelizing. In our daily lives when we relate with our neighbors in harmony with them, concerned not with my 'I' but with the "I" of each of them, then my love will express His love--that would be true evangelizing.

The logic of our faith-life will change the logic that controls the structures of society, he said, so we will then search for those who are at the margins of society and begin to do something about it.

Though it's difficult to  convey the meaning of belief to those who do not believe, their being no special way that this can be done, we can be there for those who most need our help.Evangelization is going out to everybody with love and  living this daily. Briefly, the  essence of evangelization is to live what we believe. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The One Korean Nation

Has there ever been a family that has not experienced pain? Writing on the opinion page of the Catholic Times, the writer recalls his own family difficulties experienced some 20 years ago. Its aftermath is still influencing the family, he said, and he looks back with gratitude to God for the strength to overcome the problems. He wonders about those who were brought up in luxury and done all they wanted--whether that kind of life is more insipid than we generally suppose.  Without the trials and failures of life, he wonders, if it's possible to experience the joys and happiness that life offers?

The Korean family of one nation, he reminds us, has now been separated for the last 60 years with violence and misery. One-tenth of the population were killed, property was destroyed, and the animosity still continues with the poor suffering the most. Is there any reason to hope that the future will be any different? he asks.  Each side stresses their dignity and their claims, and yet the feeling of helplessness and frustration continues to grow. In the last 10 years there have been glimmers of hope, as North and South have come together to dialogue. Will the day of peace and happiness ever come? is a question the people of this separated family are still wondering.

The writer introduces us to Prof. Lyubomirsky, who has studied happiness for most of her professional life, dividing it into three constituents: our genes, our life circumstances, and our intentional activities. The first, our genetic makeup, we receive from our parents, accounting for 50 percent of our happiness: our positive outlook, humorous disposition and  health. 10 percent would be dependent on our life circumstances: our age, gender, education, our place in society, income, family and children, our physical attractiveness. 40 percent would be determined by our intentional activities, our willed actions. According to this thinking--since we cannot control our genetic makeup, and the circumstances in our life are thought to have little to do with our happiness--it is our intentional activity that is going to have the greatest influence on our happiness.

Acknowledging the present North-South relationship between the separated factions of our Korean family, and realizing we can't change the history of the past 60 years, we can, however, make intentional changes in our thinking and the way we deal with each other.

In the Old Testament book of Tobit, the angel Raphael said to Tobit: "Take courage! God has healing in store for you; so take courage!" The writer prefers to see the two-nation Korea, as a blindness that has to be healed and as demons that  have to be expelled. The lack of trust has to be changed to trust, hate to forgiveness, anger to embracing, fighting to dialogue. And trust that God's grace will be there for the change.

It is only a widow, it is said, who can understand a widow. And only those who have experienced pain and conflict, and have been at the bottom, can give hope to those who live without hope. The bitter experience we have undergone as a divided nation, when healed, will go a long way to passing along, in God's providence, what has been learned to other struggling nations of the world.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Internet Game Addiction

The addictive behaviors of  the young, and yes even those of others, is a serious problem within society. A  priest writing in a bulletin for priests mentions that in his work among the young, he has come in contact with many who, finding it difficult to adapt to society, have resorted to violence. And today, the addiction, more often than not, finds its outlet in internet games.

In  Korean society with its digital environment, the young are easily exposed to the allure of internet games. In the  homes, public  PC rooms, and the easy availability of smart devices, it is all very natural and easy to enter the gaming world of cyberspace. The writer delves into the question whether it's easier for Korean youth to be addicted to the gaming world than it is in other cultures. He feels that it is, and presents a few of the reasons why.

First, the young face the pressure of studies, and have few ways of ridding themselves of the stress, gaming on the internet provides them with one way of overcoming some of the stress. Second, the games are enjoyable, easy to access, and the social networking game is inviting and technically well-constructed, enabling the players to react with one another with ease. Third, without a familiarity with the gaming world, the young would be alienated from their friends.

In addition, in the home where there is a lack of proper care, with the young finding themselves unclear about the future, games tend to fill this lack in their lives. It is when the problem appears that parents then begin looking around at the other children to find the answer. When it comes to this point, the priest says, the children are usually already addicted to the games, and the only thing that can be done is to help free them from the addiction. The priest says that all those who are knowledgeable about the addiction process understand that more important than any therapy is to prevent the addiction in the first place.

The writer recommends that the older generation uncover the reasons why young people find the cyberspace world of games so enjoyable and entertaining, in order to better help them re-enter the real world.  To do this, it is necessary, he says, to change a few of the ways we think. Games are not unconditionally bad; elders have to be able to speak about the games, and the young  have to be told  of ways they can find joy in the world outside of cyberspace.

We all need to be concerned, he says, but those in pastoral ministry, especially, have to give this problem much thought, not forgetting the importance of nurturing a life of faith as the basic solution for overcoming not only this problem, but all others as well.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Catholic Understanding of Spirituality

In and out of church circles, we hear a lot about spirituality. Religion and the development of  psychology have turned our attention to the inner workings of our psyche and the spiritual. A seminary professor, a priest with a doctorate in spirituality, sees this recent interest in spirituality and the psyche with serious reservations. (We commonly hear today: "I'm spiritual but not religious.") Writing in the Catholic Times, he suggests that in today's world it's difficult to have a  correct understanding of spirituality and its psychological implications without straying beyond the Catholic tradition.

A 2004 Gallup survey of Protestants, Buddhists and Catholics, on the reason for believing, revealed that almost 80 percent of Catholics were searching  for peace of mind; 23 percent of Protestants considered salvation and eternal life the reason for their religious belief, while only 6 percent of Catholics had this as their response. The priest sees this as a problem for Catholics, indicating an incorrect understanding of spirituality, which Catholicism has traditionally meant to convey. He does say that seeking peace does not necessarily mean one cannot practice a correct spirituality.

However, Jesus did say: "Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift  to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace" (John 14:27). Jesus had another way of seeing peace from an earthly viewpoint: "Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you the contrary is true; I have come for division" (Luke 12:50). Because Catholicism has stressed that we are not on this earth to look for blessings, only 8 percent  said that receiving earthly blessings was not their understanding of religion. We can understand why some answered in the way they did, the professor said, feeling that living the Christian life would bring peace of mind.

Visiting a Catholic book store, we are likely to see many more books on the general topic of spirituality than on scripture, liturgy, theology, and the catechism. He feels that reading these books on spirituality, without a strong religious foundation, will only provide, at most, a psychological boost, an emotional lift.  Jesus tells us: "In a word, you  must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). We are called to be holy. This is the beginning of a Christian's spirituality, the professor said, and its end.

At times, we have to fight courageously against ourselves from falling into temptation and make efforts to practice the virtues in our daily lives. We need a correct understanding of God and Jesus, with the goal of being with Jesus after death. Even though each has his own way of practicing their spirituality, there is a common element, a direction that is true for all. That is why Catholicism has, for over 2000 years, looked at spirituality objectively and made judgements in a scientific way on methods to attain a healthy spirituality.

Charles Andre Bernard, an authority on spirituality, defined it this way:  "Spirituality is based on revelation, the study of the spiritual experience of Christians, its gradual development, and the desire to understand its structure and laws. It is one of the departments in theology."

The professor points out that without the correct understanding of the foundational teaching of Catholicism, we are not going to have the correct spirituality of a Catholic. Spirituality for a Catholic, he emphasizes, is not a vague do-it-yourself effort. He ends the article by noting the need for a disciplined search, within the teachings of the Church, to bring more clarity to the term 'spirituality'.

Friday, June 21, 2013

We Are Not Robots

Dreams have great meaning for many in Korea. Pigs and dragons appearing in dreams are good signs, and for some a good time to buy a lottery ticket. In a recent Catholic Times article, a priest mentions a woman he knew, a mother of two children, who came to him to interpret a dream.

"What kind of dream did you have that you want me to interpret? I know nothing about dreams." he told her.

"Father, in my dream I saw, coming from my son's room, an intense light enter the parlor. I ran to the bedroom but couldn't open the door although it was not locked. I kicked open the door and entered the room. Lying on the bed was my son, half robot and half human. I quickly embraced him and he responded by muttering "Help me to be a human, I want to be human, help me." While I listened to what he was saying, I  looked at the mirror in the room and saw that I was a robot. Startled, I woke up."

The dream was much longer and interesting, said the priest, and they laughed a lot during the retelling. That dream without any interpretation is a gift from God, he said. We can say that as a mother in raising children, there is the need to be concerned with the thoughts and feelings of the children. Nowadays, young mothers have all kinds of information on how to raise children correctly. Doesn't this, the priest thought, turn the mothers into robots and their grownup children into robots. Mothers are always thinking of what is to be done today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Consequently, many children do not sense the mothers' feelings as much as they do the information the mothers have gained and passed along. Isn't this what can be assumed from the dream, he said.

"Good heavens! Father," she replied. "I'm not that kind of person. Compared to other mothers I give my children all kinds of freedom. In any event, it was a strange dream. You are very busy, Father, and have given me of your time, thank you."

" How about a cup of tea before you leave." invited the priest.

"No, I have to be on my way," she said. "My child has three academies to go to, and I have to take him there, prepare his snacks, help with the homework, and shop for what is necessary. I have to work being a mother, you know. Good bye."

She had in her hands notifications from school, and as she hurriedly scurried off, the thoughts that came to mind, he said, were of the creation story. At the end of that story, humanity appears, and he wonders why we still continue to desire a robot's existence.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

New Evangelization Begins with the Clergy

The term "New Evangelization" has few rivals in the number of times it's used in our Catholic World, and for good reason. Evangelization is the reason the Church exists and is our constant mission; no other words are necessary. Adding  the word 'new' to 'evangelization' does not change the meaning.  Society has been changing drastically and to keep up with these changes the word evangelization was modified. The Peace Weekly, in its editorial on this continuing mission of the Church, which discussed a recent seminar on the topic, held in a Korean diocese, begins with the headline, "The First Step of the New Evangelization is the Renewal  of the Clergy."

Since clergy were singled out to be the object of concern for the new evangelization, some may think they are not in step with the times and should be brought up to date, that they should use more of the tools from  modern culture, or get more involved with what is happening in society. But the drift of the seminar was not in that direction, the editorial pointed out.

One of the speakers said priests have to witness to Christ. The Christians are not looking for a great administrator, or for one who gets involved in movements in the  greater society that are secondary to his calling. If these pursuits are taking away time and the interest he should have for evangelizing, this will limit him in the work he should be doing, and the Christians will not be seeing Christ.

Another participant suggested that the administration of the parish should be handed over to the laity, and the priest should be solely concerned in making Jesus known. Since sermons are extremely important in fulfilling this function, as much time as possible should be devoted to their preparation. Another suggestion, strongly expressed, was that the exterior expansion of the Church should be resolutely avoided, otherwise we are likely to have trouble in the future. Though admitting this proposal seems difficult to implement presently, the participant thought it important enough to merit careful attention.

In the same paper, another article on the seminar considered the priests' relationship with the bishop. The relationship should be one filled with respect and trust, otherwise the priest's fatherly relationship with the parishioner will suffer because of a lack of confidence and peace of mind.  One participant saw the relationship as one of  master  and servant, a vertical relationship that makes it difficult to approach the bishop. It is hoped that the new focus on clergy renewal will go a long way to not only improving the priestly relationships, but improving the relationship between priests and bishops.

The Christians want to see Christ in their priests, who need to make an effort to fulfill this calling by imitating Jesus. And the Church has to prepare the conditions where this is possible. This imitation of Jesus on the part of the priest is the first step in the renewal process of the new evangelization. Whatever way we choose to modify the word 'evangelization',  or however the world changes, evangelization must begin with meeting Jesus. And the renewal of the clergy, concludes the editorial, will begin when this first step in meeting Jesus is taken.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Marriage Encounter = Dialogue

Marriage Encounter, a popular movement within the Korean Church, was covered recently by the Peace Weekly, as it profiled three couples who attended the weekend program in the Seoul diocese. They said they learned a lot about the value of dialoguing during the weekend.

One couple, ethnic Koreans from  China, took a four-hour  plane ride to attend the weekend. The wife said she was a tourist guide working in China and had met a Korean on a visit to China, who looked exceptionally peaceful. When she asked her for the reason, she said she had a good relationship with her husband because of attending a Marriage Encounter weekend.  She gave the care of their seven-year-old child to others, after overcoming the initial opposition of her husband, and they traveled to Korea for the ME weekend. Her relationship with her husband, she said, was neither good nor bad, just so-so.

During the weekend, however, by participating in loving dialog with her husband, she shed many tears. She realized she did not know the basics of how to communicate: looking into the heart of the other to understand the other--that is what she learned, and that, she said, is what it's all about. The husband thought that money was the answer to everything, but learned that you don't buy love with money. They are not in the least sorry for the money spent for the trip and the weekend. They received more than they imagined: the key to living a happy life.

Another couple came for the weekend from Australia. They lived with the wife's mother and when the mother died recently, the pain of the loss was unbearable for the wife. But instead of getting closer to her husband, she spent a great deal of time at the church, which upset her husband, causing a great deal of bickering between them. Her older sister recommended the ME weekend. At the beginning of the weekend, she said she resisted whatever was suggested.  She did not follow the instructions given and wrote letters to her husband that brought tears to her eyes, realizing that she hadn't lived as she should have. In the privacy of their room, she said she embraced her husband and cried profusely.

The husband said that for 45 years he had not been able to rid himself of his impetuous temperament. He said he had no reason to dislike his wife but things of no  importance would often be the reason for fighting. He had no idea of what dialogue was about, but could only resort to bullying his way in the home. He  said he learned the meaning and the importance of dialogue during the weekend.

The third couple, married for 50 years, was considered a well-matched pair, with no serious problems. The wife mentioned she wished she knew about the ME weekend earlier in life.

They were not used to expressing their love for each other, she said, but kept it inside.  Expressing affection in words and actions seemed awkward and embarrassing. In the home, talking about the children was considered enough dialogue. Now, by talking to each other to understand the other, she said, they were able to find an opening to a new way of life. At their age, however, she said the decision to attend the weekend did not come easy, fearing it would be awkward for the others, much younger, to have a much older couple in the group. But a lot was learned, she said. We now exchange loving words, often. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

World Elder Abuse Awareness

Abuse of the elderly is the topic of a recent Peace Weekly article. June 15th has been designated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by the United Nations. In Korea, there are 24 organizations whose goal is to protect our elderly. In 2010, there were 3068 abusive incidents reported, and in recent years, there has been an increase in these numbers. When one remembers that most of the abuse comes from children, it is easy to understand why this is greatly under-reported.

The abuse may be physical, mental, sexual, financial. It may entail violence, neglect or even abandonment.  There are a variety of ways in which it can be seen. Even the refusal to go to a hospital for treatment or refusing necessary attention, which is the neglect of self, comes under this heading.

Those who have studied the issue see much of this as handed down from a climate of violence within the family or from neglect of the children when they should have been nurtured. The break-up of families is also a cause, and when the children come under the care of the grandparents, the resentment often shows up in the abuse of the grandparents.

To prevent this, the article mentions the need for the elderly to prepare for their old age. For the elderly to think that by raising and educating their children the children now have to take care of them is the kind of thinking that has to be discarded. Parents should not depend, the article strongly advises, on the financial help of the children, who in most cases are intensely involved with caring for their own children, and taking on any additional financial burden is bound to be extremely difficult.

The so-called Kangaroo and NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) Generation--those in their thirties who are receiving help from their parents--are increasing, which tends to create the conditions leading to even more parental abuse. 

There  is a need to acquaint the public of these conditions and the help needed by those who are being abused; this will require educating the public. The stubbornness of the younger generation and their blindness to traditional cultural values are also problems here. The article cites Sirach 25:6: "The crown of old men is wide experience; their glory the fear of the Lord," and urges the young to remember that wisdom that comes with old age.

The respect that Asians traditionally have had for their elders should be remembered and passed on to the children. Filial piety has an important place in our culture and should not be forgotten. If this alone could be kept alive in the culture, we would see less cases of abuse.

A religious sister who is involved in this work says: "A child becomes an adult and then becomes old. Consequently, the old person is what we too will become. We need to realize that respect for our elders is respect for ourselves, and prepare for a culture that will have respect for all of us."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Attitude and Ability

In Korea today, the children of the elite in society are making sure their children are getting the best possible education available. A very natural desire of all parents. But recently the mass media has revealed examples of the lack of fair play in securing entrance to the better schools. A priest-professor at Sogang University, in the View from the Ark, writes about this tendency in society, and cites one example of a family who took their child out of a famous middle school, after the press made much of the acceptance, sending the child to China for schooling.

Among the power elite are those that will send their  children to  study in the States, but presently consider it more important to send their children to China.  Study  of the Chinese language is becoming increasingly more popular around the world today. He mentions hearing that the royal family of Spain is teaching their children Chinese, and the elite of the United States are employing Chinese wet nurses for their children. Not only in Korea but in many parts of the world fluency in Chinese
is an investment in the new culture.

Parents, by taking these measures, believe they are helping their children to live more successfully in the future. They are aware that Mencius' mother moved three times to make sure her child would have the best education possible. Korean parents have this same concern: out-of-school studies and sending them to study overseas are only hampered by their financial condition.

The professor has one question concerning all of this: What do the parents hope to achieve by this zeal for education?  What  do they want their children to become?

For some years, he was a member of a non-governmental organization working in East Timor when it was under the trusteeship of the United Nations. He said that he learned a great deal about values and experience, and their importance in life. Persons not having experienced living in a colony, with poverty and tyranny being daily affairs, don't know, he says, how dangerous it is to control the workings of a small weak country. Korea has had the  experience and can contribute to building bridges of communication from the rich to the poor countries around the world.

To be players in the world of the future, he believes that knowing Chinese, English, and even Japanese will be important.  However, he stresses that even more important than the languages will be the mentality of the persons with these language skills, and it will be this attitude that will have influence in society, an influence, he says, that can be used to give life or to kill. Those who do not have empathy for the weak, the dignity of persons, and the common good are not the kind of people society needs; they can easily be  concerned only about  themselves.

The priest reminds us of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man never saw Lazarus. 
Often the weak are stepped on to benefit the strong. Consequently, the talents and capabilities that many  possess can be used  as weapons to harm  the weak.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Sense of the Sacred

In today's Korea it is said that living a life that is happy and rewarding is more of a concern than living a life without enough to eat. We all are seeking a life of happiness. Past generations often saw their situation in life, good or bad, as their lot in life, their destiny, and abandoned themselves to this thinking. This is not the case today. Most Koreans lived through the Japanese occupation, the horrors of war, famine, poverty, and the loss of human rights. Today they give thanks for the freedom they enjoy.

A priest-professor at the Incheon seminary, in  an article for the Kyeongyang magazine, discusses what we have left behind and what we are now facing. The poverty of the past has, for the most part, disappeared but the social evils still with us, he says, are poisoning all of us; a case perhaps of the 'selfish gene' becoming prominent in our society, he suggests. Fortunately, there has been an awakening to the dangers of such selfishness, as we become more aware that we are intimately related to our natural environment.  The problems are many: the breakup of families, contempt for life, confusion of moral values, and the destruction of our environment, which has forced us, he says, to acknowledge and face our common existence. A sign of the times, he points out, is our search for more efficient ways to narrow the gap between our ideals and the harsh reality, in the hope that our concerted efforts will help save our environment.  Where does our faith enter in? he asks.

He begins by making a distinction between a faith life that is of the senses, and  one that  has a sense for the sacred. The former is attracted to the externals: a beautiful church, the quiet, the liturgical practices, and the like. He believes this kind of attraction tends to level off. When one searches only for what they like, there is a danger of being an opportunist. Often when the Church does not show an interest in a person's concerns, the person leaves and becomes involved in his or her own spiritual pursuits.   

This is not what a true spiritual life is all about, he says. Our senses, which can't see or describe God, have to be purified to have a sense for the sacred, so we can meet and feel God's presence. When we realize that our physical senses are being manipulated by the mass media, we have to be on our guard, be able to discern, and have the courage to say no to its enticements.

We often think we are able to determine what is good for us, but the  facts may be quit different. We are often addicted or brain-washed by our society. And even if we know this is happening we often do not have the mental strength to prevent it. We can face life in desperation, and try to deceive ourselves but the selfish gene continues to expand  its influence, he says. The mass media is so influenced by money and consumerism that we also unconsciously follow along, mesmerized by it and losing our connection to the scared.

In this year of Faith we want our sense of the sacred to grow. The apostles, in Luke 17:5,  ask our Lord: "Increase our faith."  Jesus answered that if they had the faith the size of a mustard seed, they would be able to do extraordinary things, our senses being made complete by our life of faith. To have a sense of the sacred, the priest advises us to kneel  before God  and confess that we have lost the way. It will take time, he says, just as it does to get a feel for a sport, art or music. He asks us to reflect on whether our religious life is mostly of the senses or whether our senses are being influenced by the sacred.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Learning to Live with Uncomfortableness

Living with a little joyful uncomfortableness, we will save the earth. These are the words of a seven-year-old  kindergarten student whose words appeared in a recent Peace Weekly article. For many years there have been many movements around  the world to cut down on our consuming habits, and we have seen some satisfying results. A  small segment of the population in Korea is making an effort to change the way they look at the  environment and to follow up with practical measures. .

The boy in the article  introduces himself as a member of a family of 5, with two older sisters, and then tells us what his family has done to live more environmentally conscious:
"We don't have a television. When my parents were out, I turned on the TV and it went on the blink. My father said that to fix it  would cost as much as to buy a new one, so they decided not to buy. In the beginning, it was difficult. I couldn't watch my cartoons but with the passage of time it was no big deal. My parents put a bookcase where the TV used to be, and very naturally our family came together to read. Now, if I don't hear my two sisters reading out loud in the evening, I find it difficult to go to sleep.

Our family has also become experts at saving electricity and water; it surprises our neighbors. When in the morning we go to the toilet to urinate, my sisters go first and I go last. When this is done we save a great deal of water, needing only three bottles of water the size of a milk bottle; that is all that is needed to flush in the morning.

We have also cut done the use of electricity in the same way. When our father turns off the computer, the girls do the same. It would be unheard of to have a light on in a room not used, or a cord still in the socket when the light or an appliance is not being used.  Mother says this will save about 20 or 30 dollars a month. We eat only food that is grown environmentally friendly, and do not drink any beverages from the market. And mother makes her own yogurt, which beats anything you can buy.
My father is a middle school teacher of English, but he's not sending us to any academies to learn English. He feels that a child should not have to spend all his time studying but have plenty of time to play.  He makes one exception about avoiding all academies, for he hopes to have a family band someday: I am going to an academy to learn the piano. My father is in charge of the church band. 

Do you know what makes our family different? We are putting into practice the joyful uncomfortableness I have learned in kindergarten. With a little uncomfortableness, we are able to save the earth from  getting warmer and  being  destroyed.  When the earth is sick, what is going to happen to us? he asks.
When  a child can know this, and be as concerned as he is, shouldn't everyone else as well?                                                                                                                                                               

Friday, June 14, 2013

Communities of Religious Sisters in Korea

A large parish in Seoul  is no longer able to have Religious Sisters working in the parish because of the decrease in the numbers entering the convents.  A pastor has tried visiting convents to help in recruiting more sisters, but they shake their heads, the sisters are no longer there, they say. Parishes have to use laypeople to do the work the sisters did in the past. An article in the secular Chosun Ilbo newspaper discusses the problem.

They mention a congregation of sisters with only 10 members and a short history, which has extended the entrance age to 40, to make it more attractive to older women,  but only one has entered in 10 years. One community with 35 members hasn't had an applicant for the last 4 years. Another community managing a children's home once had 6 sisters working in the home; this has  been reduced to two, with lay people taking the place of the sisters.

A graph shows that during the peak years, the early 1990s, 857 novices were in training. In 2012 only 210 were in training. Although the number of Catholics is increasing, the number of  total sisters is decreasing. In the year 2009, there were 10,199 sisters; last year 10,023.

However, the number of priests continues to increase. In the year 2003 there were 3396 priests. In 2012 this increased to 4578. Each year there is an increase of from 100 to 160.

There are 111 women religious communities in Korea, according to the article, and outside of the large communities, which continue to have applicants, almost  60 percent of the communities have had no applicants. The larger communities are having a larger proportion of those entering in the elderly category.  In one community that began with a membership of 140, forty have retired.

What has happened in the West, beginning with the 1960s, is now appearing in Korea. When the number of priests were down, the sisters' role became more important. Now with the increase of clergy and the welfare work of the Church and the country's own efforts, the need is not as pressing as in the past.

Another reason is that single women now have many opportunities to work in society. One of the proposals suggested to remedy the situation is to accept women who are older, or have lost their husbands because of death and have finished raising their family. But the time for this may have to wait for later, many believe. Today the opportunity to serve the poor and the handicapped is available outside the auspices of the Church. 

Not all the congregations, however, are having difficulty. There are communities of cloistered sisters who have a restricted number of members, and these communities have a waiting list for those who want to enter.

A teaching  sister at the Catholic University does not see this as all  negative. In the past, the opportunity of doing work for the underprivileged was limited. Now there are many, she reminds us, who, guided by Gospel values but not affiliated with any Church or religious community, are doing this much needed work.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What Comes First: the Nation or One's Faith?

The secular Chosun Ilbo newspaper carried a story of two Catholics the Church in Korea wants to make saints. One of  them, Hwang Sa-yong, was a member of the noble class who had the ear of the king and was on the fast road to world success but gave it all up for his religious faith that he accepted as a convert. The fledgling church was being persecuted by the Yi dynasty for its teachings against the traditional ways of the country. The Church was seen as subversive and the government wanted it eradicated. Hwang, who wrote his appeal for help on silk that was to be sent to the Bishop of Beijing, was asking the western countries for assistance. When his message was discovered, he was imprisoned and beheaded as a traitor.

Even a relative on his wife's side, the famous Chong Yak-yong, a Catholic who had great influence in the early Church and in the larger society, was mentioned in the article as agreeing that he had been a traitor to the country. But in recent years many have come to see him with different eyes, and he is on the new list  presented to Rome for canonization. A symposium on Hwang Sa-yong showed consensus that he died a martyr's death. The usual thinking is that he betrayed his county for his religion. But if we look closely at the history of that time, the article says we will come to a different conclusion.

One participant said Hwang was desiring to save the country, that he wanted a just society, and that the silk message was a call for the human rights of an oppressed minority, against the tyranny of the government. Another participant agrees that the majority of our citizens see Hwang fomenting military intervention and a traitor, but if we acknowledge that the  powers within the country were infringing on human dignity and the common good, he acted in self-defense of the rights of people.

Ahn Jung-geun, the other candidate for sainthood, while in prison in China after killing Ito Hirobumi, the Resident General of Korea, when asked by the Japanese police chief, how could a Catholic kill someone? answered "When someone takes away one's country and kills its citizens and we stand passively looking on, we are committing a greater sin." In his autobiography, he said he prayed daily that he would be successful and when he succeeded, gave thanks. However, Archbishop  Mutel (1854-1933), the Vicar Apostolic of Seoul, is quoted in the article as saying "A  Catholic does not take part in killing. Ahn Jung-geun is a person who has left his religious beliefs."

A different opinion was expressed by Bishop Rho  of Seoul, who in 1946 (the year the country was liberated from the servitude to Japan) said a Mass for the deceased patriot, which brought a change in the thinking about Ahn. In 1993, Cardinal Kim in his sermon at a Mass for Ahn said "He fought against the encroachment of the Japanese and to save the country. It was self defense." The Cardinal apologized for the way the Church had looked upon Ahn for so many years. The present archbishop of Seoul, who has formally begun petitioning Rome for the canonization of Ahn, has said "The patriot fought for independence; he wanted his act to be united with the ideals of Jesus, wanting to be his tool. He gave us a good  example as a Christian."

"What comes first: the Nation or One's Faith?" was the headline for the article. It was sure to make many of its readers give thought to something that would otherwise not have entered their minds; yet the martyrs had to deal with that question. Most of the readers of the secular press would find a contrast in the motivation of these two martyrs. Hwang seemed to put religion first, while Ahn found the motivation to fight for the country in his religion.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Working with the Youth

A pastor who works with young people writes in his Peace Weekly column on some thoughts that came to mind as he looked back on 14 years of priesthood. Many things have exceeded expectations but there have also been failures and frustrations. He thanks God for the good and for the humility he has learned from the not-so-good.

He has experienced both the mystical and the fearful, he says. There were times when he did little yet found many good things happening, learning a lot in the process. But there were times when nothing went well, and he felt lost and in need to trust in God.

Referring to the staggering number of suicides among the young today, he has, in his 14 years of priestly life, also seen the death by suicide of 4 of his parishioners with whom he was close. Faced with these cases, he said his confidence in himself wavered, feeling helpless and panicky.

When he sees the young, sponge-like, receiving the happiness and love that comes with living a life of faith, he has great joy. But for those that do not experience the fruits of living such a life, he understands, but regretfully.

He remembers a student, attractive and bright, who he hadn't seen for some time. He wondered what had happened and was told the student had gone to an alternative school; for
he found it difficult to adapt to the public school system. He then recalled that he had been aware the student was having difficulty. The student was waiting for someone to listen, the priest surmised, someone to sympathize with the problems he was having, but apparently there was no one found.

He remembers saying to one troubled youth: "Is there something I am able to help you with?" The youth's response was clear and brief: "Father, whatever I say,  is it not true that you find it difficult to accept?" This was, he says, an instance where he felt helpless. But then added, there are always those moments when a young person, acting outside of the accepted standards of behavior, says: "Father, we seem to understand each other!" This, the priest says, comes as a big surprise to him.

He finishes the column by thanking all those who work  among the young, a very difficult task and at times verging on the dreadful, though with the possibilities of marvelous results. He wants to encourage them and be with them in prayer. We have to inscribe on our hearts that the  kingdom of God is made up of those who are young, he says. We have always another day to experience what the world will offer. We don't know what that will bring, but we trust in God.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Brothers and Sisters on the One Peninsula

A priest-columnist of the Catholic Times, working with refugees and writing his weekly column on reconciliation and unification on the Korean peninsula, has recently spoken of the need for unreciprocated love to resolve the issue.  The efforts of the South to show concern and love for the sisters and brothers in the North have often been frustrated, and yet the  columnist says this love is necessary if we are to see any results with reconciliation and unity of the country.

In his last column, he wrote about our ability to choose, which is an important  element in our daily lives. Those in the North are limited in their ability to choose in comparison to the South, he says. This is a reason why meeting those from the North for the first time can be confusing, especially when going to a restaurant with a recent refugee and asking them to choose from the menu. It's not easy for them to make their selections.

For a person who has never made a choice in their life, to be told: "Don't bother yourself too much, make a choice, you can worry about it later"--sounds easy but not for them. For them, choice is a matter of life and death, though difficult for us in the South to understand. We have no reason to consider those who have left the North as being less intelligent than we in the South, he says. They have made a momentous choice that most of us in the South have not been faced with: leaving home and friends and crossing over a number of borders for freedom.

The cause and effect of their choices meet here in the South as they live as refugees, making clear to them the difficulty of what they have done. There is little that makes their choice easy. We in the South should help make their choice less uncomfortable, the columnist urges, relieving them of much of the worry they may have in entering a different culture.  However, we in the South by accepting these refugees have raised a question of choice on our part. Have we, out of habit, made the welcoming of these refugees a question of choice? What should a Christian do? he asks.

When we as Christians do make it a matter of choice, we are going against everything that Christ has asked us to do, says the columnist. We are refusing to accept a member of our family, rather than loving those who are unable to reciprocate. Living with Jesus is not a matter of choice; even though we do not understand the mystery completely, we live it. Within that mystery  there is no reason for North-and-South-thinking--only the reason for living together as brothers and sisters.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Korean Legion of Mary

After the Korean War, 60 years ago, the Legion of Mary came to Korea, and in a short period of time its influence was felt throughout the country. Today, one out of every ten Korean Catholics is a full-time or auxiliary member, and they number one out  ten among the Legion members in the world. It is by far the largest apostolic group in our parishes.

In the 1950s, the country had been ruined by the effects of war; both society and the Church were making efforts to rebuild.  Lack of material and spiritual goods were a constant impediment, and a search for security and well-being was present everywhere.  Precisely at this time the Legion entered Korea, and stressing prayer was the cord that united us to God in those difficult times, reminisced the archbishop at the Mass celebrating 60 years of Legion growth.

The structure of the Legion follows the organization of the Roman Legion. At the parish level there is the praesidium, with representatives of the different parish praesidia meeting as Curia. Representatives of the different Curia would meet in a larger area and called  Comitium. Those selected to represent a diocese would be known as Regia. And in the country, or divided into  populous areas of the country, we have the  Senatus. The world headquarters in Ireland is known as the Concilium.

The Legion has done much to give our Christians an understanding of the spiritual life and how it is to relate with our love for neighbor. The Catholic papers gave space to the legion and the influence it has had on Korean Catholicism. The celebration in the diocese of Kwangju was attended by over 10,000 legion members thanking God for the blessings received and resolving to continue to say 'Yes' to God.

The accomplishments of members are impressive, owing perhaps to the fact that few groups within the parish ask as much from their members as does the Legion. The sermon given by the Ordinary of the Kwangju diocese mentioned the fiat of Mary as being the distinguishing characteristic of a Legion member. The importance of obedience to the Legion's mission can be seen by the way they conduct their meetings and in their apostolic activity.

The editorial in the Peace Weekly mentioned that few would deny the  influence the legion had on the growth of the Church of Korea. There is no other group, says the editorial, that expresses its obedience quite like the Legion. It has been like a tractor pulling along the rest of the Church in service and evangelizing.  The world can be a complicated place to live in, but our faith life should be simple, and the first step toward this simplicity, according to the editorial, should be the 'yes' of obedience.

In conclusion, the editorial mentioned that with a strong Legion, the Church also is likely to be strong. In the growth of the Legion, we will also have the growth of the Church. The basic foundation of obedience, as exemplified by the Legion, is central to our faith, and the editorial prayerfully hopes this journey together will continue.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Who is the True Leader?

Most of the parents today want their children to grow up to be  leaders in society.  Who are these leaders in society? asks the columnist writing in the opinion page of the Catholic Times. Are they not those who have succeeded in life and have some influence in society? He says that in our world a person does not find it easy to be in a position of influence, to wield power over others, for  the mass media is always ready to put our leaders on the chopping block. Most of our leaders  have been elected to their positions of power, thus being beholden to those who have elected them.

Even those in high positions who are not elected are faced with the same situation, the columnist reminds us. Junior officials who are visited by senior officials no longer treat them, as in the past, with meals and perks. When this is done, much is made of it and the mass media is there to make news of the situation. This is seen as a sign of the democratization of the culture. Today, leadership that honors respect and service is what wins followers, without these qualities it is difficult to lead.

Politeness, respect and sincerity are stressed in the Analects of Confucius, in keeping with one of the principles of Confucianism: "Don't do to others what you do not want them to do to you." In Confucian philosophy, one should show concern for the other more than for oneself, to respect and serve the other humbly.

Though the respectful way the young behaved with their elders in the past is fast disappearing nowadays, our narrow thinking and concerns about the customer is being replaced by a concern for all citizens. Respect and service leadership is becoming the predominant social climate.  

Chondogyo, meaning "the heavenly way," is a native Korean religion. We are to respect others, they say, like we do the heavenly realm, which is another way of stressing the respect and service way of life. The columnist thinks that this central idea of Chondogyo may have a great deal to do with what it received from Christianity.  The washing of the disciples' feet is a prime example of this thinking, and is illustrated in other ways in the life of Jesus.

This has been a teaching for a long time, both in the East and in the West, but the journalist wonders how universal the idea is. The way the weak suffer daily at the hands of the strong, one is forced to conclude, he says, that all our talk about respect and service has had no more influence on how society operates than do mere slogans. If that is the case, the writer considers all that he has written  as mere slogans, less than the truth--"lies," he calls them. However, even if this respect and service leadership ideal has not done much to improve the conditions of the poor and suffering among us, he does proclaim that it has now spread throughout the world. Perhaps in time the reality will also spread throughout the world, and be the reality not only for the few of us but for all of us.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Women's Role within the Church

A symposium of the many women groups within the Church recently met to talk about the Korean Catholic Women's Movement--"yesterday, today and tomorrow." It reviewed the history of the discipleship of women in society, and presented prospects for the future.

Of great concern was the women's role in spirituality-of-life issues: healing, service, works of mercy, and the extension of these endeavors within society and the Church, as well as a concern to see the roots of  equality continue to be deepened, and to work to accomplish this goal within society and the Church. Individual efforts, the symposium stressed, have to develop into communal efforts. There has been much progress, said one participant, but there is still more to achieve, which will require that everyone participate.

In the introductory remarks, a group representative said that living as a woman demands a lot and yet is still joyful. At the same time, when looking at history, we have to acknowledge, she said, the yoke we have had to carry and have had to deal with.

The editorial in the Catholic Times commented on the symposium's overview of the women's movement within the Church since 1990. The work of the women within the Church is at the center of their ongoing work within society, and is what supports that work, the editorial pointed out. This can easily be seen in any of the parishes within the country. The women, much more than the men, are keeping the works of the parish going.

The reality is that the women are doing most of the work, but their roles as leaders are few. It is understood that we are dealing with a patriarchal society, a fact known to all, but the editorial wonders whether this is most evident within the Church, and suggests that more leadership roles be opened to them.  The Church has to help form these leaders, educating them to take positions of leadership within the Church. Women themselves, the editorial said, have to work to bring this about.

However, more importantly, it would be enlightening if more of us were to reflect on the current role of women as individuals within our societal and church structures to see the depth of the discrimination. This has to be quickly remedied.  After the resurrection, women were Jesus' first witnesses--not men, something  the editorial urges us to remember as we reflect on these issues.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Praying the Office of the Dead

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, the columnist recalled a talk with a younger priest who reminisced about a visit to a Catholic village in the country, where he grew up. Having been always interested in what it meant to grow up in a Catholic village, the columnist asked the priest to give him an idea of what it was like living in such a village.

He told him how the family would kneel every morning and evening before the crucifix to say their morning and evening prayers. In those days, the priest said, if you did not say your prayers you would not eat--so you prayed.The rosary was a family prayer every day. Each month, during a feast day, they would be visited by the priest for Mass, with the children scrubbed clean and wearing their best clothes. 

Since all were Catholics, each  family's sadness or joy would be experienced by the whole village. He remembers when there was a death. His father would take him by the hand to the home of the deceased for the prayers of the dead. The priest mentioned that the prayers and routines were always the same, but the attitude of the villagers was different than it is today.  It was not simply praying for the one who was deceased, but rather we were all the deceased who were imploring God to look down on us and be merciful. As an example of what he meant, he said that all of them prayed to the Blessed Mother and the saints  to intercede for the deceased. But we, in the place of the deceased, were asking the Blessed Mother to implore her son to look down on us who also have died. Since the deceased is no longer able to pray, we do so in solidarity with the deceased. Even as a child, not knowing much about death, in praying the prayers for the dead he felt a great relief from the recitation of the prayers. He has never been able to forget, he said, the feeling he had after those prayers.Today, when he goes to a home or a funeral parlor to pray the same prayers, he returns home with a feeling of loss. How can he explain his feeling? he muses.  It isn't that they didn't pray, but it wasn't what he felt praying as a child growing up.

The columnist ends by saying that he felt a shiver in his whole body when the priest was speaking about what the prayers for the dead meant for him as a child. The villagers were meeting God in the person of the deceased, all anxious for the sake of the deceased. He would like this kind of thinking to return as an intangible inheritance of faith from the past.                                                         


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Only Active Deaf and Blind Priest in the World

Fr. Cyril Axelrod, whose autobiography  was recently published by the Catholic Publishing Corp., will give a lecture on what it is that we all can do to make the world a better place for the handicapped. Fr. Axelrod is one of only 15 priests worldwide who is deaf, and the only one who is blind as well as deaf. Both Catholic papers had articles on the publication of his book and on his visit to Korea.

Born in South Africa, in 1942, into a religiously observant Orthodox Jewish family, he was diagnosed with the Usher Syndrome, which was the reason for his complete deafness at birth and subsequently going blind. He converted to Catholicism and became a Redemptorist priest, working to set up centers for the deaf in many parts of the world. He maintains that even with this handicap there is something they can do; it is his message of hope.

In South Africa, despite the apartheid policy of the government, he began a school for the deaf, regardless of race, and started centers providing education and training for employment; this was continued in the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong  and Macau.  He travels to different parts of the world to give hope to those who are deaf and blind, helping them to become self-sufficient.
Because of his devout Orthodox Jewish family, there were many problems with his becoming Catholic, besides the problem of his own deafness. In writing his autobiography, he did not depend on a ghost writer but wrote it himself, wanting his readers to gain courage and wisdom from hearing about his own experiences.  He said he first decided to be a Rabbi to help those of the Jewish faith who were deaf, but this was not possible because of his physical condition. The frustration was great, he said, but because of a special experience in his life he converted to Catholicism, though his decision was opposed by the family. Regardless of belief, he wants to help all those who have handicaps to live life fully, recently helping the deaf of the Jewish faith to have a meaningful Passover in South Africa. 

The Catholic Press has provided an audio of Fr. Cyril's voice, dubbed so that the visually handicapped can listen.  Part of the income from the sale of the book will go to the work for the deaf in Korea.

The only Korean deaf priest is Fr. Park, who met Fr. Cyril in 1997 at the Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world. Fr. Park considers him the Helen Keller of the 21st century.

Fr. Park wrote in one of the articles, "The two handicaps that Father has he considers gifts and a reason he shares his love for those similarly handicapped. Fr. Cyril told him his deafness is nothing compared to the cross of Jesus, but that his personal cross shows us God's glory. Fr. Cyril is a great sign to all in the world that there is hope for the handicapped, especially to those who have lost hope because of their difficulties in life."