Saturday, August 31, 2013

Silence of God

A columnist of the Catholic Times remembers a time during her second year of college, when a professor referred to Shusaku Endo's novel Silence. She doesn't remember the context, and it had nothing to do with her major, but even today, she says, when she hears the novel mentioned, the words spoken by the professor come to mind: "Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men's pain that I carried my cross!" These words of Endo, which he believed could have been spoken by Jesus, to console the torment of the undecided protagonist, and as a summation of the incarnation mystery, made a big impression on the columnist.

She was captivated by the novel, with its 17th century background, during a time when members of the Church, because of the persecution, had to forget God to survive. This was the dilemma the characters of the novel had to face, and the portrayal by Endo is detailed and vivid.


During the reading of the novel, the question that kept coming to mind, she said, was: Where is God when humans are confronting pain? Would we side with God or deny him, as the protagonist of Silence had done? she asked herself. Would she have the strength of faith, she asks repeatedly, to remain with Jesus, despite the recurring doubts? Thinking deeply on the meaning of martyrdom, as a personal option--should the opportunity ever present itself--was one of the results of her reading, she said.

We should be hearing about the beatification of 124 Korean martyrs, she goes on to say, whose petitions have been presented to Rome. This official presentation was made in 2009 and there is a chance that a resolution will be forthcoming next year. The Korean Catholics have this as one of their intentions in their communal and private prayers.
There are still many who have to give up their lives for their faith, but today more people, she says, are called to be "white martyrs" in contrast to the "red martyrs" who have given their lives for their faith. Tertullian (155-230 AD) is quoted frequently:"The oftener we are mowed down by you, the more our numbers grow; the blood of Christians is the seed of the faith." In Korean, the spirituality of the martyrs has given birth to a lively Church.

In the world today, as we are confronted by materialism, secularism, relativism, individualism, and the like, what is required is the strength of the martyrs to overcome the onslaughts of these troubling "isms" that challenge us daily.  The virtues that our ancestors in the faith have shown us by giving up their lives, we, the white martyrs, should manifest, she says, by living our lives with courage, self-sacrifice and love. The example of the martyrs, she hopes, will enliven our faith and the faith of all the Catholics throughout the world, blessing us with a new fruitfulness.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cooperating in the Work of Creation

A priest writing in the With Bible magazine reflects on a recent return trip to the Lerins Islands, off the French coast close to Cannes. Returning after 20 years, he still marvels at the beauty.

On the island of Saint Honorat, there is a magnificent monastery inhabited by 22 monks, who continue the monastic life that began in the early 400s. He recalls the beauty of the surrounding fields, and the dedicated life of work and prayer of the monks, as they tend the fields and vineyard.

He goes back to our Christan understanding of creation, which places humanity at the summit of creation and as its goal. Deep ecology, which sees, he says, all of creation as equal worth,would have difficulty with this Christian understanding of creation. The Jewish interpreters of the Genesis account make it clear that God made humanity in a different way--in the image of God, and the priest wants to help us understand what is meant by using the interpretations of the Jewish teachers.

"Let us make man in the our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). We have the use of the 'us' which for the Jew of that time, he explains, did not refer to the editorial 'we' of our times. Who was God referring to when using the word 'us'? the priest asks. We can't use the Trinity to explain it, of course. So how can it be explained? 

There are many different interpretations, he says, and he presents two of them. One possibility: God had in mind the heavenly court of four of his angels: Truth, Justice, Love, and Peace.  Peace and Justice, so it is explained, were against God creating humanity, for they feared that destruction and lies would enter creation. Truth and Love were for the creation of humanity. God decided to create and use humanity to  spread these four values throughout creation.

Another interpretation was that God discussed the creation with humanity. Humanity was a partner with God, and God wanted to embody all of creation with these four values of Peace, Justice, Love and Truth. God made humanity after his image, the Jewish teachers taught, so he could work in partnership with his creation.

French bishops said last year very much the same thing; that God wanted humanity to work with him in his continuing creation. In Gen.2:15, we are told that humanity had the task to care and cultivate God's gift of creation by being made the stewards of the earth. To say that humanity is a co-worker with God might at first be thought to be an exaggeration, he says, but when Eve gave birth to Cain, the first born, it was with the help of God (4:1), who accompanies humanity throughout the creative process.  We were given intellect and will precisely so we could participate in this task. Though this task has obviously not always been carried out wisely, there is no reason to believe, he says, that this will always be the case in the future.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Importance of Korean Catholic History

By studying history, we can discern God's message to the world. Justice is made present to us. Those who experienced this history use it as stepping stones to convey to us their wisdom. The study of history is the effort to understand this reality. So begins an essay in the Catholic Times on the Catholic history of Korea.

Recently, a group of scholars who have worked on  Korean Church history met together to discuss their field of work and reminisce on the giants of the past. There have always been persons who  have seen the  importance of this study, and thirst for what they know they can find and  dig their own wells to find it.

The glorious history of the Korean Church was seen from the beginning:  The Silk Letter of Hwang Sa-yong (Alexander), the prison letters of Yi Suni, the "Catholic History of the Church" by Dallet,  letters of  missioners  to the home country telling about the lives of the Korean Catholics. The story of St. Kim Tae-gon (Andrew), and Father Thomas Choe Yong-eop waiting to enter Korea, were all a part of this precious legacy that captivated the early historians.

Catholicism entered a society that was completely different from what it came to teach, and yet it sent down its roots and it blossomed. Changes were so many that even during the lifetime of the early Christians there were  many changes in the language of the prayers and the liturgy.

History is the study of the incidents of the past up to the present, and uncovering their connections and  value. This requires the emptying of oneself and  strict judgments, which can open up new experiences for those who make history their special study. The study also requires discipline, a method, and a philosophy that has to be mastered. Even though it is a study with many requirements, the environment in which it  is pursued is not friendly. There is a  need now for young people to devote themselves to this study.

However, there should be a change in the way it is done. There has to be an embracing of the society in which the Church is  found. The understanding of Church history has to be done within the larger  Korean national history. In a country were only one in ten is Catholic, the study of Church history has to be done in a way the other nine can understand. The tendency to speak only to Catholics has to be overcome, which will foster evangelization. This will also include  those who come to the Church in the future.  Christians live in the present but try  to understand the environment in which they live. We have to see the importance of this study and should have more concern for those working in this field.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Understanding the Problems of Students

Dropping out of school is a serious problem in Korea. According to one recent news report, over 280,000 school-aged children are not in school, which amounts to 4 percent of total students. Aside from this regrettable statistic, schools do an excellent job in preparing students for college, which makes Korea, according to the International Student Assessment Program, one of the highest ranking countries in the world for providing quality education to students. .

Since the Korean educational system does such an excellent job in comparison to other countries, it is easy to see why they do not want to jeopardize their well-deserved  reputations as educators. The price for this excellence is high in terms of the number of students who are not able to keep up with the expected pace, and dropout. To offer some measure of relief for those who find the competition too demanding, the government has permitted the diocese of Taegu to begin program for these students.

The editorial in the Catholic Times, and an accompanying article, recounts what the diocese of Taegu has decided to do to help these students. The Ministry of Education has approved a program for one of these schools in Taegu."Seedbed for Dreams" is the name of the school, which will open in September. They will be given students who find it difficult to make it in the government schools. And they will continue as members of their school classes, getting full credit for their studies, and will be allowed to graduate with the other members of their regular class.

The special classes will be limited to 15 students.  The editorial mentions that a big problem for these students has been a lack of concern for them, with no one showing an interest in their problems. This will change with the small classes and with individual attention. 

Students will cover the same subjects as they would in the government schools, but in an alternative school fashion. They not only will be concentrating on the texts provided but will be free to study the subject by moving beyond the written material, exercising more freedom and creativity than normal.

The alternative curriculum will offer human development subjects: art activities, city farming; and scouting activities such as sports and hiking, do-it-yourself arts and crafts, computers, and SNS subjects. For students living in circumstances filled with conflict, they will have the opportunity to take courses in music and art therapy, which will help in developing an optimistic view of  life.

Korea is proud of what students have been able to accomplish. And the Ministry of Education is trying to reach out to those who have problems with the present educational methods by making the curricula more humane for all, allowing students more opportunities to enjoy the learning experience and restoring their ability to dream of a successful future life. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A New Way of Being Korean

Korea has many foreign workers living and working here. For the ordinary citizen, this was a change from what they were accustomed to. The homogeneity and comfort level of their cultural sameness was breaking down and required a new way of being Korean.

Becoming a Korean citizen is not an easy process for those who desire it, unless the immigrant marries a Korean. Because of the country's need for workers, many have come here to do the work ordinary citizens  avoid: the difficult, dirty and dangerous work. Most come as temporary workers and will have to leave unless marriage changes their status.

Korea, once known as the hermit kingdom, was proud of its traditions and culture. Christianity probably helped to break down the isolationism of the past despite the persecution. Isolationism and the homogeneity of the culture were trademarks of Korea, one of most homogeneous countries in the world, with one language and culture.

In recent years, there has been a change to a multicultural society but for the average citizen the past is not easily discarded, and discrimination and prejudice is not uncommon.

The Catholic Times, with the help of the Buddhist  Research Center, has made a study of the different groups in society and their degree of friendliness to the immigrants. Catholics showed the most favorable response of the four groups studied, the others being Protestants, Buddhists and non-believers. The article shows us some of the details of the study. 

Are you able to be a friend to a foreign worker? was one of the questions asked, and 45.3 percent of the Catholics answered yes; Protestants 39.4 percent; Buddhists 38.0 percent; and non-believers 36.8 percent.

Responding "Yes" to whether they preferred not to be close to foreign workers, non-believers 5.6 percent; Buddhists 5.5 percent; Protestants 3.5 percent; Catholics 1.2 percent. The article gives the reason for the more positive Catholic showing to the movement for life that stresses the dignity of all life, and the love and respect for all persons.

The articles mentions that the Protestants have shown the greatest concern for the foreign workers, with 600 facilities dedicated to helping the foreign worker. The  Seoul diocese has 146 centers for the care of foreign workers. And society as a whole is taking more interest in the care of those who are trying to adapt to a Korean way of life. The mass media is also doing their part to help break down the strangeness of encountering so many foreigners in a land that only recently saw very few of them.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Joy in the Pursuit of Learning

Writing in the Peace Weekly, a permanent member of the Bishops Pastoral Research Committee, with a doctorate in theology, reflects on the educational system in Korea. She received an e-mail recently from a teacher who would like help  in encouraging students to petition the government to stop the proposed changes to the college curriculum and to spread the word to as many people as possible.

The education ministry is changing and merging many of the subjects currently offered by the university curriculum, many of them from the humanities curriculum. She doesn't care for the criterion that the education ministry uses to determine the support they give to the colleges. At present, the percentage of those who graduate and find jobs and the number of students that they enroll are used to determine the amount of support given. The students know there are deceptions and expedients being used to the students' disadvantage. They want the humanities and the art schools to be exempted from these standards.

The professor introduces us to the thinking of Zhu Xi, a Neo-Confucian who lived a millennium ago. In his writings, he said at the age of eight, children should be taught moderation, etiquette, music, archery, elementary mathematics, and how to use words and phrases from the classics. At 15, students should study the laws of nature, possess a right ordered heart, be taught moral and mental cultivation, learn to govern themselves and prepare for citizenship.

She would like to know what precisely are the goals of our educational system. The subjects that help build character have been pushed aside, and the subjects that prepare one to enter a capitalistic society are considered more important, which tends to foster competition. Our schools are becoming, she says, like military schools with one overriding aim: to win in the competition for the best jobs.

These problems are not recent, she maintains; they have been with us for quite awhile. Chronic desire for growth and trying to adapt to the requirements of the capitalistic society have required many policy changes, and we have seen the negative effects on society, she says.

In the Catholic tradition of the middle ages in Europe, education in the moral values was considered important. The religious orders often served to provide that education, and they also brought in free education. After the Renaissance, one of the leaders in providing education to the general public was the Jesuit order.

She introduces us to Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who intends to bring together students from schools around the world to promote understanding and solidarity, and calls his project the "World School Network for the Encounter." It will be an effort to prepare the young to be citizens of the world and to live at peace with others and in solidarity with the poor.

The professor wonders whether we in Korea are prepared to show our curriculum to the rest of the world. We do not yet know what should be mandatory and what should be elective, she says. And the thinking on possible changes to the college entrance exams is confused.

Students do not know the joy of study, only stress with little hope of succeeding in a competitive environment. She is waiting for the day when, during summer vacation, you will see students taking a novel along with them, and when leaves turn color in the Autumn and begin their leisurely fall to the earth, you will see students opening a book of poetry.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fooling Ourselves is not Difficult

When men get together for some drinking and lighthearted bantering, one sometimes hears spoken by those who are partying: "For me, it's fun and romance, when others do the same thing it is immoral." While this saying is spoken in jest, it deals with some of the more private areas of our daily life. The Catholic Times columnist uses the saying to remind us of what we may tend to forget.

In the past, when romance was not part of our culture, we would tend to hear: "Bringing water to our garden," meaning " taking care of our own needs, being selfish and narcissistic."  The modern way of saying the same thing would be to use the more expressive and suggestive references to romance and immorality.  In any event, both point to our self-centered thinking, the columnist says. We can easily contradict ourselves to our benefit, using duplicity to achieve what we want.

This kind of thinking gets us into trouble, for it often goes against sound reasoning. Some scholars believe this thinking arises because of an innate desire for survival, seeing our surroundings as benefiting oneself, content to live with this illusory observation. Children, he says, often are caught up in this type of thinking: What they can see, they believe others can see, what they can't see, they believe others can't see. However, this is not only limited to children, the columnist says; adults also can think this way.

He sites a study that found that pleasure arises from the same area within the brain whenever a person speaks about himself or food or money or sex, and there is the tendency to want to reinforce this with repeated actions. Because this reaction is so natural, he admits to having reservations about faulting the behavior, but there are other factors involved, he points out, that add some clarity to the situation.

As an adult, we have to put away the things of a child. Mother Theresa was a saint, so she did what she did because she was a saint; what has that to do with me? he asks. Isn't going to Mass and hearing sermons really of little value for we will not change?

Rules for the good life which we openly defy, we all see differently, so the yardstick of justice and love we tend not to apply objectively. The standards change with the time, the place and the situation, we often think, so they have little to do with our being people of faith or Christians. When we see the life of faith one way and our daily life in another way, we become stuck at the infant stage of life, he says.

As Christians, if we see--according to our interest, as the maxim goes--the truths of faith, at one time, under the  romantic aspect and, at another time, under the immoral aspect, it would be because one or the other suited our particular disposition at the time, the columnist says.  Isn't this even worse than living without belief and doing whatever we feel comes naturally? he asks.  With this way of living  the only two sins we will be dispensed from are lying and hypocrisy.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

North Korean Martyrs

On the front page of the Catholic Times is a picture of Bishop Francis Borgia Hong Yong-ho, the former ordinary of the Pyongyang diocese. Born in 1906, ordained a priest in1933, and made a bishop in 1943, he was kidnapped in 1949 and officially listed among the missing in1962.  And now with the Vatican declaring him officially dead, it allows both the Church to appoint a new bishop and  to work for the beatification of Bishop Hong and 80 of his companions.

Before and after the Korean War,  the communists were persecuting the Christians in the North, and the Church selected those for which they could find evidence of martyrdom, which is now called the cause of Bishop Hong and his 80 companions. In this group are two bishops, 48 priests, three seminarians, seven sisters, and 21 lay Catholics. The Pyongyang diocese had the largest number of martyrs, 24. Among Bishop Hong's 80 companions were a number of foreigners: 12 Paris foreign missioners, seven Columban missioners, a Saint Paul de Chartre sister and a Belgium Carmelite. Two Maryknollers were on the list: Bishop Patrick Byrne, the Apostolic Delegate to Korea, and  Maryknoll sister Jang Jeong -Eon (Maria Agneta).

The Benedictines also began the process for beatification of thirty-six martyrs from North Korea in 2007. The martyrs are listed as Abbot Boniface Sauer and his 36 companions. They include Benedictine monks,  Benedictine sisters, clergy and laity of the diocese of Hamheung.
A missioner who dies a martyr while working in a foreign country is considered a saint of that country. Besides the recent martyrs of North Korea, there is also a list of 133 the Church is working on from the last years of the Joseon period. This list begins with John the Baptist Yi  Byeok and his 132 companions. There is ample reason to understand how the spirituality of many of the Koreans is influenced by the lives of these martyrs.

Currently there is no official recognition of Catholicism in North Korea, according to those most familiar with the situation. There is a Catholic church in Pyongyang but possibly more an effort of the government to show their idea of freedom of religion than a truly Christian community. This is true for Protestantism, Buddhism and the other religions that are in the North. While the government acknowledges freedom of religion in its constitution, it interprets this freedom differently than other countries have done. Most observers would consider North Korea the most serious violator of human rights' issues in the world.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Makes for Happiness?

"Happy are you poor; the Kingdom of God is yours! (Luke 6:20). In the Catholic Times' column View from the Ark, a priest would like us to meditate along with him on "poverty." The word keeps coming back to him like something caught in his throat that he can't get rid of. His mission over the years has been with the poor and he has now been given the responsibility for working with the poor in the diocese.

Everybody wants to eliminate poverty, he says. What is good about poverty? we tend to ask. Is there any reason to voluntarily live the life of poverty? Living with the poor and seeing how they live, he says, has affected how he sees his own life.

Many who work with the poor remember the words from the Puebla documents of 1979 that there should be a preferential option for the poor. For what reason can the poor be considered happy? the priest asks. Why did Jesus use these words? Why is this an important part of our social Gospel? We talk about Gospel poverty, the spirituality of poverty, voluntary poverty and the like. Why did Jesus say the poor were blessed?

The priest lets his thoughts go back to his childhood, during which time the family moved many times and ended up in a house that seemed like a palace to him. It was the home of his maternal aunt and he doesn't  remember why they lived there, but it was a five room two-story house, with a room for each member of his family of five. It had a big yard where he could play soccer and baseball, and even a small pond. However, in time, it felt strange to him, as the family began to scatter. While in the house, you would often feel alone for the whole day, he said. Going and coming,  there would be the usual greetings, and after that he would go to his room. It was not like living in a family, he said. Would it have been better to have lived in a larger house?

His second recollection from the past was when he became an army chaplain. He had decided, when he became a priest, not to have a car, but when he learned he was to be a chaplain he quickly got his driving license. As a matter of course, there was a vehicle at his disposal. It took him over twenty minutes to drive to the chapel for Mass, and when the vehicle broke down and was being repaired, he walked or took the bus to get around.  The experience turned out to be very positive: he met many different people and had experiences that he would not have had with a car.

Citing the words of Jesus once again: "He made himself poor, though he was rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). Why did Jesus live poorly, with no place to lay his head? Was it not that money and material things do not help one find happiness and are in the long run obstacles? the priest asks.

When we talk about poverty, the first thing that comes to mind is the pain or discomfort of not getting what one wants. However, when most of us go on vacation or travel, we are leaving the comfort of home and generally undergo some discomfort in the process. Isn't this an effort to be close to nature and to experience inner peace? the priest asks. Are we not at that time, he says, going in search of poverty?

The countries with the highest index of happiness, as is generally known, are the poorest.  It is not that the world lacks material abundance, he says, but rather that we are not sharing it with those in need. Is this not a sign, he says, that we should all be living a poorer and simpler lifestyle? Would it not, he concludes, tend to bring us closer to living a happier life?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Catholic Priests' Manifesto

A manifesto by the Catholic Priests of Korea have charged the National Intelligence Service for illegal involvement in  the elections for president last year, as reported by the Catholic Times. And for releasing the transcript of the 2007 inter-Korean summit even though it was classified in order to promote their candidate for the presidency.

There has been a great deal of dissatisfaction in the way much of the media distorts the issues in their coverage of the news . Although the Catholic Press is also biased, this is understood by the public, but this should not be the case with secular media, which should report the events as objectively as possible and not distort the facts for partisan purposes. Biased and deceitful reporting does not help to form a mature democracy by educating the citizens to correctly assess the current state of the country.

The article mentions that one diocese, which has never publicly disapproved of the government, has joined the other dioceses with  its statement.  In this case, the association of priests has gone on record with a statement that criticizes the government agency for their involvement in the presidential election, which shows unanimity in understanding the Church's teaching on social issues and that this understanding should be expressed whenever there is a flagrant violation of justice. 

The Catholic response covers several positions; the editorial examines two. One position believes the Church should not be involved in politics. Priests and religious should not speak out against or for government policy. The other position believes the Church, as a member of society, and according to the social teaching of the Church, should speak out against injustices and work to make a just society. Consequently, criticism of the unjust acts of the government and expressing this publicly is the only proper position, according to the Times' editorial.

The editorial sympathizes with the intention of those who hold the first position, acknowledging a danger exists of an unwanted side effect leading to discord and division within the Church. Those holding to the second position feel that when we see injustice and  immorality, it is the duty of citizens to work to change the situation. The Church, it is understood, has to stay clear of partisan issues. However, that politics and the Church exist in two separate worlds, with two different premises and thus should be completely separated is  a distorted idea of what the separation of Church and State means, says the editorial. This kind of thinking has no validity in the thinking of a Catholic.

There is the hope that the what was done illegally and immorally in the past will be acknowledged by the government agencies, and public apologies issued, but this may be wistful thinking--transparency is not one of the values that society considers important.There have been sporadic candlelight processions to express the public's outrage, but they have been infrequent, with few participants. Moreover, with the media showing little interest, the chances are that the public's indignation will disappear with time, unless something extraordinary happens.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"The Theresa Effect"

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times refers to a recent discussion on the Internet on what being a member of the middle class means for the French and for Koreans. For a Korean, a middle class life means having no debt, living in an apartment with more than 1000 square feet, a monthly salary of over $4,466, a car with an engine of over 2000 cc, money in the bank, and the leisure to go overseas once a year. For the French, it means having the ability to speak one foreign language, to participate in at least one sport, play a musical  instrument, be able to prepare a special dish for guests, respond with righteous indignation at seeing evil in society and work to change it, and to offer freely your services to others.

The columnist points out that for a Korean what is important is financial success, while for the French, it is quality of life, the writer being especially attracted to their desire to be of  service to  others.

Some years ago, on a visit to Lourdes, she remembers meeting a doctor who was staying with his wife and child at the same hotel where she was staying. They had come from Paris to the pilgrimage shrine for two weeks on vacation, and were there to volunteer their services to the hospital.

Recently we have seen, she says, an increase of individuals and of industry taking an interest in volunteer service.  The office of statistics has published the results from their survey, which sees an increase from 14.3 percent in 2006 to19.8 percent in 2012. The columnist, however, doesn't see this all positively; she feels that some of the increase comes from those who are trying to improve their marketability in the work force and to get points for college.

There may be a lack of the proper attitude on the part of  some who are looking only for the  quantity of hours of service. The formation of a consensus of what volunteering should mean is still a work in process, she says.

In 1998, a professor at Harvard University talked about the "Theresa Effect." A  group was shown a movie about the life of Mother Theresa and, after the viewing, were checked to  determine the change in their immunity antibody count.

Usually when a person is under stress or has worries, the antibody count goes down, but for those that saw the film, the index increased. This was not because of any work of service that was actually done, as you would expect, but only because they watched a film of one whose life was dedicated to service. After this study, changes in the mental, bodily and societal effects resulting from service to others has been called the "Theresa Effect."

For a Christian, service to others comes from our Lord's saying (Matt 22:39): " You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The columnist hopes this desire to help will increase and that the "Theresa Effect" will become second nature in our society.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Are You Happy Now?

An essay on happiness by a Catholic priest appeared a few days ago in the Chosun Ilbo, with the provocative headline "Are you Happy Now?" It tells the story of a woman born with cerebral palsy. He got to know her while he was a parish priest many years ago. She was not able to move on her own and had difficulty speaking clearly. Unfortunately, her parents tried to keep her condition hidden, so she spent most of her time in a room behind the house. The only association she had with others was the monthly visit by the priest and parishioners, who would make the rounds visiting the sick of the parish. On one of these visits, the woman managed to express the following:

"Father I see my life as insignificant and of little worth. I am a burden on all and am full of resentment. I have thought of suicide often but because of my condition this is not something I can do. I have always felt bitterness against God and my parents. In this world, everything has a meaning  and in my prayer all I do is ask God what is my reason for existence? However, this morning on the occasion of your visit my thoughts changed and were replaced by a new understanding of my pain. I understood that because of my pain, I am better able to respond sympathetically to the pain of others. I feel that I am able to serve those who are having pain in life. That is the reason for my life and the way I will find happiness in life."

The priest on hearing these words from the woman was greatly moved. Most people try to get rid of their pain but here was a woman who came to the realization that she could  serve others because of her experience with pain. The woman came to accept her situation and see it as a means to help others. She could see the positive side to the pain she was experiencing, which the priest considered very much like those who have dedicated their lives to a religious vocation. She no longer wanted to be hidden but wanted to face the world, and she did so with confidence; you could see in her demeanor and the way she moved her troublesome body.  She soon began to work among young women who were released from prison.  Although many years have passed, he believes she is still working to help others and a happy person.

The priest refers to a survey that was made among teenagers who were asked what they thought was the most important thing in life. Over half considered money the most important. There is no reason to find fault with this response, he said, for there are many who feel that with money all problems can be solved. Even happiness, many believe, can be bought. Money, which is no more than a piece of paper, is worshiped as if it were God-like.

We are all in search of happiness. Can we say that life is a journey to find happiness? the priest asks. What we know for sure, he goes on to say, is that we can't say what will bring us happiness or unhappiness. We have seen happiness and unhappiness change very quickly. Happy people can quickly forget their unhappiness of the past, and when unhappy they can quickly forget their past happiness.

We have often seen persons that have all the so-called conditions to be happy, but they are not happy.  Happiness is not something objective but is a subjective state.  Conditions for happiness are not necessary. We are happy, he says, when we think we are happy. In a word happiness depends on our wills  and attitude towards life.
No matter how insignificant something seems there is nothing in life that is insignificant; it is only we who see it as worthless and insignificant. If we open our eyes  and our hearts a little more, we will see this, the priest says. Everything has a purpose. We should be able to find joy in small things. Even if our lives seem miserable to others, if we acknowledge the worth of our lives and importance, we will choose happiness and be victorious in life.

We can see many people who give of themselves to bring light to the world. We should reflect on that. Are you, he concludes, really happy now?  Let us ask ourselves: "I am breathing, for that I can give thanks, and enjoy it to the full, this happiness...."

Monday, August 19, 2013

At Age Sixty I Began to Know Myself

"At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firmly on what I had learned. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired without transgressing what was right." These thoughts taken from the Analects of Confucius by a priest writing for priests served to prompt him to reflect on his own "reception of truth" on reaching his 60th year.

In one of his parishes, he recalls a time when he criticized the members of a parish group--and they all quit, and even their family members were adversely affected by his actions, with one parent forbidding their child to continue being an altar boy. Soon after, the child, though usually very sociable, would avoid the priest, who wondered what could the parent have said to bring about this kind of behavior on the part of the child. What  kind of pastor had he become to deserve this kind of response?

He realized that as a pastor he should be like a father, and at his age he felt it was time to act like a father, with this desire manifesting in more caring thoughts, words and actions. but he soon realized that it was easier said than done. Recently, he used words with the parish president that hurt him deeply. The priest tried to apologize a number of times without success.

He says he doesn't want to make any apologies for his actions. And though he has been praised for his pastoral work, now looking back on his life, he sees how he has become selfish and egotistical. It was never about the rightness of a particular situation, he says, but the way he handled the situation, which was usually in a dictatorial manner, that was the problem. When he was young, this behavior was accepted by the family, but at his age and position, he knew his behavior needed to change. If he didn't change, he knew matters would not return to normal as they did years ago.

When he recalls the words of St. Paul (Cor.13) about love being patient, they hurt to the core of his being. He knows he has a quick temper that often causes a great deal of trouble. He knows that more important than achieving results are the people in his life. But what he now has come to understand more deeply, he says, is that these were only words, having no real impact on how he behaved. The difficult situations he often found himself in were not, he now saw clearly, the result of another person's fault but the result of his own lack of love.

Though it was an embarrassing revelation to have to admit this to himself, he has learned, he says, a great deal by what has happened. He will ask for forgiveness again from those he has hurt, and hopes his resolve to put into practice what he now knows will be equivalent to the hurt he feels.

Confucius said that at the age of sixty one can begin to hear the truth clearly, The priest hopes that he will also, having arrived at the age of sixty himself, hear the truth of any situation, no matter how difficult it may seem, and accept it lovingly. And begin, hopefully, the next phase of Confucius' journey: being able to follow what the heart desires--without transgressing but always doing what is right.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Happy Indeed is the Man...

A priest who writes a bulletin for priests notes the answers  received from  the question: What does religion mean to you?

Religion, said one respondent, means sharing what you have and following our Lord like the saints of old: emptying ourselves. But, the priest opines, is this all there is to our religious life?

Others said it means a life of sacrifice; asking for blessings, money and the like,is a worldly thing, not a holy thing. And when they do ask for these things, they feel uncomfortable, they said, as if doing something they should not be doing.  

Then there are those who feel their religion should help them to live a fuller life, and there should be no embarrassment in asking for whatever help they need to achieve this. When we think that asking is not the right thing to do we will have psychological problems, because we were created to satisfy our desires, they said.

When we are not able to satisfy our desires, the mental pain can be great. When children do not  receive what they want they are distressed and can leave home and can become defiant. Adults can try to alleviate their anger by liquor. When we don't receive what we want we fall into despondency, which becomes a way of life. This can also be applied to our religious life.

Devotion  in our religious life  can be seen as the result of the many graces we have received. When we have received much we can hope for more and give thanks for what we have received. Others who did not receive what they want often see religion as meaningless and easily discard it.  Both those that receive and those that do not are looking  at the balance sheet, which then determines their state of mind.

We are self-centered creatures, and when we receive what we want we become more devoted and pray more zealously. All the  examples he has given above involve desires that stem from our perceived needs, and not from a desire to serve God. He gives the example of a person who comes to us with a gift, hoping for something in return, and contrasts that with a person who gives because he likes us and gives unconditionally. We prefer, of course, the one who gives unconditionally. And our relationship with that person changes, knowingly and unknowingly.

The priest finishes his article with a quote from the first psalm, verses 2-3: Happy indeed is the man...whose delight is the law of the Lord and who ponders his law day and night. He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves shall never fade." To ask for blessings is a good thing, but according to the psalm, we receive more by our efforts to live a God-like existence. Doing what God wants us to do in our daily life will open ourselves up to receive everything we need and more. Doing so will yield fruit in abundance.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Life Can be a Maze

A pheasant hen came out of her dark abode and went over to  the edge of a lake. She looked into the water and saw her image, which surprised her: eyes sunken, body thin, feathers dull--she looked ugly. She had been hurt by the abusive behavior of the male pheasant, who left her. She couldn't eat or sleep, and began reflecting on her sorry condition and realized that it was not the male who had brought about her condition. She alone was responsible by the way she had responded to his abusive behavior. Putting her thinking in order and seeing clearly the foolishness of her ways, she aimed for the blue heavens, flying up into the sky, a new being. This story by a Korean fairytale writer, whose stories often serve as a source for reflection by a priest who writes in a bulletin for priests, was used to illustrate what can happen when we don't take responsibility for our emotional responses to difficult situations.  

Fr. K, in his late 30s, severely reprimanded by his bishop, was assigned to a small parish in the outskirts of the diocese, quite a distance from the bishop and the activities of the diocese. He was not very zealous in his work and did not relate well with his fellow priests.

He nurtured his disappointments and failures, which was making the last part of his life bitter and and lonely. His feelings of inferiority and the disappointments made his life with others difficult. That the words of a superior, said in a brief moment, could make life lose its meaning for him, said the priest-writer, is heartbreaking. To ask for forgiveness with an act of great love, or like the hen to fly high into the heavens is extremely difficult.

The bishop was the occasion for this situation but Fr. K  himself, says the priest, is more responsible for the outcome and allowing what occurred in the past to destroy his life is a great fault. Moreover, though the bishop had ostracized him, there was no reason for him to ostracize himself. There never is a good reason, the priest says, when others have put us down to put ourselves down. Though admitting we have many faults, he says there is plenty we can do to correct our defects, which are not part of who we truly are. We are precious beings, unique with great value, who have much to give to others.

It is necessary for us to see ourselves positively, and to love ourselves, he says. When we see ourselves negatively we lose our will, fail to love ourselves, and live without goals. This tends to breed a feeling of inferiority, as we lose hope and fall into despair.

Jesus made it a habit to be with despairing people and gave them hope, which led to the realization that they were loveable, which led to their living in a loving way. We are told that in the middle ages, and even before, a maze was marked out in some manner on many of the church floors. Christians would kneel  at the entrance to the maze and begin crawling along the maze seeking to find the exit. When they came to a dead end, they would retrace their steps and look for another way that would allow them to continue their journey. It was a good lesson in patience and motivation.  Life, at times, can be maze-like, but once we face the difficulties of life and keep in mind that there is a way out of any difficulty, we can, like the pheasant hen, soar toward the heavens and become the being we were meant to be.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Facts Should Speak for Themselves

Determining what is a fact is difficult. The truth, some say, is made up of facts,  but, as we know so well, what is considered a fact by some is not necessarily seen as such by others. Those who affirm or deny something being a fact usually want their understanding to be seen as the truth. The very different positions of the pro-life and pro-choice people is a good example of what is meant.

For a Christian, the number of those affirming or denying any fact means very little, and even knowing the facts does not necessarily mean we will be led to the truth. This has been abundantly illustrated by the issue of abortion which, after being largely ignored in the past, is now becoming a heated issue in Korea. The low birth rate makes the issue a vital one for the nation.

Both Catholic papers had articles on the recent international meeting of women doctors in Korea, and how these doctors brought their agenda to the whole world because of their refusal to let a pro-life group speak to them. The Medical Women's International Association (MWIA)  invited a group of experts to speak to the women doctors. Three women doctors who belong to the American Pro-life  Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists were to give a lecture on pregnancy and abortion, which touched on death, premature babies, disabilities and the mental health of the mother. The invitation was made by the Korean hosts, members of the MWIA, who had no difficulty with hearing the medical facts associated with abortion on the health of mothers. The pro-choice faction arbitrarily canceled the lecture. The president of the MWIA “regrets that the MWIA invited presenters would deny women their basic right to choice.” These were the words that led to the cancellation of the talks that had been planned months in advance.
Even though they were denied the chance to talk to the group of women doctors, the head of the pro-life group in Korea  arranged for them to give a panel talk on television during the time they would have given their presentation before the women doctors. The secretary-general of the women doctors, hearing about the TV interview, entered the room where the panel was speaking and broke up the meeting, putting her hand over the video camera recording the presentation. This embarrassing incident made the international news.

The health effects of abortion on the health of the mother, for a pro-life person, has nothing to do with the morality of abortion. However, in the present debate between the two contending parties, the issue of health to the mother is often used by pro-life advocates to persuade those who need help in taking a position. However, the scheduled lecture, which had been canceled, seemed to ignore the fact that the pro-life doctors were specialists in their field and that their intention was solely to present an academic and scientific assessment of the possible health risks of abortions. Another expert attending the doctors' meeting, a professor at the Catholic Sacred Heart Medical School in Rome, said that it was a case where the pro-choice doctors feared meeting the pro-life doctors. Soon after this incident, the Korean doctor who was the chair person for the public relations committee resigned, saying she could no longer work with them.

The truth that many hold dearly is one thing, but when we are dealing with scientific, empirical and sociological facts, it would be refreshing to rid ourselves of the baggage that prevents us from acknowledging what is plainly before us. Instead of allowing the facts to speak for themselves we, unfortunately, often fear to face the facts.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

A distinguished family from England went to Scotland for a vacation, so the story goes. While in Scotland, the child in the family went swimming and would have drowned if another young person didn't go into the water to save him. Alexander Fleming was the young person who saved the other young person from drowning; that young person was Winston Churchill. In gratitude, Churchill's family helped Fleming go on to college, and later became the noted scientist who discovered penicillin. As the story goes, on a trip to Africa, Churchill came down with pneumonia, and was saved again by Fleming--this time by being treated by his remarkable antibiotic drug.  Churchill, as we all know, became  the Prime Minister of war-torn England.

It's a beautiful story of friendship and gratitude, but it never happened, according to those who know the lives of these two historical figures. What is  sadder, says the columnist writing for the Peace Weekly, because of the society we live in today the chances of it happening, really happening, would be extremely rare.  

He recounts a story of five young persons attending a camp, who died recently in a water accident. One of the boys did manage to save himself, but when he saw his friends struggling, he attempted to rescue them and lost his own life. Are we being taught in our family's, the columnist asks, not to be afraid to risk our life for others? Or are we being taught, consciously or unconsciously to take care of ourselves at all costs?

According to the German philosopher Kant, a person should unconditionally follow what he called the categorical imperative. "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." He did not want us to be subjected to external controls and impositions, but by the law that God has put into our intellects, which we are able to discover and act on freely. He reminded us that we are beings of noble character.

The columnist says there has been much controversy about what Kant meant, what he said and didn't say, but the professor unconditionally and universally sees the preciousness of life in Kant's idealistic moral stand, and reads into it the love of Jesus. When we consider persons not as means to an end but as ends themselves, and the life of another as a part of our own life, we become human beings and Christians.
He refers to a poem by John Donne, a 17th century English poet and Anglican priest, titled "No Man Is An Island."
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls," the title of a book by Hemingway and a movie, tells the story of a wounded soldier who did not want to hold back his friends so he sent them on their way to life, and he, to face certain death. He was himself willing to give his life for what he believed. This is not suicide, the columnist says, but shows our belief in the immortality of life. Yet today, there is the meaningless killing of ones self and the justified murder of others in a culture of death scenario. He would like to ask those who have lost their children: For whom does the bell toll?  The bell tolls, he says, not only for them--though they are always with us--but also for us.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Happened to Common Sense?

When it began, the columnist in the Peace Weekly doesn't know, but we seem to be witnessing, he says, an upsurge of activities in society that fly in the face of ordinary common sense. All of society is becoming increasingly upset by the prevalence of sexual abuse, family immorality, and violence of all kinds. And people in positions of authority, who should know better, are involved.

With the apparent unconcern of our society on matters of morality and the dignity of the human person, the responsibility of people of faith to respond to this growing scourge is all the greater. Jesus did say (Matt 7:18): "A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit." And as Catholics we have the mission, he reminds us, to be the "salt of the earth." People of faith living their faith, the columnist asserts, would make a big difference in how the world functions.

He refers to the Korean proverb: "The lower stream is clean only when the upper stream is clean." This proverb is generally used to stress the importance of family formation of the children. Parents must provide, he says, an example for the children if they are to grow with the necessary virtues and character of a healthy citizen. It all starts in the family with the education of the children, he maintains.

Confucius said the same thing: a person has to first work on his own character before he goes out to teach others. Similar to this maxim is the idea often expressed: To have peace in the world one should first govern one's family and to do this, one must first learn to govern oneself--a maxim the columnist believes all leaders should make their own.

Those who work for the country and for its citizens should be following this advice, but the columnist does not find this true in most cases. When those in leadership begin working on governing themselves, they will set a good example to future generations.  

The columnist confesses that he is doing his best to be an example to his family and acquaintances, even though there is a lot still to be done. Instead of words, we need the example of deeds, he says.  Seeing this in the lives of people of faith would go a long way in making our world  a better place for all.
All this seems obvious. What's the point of stating the obvious? From experience we learn that what is supposed to be common  is not so common and what is considered obvious is really not that obvious. And since repetition is the mother of all learning it does no harm repeating the obvious.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Speaking with Symbols

A Catholic Times journalist responsible for reporting news from abroad recalls the media coverage of the three most recent popes, especially coverage of their trips outside of Rome. They are treated like entertainers who, when they first alight in a foreign land, are making fashion statements, he says, with their clothes and accessories.

Pope John, after leaving the airplane, would  bend over to kiss the ground. Twice in his trips to Korea this was his first greeting to Koreans, followed by saying "This is a land of the martyrs." With Pope Benedict, the Prada red shoes were the big interest. What seemed to be of interest when Francis went to Brazil was his carrying his little black bag onto the plane. Even when he was talking unreservedly to the Italian Premier Enrico Letta, he had this same bag with him.

Shouldn't there have been someone to carry it for him, the journalist asks, to quiet those who might think it rude that the pope has to carry his own bag? But the same thing occurred on his return to Rome. As we all know, this behavior is nothing new. He paid his own bill at the place where he stayed during the conclave and carried his own bags. He refused a private car and traveled by bus with the other Cardinals. The informality shown by the pope is very attractive to the ordinary Catholic, some of whom have said they now find going to church a joyful experience.

The Journalist recalls a recent trip to the United States, where he visited a Korean parish in Virginia. The occasion was the blessing  of the Church after remodeling was finished, and the bishop was there for the blessing. The Korean parishioners were outside waiting for the bishop to arrive in a small faded silver-colored car. His massive frame appeared, with some difficulty, from behind the drivers seat, and proceeded to the trunk of the car, taking out a big bag on wheels, which he dragged to the place of greeting. The Sunday school students greeted him with bouquets of flowers. He greeted them with a hearty laugh. He dragged the bag up the steps and disappeared inside the church. There was nobody, the journalist said, who drove the car for him nor anybody who carried his bags. Can this, by any stretch of the imagination, the journalist asks, be called rude behavior?

The journalist wonders what would it be like if the pope's personal manner of behaving, which is very attractive to many, became the normal way of doing things by the bishops of the Church--riding in buses and carrying their own bags, for example.

Symbols, especially in Catholicism, are very important. The whole sacramental system is built on symbols, which can speak loudly to Catholics. Pope Francis is using the language of symbols, whenever he chooses to respond non-verbally to the duties of his pontificate--taking buses and carrying his own bag, for instance--and whenever he chooses to relate non-verbally to the Catholic faithful, but nonetheless with a clear message, as he did by taking the name 'Francis.' Few observers will miss the shock value of such unexpected behavior. How much of these symbols will be understood to be the message of Jesus, may be another matter.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Living Each Moment Completely

What do we gain from our efforts to reach the heavens? Is there a  limit to our desire to be satisfied? asks a religious sister with a back ground in media studies and spirituality. She ponders these questions and others, as she reflects, in a recent issue of the Kyeongyang magazine, on the tower-of-Babel-world of digital science.

In scripture (Genesis 11:3) we are told about the tower's construction: "Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire. They used bricks for stone and bitumen for mortar." She compare our use of the computer and smart phones to the centuries-old use of bricks, and our mobile data communications to the use of mortar, while the SNS networks are busy spreading the word to the rest of the world. Results are not always positive, she points out; they may aggravate some of the more prevalent maladies of our times, such as depression, attention deficit disorders, overwork and burn out.

A sign of the times may be our lack of patience, as we attempt to accomplish more than we comfortably can. She mentioned going on a ride with an acquaintance who had two navigation systems working in the car. Not only was he following both systems but was talking to the sister at the same time. She tells us of those who find the speed of the movies, dramas and programs that some watch on TV too slow, so they download from the TV, edit them to taste, and then watch the movie or drama or whatever at their own speed, cutting out the parts they find boring.

And children appear to be no different; they have no difficulty speaking while doing their homework, to cite just one example. And there are people who see nothing wrong or unusual about using the smart phone while they continue conversing with the person beside them. We have become, she says, multitasking people. However, she tells us this may be an addiction disorder. It may not be simply an unwillingness or inability to do one task at a time, but may result from the release of adrenaline-like hormones damaging our thinking  processes. Which makes it imperative, she says, to give ourselves entirely to what we are doing.

Digital technology can often make our lives easier, more pleasurable, more satisfying than our present reality, as we get into the habit of looking for the "more" in life, for the satisfaction of the moment.  And so the smartphone tends to be with us nearly all the time. It may in fact be the first thing one looks for in the morning, she says, and the last thing one sees before going to bed.

Let us not, she concludes, seek only to make our name known (Gen. 11-4), as we try to navigate prudently this newest digital tower of Babel. She asks us to be free of this ambition and to spend more time relating with those we come in contact with every day and with our natural environment.  Even though the present reality is not perfect, we can find the key to happiness, she says, by taking leave of the digital world occasionally and living in the present moment completely.