Monday, September 30, 2013

One World Language

October 9th of this year was proclaimed a national holiday, commemorating the invention, in 1443, of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great.  

A professor of foreign languages, writing in the  Catholic Times, discusses some interesting facts about languages. Going back to the story of Babel in Genesis, where God punished humankind for their pride and freed
the world from one language. The professor shivers at the thought of a world with one language. We would tend to forget others, he believes, and sow the seeds of a world mired in fundamentalism.
In one way, the lack of a world language makes communicating on an external level more difficult, he believes, but liberates us from arrogance and actually enables us to speak to others at a deeper level. 

A Spanish grammarian, Antonio de Nabrija, in 1492, when presenting his new grammar to Queen Isabella, said, "Your highness, language is the companion to internationalization." A few years later the Italian explorer Columbus, sponsored by the queen, landed in a new and distant land with a new weapon, language. Spanish would, it was thought, replace  all the native languages in this new world, which would have created another Tower of Babel, according to the professor.

A few years before Isabella was born, in 1446, a wise king of Korea, who loved his people and wanted to help the less educated to read easily, put together the new language, Hangul. Those who work with languages appreciate the merits of what King Sejong had done.  However, with globalization, and the need to learn English as the common language of commerce, the influx of other languages, the cultist  language of the Internet, the vulgarity that supports much of popular culture, and the self-serving, partisan language of politicians, the Korean language, the professor says, is being destroyed.

We often can't distinguish between globalization and the spread of the  English language, he says. The learning of different languages helps us to extend our knowledge, but if this doesn't help us to sympathize and meet the other heart-to-heart, we are building up walls that will militate against communication and lead us again, he insists, to the arrogance of the Tower of Babel.

Does that mean learning our own language and a foreign language can't co-exist? he asks. He assures us they both can thrive together. He mentions that at an international meeting of scholars, he met with a linguist who spoke 10 languages fluently. When he asked him for the secret to learning so many languages, the linguist said,"Knowing your own." An answer the professor wholeheartedly agrees with, having devoted his own life to the study of languages. Being able to speak and write your own language well is the seedbed, the professor says, to learning any new language.

He concludes the column by asking readers to take time out to read something in Korean slowly, savoring the beauty and simplicity of the language created by King Sejong out of love for his people, and to thank God for the fortuitousness of the destruction of the Tower of Babel.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Abortion in Korea

What is the position of religious believers and non-believers on the issue of abortion in Korea? it's the question being asked this month by the Catholic Times, together with a Korean polling organization. Members of three religions--Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists--and those who have no religious belief were polled. Over all, Catholics did a little bit better in opposing abortion than the other three groups. Against abortion: 14.7 percent were Catholics, 6.9 percent were Protestants, 2.4 percent Buddhist, and 1.5 percent non-believers. When it came to mitigating circumstances that might be present, complicating the decision to abort, Catholics did not do as well in mirroring the Catholic position as did the other three groups. The majority of Catholics, 82.9 percent, had no difficulty with abortion in any circumstance. 

The polling was conducted scientifically, with 1000 respondents divided up as they are in the population: Buddhist 210, Protestants 202, Catholics 98 and non-believers 490. To the question: Should abortion be allowed to unmarried mothers and to those who have an unintended pregnancy, the survey found that Catholics, more than those in the other three groups, answered yes.

A person's religion, the editorial laments, seems to have little significant relevance in determining how a person will act. This fact not only has been seen in recent times but has been the reality for decades. The Church has been speaking out forcefully, the editorial points out, from the time of the Mother-Child Health Act, and continues to do so by promoting a culture of life, hoping in this way to change the thinking about  abortion. However, as Catholics have clearly shown, in this recent survey, they have not been moved much by the teaching of the Church in how they conduct their lives.

All surveys show the same results. The Church, undaunted by these results, believes the first step in changing the current "culture of death" continues to be programs that urge Christians to follow a lifestyle that promotes a culture of life.

Korea is beginning to see the same results that other countries have noticed in the past about many troubling issues faced by our modern societies. The culture of many societies today is much more determinative of what many of our Christians will be doing than the teaching and precepts of the Church. In this particular survey, what is surprising is that some of the  unbelievers have a better understanding of what abortion should mean than Catholics do, which forces one to think of possible solutions. If there is something in our cultures that has a more powerful influence on a number of people than the teachings of any one group or religion, it might be a wake-up call to all religions that more effort is needed in reaching the minds and hearts of their members, if the current situation is to change.  In Korea, complicating the issue, it is important to remember,  the majority of Catholics are not cradle Catholics but converts to the faith at a mature age, having been influenced for many years by a culture quite different from that which nurtured the Catholic faith. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In Essentials Unity, in Non-essentials Liberty in All Things Charity

"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity." A familiar expression especially relevant today, when differences of opinion, both within society and the Church, seem to be the rule rather than the exception. The Korean Church is also well aware, and has been for some time, of the divisions within the Church, and has sought to overcome them by stressing the importance of working for unity at all times. The problem is that what some think essential is considered non-essential by others. And what some think non-essential, others consider essential.  The editorial in the Catholic Times addresses this issue for the readers.

Benedict in his last sermon as Pope said, “Show the face of the Church and how that face is sometimes disfigured. I am thinking particularly about sins against the unity of the Church, about divisions in the body of the Church. Overcoming individualism and rivalry is a humbling sign.”

The editorial also mentions the breakdown of negotiations in the parliamentary probe of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that were investigating allegations that the NIS interfered in last December’s presidential elections. Many in society see the interference as an illegal maneuver by the government agency, and want this acknowledged, while the government wants to ignore the issue. 

Recently, the NIS has uncovered a plot by members of Congress who have purportedly aligned themselves with the North against the South. The news media in the South does not make it easy to learn the facts of issues facing the country, but in this instance it diverted attention away from the issue of interference with the elections last year and the reasons for the public's opposition to the NIS.

The editorial attempts to show that in times such as ours, when government cannot be trusted to always act for the benefit of its people, the Church has good reasons to become involved in society, and not silently and uncritically repeat the mantra of Church and State separation. It does require prudence, but when we see amorality within government, there is a need to expose it. Popes have given us examples in recent history, and now Pope Francis is showing us the present need of helping the poor by getting more involved in society. 

The editorial ends with a plea for better and more frequent dialogue between the contenting factions within the Church. The unity of the Church and Christian fellowship demands that we work toward more fruitful debate, it emphasized, for continuing health of the Church, and added that this can be best achieved if more Christians were to take a more active role in learning what issues are currently being debated.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Counseling in all Catholic Parishes

There is a need, says an article in the Catholic Times, to set up permanent places in parishes for counseling. Many of our Catholics are seeking psychological and spiritual help but not only are there few counseling centers but the number of those who have the training to help are few. It becomes a problem of supply and demand.

In our complicated society  our problems are not limited to the psychological realm, but include the spiritual as well, perhaps both being best addressed together. The solution suggested would designate certain parishes in a deanery, or some other area, where qualified persons, on a voluntary basis, will be available for those  seeking help. At  present, such places that offer qualified volunteers the opportunity to serve this much needed function is missing.

Where this function is available as part of parish life, not only Catholics are served, but everyone in the nearby vicinity looking for healing is also served. As of now it depends on the disposition of the parish leaders whether to allow this or not, with many believing it should be universally systematized within the Korean Church.

A priest of the  Korean Catholic Counseling Psychological Association is quoted as saying: "At present, within and outside the Church, the precise nature of the qualifications of the volunteers has to be solved to the satisfaction of the public. The continuing  education of the members and support for their activities will  not only be helpful to the individual but to parish life as a whole." Less than ten percent of those who are qualified, he said, are now working in the diocese, in parishes, and in the institutions of the Church.

Many of the dioceses have successfully incorporated these programs into the infrastructure of the diocese. One of the leaders in the Seoul diocese hopes that in each of the parishes there will be a permanent place for qualified counselors to spend some time during the week to help those that want it.  There will continue to be a need, the priest says, to gain the public's confidence and support that psychological and spiritual counseling is more necessary than ever before, as living in the modern world becomes more challenging and stressful for all of us.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

External Beauty and Society

Korea leads the world in the percentage of the population who have had cosmetic surgery. In Seoul, it is estimated that 20 percent of the women have undergone some type of cosmetic surgery. The possible changes are many, with doctors able to do pretty much what the patients want. Helping to enhance the emotional life of someone who is troubled by their appearance by providing a more attractive appearance is a modern phenomenon. And the public's acceptance of the procedure is growing: who would not want a more attractive appearance? 

The stigma once associated with the procedure seems to have disappeared, and those who have had the procedure openly discuss what they have done. One beauty queen, after receiving some  criticism on taking unfair advantage of her competitors with her surgery, freely admitted she never said she was born beautiful.

The women of Korea are, by most standards, considered beautiful, and when a woman feels less than beautiful the prospects of feeling comfortable living in Korea may not be easy. "La bella figura" (a fine appearance) is obviously not  only an Italian trait; Koreans are also no slouches in their desire to put forward the best they can be. In fairness to the Italians, the expression also means presenting a good image and proper behavior, but it's understood that physical appearance is what comes first to the eyes of the beholder, and perhaps is the most important trait to have.

In the "Seoul Catholic Bulletin," a short article describes how women have no difficulty in competing with the men when it comes to higher civil-service  examinations. However, the writer mentions an article he recently read that left him bewildered. Many women who have been among the elite in their field, passing the government higher examinations and entering the Judicial Research and Training Institute, have opted for cosmetic surgery. To find a job, even in fields requiring a high degree of competence, where appearance would seem not to matter, ability is not the only asset, he was surprised to learn, that is desired by the employers. The competition is stiff and to lure clients the appearance of the lawyer is of no small value.
As Catholics it is not easy to talk about the subject of cosmetic surgery. It is often a very subjective area of a person's life, which can make a big difference in the quality of life that develops after the surgery. What can be said is that vanity, a lack of personal self-worth, wanting to impress, and a desire to heal psychic wounds may not be the best of reasons for surgery. They may be very good reasons to work with less invasive and more rewarding internal procedures for the desired changes we would like to see in our lives.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Korean Catholic Missioners

Korea is among the leaders in sending Christian missioners overseas, and many say they will be number one in a short time. The missioners they have in mind are the Protestant missioners.  Catholics have begun to make inroads but at present there are only about 700 priests, religious and lay people working in various countries of the world. A Korean bishop has stressed the importance of  missionary work and has asked Catholics to support their work. 

One of the lay missioners in Chile writes in Bible and Life  about some of the difficulties of the life. He returned recently from a meeting, and  as soon as he arrived home, he lit the stove; his hands and feet were so cold it was more than he could bear, he writes. His wife gave him a massage but with  no improvement. He looked for a needle to prick his finger, and not finding one only made matters worse.

He was preparing for a retreat with his fellow missioners and was to pick them up the next morning.  Would he be able to go? he wondered. The  thought  bothered him, as he sat on the sofa and pondered the options. 

He was a member of the navy before he became a missioner and knows what it means to be busy.  Whatever he was given to do he would do it to the best of his ability. But suddenly the thought came to him: Was he living the way he was thinking, or thinking in the way he  was living? He was, he admitted, unskilled in knowing how to rest, and his personality didn't help. He often sought the leisure to rest but when it came he didn't know what to do, and then felt guilty for wasting time. He knew this was his psychological problem.

He had often heard that a healthy missioner's life was composed of four elements: prayer, study, action and leisure. All four, he knew, were equally important, but for him he realized that taking advantage of leisure time required some training. He wasn't adept with small talk; games and play were not enjoyable; reading was enjoyable but after reading his mind couldn't rest, and travel required money. What could he do that would rest the head, heart and body? He sat on the sofa trying to rid himself of all thoughts--it was difficult. He recalled that this was the first time in his life that he ever attempted an hour of doing absolutely nothing.

That night he tried to sleep on the sofa but succeeded in turning and tossing on the sofa all night. Though in the morning, he felt that he would be able to go to the retreat. He realized that to take advantage of leisure required an act of the will. He wondered whether he would continue as a missioner in the future or return to a life back in Korea for a  short period of honey-like leisure. It was a matter he decided to discuss with the Lord during the retreat.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seeing the Korean Church through the Eyes of the Martyrs

A Korean novelist, Han Su-san, who recently retired from teaching Korean literature, has published an historical novel on the lives of Korean martyrs: Their Name--More Beautiful than a Flower. Installments from the book were serialized in the "Bible and Life" magazine.

The novel, reviewed by both Catholic papers and one secular paper, begins with the history of the Church in Korea and traces the lives of individual martyrs for over one hundred years to the time of the agreement with France that put a stop to the  persecution and allowed religious freedom. During  that time there were four long periods of  persecution and the death of from 12 thousand to 13 thousand Catholics.  

The book begins with Yi Seung-hun (Peter), the first baptized Catholic. He went on a diplomatic mission with his father to Beijing China and was asked by Yi Byeok, who introduced him to Catholicism, to bring back books on Catholicism. He was baptized in China in 1784 and on his return, meeting with others interested in Catholicism, the Church had its beginning. The meeting place is now occupied by the Myeongdong  Cathedral in Seoul. Han mentions that those of the upper class, the yangbans, were meeting in the home of a commoner and when the police came they arrested the commoner and let all the yangbans leave, with a warning. This was the first repression of Catholics in Korea, which he says has been the way things have been for centuries. During the persecutions it was usually the commoners and women who suffered the most.

The author, baptized in 1989, started studying ten years earlier, before an incident with the government prevented him from continuing his studies.  He wrote a serialized novel in one of the Seoul newspapers that satirized the president, which led to his being picked up, along with others, and tortured. He had been studying to be a Catholic at that time but had to discontinue because of the government interference. It was during his own imposed exile in Japan and making a trip to Baekdu Mountain that he was finally baptized by a Korean Catholic priest.

After his baptism he had a desire to learn about the Korean martyrs and began to study their lives, including traveling to where they had lived, and literally walking in their footsteps. There are not many books like Han's, written in a simple, approachable style, that gives a layperson's view of the martyrs as seen through their own eyes. He has written, he says, with a "333 understanding"--knowing that his book will be one third less profitable, but giving him one third more joy in writing the book, and one third more satisfaction in  experiencing God in his writing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Noblesse Oblige Obligation

On the national holiday of Chuseok, the Church used the gospel taken from Luke (12:15-22) to remind us of the foolish rich farmer who, because he had such a great harvest, tore down his barn and built a larger one to accommodate his abundant harvest--only to be called to his reward shortly after.

In contrast to the foolish farmer of the gospel, we often hear of the Korean wise rich farmer, Choi, from Gyeonggiu. The booklet "Salt Pot" gives a little commentary about the Choi family and its family precepts. 

The Choi family seems to exemplify the concept noblesse oblige (from those that have much, much is expected). For over 300 years, they were blessed with many material blessings and in Korean, you often hear that the wealth of a family begins to dissipate after three generations, but in the Choi family their wealth continued for over 300 years. The family is often  used as a sign that material wealth when used well will bring material blessings.   
The family precepts are listed as:

1) Do not take a government post higher than what is received at the primary state exam because of the problems that come with power and pride.  They are asked to remember what happened in their own  family with the abuse of power.

2) Do not pile up a fortune that exceeds ten thousand bags of rice.

3) During a year of bad harvests do not add to your fortune.

4)Treat those who come to you with kindness.

5) When a daughter-in-law comes to the Choi family, she is to wear cotton clothes for the first three years.

6) Let no one within 50 kilometers of the Choi family starve to death.

When you see this as a traditional Korean approach to wealth by one of their old families, it tends to show how this area of life has not developed in the way you would expect. In the Jewish tradition they have their Jubilee approach that would give everybody a new start every fifty years, but this also has ceased to exist. In our society, as in most societies of the world, the rich get richer and the poorer get poorer.
The Choi family has done a great deal to show what was possible many hundreds of years ago: if  nothing else it helps to prick the consciences of the elite in our society.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Fatigue Society

The modern age has been called the "Fatigue Society." By this is not meant the fatigue that comes from living a busy life, but the fatigue that arises in this busy life from not knowing what to select to do among the many things we would like to do, which can produce  pathologically induced feelings of tiredness. The seminary professor writing for the Kyeongyang magazine says we often hear the humorous phrase: "The idle man is dying of overwork."

In the past, work often brought on fatigue, but at least it was always clear what had to be done. The world we lived in was separated from the world of others, says the professor, and we could depend on our own society to reinforce our way of acting and to protect us from the threatening and dangerous world of the other.

Today's society has changed, he says. The values are no longer shared by  our society. What is of value is the personal vision and convictions of individuals. Other people are of little interest and somewhat of a burden. The family is no longer seen as a refuge but a hindrance to personal development. The individual and not the family is what is  important.

It used to be the imposition of rules--the can't dos of life--that  made life difficult, but today, the professor says it's not the negative rules of life that tend to overwhelm us but an over-abundance of the positive that brings on fatigue and many mental difficulties. Parents still support their children by giving them what they need, but parents often don't receive back the respect they had in the past. 

This is also seen, says the professor, in the life of the Church. Among Catholics, the Church was once seen as speaking for God. Sins and punishment were clear; the teaching and commandments were basically understood and leaving the Church was to put in danger your future life.

But all this is changing, he says. The old procedures are no longer considered valid to many Catholics, feeling themselves no longer bound by the old ways. One can follow, they believe, the teachings of Jesus without the Church, whose teachings are considered by some as outdated; a person's decisions and convictions are considered more important. Peace of mind has priority over working to evangelize society. The emphasis on the relativity of truth, while forgetting or denying its absolute character, has made the existence of the Church problematic, he says.

In the past the Catholic Church and atheism were in conflict. Today there are thousands of different beliefs that have tried to find the answers to the mysteries of life, pain and death.  No longer is Christianity unique among the religions. Which means, the professor believes, there has to be a difference in the way Christianity is presented. Stressing the  Commandments-- our obligations is  not going to do it. We are going to have to show what has been lost in the changes of society and the love God has shown to humanity and  creation.

Pope Francis, in Brazil during the World Youth Day, stressed that we must fight against an unhealthy reliance on money, on honors and pleasure, which seem to be the sole goals of many. The fight against our materialistic culture by the Church must be waged; without this encounter the Church will not have a  place to stand on. Yes, the professor admits, life for many has progressed, becoming more comfortable and enjoyable. We have, however, lost what  is important: joy, peace freedom, love and hope. The Church has to stress what we have lost, the professor says. We have to find the words that will move hearts, dispelling the darkness that encompasses so much of society.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Learning from the Protestant Minister

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, the priest-columnist remembers the day he paid his respects to the family of a friend whose mother had died. He arrived at the mortuary and, believing that a Mass would be consoling to the family, began to prepare for the Mass while the Christians were praying the office for the dead.

In the adjoining cubicle he heard the members of another grieving family singing hymns along with their minister. After the singing, they recited the Apostles' Creed, and the minister began preaching. The brief sermon was so moving, the priest says, that if one of the members from his mourning group  did not come to find him, he would have joined the minister's group.

What was it about the sermon that moved him? There was nothing new being said, the priest said, nothing philosophically interesting or with theological  depth. It was the minister's utter conviction, his earnestness and strength of voice, that moved him. The words of the minister carried so much clarity and sincerity that the natural fear of death simply disappeared on hearing the minister's convincing, reassuring voice. There seemed to be, the priest felt, no room left for the mourners to doubt that the deceased was resurrected.

He was embarrassed, he said. Here he was all set to say a Mass, and that would be it; the thought of giving a sermon never entered his mind. But thanks to the minister, he gave a short sermon, sharing with the members of the family the good news of the Resurrection. He noticed the tears in the eyes of some of the family members as they thanked him for the consoling words of his sermon.

Reflecting on his initial intention of just saying Mass, he admits that saying Mass is the easy consoling answer, especially in difficult times, but at the same time, he is also aware that it might not be enough to meet the needs of everyone. Deep feelings engendered by a death in the family may not always be addressed by only a Mass.

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20--Korean Feast of the Martyrs

Today,in Korea  we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Andrew Kim, Paul Chong and Companions.  

Martyrdom is witnessing  to your belief and confessing your faith. This witnessing has at its center love. There are those who have made the words of Jesus "to love your neighbor," even when he is an enemy, the essence of their lives.  A professor writing in the  Inchon Bulletin informs us that a martyr is not only one who gives his life for what he believes but does it out of love.
Writing the history of the martyrs, he says, usually involves concentrating on their death and overlooking the love that inspired their actions. When thinking of the martyrs we are reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Martyrdom is a decision to follow the example of Love itself, Jesus. We find this exemplified many times in the history of the martyrs and he gives us one example from Taegu in 1815.

During a persecution in Taegu, one of the Christians, expecting a reward, reported the place where the Christians would be meeting for prayer on Easter, and led the police to the location. A number of those arrested denied their faith and were released, but not a few were to die for their faith.

The informer was later picked up by the police for some criminal act and was put in the same prison as the Christians. What he did was so despicable that the inspector in command told the guards to let him starve. The Christians arranged to cut back on what they were eating to enable the informer to eat. After some  time, the jailors drove the informer out of the prison without clothes, and the Christians again helped, gathering enough clothes to cover his nakedness.

In writing about the incident at the time, it was said that the Christians showed unbelievers what true love meant by the way they treated their enemies. Their act of love for the one who put them in prison helped them to have the strength to go ahead and give their lives for what they believed, when it would have been so easy to say they decided to stop being a Christian. The practice of love nurtured their faith life.

A Christan without love, writes the professor, using the words of St. Paul, " a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal." When we only see the suffering of the martyrs and forget the love that accompanies it, we do the martyrs a great injustice. This is what is meant by the spirituality of martyrdom.  During the month of September, the month of the martyrs according to our Korean liturgical year, our Catholics have the opportunity to reflect on what the spirituality of the  martyrs has to teach them.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Happy Chuseok

Today is Chuseok, the Autumn Moon Festival, which is somewhat similar to our Thanksgiving day. It is a celebration of the new harvest and a remembrance of ancestors and family members who have died. However, it's not uncommon that family problems will arise during the celebrations. A front page article in the Peace Weekly on the festival mentions a divorce that was occasioned by the festival.

The husband, a Buddhist who was following the traditional Confucian rites for ancestors during the Festival, would end up fighting with his wife. The wife, a Protestant, when asked by her husband to visit the family home on a Sunday in observance of the festival, would refuse because of her own observance on that day. And on a weekday, she would not participate in the rites even though the husband told her she did not need to observe the traditional bowing. This finally came to a head, and they decided to divorce. 

Because of the importance of these rites in the lives of most Koreans, the Catholic Church faced many difficulties. In the beginning all Christians followed the rites, but still having doubts about whether they should, some Christians on a trip to Beijing asked Bishop Gouvea what was the proper thing to do. They were told the Confucian rites were forbidden, which set in motion many problems for the Church, and confused many Christians. When Paul Yun Ji-chung and James Kwon Sang-yeon, two of the early Christians, burned the ancestral tablet and performed the Catholic rites instead of the Confucian rites when the mother of Paul Yun died, they were arrested and killed by decapitation, becoming in 1791 the first two martyrs of the Korean Church.

In 1939, the Vatican re-assessed the issue, and Pope Pius XII authorized Catholics to observe the ancestral rites. Later, the general principle of admitting native ceremonies into the liturgy of the Church, whenever possible, was reinforced.  The rites were seen not as idol worship but as a cultural tradition, and therefore not against Catholic teaching.

The Second Vatican Council's document on the Liturgy states that the Church respects the gifts of the various races: "Anything  in their way of life that is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error, she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes, in fact, accepting such things in the liturgy itself, as long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit"(Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #37). With this as background, the Catholic Church of Korea recommended that these rites of filial piety and cherishing the memory of the dead be incorporated into liturgical practices.

Since Korea has many religions with diverse religious practices, it's necessary that this be appreciated, acknowledged and respected. A priest member of the Bishops Committee on Relationship with Other Religions mentions that we have to respect the beliefs of others and not force one to do something they don't want to do, like bowing. The ancestral rites should be a way  of expressing love for the family and of strengthening the family bond. Catholic  members should be mediators to overcome some of the problems that may remain because of the different understandings concerning the rites.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Education: Specific or General?

During this time of  year, students will be preparing for their college entrance exams: a very trying time not only for students but also for parents. A professor writing in the Peace Weekly notes that many students being interviewed for the exams are unable to answer the easiest of the questions. Their faces turn red and they cry, he says, which prompts him to ask a question he cannot refrain from asking: What is the reason for education?

The big difference between high school and college, he believes, is the student's decision to pick a major in college. The hope is that picking a good major and going deeply into it will enable one to find work and to succeed in one's chosen field. There would be few students who, on graduating, would not be thinking about what they will be doing with their major. There is a connection, most students believe, between picking a major that immediately prepares them for their future work--a connection that would be missing if they were to take any of the humanities, making them unable to compete in the marketplace with the better prepared students.  What is the realty? the professor asks.

He uses the example of the United States: Those who graduate with degrees from the humanities find work in many areas of life. Those who are in the field of education say the study of the humanities--though not immediately helpful in the marketplace--in the long run is a better choice in college. The days of staying on the job for a lifetime, he says, is over. A person who started off in his major and remains in that work for more than 10 years is not the norm. Persons change, work changes, just as the rivers and mountains change.

The business magazine Forbes reported last year that more than 60 percent of college graduates find work in a field outside their major. Which is the reason many are saying it is better to have a general and transferable education in preparation for both work and life.

During the Victorian days in England Cardinal Henry Newman was asked to start a university in Ireland, prompting him to write the book "The Idea of a University," from which the professor quotes the following: "A university  should be teaching a variety of subjects. Students can major in a small number of subjects but should immerse themselves in the traditions of the university and to  understand the whole outline of the system of knowledge, the underlying principles of knowledge, the breath of each course of study, their shadow and their light, the good and the bad points. General education is to cultivate the philosophic inclinations of the mind towards personal liberty, balance, serenity, the golden mean, and wisdom."

The professor ends by mentioning that about the same time as Newman, Wilhelm Von Humboldt in Germany took the initiative in starting a research university, whose ideas spread throughout the world. Now in the 21st century, the ideas of Newman are being rediscovered  and interest in the humanities is returning to the world of education, aided, it is believed, by the rapid changes in the world. The movement away from the modern specialization of education to a more general liberal arts education is, the professor says, a necessary step back into the past, where, as Newman believed, learning was valued for its own sake.  The professor would like to tell parents of high school students who are preparing for college in the humanities not to worry, for it is the most modern of the majors and the one that will give them the best opportunity for a fulfilling life. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Movement for a Better World (MBW)

The community aspects of Church, often overlooked, such as relationships, our neighbors, working for the common good and building communities of people of God, aspiring for communal holiness is the mission of "The Movement for a Better World (MBW). The Movement had its start in Rome in response to an appeal by Pius XII to the worldwide Church and gathered momentum from the preaching of Fr. Ricardo Lombardi S.J. It was given official approval by the Church in 1952. Fourteen years later Fr. Lombardi was invited to Korea to begin preparations for our own Movement, and in 1968 a team was formed, and by 1973 there were nine dioceses ready to begin the MBW.

The movement has many different courses of study on change, dialogue, secularization, the Church as the people of God and the world, and the new image of the parish.  There are also programs for renewal.

The Taegu diocese, in its recent bulletin, described the Movement and its success in producing many leaders. Taegu, on average, has about 10 programs each year. They can be evening programs lasting four evenings, or full-day programs lasting two nights and three days. They are intended for everyone--priests, religious and lay people--making the programs another sign of the communal aspects of Church. 

The programs seek to instill the thinking from the Second Vatican Council, that Church is a community of association and sharing, and introducing this thinking into the life of the parishes and dioceses. In this time of the new evangelization, renewing the faith life of the participants is an important aspect of parish life.

Over recent years there was sadness in seeing that in certain dioceses, the programs seemed to have disappeared and little was heard of the Movement.   Few articles have been written on the movement. The other movements within the Church are well-known and receive a great deal of publicity.  BWM makes a point of not calling attention to itself and wants to keep out of the press, which no doubt is the reason behind the absence of news about the movement.  In  the Taegu diocese, however, according to the bulletin, it continues strong and active.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A New Way to Live

Simplicity is a word that usually has positive overtones, especially in our hectic society where many have the desire to leave behind the hustle, artificiality and competition and return to a more natural lifestyle. We see this tendency in the return to the farms and occasional trips to the countryside by city dwellers. Many think the talk about simplicity is  excessive, that the desire to distance ourselves from a modern technological society is unintelligible, and yet the voices of those who speak about this need is growing, and not without reason, says a columnist on the opinion page of the  Catholic Times.
He reflects on John 1-4:  "Whatever came to be in him found life, life for the light of men," after reading a sign at a construction site: "We are sorry for the inconvenience but everything will be returned shortly to as it was." The last words "as it was" kept spinning around in his head. Yes, material things can be replaced, he says, but not the life that has been destroyed.

In Genesis 1:28, we read: "Have dominion over...all living things that move on the earth." These words are meant for us to take care of life and not to destroy it. Pope Benedict, in his peace message of 2010, used as the theme of the message: "If You  Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation." However, the columnist believes we are not sufficiently sensitive to the natural world  to see the value of all life. In our headlong pursuit of economic development we very easily destroy life, forgetting what the geoscientists tell us. When the butterflies and bees disappear from the earth, humanity also will cease to exist.

If this is true of the small forms of life, how much more will this be true of human life? he asks. At present, the biggest cause of death of those under forty is suicide. Korea is a country that is driving its citizens to kill themselves, he says, as it inadvertently creates a culture of death. One reason for this situation is the extraordinary educational demands of the country and the economic structures that have been built. How many more have to die before something is done? he asks. Have we become a world that worships money?

He remembers reading the words of an American Indian that made a big impression  on him. "When the last tree dies, the last river polluted, the last fish caught; we will know we can't live by eating money."

What are we to do? he asks at the conclusion of the column. Change the way we live, he answers. Be content with less and with a little more discomfort. We have to cut back on our eating, our clothing and the homes we build. We have to learn that with less we can have more satisfaction and live happier lives. During this month dedicated to the martyrs would be a good time, he says, to take the first steps in this new way of living.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pope Francis and War

Pope Francis has asked all of us to pray and fast for peace in Syria. In the Catholic Times, both the desk columnist and the editorial reflect on the words of the Pope and their practical application to all of us. Even the Great Mufti invited all Syrian Muslims to pray for peace in mosques in Damascus and across Syria, in communion with the Pope. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, joined with Pope Francis in praying for peace in Syria.

The pope said, very pointedly, the columnist reports, that there is doubt about the motives of the United States for wanting to attack Syria. Is it for humanitarian reasons or is it to sell more weapons of war? These words of the pope, the spiritual father of Catholics throughout the world, could not have been easy to say, according to the columnist.

The popes in recent history have been spokespersons for peace in the world, coming out strongly against all forms of violence. Much of what is going on in the world is not for the good of humanity as a whole, but rather the consequences of an extreme hardhearted and unfeeling self-interest, he says.

In the past, the Church  supported the just-war understanding, and has promoted this thinking and  participated in what was considered just-wars, the crusades being one example of this thinking. One of the symbols of this thinking remains in the Vatican Swiss Guards. Pope Julius II, during the Renaissance, led his Catholic troops into combat dressed in full armor. However, in the 20th century, most everyone would agree that the preferred method for solving problems is by dialogue and negotiations.  Benedict 15th worked to end the first world war and Pius 12th the second world war.

Reasons for the change, says the columnist, are the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the number of innocent people injured and killed--collateral damage, as it's euphemistically called-- in modern warfare. War no longer can be seen as an option under any circumstances, the columnist says, but as an absolute evil.

The editorial states categorically that the use of chemical weapons has to be prevented but this has to be done following international law and not unilaterally by a strong country with their use of force. Fortunately, there now seems to be a way out with the proposal that the stockpile of chemical weapons be turned over to supervision by the UN, and ultimately destroyed.

The  whole issue is surrounded with a great deal of ambiguity, and the US threat to use force has not disappeared. The editorial says that as long as the motive of selling arms continues, the end is not yet in sight. The pope has clearly stated that the Catholic Church is against the use of military arms, and that everyone should be against all wars and supporters of peace.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pyongyang Vicariate


Maryknoll's work in Korea started in 1923 in the Vicariate of Pyongyang, given to Maryknoll by the French Foreign Missionary Society. The above picture and article appeared in the Peace Weekly this past week; it is the penciled drawing of an old photograph taken in front of the Tai Shin Li Church in Pyongyang. This was the second parish built in the Vicariate after the Maryknoll Society began working in North Korea.  Under the Japanese occupation, they had to change the name of the church to follow administrative regulations. After liberation, it was changed back to the original name, but soon after the work of the Society come to an end with the Communist takeover of the North. .

The first Korean priest of the Vicariate, Fr. Ryang Ki-sep, was assigned to Pyongyang and built the church that we see above. According to the "Korean Mission History of the South," by Fr. Robert M. Lilly M.M., Fr. Ryang, after leaving the North, assisted in project work for the Seoul archdiocese. He had dual citizenship which facilitated travel for fund raising. Through a grant from Miserior, he built the original Saint Mary's hospital which has since moved across the Han river to the south side of Seoul. He later improved the pilgrimage site where the martyr Hwang Sa-yang wrote the silk letter to the bishop of Peking. Fr. Ryang died in 1982.

The second pastor of the parish was Fr. Patrick Duffy. At the start of the Second World War, the following story about Fr. Pat was told: The American missioners were considered enemy and confined in a large Protestant compound in Pyongyang. Fr. Duffy had two passports, Irish and British, and in order to remain within the group, he first presented the British passport, which made him an enemy alien. After several months of that experience, he got fed up and thought he might do better back in his own place. So he presented his Irish passport which made him a neutral, giving him the right to demand his freedom. Returning to his parish again, he became a prisoner there and not allowed off the compound. He couldn't meet anyone and was in worse shape than before, having to stay under house arrest until the end of the war while his follow Maryknollers were repatriated in 1942 and 43. 

He was assigned back to Korea, after the war, but with the country now separated into two halves, north and south, with the occupation of Soviet, and United States forces, the situation provoked a great deal of suffering for the Korean people. After the silencing of Catholicism in the North, Fr.Pat went to Japan where he spent the other half of his 54 years on the missions.