Thursday, October 31, 2013

Facing Death Without Regret

"Brother, there were two magpies in my front yard this morning." These words begin an article in With Bible, by a priest reminiscing about a friend who died this past Easter.  The words were part of a telephone conversation he had with him, on his arrival on assignment to his country parish some years ago. In  Korea, the magpie is seen as a symbol of  good fortune.

The priest was wondering what his friend would do in such a small parish with so few interested in religion. The area itself was not large but his friend told him he happened to talk to one of the Christians who was raising chrysanthemums, and he got the idea of making his parish a mecca for chrysanthemum enthusiasts. And in a few years, the parish did become a thriving center for the flower, each year hosting a chrysanthemum festival that was hugely popular and well-attended. 

However,  the writer received word that the liver aliment from which his friend suffered had developed into cancer, and he was suddenly taken to the emergency room of a hospital. He was told  there was little to be done, and facing death he  began his fight living with the disease. All his friends and Christians received the news with great sadness.

Because his friend required complete rest and visitors were not allowed, the writer wasn't able to visit for sometime. When he did go to see him, they talked for some time about their life together. His friend had only one small wish: If he had two months more to live and had enough energy left, he would like to travel watching people at work, to finish off his wild flower garden and prepare his chrysanthemums for the fall flowering. There was no regret for the life he was given to live. He only wanted to see people at work and to finish the work he had started.

The writer asked him what was it he feared the most.  The priest answered it was not fear of death but  whether he would be able to accept the pain of his disease without resentment and the betrayal of  God. He was  fearful that in his pain he would betray the Lord that he had tried to serve faithfully.

His friend's words reminded the writer of a memorable passage by a novelist describing how tragedy is seen differently by a farmer and by a poet:  How, he writes, are we to face the emptiness of death that awaits? The poet sings about the foundational tragedy that awaits; the farmer looks at the earth filled with weeds and spreads the seeds to overcome the weeds.
To the farmer the seeding is the pledge for the future and  strong proof of his existence. His friend  not wanting to forget God and the emptiness and pain that was awaiting, by his battle and resoluteness was giving proof to his existence.

A plant has within itself a beautiful secret which it makes present in a flower, says the writer. Practically all flowers have a language, and the chrysanthemum, the flower his friend loved the most, spoke the language of loyalty, purity, nobility, sincerity.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Falling Away From Relgious Faith

"Why do we live a life of faith? Without concern for an answer to this question the possibility of becoming tepid [falling away from the faith] is always present.   A priest, with these words, begins his article in the Catholic Times on those who have left the Church.

Many Catholics consider health and family their primary interests, but without having the faith as the primary interest, leaving the faith will always be there, he says. When following Jesus is not the primary objective, but rather peace of mind and looking for material blessings, leaving the believing community is a strong possibility. Without efforts to solve this basic problem, we will, the priest says, not lessen the number of those who are tepid; the numbers will continue to  increase.
At present the opportunities of experiencing Jesus and the meaning of what it means to be a follower of Jesus are few. A very fuzzy idea of what it means to have a faith life is common. He reminds us of the need to examine thoroughly the depth of our faith-life. Without doing so, he says, may be like taking a stone from the top of a pile and fitting it below, and taking the stone from the bottom and putting it on top--a very temporary expedient.

Fortunately, Korean Catholics are zealous. They not only participate in the work of the Church but are interested in the evangelizing endeavors throughout the world. Even if limited by time, it is necessary to teach the catechism at a slower pace, taking pains to be careful in how the teaching is presented, if we want to see a change.

From the 1990s, there has been a decrease in the number of catechumens and an increase in the number of those who have left the church. We are conscious of the problem but have done little to remedy the situation. Getting those who have left the Church to return, he admits, is a difficult task.

Those who have given the subject much thought have come to the conclusion that we are going around in circles, if we concentrate only on those who have left the church and not give our attention to those in the pews  who have a very weak faith life. Attention has to be addressed to those with a lukewarm attachment to Jesus. We are interested in those who are registered as tepids, who have not gone to the sacraments for three years, but are forgetting those in the pews who might still be going to the sacraments but are not far from  absenting themselves from the community.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Finding Reasons for Hope

Themes have a tendency to repeat themselves in history, music, literature and in life. Scripture is no different, with its many recurrent themes, expressed in many different ways. One of the most frequent and important is dying to live. A great paradox and yet easily understood when explained in the simplest of  ways; religious beliefs aside: without suffering we do not have progress.

A successful professional writing in the Diocesan Catholic Bulletin confesses that when he looks back on his life he often finds it difficult to raise his head, because of the many embarrassing thoughts he's had and the embarrassing things he's done. Growing up, his environment was not all that bad, he says, but poverty, sickness and a weak body made life difficult for him. He did work hard and was able to overcome much to be where he is. But there was a price that came with it, he said, for he was unyielding and coarse, blew up often and acted rudely.  When he looks back and remembers these situations, he would like to erase them all. But he knows they are a part of him.

His prayer life, he admits, was not very good, with no attempts to seek an attachment to God. Lament was his only response.  He should have been looking for God dwelling in himself, but only looked away at a distant God. His conscience gave him trouble, he points out, so he did not have the confidence necessary to look within.

One of our previous presidents wrote, "If what is inside me is put on a movie screen, I would be so embarrassed I would not be able to hold my head up." A college professor who has made a study of forgiveness said: "We have faults which make us human."

"A contrite, humble heart you will not spurn" (Psalm 51:19) is one of the writer's favorite lines, as well as the remembered lines from a sermon he once heard: God desires us to acknowledge our failings so that he can show mercy. And those who believe in the mercy of God are people of faith.

A powerful example of God's mercy appears in the parable of the prodigal son who was returned to a position higher than the one he left. What the writer says in the article doesn't mean to imply, he says, that the prodigal son has returned totally transformed from what he had been in the past, for he is still beset with many faults and makes many mistakes. The difference now, however, is that although embarrassed at his condition, he trusts in God's mercy. And with his broken and beaten spirit continues with courage and trust in the love and mercy of God.                               

Monday, October 28, 2013

Theology of the Body

A  Catholic Times article reports on the first Korean international academic meetings on the the "Theology of the Body," the name given to Pope John Paul's reflections and vision of the human person, with particular attention focused on the proper relationship of body and soul. They were delivered in 129 Wednesday audiences, between the years 1979 and 1984, and are of great interest for scholarly discussions of marriage, celibacy and sex--topics which have not always been treated correctly. One of the journalists of the paper expresses her ideas on what she picked up from the academic meeting.

There have always been biased views on the subject of the human body. The Church, a strong advocate for a right understanding of the human body, has over the years also enabled a distorted thinking of the body, which has been evident, she reminds us, in the teachings of the past.

The body, for example, was denigrated by the way the Church expressed the three enemies of the soul: the world, the flesh and the devil. Of course, this can be understood correctly and has been so understood over the years, but there is also the possibility of pushing the idea to a point where the body is seen in opposition to the spirit, a dualism which can distort the teaching.  She also mentions that there were priests who would say that women were the way the devil would tempt us, and there were times in the past when women were told not to receive communion during their monthly periods. This is not the teaching in modern history, but shows how this would engender fear in women.

Another side of this negative understanding of the body is the worship of the body, its outer appearance considered our greatest asset, extolling youth and the beauty of  the body, which today is ever present because of the electronic media. The likely consequences are the disorders of sex, the increase of divorce, and the destruction of families--all deriving from a misunderstanding of sex and its gift to humankind.

Pope John Paul II wanted us to get back to the teachings from Genesis on what marriage is. This requires a change in how we see sex. A change from seeing the soul in opposition to the body and recovering the sacramental reality of the body.

The academic meeting on the "Theology of the Body" will renew the pastoral thinking about the subject of marriage and sexuality within the Korean Church, and will make possible, she says, a new look at marriage and its meaning. Many of the old ways of viewing marriage will be revisited, discussed and improved upon, and will no doubt enter the teaching in the seminary programs of the future.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Walking for Health

A religious brother reflects on his life which was filled with horrific scars. At the age of 10 he had witnessed his mother committing suicide, and he could not rid himself of his anger and hate toward his father who was addicted to gambling and dissipation. The scars remained dormant but were ever present, he knew, in the way he related with his religious family. It became so serious that he felt he had to leave, going to Spain with a Spanish friend. In the Catholic Digest he writes about his healing.

Sleep did not come easily, even in Spain, and his friend told him that walking was a good way to regain health, and recommended that he go on a pilgrimage  to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a walk of 800 kilometers he had always wanted to make, and finally did.

During the walk he met many people from many countries, with many different ways of acting and talking; they are memories, he says, that will remain fresh and will be treasured.   One Spanish family accepted him like a son, and even got in touch by telephone with his family back in Korea. In the evening they did the town together, as they enjoyed wine and cocktails over dinner. But the most memorable event of the whole trip was the Mass he attended in one of the churches along the way.

One very hot day, when he was covered with dust from walking, he showered and prepared for Mass at the church, which had been built during the Middle Ages. Slowly the pilgrims began to enter and completely filled the church before the Mass was celebrated. The atmosphere, he noticed, was remarkable, quiet and peaceful.

The Spanish priest spoke both in Spanish and in English. At the time of the Our Father, each person was invited to pray in their own language. He was the only person from Asia, and when asked what country, all eyes, he said, seemed to turn toward him.

His face flushed and his heart beating fast, he answered, which prompted the priest to ask him to recite the Our Father in Korean. He closed his eyes and recited the prayer with the greatest composure and devotion he could muster. While saying the prayer, he said he felt an emotional response that sent shivers all over his body.

Suddenly, all the hurt that came from the death of his mother, the feelings against his father and his religious family all melted away. He prayed that the remaining visit to the Cathedral of Santiago would be without mishap, and with the sprinkling of holy water the Mass ended. For him it was  a beautiful Mass of healing.

Eight years later, whenever he has difficulties he closes his eyes and remembers that small church and his whole being relaxes and becomes peaceful. He is now in a home managed by his religious community where he is counseling those with alcohol problems.  He laughs and cries with them, many of them with more scars and pain than he had. God helps him to be a conduit for healing. We are all wounded healers helped by Jesus  the Wounded Healer.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic

We talk about unity within the Church as one of the signs of Catholicism: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Oneness, however,  has  to be explained, often with many words, to give the word credibility. It was probably less so in the past when  words like heretic and schismatic would come easily to mind, but the present cultural sympathy for irenicism in dialogue has raised a potential problem among Catholics: how does one avoid conflict when the differences of opinion deal with serious problems.  Conflict, however, is not always bad, provided we continue to search for the truth together with humility and respect.

Writing in a bulletin for priests, the columnist mentions a walk he took along a river bank and reminisced on the words: "Live fish swim against the current," as he watched the fish doing just that. 
The popular thinking of every historical period influences, he believes our fashions, and the perceptions and conceptions that form our values, the "flowing river of an age." Living wisely requires at times,he says, that we swim against this current in search of the source, the true dimensions  of our humanity.

Our present situation demands, he says, that we go against the current. Here we are faced with a dilemma: as a Christian we have to read the signs of the times; if we don't, we will be like driftwood buffeted by the winds. To do nothing is not a possibility for a Christian, when so often it is necessary to go against the flow.  Many have lost the meaning of life, and go like dead fish along with the flow, he says, with empty cravings, chasing after illusions.

Jesus is the example of the fish who swam against the flow to go to the source. Ichthys (Greek for fish) was used as a symbol for Jesus during the early years of persecution. When everybody was saying "Yes," he was saying "No." And when they where saying "No," he was saying "Yes." He was one who gathered strength from what should be. He fought against all that would separate us from God.
Everything we consider important was put in its proper place: long  life, popularity, material goods. He did not accept the way things were being done, and expressed this by words and actions that brought him death. 
In Korea, the problems with unity in the Church are not as serious as in other areas of the world but they do appear. "In all things charity" is understood by all, but for some, speaking the truth is charity even when it hurts, while others feel the truth can be expressed in ways that do not hurt. Opposition to the direction of government is one example that brings conflict within the Christian community. The prophetic calling we have as Christians may be easier for some than for others, and when the calling is felt and acted upon by some, this rubs many the wrong way. Can one answer a  prophetic calling, and not hurt others? The new academic study of conflict resolution may help in acquainting us with more of the dynamics involved with this pressing problem, and suggest ways of resolving the problem.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dfficulties of Communicating Within Society

The Seoul Bulletin recently profiled the World Catholic Association for Communication-Signis, a Catholic lay ecclesial movement for those in communications and media. The Signis World Congress 2013 was scheduled for Oct. 20-23, in Beirut, Lebanon, but because of the turmoil in that part of the world it was cancelled. About 700 professionals are currently involved in the movement. And the writer says that even among them, communication is not easy; communication and mutual understanding are problems for everybody.

All agree that successful communication is absolutely necessary if anything worthwhile is to be accomplished. When there is a breakdown of communication in politics and society, we know all too well what usually happens. The difficulties arise from both those who speak and those who listen.  An Indian proverb says "Those who only speak are deaf." A German proverb says "Those who preach do not listen to the preaching of others."  Both proverbs point to the difficulties of understanding one another: each is speaking or hearing, he says, from their own circumstances. 

The writer mentions that he has been producing radio programs for over 30 years. The need to listen to the needs of the listeners is imperative, he says, and cites the Golden rule: What we desire from the other we should first give; he cites another expression well-known in the West: To walk in another's shoes for awhile before we criticize. In the East there is a similar concept: "Yeokjisaji" which is composed of  four Chinese characters meaning to exchange the place where we are standing for the place of the other. 

He reminds us that those who have become famous in radio broadcasting came across as if speaking on a-one-to-one basis. Those of us in the Church who are concerned with evangelization should be very conscious of this same trait when evangelizing, he says. We are not imposing but  proposing. It all can be reduced to the  love of the another.
Interestingly, when we think of communication we think of the great communicators and their secrets. How do they succeed so well in persuading others?  There are many tricks that are helpful, he says, in persuading others but that is not the only aspect of a  good communicator. Difficult as it might be, he suggests that our individual search for truth should be replaced by a mutual search for the truth, for mutual understanding and humble listening, along with the speaking. A good communicator with charisma,can also be dangerous when he doesn't listen.

In Korea the North and the South have been trying to communicate for over 60 years, with very little success. Each is adamant in trying to  convince the other of their position, with little concern for efforts to better the relationship for all concerned. We have bright people on both sides and yet neither one has succeeded in overcoming the present stalemate. Perhaps it's time,  to change over to "Yeokjisaji" communication if we are put some bridges in place so that both sides can feel comfortable in listening to the  other.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Our Future Leaders in Fostering Unification

A newly published memoir, An Eleven Year Old's Will, by a North Korean defector, Kim Eun-ju, is the focus of a Peace Weekly article written by a professor who has been concerned with these defectors to the South (she prefers and uses a less controversial term than 'a defector to the South') for about 8 years, and every time the plight of these newcomers is mentioned, she admits that it is deeply disturbing to her.

The memoir, the story of an 11-year child who endured the famine in North Korea during the 90s, recounts those difficult days of hunger and fear, and finally her departure from North Korea. Her father had recently died and her mother and sister gave her enough money to buy a block of bean curd, and then left in search of food. They told her they would return in 2 or 3 days but never did. After waiting for six days, she left a message for her mother:  "Mother, I waited for you, didn't I? 6 days have passed, I feel I will die. Why haven't you returned?"

While attending  University a few years ago, during mid-term exams, a student from the North told the teacher that she didn't understand what she wanted her to do for her assignment. The teacher told her that she was sitting close to the front of the class and shouldn't have had difficulty in hearing the assignment; the student answered that while in North Korea she never learned any English. The teacher was surprised because she wasn't speaking in English, but then, all of a sudden, it came to her what the student meant: words the teacher had used, such as, text, orientation, keyword, cyberspace-campus, and similar words that have become part of the Korean language were the "English" the student was referring to.

This difficulty, among others, is one reason for not easily transitioning into the culture of the South and  getting the credits necessary for graduating from school. The professor was taking time out of her schedule to teach them basic English, but she realized this wasn't the only problem; in leaving North Korea, their education was severely compromised. She is often dumbfounded, she says, by the questions they ask, such as "Was Shakyamuni a human? Was Socrates a woman? Nobel--Is that a name of a person? A  frog? An insect?

Her own family has scars from the conflict between the North and South. Anytime her maternal grandmother heard a door slam, even while sleeping, she would  sit up and fold her hands in prayer. The professor knew that during the Korean conflict, the grandmother's son was dragged away by the militia, and never knew whether he was alive or dead. 

These are the common  scars that remain in the lives of many Koreans. With the passage of time and the unification of the country will these scars be healed or be aggravated? the professor asks. In answering that question, she says it's helpful to keep in mind that the North and the South have different cultural systems, habits, values, educational methods that will continue to separate the two sides.

We need to continually nurture those who will help to overcome the chaos that we have between our two peoples, she says.  She thinks the North Koreans who are now living here and studying in our schools will be the bridge to the future harmony of the country. That, she says, is one good reason, among many others, why we need to be concerned for their welfare.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Wise Leader

Personal relationships, such as father and son, ruler and citizen, among others, are important and often mentioned in Korean culture. Writing in the Peace Weekly, a columnist gives us two understandings of the ruler and citizen relationship. Han Fei, an ancient Chinese philosopher, is quoted as saying: When the ruler is not virtuous, citizens will work hard not to be wicked but will be deceitful and and look out for themselves. Confucius said that when the ruler governs citizens with etiquette, they will respond with service and loyalty.

Confucius considered the relationship between ruler and ruled as based on etiquette and loyalty. Han Fei saw it as based on a shared understanding that each would be looking out for their respective self-interests. Each sage stressed different aspects of the relationship. 

The columnist applies this ancient understanding of the ruler/ruled relationship to the political realities of today: a president and civil servants. It is obviously not a father and son relationship, he points out, but a relationship in which each is looking after their own interests. This can be easily seen in the business world, with its management team on one side and the workers on the other.

"People around you determine everything."  Words of wisdom that have come down from the past and the columnist uses these words to describe what is going on in our society. When a capable person leaves a job, and another person not as capable takes over, serious problems frequently arise. That is why, the columnist says, those in a leadership position, both in a country or in business, have to think long before assigning someone to an important  position.
In Korea there have been persons who have been forced to resign  for inappropriate behavior. Some of those who have resigned  made decisions for their own good and have not been interested in service and loyalty.

Confucian recommendations are more important for some; others see Han Fei's recommendations as proper. Though Fei says that when the ruler is not virtuous there will be problems among the citizens, it is also true, he says, that when the ruler thinks he is always right and doesn't admit when he's mistaken, we will have citizens acting similarly.

When the ruler selects those for positions in government who are calculating and not looking for truth but what can benefit themselves or the party, the common good suffers. Lack of virtue of those in government will negatively influence much of society, and give rise to many problems, says the columnist. The article ends with the dire statement that not only do those around a leader determine everything that is likely to issue from that leader, but they also can be the reason very little is ever accomplished under that leader.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Shamanism: Matrix of Religion in Korea

Religion and spirituality arise from our human inclination to search for ultimate answers to our problems or, another possibility, because of humanity's search for wholeness, says a professor in a Catholic Research Institute. He went on to note that some scholars of religion, when discussing the origins of religion, believe that humans have a disposition for religion without  religion. His comments were in an article in the Peace Weekly.

Looking at the whole of Korean religious history, the professor details a plurality of religious inclinations that have been transformed and manifested in various ways. Religious spirituality is basic to our mental life, he says, and is not the result of our man-made cultures but is a primitive expression of mankind's innate religious feelings.

The religious sensitivity of Koreans has been influenced by shamanism, which sees culture, art and religion as joined together harmoniously with nature, resulting in a fusion with spirits from which  blessings and good fortune are received. This thinking, he believes, is at a primitive level in a Korean's psyche, with one's good fortune considered to be a safe, protected existence. This is like the "shalom" of Judaism and  Christianity, and not unlike the supernatural salvation from above.

Shamanism has fused together with the religions that have come in from outside Korea, such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Buddhism and Confucianism have mostly accepted this fusion with Shamanism. In Buddhist temples you can see the adaptations from Shamanism;  in Confucianism, it appears in the rice cake ceremonies. Christianity, though, has looked upon shamanism as something primitive and to be abolished, but there are those that see shamanism as the womb from which religion has grown in Korea.

Korea is unique as a country where religions can co-exist with respect for each other. This receptivity, the professor says, has a great deal  to contribute to establishing peace among the religions of the world. The basic religious sensitivity Koreans have for religion can be the reason, he speculates, for this ability to accept each other.

We should not condemn shamanism unconditionally, as being out of step with modern thinking because it was the matrix of religious life in Korea. But neither is it proper, he warns, to extol it. It's necessary to see shamanism's  limits and areas of dysfunction and have a proper balance in our criticism. When we look closely at the other religions, discounting their cultural expressions, seeing their common elements of truth, we will be able to see, the professor says, our own beliefs more clearly and live them more deeply.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Common Good and Justice

 "I don't need your love, give me justice" were the words on a poster on a wall of a convent of sisters whose apostolate was helping workers. It's not difficult to grasp what is being said, but though love goes beyond justice, can there be love without Justice?

In the Catholic Times, a priest who works with the poor refers to Matthew 6:33, "Set your heart on his kingdom first and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well."

St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, was called a  just man because he didn't want Mary's condition to be known to the world, conscious of what this would mean to Mary. He was thinking of Mary more than himself. This is what a just person does, and Jesus, the supremely just person, wanted everyone to fully participate in society. We see this repeatedly in the New Testament. 

One of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching is the common good.  "The principle of the common good, to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates 'the sum total of social conditions which allows people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily'" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #164).

The common good is difficult to achieve, the priest says, when city life is all we know. He believes living in the city is unnatural and he expresses this in rather strong language. He compares city dwellers to animals living in a zoo. Is it not a place where we have covered over the earth? he asks. So that one does not find it easy to step on a piece of real earth, but walks daily on cement, asphalt, colored sidewalk tiles. Even when there are flowers and trees, it is more like a large flower pot filled with dirt, rather than living earth. We are protected from hearing anything against this kind of life, he says. We have become parts of a social machine and the busy life it fosters takes the mind off reality. There is a sufficiency of food, pleasure and comfort, and those who speak out on the problems this creates within society find themselves at  the periphery. For those who have no place in this so called 'good life', what meaning would justice have for them?

The gap between  the rich and the poor is increasing, though Korea does not have the same gulf between the haves and have-nots as do many other developed countries; this is a blessing.  In the past, 20 percent of the population were in the upper segment of society. Today, he says, it has decreased to 1 percent. In a factory, for instance, the one who assembles the wheel in the front of the car may not get the same pay as the one who puts on the back wheel--if one is a regular worker and the other a temporary. People are fired for the good of the company, students are judged by the marks they receive, and those who have a handicap are seen and treated differently. In a word, he says, the society is not just.

"Among the numerous implications of the common good, immediate significance is taken on by the principle of the universal destination of goods, 'God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.' This principle is based on the fact that the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits (Gen 1:28-29). God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone" (Compendium # 171).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mission Sunday

Today being Mission Sunday, the desk columnist of the Catholic Times recalls a trip to Ireland two years ago to trace the history of the  monasteries of that country.

The word 'Ireland,' she says, is enough to bring to mind the Missionary Society of the Columban Fathers, which this year is commemorating their 80th year in Korea. They have been valiant workers in the missionary work of Korea and helped in setting up the scaffolding for future missionary endeavors in Korea.

Curious about the beginnings of the Society of St. Columban, she traveled to the Columban headquarters in Dalgan Park, Navan, about one hour from Dublin. The building is on a large stretch of grassland, and from 1960 to 1970 was the home to over 200 seminarians; today only 40 are living there, including missioners who have retired and returned to their homeland. The missioners who had worked in Korea were deeply moved by the visitors from Korea. It reminded the desk columnist of what a girl after marriage might experience when returning to visit her family after many years. The visitors were treated to a Mass celebrated in Korean, which was appreciated.

Fr. Brendan Hoban, who spent many years in Korea, led them on a ten minute walk to the Society's cemetery, where he went to the grave sites of those who had worked in Korea, putting a white ribbon on their graves. When it was time to go, Fr. Brendan sorrowfully bid goodbye to the visitors, telling them that during his years in Korea he received more then he gave.

The Columban missioners did a great deal to help build up the community  of Christians in Korea, and for the last 30 years our own missioners have been sent throughout the world in gratitude for what they have received. However, she feels that although the Korean Church knows the importance of mission, it is still thought to be, she asserts, a task mostly left to other countries. The Church as a whole, she believes, has not taken the work of mission to heart and prepared a viable structure to promote the work financially and with educational programs. "The task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church" (#14 of Evangeli Nuntiandi).

Mission will enable the Korean Church to expand our vision, she says, and at the same time be the dynamic force for a more fruitful faith life. Let us remember the many missioners that have come to Korea to help in the work of evangelization, and in gratitude do our share to evangelize, knowing that with the energy that comes with the new evangelization, we will grow in maturity and vitality.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Need to Pray for his Parishoners

Being pastor of your first parish is usually your first priestly love. It usually happens when one finally lives the ideals presented in the seminary, putting into practice what had been learned and briefly experienced as an assistant pastor, says a pastor after two years in a small country parish.

Writing in a bulletin for priests, the newly assigned pastor reflects on his two years as pastor and his resolutions to give life to his ideals of how a pastor should interact with his new community. He was told by his seniors in the ministry that his first parish would be happy years, but what he found was far from what he expected. 

He knew that regardless of the circumstances he should find joy in his work. However, he soon learned that the Gospel  message and the reality of church life were often at odds, dampening his spirit.

In his area, plans were underway to build a nuclear power plant, and though knowing nothing about nuclear plants and their problems, even after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, he was aware of the protests, on three separate occasions, against the use of the area for nuclear waste disposal. However, though many were against building the plant, the economic benefits, despite the Fukushima disaster, made the plant attractive to some of the citizens.

A person of faith should be able to speak out and express his opinion, but most of us are not able to do this, he maintains, without being quickly ostracized by the community. Civil servants, especially, are in favor of the plant, and because he believes his community would not welcome what he would like to say on the subject, he too remains silent.

He also has to be careful about talking  about radiation levels in the sea water because many of his Christians are in the fish business.  A  priest, like all Christians, has the duty to  speak the truth, he says, as part of their prophetic calling received at baptism, but Christians in his area of the diocese, he's learned, don't want to hear that kind of talk--the truth he would like to speak. Many of them have not been baptized long, and many would have a traditional conservatism, making it difficult for them to hear what he would like say.

He confesses to being  more afraid of the people in his community than of God. He is embarrassed, he says, to read about the prophets who were not afraid to speak out , even to kings, and he continues to respect their courage.
Why are Christians more intent on doing what the world wants, instead of following the words they hear from Scripture? He finds this difficult to understand and accept. However, he is coming to the realization that he should spend less time asking why and spend more  time praying for them. The prophetic calling demands courage, he admits, but he has concluded there exists, more importantly, a need to pray for his people.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Holistic View of Life

Participating in society is the mission we have received as Christians and as Church. It is the way to live an authentic Christian faith life and to carry out our responsibility to society. A dualism that separates the sacred from the world and is concerned only about the afterlife separates our daily life from the religious life. The biggest obstacle that nourishes this kind of thinking is by seeing the spiritual as distinct from the material. Scriptures do not make this division but gives us a holistic view of life.

A column in the Catholic Times, written by a theology professor, reminds us of this reality which is, he says, a stumbling block to many Christians.  Scripture does not separate the spirit from the body. They are one. "The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and  blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7). The soul is not imprisoned in the body as Plato believed. Scripture points out the problems that can arise from this understanding.

St.Paul addresses the conflict between the spirit and the body:  "The tendency of the flesh is toward death but that of the spirit toward life and peace"(Rm. 8:6). They are to work together.  From the beginning, Gnosticism and Neoplatonism  have stressed the dualism of the spirit and the material. Materiality was considered the shadow side of the spirit.

This kind of thinking sees only the goal of the present life as being the glory achieved after death, the professor says. This thinking rationalizes our earthly pain and oppression, believing that our economic  and social  structures are justified.

However, Scripture, referencing the foundational experience of slavery in Egypt, speaks about liberation, and not only from sin but from all that enslaves us. Scripture does not see only a spiritual liberation but an integration of  spirituality and materiality.  The reduction of everything worthwhile in the world to Spirit is a concept that is far from the teaching of Scripture, says the professor. Consequently, our individual piety and our community worship cannot  be separated from the structures we find in society.

Scripture invites us to fight for life and freedom by integrating our body and spirit for well being, peace, justice, and the integrity of creation. The dualistic mind will separate the spirit and the body and this will lead, the professor warns, to many difficulties in living the spiritual life. There is a need, he says, for a greater loving gaze at all of creation, seeing it as an expression of God's love for all.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Healthy Questioning of What We Believe

A priest writing in a diocesan bulletin mentions visiting an elderly priest relative he greatly admired. He lived a very organized life, following the guidelines to holiness he had learned in the seminary.  Before the time of the Second Vatican Council, he remembers hearing in seminary that "those who live within a rule live in God." Which seemed to him a perfect description of his priest relative.

Many Christians at that time felt that the goal of religious life meant only saving your own soul.  Rules and regulations were there to protect us from sin and to keep us from succumbing to temptations. After the Second Vatican Council, this emphasis is beginning to change.

He remembers a course he took in the Philippines a few years after ordination. The professor said to the class he regretted not stressing the Gospel message of love more rather than some of the other areas of the Christian message. The order of priority of the teachings was not clear, he said, when he looked back at the way he had taught in the past. He felt he was like the lawyers of the law Jesus had difficulty with during his three years of public life.

He recalls the words of a French bishop who said he had, unfortunately,  lived the teachings of the Old Testament more than he had the New. Jesus had stressed the importance of having a deep and wide love and of working to establish his kingdom but, instead, the priest said he got lost in the regulations.

We should always question what we believe, he reminds us. All of us believe a great many things that we have never bothered to examine carefully. This is not only in matters of religion but in all facets of life. We accept too quickly when someone we trust has said it, or because it is the common understanding or because we learned it in school. "Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have,  but do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15).

The writer mentions how a sacristy priest is often described:  A priest who limits his pastoral work to the Mass and Sacraments. These are, he says, very important but when we forget the works of love and have no interest in the  problems of society something is missing. At times there is a lot of criticism of priests who seem to be too concerned about social problems, but we hear little about those who stay in the sacristy.

"The truth will make us free" (John 8:31). We should be searching for this truth in the will of God and by doing the works of love. Not only to save face and be concerned with regulations, but to  be a responsible person before God and a mature disciple.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Power of Words

Words have many different meanings and connotations. Often, for unworthy purposes, words are created to influence others, and sometimes used sarcastically.  A seminary professor introduces us to the Korean word 'jongbuk,' which can be taken to mean a sympathizer of North Korea or a North Korean slave. In most cases it's used as an abusive term for those who want a closer relationship with those living in the North.
People using language that is coarse and confrontational, he says, only helps to divide the country into different factions. Conservatives, "for lack of a better word,"  often see the liberal forces in society as "reds" and "commies." The appearance of the word 'jongbuk' to describe those who would like to see a closer relationship with the North is one manifestation of this conservative mindset. The far right have tried to make the opposition party, which lost the recent election, the 'jongbuk' party. 
What reason gave rise to the word? he asks. Is it the present division of the country? The persons who have suffered and continue to suffer from this situation are the weak of society, but this is not a sufficient reason, he says, for the appearance of the word. Is it the large number of pro-North Koreans in our society? Or is it the plan of those who are trying to instill fear and the bring about a more security-conscious government that encourages this 'jongbuk' thinking, resorting to charges, as in the past, of 'red' and 'commie.'

Because of the word 'jongbuk,' hostility and exclusiveness are being nourished in our society, the professor says. When we stop asking the question, why? words like jongbuk begin to spread throughout society. The abusive tone associated with the word, he believes is a sign that the ability to communicate has been lost and fear and irritation becomes the reality. It shows the poverty of our words and the thinking that is influencing our politics, media, history and academia.

When we cease to question the words we use and feel uncomfortable asking "why," the professor is convinced that words like 'jongbuk' will appear, used ignorantly. When this is done we are mercilessly doing harm to many. Looking at history we see  this kind of thinking repeated often. The life of Jesus is an easy example of the harm that arises from ignorance. They were not able to find anything against him worthy of death and yet because of ignorance and bigotry, death was the result.
This type of thinking develops into the crimes frequently committed in the past and in the present century. 'Why' is a word that comes easy to mind, says the professor. In a democratic society we are not restrained in its use; in the face of all kinds of power we are able to express our questioning. When this questioning attitude disappears, democracy, viable politics, history, academia and religion will not fare well. And our hope that the history of suffering of so many will be only a past memory will also disappear.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

SNS Relationships

Ten years ago after passing the written exam to work for a newspaper, a journalist, now writing for the Peace Weekly, recalls a question he and four others were asked during the followup interview, a question that surprised him. They were asked for the meaning of a word. Only one of them knew; it was the word for a male second cousin of one's father. 

Family relationships, are very important in Korea but this is changing in today's world, he says. In Korean all degrees of relationships within a family have a name. There is a different name for the relationship between a man and a woman when seen from the father's side and when seen from the mother's side. The journalist gives us an example of some of the titles given to family members. He believes that the word he was asked to define during that interview ten years ago would stump 9 out 10 persons asked to define it today.

He goes on to mention how the question of family relationship arose during a wedding ceremony of one of his relatives. There he met many he hadn't seen in a long time. One of his nephews and a male cousin's son  asked him who he was, and then gave him their name cards. It was their first meeting, but it prompted him to give the "family tree" more thought than he had previously. In fact, he says that once you know the principles involved, the family tree titles are not that difficult to remember, marveling at the scientific manner and the simple way it is done.

In the past, when families lived in the same village, all the children had no problem with the different titles and relationships; they were well-known. This way of life has changed: families have moved, the dependence on each other, prevalent in the past, has changed, replaced by a new style of life and manners. The younger the persons are the more this is true. They are very much part of the capitalistic way of life and its  competition. Both men and women have to work to make ends meet, often resulting in many young  people putting off marriage, which increases the likelihood of having a society with many older unmarried women and single men. The bonds of the past have become weak, he says, and it is only natural that the blood relationships have also suffered, with today's youth finding it more difficult to have a close  relationship  with family and others.

The natural relationships we had in the past are giving way to what has been called SNS relationships, relationships that exist only in cyberspace.The social networking services are taking the place of the old connections. In this world the entertainers are the ones frequently encountered.  We may not  know, he says, our second, third or fourth cousins, but we know every thing about the entertainers: what they eat, what they wear, their hobbies, and the like. The modern entertainers of the world have replaced, he regrettably says, our good neighbors of the past.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Laity's Role in Fostering Clericalism

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times brings to mind the Pope Francis interview with the atheist Scalfari. The Pope's way of handling himself during these interviews has become of interest to many of our Korean young people, he says, often generating plenty to talk about. The Pope's habit of treating subjects very openly that previously were deemed "hush-hush" have endeared him to many, non-Catholics as well as Catholics.   

He wants to open up the Church to the whole world, the columnist says, adding that the temporal interests of the Vatican seem not to be this Pope's chief preoccupation, since these concerns tend to neglect the world around us. And he believes the Pope will do everything possible to change this type of mentality. Is the Pope right in following this approach? he asks. This question is now being asked by some who doubt its effectiveness. But what can be said with certainty about the new approach is that what was once considered taboo when finding fault with the Church has now  become acceptable.

In discussing anti-clericalism, Scalfari said he is not anti-clerical but when he meets clericalism, he becomes anti-clerical and the Pope agreed with him, saying he has the same reaction with clericalism. Clericalism, he said, should  have no place within the  Church.

This kind of talk on the part of the Pope is welcomed by many of  the laity. Everybody, the journalist says, has had some difficulty dealing with  a cleric or a religious. He doubted, however, whether the laity here in Korea have the right to  criticize clericalism within the Church. He  may be opening himself up to criticism, he says, but we have to be critical of ourselves.There are good reasons for being critical of clericalism within the Church; the renewal of the Church and its mature development demands it. But we have to see what the laity are doing to foster this  kind of clericalism.

He mentioned an incident during a news gathering when a journalist was hit by a book thrown by a cleric.
Let us not be concerned with the circumstances, he adds. In response the journalist quickly left the room. One of the laypeople attending the gathering reprimanded the journalist, telling him that was not the way to behave to a priest, that it was disrespectful, and that he should apologize to him for walking out. 

This idea of unquestioning submission to the leaders and priests of the Church, from the time under the Japanese, has come under attack. Church leaders in the past were reluctant to have Christians get involved in society. Today it is just the opposite. Bishop conferences are speaking out on more participation in society, and the laity are often on the opposite side of the issue. What Pope Francis said about the Vatican-centered interest, which neglects the world around us, is difficult for many of our Catholics to appreciate and accept.

When the Catholic newspapers treat some of the troubling issues of society, even passively, they receive all kinds of protestations, most of which are essentially asking the same question: Why is a religious newspaper getting involved in politics? Pope Francis gave his answer: Because we are composed of body and soul.

And this insight also forms much of the thinking of the Second Vatican Council. Though there are some who are looking forward to another council, the Second Vatican Council's teaching is still valid, with its emphasis on the Church as a communion of the people of God, a Church with a horizontal not a vertical structure, and thus motivated by love and mutual respect. Overcoming clericalism has to begin, and end, with the clergy themselves, but we of the laity, he argues, have a great responsibility to help in advancing that goal. The lack of effort on the part of the laity in effecting this change, the columnist laments, is regrettable.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Inability to Write His Biggest Pain

 At the funeral Mass for Choi In-ho (Peter), celebrated by Cardinal Nicholas Chong, the Cardinal said in his sermon that "Choi was the best and most beloved writer of our times, and his works convey his insights into life as well as his affection for people." The Catholic papers provided some of the many reasons he is held in such high esteem. 
The novelist moved his readers because of his deep appreciation of life and its meaning. He was able to write in the genres of fiction and essays, and even wrote children's books.  During his fight with cancer, which took his life at the age of 68, he wrote for the Seoul Church Bulletin which gained for the bulletin many readers, and even changed the image of the bulletin. His fight with cancer also helped many who were dealing with similar difficulties in life. 

Many of his books became movies and TV shows which made his name even more well-known. He often said that even more than the pain of cancer, his inability to write gave him more pain.  He was a prolific writer, often including Confucian and Buddhist themes in his writings, along with themes from the Christian Scriptures. He made a thirty day retreat, intending to gather material on Jesus in order to write a book on his life that would help people come closer to him. But he wasn't given the time. During his last moments he is quoted as saying he considered the Gospel of John as being the Gospel within the Gospel.

In the Seoul Bulletin he wrote the prayer he called the Piece of Taffy. “Lord, this body is a piece of taffy at the bottom of the wooden box. You can cut it up with scissors or play the taffy-cutting game; it is the taffy master's choice. Only allow that the words I have written be sweet daily food for the poor and sick. I pray this in the name of the master of taffy."

A fellow novelist writing in the Catholic Times mentions that Plato in the Symposium, using Socrates as his spokesperson, says there are two ways of attaining immortality in this world. One is to have children and the other is to give birth to art or knowledge. A prominent novelist in our time has died and been buried, he said, but his spirit is still with us. Though he noted that Choi wanted to die still writing till the last moment, his friend said that he was not  able to write a parting message for Choi, because he is still very much with us.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Maturing in the LIfe of Faith

 "Finding a road in the desert" was the headline of an article by a poet who entered the Catholic Church some  years ago and now retells her story to the readers of the Kyeongyang  magazine. She remembers a day in spring when the weather was cold and her own spirit colder, trying to find a place for herself in the big city, without money and confidence. But Jesus, she writes, embraced her that day.

She was walking with her head down on a large open space when an old man asked her for directions to the nearest Catholic church. She had  just walked  past the church and so simply retraced her steps to lead him there. Opening the door, the man entered as a  Mass was in progress; she followed after him, and very awkwardly did what everybody else was doing.

On the way out, in front of the holy water font, she noticed a desk with holy cards. One of the cards had Jesus taking his cloak off and putting it on a beggar boy. The writer felt that she was like the boy on the card, beggar-like, and from that time on she continued going to Mass, though not knowing what was going on at the altar.

Although she had been going to Sunday Mass for a number of months no one ever gave her any directions or even talked to her. But she overheard the names Peter, Mary and the like, and wondered what she needed to do to get a name. She inquired and was told she had to be baptized and then would receive a name.

If you ask a Catholic why they became Catholic many will say it's not like the Protestants, it's rather easy and not burdensome. Catholics, she noted, are lukewarm when it comes to evangelizing and not very good at reading the Scriptures. When talking to a Protestant they easily quote Scripture, and you are left at a loss for words, she remembers.

She has been studying the Scriptures since 2003 and, wanting to convey her enthusiasm to others, she began to volunteer her services by teaching the Scriptures. However, there are times she still has difficulties, she admits, and so she recommends two book: Contemplating Jesus by Robert Faricy and Robert Wicks, now out of print, and a book by Franz Josef Ortkemper, Go the Way  your Heart Directs.

She mentions two incidents from the Scriptures that she came to understand on a deeper level: the story of Babel, which gives us, she believes, an image of our inner self desiring the summit but it is God who resides there. The other is Abraham, who is called the ancestor of  believers, but his actions, she says, are difficult to understand. He is told by God to go to the promised land but he takes a route different from the one recommended, and gets out of a difficult predicament by giving  his wife to the Egyptians, followed by other absurd acts which might endanger his becoming the father of a great nation.

We can all become saints was her conclusion, she says, from her reading and study, including the provocative and puzzling acts of Abraham. (It's well to remember that Scripture does not give us the story of heroes but of temptations, errors, and depravity besides the acts of  heroism.) The contrast between Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) and Job raises us up to a new level of understanding. The book by Ortkemer helped her to see the Scriptures in a different light and to rid herself of much of the alienation that came from her first readings of the Scriptures.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Life Need Not be Boring

Life can be tiring and boring and the results can be seen daily in our newspapers. Obviously, this is not the way it should be. A seminary priest-professor, in the Kyeongyang magazine, comments that such a lifeless attitude frequently comes about when there is so much to do, accompanied by our inability to respond in the way we would like, leading to anger,frustration and depression--all brought about, says the professor, by a mental state that can be pathological.  

To avoid this, most cultures, he says, have built-in solutions: sporting events, festivals and holidays, art shows and literary events, and personal occasions, like birthdays and anniversaries, that encourage spending a night out dining and drinking. We attempt to overcome our tiredness and boredom by all kinds of distractions. What we really want, the professor says, is rest, but we continually take on more activity.

Our spiritual life is no different, he says. We should be concerned about our relationship with God and experience his presence in our lives, but the accompanying values and rules become discordant with the society we are in, being seen as musty with old-age and now unimportant. But even those who have been Christian for some time can feel tired and bored, wanting relief from such feelings. Prayer also can become arduous, further increasing our fatigue and feelings of being burnt out by what we believe is demanded. When we do not experience God and his grace, this is bound to be its natural outcome.

Catholics also have a great deal of habitual acts to perform as part of our faith life, and if there is no sweetness and tang to the life, we will become tired and bored.  When we lose the meaning and awareness of what we do as Christians, weariness will appear. When we are not aware of the graces we receive daily, we will be overcome with distractions and worldly thoughts.

Not only is this true for the laity but priests also have the same problem. And when obligation is the only motive for action, the same problems arise.  Mass, the Sacraments, the breviary, counseling, visits to the sick--all can be very tiring. Without joy in the life of the priest, these duties can become unbearable and lead to burn out and dereliction of duty. 

To find reasons for the boredom and fatigue, one has to look within, the professor says. Before we take an alternative route, we need the discipline to uncover the driving force for our actions, and work to purify our motivation. A small change in our thinking, we know, can bring a great change in our actions. The grace of God is always there to move us from stagnation, or something worse, to a new life of health and grace-filled living.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How One Christian Philosopher Sees Secularism

Secularism  defined briefly is the denial of the supernatural; our  greatest value is the  world we can experience. With these words a high school principal and professor of philosophy, a priest, begins  his article in the Kyeongyang Magazine headlined: Is this  world everything?

Secularism, he says, has entered the cultural life of society, changing our traditional ways of thinking, both consciously and unconsciously. The transcendent, the spiritual and holy, has been pushed to the periphery, out of our daily concerns.

What is left, he says, is a world centered on the Ego, the 'I'  becoming all important. Reason, our traditional guide to right behavior, is being overturned by a reliance on personal feelings of what is right. From a God-centered world we are moving to a human-centered world, discarding our supernatural measuring sticks, content to behave in accordance with an intuitive judgement of ourselves.

Many philosophers, he said, helped to spread this emphasis on the individual's right to determine his own behavior without regard for any other governing authority, mentioning in particular the pre-eminent German individualist anarchist Max Stirner (1806-1856). By emptying our minds of the transcendent, the supernatural, and relying solely on the personal desires of the individual to determine our behavior, we end up, the priest says, with absurdity and, very likely, using others as means in pursuing our own desires.

Enlightenment brought the ideas of individuality, rationalism, empiricism, and psychology to the culture. Mankind was now in a position, with the new knowledge and technology, to control nature. By getting rid of God and deifying both the "I ' and science, he says we have effectively diminished the relevance of everything else.

During the 18th century, secularism put on another face; it was accepted as an essential component of all scholarly work, especially in physics, history, natural science, law and art. Theology and metaphysics were dropped. There was no longer any desire to acquaint scholars with the principles handed down from the past. Reason, he says, was taken away from faith, and virtue was removed from religion, which was pushed to the periphery of the scholarly world. Repentance, grace, salvation and similar concepts were considered meaningless, as being outside the legitimate boundary of what can be known.  

A new group of philosophers, in the 19th century, with the appearance of atheism as a school of thought, made man into a God. Our knowledge became more specialized and individualistic, but when metaphysics, the root of our philosophical knowledge, was discarded, he maintains that it is now impossible to rid ourselves of conflict, and the result is a secularism without a center. We have lost, he says, our identity and have become skeptical and  disillusioned.
Nobody denies, he points out, that knowledge and technology have brought a great deal of material comfort into our lives. But knowledge and technology alone cannot solve all our problems. To solve our problems, he believes we must take on the secularist culture with a contrary and corrective culture. Not an easy task but that, he says, is the project of religion.

For a Christian, Jesus is the object of our faith. He is the source of our hope and the way we can overcome the crisis of our civilization. When Jesus is the foundation of our efforts, humanity, our neighbor, nature and natural law become the means by which we can overcome individualism and materialism, and begin to make real a civilization of love--because the God we believe in is a God of love.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Life is Full of Encounters and Departures

Life is full of encounters and departures, of hellos and goodbyes. A priest writing in the With Bible magazine reflects on his own departure from his first parish. Though eagerly looking forward to what the future will bring, he recalls those five years that went by so quickly with its joyful and sorrowful moments.

During the farewell Mass he cried, he said, surprised by his tears. Isn't the life of a priest full of encounters and departures? he asked himself. What had built up this emotion? He was leaving without any mishaps; there should be a feeling of relief from the responsibilities of parish life. After all, he will be living under the same heaven as his parishioners, though he feels he will not meet them again.
One of the phrases often heard is that none of our meetings is forever. God does not want us to have encounters that do not end in this world. The vehicle we travel in repeatedly picks up and drops off its travelers as we journey through life.

The writer reflects on the many people he has met and separated from daily. Names and faces he doesn't remember, much like the wind that comes and goes. Or like those who came into his life like a violent storm and shook it completely. Sadly, there have been some, he admits, who came into his life to leave scars but many have been a great blessing to him. With these plentiful encounters and departures, seemingly relating together harmoniously, he has become, he believes, the person he is today.

What is it that lasts forever? Shusaku Endo (1923-19996), in his novel The World around the Dead Sea, has Pilate ask this question of Jesus. Jesus answers: "Those in life who have been touched by me, even if only fleetingly, will forever be encountering me." This is true of us also, says the priest; every person we have touched in any encounter will remain forever with us. It's also important to remember that every one of our actions and words can be either helpful or hurtful to that person.

What traces are left behind after the encounter and departure? This is what is most important, he says. Buddhism says that even touching the garment of another is destiny. But more than with encounters, in farewells everything seemingly comes to mind: the folly and the mistakes, the good and the bad, the love received and given, the care, the friendship, the acts of forgiveness. It is, he says, very much like separating from your first love. The priest loved  his first parishioners and hopes only the good traces will remain now that he has bid his farewells. He is certain that the meetings and farewells of our lives, even when they have long ago slipped into the past, will remain an important part of our lives.