Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Do We Mean by the Humanities?

The lack of interest in studying the humanities is the  reason for the many crises in society today, according to a professor emeritus writing in the Kyeongyang magazine. He even fears to read the newspapers, he says, with their many tragic tales of human  suffering. Why the many suicides, the break up of families and the other problems of society which are reported on a daily basis? The bonds that bind the members of a family--love, trust, understanding, sacrifice-- are, he says, as slippery as sand, difficult to hold on to, as we pursue worldly goods and honors.

He quotes Pope Francis: "The crisis is not a crisis of finances, or of culture but  the crisis of being humans. Persons have fallen into crisis; we are destroying ourselves." The professor lists the many reasons he feels that these words speak the truth. Our culture should be helping us to attain a fuller life; however, money and ideology  are putting on their armor and facing each other with violence.

We know what is happening to our environment: the waste products of industrialization have contaminated our ground, our water, our atmosphere, and is causing the disappearance of many animal species. Nietzsche is quoted as saying that humankind will remain as a useless virus on the face of the earth. There are those that agree with him, says the professor. These are just a few of the negative results of our material development.

Our culture is changing us, and not for the better. The professor divides our history into four periods: the ancient, the middle ages, the modern, and the present period. Each period had a particular method of education. The ancient Greeks and Romans aimed at bringing about a unity of mind and body, the cultivation, disciplining and improvement of the self.

During the middle ages, there was an emphasis away from attending to the needs of the individual to focusing more on achieving a relationship with God and religion. On the way to God, we are, he says, pilgrims in pursuit of understanding with faith, building character as we endeavor to lead a life of faith. 

During the modern era, Europe went through great changes. The fighting among Christians brought about a devastation that brought despair to the lives of many. We went from God being the center of our lives to placing humanity once again in the center. With the Renascence, there was a return to the ancient times of the Greeks and Romans, and a desire to rebuild the dignity of the person with humanism. This was the beginning of the study of the humanities in college, and those who championed this method of study were called humanists.

Now that we have entered the present times, we are faced with an ongoing clash between divergent cultures and civilization, between what we are and what we have. We can no longer insist on one culture, one viewpoint, one way of seeing God or man. We have to learn how to live together.  

Many thinkers acknowledge this situation, and they are looking for another way of being members of the human family. The professor believes we need a global humanities program, and then goes on to outline the Asian understanding of the person. Asia also has had an understanding of the humanities. There was a pattern for the human engraved within us, he says, just as there was a  pattern for the heavens. This division appeared first in the Book of Changes (The I Ching).  "Looking at the heavens we see change, looking at the pattern of humanity we see enlightenment." Asia has a tradition of poetry and ritual. We bring to fruition the pattern of life we have received  by the life of truth and virtue.

In conclusion, he doesn't want Asia to follow along the path taken by the West. The West, he says, was interested in the intellect as seen from the male perspective. They forgot that women made up half of the world's population and that 70 percent live in the East.

The study of the humanities, both in the East and in the West, is to form a mature individual, a whole person. How to form the  mature individual is what it is all about, to build for character. At present Korea has lost the idea of what education is meant to attain. The present aim is to get grades, pass the college entrance exam, make money. It is not interested in the formation of a mature person of character.  It is time to make a change, a global change, in the way we go about educating our children.                                                                                                                                                  


Monday, December 30, 2013

Using to Abuse

In June of 2013, Korean TV ran the first advertisement for condoms. A young man is busy in the house attaching something to furniture and even to a tree outside the house. He hears the door bell ring and rushes to open the  front door. His girl friend outside has just dropped her handbag and is picking up the contents, which includes a pack of condoms made by the largest multinational in the field. 

Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, a specialist in promoting the culture of life discusses the methods used in selling condoms in Korea. Referring to the ad, he asks: Why does it put two incompatible items together: a rosary ring on the finger of the girl friend as she leans down to pick up the contents of her bag, which contains a pack of condoms. 

The obvious intention is to show the use of condoms in a positive light, a part of ordinary life. Though this attempt is easily accomplished with the younger generation in Korea, it is not so easy with the older generation. The marketing objective is clearly focused on desensitizing us from one way of thinking, and moving us along to another. The young girl, portrayed as a chaste, simple Catholic, has come to her boy friend's house prepared to have a "safe" sexual encounter.

All are familiar with the Church's teaching on premarital sex and artificial contraception--not exactly what would increase the bottom line for condom manufacturers, who feel the need to counter this influence--if they are to increase their share of the market--by ads that encourage sexual activity among those least likely to do so. The multinational is working to create a new type of culture. The writer shows this by the way they have treated the Catholic way of life in their advertisements in the West. One example shows a father of 12 children who he is calling them by name from a second story house window. Each one has a saint's name, and as he calls each one he begins to stumble in the middle of the name calling, finding it difficult to remember all the names. He wants them to come in to eat, and as the ad ends, we see the tired face of the father and the words: "If only he had known about condoms, he would not have had so many children to worry about."
Of course the  company is not doing this in a vacuum: The Church's teaching is not taken seriously by the Catholics themselves. There is no need for a frontal attack on the Church when Catholics do not see any problem with condoms and premarital sex. More of a problem, he says, is aiming their words to the younger generation. In the advertising segment shown on TV,  we are shown a young man, alone at home, attaching condoms all over the house and a tree outside, waiting for his girl friend to arrive for sex.

The writer recommends to parents a number of responses to this kind of advertising. First, to complain about the marketing of sex to the young. Second, be a wise consumer.  Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of the condoms, makes many household articles, any of which could be the object of a shopper's boycott. (When one of their humidifiers recently caused the death of a number of children, there was no apology or compensation from the company.) Third, educating their children about the media (media literacy) is necessary. Showing sex as something without consequences is a lie, and should be exposed. Fourth, simply becoming more aware of the many conditioning forces surrounding us. We can excuse a commander who fails in battle, but one who has the job of protecting and doesn't do the job is something quite different. In the world of media, we have to be alert so as not to be deceived. The company is spending big money to silently educate viewers with their up-to-date tactics on how to influence us through the media. We also should be as wise in combating this assault on our values.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hell is to Lose Hope

Korea's aging population is one of the fastest growing in the world. According to the standard of the United Nations, a country with over 7 percent of its population over 65 is considered an aging society, over 14 percent an aged society, and over 20 percent a super-aging society.
Writing in the View from the Ark a professor uses these statistics to remind us of a situation in Korea we may not be familiar with. According to the statistics from last year, 11.8 percent of the population is over 65 years of age; in contrast, Catholics over 65 make up slightly more than 15 percent, which puts the Catholic community in the aged society category; a matter of some concern to the Korean Church.

The aging of the population is a serious problem, especially if one looks at the quality of life and degree of happiness that continues to spiral downward among the aged. After the ruin of the Korean War, all that the older generation was concerned with was the education of their children. They had to feed and prepare to educate them, even if it meant going hungry themselves. And because they spent their time helping their children, they were not able to prepare for retirement. Now, they don't have the energy, or the money, to take care of themselves, to deal with the inevitable sickness, economic problems and loneliness that are the normal lot of many of our elderly. As a consequence there has been an increase in the numbers who  choose extreme solutions to their problems. 

The reasons for putting an end to their life is varied, says the professor, but primary reason, he believes, is a sense of hopelessness. The lack of expectation and desire drives them to this stage of giving up, for in their eyes their life is no longer a life worth living. Without hope, life is a living hell; with hope we are already living the heavenly life.  

He reminds us of the martyrs of Korea who suffered every kind of cruelty imaginable, and did not give in or lose hope. Faced with hunger in prison, they would  take the mat on the floor of their prison room, which was made of straw, and use that for a meal. They hoped for a life after death with God. Looking forward to the joys of heaven and fearing the pains of hell, they were given strength to overcome all difficulties. Life on earth was to them no more than a flash of lightning.

The aged and all those who are nearing death are not to be seen as miserable creatures. They will be experiencing new life before the rest of us. They will be able to look ahead to a new life and calmly breathe peacefully. They can enjoy their present life and still dream of the better life to come. The words of Jesus give us life, and even if we are in a helpless situation his words give us strength and courage. He concludes the column with the last words of the Gospel of Matthew: "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fraternal Charity Between the North and South

The primary reason, it is said, for the existence of the Korean military is the division of the country into two Koreas. Not only is this a big issue in politics, especially at election times, but it is related to many other issues: future meetings with the North, the North Limit Line (the disputed maritime demarcation line in the Yellow Sea between the North and the South), Mount Kumgang sightseeing, humanitarian aid to the North, family reunions, the National Intelligence Service, public security, left wing thinking, nuclear weapons, 6-party talks (Russia, China, Japan, USA, South and North Korea) and the like are all connected with the cold wind that blows from the North.

Writing in the With Bible magazine, a college professor reminds us that whenever these topics arise in talking about the North, it is usually accompanied with a  feeling of hostility and hatred. Politics is not the only area of conflict which has developed because of the North/South debate. With the growing confrontation between contending parties, all Koreans are beginning to tire of the issue.

There are things in life we can change and others that we can't. What we can't change, whether we like it or not, says the professor, we need to accept. And if what we can't change is from the past, we need to deal with that issue differently than it was handled in the past. The professor urges all of us to get rid of the baggage we carry from the past and work to change the feelings associated with that baggage. 

Confucius told one of his disciples to be careful not to transfer one's anger to someone else. This advice is not easily followed, the professor admits, noting that passing along our anger to others is a common occurrence, and it usually gets transferred to those weakest among us. He hopes we can rid ourselves of  the anger that comes from a difficult past relationship, so that we can begin to lay the foundation for bringing about a new relationship.
Statements like "a follower of the North...a friend of the North" are often used to brand another as somehow unpatriotic.  But isn't that exactly what we should be trying to do?" he asks. Being a friend to a brother in trouble--is this not a sign of our humanity? Isn't this what we as Christians are supposed to do? Being friendly with the North is not something that should be criticized but something we should work to foster.

Love that is not expressed will not bear fruit. Seed that is not planted in the garden will not grow. Liberation does not come automatically.  Salvation comes to us with the cross of Jesus. The difficulty with the North will not be resolved without effort. Instead of hate, we have to speak out for reconciliation and hope.  We do not want to transfer our anger but foster patience and  levelheadedness. This is not a time for hate but joy and fraternity. The message of restoration should be preached in the home, workplace, offices, and places of play. When spoken out forcefully everywhere, this message of hope and joy will be the way we change the static that comes from this long separation into something we all can embrace.

 "Be bountiful, O Lord, to Zion, in your kindness, by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem" (Ps 51:20). In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above  the hills. All  nations shall stream toward it....They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again" ( Isa 2: 2-4).

Friday, December 27, 2013

Who is the Happy Person?

Goals and values in life are frequently different for each of us but beneath the goals and values is the same search for happiness, a desire that is inscribed in our human nature, says a seminary professor writing in the With Bible magazine.

By this desire for happiness, he believes we are showing our love for the world. Even though we experience quarreling, violence, oppression, pain, and  sickness, we  still love the world. What needs to be done, the professor says, is to distinguish between loving the world and being conditioned, manipulated by the world. Since we were born in the world, we have both the duty and the right to love the world. With this understanding, we have to define what we mean by happiness. Some think happiness comes from possessing material goods and honors; some think it comes from sharing.

Which is it? he asks his readers. There are workers who believe that a good, well-paying job will bring them happiness. And there are students who think that happiness comes with getting into their school of choice, and for untold numbers of people who struggle with a difficult situation, solving the difficulty would bring happiness to them. The understanding of happiness is different for each of us.

There is another face, he says, to the world we love: the fear that surrounds our knowing that it will come to an end for us. The Scriptures speak of the transiency of life: "All mankind is grass, and all their glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it" (Isa 40:6-7).

Whether we acknowledge it or not,  we are going forward daily toward death. As the psalm says: "A short span you have made my days, and my life is as naught before you; only  a breath is any human existence"( Ps 39:6). Although life on this earth is short, it does not prevent us from constantly looking for happiness during our short stay here.

So what is happiness in this situation? What do we need to do to find happiness?  The answer can be found, he says, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter five to seven, but especially in the fifth chapter, containing the Beatitudes.  The sermon on the mount was from ancient times considered the center piece of the New Testament,  and the main point of Christ's teachings. St. Augustine said that in the sermon of the mount we can find the pattern of Jesus' life, and the complete teaching on the commandments.

Beginning with the eight steps for entering God's kingdom, we are shown the way to form ourselves in the image of Jesus. We are taught how to grow closer to God and to possess him. Before Augustine, St. Irenaeus said,  "Humans are on earth to enjoy God, to feel, love and possess him."  Another way to express this is to say we are on earth to discover Jesus, to live according to his word, to appreciate  and enjoy him. By doing this we will come to the fullest understanding of what is meant by finding happiness in our lives.

Granted that we all want happiness, what is the difference between wanting happiness and being happy? When  I say  I am happy at this moment, I am truly  happy.  When I  say I  want to be happy we are either less happy or unhappy and searching for happiness. So who is the happy person?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Misuse of the Mass Media

The mass media in Korea, like the rest of the world, is subject to criticism for the way it transmits the news. In the Peace Weekly column on the Diagnosis of Current Events, the writer explores a serious problem in  journalism: the ideological battles that are given prominent exposure on front pages of newspapers and in opening remarks on news channels throughout the world. He considers this the primary reason for the divisions in society. Uplifting concepts like mutual respect and compromise, reconciliation, solidarity, trust, win-win outcomes, and peace are nowhere to be found. And when we look deeper, he says, beneath the maneuvering for advantages and power, we see an increase of ideology, not less, with a stubbornness of  will that refuses to give an inch. In such confrontations, the point at issue becomes clouded, the willingness to re-think positions disappears. News sources, often trying to get their readers to join their  ideological stance, are further alienating many of their readers. 

As these efforts continue pitting one side against the other: conservatives against  progressives, left against right,  pro-Japanese against anti-Japanese, pro-Communist against anti-Communists, the battle between the different ideologies tends to intensify, fostering divisions and conflict within society.

The first obligation of media, according to the writer, is to present the facts accurately, objectively and fairly, and only then present their opinions. When discussing the same issue or event the facts should be the same, says the writer, as he reminds us of the saying of Confucius that we should be strictly fair when we criticize. But what frequently happens in presenting the news is the lack of differentiating between opinion and facts. If, for instance, it's reported that "Mr. Kim said the chances are great that  (A) did it," it makes it seem this is the objective fact.

He then shows, with examples, how this is done in many news articles. Objective, accurate facts are not presented as such, but appear introduced by terms such as "often we hear...it was heard...it was said...it seems...one foresees."  We are not told "who did the hearing...who said what...who sees and foresees." This is one way the news source makes it seem that the majority goes along with their understanding, thus confirming that they are a reliable news source.

The second obligation of media is not to abuse the use of anonymity of the news-gatherer. There are times this is required, but this is overly used by such reporting:as "a party concerned...a key person...a specialist...news services, and the like. When these terms are routinely used to promote the editorial policy of the paper,  there is likely to be a distortion of the news, and at times the paper creates a public personality, whose aspirations are most often political, and who supports the ideological position of the paper.

He concludes the column with a quote from Pope Francis: 'We must not be blinded by greed for profit and power." He goes on to plead for all those who at this time of Christmas are fighting over issues of advantages and power, and hopes sincerely that they will find  peace.

What Is Meant By Success?

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, the priest columnist recalls being invited to a  play directed by a former classmate, and being filled with pride for his success. After the play there were two tables set up where  they all sat and began discussing the evening's event. At the table directly in front of the stage was sitting a good-looking young man who the columnist hadn't noticed as part of the cast. During the conversation, he learned that he was behind the stage, responsible for the lighting.

There were many seated at the tables that had worked behind the scenes, out of sight of the audience. The columnist blamed his own ignorance for not knowing what was happening behind the stage when the actors were on stage. He was surprised to see how many of them, working quietly and unknown to most of the audience, were responsible for producing what was seen on stage. 
During the discussion at the table  the man working on the lighting turned to the priest and said: "Father,  I am a farmer from nearby. I work during the day farming, but in  the evenings I come here to take care of the lighting for the performance."  The priest stood up  and gave him a bow. "I have a feeling of pride in hearing you say, so openly, that you are a farmer."

"What is it about a farmer that is so praiseworthy? asked the young man. "it was the way you made known that you were a farmer that impressed me," the priest replied.

The priest then went on to mention that at a nearby high school, close to where he lives, there was a placard with the message: "We are proud to have a special talk from one  of our alumni."  This talk, said the priest, would no doubt give the students  a dream that someday they will also be able to succeed in life as this alumnus had done. But we know it is not only what appears to the eyes of the onlooker that is  praiseworthy. Also praiseworthy are people who, like the young farmer, without fanfare and very quietly, do their work with pride.  If we consider only a person's credentials and position in society, and the honor that comes with the position, something is seriously missing in our value system, the priest said. Referring to the placard  at the alma mater  of the successful graduate, he wondered if this is not just reinforcing the feeling of many that honor is the goal for  success in life.

Unknowingly, we can be fostering, he believes, what we dislike without thought of the result of  our  words and actions  Whatever we do has all kinds of ramifications and, perhaps thankfully, we are not conscious of them most of the time. Because there is just so much that we can handle at any one time, it may be helpful to pray for the strength and courage to do something about our incorrect thinking, when we are ready for that change.

The columnist ends the column by noting that when we find satisfaction and joy in what we do, even if it does not bring us honor in the eyes of world, we are living a praiseworthy life.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Good News to the Whole World"

Christmas is a time of joy, a time to think of the many who find life difficult.  Efforts are made to bring  joy into the  lives of those who, for one reason or another, do not have the things we associate with the good life.  Parishes, organizations, many religious groups, and others, during this season, go out to the sick, alienated, and the poor to bring some joy into their lives.

The secular papers displayed a picture of Buddhist monks in one of the temples in Seoul, lighting the Christmas tree they had set up on their grounds. The picture, showing the monks and children dressed up in Santa Claus uniforms, was their way of showing respect for another religion in a very telling way.

Both Catholic papers reflected on the Feast Day with editorials and articles. The Gospel message for Christmas Day proclaims: “Today a great light has come upon the earth.” The Word has come to live with us. It is a  day of  joy. However, the archbishop of Seoul, in his Christmas message, mentions that more so than we have seen in the past an atheistic materialism and secularist world view is being nurtured. And, perhaps as a consequence, 60 years after the cease fire, we are not advancing on the way of peace  but being surrounded with the harsh realities of a cold war mentality. The culture of death is making progress, the  rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The situation is fostering division and  strife. 
Where are we to find the joy of Christians in such a world? the editorial asks. All our bishops have stressed the need for harmony, mutual understanding, unity and co-existence. Jesus is a good example of the direction we should be going.

Leaving the joy of this time to a once-a-year event is not quite what is meant. As Christians, we should understand and live the example that Jesus gave us by relating to the poor and the lowly of his  society, not only in words but in action. This is also our task. The editorial wants us to turn our eyes to the poor, the migrant workers, and the weak of society. Jesus has given us an unmistakeable visual aid to accomplish this task, by the circumstances of his birth in a manger that is difficult to misinterpret.

The message of Christmas: "Then I saw another angel flying in the mid-heaven, the herald of  everlasting good news to  the whole world, to every nation and race, language and people " (Rev. 14:6). If we as Christians do not live in the light, we will not help overcome the darkness of society.
Buddhists, in their own messages, mentioned the lowliness and sharing and sacrifice  that Jesus showed us as an example to follow. The Buddhist monks have given us another outstanding example of how we can break down some of the walls we continue to erect, blocking our understanding of each other. Such efforts of communication in no way dilute or compromise what we believe. They are simply good will efforts to understand and respect the other as brothers and sisters of the human family.  A Blessed Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ambassador Han Speaks About Korea-Holy See Relations

Ambassador Han looks at 50 years of Korea-Holy See relations, the Gospel and the common good
by Thomas Han Hong-soon*

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between South Korea and the Holy See. For the occasion, today 19 December, the Secretary of State Mgr Pietro Parolin celebrated a Mass at the chapel of the Pontifical Korean College in Rome, in the presence of worshipers, ambassadors and charg├ęs d'affaires. AsiaNews asked the Hon Thomas Han Hong-soon to assess these 50 years. The Hon Han was the ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Holy See from 2010 until 2013. A few weeks ago, he was replaced by Mr Francis Kim Kyung-Surk.

Relations between the Vatican and Seoul have been strong for a long time, even from before the 50 years we are now celebrating. In fact, Korea and the universal Church had relations even before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Korea.

It is important to stress how much the Catholic Church has contributed to Korea's human and social development, starting in the early days of the Catholic Church in Korea, even under persecution. Afterward, with the presence of the missionaries, Christians contributed to the country's modernization and planted the seeds of human development.

An example of this is the experience of equality between human beings and the dissemination of a culture of love. In the early Korean Christian communities, masters sat next to slaves, in a sign of brotherhood. This was something unimaginable before Christianity.

The Church has always had at heart the common good of the nation. After Vatican II, its contribution to development - with a momentum towards democracy and justice - was even greater.
From a political point of view, it should be noted that even under Japanese colonial rule (1905-1945), the Holy See never ceased to recognize Koreans as a people and as a nation.

At the end of the Second World War, even before Korea was recognized by the international community as a sovereign nation (1948), the Holy See sent an Apostolic Delegate in 1947. Thus, the Holy See was the first country to recognize modern Korea, even before the UN.

The Apostolic Delegate to Korea Patrick Byrne (1888-1950), a Maryknoll missionary, never left the country, not even after the Communist aggression from the North. For this reason, he was arrested and died of starvation and cold in the so-called "death marches" inflicted by the Pyongyang regime. We consider him a martyr. The Holy See tried to share this difficult time with the Korean people.

Fifty years of diplomatic relations have boosted even more the Church's contribution to the Korean people and are another reason to give thanks for this tie. The Church has contributed in every way to the dignity of the people, collectively and individually, in terms of human rights, justice, and above all charity. Even with regards to North Korea, the Church continues to push for reconciliation.

Trying to unify the two Koreas without true reconciliation is meaningless. I am very excited to think back over all these years, looking closely at the special contribution the Holy See and the Church made to the country.

Some surveys have noted this. In a recent survey by a Buddhist organization, the Catholic religion comes first as the most valued and important religion in Korea. Why is this? Because of the commitment and unity the Catholic Church shows and experiences with the Holy See. The Korean Church exists in actual and affective communion with the Holy Father.

This has also led to a staggering growth in the number of faithful. In 1960 the Catholic Church had 500,000 members. Today we are 5.5 million, or 11 per cent of the population. And the more we go up the social ladder - intellectuals, cultural sector, business - the higher the percentage.

Korea is perhaps the only country in the world where the Catholic Church has grown hand in hand with economic development. The increase in economic prosperity and materialism has often been associated with a decline in faith, but Korea dispels this link since the Christian faith has expanded along with economic growth.

The poll I mentioned -by a Buddhist research institute - indicates that over the next 30 years more than half of the Korean population will be Catholic, approximately 25 million or 56 per cent of the total by 2044.
In fact, the Catholic Church has doubled its membership every ten years. In 1985 there were 1.86 million Catholics; they were 2.95 million in 1999 and 5.24 million in 2005. At this pace, we can realistically expect the Catholic Church to be largest group in the country.

All this comes from what the Catholic Church is offering the country: unity, above all unity with the pope. In the 1980s we had the privilege of receiving Pope John Paul II twice (in 1984 and 1989). The coming of the Polish pope was a great gift for evangelization, for the pope is always the most effective missionary and has always been very well received by the Korean population.

Even Pope Francis has had real impact on Koreans. After seeing him express his joy, sense of charity, and love for the sick, many Koreans are taking an interest in the Catholic faith in order to be baptized. For this reason, a visit by Pope Francis to Korea, next year perhaps, would be important. The purpose is evangelization is that of pushing further the culture of love, a love that comes from the Lord.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Korea means that I cannot separate my identity as a Korean from that of a Catholic. The humanization of Korea flows from evangeliaation. This is always the greatest gift that the Church can offer to a country. Therefore, Korea will always be grateful to the Holy See and the Catholic Church.

All the teachings of the Holy Father - catechesis, social doctrine, etc. - must be implemented through the local Church and people in Korea, and the Holy See is grateful to the Korean people for this. Sometimes, the Church's contribution has led to tensions over issues like justice, democracy, ecology . . . . But this does not mean that it has not been appreciated.

For me, the time I spent as an ambassador was a time of abundant grace. In my work I have tried to boost relations between Korea and the Vatican on behalf of the common good.

An ambassador is usually seen as someone sent abroad to lie for his country. I have never had to do that because there is no diplomatic competition or conflicting interests with the Holy See. The Holy See and my country share the same interest in promoting and working for the common good.

Ambassadors to the Holy See do not have to lie; they can be safely honest. When I was unexpectedly appointed ambassador, I felt like the ass in the Last Supper (cf. Matthew, 21:2), which the apostles took on the Lord's order because "The master has need of" him. As "ass" I tried to do my best. At the end of my mandate, I ideally want to say that as Saint Paul said, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."

Now I can go home, return to Korea as an ambassador, but as a Catholic, I remain tied to the Vatican (as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity). As for the future, I place myself in God's hands; he has always looked after me, in all my plans and beyond.

Such a strong link between a country in the Far East and the Holy See might also show neighboring countries how to manage such relationships. China comes to mind for example. But it all depends on the attitudes Chinese leaders have towards the Holy See, how they see the role of the Catholic Church in China and the world.

Today, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 countries and its role in support of the common good is seen by everyone as highly positive. The absence of diplomatic relations with the Holy See deprives China of a very important contribution in the globalized world.

* Thomas Han was born on 17 August 1943. Married with three children, he is a graduate in economics from Seoul National University (1965), in social sciences (economics) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (1971), and has an honorary doctorate in Law from the Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. He was a lecturer in economics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul (1972-2008), and a member of the Catholic Lay Apostolate Council of Korea (1984-2010). In addition to various national and international posts, he was also a member of the International College of Auditors of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See (2008-2010) as well as Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Holy See (2010-2013).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Unity With the Pope: A Sign of Catholicism

Korea is a small country with a very well organized infrastructure  and blessed with  one language and culture. The Catholic Church has benefited greatly from this basic homogeneity in the work of evangelization. We have the appearance of unity, which at times gives way to partisan concerns  of the members. This is not surprising for the Church is a part of the society in which we live, but when the issues are serious enough to pit one group against the other, it causes concern.

Over the years the different factions, political  or philosophical have not often surfaced  to need a spotlight,  but recently this has not been the case, and one of the columnists alludes to this right beside the editorial in the Catholic Times, which  considers the problem serious enough to bring it to the attention of the  readers. Especially after finishing the Year of Faith, which was meant to grow closer to Jesus, become more familiar with his teaching, and to renew ourselves and the Church.

With the retirement of Pope Benedict and the beginning of the  papacy of Pope Francis we have a new beginning. Francis wants the Church in preaching the Gospel  to be missionary and to  understand the social dimension of the message and bring about the internal renewal and reform. He is making this clear by his words and actions wanting to energize the Church.

With this as a background, the editorial  mentions that many priests, religious, and lay people who are sensitive to the political issues in society are expressing their views, which are giving rise to discord and conflict within the Church. The evils that are seen in society are connected  to our understanding of justice  and when this is expressed, we have  hostility and division.

The editorial goes on to say  they do not see this tension and  discord completely  as something negative. The Church is made up of members of society and consequently, to have differences of opinion on some  matters is not strange. However, this disunity should not harm our community and the love we have for one another that comes from the Gospel message of Jesus.

We need to have respect for one another, and patiently work to communicate in  dialogue  wanting to understand the  other, and  remembering  the fellowship and unity that we have been called to embrace as disciples. We are coming to the end of the calendar year, and we should ask ourselves how we are preparing for the New Year.

Even though we have a difference of opinion, we should not resort to propaganda, deny the existence of the other or condemn the other. This is a way of entering the new year with  peace. The accompanying column mentions that the Pope was said to be a Marxist which of course, he denied, but it should help those who have difficulty with the Church getting involved in what some consider politics, something to think about.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Working to Change the Culture

All animals have two eyes. With only one eye, it's difficult to gauge distances and have a correct conception of space. Human vision, however, differs from animals in having a "third eye," an inner eye able to distinguish between the intellect and the emotions, subjective and objective, beauty and ugliness, good and bad, among many other distinctions--which makes for human character, according to a professor at the Catholic School of Art.

Writing in a bulletin for priests, he introduces us to Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology, a beast that would eat humans in the morning and again in the evening. The professor marvels at the wisdom of the ancients in making him a one-eyed monster, no doubt knowing the problems of seeing with only one eye.

When politicians see only with one eye and blame everything on others, there are likely to be problems, says the professor. When industry makes profit the reason for every marketing decision, there is one-eyed vision,  When religious persons think they have all the truth, there is one-eyed vision. The self-righteousness that is propagated by this secular gospel, he says, is not for life but for death. They are dispensing mind-numbing opium and not the saving word to life.

A  society with most citizens seeing with one-eyed vision is not going to be  a happy society. Concern for others is not only absent in such a society but the concern itself is embarrassing to many. One-eyed educational programs promote selfishness and competition for securing the best jobs; anything that fosters one's personal goals and the goals of one's group, without regard for the common good, is permissible and even encouraged.

However, the professor does not think our society is made up only of individuals seeing with one eye whose only consideration is personal gain and loss. There are many who, though not recognized in our society, are keeping our society going, he says. He quotes a German historian from the past who said that what supports a society is not the military or a thriving economy but the virtuous life of its citizens.  

The professor, at the end of his article, suggests that Christians go beyond the capacity for virtue to the kingdom of God, and then ask themselves: What composes our inner eye? What are our values?

The blindness of the culture to these important questions frequently results in the same blindness of its citizens, he says. Though Christianity is meant to influence the prevailing secular culture, it is not difficult to see that we are being influenced to a greater degree by the secular culture shared by everyone born into that culture. We can readily see how it influences what we wear, what we consider beautiful, how we behave in society, what we say and do. The challenge for a Christian to overcome this influence is difficult, he points out; nonetheless, we need to try to change this culture as much as, if not more than, the culture tries to change us.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Gift of Hope and New LIfe

We are made to be happy, and as Christians we find this easy to say and believe, but there are many without our beliefs who exclaim in the same way. An older priest writing in the Joy and Hope Bulletin quotes Herman Hesse, "The reason for existence is nothing else but to be happy."

During the season of Advent, we contemplate the happiness of living in God in God's presence and look forward to its fulfillment in God's time. This is the attitude of a person of faith. Our whole life of prayer has this hope deep down in our hearts. Christmas forces us to make a choice. When we look at the crib, we have to ask ourselves: Will it be the joy and hope of God's kingdom or will it be the kingdom of sadness and despair? Whether we experience joy and hope or sadness and despair will depend on us. We cannot rely on or blame others for that choice. As we have been told, in Deut. 30:19: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you and your descendents may live." Advent, being a time for self-examination and for opening ourselves to change, is the time to make sure we have made the right choice.

A teacher who was near death was asked by one of his students how was it that he was always with a happy face. The student knew that the teacher must have had in life, as does everyone, many difficult problems to deal with, but he never saw him express anything but joy. And even now, as death drew near, he could laugh.

The teacher quietly responded that at the age of 17 he had already known the reality of  unhappiness and pain. But his own teacher at that time taught him an important truth by always being in a good mood. Finding that strange, he asked him how he managed to do that. He said that though he had experienced much sadness in life, he realized that whether we are sad or happy is the consequence of a choice we have made. From that time on, every morning on waking up he would ask himself: What will it be today joy or sadness?

We are not saddened when we meditate on the last things during this time of the year. We are not afraid. Emanuel, God, is always with us. We are always waiting for Jesus to come into our lives. God has overcome the injustice, intimidation and fear rampant in the world, for we believe that God continues to build his kingdom here in this world, and we have the choice of choosing joy or sadness.

This kind of talk may seem like the pie-in-the-sky understanding of religion, not foreign to many in our society. And yet without believing in the meaningfulness of life, without the sustaining hope and joy that can be experienced even in the face of death, our lives become meaningless. Pope Benedict, in his encyclical on hope (Spei Salvi #2) says, "Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only 'good news'—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language, we would say: the Christian message was not only 'informative' but 'performative.' That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known, it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life."

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Cardinal's Hobby

Books have for thousands of years been an important builder of culture. They have done much good but also much harm, but that is up to the reader to discern. They live in most cases beyond the life of their creators and have influenced many. They build on what has preceded and often give rise to what will follow. Recently, Catholic papers and even the secular press have reviewed the latest book by retired Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, his 52nd published book: Dialogues of Jesus that Open Wide Closed Hearts.

His motivation for writing this book, he said, is to share with others what he has learned from books that have enriched his life. Before his ordination, he promised, along with another deacon, to write a book a year. The other priest has since died but he was also a well-known writer. Cardinal Cheong has kept that promise with this latest book which contains his commentary on the words of Jesus in the dialogues of certain passages of the Gospels.

Jesus received many questions that were intended to entrap him, questions concerning the woman caught in adultery, working on the Sabbath day, the Samaritan woman, proof for his authority, and the like.  With these as a starting point, the Cardinal employs them to help us understand the background of each incident, and the truth being conveyed. What comes before and what follows each incident is also included in the commentary.

Despite a busy schedule, before retiring at the age of 80,  he was busy writing in various forms: books and essays, and on many subjects: canon law, doctrine, spirituality. The example of a busy cleric who continued to publish a book a year is a living example of how to make a hobby something very profitable for the Church and for oneself. No one within the Church has had such a record of having published a book a year, since ordination to the priesthood--in his case 52 years ago.

The cardinal goes to bed early and gets up at 3:00 in the morning, giving him three hours before Mass to do his writing. This seems to be  his only hobby or interest, outside of his work as pastor of the diocese. The retirement age for bishops is 75, but he continued until his 80th year when the pope finally accepted the resignation.  Bishops are required to submit their resignation to the pope upon turning 75. There were only two others who were older than Cardinal Cheong. As Cardinal emeritus he will have more time to write, and as long he enjoys health; we will certainly be seeing other books coming from his hand each year.

At the present time, the Church of Korea does not have any Cardinal as ordinary of a diocese, so they will be looking forward to one being appointed at the next consistory. Cardinal Cheong mentioned that he felt one of his duties was to help facilitate the unification of the country; the other was to foster a culture of life. The cardinal has mentioned in interviews: "I had asked for permission to go to the North but the authorities would grant it only on the condition that I bring a very substantial donation with me. It was a figure that my diocese could not afford, so I did not go. It must be known that one can enter the North only if one is bringing significant aid." 

It has been for all concerned a very bumpy road with the North, but nonetheless the Church of Korea continues to work for unification of the country, along with its tireless fight to make the culture of life for our Catholics a practical alternative to the present cultural practice, and with some  success. The new ordinary of Seoul, Archbishop Yeom Soo-jung, continues to stress the importance of these same objectives.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Inculturating the Gospel

One of the lectures, recently given by the Catholic University department of spirituality, and written up in the Peace Weekly, considered the culture at the time of Jesus and the way we should look upon any culture.  When the priest-lecturer talked about culture, it was not the intellectual or the literary culture of any one time, but the reality that most people were living, which is always in a period of flux; the culture we are living in today, for instance, is  decidedly not that of 10 or 20 years ago, he says.

When we speak of Jesus, we have to speak of the Gospels. And when we speak of the culture of the Gospel, we need to see it as a challenge to the prevalent culture, and as harboring a desire to change it.

Though Jesus lived 2000 years ago, the meaning he has always had for all of us is our response in faith, present now and real, and requires that we understand the culture in which Jesus lived. It was a time when the Roman polytheistic religions were entering the Semitic culture of Israel, which led to a clash of cultures. Polytheistic religions were also part of the Greek culture at that time. The Gods of the Romans and Greeks were thought, by the wisest men of those times, to be the most reasonable explanation for the existence of humans and the world. For the Jews, knowledge of the supernatural was revealed truth, something received as grace. This was the big difference between the alien religions and  the Jewish religion.

The Peace Weekly article explains that the Jews at the time of Jesus believed in the law but were divided into different factions: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and the like. The Temple was a place that united them and after its destruction, the Scriptures became their guide. St. Paul had to contend with the challenges presented by this Semitic culture and by the polytheistic cultures of the neighboring countries by relying on the culture of the Gospels.

The religious desire is to please God and the usual way was by means of ritual. Christians, according to the priest, have  the same desire. We have ceremonies, including the liturgy. But with the Christian, it doesn't begin with us but with God. God gave us everything; we give thanks for what we have received, and the liturgy is the way we do it.  The means are the same but the ways they are used are different. The Gospel that Jesus proclaimed is intended to change the established culture, when that is necessary for us to find a more abundant life.

The Gospel is an absolute value. It can't be compromised and seeks to challenge the prevailing culture, showing where it is wrong, what and how to change it.  This is the work of a Christian. We have to know what can't be negotiated and what can. We try to foster this Christian culture in what we do and say, always asking, what is it that we believe? When we live the Gospel, we are not only fostering our religious culture but at the same time inculturating our Gospel values into our present culture providing it with a more humanly fulfilling alternative. 

In order to do this, we have to meet Christ in our own lives; without this encounter we will not  succeed in building up an attractive alternative to the surrounding culture. This goal has to be at the core of our efforts, as we continually seek to live it. When this becomes our personal culture, we will be living and   transmitting the  Gospel at the same time. Shouldn't this be the goal of all of us during this time of preparation for Christmas?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

North South Dilemma in Korea

In Korea as in the West, there is hesitation on how much we should see the negative along with the positive. Seeing the positive is healthy, they say, and the negative not so much. Those who see "the fly in the ointment" are not always seen affectionately, and yet it is necessary at times to see what is there even if it may hurt.  In Korea, there are many who want to help the North because they are our brothers and sisters. But at times those with authority make this difficult. The truth should not be overlooked, however, regardless of troubling circumstances, even if it may not be good for our public and private 'health'.

Writing a series of articles in the Catholic Times on the state of human rights up North, the head of the Database Center of North Korean Human  Rights reports on the three churches in the North: Protestant, Russian Orthodox and Catholic. The Buddhists have a temple that speaks to their cultural history in Korea. The churches, he says, were built by and run by the  government, and they decide who may attend. There are no priests or sisters in the North. There have always been doubts about the sincerity of the Christians attending these Churches, he makes clear.

Refugees who have left the North almost all say there is no religious freedom there. Most say you are punished for practicing your faith when you are found out. He has in his database 1,152 incidents of religious persecution, involving 700 people. Many have been publicly executed, and large numbers are considered political prisoners and kept in concentration camps, punished with a life of hard labor. 

He asks what is the reason the government continues to say there is religious freedom in the North and yet severely punishes those want to practice their faith?  The center has for ten years documented the human rights violations of the North, and can document instances of government deception. 

The silence of the South concerning the cruel treatment of religious believers in the North is hard for the columnist to understand; this includes, he says, religious believers in the South. Though they pray for them and for an improved religious climate, and support humanitarian aid to the North, religious believers here, he regretfully notes, have made no concrete effort to support ending the persecution of religion and the cruel treatment of prisoners in the North, not to mention raising their voices in protest over those who have died as martyrs fighting for religious liberty in the North.

Those suffering because of religious persecution in the North, and those who are in the concentration camps as political prisoners, are waiting for someone to help them. Not only the religious people but all who are threatened with death are waiting for deliverance, he said. He wants the whole world to know the situation up North, so that something can be done about it.

Each year the Center publishes a White Paper. The first White Paper was sponsored by the Bishops Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People. He knows they are not able to free those who are suffering in the North, but they are able to make known to the world the plight of those who are suffering by publicizing the atrocities committed. This is the hope that he has, and he wants the rest of us to participate.

In the global village we live in, we often see this kind of  dilemma. In Korea, the same divisions exist. There are those who do not want to alienate the North by continuing to point out what they are doing, because it will have a negative effect on inter-Korean relations. Though an undeniable fact, what is to be done when others want to make the situation known, hoping it will help relieve the suffering up North? Because both approaches hold out the promise of finally achieving the stated goal, it's difficult to persuade adherents of either approach to support the others position and relinquish their own. 



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sharing: All Gratis

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times, the columnist recounts and reflects on a difficult experience, both its frustrating moments and its ultimate blessings. As Christians, when helping another in need, there is joy and the  expectation that the day will  finish well, but we know that is not always the case. Puzzlement  and uneasiness may be present, and we blame ourselves for a stupid act that brought  pain into our lives. But often in this hopelessness we can find hope because of our belief in the God who gives freely and is always with us.

A fellow religious came to the columnist's room to ask him if he would accompany him to  the airport. He was going overseas to give retreats and needed some help with his luggage.The columnist was busy at the time and not happy with the prospect of going out to the airport when snow had been predicted, but he knew all the other brothers would be busy and seeing the amount of luggage, he knew that going by public transportation was out of the question, so he prepared the monastery car and got ready  for the trip to the airport.

The trip was filled with talk about the different topics for the retreat his companion would be conducting, so the entire trip was a mini retreat for the columnist.  At the airport, he helped the priest unload the luggage and began the return trip to the monastery.  The gas gauge indicated the gas was low but he thought  there would be no trouble in making it back, though knowing that on the beltway there would be no gas stations.

At that time of day the  beltway was  busy with drivers on their way home from work.  When the car began to slow down, he feared the worse. And soon the car just stopped, during the busiest time of the day. And making matters worse, he could see that the drivers were hurling his way all the abusive words they could muster as they went by his stalled car.

Here he was in the middle of a busy turnpike and not knowing what to do next. Fortunately, he had his cell phone and called the monastery. The brother answering told him that it was no big deal, gave him the number of the insurance company to call, and told him they would solve the problem very quickly. He called the company, gave them the location of his stalled car, and was told to relax; they would be there shortly.

But he was not able to relax. Seeing the angry faces of the passing drivers and passengers, he wanted to convey the message that he was himself upset with the situation. He turned on the emergency light, opened the back door, and stood outside the the car, shivering, wanting to show that his car had broken down and was waiting for the tow truck. Within 30 minutes the tow truck arrived and they left the turnpike at the nearest exit, found the first  gas station, and then went on his way to the monastery with a heartfelt thanksgiving.

On the way home he began to mull over in his mind the whole incident and the way he saw it. Because he did a good deed he felt tempted to believe he would be rewarded, but saw the selfishness of that attitude.  We do not  know the future and to think that God is always going to give us what we want is selfishness. And to blame only himself for what happened is foolishness. If one has been doing his best when we are faced with misery, sadness and despair, we don't give up. God will bring in the hope and joy if we are able to turn our eyes to those around us.

The tow truck came because their service was paid for, but God's help is completely free. When he called the monastery and was told by the brother not to worry, that it was no big deal, the words came as a healing balm.  God is always saying, "It's me, do not be afraid, I am with you." He will come to us in the guise of our neighbor's help.  The sharing and good deeds that we do are the ways God uses to bring  help to those in need--and all gratis. A good thought to keep in mind during this Advent Season.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gaudium Sunday

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens." With these well-known words from Ecclesiastes, the Catholic Times' columnist, in the View from the Ark, begins his reflections on Mark 1:15 where the apostle speaks of a time of fulfillment. 

In nature, we see the cyclic fulfillment life and 'death' of plant life, as apparent loss is replaced each year with yet another return of vibrant life. In our churches, four candles are placed before the altar, to be lit one at a time until Christmas, then removed and  returned next year at the same time. A baby is in the mother's womb for 10 months (according to the Korean calendar), and the baby chick hatches after about 20 days. Everything has its time.

There is a time for quiet moments and a time for growth. Trees and grasses, animals and insects--all have a time for growth and maturation, and when the time comes, they pass from the scene; in the same way humans are born, grow and die. But it is only humans that want to shake off this allotted time and pace of life. 

When our ancestors wanted to enjoy a faster life, no matter how fast they wanted to go or to test their strength, there was a limit. We have overcome these problems with speed. We began with the bicycle, and have progressed to airplanes that travel at supersonic speeds. What we were not able to do in a lifetime, we can now do in one day. We have exceeded our greatest imaginings, the columnist points out, but have we become happier or more fulfilled?

Vegetables and fruits no longer know their seasons, and are seen in the markets all year long. With the application of fertilizers and growth hormones, they grow quicker and bigger. Since we prefer not to wait for them to mature naturally, we use heat and chemicals to speed their growth. Isn't this similar to the manufactured goods that come out of our industrial complexes? the columnist asks. And are we not misusing our natural resources simply to satisfy selfish desires, and in the process polluting our environment and short changing those who will come after us?

Moreover, aren't these products more expensive, with its tendency to foster consumer discrimination, separating us into different classes? When we ignore or interfere, he says, with the natural way of what exists, dissatisfaction with what exists is sure to follow.

City life is often cited as a breeding ground for this type of dissatisfaction; those who seem to enjoy city life the most are the sightseers. All the others seem to be in a big hurry. Since our life has become more comfortable, why are we in such a hurry? the columnist asks. It is not that we need to speed things up to get what is required. We seem to have forgotten what the natural rhythm of life feels like. To get back in tune with the natural way, it may be helpful, he suggests, to remember the saying: When one wants to go quickly, go alone. When one wants to go far, go with others.

Though a fast moving life is one of our modern attributes, how can we in this fast moving life see those who are hurrying along with us, or are behind us? We have no time to see who is hurting or falling behind, who is cold or in need of help.

In this kind of society, dissatisfaction and discrimination are bound to increase, fostering loneliness. And this lifestyle will lead to suffering not only for those afflicted with this tendency, but also for those they come in contact with.

During this season of Advent, let us remember to attend to the pace of our life, so that we can follow a more natural rhythm and not one imposed from without, and in this way find more satisfaction and joy in life.  When we see others who are struggling along the way, extend a helping hand and be prepared to meet Jesus and be filled with joy. The Church wants to remind us, this third week of Advent, Gaudium Sunday, that we are  meant to find joy in life despite the difficulties.