Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Scratch the Gourd" Nagging

Some priests were going over their plans for the new year when one of them said he hoped to meet in the new year someone who will 'scratch the gourd', a Korean expression meaning to nag.

The columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times said that the unexpected words were met with laughter and incomprehension. "Haven't you heard," one of them replied, "the complaints of husbands at the nagging of their wives? At those times, we rejoice in our celibacy, but you have never been nagged and don't know the harm it can do, otherwise you would not be saying that."

Hearing these words the priest shook his head in disagreement, "You do not know how spiritually motivated those nagging words really are. When we go behind those nagging words, we see they are often meant to stop the husband's bluster and self-importance, forcing him to face reality.

The wife is concerned, he continued, about managing the household. educating  the children, putting aside money for  retirement; she is concerned for the total welfare of the family. On the other hand, the husband wants to be seen as more than the family breadwinner and appreciated as a worthwhile person apart from his role in the family.

It isn't that the wife doesn't know this, the priest said. She is not talking this way to destroy the husband's sense of  self. No wife would be doing that, It is an attempt to make him a better husband and father.

"Look at ourselves," he explained. "As priests we appear to our parishioners as able to know and do everything, which often causes us to bluster and act big. It is because we have not been faced with the  'scratching of the gourd'. We all want to do certain things, to display ourselves,  make ourselves known. Don't we need someone to tell us what should and should not be done? Someone to 'scratch the gourd'?. To have persons helping us face reality and to see ourselves more objectively is a great blessing. It may be uncomfortable, hurt, but it's good for us."

The 'scratching of the gourd'  is not an attempt to inflict pain, but the scratching, if done out of love, will help us grow and keep us from being carried away by our feelings. It will help us find a middle ground where we can confidently stand, seeing ourselves as others see us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Suicides and Gate Keepers

The issue of suicides is once again big news with the recent suicide of a celebrity. "A caring culture that respects life will go a long way to reducing suicides," said a professor in an interview with the Catholic Times

Working in the preventive medicine department of the Catholic University Medical School, the professor laments the lack of a support system within society to prevent suicides, and praises the Gate Keeper Movement who have taken on the task. All of us have the mission of gate keepers, she said, in helping to put an end to the suicides. Last year in the Seoul Diocese there were efforts to educate the parishioners about the Gate Keepers, and to making us more sensitive to picking up the signs of those who were contemplating suicide among all segments of society.

The most likely danger signals are feelings of isolation, recent divorce, unemployment, bodily disabilities, death of a loved one, mental traumas, past mental problems, dependence on alcohol, and depression. Also at risk are people of fragile temperament who are placed in a situation where they see only the dark side, and those who have experienced a loss, even in small matters. Once suicide has been attempted the chances are high that they will try again.

If our intervention is not successful, persuading persons at-risk to seek professional help would be the next step. Also important: the media has to stop sensationalizing their accounts of these deaths. The Seoul diocese has also helped by providing information on suicide prevention from their One-Body One-Spirit Center in suicide prevention.

Why so many suicides? The professor said that a random sample taken on eight different occasions found discord in the family harder to accept than problems with school studies and violence.  Children who need help from family and are not receiving it are especially in need of help--help that often can only be given by religion; the schools cannot fill that gap. She hopes that the Sunday School teachers, the Legion of Mary, and other organizations will take a more active interest in the problem, and use the Gate Keeper's educational programs to help stem a growing threat to a stable, sane society.                                                                                                             

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Education in Catholic Seminaries

Because of our rapidly changing society, it has become increasingly important, said the new rector of Taejon seminary, recently interviewed by both Catholic papers, to teach today's seminarians that despite all the societal changes there are truths and values that do not change. Korea has seven seminaries and although there is a drop from the past they are still doing well.

While engaged in the formation of priests as imitators of Christ, as persons who can respond to the times, the seminary cannot be oblivious to the many changes occurring in society, the rector said, but must strive to convey to its students what is unchangeable. Particularly important for priests are the unchanging goals of self-emptying, learning and service, which will continue to motivate our teachers and students, he said, with even greater emphasis placed on improving the quality of the educational and spiritual formation of the candidates. As the world has become more technologically sophisticated, the priests also must keep up with these recent advances, and our seminary professors, he added, will provide a mirror to our students so they can more clearly discern and respond to our changing times.This will be especially helpful for students here from abroad, who have the added burden of adjusting to a new culture.

Since the Korean Church has grown and prospered in recent years, the Church felt it was time to cooperate in the formation of seminarians from other countries. And today, Taejon seminary has the most foreign seminarians in the country, with most coming from Asia. After ordination; they will return to their country, and in this way the Korean Church is helping in the evangelization of many Catholics in these countries.

This year the seminary will sponsor a school for teaching courses on marriage and the family, which will be similar to those taught at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. The students, future teachers of marriage and family studies, will be concerned with long-standing, troublesome problems in Korea such as suicides, abortions, bullying--in a word, violence.  

The rector hopes that priests, religious and laypeople who have completed their theology courses will be motivated to take these special studies in marriage and family, in preparation for leadership roles in these fields. The objective of the school is to pass along the ability to see sex and sanctity from a Gospel viewpoint, to discern in every human encounter a "theology of the body," and to strengthen the family, where many of our problems are unknowingly nurtured, and subsequently spread throughout society.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Clinical Trials and Dignity of Life

The Peace Weekly column on the culture of life reports that clinical tests often do not respect the dignity of those tested.  One striking example, mentioned by a Catholic University professor, took place in the US between 1932 and 1972 . Nearly four hundred black, poor and illiterate persons were involved in a clinical test on syphilis. They were never told they had syphilis, or what the tests involved, or did they give permission for the tests.

Gaining more knowledge of the natural progression of syphilis was the object of the tests. And even though the researchers had enough knowledge for remedial treatments, they were not interested and prevented  their test subjects from getting help. It was clearly the exploitation of a poor and vulnerable group without the resources to do anything about it.

Also mentioned in the column was a group of pharmaceutical companies conducting clinical tests in India in 2005. The subjects--minors, the disabled, illiterate, poor, and tribal people--were encouraged by their doctors to join the clinical tests. The columnist said that the consent to the test was not clearly ascertained, and that the minors did not receive their parents' approval. During the clinical tests about 1,730 died.

Today,  young people with part-time jobs and college students volunteer for clinical tests because of the money being offered. The invitations to volunteer are often seen on Internet portals.  Many of these invitations are for bioequivalence testing, which ascertain whether the generic medicines are absorbed into the body as well as the brand-name products, whether the generic delivers the same therapeutic effect as the brand counterpart, and whether it can be safely substituted for the brand product.

The columnist reminds us that when a patent for a drug runs out, other drug companies can manufacture and sell that drug as a generic. This is the reason pharmaceutical companies have trials to prove that their generic product has the same therapeutic effect and is as safe as the brand counterpart. One week they use the brand name drug and the following week the generic drug, analyzing and comparing the effects of the two.

Many laws are now on the books, thanks to the 1932-72 case, to prevent the abuses. Our columnist concludes with the hope that the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and related organizations will be more concerned with their test subjects than they have been in the past. She hopes for the day when the clinical tests have an oversight committee established to periodically study the trials and make sure the rights of the subjects are respected.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Success of the Co-op Movement

In a world where financial crises seem commonplace, a modern corrective, the employee-owned cooperative, is flourishing. Called "an innovative approach to development and economic democracy," the worker cooperative movement is the focus of a bishop's article in the Catholic Times that addresses the current economic problems in the world.

The co-op movement, he said, is the natural product of humanity trying to solve the recurring economic problems all societies have had to face throughout history. Whether it was our tribal ancestors cooperating with other members of the tribe to protect themselves from wild animals, or helping one another to plant rice fields, or  joining together to take care of their water reservoirs, rivers and forests--all are examples, the bishop said, of members of  society working harmoniously together for a common goal, furthering the good of all and their growth both as individuals and as active participants in their society. 

Considering these valuable goals, the bishop sees the growth of the co-op movement as an opportunity for more people to show love for one another and to enjoy a more fulfilling life. The movement, he says, encompasses and puts into practice the teachings of Jesus.

Italy has shown a great interest in the co-op movement, and its Emilia Romagna province leads the world in the number of co-ops and successes. Like other developed countries, it has been struggling with the current worldwide financial crisis. Last year, the unemployment rate in the country was more than 11 percent, and among the 20 to 30-year-olds, 36.5 percent.

However, the bishop says that the mecca  of the cooperative moment, Emilia Romagna, surprisingly, was very much at peace. The support of the cooperative network has cushioned the tremendous shock from the outside, depressed economies. With the strongest cooperative economy in the EU (European Union), the worker cooperatives of Emilia Romagna, representing 30 percent of the area's GDP (gross domestic product) and involving 57 percent of the population, has one of the highest living standards in the EU and one of the lowest rates of unemployment at 3 percent.

The economic needs of the different co-ops are handled by the Lega Co-op. Each co-op gives 3 percent of their profits to Lega, which uses the money to develop the movement, help the struggling co-ops by reducing the salary of workers, instead of firing them, and by transferring workers, when necessary, to other co-ops. It makes for a nurturing work environment. The bishop sums up his observations by calling the worker cooperative movement a powerful influence for developing peace, trust and sharing, a manifestation of love in the workplace.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Organ Transplantes

Why do bad things happen to good people is a question that invariably pops up when teaching those interested in Christianity. When hearing about the crucifixion, many will ask, Why did Christ, the loving son of the Father, die on the cross? Isn't this the koan we all must face in trying to answer their question? The recent accidental death of a young man in a snowboarding accident raises the question in another context, but in this case, the accidental death of the young man may more easily help us see the mystery in a larger context.

The story of the young man, only 21 years-old, was carried on the front page of both Catholic papers. He was a Sunday school teacher on an outing at a ski camp with altar boys from the parish. After the accident, he was moved to a hospital in Seoul and never recovered consciousness. His parents, knowing their son's wish to be a religious, and his continued service to others, decided to give his organs to others in need. He was talented, playing the guitar, drums and piano, and would teach how to play them without pay. He also served as an accompanist for the children in the Sunday school program

The doctors removed  his heart, liver, pancreas, two kidneys, and the two corneas, all of which were to be given to patients who were waiting. Bones and skin were also taken. The mother said that the organ gifts of her son helped  her to come to terms with his death, and to remember what her son was able to do for others.

The story mentioned that Korea was still a country that finds it difficult to donate body parts after death. Korea remains very low in comparison to other countries who donate organs.  The director of the organ transplant center said that in the United States 35 out of 100 thousand donate organs; in Korea, only five out of 100 thousand donate. The director thanks the young man's parents and believes that the donation of their son's organs will help change the thinking of many Koreans.

In Korea, there are numerous patients who are waiting in hospitals for an organ transplant. Since there are not enough organs donated, many will die without the organ needed. The gift of one's organs is a wonderful, selfless act of kindness, and hopefully Korea will be able to overcome some of the traditional animosity that is associated with the donation of organs after death.
Cardinal Kim donated his cornea, which made a difference in the numbers that began giving but the numbers are still small and do not come close to helping the thousands that are waiting for organs. The editorial in the Catholic Times expressed the hope that the story of the young man will help to renew the interest of the public in donating organs so that the many  who are waiting with hope may finally have the opportunity of realizing that hope.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Making Sprititual Poverty Real

Koreans are very generous people, and this is often seen within parishes by the way priests are treated. Especially is this the case during Name Days (commemorating  the feast day of the Saint whose baptismal name one has) and the silver and golden anniversaries of ordination. The departures and arrivals of priests, and their retirements are also often commemorated with elaborate ceremonies that put a burden on the parishioners. The  Peace Weekly had an article on what a diocese in Korea decided to do by simplifying and lessening the financial burden and the time spent by the parishioners with these ceremonies.

A priest from the diocese, at a meeting of all the priests of the diocese, said that in this Year of Faith the priests first had to be evangelized and  renewed, and mentioned that he finds it embarrassing to see what many have accepted as a gift at their retirement or at the anniversary of ordination. Because secular priests do not take the vow of poverty, accepting these gifts is considered permissible. However, the priest found this to be not in keeping with their call as followers of Jesus. He also mentioned that this was another example  of authoritarianism in our lives, which we have to work against. His talk was instrumental in getting the priests of the diocese to simplify and take away some of the burdens the Christians were experiencing.

Mentioned also was the example of other priests who would leave their parishes on their name days so as to dissuade the Christians from making the day financially burdensome. The priest hopes that the steps taken in the diocese will spread throughout the Korean  Church.

The Koreans are big-hearted people and show their appreciation to their priests for their pastoral care.  A woman leader in the diocese was quoted as saying that for Koreans, good morals and manners require that we show appreciation, but this has to be appropriate to the situation, she said,  to prevent criticism after the ceremonies are over.

This article in the Peace Weekly received a big response. Some applauded while others had some misgivings. On the open forum internet bulletin board, many thought the Catholics, along with the priests, would do well to live more simply. Some were concerned that the Korean appreciation of morality and manners handed down over the centuries will be lost.

There are probably no other national communities that go all out for their priests as do the Korean Catholics. The example of the diocese will certainly have repercussions in other dioceses. There are those who have made efforts in the past to change the customs that put a financial burden on the Christians. To have these ideas appear during this Year of Faith, however, is a good sign that the clergy is also looking for ways to live more in harmony with the call they have received as disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Making Heaven a Reality Here and Now

Faith is joy. And a gift  from God, but we have to cultivate the gift. With these words, the director of pastoral works for  the diocese of Seoul speaks about the Year of Faith in an interview with the Peace Weekly.  The Weekly and the diocese will try to make the Year of Faith one in which Catholics will discover the joy of the Christian life and cultivate its growth.

The director compared our faith life to a bicycle. We can carry the bike on our shoulders, but that is difficult, or we can learn to ride the bicycle which will give us great joy.  The year of faith is not an event but a way of deepening our roots. We have to respond to God's call. We are happy when we meet someone we love, so it is with the God who loves us, and with whom we continually have the opportunity to meet.

To help us respond to God's call, the diocese has selected five key terms: Word of God, Prayer, Church teaching, Mass, and Sharing love. To the question how did the diocese decide to select these five terms, the director explained by describing the current situation in the Korean Church.

The crisis facing the Church is a weak understanding of faith life. Although many people still want to join the Church, many are leaving. This is a sign to us that something is not well. That is why we selected hearing the "word of God, prayer and listening to what the Church teaches. The teaching of the Church, to a believer, is the will of God attained with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Mass is our sign of community and the call to be one. Our life of faith is to bear fruit, which is the sharing of love. St. Ignatius said that faith is the beginning, but the end is love.

Why are we seeing this weakness in the basics of our faith life? asked the interviewer. Prayer life  is no longer important to many, replied the director, and less than 10 percent study the Scriptures. There are also the external elements in society that affect us: good grades for children and the quest for money are becoming more important than God.  When money becomes an absolute, we have problems. Furthermore, when I make myself the center, our faith is distorted, for faith grows by relating with  others.

To the interviewer's question whether we are going the way of Europe , the director answered that because of a growing secularization taking place in the world, we have to prevent this from happening here. When we accept the world's standard of judging, the Gospel message becomes weak. When we turn service to others into a search for glory, or stress the importance of money and give pride of place to education, we are using  worldly standards. There are many who have entered our community, seen this attitude, and have left, he said.

The director leaves us with the example of a butcher, Hwang Il Kwang Simon (1757-1802), living in a society that had little respect for the trade. Simon said that heaven is in two places: the place you go after you die and the place you create here on earth. The way the upper classes treated him, a member of the lower class, made him feel that he was in heaven. This, the director says, is what a Christian should be doing in every encounter with anyone. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Future of Nuclear Power

During the Second World War Germany and Japan were responsible for many atrocities. At the end of the war, many of their military commanders were convicted of war crimes. The culture of life columnist of the Peace Weekly reminds us how their countries responded to these accusations.

Germany did many times formally apologize for the crimes of the Nazi era. Whether they were truly sorry for what happened, or thought they were the acts of a few Germans and apologized to help themselves join the nations of Europe and help their economic recovery, we will never know but the fact is that the government acknowledged guilt and has even up to the  present time given compensation.

Japan was different. They have not honestly acknowledged their crimes, or earnestly asked for forgiveness, nor adequately given compensation, says the columnist. And they continue to advance their military power.

This difference between the two former axis powers can also be seen in the atomic field.  After the war, Japan worked to develop their atomic energy. It has progressed to where it now only trails the US, Russia, England and France in the use of atomic energy. Japan has 57 nuclear plants, is building 3, and plans 11 more. At present, 30 percent of the electrical needs of the country is produced by nuclear energy.

Germany, after the war, also began to develop her economy around nuclear energy. However, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Russia, doubts arose among many Germans concerning the safety of their own nuclear energy facilities.  In 1998 the Green Party, in alliance with the Democratic Party, decided to end the country's reliance on nuclear power. They determined not to build anymore nuclear plants, and the existing plants, when needing repairs, would be shut down. The country that was the leader in the world of nuclear power willingly gave it up.

As a replacement, they have decided to develop sun power, wind and bio-renewable-energy sources. With the change of government, there was a period of hesitancy, but with the disaster in Japan, they have made the year 2022 the year to cease using all nuclear power. And their citizens are willing to make the sacrifice by cutting back on the use of electrical energy and are willing to pay more taxes to see a future reality of non-nuclear energy sources.

The columnist would like to see Korea follow suit. Korea is listed as the fifth biggest user of nuclear energy and has plans to build two more nuclear plants. She hopes that Korea will follow Germany in developing renewable sources of energy, working with sun, wind and bio to prepare a better tomorrow for future generations.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Generation Gap

Korean media gave a lot of space to the fact that almost 90 percent of those over fifty voted in the presidential election, and were considered by many to be the reason the first female president of the country was elected. On the open forum page of the Catholic Times, a Jesuit  professor at Sogang University reflects on what this means for our country.

The media did consider the difference between the young and the older generation in this election. The older voters experienced the Korean War, seen the industrialization of the country, and had been leaders in the democratization of the country. They took care of their parents but did not expect the same from their children. They were concerned about their old age and tended to be progressives; they now want security.

The professor believes there is a difference in thinking and sensitivity between the generation of the 20s and 30s, and the over 50's. A gap between the young and the old is not new. However, Korea is becoming older, the government can't help but be concerned about those who voted for them. The difference in the voting by the young and the old  has to be remembered for the future of the country. A great number of the voters are  over fifty, and that means that the future of the country, which shortly will be in the hands of the young, will be the ones who will have to deal with the results  of what the older think important now.

There is also a difference in the sensitivity to our problems felt by the old and the young. The interest that the young have about environmental problems and employment is not the same as it is for the older generation. The young, from the time they were children, have been hearing about global warming, while the older generation has an interest in development and industrialization and less concern about the environment.

The young are concerned with employment while the older generation is  concerned with the industrialization of the country. They had no difficulty in accepting the blue-collar and the white-collar difference in society. However, over half of those in their twenties are either in college or are graduates who have to consider that half of them will face the possibility of being a non-regular worker. The older generation has difficulty in understanding what this highly educated, young generation feels about the future. The older generation tends to feel that the young are lazy and want to avoid the difficult  jobs in society, while looking for the easy life.

Without understanding the sensibilities of the young, the professor says we will continue to look back to the past and fail to see the future. We will continue to push the interest of the young into the  background  and just be concerned with the issues of the elders in society. This means not only that there will be a generation gap but that the young peoples' rights will be exploited.

The professor recalls that Jesus began his public life when young. "He is not yet fifty" was heard by Jesus. The ones who followed our Lord were the young. With these young people, he changed the world.  The world of the young is the world of the future.  A society able to see the joy, hope, tears and frustrations of the young will be a society with hope. What the society of today needs is the wisdom and sensitivity to be concerned for the younger generation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Desiring a Deeper Faith Committment

In Korea where guns are not permitted, the shooting incidents in the States remain a mystery to many. The desk columnist of the Catholic Times discusses the problem within the context of our own culture. 
He  mentions that in the States many people want to limit the selling of  firearms while others want the right to buy them without restrictive laws curtailing what they believe is their constitutional right to do so. Because of the possible enactment of measures controlling gun purchases, there is now a hoarding of firearms and ammunition, with many dealers saying they can't keep up with the demand. All this happening despite the recent shooting deaths of 20 children while attending kindergarten class. He attributes this to the western frontier mentality of many Americans who feel a need to possess weapons. He also acknowledges that many citizens are influenced by the gun lobby: the politics of  money. Even though the majority of the people, according to the latest polls, are for a change in the possession of guns, he believes the influential sectors of society will militate against change.

The columnist refers to the book Who Rules America? by William Domhoff as representative of the thinking of many that the wealthy and the powerful  are in control. To protect their interests, Domhoff says they have easier access to the most current information coming from research centers, foundations, and ad hoc commissions, and from insider information from international big business sources, among others. This is not done in any covert way but is legal and easily seen.

No matter how certain segments of society feel about this state of affairs, the privileged groups within society will have control, according to Domhoff, and the hope for change is minimal.

In Korea we also have certain things that will not change. Still very much in evidence are the old regional differences, the bonds of political and economic friendships among the elite classes, the preeminent place and concessions given to the conglomerates in our economic structure, a general unconcern of the government with the common people, and at times the unmerciful unconcern of the most vulnerable in our society. Overall, there is seen a lack of will by our lawmakers to change in any meaningful way the status quo.

What about our religious life? he asks. Looking at his own life, he admits that if he has no personal experience of the truth of what he is asked to believe, or has not seen sufficient scientific evidence for its truth, then the difficulty of giving wholehearted response keeps appearing. Along with this, he believes our mental laziness often prevents us from participating with enthusiasm when we do believe.

What do we understand by community? As Catholics, we believe, he says, that we are a community that has been saved, and yet remain passive, without a sense of meaning, looking for consolation and a faith life that seeks to evade its requirements. We bury out of sight our Christian vision of life. And our clergy often finds it difficult to adapt to the times, holding on to a form of  clericalism. More so than at any time in the past, the columnist believes that Catholicism in Korea is in need of reform, renewal  and repentance.

Will this be more difficult to accomplish for the Church in Korea, or easier, than it will be for the States to do something about ending gun violence?  It may depend, he says, on how serious we are about this year of faith that we are in the process of living?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Lesson Learned From An Apostate

A columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times recalls a trip to a pilgrimage site commemorating Korean martyrs. While there, he stayed at an overnight lodge and met by chance a priest who was in the seminary with him. He was now the pastor of the parish where the pilgrimage site is located. 
As the pastor of a parish that went back to the time of the martyrs, he became interested in the history of the early Church, and became interesting in the life story of the martyr Yi Joon-chang Ludovico (1759-1801). 

Ludovico was a bright, talented person, which helped prepare him for the difficult times he would soon confront as a missioner to his own people in the Chungnam province. At this time, the Catholics didn't understand all the discipline and structural realities  of the Church and picked their own priests to minister to them. Ludovico  was chosen as the priest for  the community, and due to his efforts the community grew to over 300 members. It was from this community that years later the first two Korean priests and many other Christians would trace their roots. 

During that time no other area embraced Catholicism the way Chungnam did. The parish grew so rapidly that Ludovico saw the need for priests and worked to have a priest come in from China. During the persecution of Catholics in 1791, Ludovico was picked up by the authorities, denied his faith, and was released. He returned to his hometown but was persuaded to move because of his continued work with the Christians, and because the danger of being reported was always present.

Bishop Daveluy was quoted as saying the apostasy of Ludovico was a great sadness and embarrassment to the Catholic community. His parish did grow to over 300 members in a short time under his leadership, and, in a very worldly way, he may have thought they needed him, and denied his faith to be with them.

Ludovico later was sorry for his denial, and again professing his faith, he continued his teaching and missionary work. In 1801, he was again arrested and killed by beheading. The pastor used the story of Ludovico to address the serious problem today of many lax Catholics and those who have left the community of faith entirely.

The pastor thinks the Church should not only study effective ways of increasing the numbers of Christians but also how to invite back those who for one reason or another have decided to leave the Church.  

The words of the pastor made him think about the recent emphasis on the new evangelization. Not only do we have to continue our work of evangelization, as in the past, but at the same time look for ways to invite back to the community those who have left. Doing this earnestly will be a good example to those who have left, he said, but cautioned that we should not expect quick results.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Learning to Let Go

The Art of Aging, a book by Anselm Grün, is used by a columnist of the Peace Weekly to give us some helpful spiritual pointers for aging well. Learning to let go is the key. We are forced to let go of our infancy and years of youth, and old age is asking us to do the same, says Fr. Grün. With age this becomes more difficult, but he tells us the more earthly desires we get rid of the more spiritual fruit we will yield.

Those who have lived life sincerely and with intensity will find this possible, says Grün. The first part of life, infancy, youth and middle age, is naturally lived with intensity; the second part of life, old age, is time for letting go. Those who have not lived life sincerely and intensely will have nothing to let go, and will look back with regret.

In the last years of life, we have to give up our possessions, health, relationships, sex, power, and finally, our very self. At death all earthly possessions are given up, he reminds us. We give up all these things to prepare us to give up ourselves. The last challenge in life is to give ourselves up to receive God, the last spiritual challenge we will all face.

To grow old gracefully, as we confront the mystery of life and death, means to become calmer, more accepting of this mystery. Silence becomes more important to us, and peace comes forth. Loneliness is not a concern and one looks back with gratitude.

Our reminiscences of the past need not suggest that we are tied to the past, but merely a looking back on the way we have lived. There are those that go back in their lives and are bothered with guilt; they remember the hurts and the missed opportunities. These thoughts bring depression. There are also thoughts of hurts that were healed and these are profitable. This is not a return to the past that looks for the hurts, but a search for healing.

We are all preparing for death: the completion of life. Only those who see themselves being born again in God will have peace and gratitude in facing old age; our older years will be lived with spirit. Facing death in this way is a blessing to others. To die well is not only for oneself but opening the way for others to die well. When we do not hesitate to go back to God, no matter at what stage in life we find ourselves, life becomes a gift to others.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Each year from January 18th to the 25th is Christian Unity Week, a time to go beyond our own communities of faith, blame ourselves for out lack of unity, while making efforts to do better, and pray for the day we will be one in Christ. This was the reason behind the creation of the Octave, renewing our desire for unity and fellowship among Christians. The Catholic Times editorial stresses the importance of this week of prayer for all of us.

The Church began a renewed desire for Christian unity after the Second Vatican Council. In the Decrees on Ecumenism and on Eastern Catholic Churches, and in the Declaration on Religious Freedom, ecumenism was  covered in detail. We have more in common that unites us than in the elements that separate us. The belief in Jesus and love, and the absolute love for the word of God that we have in common, makes the Church here on earth work for unity.

Our fellowship with other Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ, should also be extended to those with different beliefs. We as Christians continue to dialogue and to cooperate with the other religions in our own country. We should not  be limited, the editorial goes on to say, by our religious beliefs and different cultural backgrounds from embracing the whole world.

The archbishop of Gwangju, president of the  Korean Bishops Conference commission promoting Christian unity and Inter-religious dialogue, in a recent talk, quotes Micah 6:8: "You have been told, Oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God." This, said the archbishop, should be our concern.

We need this true unity and harmony within our own faith communities, as a prerequisite, if we are to be successful working for unity with others. We should have a unity of the diocese with the parishes and a unity and harmony of priests and parishioners. This should be our starting point when our goal is to live in unity and harmony with all religions and be of service to all of humanity.

It is easy to forget that the way we relate with those we know the best often translates into the way we relate--often even more so--with those not so close. Our attitudes are what affects our words and actions in our present communities, which can prepare us to be more effective peacemakers to the larger community outside.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eating and Living Well Trumps All

Whether the material wealth of a nation brings happiness to its citizens is a question not easily answered. For many countries, however, it clearly does not bring happiness. Korea, for example, has become an economic powerhouse. Back in 1960, it had a gross national product per capita (the wealth distribution of a country showing the dollar value of its goods and services in a year, divided by its population) of 100 dollars. Today, with a GNP per capita of over $20,000, Korea is the envy of many developing countries, but despite the remarkable increase in the material wealth of the country, there has been no increase in the level of  happiness.

Writing the recent opinion column of the  Catholic Times, a professor with a doctorate in education introduces us to the Easterlin Paradox: poor countries, like Costa Rica and Columbia, have a higher happiness index than the economically advanced, OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), countries.

If this is true why do countries continue to praise themselves, he asks, for their economic achievements. There are many countries that have gone from a colony to independence, having received a great deal of help, but have not been able to leave poverty behind.

Although Korea has made great strides economically, she still has a large foreign debt, the middle class is disappearing, the number of the poor is increasing, and, with the acceptance of neo-liberalism, there is increased polarization within society.The upper 20 percent has 13 times more income than the lowest 20 percent and many families are in debt. At the beginning  of 2013, the competition is intense and employment is difficult to find. The disparity between the haves and have-nots is increasing. Moreover, Korea leads in the number of suicides among OECD countries and has the lowest birth rate and happiness index.

The professor, using the United States as an example, says that after a GNP per capita income of over $10,000 is reached the influence of economics on the happiness  of citizens decreases. Now that Korea has reached $20,000, there will be little influence on the happiness index of the country, the professor says. The Saenuri party expressed an interest in equalizing the income of 99 percent of the citizens in comparison to the 1 percent of the highest income earners. The Saenuri Party could read the pulse of the citizens, noting that the middle class was less interested in the right or wrong of issues but rather in earning enough money to eat, live well and pursue happiness.

The promises of the Saenuri Party will be their political platform for the next five years. They have promised to help more workers enter the middle class, and they have indicated that they will report on how successful they have been in keeping that promise each year. The citizens will be eagerly waiting to see if the Saenuri Party can deliver on their promise. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dowsing for Health

Today there are many unorthodox theories and remedies to alleviate medical problems, though most of them the medical profession considers old wife's tales and superstition. The Catholic Times recently interviewed a searcher, also known as a dowser or diviner, who goes about the country intent on finding subterranean water veins or streams. He has begun a research service to study the radiation from these water veins to neutralize them.

Many Koreans are willing to believe that underground water does harbor radiation that can seep to the surface to harm them. This belief is easily confirmed by media advertisements for beds that promise to prevent the radiation from reaching them during their sleeping hours. Many ill persons whose illnesses have not been helped by medicines will change the location of their beds to avoid what they believe are the harmful radiation. Since dowsing is so widely accepted in Korea, there is a general acceptance that this unorthodox approach to curing some medical conditions may be valid.

When the French foreign missioners came to Korea back in the 19th century, they introduced dowsing to find underground water for wells. This practice was continued as a result of some well-known priests who wrote on the subject. However, the subject is still surrounded with skepticism, and the scientific community has little sympathy for it.

Water diviners will often determine before building a house where the water veins are located in order to avoid them. This way of thinking is a throw-back to the days of the geomancers.
During the  interview the research head said he began his study of water radiation after his wife became sick. He spent most of his money for treatment, and she was close to death. After her recovery he decided to devote himself to the study to help others with his research center.

Today, he is a firm believer and promoter of dowsing for  water, and what the practice can do to help alleviate medical problems.

He has traveled to different parts of the country to discover water veins and to neutralize their effects. His research center will train dowsers, he said, with the knowledge necessary to discover and prevent the effects of the radiation. He has given lectures at the Catholic University of Pusan in the life-time study program. He intends to prepare lectures on water radiation, its history and why it's harmful to health.

The center head admits that many who come to him have all kinds of doubts but are looking for the last piece of straw to grasp, after they tried everything else. He wants to be a missioner for this message.

Many ideas concerning health, long popular in the East, have been accepted in the West; acupuncture, for example, is no longer dismissed, but largely accepted as a valid medical remedy. Whether dowsing to discover underground veins of water seeping radiation up to the surface will eventually become as popular, we will have to wait for the future to tell us. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Blow Away the Cobwebs

A questionnaire was sent to 626 college professors to choose a motto for the year 2013, and the motto chosen was 除舊布新"Blow Away the Cobwebs." Do away with the old and extend the new would be another and more literal translation of the 4 Chinese characters that were chosen. Our columnist in the Catholic Times uses these words as a meditation on the new year.

The wise of the past, according to the columnist, were not interested in getting rid of all that is old, nor did they believe that the new is always good. Wisdom tells us to keep the good of the old and to block the evil practices of the new. This is what it means to blow away the cobwebs.

To rid ourselves of abuses and unhelpful old ways is one means to be renewed. In our present society we talk a lot about renewal, says our writer, but he feels that this talk has little to do with interior change, but is an easy way of escaping our present crises.

The columnist recently interviewed the president of the Bishops Conference and was impressed by his comments on this crisis: "There are many who are talking about the crisis in the Church. We see many who separate life from  faith. Can we describe this as a pattern of secularization and relativism?  Our faith life is not being changed by a desire for renewal and a change of heart. We have a desire, a prerequisite for renewal, to believe and to confess Jesus, but many do not know him. There is a strong desire to know him. Many Christians know what we are to believe with their heads, the way to receive grace as something of habit, and the commandments seem to mean little.  The commandments should be embodied in us, but  we remember only the words. They have not become part of us but separated from life."

If we believe that faith is one thing and life another, this is not a sign of a Christian. Renewal means to become what we are. Faith is to make what we believe a part of our daily life. We are not to think that our parish can be used by us like a lifeboat, a Noah's ark; we need to be continually renewed. The first step is to see ourselves as sinners. We have to set aside our own opinions; expedients only weaken our ability to face the challenges. 

We often act like the squirrel on a treadmill, going around and around, making little progress. This is not what our faith life should be. We should make the crisis of faith into a challenge, an opening to a new way of living our religious lives.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Baptismal Rites of Initiation

 Catechetical programs in the rites of Christian initiation in Korea take different forms and are an important part of the pastoral work of any parish. The catechumens hear the words of the Gospel message, "The Holy Spirit opens their hearts, and they freely and knowingly seek the living God and enter the path of faith and conversion."

The response of the catechumens to this Gospel message, as they prepare for baptism, is important not only to the catechumens but to the whole Church. Without this concern, even if baptized, they will soon lose interest and fall away, which makes it a concern of the whole Church.The community needs to be a welcoming community and this has to begin with the 
programs of initiation.

A sampling of those participating in the catechetical programs revealed that many found them boring. The cramming method of teaching was not helpful, and many did not find what they were learning connected with their daily lives. The memorizing of the prayers for some was tedious.  After baptism, they forgot everything they learned. One person said he tries to attend Mass weekly but wants to know how to find the motivation and passion for what he has received.

A catechumen who dropped out of the program said he lost hope when he was told he should increase his offering at Mass. He was under the false impression that Catholicism did not put a financial burden on its members. Having his own money problems, he felt he couldn't give any more than he was already giving.

Another person baptized at Christmas said that the Catholicism she knew was different from Protestantism; she was surprised at the lack of warmth within the Catholic community. Even though many congratulated them at baptism, it didn't seem full hearted, she said. The godparents they were given, possibly because of the age difference, seemed inappropriate. She would have liked someone assigned to them during their period of study, and afterward,:someone to be a mentor.

A list was made of what most of them felt about the program: difficult text, the length of the program, the memorizing and cramming method of teaching, the strangeness of the liturgy, and the lack of time for fellowship.

A teacher in the catechetical program said that it was necessary for teachers to be able to teach in a way that would accommodate what they learn to their daily lives. And to teach in a way that  would be easy to understand. Programs are necessary to improve the teaching ability of the catechumens. The teachers have to be  able to give life examples of what it means to be a Christian.In conclusion, the article mentioned that in these programs, it was imperative that they be shown the way to live the Christian life. Every possible means should be used to enable the catechumens to adopt the new way of living they have been taught.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wearing Another's Shoes

"We should be lenient with the  faults of others for they were our faults yesterday. None of us is perfect, and we should remember this in dealing with others." These Shakespearean words, as translated into Korean, prompted the desk columnist of the Korean Times to explore a topic, which he believes deserves more attention in today's world: concern and respect for others.

He begins with the example of automobile drivers who have good reasons to be upset when the driver in front of them suddenly makes a turn without using the turn signal, concerned only with getting to their destination.  However, the columnist admits that when he's in a  hurry, there's a lot  that he does that upsets other drivers.

An African proverb says, "In a hurry, travel alone. If you are on a long trip, go with others but go as fast as the slowest, and lighten their load."  This  appears to be a sacrificial concession on the part of the fastest, but it's meant to maintain good terms with the slower persons, which in turn is helpful to the faster ones on a long trip. This demonstrates, he says, concern and respect for others.

If we look at those who have been notably successful in life, we see that many have certain traits in common: the  obedient type, the leader type, the analytical type and the adaptable type. According to circumstances, there is a need for different types but the columnist prefers the one who can fit in smoothly with others, usually the one exhibiting concern and respect for others.

In the present society of cut-throat competition where one is expected to outdo the other, the adaptable type does not find it easy. We all want to have the concern and respect of the other but we also have to ask ourselves how much  concern and respect do we have for others.

We have the belief, says the columnist, that our concern for others will be detrimental in achieving our goals in a highly competitive society, despite the findings of psychology, which show that we are happiest when we are concerned for the welfare of others. The essence of concern, he says, is to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the other. If we think that everybody is the same our solicitude for the other may be doing the other harm. Respect and   concern for the other is what is required by love.

As Christians we have the example of God, says the columnist, who bestowed on us the greatest amount of concern possible by sending us his son. We in turn should give this same concern and respect to his children. It will bring great joy into our own lives and turn our dream of a better world into a possible reality.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

To Begin is to be Half Done

A famous movie director, who would begin shooting his film before having a completed scenario, was asked by a journalist why he did not complete his preparation before beginning the camera work. He said that there is no time at any beginning where you have a perfectly complete picture of what you want to do. Writing in Bible & Life; a poet tells us he had difficulty in understanding the words of the director, as conveyed by the journalist, considering them wildly wrong-headed. He reveals in his article how he came to a new understanding of his words.

He doesn't  know when but he came to realize that the beginning of something is actually part of the preparation. Nowadays, the words of the director give him courage: the beginning of anything, he realized, is when you commit yourself to do something, for then you are preparing for whatever comes after, which takes courage and a trusting attitude. With this kind of thinking, you tend to have confidence in the work and your expectation becomes greater.

Poets often say that a poem came to them. The writer says that this has not been his experience; he is always in search of a poem. If he had to wait for a poem to come, he said he would never have anything. It is only in the beginning, armed with the intention to write, that a poem comes to him. Song writers and other creative artists, he also mentioned, have had the same experience.

The director is right by noting the importance of the beginning, he said.  To begin when everything is prepared is perfectly alright; beginning and preparing is equally alright. If in the moment a person wants  to see some beautiful flowers and decides to plant flower seeds, it is then too late. When you do not  see the flowers, is when you plant.

It is not rare that  a great deal of time is spent in thinking and in preparation and never beginning.  Like drawing water from a well, you have to decide first to go to the well. It is said that to make a tablespoon of honey the bee has to return to a flower to gather its nectar about  4,200 times: the doing is what makes the honey.

The Japanese winner of the Noble prize in physics said that if you don't try, you will never know what you can do.  He also said "Look for any work that you can do, don't be afraid, and do it." The writer also mentions a famous industrialist who would often say to his workers, "Did you try doing it? Do not say it is difficult without trying it."

The writer reminds us that we are usually more sorry for what we haven't done than for what we have done. We should do, he says, whatever it is we set out to do and do it to the best of our ability. When you want to drink some water and can't find the water cup, you don't give up drinking but use whatever is available, be it a whiskey glass or a food dish. That is doing something to the best of your ability.

Nothing in life is done perfectly.  When we want to do something, it is best not to wait for the best of  times, but to begin doing it now.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Showing Compassion to the Sick

Many organizations are busy trying to make the transition to life in Korea less hectic and difficult for foreigners.  A religious sister of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul starts her column in the Peace Weekly with the words of our Lord: " At sunset, all who had people sick with a variety of diseases took them to [Jesus] and he laid his hand on each of them and cured them."

The sisters manage a medical clinic free of charge for foreign workers. Workers from many backgrounds and races come to the clinic asking for help, often using the only language they know: their own.  With joyless, weary faces they find their way to the clinic. Each one in his or her own way making known their ailment.

"Auntie, this thing here hurts."  Pointing his finger to his stomach: "What's wrong?" asks a man from Uzbekistan. 

"It is not auntie, say, sister, sister." the sister added a new word to  his vocabulary cheerfully.

Another, a Chinese woman, asks if it's possible to be recycled. Sister tells her the clinic is not a department of rehabilitation facility. The woman, who works twelve hours a day, says that her shoulders hurt, and she came for acupuncture.

Most of the foreigners who come to the clinic are illegal foreigners who have no medical insurance, and when sick, they can't go to a hospital. When there is strict  enforcement of the law, these workers are in serious trouble; as an illegal they can be forced to leave the country. They often work long hours doing work most Koreans would shun. The work is difficult and  the pay poor, the sister says, and their language skills are minimal. But there is little they can do to redress the situation, the sister adds. Only if they are in good health can they make a go of it.

We listen to their complaints, the sister says, and prepare them for an examination, taking blood pressure readings, examining blood, and giving medicine. And at all times extending the hand of love to them, in this lonely and cheerless place. When they call us auntie, she says, there is no problem. Hopefully, they will receive a little warmth and consolation from their encounter with us.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Transcendent Life

What we are able to do with the mind and the body is increased greatly with the help of the spirit and heart  Not that the mind and body have little value or that the spirit and heart are everything, but with the help of the spirit we can enter another level of being, often called the transcendent life.

Writing in his weekly column on spirituality, the Catholic Times' columnist explains what living the transcendent life means to him. It does not mean, he says, being in church at all times. It can happen when we are in our homes, while eating or out walking, or doing anything, as long as the activity is offered up to God; doing so transforms and transcends our mundane concerns, and all of life takes on spiritual meaning.

What about the pleasures of the sexual life? Where do they fit in the transcendent life? It is not the pleasure of the moment that gives meaning to the sex act, says the columnist, but what happens after, when the fullness of love felt for one another can be experienced, bringing them the richness of living the spiritual life.
In the  sexual act they  experience God  giving more life to their relationship together. It is this feeling that we want to see continued.

In any activity we have reasons to be thankful, he says. When we eat, for example, we have much to be thankful for; food allows us to work diligently and to  praise God. However, it does not mean that the more we eat the more thankful we are. What is important is our constant awareness of the transcendent meaning we have given to the act of eating. Many are satisfied with the eating itself. Content that bodily hunger has been satisfied and pleasure has been derived, they will not pursue any further meaning of the act of eating. But we should continue to be thankful, he says, for the energy received from the food eaten that allows us to pursue our transcendent goal in life.

In all our actions, if we are concerned only with the mind and body, we will do damage to the harmonious relationship we should have with God and also do damage to ourselves. The possibility of spiritual life is always there if we can succeed in keeping the mind and body from interfering.

We think we know a great deal with our minds but with some reflection we realize how little we know.  When we eat we have little idea what happens to our food in digestion, and how it becomes part of our bodies. Few know what makes the car we are driving go.

We are blind to so much of life. We are surrounded by mystery, which is all about God's providence. Although this is the case, we are not completely perplexed with the situation.  We are actually happy, says the columnist, with the situation, for we are, little by little, uncovering some of the mystery. Would it be necessary to have a God if we knew everything? This is one reason why we believe.

We believe that God in his providence is very meticulously keeping us and the world in his hands, directing everything always for the good. Our part is to be  involved in this movement, which is spirituality and the transcendent life.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Korean National Election

One of the most important events of the past year was our 18th election for the presidency of the country. A high percentage of voters turned out to elect our first woman president, but at the same time as we praised these achievements societal conflicts remain to be resolved. 

Deeply rooted feelings divide us, says a columnist of the Catholic Times. Conservatives and progressives continually hurl invectives at each other, the 20 and 30-year-olds are opposed to the generation of the 50 and 60-year-olds, and so it goes, with a great deal of false information and criticism of each others' position being exchanged without any serious discussion of issues, the goal only to win votes.

It is now time to work  together, he says. We are all brothers and sisters of the same country, and the elections are over: time for the victors and losers  to seek the common good.  This is the time to communicate and search for unity. The victors should extend their hands in reconciliation and in dialogue. The victors are to remember that almost half the country did not go along with the victor, and when making the laws to keep "the losers" in mind.

And the losers should accept humbly, difficult though it might be, the wish of the majority of the  people. They should not work to criticize the victors but to accept the fact that they have been chosen to run the county for the next five years. When seeing something wrong, they should bring this to the attention of the government, and become partners in the running of the country.

Although we may not rid ourselves, says the columnist, of a feeling of dislike for the others position, what is necessary now is dialogue between the two positions in order to reach some sort of understanding. And solving these controversial issues often depend, the columnist believes, on how the family communicates. Our current generational divide, for example, might not exist, he says, if there had been better communication in the family.  Fathers should be communicating with the children and wife, creating an atmosphere in the family that is open to dialogue.

Cardinal Chong in his address to Catholic journalists mentioned that fathers should be the first to listen to their children and wives, and be ready to work in resolving family misunderstandings and discontent. Sincerely listening to the family members can solve many problems. When there is a refusal to listen, hurt feelings are created that work against the unity of the family.

This also holds true in the world of politics. When those in power listen to the opposition, there is a better chance for communication and unity.The columnist ends with a quote from  Matthew 5:23-24: "If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Japanese Catholicism Seen by a Korean

Japan, a country near yet far from Korea, hosts a Catholic Church that is near both in distance and in feeling, says a Korean priest who gives us his views of the Japanese Church, as he has seen it during his 19 years in Japan.

He mentions that the conservatives in the government still have a colonial mentality, and that he has felt some prejudice among the people because of his Korean nationality, though this attitude is changing, he says. Visiting the historic sites near where he works, he sees what the Korean ancestors have given to Japan and feels a sense of pride in being Korean. The Japanese are beginning to look at their past, feeling embarrassed, and wanting to atone for it.

The estimate of Japanese martyrs range from 40 to 50 thousand. The persecutions started in the 16th century and continued until 1873, when it officially ended. However, the government, up to 1945 and even after, has been reluctant to disown the crimes of the past, and the Japanese themselves have difficulty, with their unique religious disposition, to leave the past behind.

The missionaries who arrived after the persecution did not make sufficient effort, he believes, to inculurate Christianity but merely translated Christian culture into Japan instead of adapting the externals of the religion to the culture and the traditions they found there.Furthermore, the Church's reliance on help from foreign aid gave the impression that the religion was a foreign import. A view the Church has never been able to erase.

Japan of 400 years ago had 400 thousand Catholics. Today, surprisingly, the Catholic Church has approximately the same numbers: 444 thousand Catholics, now organized in 16 dioceses and 797 parishes, with 1,475 priests and 5,766 religious. Compared to the Korean Church of today, it is a far less active Church. Especially when visiting the rural areas you will see parishes, even on Sundays, with no more than 10 people at Mass, and most parishes would have less than 10 people baptized in a year.

However, he goes on to say we cannot say that Japan has not accepted Christianity; the Christians of today are respected. The 854 kindergartens and mission schools are a good example of this. Not only Christians but even some non-Christians are interested in providing their children with a Christian foundation for their children's education.

The educated Japanese often refer to Christian teachings in their works. And when it comes to marriage, many Japanese prefer, even more than the Shinto, the Christian rites for weddings.

The Japanese Church is spiritually strong, the priest says, though few Japanese are Catholic. The priests often do their own cleaning and washing, taking are of all their needs by themselves. They often teach catechism and Scripture to just one person and yet it takes your breath away, he says, to see how thorough they continue to be in their pastoral work.

Two years ago when the tsunami devastated Japan many Christians were involved in the clean up and caring for the injured. The Church also continues its concern for the foreign workers in Japan, offering  Masses in different languages, a good example for the Korean Church to follow. He ends the article by asking for prayers that Japanese Christianity adapt itself more to Japanese culture than it has in the past, understand and put into practice the teachings of Vatican II, and that it will find a way to grow and prosper in the years ahead.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Moving from the Other to a You

Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in others’ poems.
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with their
foreheads pure, cleansed by dreams.
That is why I wonder what
word should be used, “he” or “you.” Every “he”
is a betrayal of a certain “you” but
in return someone else’s poem
offers the fidelity of a sober dialogue.

This poem by Adam Zagajewski, translated into English, begins an article in the Kyeongyang magazine by a professor, with a doctorate from an American university in modern poetry, in the English Department of a Korean university. She summarizes what the poem has meant to her and wants to share her feelings with her readers at the beginning of this new year.

When she became aware that for most of us our waking hours are taken up with the 'I', she doesn't know. But it's clear to her now that everything we attempt: decisions, successes, failures, self-examinations, understandings, sorrows,  despairs--all have to do with the "me." Which makes every thing we attempt to do difficult, and going to another level requires more effort than should be necessary.

This is the way our understanding usually comes to us, she says. Everything starts with me but unknowingly, the other doesn't remain the other but becomes an intimate and a warm mystery of 'you'. The other should come to us as a 'you'.  Therefore, if the other can become a 'you', and we let it remain the other, this is a betrayal.

When I am tired by struggling with others, she writes, facing failure on the  battlefield of life and yet still able to stretch  out my hand to the unknown other, the loneliness of the narrow way  I am walking becomes wider. When we have many other 'I' s walking the same way, we turn into a community.

Throwing off the self, she continues, I am able to see the beauty of the other.  When I am able, using all my strength, to give up protecting  my domain, it is then that I find relief, giving me strength to meet the other with happiness.  Having our eyes opened to getting rid of the 'I' and daily making the other into a 'you' as we see the hurt and pain of the other is the writer's wish for the new year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Power of Forgiveness

Much is learned, says a priest, from visiting parishioners who have not been coming out to church.  From the way they speak and the attitude they have it is not difficult to determine their degree of sympathy for the Church. There are those who want nothing to do with the priest and don't even open the door, and there are those who respond with a meaningless, I am sorry. You also see a spark of faith in their responses, but it was the response of a middle-aged woman that moved the priest to write about his experience in the  Catholic Digest Reader.

When he asked the woman why she wasn't going to Mass, she answered that she couldn't go to Mass. A few years earlier her husband, a truck driver, had killed a child in a truck accident. The husband spent some time in prison, and they did come to an agreement with the family, but the wife lived with a heavy heart, especially because the mother of the dead child visited them screaming, "Bring my child back to life." The father of the child also came to the home and told her how would she like to have her child struck dead on the road.  She became afraid and started going to the Catholic Church, entered the catechism class, and was baptized.

One Sunday, she said, while at Mass, she was so shocked that her heart seemed to stop. The parents of the child who was killed in the truck accident were members of the same church. And her own child was playing with the younger brother of the child who was killed. She didn't know how she finished the Mass but left for home right after. From that time on, she never returned, fearing that the parents on seeing her, all the anguish of the past would return. She had heard that the dead child's parents were Catholics, but it never entered her mind that they were members of the same parish.

The priest understood how painful and frustrating the situation was for the woman. In any event, he thought; the parents of  the dead child had the keys to solving the problem. The parents of the dead child  were devout members of the community and were thought well of by everybody. They couldn't forget their dead child, but the animosity towards the driver had disappeared. The priest on a visit to their home revealed to them that the wife of the man who killed their son in the accident was a member of the same church. They were surprised to hear the news and remained in silence for some time.

After the start of the new year, the father of the dead child came to see the priest. He told the priest, with a trembling voice, that he and his wife went to see the family of the truck driver a few days before Christmas with a box of apples. They sincerely  apologized for their actions. All they could think of was their child and never considered the pain of the driver of the truck and his feelings. They were embarrassed and sincerely sorry for their wretched and rude behavior towards the family and asked for forgiveness. He even told the truck driver that if he decided to come out to the church, he would like to be his godfather at baptism. He told the priest that he felt a lightness of heart when he thought about all of them coming together at Christmas.

Forgiveness is a gift of grace. It is the ability to embrace all that was done, especially the scars, and emptying oneself of all that was standing in the way of going out to the other in forgiveness. There are probably few things that we know as well from the teachings of Jesus as the call to forgive. Let us expand this heartfelt gift from the individual, to groups, and to nations.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Interview with Archbishop Yeom of Seoul

Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, in his New Year interview carried in both  the Peace Broadcasting and Peace Weekly,   said he would like to see more Christians who have a better understanding of their faith and a deeper Christian identity. Below are just a few issues that the archbishop considered in the interview

The interviewer asked the archbishop for his thoughts on the  young people of the diocese. He said that the Church has not succeeded in giving them a true value system and a vital  spiritual live. The young, he says, are the future of the country; when the young are hurting, the country is hurting. The older generation has to be concerned  and make the effort to  remedy the situation. Children are the mirrors of the adults; the example of the adults is necessary. Our newspapers and TV show us people hurting others, unscrupulous business people, routine incivility among politicians--all of it a great embarrassment. We need adults who will show our young people a proper value system that is concerned for others. We need examples of those living correctly.

The results of the presidential election have revealed long-standing divisions in our society: between the young and the old, between different sectors of the country, and between ideologies. The interviewer felt that these divisions are increasing and asked the archbishop to comment. The presence of conflict in society, the archbishop answered, is at a critical point. Conflict brings about division, and division brings on greater conflict. After the Korean war and the period of reconstruction, we had, he said, the 'hungry society.' Today we have the 'angry society'. Political confusion, confrontational ideologies, generational misunderstandings, rivalries between different sections of the country, between the rich and the poor, bring about the conflicts in our society, the archbishop said.

Is there a solution to this problem?  asked the interviewer. Dialogue was the answer to the problem, said the archbishop, adding that though it's been proposed over the years, we have seen little of it in society. The master communicator, he said, was Jesus, who summed up the ideal attitude to have when relating to others:  "Treat others the way you would have them treat you."

We all want to be happy. The way this is done, said the archbishop, is to take the gaze off ourselves and turn it to the other. When we lower ourselves and become concerned for the other then we will be happy.

To the question, What does he want to say to the new president? he said he congratulates her and hopes she will be a president who has the love of all the people. A president who will give hope to the people, be magnanimous  and work for uniting all factions of the country.  By becoming the president, she has indicated her desire to be the president of all; he hopes she will keep that ideal in mind and work to providing us a friendlier society.  And with our financial situation getting better, the archbishop expressed the hope that the country will be more concerned with the poor of other countries.