Friday, May 31, 2013

Fear and Love in Our Faith LIfe

On the open forum page of the Catholic Times, the writer remembers a fishing trip of a few years ago, which left him with some thoughts about life and death. He was fishing at night in an area which was rugged and dangerous. It was pitch dark, and he was a little frightened. He heard a grumbling sound and looking around, about 10 meters from where he was standing, he saw a fisherman with his hat pushed flat on his head, humming. His first thought was to  begin a conversation but then decided it was best not to disturb him, and his attention went to his Soju (Korean liquor). When he looked again, he was gone.

Shortly after, he felt nausea and a shivering in his back and quickly left the area. The next day at the fishing store of the area, he mentioned what happened and was told it was a rather common experience of others at that spot, at that time of year.

One of the explanations, for those who like to deal with this kind of story, would be that it was a visit from the spirit world; another explanation would be that it was an optical illusion, that he had mistaken some natural object for what he thought was the fisherman. He mentioned that as a child there were times when similar occurrences did happen to him. Whatever the reason, he admits that it was a cause of fear.

Fear of what we have experienced in the past does not compare to the fear of something unknown, he says. The unknown world, death and the after life presents us with a great abyss. When we reflect on death and what is to follow, can we say, he wonders, that awe and fear have no place in our thoughts, remembering that the God of the Old Testament instills awe and fear.                                                                                                                                 In the New Testament, instead, we find intimacy and love, and yet the fear of hell seems to have more power to move our hearts. As believers we trust in the love of Jesus but also fear the loss of this love. For the writer, this means that both fear and love are motivations for his faith life.

Fear is not the same as being afraid, however. We talk a great deal of reverential fear, the fear of hurting those we love, awe in relating with God and the things of the spirit. When using words it's very easy to give them meanings another person would not accept. We have heard we are limited in what we think by the words we have available to express what we think.  A good reason, the writer advises, for us to make the effort necessary to understand what is being said without limiting the meaning of what is said to the limited meanings of our own mental dictionaries.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Helping the Young to Dream

Polarization--isn't it the distinguishing feature of our society? wonders the priest writing in the diocesan bulletin. Isn't it the reason for our many problems? Isn't the neo-liberalism brand of capitalism, now our self-portrait, responsible for the rich getting richer and for the poor being pushed to the brink, without any opportunity for change, for improvement?

The priest working with the youth in the Incheon diocese mentions that many of the young people who have runaway from home and  come to the youth shelters are invariably from the homes of the poor who have been pushed to the brink. The parents of these young people do not know, it seems, how to love their children. In the past, it was the stepmother who was the problem. Nowadays it's the parents who abandon their children, beat and abuse them.  Obviously, it's because the parents themselves have been tormented by their poverty that they have been unable, he says, to be proper parents. All are to be pitied, if under these difficult circumstances they have found it difficult to express normal parental love.

How is this to be changed? he asks. The understanding of love that we have as Christians is far from the reality that we have in society. But we can't just remain with that thought, he says. When a passenger ship is sinking and we can't save them all, we don't give up trying to do so. The Incheon diocese, since 1996, has established a children and youth foundation to help these young people who  have  been pushed to the limit. They have provided temporary shelters, short and long term, independent living centers to help rehabilitate them to begin a new life. There are counseling centers, treatment and training centers to help these young people begin a healthy life.

Why so much effort with the youth? There are many answers to this question. One is that the time with the youth is short, and a great deal can be done to remove the tragedy that could await them.

It is said that a person's values are as large as the dreams they have. In the shelters, the priests says, if you ask the children what dreams they have, invariably they say they don't have any, nor ever felt a need to dream. It is imperative, the priest said, that we help them form dreams and nurture those dreams for the future.

The slogan for the diocesan work with the youth, he says, is 'Yism' (Youth-ism). The hope is to help the young make a transparent and authentic effort to form dreams for the future. Isn't this the lofty hope that we should all have for our young people?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What does it Mean to Love the Poor?

“If investments in the banks plunge, this is a tragedy....If families are hurting, if they have nothing to eat, well, this is nothing....This is our crisis today”-- reflections from the Catholic Times' editorial on the talk of Pope Francis on  Pentecost and to the new ambassadors. What is important, he emphasized, is humanity.

Pope Francis called on the world's political and financial leaders to consider the words of St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one's goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods we possess, but theirs.” The editorial mentioned that he spoke his words filled with distress that a child or a homeless person who dies of the cold or of hunger does not make the news but when invested money in the stock market is lost, we have all kinds of consternation.

This kind of thinking has to change, he said. The pope complained that we have turned people into consumers who can be used and discarded. We have arrived at a point where we worship money and have become its slave.

The editorial agreed wholeheartedly with what the pope said on the world of finances; in today's society tenderness and mercy are disappearing.  We have been hearing for many years now that the Church has become middle class, and that the poor do not have a place within the Church. The Church has to become poorer, the editorial said.
The synod of the  Seoul diocese mentioned, ten years ago, that a serious problem in the diocese is that the poor are distancing themselves from the Church. This has been evidenced repeatedly in surveys and studies, and the problem is likely to increase in the future. 

Inchon diocese also in the synod in 1999 also made mention of this same situation.  Poverty is spreading rapidly, and as the gap between the poor and the rich expands, distorting the problem of distributive justice, human as well as communitarian lives are being destroyed by this limitless competition.

The editorial concludes that the concern of the pope can be easily solved. Christians and the Church should be examples of what a life of poverty should be. We need to become aware of Christ's love for the poor and what it should mean to us. A rather simple idea but to put into practice difficult.    


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Healing a Broken World"

 "We are all a part of creation. We have to realize that we preserve our life in harmony with creation." With these words, the Catholic Times begins the interview with Fr. Pedro Walpole from the Philippines, an expert in ecology who visited Korea to discuss ecological issues with Korean Jesuits.

"It is an opportunity," he said, "to discuss the situation and how we've responded to the world of creation, and to see what Korea has been doing to achieve peace." Fr. Pedro was one of the experts who drew up the paper "Healing a Broken World," a report drawn up by the task force on ecology of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus.
The 2010 report, translated into Korean this past March, provides information, global vision and spiritual resources and recommendations, which Fr. Pedro passed on to the Korean Jesuits. The paper explained not only to the Jesuits but to the whole Church that we have to take responsibility for caring for the environment, examining and carrying out the recommendations suggested in the report.

The paper mentions many areas of concern, including an interesting insight regarding the climate impasse we are all familiar with. Three reasons were given for the difficulty:

1. The enormous economic challenge of reducing greenhouse gases.

2. The complexity of climate science.
3. The deliberate campaigns to confuse the public and discredit the science.
Fr. Pedro in the hour interview, instead of talking about the big and small ecological issues, stressed that our primary concern should be to discover the cause of the problem, which he believes can be found in our wrong attitude toward the problem. There is a lack of trust in one another, resulting in more of us deciding to live separated from others.

People in the city, especially, having lost the bond they should have with others, are searching for comfort as their number-one goal, he said. They are like a floating buoy, with many not reflecting on what is eaten or where it comes from. To solve the problems, we need to become more conscious of our lifestyles, he said, and more grateful for the life that has been given to us.   
" We should be giving life to one another and be concerned for the sustainability of our relationships with others and with nature," he said. "This is important not only for Christians but for all of us. We have to rid ourselves of the habit of consuming for our comfort, and seek to communicate more with others. Many aspects of our life depend on finances for the development of science and industry, however, we should be at least equally concerned with efforts to preserve and develop a healthy way of living."


Monday, May 27, 2013

Love Needs Justice

Pastoral social involvement in society includes family, marriage, culture, politics, finances. In all these aspects of society, the Church has to protect and foster human dignity, the community of peoples, the common good, dialogue, and to cooperate with others in society in finding ways to achieve these goals. These words began the article in the Peace Weekly by a priest-participant in the symposium on the Critique and Future of Catholic Pastoral Work in Society. This should be, he says, the standard the Church should use to examine its activity in this area of need.

For many, the social gospel is based too much on the hereafter. At times it seems a patronizing blessing after death, the priest says. Instead of working for the common good, it's concerned with the faults of society in an abstract kind of way. The Church has to work to help those who are working to make a just and peaceful society. He can't erase from his thinking that at times the Church seems satisfied to merely serve the weak, being one with them, without the additional effort to better their lot.

He laments the fact that this integral part of the Gospel message is not understood by so many Catholics and is seen as unimportant or, worse, as interference, as something having nothing to do with the Gospel message. Sadly, many see participating in society and living a life of faith as two different divisions of  life.

It has been 20 years now since the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which incorporates the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. The existence of the catechism is not even known in many parishes. The change of life, the engagement and sacrifices we are being called to are not attractive to many. Working for justice is seen as painful and is avoided. We separate the Mass and our liturgical life from our daily life. The obligation we have to love is also the obligation we have to work for justice.

Another participant mentioned how we can say many things in our formal meetings, such as the synods we had 10 years ago in the diocese, but little comes from their deliberations, he said. He also mentioned that the numbers of Catholics in the wealthier areas of the diocese are higher than in the poorer sections. The Church has to model a simpler lifestyle, he said, and be concerned for the poorer areas of the diocese with more investment in personnel and funds.

The priest emphasized that he would like to have all our Catholics be exposed to the teachings of the social gospel. They need to know how we as citizens and people of faith can live the social  gospel in our daily lives. This had to be, he says, part of the teaching for all those in pastoral work.

This has been a concern of the Church in Korea for some time and we are seeing some changes. The "either-or" thinking is still prevalent in many areas where it doesn't belong. The "both-and" thinking is the healthier way of being concerned for the good of all. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Gap and Eul Culture in Korea

Recently, we have seen the words 'Gap' and 'Eul' in articles and editorials. A Catholic Times columnist explains that the words are usually used as names of legal parties in a contract, but originally derived from the first two words in a list of 10 "Heavenly Stems" and another list of 12 "Earthly Branches," denoting a period of 60 years in the old Chinese calendar. In English we would probably say A and B.

They now have meanings that were not in the words as they were first used: bigger and smaller, stronger and weaker. This kind of thinking has been associated with a number of incidents where a person's position in society allowed for the demeaning of another who was not, according to that person's standards, of comparable worth. "Bigger and stronger" would be Gap; "smaller and weaker" would be Eul. One company, for example, used its strong position in the marketplace to force a small retailer to buy more than they needed. Such incidents have recently been reported in the media, giving rise to the expression "The Gap and Eul Culture."

Thinking in this mode is certainly not only a Korean phenomenon but evident throughout the world. It is prideful thinking that often comes with a prominent position in business or in any organization or group where some believe themselves superior to the others in the group. In a contract, the Gap party is seen to be in the favorable position, with the Eul party being disadvantaged and having to respond to the Gap party. The columnist reminds the reader that there is always a bigger Gap above him, and it's easy to forget that there is room for the positions to change. There are circumstances when we are Gap and at other times Eul, but most of the time we give in to the illusion we are always Gap.

When we are treated as Gap, there obviously is no problem. When we believe we are treated as Eul, anger can easily arise. With this rather long introduction, the columnist sees the Gap-Eul phenomena not only as a problem in society but also within the Church. There are many cases within the believing community where the difficulty Christians are experiencing comes from the results of this kind of thinking. From the II Vatican Council we know that the community of  believers is a fellowship of brothers and sisters who are to communicate with each other as equals.

"Each one of you is a son of God because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with him....All are one in Christ" (Galatians 3:26-28). This understanding by St. Paul, the journalist stresses, is not only true of his time but for all time. He concludes his column with the suggestion that we look at ourselves to see if we are not acting like an ultra Gap. To be one with Jesus requires that we lower ourselves, and not be afraid of being considered a EUL.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Interpreting the Catholic Korean Statistical Report

The recently published Catholic Korean Statistical Report has shown an increase in the number of Catholics but those going to Mass has dropped to 22.7 percent, the lowest in history, a red light that not all is well.  

The signs have been present for sometime, and efforts have been made to face the problem and do something that will bring about change. One of the parishes in Seoul invited all parish council members, district heads, pan and parish group leaders to gather together for a discussion on solving parish problems. The Peace Weekly starts off its coverage of the gathering with a question that gained a great deal of interest. "Out of necessity, when a person doesn't attend Mass you can substitute with prayer or a good work, but what is a sufficient reason for not attending Mass?
"If there is another way to substitute for not going to Mass," it added, "the burden of having to go to Confession will be lessened, and you will have more attending  Mass."  The pastor read the Korean pastoral guidelines and the bishop's explanation. "When one is not able to attend Mass or go to a mission station liturgy, for a  good reason, one  can substitute with a rosary, reading the Scriptures or a good work."

One parishioner said "There are many reasons that on Sunday one is not able to attend Mass. If you have to go to confession every time that happens, confession becomes a big burden. When there is a clear  alternative to the obligation of Sunday Mass, this will be a great help to those who have to miss the Sunday obligation."

The following thought sums up the thinking often expressed during the discussion: "If one in conscience makes the decision that there is a good reason to miss Mass, and the obligation can be filled by attending a weekday Mass, the numbers of those not going to Church will decrease." There were also some who considered this not a problem. Another thought that the Korean custom of Easter and Christmas Confessions should be dropped to just once a year and make this a serious time for examination; the present system is too superficial, he said.

One person recommended that retired priests be invited to come to the parishes at special times to take care of the confessions on a permanent basis. This would enable more of them to go to confession. Another thought that liturgical music at Mass would increase attendance.

The problems expressed are certainly real and need to be addressed, but perhaps more importantly the understanding of Mass as liturgy is not sufficiently internalized and found fulfilling and necessary for a meaningful life.

Liturgy, a Greek word meaning originally a public duty, a service for the state undertaken by a citizen, is also something we as Christians do publicly. It is Jesus calling us in a public way to do something together. If this could be fully appreciated, it would cause a change in our attitude toward the Sunday Mass.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Education Without Competition

The word used in Korean for 'season' is the same word used for 'discretion.' A child comes to the age of discretion, it is said, when she can tell the differences in the four seasons. In the column View from the Ark of the Catholic Times, the writer notes the wisdom of the ancients in seeing the relationship of the age of reason with the laws of nature. No matter what we think or feel, the seasons will come and go, and we have to accommodate.

The columnist introduces us to Dosan, Ahn Chang-ho, one of Korea's respected patriots and educators, who began the Hung Sa Dan for the independence of Korea, while the country was under Japanese rule, a hundred years go this May. The core of his educational philosophy stressed the need to address the whole person, the body and the mind, and their virtuous uses, along with the four principles of truth, effort, loyalty and courage.

With a long history of the wise telling us what is important in educational programs for our young people, the writer laments that a kindergarten student must learn a foreign language before knowing well his own mother tongue. Parents are being persuaded that a child who knows a foreign language will have a better chance at getting a good job.

We are all different, he says, but many parents want their child to take  a certain path, a path that someone  else followed and was successful. The educational system today is primarily concerned with knowledge that prepares us for the marketplace, without enough concern for the health of the body, mind and spirit. He recounts the many negatives concerning our competitive race for success, but the pressure to succeed is so strong that it trumps everything else.

If we took some time to contemplate our present situation, he asks, wouldn't we see some other alternative? The life road that everyone seems to be taking is overly crowded and filled with competitors, and not very welcoming. Wouldn't the road others are not traveling be more attractive? The struggle, he says, would only be  with the self.

Mother Theresa said she was not out to save the world but just one person at a time; she was only able to love one person at a time. And if we are able to lead one person to discretion, the columnist says, we are a good educator. This discretion begins with the self, and if he personally can introduce another person to the life-long path of learning, then he too has become a good educator. Thomas Merton is quoted as saying that being a saint is what we are meant to be. And that our life is spent in learning what that should be.

Each flower waits patiently for its time to bloom. They do not fight over who has the greatest beauty; each expresses its unique beauty and fragrance. It remains for us to find our objective in life and take the steps to achieve it. Isn't that what it means to arrive at discretion? he asks. 

The Catholic Church of Korea has set aside this week as Education Week to help inculcate this way of thinking into the educational  programs of the Church throughout the country.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cyberspace and the Church

"Believers are increasingly aware that unless the Good News is made known also in the digital world it may be absent in the experience of many people for whom this world is important. The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but a real part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young."

These words are taken from the Communication Day Message of Pope Benedict that begins an article in the Catholic Times on the use of the digital possibilities for communication. The Pope mentioned that the social networks are helping to build a new "agora,"  an open public square, where people share ideas, information and opinions, and where new relationships and forms of community come into being. 

A number of graphs in the article reveal who are using the different media for news. The young born after 1982 are shown to be the more  frequent users of the Internet;  TV and the print media are used more by other age groups. A graph also shows that young people use the Social Network Service (SNS) much more than do any of the  other age groups, Facebook being the most popular, followed by Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

The  Pew Research Center survey showed  that the SNS is used mostly for music and watching interesting images. Secondly, sharing personal matters with their virtual friends, followed by sports and politics; religion was at the bottom. To  the question, how often do you go to the Internet for Catholic content? 53 percent were not aware that one could do this, 16 percent go sometimes, 12 percent a little, 11 percent not much, and 8 percent go often.

Benedict had made it clear that we should not delay using the mass media, for the influence it has on society is great. Since the Catholic population of the world is over one billion, it is easily seen that a great number of Catholics would have access to the Internet.

The article mentions the obvious fact that with the internet we are dealing with an important reality in our lives that has influenced all of us, and consequently we need to make use of it to further our goals. Both Benedict and Francis have access to the SNS portals and have given us examples of how they can be efficiently used in the digital world. The Papa Francisco Facebook site has already topped 7 million viewers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Women's Role Within the Church

Writing in the Catholic Times a Jesuit professor, coordinator of the social pastoral work of Jesuits in Asia,discusses the role of women in the Church.He works with a five-member team he calls a dream team.

The team is made up of  three Jesuits and two laypeople, both women. Three are Asian and two are white. Two are from North East Asia and two from South Asia, and one from Australia. Each of them has a unique experience, personality, and style which they bring to the team. They reflect the different Jesuit ways of  pastoral social involvement and because of the differences, there is, the professor says, a pooling of resources to better achieve their stated goals. 

An anecdote shows what he means. The lay woman from Australia is responsible for a Jesuit social pastoral volunteer group made up of many non-Catholics. She has no difficulty in keeping close to the Jesuit values when working with such a group. She was asked by a Jesuit to come to his country and explain to the Jesuits how to live according to their own values. The invitation was given at a large gathering and received much applause. The writer feels that this would be of greater value than having a Jesuit give the same kind of talk.

The women of his team have taught him a lot, he says. The Jesuits are interested in structures and assignments, while the women are interested in relationships and people. When the women speak, the professor says there is more empathy, understanding and love in what they say than we normally hear. This reminds him of what the theologian Balthazar said about St. Peter's  and the Blessed Mother's approach. Peter was interested in organic structures and pastoral efficiency, while Mary preferred consensus, understanding and fellowship. Both approaches are used by the team, which multiplies the results of the work.

The West has followed the way of Peter to excess, and Mary's way was disregarded, according to Balthazar, a European theologian. The West wanted efficiency and quickness; as a result widespread hostile feelings were engendered. Love, prayer, and calm discernment were missing. Peter's way can be seen today in our society. In the last 50 years, the industrialization and democratization of society have had terrific results but society has overlooked the needs of the stragglers. There is a lack of concern for the least fortunate members of society. Can we also say that this thinking has entered the Korean Church? the professor asks.

We pray that we may begin to  understand women's rightful place and treatment in our society. As companions and compatriots they need to be understood, respected and encouraged. Doing so will give more life to the Korean Church.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Culture of Life

Working to make a culture of life is an important mission for all, and as Christians we hear a great deal of how this can be accomplished. The columnist writing in the Culture of Life column in the Peace Weekly discusses how this can be accomplished when seen from an Asian perspective.

In her columns, she criticizes the narrow type of education offered to our students, which prepares them primarily to succeed in the marketplace. It's self-interest at the expense of others, she says, and shows a lack of courage to educate the whole person, being content to fashion the limited human beings we are now sending into the world. What is needed, she says, is "more doors and empty spaces," more access to one another. In her last column she considers our copy-cat type of life, the way we're conscious of what others possess, wanting more possessions for ourselves, and becoming enslaved by our possessions in the process.

One of the reasons for suicides in our society, she says, is not the loss of something one feels is necessary to live, but feeling the pain of that loss. "One can put up with an empty stomach but not with the pain in the belly", as a Korean saying puts it. The tendency to become despondent, she says, results from our dependence on possessions for making our life worthwhile.

In the above Korean proverb, the pain mentioned is of two kinds. The first comes from a desire to live, while the second comes from a desire for possessions. Which is made clear by the Korean saying: "When my cousin buys a piece of property, my belly hurts." This kind of hurt follows when we are not able to satisfy our desire for possessions, and is psychological in result.  Pain from an empty stomach is remedied by the first good meal, but the second hurt is only relieved by emptying oneself.

She mentions hearing an interview with a woman refugee from the North that clearly refers to what the columnist is saying. In the North, the woman said she was hungry and had to use all her energy to stay alive. In the South, she had plenty to eat but did not want to live here. No matter how rich, you eat only a limited number of times a day. The difference in how the rich and the poor satisfy their desires for existence, she says, is not obvious but is usually indicated by the possessions they have.

She mentions a politician who spent an extravagant amount of money for the care of the skin and was criticized by the media for it. For a certain segment of society, the appearance of the skin is a barometer of their place in society. Possessions and appearance are able to attract the gaze of others; life and death issues hold little interest for the vast majority.
In the 12th chapter of the Tao Te Ching,  we are told not to esteem the eyes over the belly. The word 'belly' is called by Lao Tzu the seat of life. In order to promote life, we have to fill the belly. If we only use the eyes, ears and tastes to gain the attention of others, we become slaves to the demands of our senses. As Lao Tzu says:  
                   The five colors make the eyes blind; 
                   The five notes make the ears deaf;
                   The five tastes injure the palate;
                   Riding and hunting make the mind go wild with excitement;
                   Goods hard to come by serve to hinder progress.
                   Hence, the sage is for the belly
                   Not for the eye.
                   Therefore the sage discards the one
                   and takes the other.
She finishes the column with the words of Confucius: one can study to express what one has in the heart or one can study to please others and to succeed in life. The one who picks the latter will always be looking for affirmation of the other and will have no peace. Those who want to grasp honors and material goods will have people swarming around them like bees, but when they lose what they have, people will leave them like the ebbing tide. To realize the self by acquiring possessions is a futile effort. When we begin to educate the whole person and give expression to our true nature, we will have set firmly in place the foundation for a culture of life.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Helping to save a Marriage: Retrouvaille

During the past year Korea had 143,000 divorces. The overall divorce rate, which is the number of divorces among the population during a given year, per 1,000, has been decreasing since 2003, reported an article in the Catholic Times. However, the number of divorces for those married over 20 years is 26 percent of the total divorces, and this continues to increase. Divorce of those in their twilight years is 2.4 times what it was ten years ago. Those married less than four years have 24.7 percent of the total divorces.

The article introduces us to the Retrouvaille (rediscovery) Movement website, which is the second time this blog has treated the Retrouvaille Movement.The Movement provides a program that begins with a weekend for married couples, followed by post weekend sessions. The program is prepared for those who are having difficulty in their marriage and want help in overcoming the obstacles that are preventing healthy communication.

Retrouvaille began in Canada in 1977 and has been enthusiastically received since then throughout the world. Their primary objective is restore the ease of communication between spouses that has been lost during the trials of a difficult marriage. A main reason given for divorce is the inability to deal with personality differences, resulting in misunderstanding the needs of the other and stifling communication.

The programs, although started under Catholic auspices, are open to all regardless of belief. Saving their marriage is upper most in the intentions of those present during these weekends, which are concerned with restoring trust and the willingness to forgive, the first stepping stones for many of them to a new way of communicating between husband and wife. All is accomplished without personal revelations to others; the privacy of each couple is preserved.

Even the newly-wedded are seeking to enroll in the weekends. However, this creates a problem because there is currently not enough supervising couples and priests to oversee the running of the weekend.  The next program will begin in June, with the hope they will have more volunteers willing to supervise the weekends.  The archbishop of Seoul, in his talk to the representatives of the Retrouvaille team, expressed the hope that they will be able to expand the programs to include other religious groups, and even society at large.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Are You Happy?

"Are you happy now?" The writer begins her article in the Seoul Diocesan Bulletin with  these words. Surfing on the Internet, these words in English perked her curiosity. It was a lead-in to an advertisement for a diet plan, claiming that fat people can't be happy. The diet promised that its diet will not only help users to lose over 5 kilos, but help them regain happiness. Isn't this preposterous? she asks. That you can't be happy if your fat?

The reason the writer was so agitated was that she recently saw a TV program whose theme was happiness. Over 40 percent of Koreans, when asked what was the number one condition for happiness, said it was money. The program mentioned that earning up to 4,000 dollars a month would cause the happiness index to go up. Earning more than that and there are problems. Spending additional time making money often disrupts family life and relationships with friends.  

It seems that happiness, she quips, has an expiration date. Is there no long-lasting happiness here on earth?  she asks. The writer believes there is. But it's not the happiness you want to show off to others. It's the happiness she wants for herself. Daily, she gathers and puts together, she says, the small moments of happiness in her life.

To the ad's question, "Are you happy now?" she does not hesitate to answer 'yes'.  Not because she is not fat but because of those moments of happiness, such as her daily warm cup of coffee and milk first thing in the morning, as she gradually becomes wide awake and in action mode. She has been in the habit of doing this from her early twenties, when she was mountain climbing, and has been doing this for over 30 years.

Another moment of happiness takes place in the evening. Before going to  bed, she writes in her diary, has a glass of wine, which the doctor recommended for improving blood circulation, and listens to music. It's the time she uses to look over the events of the day, and to enjoy a relaxed feeling of satisfaction for a day well-spent.

The third thing she does is to read poetry out loud. She has a habit of speaking fast so she began to do this from the time she was in high school in the hope of slowing down her speech. She reads the poems carefully with a loud voice. This has allowed her to memorize a number of the poems, and has been helpful in selecting words which she uses in her writing. She would like us all to find out how many of these small birds of happiness we currently have in our own hands but have not yet allowed them to spread their wings and fly.

Today is the feast of Pentecost and the day on which we remember to give thanks for the knowledge of the gift of the Spirit. We have a Comforter internal to ourselves that is not influenced by what is external to us.  We are temples of the Holy Spirit. This gift of gifts allows us to be open to the many  joys of our lives, once we rid ourselves of our self-imposed obstacles.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Need for Saints

Catholic Statistics for the year 2012 have recently been published. The number of Catholics remains steady at 10 percent; the number of priests has significantly increased and the number of male and female religious has increased slightly, but the devotion of our Catholics continues to weaken.

There are currently one Cardinal, 34 bishops, 4578 Korean priests and 176 foreign priests. 54.3 percent of the priests are in parish work; the number of priests working overseas has increased by 19 percent from last year. The number entering the seminary has decreased by 9 percent from the previous year, which is an alarming trend.  The number entering male religious orders has decreased by about the same (9.3 percent), and the number of women entering female religious orders has decreased by 44.4 percent, an ominous sign of what the future will be like.

10.3 percent of the population are Catholic, though the numbers entering the Church has decreased by 1.8 percent from the previous year there still is an increase in the total number of Catholics, but those going to Mass are decreasing. The Seoul diocese has the largest percentage of Catholics with 13.8 percent.

The Catholic Times editorial found the statistics on the present state of sacramental life of our Christians a serious matter of concern. The numbers attending Sunday Mass and going to confession is a good index of the spiritual life of our Catholics. Statistics comparing this year with last year have shown Mass attendance down 1 percent, and the number of confessions down 4.6 percent. These two sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession are a barometer of the life of our Christians, and of the relationship we have with the church community.

Attendance at Mass is not only a sign that one is serious about their faith life, it goes beyond that; it is the essence of what it means to be a Catholic. And Confession is the way we continually renew our faith life and prepare to be more zealous; it also tends to have an immediate effect on the faith life of the community. The editorial points out that when this is missing, it's no exaggeration to say that a mature faith is also missing.

This is not something new but has been the case since 1990, and has been noted repeatedly. Efforts have been made to turn this around but little has improved. Programs that have been established are usually attended by those who are already zealous in their faith life, and not by those who would benefit the most from them.

During this Year of Faith, efforts are continually made to stop the trend that is emptying the pews. What is happening in the West is beginning to appear also here in the East. Programs, retreats, talks, better sermons, a more meaningful liturgy, a more sensitive clergy and many other possible solutions will not stop the erosion of faith that is taking place until the life of Christians becomes less influenced by the values of a materialistic society and more influenced by the example of Jesus. Simply put: we need more saints.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A priest, newly assigned to head the JOC (Jeunesse Ouvrière Chriétienne, Young Christian Workers) writes in a bulletin for priests that he went to a Maryknoll priest who held the position before him, Fr. Michael Bransfield, for advice in taking on his new work. The priest relates that Fr. Michael, who died in 1989, came from wealth but in his work in Korea he lived simply and always saw the world with the eyes of a worker.

The writer reminds us that living with workers and hearing what they have to say changes the way you see the world, and there were, in fact, many changes in Fr. Bransfield's life.  If we are to know how truth and justice functions in the world, he believed we needed to see the world from the perspective of the marginalized and the suffering. He has left many words and pictures showing us the hardships that are endured daily by those having to live such a life. 

When the writer went to Fr. Bransfield for advice on how best to interact with the workers in his charge, he said Fr. Bransfield took a few moments to think about what to say and then responded with two suggestions: speak little and listen long; secondly, work with them. The priest writer said he didn't always follow the recommendations, but they have registered with him and never left, and in time he came to realize they were the words of the Gospel.

He describes, in his article, a worker in his sixties, who lived a life of poverty, never married, and was generally not recognized by others. He became interested in the Church, began to study, and was baptized. One day he was seen walking back and forth in an alley by one of the Catholics, his face expressing great joy, which was not his usual manner. The woman asked what made  him so happy. He had a  meeting with a priest, he answered, and told him about his life. "You have done well, you have had much trouble and  have overcome many difficulties," said the priest. This is what made him happy, he told the woman.

Those who have much and are respected by society often are the ones who monopolize the words of the mouth and what is eaten. The poor often do not have the same opportunities, having to be content to say little and eat little. 

Jesus often went to the alienated of society to speak and eat with them, and to listen to what they had to say. We know that he opened the lips of many who couldn't talk. Those who were alienated and were overcome with a feeling of inferiority were liberated with the love that was shown.

The Mass, with its many different meanings, is also primarily a sign of that love which is shared by all. We daily share Jesus' words and the 'bread', as did the first Christians when they shared their experience of the faith and what they possessed. It was their answer to solving the problems of the marginalized and those who suffer.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Attraction For the Free Gift

A religious order priest was recently embarrassed by an incident in his life, and so upset at what he felt it said about him that it became the subject of his Catholic Times column on spirituality.  Admiring Pope Francis for his simplicity of life and love of St. Francis, and his own religious call to  poverty, he remembered vividly straying from this intention.

One day while he was on the way to the barbers, two young men standing outside a van by the side of the road called out that they were giving free rice noodles at a near-by building. Always attracted to what was free, he said he could not let this opportunity pass. Since he had time to spare, off he went to the building, where there were others waiting for the gift. However, it was not a quick and done deal. The men gave those waiting a black plastic bag, containing about 10 tora seeds, and spoke of how good it was for the eyes. Impatient for the rice noodles, he wondered when the free gift would be handed out. But they brought out another black bag, and began explaining  the health benefits of ginseng.
It soon became evident what the men were up to. They were marketers, he said, publicizing the benefits of red ginseng from Korea, touting its superiority over Chinese ginseng. But he was not interested; all he wanted was the free rice noodles. Many of the others, realizing what was happening, quietly left but he remained, intent on getting his gift. And then another black bag was passed around, containing a bar of soap made with rice. Finally, a well-dressed man took over and tried to sell the Korean red ginseng at a reduced price.

He did finally receive the bag of rice noodles, the priest said, but he felt deceived, though leaving the scene with the four or five black bags, headed for the barber shop and then returned to the monastery. On reflection, he realized that the free rice noodles were not free. He said that his hope to get something for nothing had led to his wasting three hours of his time. It was a surprise to him, he said, that despite his resolve to abide by Pope Francis' example, simply hearing the word 'free' was enough to change this intention.

That evening he had a late evening rice noodles snack, tora tea, washed his face with the rice soap, and went to bed. The habit of spiritual poverty made him use well what he had received. But at the same time he resolved to act differently in the future.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Service in Love for 33 Years

"It is with the heart that you learn what love is and not with the head," says Dr. Kang, an 82-year-old dentist who for 33 years treated without charge the dental needs of patients suffering from Hansen's disease. The interview on the occasion of his retirement, carried by both Catholic papers, noted that he had been given a plaque in gratitude for his many years of unheralded service to the Hansen Disease community. His  free service extended to over 15 thousand patients. In receiving the plaque, he quoted the words of Cardinal Stephen Kim: It took him 70 years for love to go from the head to the heart. The doctor knows of what the Cardinal speaks, although humbly saying he only knows what is meant in a superficial way.

Those he has  served over the years arranged the presentation with a party in his office. His hearing loss and age made it necessary to stop his dental treatments, begun in 1979, in the different Hansen settlements throughout the country. He would leave his own practice and travel without receiving help from other groups or organizations. He also would take the molds necessary and make the dentures himself, not needing a dental technician, saving a great deal of money. He did charge for the materials used and would donate the money to the groups working with Hansen patients.

Emma Freisinger, an Austrian nurse who has worked with Hansen patients for over 50 years, was hoping to have a doctor who would take care of the dental needs of her patients, and when Dr. Kang appeared it was too good for words, she said. Patient's with Hansen's disease (once known as leprosy) even if cured would have difficulty being accepted back into society. They would have difficulty not only going to a clinic or hospital, but riding a bus, going to a restaurant or finding a place to sleep. It is easy to see why Dr. Kang's services were enthusiastically received.

Over the years, because of the doctor's work among the forgotten ones of society, he has been asked for interviews by newspapers but has always refused--until his retirement this year. He hopes that others will be open to this kind of service to the poor and sick of our society.

In the early days of his service to the Hansen patients he kept it a secret even from his family, knowing they would be opposed. But in time his wife and family were very supportive of his  volunteer work. He is also well-known in Seoul for the dental help given priests and seminarians over the years at his clinic, all gratis.

A volunteer working with Hansen patients said that what Dr. Kang did for over thirty years means he must have been doing it with a joyful heart, otherwise it would never have lasted that long. There is a need for this kind of service in society, and thankfully, we do have it. Dr. Kang is an example to the  younger generation of what it means to find a place in their own life for this kind of service to others

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Preciousness of Family

May is the month of the family. When we say family, says the desk columnist of the Catholic Times, thoughts of joy and hope should come to mind. Instead, we are more likely to think of conflict between husband and wife, children disobeying parents, parents abusing children--the traditional family closeness is disappearing.

The integrity of the modern family is faced with threatening influences, he says, that did not exist in the past. Fierce competition for college entrance that worries not only the aspiring student but the whole family; the confusion of values that comes with excessive competition obscures the direction of life, putting us on a materialist treadmill; unnecessarily costly weddings are breaking up the family way of life, which leads to the one-child syndrome.

Society with its materialist values, its focus on physical rather than spiritual realities, tends to create an unhealthy model for families to emulate, such as working hard to build a beautiful house and neglecting to build a home. There is, of course, no problem in living well when one does not have a nice house. It may be uncomfortable when the house is a problem, but without a loving family, the problem can become a tragedy. And one of the tragedies of an unhealthy family is that it often gives rise to the delinquency of the young.

This is one of the worries and problems of our families today. When the family goes astray everything is out of balance. The family is like a barricade, says the columnist, that keeps the flood waters out. This is something we all know, he says, but we don't find it easy to put into practice. One way is for each member of the family to respect each other; without this caring for each other, the family itself cannot be respected. The husband needs to respect the wife, the wife the husband, the parents the children, the children the parents. It is, he says, the first order of business.

All of us should ask ourselves how much of the problems of modern families do we acknowledge and empathize with. The columnist does not give himself high marks on this score. The reasons for family problems are many, from financial worries to personal discord, but they all originate, he says, in a lack of oneness as family. He uses an analogy to illustrate this point: When flying a kite, if the string is strong no matter how strong the wind blows there is no problem. The journalist considers the string our faith life. With this belief in God, the family will be able to overcome the difficulties they encounter. This is our call, he says, and he wants us to reflect on this call during this month of May.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Plus and Minus of the Social Network

A person in a crowd does not shoulder any personal responsibility. A truism amply illustrated in the scriptures: "There was a lot of talk about him [Jesus] among the people." Some said, "He's a good man," but others replied, "No, he's misleading the people" (John 7:12). A little later, with one voice, the crowd shouted, "Take him away! Crucify him!" (John 19:15).

Who makes up a crowd? And what voice do you and I have in a crowd? A religious sister who studied media ecology, and spirituality reminds us, in her article in the Kyeongyang Magazine, of a few important points when using the social networking services (SNS).

It is easy to overlook the fact that a few people when aligned together can become the voice of a crowd without the  approval of many in the crowd. People who have come together in such a crowd are anonymous. In much the same way the social networks are following the rules of mass psychology, those with the same interests often coming together to make their own group, where they find and enjoy security.

Teenagers are beginning to use in their conversations the word "KakaoStory bullying." (KakaoStory is a Korean photo sharing social networking service.) It's a form of bullying in which a person is invited to a cyberspace room and, with pictures, is attacked in a way that exceeds the worst of the 'word only' type of bullying. This kind of bullying lasts 24 hours a day, and you can't hide from it.

A boy who was participating in this kind of bullying was asked why he was using abusive language. He said, unperturbed by what he had been doing, that it was bullying, simply bullying. Doesn't that bother you in any way? he was asked. No, was his unemotional and matter-of-fact answer. We also find this unemotional involvement, she says, in other age groups and in other segments of society who are using the same bullying tactics with malicious comments that are often seen on posts.

We all have a desire to relate with others, and to be ostracized hurts. The possibilities that are offered by the SNS are numerous. The sister feels that the personal values one has are weakened by these services, as we gradually are influenced by the values of others participating in the service, and to want to imitate the perceived 'stars' of the SNS, and when we are not able to do so, the sister says, it can lead susceptible individuals into depression.

There is a limit to the number of friends we can have, and those made on SNS, we know, can be easily forgotten. A true friend is one we can meet with at any time, a person we can easily ask for help and support. We have to practice this type of meeting, the sister says, and come out of the crowd, meeting on a one-on-one basis. We are not sufficiently consoled merely by words in cyberspace. We need the presence of the other.

Referencing Peter 3:10: "Keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit," she hopes that we can elevate the social media from being a place where one frequently feels no sense of responsibility for what one says, to a place where joy is experienced.

She quotes a professor who cites studies that found that happy people have surrounded themselves with happy people, and unhappy people are surrounded by unhappy people. She hopes that SNS members will foster a desire to support each networking member, so that ultimately we will build a network of joy that will be truly social, because, she says, like all good things in life, social networking is a blessing and a gift of God.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Resolving Conflicts within the Parish Community

A professor at the diocesan seminary, who is also a pastor, discusses in a recent issue of the Kyeongyang Magazine some of the reasons Catholics have lost hope in the Church and have left. Using a Korean expression you hear often:  he will be spitting while lying down-- a foolish thing to do. However, since he is a  pastor and  has something to say on the subject he proceeds.

Some have been hurt by the words or actions of their parish priest or religious; others have left, disapproving of the lifestyle of the clergy and religious. What should be done, he asks, when parishioners dislike their priest or sisters? Some may even criticize their celibate state as unnatural, and mistake a lack of social skills as self-righteousness, stubbornness, pride and hypocrisy.

It's helpful to remember, he says, that priests, starting from the time in the seminary, have been receiving love and respect from the Christians, but have not in many instances returned to their Christians, in like measure, the same love and respect they've grown accustomed to receiving. Priests also are not practiced in self-examination, except for the ones who see themselves humbly. In addition, they are often tempted to do what they want in their parishes without consulting the community. 

The same difficulties apply, but perhaps less so, to the sisters assigned to a parish; they fill the maternal roll in the  parishes, while also living a life of humility and poverty, and are respected and  loved by the parishioners. But the professor points out that the sisters are also no less influenced by the greater society, and at times can become authoritarian. The relationship between the priests and the sisters is also not without its potential difficulties, occasionally resulting in the sisters being recalled from the parish. And there are cases when a priest sins and it becomes the gossip of the parish; he then can no longer continue in his pastoral capacity.

These problems can be seen as caused, in part at least, from the special position of the priests and sisters in the parish. The times when these problems have been overlooked have long passed. The faults of the priest in the past would have been accepted, and the parishioners would pray for a change. Today, the community would not hesitate to prepare a petition for the bishop and marshal parishioners to oppose the priest. 

The professor tells us it's not love to unconditionally overlook the faults of priests and sisters. The problems are not only limited to the priests and sisters but some blame belongs to the community. The community has to realize that they are the leaders of the community along with the priests and sisters. What does it mean to live a life of faith? When they have a problem with a priest or sister, they stop going to church, but they should reflect, says the professor, who is being hurt when they take this action. They should remember that  priests and sisters are not their spokesperson in their faith life.

When problems arise with a priest, a sister or another Christian, there are many resolutions possible: write them a frank letter, express to them directly the problem they have, go to confession. When this is not done there's usually bickering and hurt feelings. With prayer and a desire to speak honestly to those they believe to be the offending party, something good will usually result. We should remember that even if our expressed concerns are not accepted at that time, for whatever reasons, it maybe that we have prepared them to eventually come to a new understanding of their roles as priest and sister.

The Church can no longer disregard the legitimate complaints of many Christians by relying on organizational formalities as was done in the past. We now have the example of  Pope Francis who, in his first act after being selected as the new pope, asked for a blessing from the people gathered in St. Peter's Square waiting for his appearance on the balcony, and then bowed his head to the people.

A person with a mature faith life does not allow a priest or sister to interfere with his or her relationship with Jesus. Our life should be a life of gratitude for what we have received. There is no need to desire or to receive the approval of the priest or sisters. Emotions are a part of life and we can't run away from them but we can, the professor says, ask for help in getting them under control. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Surprised by Uncommon Values

In his office early one morning a lawyer, listening to music and writing, heard the phone ring. It was a friend who had passed by the office and seeing the light felt compelled to give him some friendly advice, telling him he should stop working so much, "Are you working early mornings to make more money?" he asked.

"That's not what I'm doing," the lawyer tried to  explain, but the friend went on to say, "What are you going to do with all that extra money? You need to go home to your family." The only reason his friend could think of for a person being in his office outside of regular hours, the lawyer said, was to make more money. He had no idea that he may have been reading a book, listening to music, writing a personal letter or an article intended for publication, which he did write for the Catholic Digest, discussing just this issue of misunderstood values. 

This difficulty was evident when Pope Benedict announced his retirement. The mass media the world over had an abundance of speculation to work with, and promptly did: Could it be a plot? Was the pope overcome with difficulties he couldn't manage? A German who could not deal with the Italian entrenchment in the Vatican? among other speculations--all reasonable explanations but far from the truth.

The truth was that he was old and, after prayerful reflection on what would be demanded of him, he clearly stated that at his age he felt he would not be able to deal with the difficulties the Church was currently facing.  He was sure he had made the right decision but few accepted his explanation as the sole or real reason for the resignation. If the mass media had considered humility and love as the reasons for his resignation, instead of more 'newsworthy speculation', would it have been the same coverage?

The lawyer doesn't think so. More interesting were the seemingly endless discussions of whether the next pope would be an Italian, a non-European, a conservative, a progressive conservative, a black. The media had a great time trying to  pick the next pope, the one whose personal charisma and leadership qualities stood out above the other so-called contenders, but when it became known that the newly elected pope had paid for his own hotel expenses, and was in the habit of taking public transportation to work, the media finally realized that the cardinals were using another value system when they chose Bergoglio to be their pope. He was not in any top-ten contender list and he was not tied to any value that the world thought important.

In Pope Francis' first sermon, he  made clear that his priorities would not be those of the world: "When one does not build on solid ground, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sand castles. Everything collapses. It is without stability. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we walk without the Cross (following the  values of the world). When we build without the Cross and profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are being worldly. We are merely priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."

When the friend of the lawyer saw the light in the office and made his comment, he was using the world's value system. If the lawyer had exhibited more convincingly in his own life the values of poverty, humility and love, would his friend have spoken as he did? Probably not.

The lawyer is thankful, however, that the cardinals did select Pope Francis. It was an opportunity to show all of us that the values of humility and love are still important values in life.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Magdalena House

Magdalena House, the first center in Korea for prostitutes, started humbly, in 1985, in one room that lacked even a bathroom, on the second floor of a restaurant. Profiled by the Peace Weekly in their series on Catholic Women Groups, Magdalena House was founded by a Maryknoll Sister and a laywoman, with the help of the Seoul Catholic Women's Social Welfare Association. Though the center had an inconspicuous start, for the women who had no place to go, it was a welcome oasis among a generally hostile environment. It was a place where they found respect and could begin to build a new life, a place that gave them the courage to dream and was more welcoming than the home of their parents, where some would have to go to have their first child.

Magdalena House gave hope to these unfortunate women, who, it must be remembered, were no less made in the image of God. They were encouraged at the center to work on their strong  points and against the stigma they were branded with by society.

The center was named after Magdalena of the gospels, a person who was freed of seven devils by Jesus. She loved and was loved by Jesus and given the privilege of being the first to see him after the resurrection. The center was intended to give the women selling sex a dream that their life could change if that was their desire.

Women could come to the center for counseling and for legal and medical help. A literacy program was also set up for those living in the Yongsan area who were in the sex trade, as well as for other poor women. The center was also available as a shelter for the old and handicapped women who had lived as sex workers.

Since many societal voices were heard wanting to put an end to the sex trade, a number of groups and individuals got together in the One Voice Movement to try to stop the trade in 1985. In 1999, a documentary on the sex trade was made with the help of a woman's club, under the auspices of the President; Magdalena House contributed to the film.

In addition to the in-house programs, the center began programs in field work for those women who were still active on the streets, and for those who were not. Increasingly, efforts were made to prevent young women from entering the trade and to counsel those who had run away from home. 

Magdalene House also gives lectures and publishes material on spirituality that focuses on helping to change the thinking of those in the sex trade. Their hope for the center is to ultimately have a place for those who have left the trade and are looking for a place to stay, a home, as they prepare to go out to a new way of life. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Deceiving Ourselves is always Possible

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times says he has always thought of himself as a calm person, not easily agitated by frustrating circumstances, and that he usually doesn't budge from a decision once made. He also considers himself more reflective than emotional, more interested in the thoughts and beliefs of others rather than in their appearance, and not at all interested in frivolous talk, liking to get right to the point in a discussion. And then at the end of this self-assessment, he tells us he has been deceiving himself all these years.

The reason he appears calm, he says, is that he dislikes moving the body about, and is also lazy. The reason he's not easily agitated is because he has slow reflexes and is not practiced in how to show  his emotions.  Because he's not perceptive, he doesn't notice details. He's able to control his anger because he's not strong enough to fight, with fists or with words, so the best thing to do, he discovered, is to remain silent. And the reason he stays with a decision he's made is that he doesn't have the creativity to see another possibility. If being tactless and simple are considered strong points, then at least he can say he has plenty of both.

Because of his torso, he says he has the patience to stay in the same place for some time. When his wife changes her hair style, he says he never notices it. And at a 'gag concert', he says he has difficulty in seeing the humor, the play on words and the wit, admitting to a very dry disposition. He confesses that only discussions with topics that interest him will keep his attention, otherwise he does not participate, and realizes this is a form of selfishness.

With life full of contradictions and conflict, he wonders about the possibility of achieving harmony and unity. He looks within himself and sees a great many contradictions, which he believes causes many to see him differently than he sees himself.

In the pre-modern society, stick-to-itiveness was considered a virtue; in the pluralist society of today, this has changed and the 'live and let live' is in vogue. Since we have difficultly understanding ourselves, he believes it's simply pride to think we can understand the other, which at times can become prejudicial thinking and discrimination.

The Catholic Church has great difficulty with the relativism of post-modernism but there is something positive in this viewpoint, he says. It encourages us to leave our narrow way of looking at life and accept or at least see the possible relevance of other points of view. We should not be too quick to judge another's intentions with our own measuring standards. Even if it's something we do not understand or agree with, it's a way of not closing the  possibility of dialogue, enabling us to relate more easily with others. Some skepticism is understandable but when it becomes cynicism the results can be lethal.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Developing a Taste for Spiritual Reading

The Catholic Church of Korea asked Catholics to read 33 spiritual  books a year during the three years from 2005 to 2007. The second phase of the program will start this coming June, during the Year of Faith, with the same goal: reading 33 books a year for three years--the 33 referring to the years of our Lord's life. For the third year another book was added to make it 100 books for the three years. The reading will not only benefit the person but also promote our religious tradition and culture, as the the Catholic Times' latest issue points out in its cover story.

The results of the earlier program were very satisfying; it helped develop the habit of reading, formed book seminars and clubs and, less formally, parish discussion groups. Books were seen as a means of continuing pastoral care of Christians, and of correcting the misunderstanding that Catholics do not read very much. The Catholic Times, with the help of the Seoul Diocese, took a poll of the readers to determine the effectiveness of the program.

One of the main reasons for the program can be summed up in the phrase: To read a book is ultimately the process of reading life. In other words, what we read is going to determine what we put into our heads and hearts, which will largely determine what actions will follow. Consequently, the first step is to prudently decide what to read. However, in our digital society many have difficulty setting aside enough time to read because of easy access to hypertext information, which militates against deep thought and examination. Rather than reading to search for meaning and values, we often prefer to read whatever provides the immediately useful. To eliminate this difficulty, a book selection committee will select two or three books each month for those interested, and set up programs to encourage meeting with others to discuss what was read.

The poll of 241 Catholics showed that 30 percent read from 3 to 5 spiritual books during the year; 25 percent read 1 or 2 books; 19 percent read more than 10 books; 16 percent read 6 to 10 books, and 10 percent read nothing. Several reasons were given for not reading: not knowing what to read (30 percent),
difficult to understand (28 percent), difficulty finding suitable spiritual books (27 percent),  books were not interesting (15 percent).

Korea has a community of Christians that is sufficiently united, making possible this type of program, with expectations of achieving positive results. Even though the Christians are being asked to do something many will find difficult, there will be many who will participate, making for a deeper and more mature level of faith life, along with developing the leaders of the future.