Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Strange Religion

"I Hear Your Voice," a popular Korean drama, explores an important Christian theme and value. A columnist in the  Peace Weekly uses the theme to bring our attention to a Christian value that we tend to forget. The women in his family, he says, enjoy watching the drama, especially because the young hero has the uncanny power of reading the hearts of those he meets, though not unconditionally. He succeeds only when gazing into their eyes. And it doesn't matter if the person is a friend, a stranger or an enemy. As long as he is gazing into their eyes, he hears the silent voice coming from their heart.

If the creators of this drama intended to tell us of the need to bring us closer together so we can understand each other better, then he wants to applaud their efforts. How interested are we, he asks, in our disordered society, to take a closer look at the people we meet and be open to what they have to say?

The Church began, he reminds us, when the apostles began to speak to the world. With the help of the Holy Spirit, in a very short period of time, these apostles were able to inspire many to follow them and accept the message they were preaching.

The columnist is curious to know whether there were other gifts given to the apostles besides overcoming prejudice, speaking foreign languages, and healing the sick. He wants to let his mind wander and think of other possibilities: Was it not the example of our Lord they were following? Did he not come to this lowly earth to speak to us, person to person, heart to heart? Wasn't Jesus, who was without sin, willing to be baptized as though he too needed to receive forgiveness for sin? Did he not associate with beggars, the disabled, tax collectors, prostitutes, talking with them and listening to what they had to say?  By witnessing these examples, the columnist believes the apostles were given another charisma: the desire to match their life to his. 

The apostles went out to the streets and byways of the world; they did not stay in their "exalted  seats." They went to the people, looked into their eyes, listened and spoke to them-- just like our Lord did. This was something you would not see in any gathering of religious people.

Christianity, he says, has to be seen as a strange religion when we ponder its core message: that the creator came to live among his creatures. As scripture has put it: "I have come to serve and share life with you." It was then that communication between heaven and earth began, he says. This is the road map we have written in our hearts. We should be going out to those who are wandering. It's the first step, he says, in evangelization, Our attitude could be summed up"We want to  hear what you have to say. And then we will tell you what the person we love said to us." 

Evangelization is, first of all, a sympathetic response when we listen closely enough to another person to hear the "voice of the heart." We can then expect that everyone will then reap the fruit of that sharing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Atheism's Gift to Christianity

Atheism, as it has always been, is not merely a denial of God but a criticism of the validity of any belief and religion. Atheism appears in many guises, and to help unravel its presence in our modern society, a priest, in a recent article in the Kyeongyang magazine, gives an overview of its growth as a movement throughout history.

Atheism as a movement appeared at the time of Christianity. Before and outside of Christianity there were no movements that denied the existence of God, he says. Denials would come from individuals but not from groups of atheists. The priest points to the appearance on the intellectual scene of empiricism, positivism, the 'enlightenment' ideas, materialist evolution, and the like, as the impetus which turned atheism into a movement in Europe. 
Since atheism as a movement appeared within a Christian culture, Christianity can be considered responsible for its appearance and growth.
In ancient times and in the middle ages, the nature and existence of a transcendent being who created mankind, the world and the universe was the central concern of most scholars in those days. Though conflicts in Europe were not missing, it was basically one culture with a belief in one God, which created the conditions for a similar worldview. However, at the end of the middle ages, with the discoveries of science and a new appreciation of our intellectual understanding, there was a breakdown of the old ways of understanding and a movement to the new.

The signs of this new atheism began to be seen in the breakdown of the old religious order in society. In the 16th century, the divisions within the Church, the fighting between religious groups, and the general upheaval within the world of belief brought in relativism and apathy. There were also discoveries of new lands, a new understanding of the universe, and enlightenment ideas began to change our thinking. The move toward secularization helped to bring atheism to the attention of many, beginning with the so-called intellectuals, mostly in academia. They generally considered themselves the enlightened ones, the priest says, and took pride in overcoming the "infantile state of a humanity lost in religion."

Theology and religion, in those days, were seen as the 'light' and 'shade' of the intellectual quest. There were theologians who became atheists, and atheists who became theologians. Feuerbach and Nietzsche both started off as believers, he says, and became atheists, prime examples, in his view, of our modern atheists; Freud and Marx were both influenced by them. The modern movement started with a small group of intellectuals and attracted many followers.  During the 19th century, its influence on society was substantial, and in the 20th century it became a strong  political force in East Europe.

In the 1960-70s theology was on the defensive. Intellectuals were pointing to the works of Feuerbach, who considered religion a  projection of our inner nature; to Marx, who considered it as opium;  and to Freud, who saw it as an infantile fantasy. It came to a draw, says our writer, and as we do not have the proof for the existence of God to convince atheists, neither do they have the proof for the non-existence of God. More important than proof for the existence of God for the Christian, he says, is a decision  and confession: a gift which they spend a lifetime to understand and give thanks.
Atheism has contributed a great deal to our theology, he says. (Which may be a surprising admission to some readers.) Because of their critical attacks, he says Christianity has been able to look at itself more closely and deal with a great many of the problems it has faced throughout its history, such as its tendency to individualism and idealism, to name only two. Atheistic criticism has become, he says, a part of the Church's legacy.
Looking over the history of the Church, seeing the problems and the scandals, we must, he says, acknowledge both the holiness and the sinfulness of the Church. As people of faith, we should dialogue with the atheists, for they help us to think clearly, stripping away the non-essentials.

He concludes the article with the words of a theologian, "The reason that the world is not changing is not because of any failure in the message of Jesus but because of our personal failures as Christians. The greatest refutation of Christianity is simply seeing the way many Christians live. The best way to promote Christianity is for Christians to begin living like Christians."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Life Without Emotional Expression

Can we have love without pain and sadness? These words introduce an  article in Bible  Life  by a priest who is on the staff of a religious education center. He shares his reflections with incidents in his life that brought these thoughts to mind.

Recently, after parking, his car in the diocesan parking lot he tripped over a block and bruised his left elbow and right knee seriously. While falling, countless thoughts were going through his head, he said, but he quickly got up and brushed off the mud and dirt from his clothes. There seemed to be no reason to be angry, he said, if no one was around to share his experience. What benefit would there be in anger, shedding tears or showing irritation, if no one would hear or see his suffering. That evening, because his accident was only known to himself, he felt he was not able to fully experience the pain of the situation.

Some 13 years earlier he had a similar experience. As a deacon at that time, along with two young persons and the assistant priest from the parish, he went on a week-long pilgrimage trip, on bicycles, to some of the Korean shrines. The priest took the lead and the two youths followed; he was at the tail end.

Returning from one of the shrines, on a bicycle, and falling behind the others, he peddled faster to catch up when a big freight truck passed by very close to him. The bicycle shimmied and spun out of control, with the front wheel hitting the side of the road, and he went flying through the air. He hurt his left shoulder and left knee much more seriously than he had hurt his body in the parking lot accident.  It was so bad he could hardly breathe. But there was nobody there to console him, to take care of his wounds, for his group was now out of sight. His whining would have been of no help, there was nothing else to do but get on the bicycle and continue on his way, pushing aside his pain and grievances. But all he could think about, he said, was meeting up with the group and "expressing the pain I felt when I fell so that i could truly experience the pain."  

There is of course the familiar scenes of children playing and falling and perhaps hurting themselves. Looking at their faces, they may seem ready to cry, but they don't. Only when their mother comes around do they begin to cry.  The pain is expressed in front of their mothers. The priest realizes that what he is saying sounds weird, but he believes the pain becomes complete only in the presence of  others. When we don't have anybody near, one does not feel the need to express the pain.

Our emotions come to the fore and take shape when we are with others, he says. Those who turn their back on the world and live by themselves will find, he adds, that their emotional life has become dry. They may not be hurting, but at the same time they will not be tasting the joy of happiness, and know the meaning of love.

In the last section of the Gospels, there is the passion and death of our Lord.  Many people appear who experience no sadness because of what is happening to Jesus; there is no close relationship and therefore no feeling of sadness. Sadness comes to us because of love. Without love, we do not have pain or sadness; we will lack feeling. The sadness of Peter because of his betrayal was possible because of his love for Jesus and the recognition of his own weakness. And the women "who beat their breasts and lamented over him" was only possible because of their love. We have no need to shun sadness if it comes naturally from a loving heart.

He concludes his article with the questions: How is it with me? Am I living a life without emotion? Is a life without sadness a happy life?  Would we be willing to live without love if we didn't have pain?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Abortion in Korea and St. Gianna

Why is the Church so strong in its opposition to abortion? Many in Korea would have difficulty  giving  a good answer.  Probably a better question would be: Why is there such a lack of interest to the question?  In Korea,  abortions are illegal in most cases, and yet it has one of the highest rates in the world, and is referred to as the  abortion kingdom. An article on the open forum page of the Catholic Times mentions that a wry smile comes over the face of those who say there are over 1000 abortions daily in the obstetrics and gynecology departments across the country.

The law, on the books since 1953, is still in force, the columnist says, but the atmosphere  is such that it is easily ignored. This became public recently when four doctors, arraigned  for performing 405 abortions, were given suspended sentences by the High Court of Daejeon, with no penalties. The Catholic bishops issued a statement on the decision expressing their disappointment and pointing out that the decision went against against the court's own constitutional laws.

The judge presiding over the case mentioned that a midwife had performed an abortion and was not prosecuted because the judge of the constitutional court said it was not contrary to the constitution,  and the judge used this precedent for deciding in favor of the four doctors. Here we have a case where the law is ignored and accepted by society. The Church sees this as a step to make abortion more frequent than it has been, and a green light for similar decisions, despite the law.

The columnist mentioned the case of Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962). She was canonized in 2004 by Pope John Paul II. He said at the canonization that she was an ordinary woman but with a meaningful message from a loving  God.

When she was pregnant with her fourth child, the doctors discovered a  growth in the womb and told her it was necessary to operate, otherwise her life would be in danger. She choose to ignore the warning and told the doctors to do everything to save the child. She waited 7 months and gave birth to a girl she called Gianna. For a week after the birth the mother was in serious pain, and died at the age of 39. She is the first woman in modern memory to be canonized as a mother.

She left four children without a mother, which for many would be reason enough to question the wisdom of what she did. But in her mind the child in the womb needed to be loved and respected and not someone you could randomly treat as you wished.

The position of the Church on abortion, not only in Korea but in most of the world, is not seen as reasonable when compared with the right of the mother to do what she feels is necessary. However, all our acts, whether religious or not, have eternal repercussions. There are consequences to everything we do, some intended, most not intended. This is true not  only of religious believers, but for all. Our actions have consequences.

The Church, with its long common memory, senses this in its history, "We reap what we sow." We are either building a culture of life or one of death. The columnist, in conclusion,  quotes  the saint Gianna:  " Beautiful words are not sufficient. We have to show the loftiness and beauty of our faith by witnessing to what we believe."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Expressing Movement in Art Without Arms

What does an electrical engineer do when he loses both arms, is fitted with a prosthesis, and his young son asks him to draw a picture? If he's Chang Woo Seok (Peter), he becomes an artist. Nearly killed in 1984, when over 20 thousand volts went through his body, he underwent 12 operations and was finally given a prosthetic replacement for arms.The Catholic Times tells us his story. 

Wanting to please his son, Peter  picked up a pen with his artificial arm and thus began his career as an artist. With the encouragement of his family he began to study the art of calligraphy, and from there he moved on to ink sketches of the nude figure, followed by an interest in the graceful movements of athletes, which he wanted to capture in his ink drawings. He says it was after the accident, and his own difficulties in moving his artificial arms, that he became interested in the beauty and mystery of movement.

At this time, he also found religion, and his paintings often include scriptural quotes. He says he is happier now than he was before the accident. He believes that if we change our habitual ways of thinking, we can learn to accept and benefit from everything that happens to us.

He has had 36 individual exhibitions, has traveled around the world, and given demonstrations of what can be accomplished with artificial arms. He will have an exhibition at the end of the month here in Korea, which will give artistic expression to  bodily movements often found in traditional Korean music, such as the Samulnori, made with four different kinds of percussion instruments-- gongs and drums.

Going to the Internet and writing, "Korean artist Chang Woo Seok" in the search engine, you will get examples of his many ink paintings.. He has developed a way of painting movement into his ink sketches because he uses his whole body to paint. Without the handicap, it's unlikely that we would see this unusual aspect of his art, which is present in much of his  work.

He says he intends to continue traveling around the world, exhibiting and doing his ink sketches. "I want to feel their cultures," he says, "and to paint their movements. I want all those that attend my exhibitions to be open to feel in whatever way they want. However, more than anything, I want to go along with what God has planned for me, and to continue for as long as he wants."

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Power of Walking

The Sk-Ryu-Ni trail in Jejudo is background for the article, which appeared recently in the magazine With Bible, on combining the benefits of spirituality and walking  The writer, a priest who has studied spirituality and has walked the Sk-Ryu-Ni trail, tells us what he finds sacred about such a common activity and how it can refresh both body and mind. Walking even when one knows it will rain is a common experience of those who love to walk, he says, and the fragrance coming from nature, permeating the whole body, is a memory they want to return to often. They would also like to see, he adds,  the construction of more walking trails in the future.

In the past, there was no need for this kind of effort but today many of these paths have disappeared. They remain, for the most part, because of the interests of tourists. When they began to disappear, he doesn't know, but laments the fact that all the beautiful places seem to have turned into golf courses or other recreational facilities. People who now want to take a leisurely walk can do so only on asphalt or concrete roads. This can be seen by some as progress, by others as destruction of our environment, and as a breakdown of the vital connection between humans and nature, and between the natural world and its inhabitants. And we become, the priest says, like secondary elements, cogs on a wheel.

The Chinese character used for path or road also refers to the truths necessary for life, for self-improvement.  Those who are walking for the sake of walking are communicating with themselves, and are aligning their bodies, he says, with the rhythms of nature. Those who use their cars to arrive at their destination do not have this communication or rapport. Only those who walk are able to hear the internal voice and become one with nature. The sounds, sights and smells of those in cars cannot be compared, he says, with the sounds surrounding  someone walking in a natural environment.

He laments that with the improvement of our transportation system and the ability to arrive faster to our destinations, we have also, in his eyes, become more isolated and alienated. He refers to how Le Breton expresses it in his book In Praise of Walking, "When we walk we are set free from the original requirements of our gaze and not only from the space that we occupy; it also allows us to go inside to search for the way." To walk this way we are improving our lives, seeing the internal  map, and seeking the right way, the priest says.

There are many different roads, different ways presented in the Scriptures. There is the way of the Samaritan who helped the person lying on the side of the road, and the way of the priest and the Levite who both walked past him. There is the way of the 11 disciples and the way of Judas. There is the way of parents who can choose among multiple ways to raise their children--good ways and bad ways. When we ignore the right way or walk the wrong way, there will be confusion and suffering.

He concludes with the ways our Blessed Mother took. Right after the annunciation she quickly walked the  mountainous  road to the home of Elizabeth. Because of Herod, Mary and Joesph took the road to Egypt to live in exile. They took the wandering road to find Jesus in the temple. During the public life of Jesus, Mary walked the roads in search of her son, and finally, the road to  the cross. She walked the ways that God had spoken to her in her heart.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Greatest of these is Love

When Jesus sent his disciples on their first missionary journey he told them not to bring their money bags. A surprising condition in today's world and one we have  little sympathy for. A pastor working among the poor, in an article Bible & Life, gives us his thoughts on the difference between sharing and donating.

He often hears the words, "You are making light of our sincerity" from those who come to him offering money for the poor. Though he appreciates their generous spirit, he refuses the money.

And says, when he refuses to take their money, "What I have is all that is necessary. Poverty is not misery; you do with what you have. What is important is to love and be concerned. Help the priests around you. I have seen that when you help the poor with too many material things, you often deprive them of their humanity. Help those who are more in need. When I need help I will ask you, and you can then give."

Hearing  these words of the pastor, many are shamed, he says, and understanding their feelings, he feels uncomfortable saying them. But he reminds us: if we had seen the results of what material giving alone has done to many, we would understand his thinking. Much of what we give is not given to the whole person but only to the  material well-being of the person. Have you ever thought of how the material aid we give often has bad results? he asks.

We all have a desire to help those who are having difficulties. This is a good sentiment. But we have to think deeply on what is the best way to help. We at times have a good feeling of having helped but are not concerned with what may have been the unfortunate results of that generosity. Material giving for those in dire straits is proper and necessary. To help people get out of their serious state of poverty, with hope for the future is necessary, and not just to relieve them of their serious present situation. That is why love and concern is important in giving.

He confesses that at one time he was satisfied in just giving material aid. But living with the poor in these slums, he changed his thinking completely. True sharing comes from living together with them, he says. There is a world of difference between sharing and contributing material goods. He now says he understands not only with the head why Jesus came to live with us. It was to share love. Just contributing our material goods is not what is necessary. What's necessary is doing it in the way Jesus did.

In a busy life, this is often not easy to do. However, he hopes that we will not only be satisfied in giving of our material goods but reach out to others with our love and concern. More important than thinking how we can materially help another is sharing our lives with them, to be with them with love and concern.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Is the Dream Possible?

Working with others in a cooperative way to solve our common problems is a dream of many and the reason the coop movement has been so successful in much of the world.  Working for justice and the common good instead of for profit and growth is an ideal we should applaud and support.

However, many of these schemes never see the light of day, and many end up as failures, and yet without these dreams of a better future there would be few successes. The Peace Weekly recently profiled an entrepreneur who had such a dream: to start a citizen's oil company to both lower the price of oil by 20 percent and to put people to work in a healthy environment.

Many saw this venture of competing against the current four oil companies and their lobby as an impossible  task, but Lee Tyae Pok (Daniel) would consider it a David-Goliath scenario. The influence of the four oil refining companies on government and part of the mass media, according to the Peace Weekly, is a serious problem. Some of Daniel's foreign friends see the oil market in Korea as grotesque: Why do the intelligent Koreans allow this to continue? they wonder. Using a citizen's income as the measuring standard, the money Koreans spend on gasoline is one of the highest in the world.

He lists four reasons why it is possible to lower the price of oil about 20 percent: The current oil companies buy crude oil at a high price, they pay unnecessary royalties, they buy and use catalysts, they also, in collusion, raise prices unnecessarily.

Korea has, he says, only four refining companies, while Japan, with about twice our population, has 18 companies, and China has 650, which keeps the price down. He says our oil companies are using mafia tactics to keep the medium-size businesses from entering the oil market.

During the movement for democracy, in1981, he was sentenced to die. With the help, he says, of Cardinal Kim and many others he was pardoned. And last year, after 31 years, he was formally acquitted of any crime. He has worked for the alienated in society, worked also in government, and now wants to spend the rest of his life working to make his dream of providing oil at a cheaper price a reality. He asks for our support. He is a man with a noble goal and his efforts to achieve it deserve our support.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Forgiving is Difficult

On the opinion page of the Peace Weekly, the columnist tells us about a judge who was so angry at the person living in the apartment above him that he punctured the tires and destroyed the lock of his car. 

Problems with  noise in older buildings are not that uncommon but to have a judge, an upholder of the law, react as he did received a lot of media coverage. A legal system is of course supposed to do away with the use of violence in solving conflicts between citizens. And when someone from within the legal system itself resorts to vigilante-type punishment it surprises everyone.

What made the incident especially surprising to the columnist, however, was that the judge was involved in a case where a college professor was fired; the professor litigated against the college for firing him and demanded to be reinstated. He lost the case and tried to harm the judge.
Our  judge was involved in this case where the professor because the verdict went against him took revenge on the judge. The  incident was made into a movie, well-known in Korean society. Obviously, what made the  judge resort to this kind of action was a sign of how upset he was with the situation in which he found himself, and a lack of trust in the legal system.

The legal system we enjoy helps to maintain a peaceful society, and private revenge is not permitted, but we also need to understand and respect the pain that many feel before they resort to revenge outside the law.

We are all familiar with the horrible crimes of murder we are continually exposed to by our media. Not only the victim suffers, but their families as well, because of these crimes. The mental suffering the families have to experience and the hate they have for the perpetrators of these crime is hard for us to understand.

In contrast, it is often heard that criminals while in prison find religion, and are forgiven. We have had a lot of talk recently about self-forgiveness. The documentary films Forgiveness and Secret Sunshine are two such films. It is easy to understand the mixed feelings of the families that have suffered from these crimes, when hearing that the criminal has found religion and been forgiven.

Often, because of a failure to forgive, there will be conflicts such as the one over a noisy apartment dweller, a breakdown in family life and  so-called ethic cleansing.  The lack of moral training to develop the virtues of patience and generosity is also a dimension of this sad story.

Jesus told us to forgive seventy times seven. These words are beautiful but also harsh. Harsh because he did not give us concrete guidelines on how to forgive. But when we think deeply on the matter, Jesus had trust in us. He entrusted us with the ways to go about solving our problems, supported by his great love. We have to admit, however, that are efforts have been feeble.

Countries further advanced than Korea have more facilities, says the columnist, to help persons with mental scars to overcome their difficulties in forgiving, both self and others. The Church, the columnist concludes, should take a lead, perhaps with special programs on how best to open ourselves to a more willing acceptance of the way of forgiveness. It would, at the very least, remove some of the conflicts that now burden our legal system, and make for a more peaceful society.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Capitalism with a Heart

Capitalism is the economic framework of our modern society, and no one can deny its success in achieving for most of us a flourishing and  abundant life. However, the desire for ever increasing profits and the acceptance of the "survival of the fittest" idea gave birth to heartless competition, the motivating force for the flowering of capitalism, states an editorial in the Peace Weekly.

But the editorial also points out that not everything we have created, in efforts to improve our lives, is perfect. And as we enter the 21st century, we are seeing the problems associated with this particular economic creation: the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the natural environment getting worse. No longer is it possible to be an innocent bystander, says the editorial.

The Church sees the reason for this sad state of affairs in the lack of interest in the common good and in failing to adhere to high moral standards within the  capitalistic system, particularly by our large commercial enterprises. They are controlled, says the editorial, only by a desire not to break laws in making profits. This has been a rather insignificant change in their behavior from the past.

We have movements in society promoting social enterprises and consumer accountability, attempts to provide some warmth to offset the harsh realities of capitalism. Consumer accountability examines the products we buy for their relationship to the environment, for fair wages for workers, and for their public benefits. A social enterprise is defined as a company concerned with employing from all strata of society, interested in the environment and in conserving energy, and interested not only in profits but in the workers and the environment.

Hopefully, social enterprises and consumer accountability will be the beginning small stepping stone to greater changes in society. Attempting to enter the enormous capitalistic marketplace motivated mainly by the common good and morality motif may at this time be imprudent.  Nevertheless, says the editorial, social enterprises and consumer accountability, as formulas to change the world, are efforts that a Christian may not avoid. The effort to have all live well and search for the common good is a basic Christian call.

There is much that can be done but the editorial recommends we begin with buying the products that have been selected as coming from socially interested enterprises. The Caritas Social Enterprise Support Center has been inaugurated for this purpose.

As Christians, we listen to what our Lord has taught. When it comes to consumer products, this should also be true. An accompanying article on the front page of the Peace Weekly suggests that we consider the possibility of boycotting products that are  produced by companies that ignore these goals. The boycotts are not intended to put these companies out of business but to influence them to change.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Farmers Sunday July 21st

The FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between countries is a serious area of contention for the farming community in Korea. The economic issues are complicated, but the results are not: the farmers always lose.  The government, seeing the benefits from free trade for big business, is willing to sacrifice the farmers, believing that in the long run all will benefit. Cheaper farmed goods will enter the country, and food expenses will decrease for all citizens.

Catholic editorials and articles have recently made readers aware that July 21st is Farmers Sunday, which is intended to bring the plight of farmers to public awareness. Korea's self-sufficiency in grain production is only 24.3 percent, as of 2011, one of the lowest in the world.  And because we see a likely change in weather conditions, future production may be no better than it is currently.

Farmers face numerous obstacles in their daily lives, as they work to bring food to markets throughout the country. Future weather conditions always pose problems, as will the movement toward free trade, which will allow cheaper food products to enter the county. If all the countries had the same playing field, there may be something to say for free trade  but that is not the case. Conditions in each country are different: lower wages and subsidies are the primary variables that do not make for fair competition.

The desire of the present generation for a comfortable life is going to make the farmer's life difficult. The city-dweller consumer will have a great deal to do in helping the farmers overcome their difficulties by motivating some of them to change to organic farming. People of faith should be taking a lead in this movement by supporting farmers who are making efforts to live and farm ecologically. Helping the farming areas to farm in a healthy manner is not only a question of producing food but also a means of fostering life.

Consumer cooperatives, buying directly from the farms, contract production and education programs have done much to stimulate interest in the farming sector. However, as the editorial states, there are many more mountains to cross. Korea has only 254 parishes that are selling products from our farms, a very small number. The interest city dwellers  show farmers in buying their organic farm products will stimulate others to embrace the new methods of farming.  Non-organic methods of farming are much easier and the yield is greater than in organic farming, which means consumers of organic produce must be willing to help organic farmers overcome the difficulties, with their cooperation and willingness to pay more for organic products.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Be Slow to Judge

 Having a close relationship with another person doesn't mean we know that person. On the page of the Catholic Times devoted to spirituality, the columnist wants us to consider a flaw in the thinking of many of us: because we are close to someone we also tend to think we know the person. What do we really know, he asks, about the persons we know best?

The columnist tells us about a trip he made to his hometown with a number of priest friends. It was a remote fishing village and one of the villagers, who was closer to the columnist than to his own brother, came with a car to escort them to the village. On arriving at his house they quickly unpacked, put on comfortable clothes, and went out to some rocks overlooking the ocean. The scene was beautiful, and they became engrossed in pleasant chatting. Pyong Cheol, who had escorted them to the village and brought them to this spot on the ocean, suddenly said it was in this place that he caught over ten octopuses.

The columnist, thinking that Pyong Cheol was showing off in front his friends, said, "That's a whopper of a tale! You never know what's possible, even when surrounded by mountains. Are you saying  you know these waters like the women divers of Jejudo?"

Pyong Cheol, greatly surprised, said, "Is that the kind of person you take me to be? If I go  into the water and come back with two octopuses, what will you say?"

"If you can do that during my stay here, I will do anything you want, and if you don't catch any, you buy us our meal tonight."

Since the columnist already had decided to buy Pyong Cheol the meal that evening, for his kindness in picking them up, he couldn't lose the bet, whatever the outcome. The priests on hearing the terms of the bet responded with laughter and applause. 

Pyong Cheol  took off his upper garments, moved his body with a few light movements and splashed his way into the calm waters of the ocean, which at that point were not deep. The group sat looking at what would transpire, chatting about what would be eaten that evening, and enjoying the ocean breeze and the sun.  

Shortly, Pyong Cheol, off at a distance, came walking toward them, holding two octopuses, one in each hand. Catching octopuses with your bare hands is no easy task, but two of them! They all marveled at the feat. Pyong Cheol lived in an mountainous area quite a distance from the ocean, raising pigs. Who would have thought he would know how to catch octopus, the columnist wondered, which brought to mind the thought that one never can know another no matter how close we may be to that person. 

The priests gave Pyong Cheol a round of applause, and one of  them went to a nearby store to buy some hot pepper sauce and vinegar, prior  to enjoying the meal and ribbing the columnist on his bet with Pyong Cheol, who said he would telephone him the next day on what he wanted done.

The next day his friend's wife sent him a text message telling him that her husband was thinking of having him clean the pig pens, but thought it would not be proper to have a priest do such work. The wife then said, laughing, that her husband had excused him from the bet.

The columnist said he had learned a good lesson, and that he would be slow in the future to jump to conclusions, thinking that because he knows a person, he would  know what that person would do.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Wisdom of Preparing for Confrontation?

The construction of the navel base in Jejudo is moving ahead, and the bishop of Jejudo, who is also the president of the Bishops Conference, expressed his thoughts on the matter, among others, when interviewed by the magazine With Bible. There has been opposition to the navel base from the beginning, and the Church has taken an active part in siding with the opposition, which would include the majority of the inhabitants on the island. Two government administrations and the present one have considered the navel base necessary for security, and also considered necessary because of the United States' military strategy in North East Asia. Though there have been many attempts to block construction of the navel base, after the last presidential election the work at the base continues as strongly as ever, around the clock. Since the government is adamant, using the power of government to back the construction, there is little that can be done. However, the bishop says they will continue to oppose the construction.

The bishop was asked by the interviewer: Since there are Catholics on both sides of the issue and you are the pastoral head of the diocese, what kind of attitude is necessary?

The bishop answered that from the beginning he was not giving his personal opinion on the issue. He was expressing the teachings of the Church, council texts, encyclicals and the teachings of the pope. Those who are following Jesus have the mission and the duty, he said, to work for peace.This teaching in Korea has been put on hold and has been given little thought because of the confrontation with North Korea, which has made security the number one priority.

Pope John 23 addressed this issue in Pacem in Terris, "There is a common belief that under modern conditions peace cannot be assured except on the basis of an equal balance of armaments and that this factor is the probable cause of this stockpiling of armaments. Thus, if one country increases its military strength, others are immediately roused by a competitive spirit to augment their own supply of armaments. And if one country is equipped with atomic weapons, others consider themselves justified in producing such weapons themselves, equal in destructive force....Hence justice, right reason, and the recognition of man's dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned." It has been over 50 years since these words were written but the Korean Church has been quiet on the issue, which is a dereliction of duty, the bishop said.

To the question: Why do the  priests get involved in social problems? The bishop answered that before they are social problems they are human problems. When a person's human rights are taken away and we do nothing, that is not the attitude of a disciple of Jesus. When a person made in the image of God is being hurt and the priest doesn't do anything, he is not doing his duty.This is why popes speak about social issues and why priests act accordingly. There are a few priests who are strongly politically motivated, and cause trouble, but those that bring this issue up do not understand Catholicism.

At the conclusion of the interview, the bishop said he hopes that Jejudo will be a place where we will be able to see peace in the way Pope John 23 described in his encyclical. The bishop wants us to see beyond the confrontation with the North. They are not only the same race but the same children of God. Even though it's difficult to understand the reckless provocative behavior of the North, he reminds us that they are left with little besides their pride, and if we can look upon them with magnanimity, he believes it may be possible to settle the confrontation. He hopes that all parties to the conflict will soon take the steps necessary to bring about a speedy and peaceful resolution.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Art of Simplicity

A priest of the Seoul diocese, in a pastoral bulletin, mentions two books that argue forcefully that the current understanding of many that money makes for happiness is all wrong. Simplicity is the key to happiness, according to The Art of Simplicity by Dominique Loreau and How Much  Is Enough? by Robert Skidelsky and his son.

The books give us much more than a theoretical understanding of simplicity. Dominique Loreau, who lived the simple life, reflected on its meaning and it was her personal experience which gives strength and ongoing value to her words.  The words: "Blessed are the poor," used by our Lord,  seem to have a special meaning in today's world for some of our contemporaries.

Dominique Loreau, born in France, is an essayist who graduated from the Sorbonne in English Studies and has taught in England, the United States, Japan and in other parts of the world. She learned that the simpler she lived the more abundance she had. The memos she kept during those years became part of her book, which has sold over a million copies.

When we try to satisfy our greed, we lose the meaning of life.The priest gives us the table of contents, with  comments.

Articles: When we have more than what we need we are carrying a burden. Having  too much we become attached and do not advance.Isn't life a preparation to move us ahead?

House: Is not a place we store our unmovable objects, but a place to be refreshed.To be inspired and healed. A place where we return for  the essentials.

Time:  Is something we can truly make our own. We need not fear the future but only that we may lose the present.

Body: To eat little and keep our bodies agile is wisdom in action. To take care of the health of the body is equivalent to the value of a work of art.

Our consumer society is bidding us to have more, but the more we have the more twisted our life becomes; it is the paradox we have to face. The reason we are not happy is that we have too much. Let us, he says, put in order our possessions, our bodies and spirit. A simple life is able enjoy everything, being content to know the joy of the ordinary and the insignificant.

The book, How much is enough? confronts us with the fact that we are much better off materially than in the past but asks, Why is it that we are not happier? The book is a counter argument to our craving for more.

According to Keynes the demonic properties of greed and competition have to be restricted. The followers of neo-liberablism, however, have considered these the keys for a vibrant  economy.  For a good life, he concludes, we have to reduce the stress of work and to search for ways in which  incomes will  provide for a decent living for all.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Words to Ponder

Words of wisdom appearing on the front page of a bulletin for priests: 

Prayer is not like a spare tire we use when we have a problem,
but the steering wheel that steers us to where we should be going.

What is the reason the front window of a car is large but the rear-view mirror is small?
The past is not as important as the future, so we look ahead and move forward.

How is friendship like a book?
We can destroy it by fire in a few minutes, but it takes years to write.

All earthly things come to an end. When circumstances are favorable enjoy them, they will not always be so.
When circumstances are not favorable, don't worry they will not always be so.

An old friend is like gold, a new friend like a diamond. When the diamond appears don't forget the gold.
The diamond always needs a pedestal.

We often lose hope and think it's the end, but God speaks to us from above:
"Be at peace, it is only a  bend and not the end."

Have trust in God's power when your problems have been solved.
When they are not, God trusts in your capabilities.

A blind person asked St. Anthony: "Is there anything worse than being blind?"
"Losing your vision," he answered.

When we pray for others, God listens to our prayer and gives blessings. Often when we are at peace, free of mishaps and happy, let us think of those praying for us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Resentment: Serious Problem

There is a word in Korean often used when we direct our anger to another person or object without any reason: kicking a stone or some other 'innocent' object would be a familiar example. Recently, there have been reports of crimes causing harm to persons without any apparent motive on the part of the criminal. They appear to be random acts of anger perpetrated on someone for no reason, which has led many to fear simply walking the streets or being out at any time of the day or night. A priest, in a bulletin for priests, reflects on how this illusive but increasingly pervasive feeling is invading our lives, and a bit more often, he says, than we would like to believe.

A person at work, he relates, was scolded for doing something he shouldn't have done. It was a minor matter, but he was roundly reprimanded. Feeling gloomy and depressed, he left to take the bus to go home. It was raining and by the time the bus came he was soaking wet. On the bus, someone stepped on his foot, and when he arrived home, he found his two children fighting with each other, and looking around at their room all he could see was a mess. He blew up at them and, crying, they went to their room. In the kitchen his wife was preparing the dinner and, still filled with anger, he spoke angrily with his wife. Needless to say there was no peace in that family that night.  

He went to his room and reflected on the events of the day. He saw that his resentment toward his boss had carried over to his family, destroying the harmony that was present before he arrived; even the fighting of his children was a normal occurrence that would not have bothered him at other times. He quickly vowed to do something to fix the situation, and before long he was able to see himself honestly, which was God's grace working within him, as we Christians would like to express it.

Many of us have hurt others, but thankfully have realized it and made up for our insensitivity and the hurt we have given. Understanding what we have done is not difficult, but overcoming our self-centeredness and making amends is not so easy, and often requires an extraordinary act of grace, said the priest.

Everyone has the choice of following either our egotistical instincts or the voice of God, the choice often resulting in conflicting emotions. Our natural instincts may tend to move us in one direction and the voice of God in another. At times, what we call the voice of conscience leading us to do the good is not readily apparent.  Its influence on us, he says, will often depend on the disposition we have nurtured over the years.

Blocking out the voice of conscience, if we listen carefully, he says, will be the voice of our selfishness. Those who treasure material things and guide their lives without concern for others are going to have difficulty hearing the voice of conscience, and even if it is heard, he says, it will have little influence on their actions.

He concludes the article by saying that the tendency to be concerned about ones self is not bad; it is necessary for survival and for progress. But when that is the only voice one  hears then we are likely to have a serious problem, which often results in a life that is being interrupted continually by lack of peace and joy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I am the Happiest Person in the World

In a diocesan bulletin, a priest writes that he made a trip to Panama, Central America, early this year because he read it was the happiest country in the world. After the visit, he said he could now be considered one of the happiest persons in the world, after meeting the "happiest people in the world."

The index used for determining happiness in this case he learned has nothing to do with possessions or finances. This realization brought to mind a poem by Sister Hae-in Lee- A Happy Face. (She has been struggling with cancer for many years.)

"Because I say I am having difficulty doesn't mean I am not happy. And because I say I am happy doesn't mean that I am not in pain, for sure. When I open wide my heart happiness comes with a  thousand faces--no, it comes with numberless faces, and I'm able to experience the joy of happiness. Where it hides I don't know, but with beautiful wings, furtively, the happiness appears. I am playing hide and seek with it as it pulls at my  heart strings, and today I am again happy." Poor as the translation must be, the meaning is clear: no matter the circumstances, happiness can be found.

The key to happiness, the poet is saying, is to open wide the door to our hearts.  When that is done the eyes naturally open and our thinking changes, and we can see the world and ourselves differently. I can then cry out truly, the priest writes, "I am the happiest priest in the world!" Just as we all can cry out, he says, "I am the happiest person in the world!"

However, there are many people who have closed the doors to their hearts. Our 'apartment culture', which tends to move us toward individualism and egotism, is influencing us, beginning, he says, by living with the doors to our homes being locked. When our doors are locked, our hearts also tend to get locked, he says. This is one of the reasons that many do not want people to come to their homes, and a reason there is so much difficulty in building small Christian communities. Helping to break this down is one reason we use parishioner's homes to hold small community meetings.  When we refuse to have others come to our house, we are refusing Jesus, he says. 

Christianity is a religion of revelation. In Korean, 'revelation' means open and seen. God so loved us that he opened himself to us; he gave us all of himself. This is what he wants from us. Our life, likewise, following God's example, should be open.  We don't want to refuse him entrance and have him "go to the stable."

If we open the doors to our homes we will be opening our hearts and opening ourselves to happiness. We will begin to live, the Church will begin to live, and the world will live. Happiness will be the natural result, and all of us will be able to cry out, 'I am the happiest person in the world'.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Punishment And Rehabilitation

A priest who heads a rehabilitation home for the young discusses, in the diocesan bulletin, a serious problem which was highlighted recently when a video, widely circulated on the internet, showed high-school students, on a visit to a home for the aged, treating them abusively. The images went viral, generating a lot of comment, mostly critical of the students, and often quite angry. Their high-school also became the focus of a great deal of the criticism, and the school responded with a letter of apology, and expelled the students.

In the article the priest expresses three reasons why he was astonished by the incident.  First of all, by the thoughtless actions of the students, by the immediate comments made following the viewing of the video, and by the subsequent response of the school.

There is no question, of course, that what the students did was wrong; they should have been rebuked and punished. However, there was no reference to the responsibility of the society that had created the conditions contributing to the incident. There was no concern, the priest said, for the problems the children had in growing up, the difficulties they had in the home and school, and no criticism for the supervisors who were supposed to look after the students. The comments, he said, were only attacks on the students.

Though the school did send out an apology and the students were expelled, there was no attempt made to help them rejoin the human family.  The priest couldn't rid himself of the idea that the school was only interested in protecting its image by punishing the students. Disciplining  the students was the proper action, he said, but by neglecting to help them correct their behavior, the punishment could only be seen as punishment for the sake of punishment.

He refers to the time when Jesus said to those who dragged the woman caught in adultery before him, "Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). Jesus brought her to where she had sorrow for what was done, the priest explained. Though this incident appears to be quite different, the love and concern Jesus displayed for the woman was what the priest felt should have guided the response of everyone, when the abusive conduct of the students became known. 

Recently, there has been a great deal of concern for the problems of the young, with many TV programs talking about the crisis. The priest hopes that we will be able to learn how to move forward from this crisis of the young, resolving many of its most pressing issues by having the kind of heart Jesus has revealed to us.     

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Light of Faith

The encyclical Light of Faith was written up in the two Catholic Papers, both considering it important enough to editorialize on the subject. An accompanying article in the Catholic Times, quoting a Vatican official, mentioned that the teaching on faith is a means to help heal the wounds of our society. The Peace Weekly expressed the hope that it will be translated into Korean as soon as possible, as the Year of Faith will be ending with the close of this  liturgical year.

Most of the Catholics would not be readers of the encyclical, but they will be getting snippets  from their reading, from sermons,  and from religious educational  programs that many will attend. The Catholic understanding of faith is quite different from many other Christians, for it does not see faith separated from the community of the Church, from our brothers and sisters in the faith. We do not baptize ourselves but are led to the faith by others. It is a gift of God from the past into the present, and it grows within community. The apostolic succession and the first community of faith cannot be separated from our faith life.

Consequently, the Catholic approach will not be popular to many. We have accepted, in many cases, the primacy of individual initiative, to an extent that finds little place for the help we get from others and the community. A sign, perhaps, that the Church is in need of public relations help. Jesus left us a believing community, and it was this community that gave us the Scriptures, and the community into which we are born as Christians. But, unfortunately, It is not something we think about too deeply.

We are shown how our faith can lead humanity to unity, how it fosters solidarity with others, and how it brings us peace in living with others. This is not the understanding of many;  religion is often seen as a cause of division but this is not the understanding we have of faith. Faith is not a private matter. We believe in order to understand, which gives us great freedom and teaches us that we should be open to dialogue with everybody, for we are also in search of truth, and faith needs truth. Faith is linked to truth and love. Love and truth are inseparable.

"Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others. One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility. Since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables, witnesses and dialogues with all" (#34 of the Encyclical Light of Faith).

Since the encyclical is, in the words of Pope Francis, the work of four hands, it will be examined to see who wrote what, but it is the signature of Francis that comes at the end. Benedict wrote an encyclical on love and hope. This one on faith will complete the commentary on the three supernatural virtues we are so familiar with.

The encyclical makes clear that faith does not get rid of our problems, our pains, but we are enabled to share our pains with the knowledge of God's love, and to find new meaning and hope.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Teaching of Taizé

Why are the young people leaving the churches? is a question many are now beginning to ask. The problem being addressed is not solely a Catholic or a Protestant concern but one common to all beliefs. The young are obviously not finding what they are looking for among the present religious establishments. The desk column of the Catholic Times attempts to find an answer by introducing us to the Taizé Movement.

Taizé, a little village in France, is home to a community of brothers who hold everything in common and live a simple life as celibates. Brother Roger, born in Switzerland, founded the community in 1940. Three times a day they gather together for prayer, which is the center of their communal life. Each Sunday thousands of young people come for prayer, reflection and sharing; and each year over 100 thousand visitors, mostly young people, make the trip to Taizé from all over the world.

When the young join the community for short periods of time, they do what the brothers do: pray three times a day and join in the work of the community. It's a very simple life and yet visitors from all over the world are motivated to leave home and share this simple lifestyle. 

To those who leave the churches in Korea  this kind of thinking is foreign to them, says columnist, and she wonders why this is the  case. She found the reason by reading the book The Community Called Taizé. The author asked many of those at Taizé why they came. Most said they had the feeling of being accepted by the community of brothers. Race and religion had nothing to do with being accepted; it was the first time they had experienced this kind of acceptance. Moreover, the brothers of the community showed great trust in them, they said, allowing them to make their own plans for service and work, which gave them an unexpected sense of freedom.

The columnist quotes from a news account from a State-side newspaper on the results of a questionnaire that asked the young why they had left their churches. The answers were not what we would have expected. Many of them explained that it was the inability of the churches to satisfy their thirst for the spiritual. The messages given by the churches were not clear, they said, and their answers to the problems of life were superficial. "The young are looking for faith and are offered only entertainment" was a typical view of the problem. Another put it this way, "If you really believe that the church can change for the better the behavior of others, why is this not more readily seen in the behavior of Christians?"

She concludes with the observation that the questionnaire was for the young in the United States, but that it also had a great deal to teach us. Those who have authority in the Church and the older generation should take a hint from what has been accomplished at Taizé, she advised, and from the thinking of many of the young who have left the churches.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Exemplar of a Church Run Operation

St. Mary's Hospital, managed by the diocese  of Seoul, was selected as the number-one  hospital in the country for the outstanding services provided to its patients. In giving the award, the Korean Standard Association considered all business enterprises, not only hospitals. And this is not the first time for such praise, as the the editorial in the Peace Weekly points out, as does an accompanying article. Over the years, they have received other awards for the extraordinary care shown their patients. The credit belongs, say hospital personnel, to the respect they have for life, which is the motivating force behind the running of the hospital.

"The hospital that doesn't satisfy the desires of its patrons will not continue to exist" is their motto. St. Mary's has made it a regular part of their service to patients to listen carefully to those who come to the hospital, and has done everything possible to please them: doctors monitor patients around the clock, nurses follow the angel system of nursing, and first-time  patients are accompanied  by hospital personnel  while at the  hospital, and there are  many other ways they try to satisfy the needs of their patients.

Another reason for welcoming the award, the editorial cited, is that the hospital is following the teachings of Jesus. Our Lord told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the  reason the Church exists and the reason for all its works. Of all the works managed by the Church, hospitals especially, and other places that care for the sick, should be model examples of this kind of compassion.

The editorial notes that though there are many different operations run by the Church, too many to count, if these operations do not show the compassion of Jesus, there is no reason for their existence. The reason the Church is running these operations is not to make money, it goes on to say, but to express and share the love of Christ.
When customers are happy dealing with a Church-run organization, such as St. Mary's, it's a sign the organization is acting in a Christ-like way. The editorial expresses the hope that St. Mary's will be the model for all operations of the Church.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Know Thyself

On the spirituality page of the Korea Times, the columnist discusses his accidental meeting with a priest friend, who had recently returned from a pilgrimage to Egypt and Israel.

During dinner at a restaurant that evening, he asked him what was most memorable about the visit. Nothing really stood out, the priest said. All of it was a great experience, and he was full of gratitude that he was able to make the pilgrimage.  However, there was one place where he learned a lot about himself; it was on Mount Sinai.

His curiosity aroused, the columnist asked what he meant. The priest mentioned that they began the trip up the mountain at two o'clock in the morning. Each climber had a hand-flashlight and they began the ascent slowly. When they arrived at the top of the mountain, they were greeted with the thrilling sight of the sun's rays.  Meeting God in this place was the feeling he had, and he relished the time. During the climb he reflected on his life as a priest, the meaning of the ten commandments and the law of love to which they pointed. It was, he said, a meditation of great satisfaction, joy and thanks.

"Father, what did you do when you descended?" asked the columnist.

"My thinking was not healthy and I fell into temptation." replied the priest. "My body had become accustomed to many bad habits."

They were surprising revelations, which prompted the columnist to ask for an explanation. 

The priest mentioned that they all returned to their quarters, where they were to have breakfast, go to their rooms to wash up, and then begin the next leg of their pilgrimage. The whole place reeked of spices, he said, and he didn't like what was on the menu. He lost his appetite, and only had a glass of water before going to his room. The quarters were seen as expensive by the local inhabitants, but he saw them as horrible. He wanted to  put water in the tub to rest his tired body, but this was not possible: the shower was in poor shape, with little water coming out, and the soap and shampoo had seen better days. The air conditioner wasn't working, and now fuming with rage and drenched in sweat he went outside.

The members of the group, on seeing him, greeted him, with one individual remarking, "Father, your face this morning, when you arrived at the top of the mountain, was full of joy." This hit him like a ton of bricks. It was true, he said. Arriving on the mountain top after meditating on the Commandments and deciding to begin living a more loving life, he did feel filled with joy. And yet he had to admit that just a few hours later, not able to gratify his needs of comfort, he was filled with displeasure and criticism.
That afternoon, he said, he had plenty of time to think about the kind of person he was. It's easy to be overcome with fine sentiments when meditating and seeing yourself the way you want to be seen, he mused, but it's often quite another thing to see yourself in less than ideal circumstances, with results that are quite different. We are "animals that easily forget" concluded the columnist. In our thoughts, we can flatter ourselves by believing we have made substantial progress in living a more loving life. Our actual living, however, is more difficult than settling for the self-serving reflections we make on the way we live. It was a lesson the priest did not expect from the pilgrimage but one he gratefully accepted. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Most Sinful Countries of the World

Living in the information age we are bombarded by information, much of it of low quality and not verifiable, which makes discernment difficult. The internet adds to the problem, as does this blog and millions of others that abound in the blogosphere. To navigate this flow of information, what is necessary is the art of discernment. We know well the saying of St. Augustine, "Love God and do what you will." If we are living a life in harmony with the will of God, seeking his will in all things, then our thoughts and desires will direct us correctly in making the right judgements. This is the traditional Catholic teaching on discernment.

The View from the Ark in the Catholic Times presents us with one of these occasions where discernment is necessary. The columnist, referring to an article that appeared in Focus, the magazine of the British Broadcasting Company, mentions the most sinful nations of the world, according to the article, and what capital  sins those countries have the most difficulty dealing with.  Korea, overall, was listed as the 8th most sinful country of the world, and placed number one in the lust category. This was determined by the amount of money spent on pornography, in comparison with other countries.

The distinctive quality of a nation is not determined by the intelligentsia or popular leaders, he says, but by the ordinary citizens. No matter how good the laws and structures are, if the citizens do not follow them they are of little worth. When the citizens have a sense of dignity and are moved by conscience and good habits, this will be reflected in the personality of the country.

Korea went from a GNP of 100 dollars in 1960-1970 to over 20,000 dollars in 2010, which is the envy of many developing countries. In 1987, Korea rid herself of a dictatorship and became a democracy. There is little need to point out, the columnist notes, that economic improvement and political maturity allowed Korea to join the group of free and prosperous countries of the world. And in the last ten years, the influence of Korea's culture has spread to many parts of the world.

However, individual consciousness has not kept pace with economic development, he says. Greed, lust, envy, hunger for power, and the like are seen as the likely reasons for the immorality and corruption which has earned the country the low moral rating described in the Focus article. How can we rid ourselves of the stigma of being the 8th most sinful country in the world? he asks. We have to refine our moral education, work on our self-improvement, and work for the common good. Helping to change Korea's image in this all-important area of life, says the columnist, should be the duty of everyone.  

The wrong-headed desires of some politicians to gain power is offset by the virtues of sincerity, authenticity, and justice exhibited by others. The overwhelming desire of all citizens is that the individual should live as a caring human being, and that our society, made up of such human beings, is working for the common good.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Smart Phone Addiction

Korea is the most wired country in the world, having also the highest percentage of smart phones. Not only is this a positive sign of the efforts made to promote internet technology but like everything else when taken to an extreme often has a negative result, which seems to have occurred in Korea.

Stories abound on how the internet has been abused, similar to what has happened in other countries. The result of this addiction is causing great concern around the world. An article in the Peace Weekly, which discusses a paper given by Doctor Lee Jung-hun, a psychiatrist at the Catholic University of Daegu, gives us some interesting facts on the situation. So serious has it become, according to Dr. Lee, that the  government has started tailored programs to deal with the addiction, providing special classes in internet addiction and organizing holiday camps to wean students off their dependency to smart phones and the internet.
In 2012, a survey was made of youngsters, from the ages of 10 to19, who were considered internet addicts; it showed an increase in addiction from 7 percent from the previous year to 18.4 percent. The addiction rate of those from 10 to 49 years old was 11.1 percent. The result of the study indicates that there may be problems with the emotional life of those addicted to using smart phones.

Dr. Lee presented a paper on addiction to smart phones and the internet at the annual meeting in San Francisco of the American Psychiatric Association. He made a study of 276 high school students, from four schools, who were 16 years old, and found that the higher the incidence of addiction, the more the students were prone to accidents and problems with attention deficit disorders. They also had problems with depression, anxiety, delinquency, aggressiveness and relating. Problems with reasoning correctly were also uncovered. He also found behavioral differences with how the smart phones were used. Using them in the toilet, before going to bed, and when making personal contact via the social network service were also signs of addiction.

There are numerous applications for smart phones, and they continue to develop them, making them increasingly attractive and causing many to move away from the PC to the smart phone. The earlier one begins to access the Internet, the easier it is to become addicted. Efforts to discover the reasons for the addiction, Dr.  Lee said, should continue to be made. It is a serious problem and though Korea has started to take appropriate steps to deal with the problem, it will not be easily solved, since Korea has developed more than other countries in the world of cyberspace.