Friday, January 31, 2014

Being Friends with Those you Disagree

"He is a leftist" were the words of a participant at a New Year's event, at which  a famous novelist spoke.  Those who were talking stopped, and again Mr. Mo  repeated: " He is a leftist." The atmosphere in the group became strained, with members staring at each other, not knowing how to respond, aware only that the novelist was not  Mr. Mo's type of person.

The columnist in the Peace Weekly, writing about current events, mentions that he didn't know whether  the novelist was of the right or left. But when he heard the word "leftist" all the novelist's books came to mind, as well as his appearance and even his relationships with others. All conversation among the participants abruptly stopped when the charge was made, and he wonders whether the same dynamics are seen in other groups when "right wing" is thrown into the discussion.
The columnist admits to being upset by our habit of dividing ourselves into two camps, the left and the right. This has always been the  case in Korea but during the past year it has developed into an intolerable situation. The columnist knew that Mr. Mo was a man of the 'right' but always had a good feeling toward him because of his many good qualities. Now, because of Mr. Mo's use of the leftist charge, he feels only dislike for him. 
The columnist mentions the 10 resolutions that Pope Francis recommends for the New Year: Don't gossip; finish your meals; make time for others; choose the more humble purchase; meet the poor in the flesh; stop judging others; befriend those who disagree with you; make commitments, such as marriage; make it a habit to "ask the Lord;" be happy.

The columnist says that although they are difficult to carry out, he can in some fashion do most of them. Only two of them, he says, will be especially difficult for him: Not to judge others, and to be friendly with those we disagree with. And of the two, the one he can not accept in any way, he says, is the advice to befriend those we disagree with. Many persons came to mind, especially the face of Mr. Mo.
He has admired Pope Francis but on reading these two resolutions which the pope recommends he has postponed the possibility of being his disciple. At his age, he says he doesn't want to go against what he feels himself to be. And yet, he muses, the difficult things in life are often the good things we should be doing. Making friends with those we disagree with would help bring peace into our personal world, and ultimately--if followed by everyone--into the whole world. Obviously not an easy thing to do, even within one's own world, but he has decided to work at managing the transition.

Befriending those he disagrees with, he says, will be his goal beginning with the coming Lunar New Year. And even if he does not succeed, the effort will make him better, he says, and all his relationships should benefit from the effort. Happy Lunar  New Year!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Details Are Important

Details are important and not paying attention to them can develop into future problems, says a member of the Bishops Committee for Life. Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, he suggests that we need to be interested in details because, as we are told in the Tao Te Ching: The difficult comes from the easy, and the big comes from the small. We are often enabled to see the whole from the parts, he says, by noting their future direction. Ignoring details is not an insignificant habit we fall into, he points out, and that advertisers are well aware of this tendency, devising their ads to take advantage of this tendency.  

The same writer (cited here in a past blog) mentioned the rather insignificant rosary ring on a girl's finger in one ad promoting condoms. Some would see this as making much over little and exaggerating a small point, but the writer says it is the "map and compass" of where the company wants to go with the ad: desensitizing Catholics on how they are to look upon per-marital sex.
During the  Advent season, Durex (a condom manufacturer), in one of their ads, showed two young people before a table with the Advent candles. In the background are four more candles and the playing of romantic music. When the young man attempts to kiss the girl, the sprinkler system is activated and they are drenched. He takes a  condom from his pocket and covers the sprinkler. This makes the condom unusable. He shows great disappointment and the girl then takes out a condom from her pocket and they respond with laughter. So ends the ad with the Durex logo: Love Sex.

During the Christmas season it is a well-known fact that many young people find their way to a motel for sex.  But why would they want to use the Advent symbolism for a condom ad? he asks. Catholics use the symbolism of the four candles: dark purple, light purple, pink and white to show the approach of Christmas. But the ad very cleverly changes the intention. When the four candles are lit, it signals the time for sex, Jesus being replaced by sex. 

Catholicism is shown to be, unwittingly, accepting of premarital sex in the way the ad is designed. This is one way mass media changes the way we look on  many aspects of life and gives rise to many problems. One can see it as merely a blatantly deceptive marketing attempt to increase sales, but more deviously, also, as a means to change the way society looks upon one aspect of morality that the company sees as anachronistic in today's world.

In regards to the rosary ring: The Bishops Committee for Life did complain and the company responded, saying they were sorry; they had no intention to offend Catholics.This was accepted at face value but was their apology sincere? asks the writer. The second ad using the Advent candles removed all doubt: the ad was withdrawn after the Committee for Life complained.

The writer ends by quoting from the Chinese classics: "Nothing stands out as much as what is being hidden....And what at first appears small often turns out to be very big."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Beauty Of Life

The world is beautiful but we need help to see its beauty, says a religious sister writing in the Bible & Life magazine. Our attention is distracted, she says, by the not-so-beautiful. To see the beauty surrounding us, we need to make a concerted effort to pay less attention to our daily habitual routines and more attention to the life that made those routines possible.

From the time she made her first vows, she has been asked why she became a sister.  Because the world is so beautiful is her answer. And for over 35 years being a sister, she answers in the same way.

One day before she became a sister, feeling bored with life, she went into a bookstore and picked up a book with the title "Why Pain?" Opening it, she read  "I am happy now because someone suffered pain. There are many people who endured pain and difficulties for me." The lines surprised her, bringing to mind her parents, the many meals they prepared for her, and the sacrifices they made for her as she was growing up.

As she reflected on the sacrifice of her parents, the help of her siblings, the concern of her friends, and all those, known and unknown, who had given help and shown concern, she realized that it had all been given unconditionally. It was not dependent on any particular quality she possessed but was given freely; for this she felt only gratitude. It was because of their love, she said, that she began to see God's unlimited love: "This is my body to be given for you"  (Luke 22:19).

Experiencing this enormous love of our Lord, the world, she believes, was filled with beauty. That thought brought a change into her life; she wanted to repay the pain of many who had nurtured her life by her own sacrifices and life. While growing up she never gave the religious life a thought, she said, but the moment she  became aware of God's love she ran to him. And now because of this great love, she is in a convent, living the consecrated life. However, she feels as if she still fails to measure up to living such a life; there is much to endure, she says, as she makes her way through the valleys and the crooked, rough ways of life.  But despite it all, she is able to give thanks and turn her eyes to the Lord and give praise.                        

Such a life is not only for those who have formally chosen the religious life, she maintains, but for everyone: "Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ, of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (Constitution on the Church #40). "In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect " (Matt 5:48). "Treat others the way you would have them treat you; this sums up the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12 ).                                                         

Because of the dedication of many who have been called to living the fullness of Christian life, we hope to see, she says, its fruition in many more people living with thankful hearts. She prays that she also will be living each day with thanks in her heart, and that this will continue into the future.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Living What We Believe

Misunderstandings of common sense phrases and ideas sometimes used in our daily conversations occur frequently, such as "God helps those who help themselves," or a similar expression "Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you" (Found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2834). This way of thinking has  a long  history in the West, as it does it in the East. It appears in the Chinese phrase:盡 (All)人(Person)事( Work) 待 (Await) 天 (Heaven)命 (Orders), meaning "Do all you can and wait for heaven." We see these words framed on the walls of many homes and places of business here in Korea.

In our Scriptures, we find in Thess. 3:18 "Anyone who will not work should not eat." And in Mark 9:23 "Everything is possible for the person who believes." All such expressions point to the fact that as humans  we do what is possible and then leave the rest to God. But many feel that prayer is sufficient, as if God will do all with his grace.

The misunderstanding of these expressions tends to appear when there is a misunderstanding of grace; grace also seeks to move our feet and body to accomplish what we pray for. Though all is grace, it requires some thought to understand what this means without denying what is being said by the statements quoted above. As Catholics we know that grace cooperates with nature. There are obviously circumstances where the phrase "All is grace" is used where it shouldn't be--as a put-down of the poor and weak--but the basic truth of the idea is imbedded in everything we do as Christians: to cooperate with the graces that are given.

Rev. Timothy Yu Gyoung-chon and Rev. Peter Chung Soon-taek O.C.D. were named auxiliary bishops of Seoul recently. Bishop-elect Yu in his book To the 21 century Believer, reviewed recently by the Catholic press, says "The concrete putting into practice what we believe is necessary if we want to see a change in the world. Without this engagement with the world, no matter how much we pray it will be only empty words." It is understood that he is talking about those who are able to do something and do nothing.

There is little justice in the world, mostly distrust and war which obviously is not the will of God. When we ignore the reality we see around us, as the bishop says, we are not living the life we have been called to live. He wants us to be aware of this calling that we have as Christians. Even though we might not see or experience injustice in our own lives, we are not free to ignore the call we have received to improve the world we live in.

The need to improve the world is not some new way of thinking, he reminds us, but the way Jesus lived during his time here on earth. We have all been called to put into practice what we believe and what we say, confessing by our actions what our hearts know about this God we need to experience.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Mature Spiritual Life

What direction should a spiritual life take?  An article in Bible & Life magazine, by a priest-professor of spirituality, begins by  telling us that he used the short Apostle's Creed at Mass but changed recently to the longer Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

It's important, he says, for a Christian not to have a personal imagining of God according to ones likes or dislikes; doing so, a correct  faith life will not follow.  History has shown us that those who have followed their personal preferences have gone far afield. Consequently, one needs to have the correct understanding of Jesus if one is going to have a healthy spirituality.  For a Catholic, the two sources of our faith life are the Scriptures and Tradition, the truths of the gospel that were kept alive orally and finally written down in the Scriptures. From the beginning there was always  a tension between our spirituality and the Scriptures.

The disciples used the Old Testament as their text in sermons. The Church Fathers spent a great deal of time commenting on the Scriptures. This was the way they understood the revealed message and the identity of Jesus. It was not an intellectual and speculative study of the Scriptures. It was the foundation of their spirituality, as it was of the Desert Fathers, who spent much time  reading the Scriptures to map out their spiritual journey.

The religious of the middle ages worked with Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) to develop their spirituality: reading the Scriptures, meditating, praying and contemplating on what was read, which gave a structure to the 'Divine Reading'. But unfortunately, at the same time, universities were appearing, and with the beginning of systematic theology there was a separation of spirituality from Scripture.  There were a few religious groups who had difficulty accepting this new trend, but the majority went along with this speculative and intellectual approach to the spiritual life, which gave a  false understanding to the spiritual life, according to the writer.

At the beginning of modern times, there has been a return to volition and feelings as a foundation for the spiritual life as presented in the Scriptures. The attempt was to get closer to the words of Scripture, in meditating on the  humanity of Jesus and his public life. During the middle of the modern era, however, there was a return to the intellectual  pursuit of knowledge, which again influenced the Church. This was the period of enlightenment, positivism (scientific knowledge) and historicism (a theory that events are determined or influenced by conditions and inherent processes beyond the control of humans). Many feared that if they did not participate in this intellectual pursuit they would be left behind and, consequently, meditating on the Scriptures was not considered important.  Biblical criticism became the highest form of study of the Scriptures in the eyes of many.

In conclusion, the writer stressed that our spiritual life has to begin with the Scriptures. Only through the Scriptures will we get  to know Jesus. When the study of Scripture becomes an exercise in intellectual curiosity, then we are bound to block the real message of Scripture from affecting the full flowering of our spiritual life. We have to meet Jesus in the Scriptures. When reading the words of Scripture and are genuinely moved by the love of Jesus, we will be filled with his grace and feel a oneness with him. Christian prayer without this basic understanding of Scripture, not only lacks Christian meaning but can lead us in a wrong direction.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Love is a Decision

The book The Invisible Gorilla  reminds us that what we often think we know, we do not.  An article in Bible and Life returns to the experiments conducted some years ago by two professors that showed that when we are concentrating on something, we miss seeing other things happening around us, which tends to self-deception and an illusory view of reality.

Loving is not any different. We have seen the portrayal of love in numberless movies, dramas, poetry and novels. We have experienced love in a variety of ways which has left us with a feeling that we understand what love is.

The priest-writer quotes from a poem in which a lover revels in the thought of buying a present for the loved one. The very thought of buying a present fills him with great joy;  he has someone he loves. When we think of love the first thought that often comes to mind is this emotional expression of love. But when we hear  what Jesus had to say about love his words leave us  perplexed.

"The command I give you is this, that you love one another" (John 15:17). This is the command that was given at the Last Supper to his disciples.  This is a strange kind of love. A command is what a superior tells a subordinate to do:  A mother commanding her child to stop watching TV., an officer telling a soldier to dig a trench. Jesus told his disciples to follow him and to take up their cross, but commanding another to love is different, says the writer. It's an entirely different command than the those given above.

Love, most of us think, has to do with the heart and our feelings. Is Jesus asking the disciples to like each other, to have a warm feeling toward the other? Is this possible? asks the writer. Can anyone command another to have a loving feeling toward another?  Of course not, and Jesus knew this well; he was not asking us to do what we often understand love to be.

The article goes back to the Book of Leviticus and the command to love (19:11-18). You shall not steal, lie, swear falsely, defraud, withhold the wages of your day laborer, act dishonestly or spread slander and stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake, but love your neighbor as yourself. Loving in this very concrete and practical way has nothing to do with feeling, says the writer.

Love is not limited to the field of emotions. Love has to do with the structures of society, with justice. The command of Jesus is to help those who are in need of our help: the weak, the poor, those whose rights have been trampled; that we are to work for justice in society.

Love must manifest in doing, he says. And now is the time for us to do the work that will bring the justice and peace of God into society. This is love. This is our duty.

Friday, January 24, 2014

"That All May Be One"

The Peace Weekly gives us a brief history of the Octave of Prayer, whose goal is a united Christianity. The Octave began on Jan. 18 and will end on Jan. 25th, the Feast of The Conversion of St. Paul.  The first great division of Christianity, between the Eastern and Western Churches, occurred in 1054;  463 years later, in 1517, the  Protestant Reformation began the fragmentation of Western Christendom. 17 years later, the Church in England broke away from Rome, founding the Anglican Church. And because of theological differences within Protestantism, it has continued to splinter into many denominations.

Offering the hand of reconciliation after doctrinal disputes and separation have occurred is difficult; the sense of unity is no longer there to help repair the break. The beginning of a search for unity began, according to the Peace Weekly, with the founding in 1857 of The Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians; Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics participated, though at the time the Catholic Church did not  show much interest.

Pope Leo 13th used the words "separated brethren," which brought a change from the use of the harsh word "heretic" used in the past.  This brought a change in the way Catholicism looked upon those who had left the Church. From that time on there was a movement within Catholicism to unite all Christians.

Anglicans have been in the forefront of the movement ever since the  prayer for Christian unity was written in 1908 by Father Paul Watson, an Anglican priest. Protestants joined the movement in 1926,  and at the Second Vatican Council, the Church took an active interest in working for unity with its decree on ecumenism. Today, Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox are all united in praying for unity during the Unity Octave period.

In Korea, starting from 1965, the Bishops Committee on Ecumenism has been active in promoting unity. During the last part of the 60s to 1970, they worked with Protestants for a joint-translation of the Bible, have held prayer meetings together and forums on unity.  From 1965 Catholics And Anglicans have come together in prayer, and from 1986 the Protestants and Orthodox have joined together for the same purpose.  Since 2001 different religious leader have met personally to work to promote  unity among Christians in Korea.  From 2008, Catholic  deacons have been associating with the different Orthodox and Protestant groups to learn more about the other religions.

Despite the efforts of the Church  there are many Catholics who are not familiar with the Unity Octave or who show little interest in the movement. Last year Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, came to Korea asking all Catholics to keep the goal of unity in their prayers.

This year the subject of the octave of prayer is: "Has Christ been divided?" The material was put together by both Protestant and Catholic leaders and is used in many parts of the world during this period of prayer. There is still opposition within the different communities that do not look on these efforts favorably, but what is  important is that we are doing things together, which was not always the case. The meetings and discussions will continue, and when we do have a united awareness  of the situation among the different Christians that we need to be one, we will see God's grace moving us to the unity that Christ willed before his death.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Considering A Trip to Korea

Fr Lombardi: pope considering trip to Korea
Holy See Press Office director says Francis might visit the Korean Peninsula to attend Asian Youth Day in August in Daejeon.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis could make a visit to South Korea in 2014, Holy See Press Office director Fr. Federico Lombardi told journalists this morning.

The pope is considering a visit to the Korean Peninsula as part of Asian Youth Day, which will take place in August in the Diocese of Daejeon.

On his way back from World Youth Day in Brazil, the bishop of Daejeon had told AsiaNews that the Bishops' Conference and the South Korean government were trying to get Francis to visit the  Asian Nation.
According to Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, a papal visit "would give new momentum to our missionary Church and the Churches of Asia, as well as help peace talks with North Korea."

Mgr You himself renewed the invitation in a letter to the pope in which he presented Youth Day, an event that will bring together young Catholics from all over the continent.

South Korea's Catholic Church and Catholic community strongly hope that the Pope will visit their country.

This year, plans are underway for two events of great importance for the Church in South Korea and Asia. In addition to Asian Youth Day, a decree of beatification is expected for 124 "new" South Korean martyrs, and Francis himself might beatify them in person.

On his way home from his trip to Brazil, the Pope had told reporters that he planned to visit Asia in 2014. "I have been invited to go to Sri Lanka and also to the Philippines. But I must go to Asia. Because Pope Benedict did not have time to go to Asia, and it is important. He went to Australia and then to Europe and America, but Asia . . ."

In his recent New Year's Greetings to the diplomats accredited with the Holy See, the pope said, "On this, the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea, I wish to implore from God the gift of reconciliation on the peninsula, and I trust that, for the good of all the Korean people, the interested parties will tirelessly seek out points of agreement and possible solutions.

Another sign of the pope's interest towards Korea is his decision to name Mgr Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul and apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, to the post of cardinal.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Follow your heart

The columnist in the Peace Weekly "Preview of Events" discusses the reasons the novel by Susanna Tamaro, Follow Your Heart (Va' Dove ti Porta il Cuore, in Italian), quickly became, in 1994, an international best seller. Over 20 million hearts, it is said, have been moved by the story, which was made into a movie and translated into 45 languages, even being recommended by the Vatican and translated several times into Korean.

The book is written in the style of letters, written by Olga, a grandmother, to her teenage granddaughter, Marta, now in the United States, after living briefly, and unhappily, with Olga, who took her in after her mother died. Like an autobiography, the book reviews the life of the grandmother, who examines her life from her early years in an autocratic family, to being married unhappily to Augusto, her relationship with a married doctor, Ernesto, his death, and the unpleasant relationship she had with her daughter Ilaria, Marta's mother. Olga relates all this very honestly to Marta with all the passion and pain that went along with it. She explains that Marta's mother, Ilaria, was not the daughter of Augusto, Olga's husband, but of the doctor Ernesto, who was the grandmother's lover. She also told Marta that on the day she confessed the truth to Ilaria, she bolted from the house, very much distressed and died in an automobile accident that same afternoon. 

The columnist points out that Olga was brought up in a conservative family and that her daughter Ilaria, influenced by her mother, became involved in women rights issues. This also brought conflict into their relationship which later influenced the granddaughter, who was not able to find what was important in life and lived purposelessly.  The book shows the conflict that tends to exist between different generations (grandmother, mother, granddaughter) and looks at the 20th century women rights issues, and its woman-to-woman talk about love and truth.

The grandmother, in her letters to her granddaughter says that the first thing of importance when wanting to change something--as one is growing into adulthood--is the need to begin the change from within oneself. One of the mistakes, she warns, that we often make is to forget this self-awareness when problems arise, and as we struggle to resolve them. The grandmother advises her granddaughter that when you are faced with many paths to choose from and you don't know which to take, don't take just any path but sit down and take time to think and to listen to the voice within you. When you hear the voice speaking to you from inside, that is the voice, she says, you want to follow.

“Who among us has wept for these things, and things like this? Who has wept for the deaths of these brothers and sisters? Who has wept for the people who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who wanted something to support their families? We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of 'suffering with': the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!" These are the words of Pope Francis in his sermon on the island of  Lampedusa, shortly after the boat carrying migrants from Libya sank, killing 360 who had left their country hoping for a better life.

The columnist mentions a retreat she made in which the bishop giving the retreat used the words of St. Augustine: "Love and and follow the way of your heart." This is not a subjective teaching, she says, but one that makes us think of what, ultimately, is our desire and intention. She thinks this is the difference that has entered the Church with Pope Francis. Before Francis, people were seeing the problems of society but not knowing precisely how to express what they were seeing. The Pope is now showing us how to respond.

There is no denying that the disputes today in society are getting more violent: Impetuous, careless words hurled at others we disagree with, opposing positions, armed with great emotion, intent on forcing their views on others. And the competitive climate that surrounds any endeavor contributes to stifle our ability and willingness to reach out to the other, as does the need to care for ailing parents, the search for personal fulfillment, while not a few despair about their situation in life and choose extreme solutions. The need for human sensitivity and compassion is now being expressed by many voices. The hope we have for blessings, isn't it related to our God=Love understanding? If we could follow this 'follow your heart' understanding, as the grandmother finally came to realize, we would be much closer to living a life that is truly human.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Faith and Economics

Fairness and justice are topics we hear a lot of these days, especially in the world of finances, as more of us are talking about the will of God and the apparent will of society to move in an opposite direction with regard to the common good. The Scriptures clearly show that unfairness and injustice should have no place in our lives.

In the weekly column Faith and Economics, in the Catholic Times, the bishop mentions the growing interest in this topic in many parts of the world, and refers to the comment of Pope Francis in his Exhortation on Joy of the Gospel. "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?" And he continues: "This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized, without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

The pope has continually expressed his disapproval of the injustices in the world. And the bishop mentions the United States, in the capitalistic vanguard, and its great influence on the world economy. He would like more Christians to examine the current impact of capitalism on the world's economy and its unfortunate consequences for most people of the world. He mentions that President Obama quoted from the Exhortation of Pope Francis, citing the need for a common goal to help rid ourselves of the injustices in society.

The pope stressed the dangers of a capitalism that is allowed to function without imposing restrictions on its free use in the international marketplace. The bishop mentions that even some in the U.S. Republican party have taken the pope's words to heart.

In the pope's Peace Day message, he again returns to the economic problems in the world: "This means not being guided by a desire for profit or a thirst for power. What is needed is the willingness to 'lose ourselves' for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to serve them instead of oppressing them for our own advantage. The other–whether a person, people or nation–is to be seen not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our neighbor, a helper....We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being."

It is the lack of fraternal charity, the love we should have for one another, the pope said, that is the major problem. When we renew the bonds we have with all others in society, and have an attitude of service to everyone on earth, we will have taken the first step at solving the problems of society.

The bishop ends the article with a quote from the Joy of the Gospel (#183): "The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed 'the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics', the Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive. It offers proposals, it works for change, and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it unites its own commitment to that made in the social field by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, whether at the level of doctrinal reflection or at the practical level."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Unknowingly Surrounded by Love

The battery life of his wristwatch had ended, which was the reason the priest let his thoughts wander, giving him enough time to ponder what he would say in his forthcoming article for the Pastoral Bulletin. Not having a working watch, and content to let the clocks in the house tell time for him, he was surprised to see what he hadn't noticed before, that there were a half-dozen clocks in the house keeping time for him.

"Whoa!" was his reaction, he says. It was only because his timepiece was not working that he finally realized how many clocks were in the house, hidden from his unaware gaze and yet ready to give him the time whenever he did look their way. It made him question himself on how much ingratitude existed in his life. The clocks helped him become aware of the many people he needed to thank, and aware of the assistance he has unconsciously been receiving.  Having been aware only of his own abilities, he was forgetful of all the "angels" that have surrounded and helped him throughout his life.

Now, with the end of his watch's battery life, he began to reflect on his own end. The 'tick tock' of his own heart was still sounding, but he began to realize this would not go on forever. Life here on earth was given for a short period of time, a fact he was now acutely aware of,  he says, and he reflects on the meaning this has for him.

Looking back on the past year, he confesses that it filled him with anger and the loss of hope.  Deep down, he admits, there was gratitude and hope, but he still needed to overcome the egotistical thoughts and the tumultuous billows of emotion. As a priest, a member of the Church, of a diocese and a parish, he was stunned by the deterioration of life, but he was willing to take the punishment that came with this confession.

He is at a loss for words in seeing many of the things that happened in his life during the past year. The difference of only one day separates the last year from this year, a single orbit of the earth around the sun. But for most of us, and for him, he acknowledges, it is a big event, allowing us to make a new start, getting rid of what needs to be thrown out. Our mistakes and failures are to be acknowledged and not repeated. If we have been overcome by emotions, if we have said and done what we shouldn't have in the past year, we need to be sorrowful and have the resolve to do better in the new year. This is the first step toward a new way of being and living.

He is convinced that if we do things together there is nothing that can't be achieved. He wants to be more open to others in order to work more closely together. When the problems are great, and trials and agony seem to multiply, it is then that hope shines brightest, strengthening the will to work together with greater fervor. Faith in God, in others and oneself will allow us, he believes, to see the presence of love. And when that happens, when we see the depth and  greatness of God's love, we will be renewed.

He wants the leadership in the Church to become more aware of potential blocks along the way to Jesus.  He has hopes that our political leaders will not be a disappointment to our citizens.  For himself, he hopes that he will not be overcome by emotions and will act with right  reason. And for all of us, he wishes we will find the strength he also will try to attain for himself, of becoming more detached from material goods, stepping out of the swamp of negativity, protectiveness and passivity that all too often smothers our better inclinations when we fail to acknowledge the presence of love that always surrounds us.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Best is not Always Needed

A doctor at St. Mary's Hospital in Seoul, writing in the Seoul Bulletin, discusses the so-called best medical treatments available, which are not always the best way of handling a particular case. He explains what he means.

A man in his early 70s came to a hospital, having been sent there from a smaller country hospital because of a prostate problem. They proceeded with a series of tests but he didn't return for the results until 5 months later. The doctor asked  for the reason and was told he had to take of a sick person and was not free to come. When the doctor asked who that person was, the man said it was his wife; she was suffering from dementia and he had to be at her side continually. He had been been doing this for the last 10 years. Fortunately, on this day she also had to see a doctor, so he came and asked the doctor if he could speed up the exam, so he could return to his wife as soon as possible.

The biopsy showed cancer but not advanced, so the doctor recommended an operation. The man said that was impossible. It wasn't a question of fear or money but the time away from his wife,  there would be nobody who could care for his wife. Without me, he said, his wife will not eat. I have to be at her side. Isn't there something that you can do, he asked the doctor, to insure that I will live long enough to take of her? The doctor told him the best thing to do was have the operation, but if that was not possible, he suggested the use of hormone injections. This would delay the growth of the cancer. It's not the best solution, the doctor said, but if you come to the hospital and take the injections and the blood tests, this may possibly help, but there is always, the doctor warned, the chance of a recurrence,

The man said that sounded good. He was old and believed he had not long to live, so he liked what he heard. The doctor tried to talk him into having the operation but he firmly held to his position and told the doctor he had no time to talk; his wife was waiting for his return. The doctor kept his gaze on the man as he left, and thought of all the other cancer patients who had been told similar troubling news.

He realized when dealing with a cancer patient that it is not always sufficient  to outline the best procedure and think that is all that is necessary. The circumstances of each patient are different and a doctor has to deal with them as best he can. Some patients have financial problems, others have difficult family relationships, and some have personal reasons they have to deal with. 

Health is not only a question of bodily health but also of mental health. We have to be concerned, act and pray to achieve the sublime goal that we all are searching for, which, for the doctor, was love: Love of oneself, love of the other and the shared love in communion with others. This is the will of  the healing God.

The elderly gentleman is taking the injections and although not the best possible treatment, but in this case it is the best, and the results have been good. The blood test level has return to normal, and there are no signs of a recurrence. As in the past he always talks about his wife.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to be a Mature Christian

 A recent How to be a Mature Christian column in the Catholic Times answers a woman who wants to know how to respond when her husband and children are calling her a religious fanatic.  She is 50 years old, she says, with a kind and good husband and three children, and lacks nothing except that her husband and children are not going to church. When she asks them to go and pray together, the children go to their rooms and the husband turns up the sound of the TV. Going to church alone gives her a heavy heart, she says, and often brings up unsympathetic feelings for her family. What is she to do? 

Such questions are often heard, says the priest-columnist, during the Easter and Christmas confession periods, with many women blaming themselves for the religious condition of the family. Not only do they worry, they consider their situation sinful. He makes it clear that there is no reason to blame themselves for the religious laxity of the family.
He recommends she stop asking them to go to church or to pray. Though there are times we can rightly blame ourselves for not being sufficiently concerned about the religious life of family members, in this woman's case, he says, there is another dimension that should be examined. 

He responds to the woman's question by asking if she knows what her husband  and children would like her to do together with them. He mentions an anecdote of a women who prayed to the Lord to come to the house and bawl out her husband for watching baseball games. That evening she would no doubt have found, he says, Jesus sitting beside her husband, and beckoning her to sit down beside them to watch the game. 
There are other ways to work for the sanctification of the family and have a  happy family than our customary pestering ways. What we think is God's way may not be his way, or the way others see it. The columnist tells her to see the possibility that God is the one who is taking her away from them and the reason for  going to their rooms, turning up the volume of the TV, and calling her a fanatic--all possible signs of resentment and sadness for her time away from home, fulfilling her religious obligations.

A holy family is not only a family that calls upon Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but a family that is able to see the Jesus that lives in each one of them. Her prayer should help her to see how they are being led by God, and to better understand how to approach them.  He advisers her to finish her prayers before he comes home from work, and later to open a can of beer for her husband and sitting down beside him to watch TV, and if puzzled by what she is seeing, to ask him to teach her. If this approach is difficult for her, he suggests that she ask in prayer for help to endure, and to expect her prayer to be answered.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Power of prayer

Driving on the turnpike, behind a novice driver, he couldn't control his temper. The car ahead of him was going so slow it prevented him, and the drivers behind him, from traveling the posted speed limit. Overcome with anger, he started to harass the slow-moving driver by repeatedly honking his horn. His wife tried to dissuade him from his revenge-type  driving, but the anger was not easily resolved. Looking back on the incident, he realized the stupidity of his act and the possible danger to his wife and child. In English, we would say he was overcome by "road rage."

An article in the Catholic Times discusses the problems of an "anger disorder" within society. We tend, it says, to be overly sensitive to our surroundings and, when they are not ideal, we often find ourselves unable to control our emotional reactions. It is not formally  considered a mental disease, but  some specialists see it as symptomatic of  more serious mental problems in the future. Over half of those who go to the psychiatric departments of hospitals, we are told, are there because of anger management issues.

In the past, Koreans were known to exhibit a particular disposition called "han," a feeling of regret and sorrow, together with a feeling of having been wronged. Many words would be necessary to fully express what is meant by the Korean word, but the article mentions that many who have this pent-up feeling are now expressing it verbally and sometimes violently.

A  doctor at a psychiatric hospital said uncontrolled anger is a sign of a societal and cultural trend that nurtures stress and unfulfilled desires. The extreme lifestyle differences in society, specifically the income inequality, have been cited as reasons for some of the anger. Also cited has been the increase of those living alone, causing  stress and a decrease in the consolations that came from family relationships.

There are many incidents in society that have caused great harm and arise from anger. There has been an increase of people having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, who have difficulty controlling  their actions. There is an increase of crimes that are considered accidents but are possibly prompted by an anger management issue, starting out as individual acts and developing into a collective anger.

The efforts to control anger are not just individual matters, but society also has to take an interest, by finding its causative factors and learning how to manage the anger. The article lists a number of possible approaches:  society has to give first place to attaining a  society that is mature; have counseling specialists work with stress and anger management programs in schools, which will focus on character-building; convince industry to be more concerned about the stress levels of their personnel; provide programs that will assure a safety net for those who are having financial problems; and find ways of strengthening the bonds with  those living in the local area.

The article ends by urging the Church to take a more active role in this area of anger management. The value of prayer, says an authority in the field of mental health, shows that with prayer and reflection on our actions, the brain is changed, allowing us to concentrate and to have better control of our actions. The ample spiritual resources of Catholicism, which are always open and easily available to all, would be a welcome addition to other efforts now being made in controlling this escalating problem in society.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sex As a Game

With sex being an ever present money-making commodity in the world of advertising, it should be no surprise to anyone that it is the subject matter for much of our pop music. Korea is not different from much of the West in the way we use sex to sell our products.

With the way sex is constantly in our face, it leaves little room for being indifferent to what is happening. And as expected, reactions to this relatively new use of sex are varied. Some people like the breakdown of our sensitivity to things sexual, dispelling the aura of the sacred traditionally attached to sexuality. Some dislike what is happening to our culture: turning sex into an object apart from its legitimate role in life, making  sex into a game that can be enjoyed anytime and anyplace, without any qualms. It's surprising that, whatever school you belong to, more awareness of the results of the the way we think is not examined more closely, for it is not difficult to see the consequences of the choices we are making.
In a recent diocesan bulletin, a lecturer and researcher in the field of the culture of life writes about the importance of a person's growth in character and the ethical view of life. He introduces us to Park Jin-young, a popular singer and songwriter, and the president of JYP Entertainment, one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates  in Korea. He is famous or infamous, depending on which school you belong to, in popularizing the notion that sex is a game. He speaks freely about making sex pleasurable. The writer wants us to question whether those who are adults see sex as a game to be enjoyed without conditions.

The notion that sex is a game is reinforced, unknowingly, he says, by those who have enjoyed a great deal of pornography. The values of those who watch porn, he says, are similar to the values motivating the makers of porno: bodily pleasure. Those who have given the subject some deep thought know that this is not one of our noblest pursuits.

How is it that Park has come to see sex as a game and seeks  to spread this thinking to the world? Taking the words that he expressed in an interview, the writer shows why this thinking became possible. As a child in middle school, the world was dark, the singer said. He drank a lot, smoked and got to know the opposite sex. We played kissing games during that period, he confided; there was nothing he  didn't hear or say, and no subjects  that he didn't allow himself to enjoy. 

This way of thinking during his youth continued to grow into what he considers mature adult sexuality. It is part of what he creates in his songs, he says, part of the "cultural masterpieces" that he offers the world, to children and teenagers, without in anyway being aware of the harm being done. And the mass media, by its unquestioning, silent approval, is spreading the harm throughout society. Without our realizing what is happening, says the writer, Park has become our number one teacher on sexuality. This distorted picture of sexuality, with the power of mass media behind it, has infiltrated all of society. And being so extensive, there can be little awareness of the long-term results. 
He concludes the article by saying that whatever makes money in our free society, no matter how unacceptable it may be to many within that society, is going to be allowed. To counter this trend, he would like us to become more aware of the power of mass media and its responsibility to society and, perhaps more importantly, to be more aware and upset at the distorted views of life that are being expressed, often simply because they can, by their outrageous sensationalizing, create money for their purveyors. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lack of Trust in Society

Reading reports submitted by students is an interesting experience, says a professor writing in the Peace Weekly. Many reports show a great deal of creativity, but not a few, he says, were copied from the internet or some book. A few years ago an incident came to light that is hard to beat.  A student had submitted an essay that his professor had written for an academic journal. When the professor questioned  him about the essay, the student admitted he had taken it from an internet site selling reports on cultural subjects, and this particular report had received an A+. All he had to do, he was told, was submit it, because it had been "transformed."

Selling intellectual property without permission of the owner is a legal problem, but the moral insensitivity of many young students is a bigger problem. This is not only a student problem but a societal problem, the professor says. We have teachers plagiarizing, politicians lying, civil servants involved in corruption, breaking and accommodating the law to serve one's own ends, and all kinds of habitual evasions of moral behavior.  This widespread societal immorality is helping to make our young people immune to what a virtuous life means, and allowing our society to sink deeper in the swamp of mistrust.

In a  new year's  report from the office of statistics, we are told  that only 22 percent of Koreans feel positive about trusting others; Norway ranked highest with 60 percent. The professor reminds us that the happiness ranking doesn't have anything to do with income. When there is a lack of trust in a society, we can't expect a happy society.  
Francis Fukuyama is quoted as saying: "A nation's well being and its ability to compete depend on the level of trust." Even though a nation may be a democracy, the level of trust among the members of that society will determine the prosperity of the country, both in quantity and quality. This trust is not the kind that comes from blood, or locality or school ties, but is the  public trust among the  citizens.

The less trust there is in a society, and the less effort made for advancing the common good, the more conflict and  expense in running the society. There is in such a society, he says, no meaningful growth, only a search for profit with fraud and  betrayal.The  candle-light processions showing disapproval of actions made by the government  in the open squares of our society is a sign of this disquiet.

In a recent press conference the president stated that she is aiming for a per-capita income level exceeding $30,000, to improve the distribution of wealth and the welfare of all citizens, as well as improving the relationship with the North. All well and good, but the professor explains that without trust in the overall intentions of our society, it all becomes a house of cards. The very day she gave her press conference, a group of priests were demanding her resignation, a symbol, says the professor, of the lack of trust in our society. 
The professor concludes on a positive note. The next time he is in an elevator, he says he is going to consider the other elevator passengers as if he were meeting Jesus, and greet them in the same spirit.  In his class he will stress mentioning the names of those whose words they are using in their papers. And a further thought came to him that evening at home: it might be a good idea to get rid of all his name cards. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Our Beautiful Earth

A professor of astronomy gives us a blueprint of the universe to help us to better understand the paradox of what appears to be the sole existence of life (humanity) within an inconspicuous edge of what appears to be a lifeless immensity (the universe). Her reflections on our place within this universe, written up in the Kyeongyang magazine, is a reminder to all of us of a fact we tend to forget: we are not only inhabitants of the earth, but of the universe as well. 

To set the stage, she begins by asking and answering questions we all might have heard in grammar school. She has always been curious, she says, to know more about our planet, other planets and the universe, which prompted her to pursue her curiosity professionally, allowing her to delve more deeply into the subject; she asks us to join with her in this short meditation.

The sun, 49,600,000 km from the earth, is the star of our solar system, with its 8 planets, including the earth, orbiting, with their moons, this one star, our sun. The furthest planet from the sun is 30 times the distance of the earth from the sun, and within the solar system are also asteroids, meteoroids, and comets. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way Galaxy, a speck on the outer edge of the Galaxy.
She reminds herself, and ourselves, that we are one of billions of people on our earth, that our our sun is one star among billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, and that this Galaxy is one among billions and billions of galaxies in the universe, our universe. 

Trying to imagine the distances that makeup such an enormous universe is just too difficult, impossible really; trying to do so makes her dizzy is the way she expresses it. We are a very small  presence in such a universe. When she is asked what she thinks about our earthly affairs, considering the vastness of the universe, she says, she can't help but wonder how ridiculous and pitiful are those who don't  have any qualms in achieving their goals, no matter the means used. Though knowing our smallness, only a speck, and not even a speck, in the universe, our presence here, paradoxically, she points out, is a noble presence.

Our present home, planet earth, is filled with all kinds of life, the only life we now know to exist in the universe. We are unique as humanity: we can make tools and use them--we are life with intelligence. This universe, and we ourselves, were made according to a blueprint of a creator and, by a natural  development, evolved into what we have become today. 
Whatever the  individual belief or scientific viewpoint one may have, one thing is certain: we all share the same global home, a vast universe, in which our collective presence--humanity and all life--in comparison, is infinitesimal but at the same time big with unlimited preciousness. Whether this planet continues to be a comfortable place in which to live or becomes a rudderless ark floating on the endless ocean of the universe will be, she says, for us to decide. How carefully will we take care of, and be concerned with, our humanity, our earth, our universe? Her fervent wish is that we will be more loving in our caring than we have been in the past.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pope Francis' visit to Korea?

We are now awaiting the names of the new cardinals that will be announced this year.  The Korean candidate most likely to be selected is Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, the birthplace of Catholicism in Korea and home to a great many Catholics. The editorial in the Catholic Times gives our Catholics hope that Pope Francis will be coming to Korea this year.

We remember the two trips to Korea of Pope John Paul, in 1984 and 1989. They were times of great grace and influence on the Church, having meaning for all of us.  The first visit commemorated the 200th anniversary of Catholicism in Korea; the second occurred prior to the International  Eucharistic Congress in Seoul. Both visits did much to make Korean Catholicism known in Korea and throughout the world.  His visits also helped the movement for democratization and furthered the growth of Korean Catholicism, as it grew in maturity, increasingly conscious of its place within the universal Church. 

One example of this larger role of the Korean Church can be seen by the hosting, by the diocese of Daejeon, of the Asia Youth Meeting scheduled for Aug.10-20, 2014. This meeting is for Asian youth, unlike the World Youth Day last year in Brazil, which was open to all. It is the hope that Pope Francis will be making the trip for the Asian Youth Meeting, although the bishops have made it clear this has yet to be confirmed. There is also the possibility of the visit coming in October, for the beatification of Paul Ji-chung and 123 others killed in the Byeongin persecution of 1791.

The pope's visit makes us all more conscious of fraternal love for all of humanity, and is a prod to live more fully the Gospel message of Jesus. The words and actions of the pope help us to reflect on some of the more important issues we face in life,,such as the plight of the poor and the mercy we should show for the alienated in society, and the need to sublimate some of our earthly values.

The visit of the pope is not merely a single visit by some famous personage, the editorial reminds us. The pope is the symbol of the Gospel and the message of faith that is being made known throughout society. It doesn't matter when he comes, says the editorial. His visit should energize all of us, within and outside the Church. Be prepared, the editorial advises, to work for a change in our lives. 

Considering the situation in Korea, with the North and South still not talking to each other, a visit from the pope could be a sign to the two Koreas of the need of fraternal charity. With the help of the pope, we could be seeing some visual aids that would help us all to be more conscious of the serious breakdown of goodwill between people and nations. We haven't progressed much since the end of the second world war. Any help along these lines would be welcome news. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism and the Beginning of Ordinary Time

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times begins her column by mentioning a woman who was persuaded by her best friend to go to a Catholic Church for Mass. She had some familiarity with Christianity, having gone to a Protestant Church and studied at their mission middle school, but going to Mass with her friend was her first exposure to Catholicism. 

One day she decided to study for baptism, and was given the name Catherine. The way her friend used to make the sign of the cross before she would eat, the columnist found very moving.  But her friend often was bored by the study, though finally passing the exam and was baptized. On the day of her baptism, she was filled with great emotion and cried.  Her godmother's hands and the cold water on that day, she said, all were warm. The Catholic neighbors from her village came with small gifts, which made for a memorable day. She soon became a devout member of the Church, reading many spiritual books and becoming a member of the Legion of Mary. Her whole family gradually were baptized.

However, the columnist tells us that she has become what is called a "tepid Catholic." Though many reasons for the change can be given, the result was she became like a wilted cucumber, from which all the water had disappeared. She would repeat to herself that she should be going to church, but as the word 'tepid' says, she was neither hot nor cold, just lukewarm, when it came to living her faith. And after missing her first Sunday Mass, it became easy to miss others. The other members of her family soon followed her lead. Even before the sprouts of the faith were allowed to grow, they dried up and died.

The columnist, her friend, tells us that because of different work commitments they were not able to see much of each other, though they did keep in touch over the years. Hearing that her friend was not going to Church gave her a heavy heart, and although she didn't consider her own spiritual condition one that allowed her to speak with confidence, she did feel she should have done more to help her friend with her problems in living her faith life. She did send her a book on the sacraments, hoping it would bring back some of the feelings she had at the time of baptism. These stories of Catholics losing their enthusiasm for the life of a disciple and the accompanying mission work they once considered important are all too common.

This Sunday, marking the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Ordinary Time of the liturgical year, is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the beginning of Jesus' public life and mission. At our baptism, we also become sons and daughters of God and are given the same mission that Jesus was given. We too can repeat the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus spoke at his first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:19), for they also refer to our own mission: To make known "a year of favor from the Lord."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Searching for Harmony

In the spread of communication technology, Korea is at the cutting edge, being a leader in the use of smart phones and high speed wireless internet use. It is, however, in a list of developed countries, close to the bottom in communication skills between individuals.  Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, a college professor, in the field of communication and mass media, discusses this latest revelation concerning how poorly many of us communicate, and the role of trust in achieving better communication skills.

One of the biggest research institutes has reported that Korea ranks as one of the lowest in the trust needed for good communication. Though a leader in the world with equipment for communication, Korea, ironically, is at the bottom when it comes to having the necessary skills to communicate with others. If we want to remedy the situation, the professor says we must find the reason for our lack of communication skills, and how trust is involved in any successful communication.

He recounts what an older academic said at a  meeting of scholars: With a lack of trust, there will be less foresight, a high probability of uncertainty, increasing  anxiety and insecurity. In the end, this will lead to a lack of judgement and communication, which will lead to pushing one's ideas blindly. This is the current situation in the South in relating to the North,  according to the professor.

We all remember vividly the past: the war, the killed and injured, the abuse and condemnations--all factors continuing to build distrust. We have seen better times in our relationship with the North, but at present we have returned to the beginning of the relationship. Not only is there a breakdown of communication with the North but this situation also affects, he says, the relationships we have with one another, in the government and its opposition, in management and labor; also affecting class divisions within society, the intensification of local prejudices, and the widening of the generation gap-- all resulting from the collapse of effective communication.

In 2012 we began to see a desire for better communication, and the topic was being discussed more often, but at present, we have experienced only failure--from the top down, the professor says. Calling the opposition party, for instance, followers of the North is no help in building trust. He refers to advice from Confucius: A leader needs to gain the trust of the people before exercising power;  without this trust the populace will think they are being tormented; when those governing are not in the right, even when they shout their commands, they will not  be followed. 
The article ends with suggestions to improve communication skills.  He lists three factors cited by Aristotle: ethos--the virtue and character of the one speaking; pathos--understanding the situation and the emotional state of those listening; logos-- the words and the way we convey our message. This advice, the professor says, is true for all of us but especially for those in positions of leadership. 
Jurgen Habermas, in his The Theory of Communicative Action, also presents what he considers necessary for rational communication by citing three factors: the subjective, the objective and the social areas of life. In all three areas, he stresses the importance of being completely honest. When the mass media, for instance, is not reporting what people need to know, they are not being honest, they are not following the ethical principles of their profession. When they have their eyes set on the power of government, the owners of big business, and potential advertisers, communication with their readers becomes impossible, and a total breakdown of communication usually results.

In Korea, he believes it has come to a point where our communication is limited to small intimate groups, leading to divisions within all sectors of society. Though the means of communication have increased, the ability to communicate has decreased. Removing this chasm requires building trust and developing harmony between those who are in contending positions. This can be achieved if everyone involved makes a sincere effort to understand the other and work for harmony in society, each sharing their desire to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion.