Friday, February 28, 2014

"For Me There Are Two Heavens"

30 years ago here in Korea 103 Catholics were canonized. At the canonization a priest asked what seemed to be a strange question considering the nature of the event:  "What meaning does this ceremony have for those who have  been dead for many years? " A columnist in the Peace Weekly, who is a close friend of the priest, explores the meaning of the priest's words. At first the words were not understood but over the years he began to understand their meaning: the saints are not being canonized for their benefit but for ours.

This year, 124 of the earliest martyrs will be beatified and, hopefully, Pope Francis will be here for the ceremony; we will know, he says, by the end of March. What meaning does this ceremony have for us? They already have the glory of heaven, he points out. At the canonization or beatification we are only making public what has already taken place.

So what is the meaning to us? He gives us two answers. First, they are our Korean ancestors, persons we can be proud of. Second, we don't want to tarnish their image by the life we are living. We desire to follow their example, living in a way that will be worthy of those who came before us.  And what are the ways we can use to follow their example? Pope Francis has given a way in a recent talk at Mass.

The Pope said not to stand still, encouraging us to keep on walking the life of faith by living with with faith, hope and charity, living like lambs and not like wolves. The columnist understands the Pope's words to mean that we are not to divide our lives into two worlds, separating our daily life from our faith life. They are not separate and should be lived as one life. And lastly, to live our lives with joy, which will naturally occur, he believes, when we live happily.

And how do we live happily? He cites the example of Simon Hwang Il -kwang (1757-1802). He was a member of the lowest class in the Korean Joseon society of that  time. He was a butcher  and considered an outcast, but once he entered the community of faith he was treated like a brother, even by the noble class of society. There were no reservations in their treatment of him which brought a great deal of happiness into his life. He described how he felt:  "For me there are two heavens, the one here on earth and the one that will come after death."

The words of Simon should make us think about the society we are making. Is the breaking down of walls separating us from others an ideal we strive to attain? Or are we satisfied with the polarization of ideology, education and class? Is this just too much of an ideal to have any real merit in our daily lives? We as Christians can easily see the way Jesus related with others no matter their place  in the society of the times. There is always something we can learn from the other, and something we can give the other that will enable us and the other to  grow. But when this door is closed we are hindering the way our society can mature and be open to the  joy that God is offering us.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Experiencing What We Hear

"We are able to  hear only what exists in our own  thoughts."  A priest writing in the Bible & Life magazine gives us an example of how this reality became known to him.  From his pre-school days he often  heard about the Apricot Tower. His brother and sister had often gone to the location for picnics and  writing contests. While in elementary school he finally had the opportunity to go there with his classmates. However, he didn't see any apricots. Maybe, he thought, the Apricot Tower is a mountain full of apricots or a tower made from the wood of the  apricot tree or a mountain resembling an apricot tree. But no matter how hard he tried to find something that resembled an apricot, he could not.

He finally asked the teacher in charge of the outing where could he find the Apricot Tower.  The teacher very kindly pointed to a stone pillar and said: "That is the 'sa il ku' (4-19) Tower.  Even with the words of the teacher he continued to hear the Korean word for apricot: salgu.  He didn't have the courage to ask any further questions. The next day the class submitted their  papers on the day's excursion. The teacher wrote on the margin of his paper: "Not apricot but 'sa il ku' (4-19) Tower. The teacher's  words made no sense to him for he did not know what the 4-19 meant.

On April 19, 1960, a popular democratic student uprising against the Syngman Rhee dictatorship began the first reform movement after the Korean War. It is simply called "April 19".  In Korean, the  month of April is  called the 4th month, so "4-19" would signify the 19th day of April.  In spoken Korean one can hear the word for apricot, if the middle syllable is missing or not heard. This is what the writer was alluding to in his article.  As a child he did not have the necessary information that would  allow him to hear the proper meaning of the words spoken other than the meaning of the word that he did know, which was 'apricot'.

He compares this thinking with our talk about the rainbow. Koreans see 7 colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. But other cultures and times have accepted other colors which he says depends on what  a person has been prepared to see by his learning.

In Mark 8:16 disciples are grumbling that they didn't bring the bread along. Jesus was telling them to guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod but all that the disciples heard was the word 'yeast,'  associating it with bread, and not understanding that Jesus was telling them to be on their guard against the influence of these two groups. The word 'yeast' reminded them of their lack of bread.  But he reprimanded them: "Do you still not see and comprehend?" Because their minds were so taken up with their own material desires and personal ambitions they were unable to hear what Jesus was saying.

In conclusion, he reminds us how the words we hear about love from Jesus may mean  little to us because we have little experience of the love that Jesus speaks about. Without this experience we will have difficulty understanding his words, but be disposed  to doubt, refuse or deny  what we hear. If we are to understand the words of love, we have to experience and learn about them in our own lives.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Facing Issues Without Specialists

Suicide prevention is a topic of great concern to Korean society. And the "Heart and One Body Movement"  of the Seoul diocese has been in the forefront in addressing this urgent issue. As reported in the Peace Weekly, the Heart and One Body Movement is using the principles of Harrison Owen's Open Space Technology to structure their programs, as they did recently in discussions with members of the Legion of Mary.

In one of the first meetings, with more than 50 attending, several suggestions were made, including the need for more education on how to prevent suicides, for more study rooms for children of parents who have to work to support the family, and for children of divorced parents, or wherever conditions exist that lead to neglected children.

The Religious Sister who heads the center for suicide prevention has begun a forum  according to Owen's Open Space principles, which include abandoning the established framework and formalities for such meetings, proceeding without specialists, with an open  forum where a variety of ideas can be expressed as the need dictates, involving issues not easily solved, having high potential for conflict, and requiring an urgent issue--all of which are helpful in motivating the participants.

Sponsored by the One Mind and One Heart Movement the topic at a recent meeting was "What can we do to make our communities secure  from the problems associated with suicide?" The discussion was heated and the following were some of the suggestions offered.

*Why does a person commit suicide?  *Why does a person become lonely? *How can we read the hearts of those who are lonely? *How do we approach a person who is suffering from depression? *How do we go about saying a caring word to those who are lonely? *How do we go about being helpful to those who are lonely? *How to we show love to those who are having difficulty? *How are we to look after children who are neglected? *Should we gather children of the same age into groups?

Using open space technology principles, all participants in the forum were seen to take a lively interest in the discussion, with each participant deciding on some plan of action.  It is not the kind of program that attempts to fill a person's head with knowledge but instead attempts to find within one's self the answers to urgent issues. By hearing a variety of answers that come from personal experience, we are more likely to have a better understanding of what we are capable of achieving in the future.

The climate for the discussions was prepared without specialists with the experience and knowledge of the participants that was consistent with their religious faith. The group was not in any way impeded from coming up with resolutions that were doable, energizing the group to work toward these goals in the future.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Learning from the Olympics

The desk columnist of the Catholic Times shares his thoughts on the recently completed Sochi Olympics. The Olympic games, along with the World Cup, are heavily involved with commercial interests and extreme competition, a fact often criticized by some segments of the population. The games, however, the writer notes, do take us away from the inevitable boredom that creeps into every life, distracting us, and often providing real drama.

The athletes for a period of 4 years are continually practicing, intent on achieving their goal, winning the gold medal. All are working with all the energy they can muster for that one moment of glory. This is the reason we greet them with our applause.

In the Sochi Olympics we saw the Korean Ahn Hyun-soo win the gold for Russia in the short-track speed racing events. Many Koreans applauded Ahn for his victory but at the same time felt a sense of loss. There had been a problem with the skating federation in Korea and  the government-affiliated group, which were responsible, the columnist believes, for his defection, though he admits it was a complicated issue. To continue to skate, doing what he loved to do, Ahn decided to go to Russia,  become a citizen, and race for  Russia. The columnist feels that Korea should have been more understanding and allowed him to skate for his country.

We need to do well whenever we are given the chance, the writer says. Many dramas, songs and books have the theme of failing to do our best when we have the opportunity and regretting it after. Is this not true in the divorces that we see so often? he asks. Even though the separated partners often express no regret for having divorced, he feels this is a lie. When those who were so close and considered each other precious, if they had related with each other differently, it wouldn't have happened, he says.

This can also be seen in the parent-child relationship. When children finally grow up and want to make amends for a difficult family relationship, it is often too late and they are faced with the death of the parents. Wasn't this the case with Peter in the Gospels, he wonders,  when Peter betrayed our Lord and was left with an eternal lasting regret.  Let us do our best, he advises, when we have the chance.

This situation is not any different in the Church community. In the West, Christians are leaving the Church in large numbers, youth are leaving, vocations have dropped, religion no longer interests many of our Christians. On Sundays the churches are empty and there is no guarantee that the Korean Church will not go the way of the West.

The Church in Korea, however, has been blessed. Compared to the West, we have vitality and many vocations to the clerical and religious life. Even though life is busy, the Christians are very active in the life of the Church and are supporting it by their time, effort and prayers.

What is needed is more effort in growing into mature and holy Christians. We have no guarantee that it will remain this way, so he recommends that we deal with the parishioners as brothers and sisters, one by one, to prevent the dissatisfaction that we see in other parts of the world.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Braggart's Disease

When we have a strong desire  to be appreciated and recognized but feel we are not, some of us will resort to the strangest schemes to solve our problem. A bulletin for priests recounts two such schemes, selected from a book of essays the writer had read many years before.

A woman in China who had an exquisite bed wanted to boast about it to the  whole world.  Since it was in her bedroom, showing it off to others would be difficult. She needed to find a way to brag about her bed that would seem reasonable.  She decided to spread the rumor  in the neighborhood that she was sick. This would bring many to her house and bedroom where they would see the bed and envy her. At the same time there was another woman who had a beautiful underskirt and was searching for a way to brag  about it.

Here again, since it was an underskirt she needed to find a way to brag about it without seeming to do so. She had heard about the woman who was sick and decided to visit her, and while there find a way to brag about her underskirt. Two women with the same hidden agenda are about to meet, one wanting to brag about her bed, the other wanting to brag about her underskirt. 

The woman with the underskirt, during the visit, did not ask about the problem the sick woman was having;  she was intent only in showing off her underskirt while she was sitting in the chair by the bed. She looked to see if the woman in the bed was looking at her underskirt. The woman in the bed noticed that the woman didn't show any interest in why she was in bed, and so concluded that she was there to show off her underskirt. The woman with the underskirt realized she hadn't asked the woman in bed the reason for her being in bed, and started showing some interest. The woman in the bed then told the woman with the underskirt that they both had the same disease: the braggart's disease.

This desire to be appreciated, says the writer,  comes from our trying  to free ourselves from the feeling of inferiority, and can bring about many personality problems. When this feeling of inferiority takes over, we become interested in externals, and vanity grows,  which makes for an unhealthy inner life. Instead of living according to our philosophy of life and convictions we are overly  concerned about what others may think about us, which makes it difficult for us to live an authentic life. 

When we look at ourselves with the eyes of faith, however, we notice that we have little to boast about, and are able to see more clearly our weaknesses. Even if we should find that there are things we can be proud of, looking at them carefully we notice that they have not been all our doing, having to acknowledge that we have received help from others, from family, from our environment, from God. With these thoughts we are humbled and begin to see our self more honestly.

"The greatest among you will be he one who serves the rest. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted" (Matt.23:11).


Sunday, February 23, 2014

What the Korean Martyrs Can Teach Us

In one of  Korea's  best selling novels an American is walking on a country road, sometime before the Korean War, when he sees a Korean couple: the man is riding a donkey, the woman walking behind him, puffing. The American asked the man if he knew about the 'ladies first' custom. The man said it was not Korean custom.

After the Korean War, the American returned to Korea and on the same road he met something quite different from what he had seen before the war. The woman was riding a donkey and the man was walking quite a distance behind. Things really have changed in Korea, he murmured to himself. But when he heard the reason for the change, he was stunned speechless.  After the war many still-unexploded land mines were thought to be in the area, and the man was being careful by having his wife go first. In the past, this thinking was expressed in the  short phrase: the domination of man over woman.  In  View from the Ark in the Catholic Times, the columnist, with tongue in cheek, says the men are making a big fuss over the changes.

One humorous story making the rounds, she says, among the many now being heard, is the one about a department store for husbands, where women can go to select the perfect marriage partner. You start on the first floor and proceed from there to the upper floors, each floor having better quality "merchandise" until arriving finally at the top floor, the fifth. 

One day, two women entered the department store. On the first floor, the welcoming sign said that the husbands on that floor had jobs and were good to children.  This was not bad, the women agreed, but they wanted to see what was on the second floor.  Here, they were told the husbands make a lot of money, are good to children and were also good looking. On the third floor, the husbands, besides having the qualities of the husbands on the first two floors, would help in doing the household chores. The husbands on the fourth floor had the qualities of the husbands on the other floors but also possessed romantic personalities. The two women, still not satisfied, were now set for seeing what 'jackpot' awaited them on the fifth floor, feeling their high expectations were soon to be realized. The sign on the fifth floor said: "Better to live alone. You want too much."

The columnist reminds us that women in the patriarchal society of the past greeted Catholicism with great hope: Before God all were equal. This teaching was felt by many as freeing the souls of our women. In the new list of those to be beatified, 24 of the 123 are women. She feels we need more stories telling us about our women martyrs.

One of these martyrs is Kang Wan-suk (Columba) who  was a leader in the early years of the Church in Korea. She was subjected 6 times to the leg-screw torture (a twisting of the legs with two sticks inserted between them). They wanted to find out where the Chinese priest Fr. Chu Mum-mo was hiding. She never uttered a word. When she heard of his death, she wrote her reminiscences and gave it to a Christian, but this has been lost. She died by beheading at the age of 40.

In Korea today there is of course no fear of dying like the martyrs but we can live, she says, with the same spirit of humility and emancipation.  Before blaming another, she urges us to look deeply at ourselves. And as a seeker after truth give thanks for everything, helping those who are struggling in our society. Isn't this the proper way, she asks, to live the spirituality of the ancient martyrs in each day of our lives in the 21 century?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Understanding the Culture of the Internet

On the subways almost everybody is busy with their smartphones, the ever present sign of the digital world we are now living in. A marriage of digital technology and the new media. The results of this marriage make possible a wide range of personal relationships and creativity never before even imagined. Thanks to digital technology we are being tied together, willingly or not, by accessing, via computer, the world wide web. The smartphone has become for many another appendage to the body.

A priest who has studied  mass media and religion reflects, in his column in the Catholic Times, on the social  results of this digital world. Anything that comes to us as new has as its foundation, he points out, something from the past which has made it possible. What is totally new, he says, can't produce anything meaningfully new; mixing two things completely new and presenting them to the public will, he believes, only be greeted with perplexity.  Consequently, the inventor has to prepare the public to receive the new product. Apple, the computer manufacturer, prepared their advertising to make their ground-breaking products readily acceptable to the public.

In a word, the new media is not something completely new. Within it, we have the technology from the past: the button and the switch, which enables us to move to a new step in the evolution of the media. Although it may present some initial problems, we are soon able to follow the changes that are taking place.

We may use the new technological improvements but their  implications and actual reality is something else. If someone spends the whole day in front of the monitor shopping, he is not necessarily knowledgeable about the internet. The office worker seated before a monitor all day long also may know little about how the internet works. Being able to use the internet, as consumers, does not necessarily mean understanding the internet. Those who are managing the internet are supplying us with what we want, and they want us to use what is offered, the priest says, and not to bother to look any deeper.

We can try to get to know what is going on but it is very difficult for most of us. What we can't overlook is what has led up to the new media. Besides being an industry, technology, content, an aspect of the culture it is a text we have to decode. In conclusion it is the enviroment in which we live.
Those working in the  media, however, are busily and continually reading us, intent on learning our preferences. "Would you possibly be interested in this article?" and similar queries often appear unbidden on our computer screens. Media's ability to determine our preferences can give us goosebumps.

It is now time for us to read what they are about--from being read to reading them.

Friday, February 21, 2014

K- pop And Meaning

K-pop is the abbreviation for Korean popular music. A priest studying overseas writes in his diocesan bulletin about the popularity of this mixed music genre: electronic, hip hop, pop, rock, and rhythm and blues, with its high spirits, catchy rhythm and well-done  choreography. Not only is K-pop popular in Japan, China and throughout South Asia but it has spread to Europe and the United States. 

He recalls a time last year when one of these K-pop songs caused a great sensation, becoming extremely popular. It had a lively rhythm, was easy to sing, and the choreography was comical. The vocalist, with   show-stopping attire, caught people's attention. Walking the streets of the city, you would hear the song coming from  many different places. The lyrics were easy to remember, and without  paying much attention to the song, he found himself muttering the words to himself. Later, he checked to see if the words were saying anything; there was, he said, no meaning he could make out, though the rhythm was lively and full of fun.

There is no intention, he says, to criticize the vocalists who sing such songs, but when songs have no discernible meaning but are entertaining only because of their lively rhythm and appealing choreography, it may tell us, he says, something about the culture we are making. Are we losing the desire to search for meaning? he asks. Isn't this the tendency we are seeing in our society today?

The songs we remember from the past, our best-loved songs, are the ones with meaning. Anything with meaning, not only songs, continues to remain in our memories. Nowadays, it seems that whatever is lively or interesting or entertaining is enough to grab our attention.

When teaching  students in his Sunday school program, he often hears the phrase "This is not fun; I don't like doing it." If we attempt to find meaning in what we do, without making it also entertaining, the chances are, he says,  that our students will not want to do it.

The mass media gives us many cultural ways of enjoying ourselves. The variety of entertaining possibilities are countless but if that is all we are looking for, we are missing a great deal. Before asking: Is that amusing and fun, we should ask what meaning could it have for me?  More important than looking for amusement and fun would be to look for what is long-lasting and profitable.

An objective, abiding meaning that can be discerned in life events is frequently thought not to exist; for many of us everything has merely short-term meaning. Trying to discover a more lasting meaning is considered illusion. The attempt is often made to fill the emptiness that comes with these thoughts with fun, entertainment and pleasure, only to finally realize their changing and impermanent nature, returning us once again to the emptiness.

The on-going search for meaning in our lives is essential. Those with some type of belief that enables one to continue searching will not be disappointed. A good book that has influenced many in their search for meaning is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Trust Between Generations

The first step in mutual understanding, says a college professor, is to realize that others  may not know the same things you do. Asked by an elementary school teacher to speak to her class, he talked to them about the war between North and South Korea, which began, he noted for the benefit of the class, on June 25, 1950. He was surprised that the students commented on his remembering the date but they knew nothing about the war. How could they not know about the war? he wondered.

This year new students, born around the year 1995, will be entering his college class. What kind of introduction will he prepare for the course they will begin? If what is said does not register with them, they will be perplexed. Just one generation away from their present reality may be all that is necessary for not understanding what many take for granted. This is not the students fault, he says; it is something that has been true in the past for all generations.

Whether teaching the younger generation as students, as workers, or dealing with them in other capacities, it is necessary to acknowledge, he says, the inevitable  gap that exists in Korea between the generations, a feeling of distance that  can give rise to distrust. Moreover, the pace of change in Korea has been one of the fastest in the world. Consequently, the older generation sees the younger generation as thoughtless, and the younger sees the older as "old fogies."  He admits that he has also spoken to these "old fogies" himself without the openness he felt he should have had. But it was, he admits, his way of feeling comfortable with them. 

This kind of relationship--where we lack the desire to communicate and the generation gap only allows us  to relate with others as strangers so as not to confront honestly and openly with one another--will it not, he asks, make this society a living hell? A  society that has lost its reason and trusts only in strength only adds, he believes, to the ill  feelings between classes. In a  recent survey among 21  developed countries  53 percent said they would have to take responsibility for their old age. The highest percentage of all the countries. Expectations on a nation's welfare system and trust in the government was one of the lowest of all the countries and he does not see this as  a sign of the elders' spirit of independence. Nor do we have the younger generation feeling the burden of taking care of the older generation. There is no feeling of solidarity between the generations.

Openness between the generations is absent, and it is the older generation, he believes, that has to first  extend their hand. They have to understand the current of the times, the young people's sensibilities and worries. The older generation needs to show the younger generation that they are interested  in having a meaningful encounter with them, and make all the efforts necessary to rid themselves of the obstacles to such an encounter. Kindness shown the younger generation, says the professor, will likely be returned in kind. Without this effort nothing will change.

Pope Francis has used the phrase 'the culture of encounter': "People express themselves fully only when they are not merely tolerated but know they are truly accepted." Opening ourselves to the other should be a mark of all of us. It would do much to change the society we live in.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Making Our Lives a Poem

In the Taegu diocesan bulletin a priest introduces us to a poem by  Sister Lee Hae-in:  "May my prayer to you be like a  poem/ May all my days by resting in you/ become more pleasing with the passage of time/ like the words of a poem/ At times unsuitable words were used/ May I  have the courage to get rid of them/replaced by the beautiful words of a poem I want to live by."

From a very early age, the priest has been attracted to poetry. Reading poetry was, for him, he says,  like taking  a bath, his spirit was refreshed. It was like washing away the  accumulated dirt on the soul, his head and heart becoming clear. His desire is that his life be like a living  piece of poetry.

The Korean poet Ku Sang said "Poetry has to be  part of society." Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese artist, poet and writer (1883-1931) had this to say about poetry "There are beautiful poems given to us / When we are able to sing those poems / we have God's sufficient protection." The paralyzed Korean poet Lee Sang Youl said in one of his poems "Let  Brahms' music flow in our lives/ and let us fill our lives/ with the paintings that show/ the passion and leisure of Gauguin." There needs to be poetry in our lives, the priest says. When we are able to live like a piece of poetry, we will have the leisure and passion to live a more fulfilling life. Poetry is beautiful, aromatic and gives light; it charms and has zest. Is there anything better than that?  he asks.

At the ordination of priests in the diocese he had the occasion to be present at one of the ordination ceremonies.  In his talk to the priests he used the poem of Sister Lee and  told the priests to make their lives like a poem: as beautiful and as fragrant as a poem, and to get rid of anything that is unnecessary in presenting the beauty of our lives.  He asked them to be like a poem: simple, with nothing unnecessary. It is then that we will have a beautiful piece of poetry, often having to become small and poor, sitting in the last place. The best living poem, the one with the most fragrance. has been the life of Christ as given to us in the Gospels.

The article concludes with his hope that this ideal will also be the dream of all of us: to become a living poem as  Christ has been. There are many who are living, he believes,  this kind of life in the world today. He wants Christians to hold this up as an ideal. We don't want to be giving off the aroma that comes with an improper attachment to the world, but the aroma that comes from a closeness with Jesus and the Gospels.

Jesus came to give us extraordinarily high ideals: "Be perfect like your heavenly Father." You can't beat that as an ideal. We all fall short, obviously, and the solution is not to jettison the ideal, but to keep on working and expecting help from the one who loves us and gives us help. As Catholics, the ideals are high but the mercy shown can be described  as equally high,  provided we don't give up on our ideals. And we should not forget that the results  wash away the dirt, giving a new fragrance to the  gift of  life we  have been given.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Catholicism as Seen by Society in Korea

Polls,surveys, and questionnaires are not always the best way of knowing how a particular group, society or organization is seen by the public but it does tell us something which is of value.

Catholicism is still seen by the ordinary Korean  as the religion which has the most trust.  A Protestant research group made a survey of a thousand citizens according to the percentages in which they are in society. Of the 1000, 10.1 percent were Catholics, Protestants numbered 22.5 percent, Buddhists, 22.1 percent, and non- believers 48 percent.  The number of Catholics had the lowest number of participants but the Catholics had the highest number of those who found Catholicism trustworthy, because 32.7 percent of the non-believers gave Catholicisms high marks.

What some found of interest was that 13.3 percent of the Buddhists and 11.9 present of the Protestants thought Catholicism most worthy of trust. 88.7 percent of the Catholics  considered their religion  the most trustworthy of the religions, the highest of any group. Protestantism was 75 percent and Buddhism was 69.5 percent.

Catholicism did come out as the religion with the most trust but  there was a drop of 11.9 percent from 41.1, compared to 2009.  During  this same period of time the Protestants rose 1.3 percent.

Recently the question of religion and politics was acute and 74 percent of the respondents were against the religious  participation in politics. Only 23.1 percent were in favor. Of the Catholics 76.7 percent were against participation. The professor responsible for the survey said one of the reasons for the decline would be the Catholic priests disputing the Northern Limit Line ( NLL  the maritime waters that separate the  North from the  South). The survey was taken shortly after the the opinion of the priests was made public.

The religion that has been most evolved in service to the public was Protestantism with 35.7 percent.  Catholicism was 29.3 percent and Buddhism was 13.2  percent. Catholicism dropped from 37.9 percent in 2010  to 29.3 percent.  Protestantism stayed pretty much where it was in 2010.

The whole idea of what is meant my participation in politics is not clear, but what is clear is Catholics either do not understand what it means to participate in society or they do not like the way it is done. Since you have such a high number of Catholics who do not appreciate what they see is reason enough to try to make some distinctions so that work for justice remains more than praying for justice.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dealing With Difference of Opinion

Differences of opinion have always been part of the world scene, and Catholicism has not been spared. From the time of Jesus there have been plenty of verbal clashes, some of which have developed into great crises for the Church. We should not be surprised at this or see it as abnormal, but work always toward finding unity. To succeed in this difficult endeavor requires a willingness to communicate with those we disagree with. The Church, over the last 2000 years, has learned that lesson well. 

In a democracy, there is the freedom to express our opinions peacefully,  and expressions of conflicting opinions are all protected by law. What should not be condoned are acts of violence.

A journalist for the Catholic Times reports on two Masses that were said during which priests and lay Catholics gathered together to show dissatisfaction with the interference of the government with the presidential elections of 2012. Catholics, members of conservative civil groups, disrupted the Mass by yelling and fighting with those who were attempting to have them stop. At one of the Masses, when they began to interrupt the sermon, a fight broke out at the door of the church.  Chaos developed and, using abusive language, one of the group grabbed  the collar of a priest who was trying to break up the squabble and spun him around.

There are many ways of living peacefully with others, engaging in dialogue, trying to search for the truth together, the journalist noted, is one good way. Such communication is understood by all to start with a willingness to accept  truth and abandon prejudices and ignorance whenever they are clearly shown to exist in the process of communication. This will require humility and sincerity from everyone, which we should expect from Christians.

There are many who work with conflict resolution and transformation. In this age of enlightenment and the widespread dissemination of knowledge, it would seem that we should be open to ways of working toward a common understanding of truth, while decreasing the areas of conflict. But this requires engaging with others in searching for the truth. Religion may be one of the few areas where we have begun to speak to each other with respect, as we search for a better understanding of each others' position.

We are all familiar with the quote from Pope Paul VI, who said "If you want peace work for justice." Many of those who have difficulty with Catholicism go back in history to select events where the Church did not act in the way she wants to act today. Violence was a part of history and the Church was a part of that history. The Church has also learned a great deal from history and today it speaks forcibly about the need to desist from violence. The disruption at a Mass by Catholics, the journalist points out, is an affront to God and he hopes the Catholics responsible will come to see that such actions have no place in an ordered civil society, especially when perpetrated by Christians.            

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Overcoming Difficulties

On the opinion page of the Peace Weekly is a column by the four-fingered pianist Lee Hee-ah (Hyacintha), who writes about how she copes with physical disability and discrimination.

I love baby Jesus, she begins, because, like me, he is small. He was born in a manger so all could  touch him. The angels sang: "Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests." God was not loving those who live in palaces, she points out, but the shepherds in the  fields.

Some months ago a writer from a Korean TV station came to see me, she says. Years ago when I was in elementary school, he made a documentary about me titled: "I Can Do It." The documentary moved the hearts of  many. This time he is writing a book about what people would like to have inscribed on their tombstones. The inscription I would like is "I am small but happy." Usually, journalists who interview me ask: what makes me sad.  Though six of my fingers are missing and I'm short and have low intelligence and people make fun of me--all of which is true. I have not once been sad because of those things.

Because my mother has 6 more fingers than I do is no concern to me.  I thank God for the two fingers on each hand that I have.  I wrote in my diary, when I was in the third grade, that those four fingers were my treasure.  Because I do not have any legs and am small of stature does not make me sad.  My best fans are the children I can look at face to face, and share my love with them, which gives me great joy.

Because of my low intelligence, I can't use figures well, but that isn't a problem. I have other ways of handling that issue. When I go overseas with my mother, she has difficulty with jet lag, but since I have no interest in numbers, when I finish the performance, I go to bed and wake up at dawn. I thank God for this.

Since my features are different from others, they call me an alien, a monster, scissor-fingers, crab hands, but when children make fun of me with these names, I do not become upset. Children are honest; they express what they  see.  My appearance is unique, which draws  attention, but I am thankful for what I do have, for I am able to make God better known.

I have been given the ability to love myself with a joyous heart; I am happy for that. I have a beautiful voice with which I can praise God  and transmit his words; I am happy also for that. Since I am small like baby Jesus, people can easily approach me to hug me. I am able to deal with  pain  and endure the difficulties that come. And I give thanks to God that those who come to see me play only because of my disability may often leave encouraged to accept more willingly their own difficulties. 

Each day at three o'clock I  pray the mercy prayer, and thank sinless Jesus for the passion that he suffered, which enables me to endure all the difficulties I have experienced because of his great love.

Jesus, the  light of mercy, has taken this small pianist, Hyacintha, as his bride. I take you, the baby Jesus, as the one who loves me, who being small, and I being small can more easily share our love for one another. With my small body and soul, I can offer everything  to God, my father. This gives me joy and happiness.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Making the Truth Known

The freedom to express ourselves freely in a democratic society is taken for granted. Also often taken for granted is the freedom given the mass media to portray sex, love and romance in any manner it pleases, which, according to a  specialist in the field, frequently means indulging in outright lies. He presents his views in a recent issue of the Inchon diocese Catholic bulletin. 

Though there is no way we can censor or force our opinions on others, nor should we want to, he says what we need to do is have the necessary  knowledge, maturity and  courage to distinguish between what is good and what is bad, what is for the common good of humanity and what is not. Because the mass media has such a great influence in modern societies, we need to be especially careful, he says, in making judgments based on what we see, hear and read.

The way the mass media handles matters of sex is obviously creating problems for faithful Christians. Seeing sex as only a tool for pleasure  is very strong in our society. There is a desire on the part of many for more education on sex which today often means: pleasurable and safe sex, using all the tools necessary to prevent pregnancy. "Isn't everybody doing it" is the common refrain; are we are not, many are saying, living in the new age?

The methods used to convey this message are top of the line: contents are beautifully constructed, well explained, and the contexts are  made attractive, which explains the success of this lax and false mindset concerning sex for the last 50 years. Our specialist would like more help available to young people, particularly by educating for media literacy. Ways have to be found, he says, to teach young people the truth about such an important matter.

He refers to a movie popular some years ago, Speedy Scandal. The movie tells the story of a high school student, an unmarried mother with a son, who is a piano prodigy. She herself has dreams of being a successful vocalist, and when finally achieving her dreams is shown as supremely happy--all of it entertainingly presented.  Over 8 million Koreans saw the movie. But is this how it is in real life? he asks. Is this what most of the unmarried mothers experience in our Korean society? Isn't it more of a lie than it is a truthful representation of life?

It is easy for our young people to see the merely physical aspect of sex and to internalize what they see. The attractive person on the screen had an easy and successful time with her unmarried state and her life with her son. This is the message that is conveyed, but the truth has to be done in a similarly attractive way, which is not easy. The way to deal with lies is to tell the truth. What happens to those who become pregnant in middle and high school has to be conveyed.

He mentions that he finds this kind of movie sinful because they are doing much harm to society. The commercial world of images is not the world we live in. The re-constructed world they present in movies, dramas and music videos often only show us the intentions, goals and values of their creators. Educating for media literacy would show the difference between this world of fantasy and the real world. The fantasy world of sex in the media needs to be exposed and this task, he believes, is the mission of our age.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Power of Words to Change Hearts

In the editor's column of the Peace Weekly, a member of the editorial staff reflects on his work as a writer, which includes reading the articles and columns of others; they give him, he says, an appreciation  of much good, useful and stimulating writing.

Often the readers of the Peace Weekly are also the writers he reads. We have a natural tendency, he says, to believe that good articles are written  by good people.  However, it is not rare that those who write good things are not doers of the good things they write about. This is seen most often in journalists who make their living by writing, he says. To put it simply, those who write are often not living in the manner they encourage their readers to live. The writing is one thing; the life they lead is another, neither one having much influence on the other.

When writing an article, he admits that there have been not a few times that he felt uneasy and even embarrassed by what he wrote, but he gave himself high points for the quality of the writing. His excuse? He says he was at least trying to live in the way he wrote.

The Peace Weekly, in a contest for its readers, asked them to submit articles on their faith experiences. 125  were submitted, all of which he read. These were for the most part not written by competent writers,  and much effort was needed in reading them; the expressions were awkward, the line of thought did not always follow coherently, nor were they expressed smoothly. The writers were for the most part amateurs at writing. He realized, however, that writing was only one means of expressing what was felt inside, and the lack of ability to write did not prevent them from expressing what they felt. Truth gave them the strength, he says, to attempt to express what even the best of writers would have difficulty in expressing. 

There were more than a few pieces that caused him, he said, to bow his head, tears coming to his eyes. It was a lesson that clearly showed  him that what is written can mirror the heart and mind of the person writing. There was one common note in all the different pieces, he said. It was the experience of pain, either of the  body or the soul.  They accepted it as if directly from God and through the pain they were able, they said, to encounter God, and by faith to overcome the pain. Whether they  recovered from the sickness or not was not their biggest concern. Their encounter with God was what was important. The encounter was healing for the soul, even if it never manifested in the body.

Granted that this is true, there are few people who want the physical pain.  The columnist said he received much consolation from reading the submitted contest articles.  In his own life there would be little usable material, he says, for a story about a faith experience. His life has gone along rather smoothly, for which he is thankful. In the future, if he is faced with suffering, will these difficulties, he asks himself, be shortcuts in meeting God?  Can't we consider them a grace?  He doesn't know when this will come, if it ever does, but he feels he has received a form of immunization by his reading.

The readings have helped him to see that God is closest to those in pain. He thanks all who have submitted their stories and for allowing him to see in their material how another's faith experience, when expressed from the heart, can bring the one reading in closer contact with his own heart, with his own spirituality. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Confucian Civility

The columnist in the Peace Weekly writes about an unnerving event that occurred recently in an elegant hotel. She had invited someone to join her for an evening meal at the hotel dinning room. Everything was proper, the waiters looked and acted appropriately, when suddenly, within this atmosphere of elegance, a woman entered the room leading a child by the hand and dressed in pajamas. The columnist confesses that at some level of consciousness she was concerned about the impression this would make on her dinner guest. The woman who came into the dinning room with her nightclothes was giving, she felt, a distorted image of the Korean culture, though the  possible affect on the persons in the dinning room, apparently was of little concern to the woman. 

Considering the cultural standards of our country, can we be unconcerned, the columnist asks, about the  clothes we are wearing? Should we be unconcerned, for instance, if we see someone riding in an elevator, with a bucket of garbage, dressed in pajamas, or walking in their pajamas in the  corridors, or climbing the stairs, smoking? We have a tendency, she says, to overlook the connection of civility with the clothes we wear.

In Confucianism, the Chinese character 'Ye' 禮 (On the left is the icon for heaven and on the right a container on a table filled with food from the harvest which is being offered to heaven) has many English expressions: social custom, manners, courtesy, rites, propriety, politeness. (I would also add 'civility'.) In Confucian philosophy,  'Ye' refers to an important means of keeping order in society. It is the strength that supports society and guarantees support for our  place in society. Confucius, the columnist says, stressed the importance of 'Ye'  to his son. A person, he said, that does not know 'Ye' will find it difficult to put down roots into his society.  'Ye' is the stepping stone that keeps us rooted firmly in the relationships in which we find ourselves.  It is the way we practice 仁: the character for benevolence. ( A man on the left, two  on the right, the relationship between human beings, in other words, humaneness.) 

She tells us that Confucianism teaches children from an  early age that what is not 'Ye' should not be seen, heard, said or done. She does say that this seems difficult to do but the intent is to bring all our behaviors under the guidance of 'Ye' wherever we may be.

In society a person who only considers himself is not going to be liked. Basic to 'Ye' is to have a concern for others, which also includes, she says, being concerned about how the clothes we wear in public will affect others. The columnist feels that this concern should be a  duty of all adults in society. The clothes we wear are going to determine, she believes, how we will be received by others. She hopes adults    will explain this to the younger generation. 

This kind of talk is not easily understood outside of an Asian culture, for informality is for many a virtue, and in the West we like to show our creativity by not following the customs we have inherited. Civility is another area of life that an Asian would be more sensitive than those in the West, but this is changing; the influence of the West has already done much to change the thinking of many in Korea.

The influence that 'Ye' has had on Catholicism is  easily seen by attending a Mass in a Korean Church. Understanding  'Ye' as etiquette and civility and as an example of the Golden Rule are all part our Christian heritage.  Pope Leo XIII is quoted as saying: "Civility and urbanity in customs strongly predispose minds to attain wisdom and to follow the light of truth."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Searching for Wholeness

A priest takes as his subject, in a recent issue of the Kyeongyang magazine, the healing of the whole person. With extensive experience in counseling, he is now helping those in need at a retreat center. The aim of counseling, he says, is to encourage mental and spiritual healing.

Many advances have been made in the field of psychology, however,  clinical studies have not discovered any one particular method that is more successful than any other. The reason for this difficulty, he believes, is that from the beginning there was a failure in not seeing the troubled person as a whole person. From his perspective, he feels most counselors have left out the spiritual dimension.

The person, he reminds us, is made up of body, mind and spirit. Besides the psychological needs, there are spiritual needs and bodily needs--all of which must be considered. There is a mutual correspondence between the spiritual and the psychological. We need  psychological help to grow in  spiritual self-renunciation and in transcendence.

The first requirement, he says, is to discover who we are as persons. St. Paul tells the Christians "May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire: spirit , soul and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Thess. 5:23). Customarily, we are content to split a person into a soul and body dichotomy. What we see is the body, the external dimension, and what we don't see is the internal dimension, the soul. In a way, this view is correct, he says, but it is not what we learn from revelation: What makes us who we are and forms our personality are the body and the  mental faculties, our feelings, thoughts, judgments, reasoning, and will. The spiritual dimension allows us to know God, to become intimate with him, and to have life in him.

The maturity of a human being relies on the development of the whole person. "Grace builds on nature" is a maxim that comes down to us from the  Scholastic period. God meets us according to where we are in our present mental and spiritual maturity, meaning our natural and psychological  dimensions. The Holy Spirit works in harmony with our human development, whatever that development might be, in giving us his graces. This does not rule out a person having a distorted type of spirituality: cliquish and divisive, or with a fundamentalist and fanatical attitude, which are signs of immaturity.

A person with a mature Christian spirituality discovers in God who they are, and through the self discovers God. In the Scriptures we are told what a mature spirituality is "...till we become one in faith and, in the knowledge of God's Son, form that  perfect man who is Christ come in full stature" (Eph. 4:13).
Truth is achieved through body, mind and spirit. A Christian does not separate these three. We work to unite the three in a harmonious whole. However, growth in one area does not mean we will necessarily have growth in the other. We will never be satisfied in our spiritual growth.

How does God draw us to him? And how does he love us? are questions we will continue to ask ourselves. But when we realize that God is always working with his Spirit in our lives, we will have an integral  appreciation  of our reality. We then will have the right holistic relationship with our psychological make up, with our work, with others, with our material existence, and with all of existence. Spirituality includes all of this, and not only during our time in prayer, worship and religious exercises.  God works in all that we do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Steps Towards Christian Unity

Christians, making up about one-third of the population in Korea, are the largest religious group in the country, though including many varieties of beliefs. The editorial in the Catholic Times mentions that the efforts to overcome these divisions have been far from satisfactory. One of the biggest obstacles  is the competition to gain more adherents.

Christianity has grown and continues to grow, but instead of experiencing unity and cooperation among the various Christian faiths, more attention is given to increasing numbers, stressing the differences and considering other Christians as belonging to another religion, further separating Christian from Christian.

The aim of Christianity is to be of service to the world but the archbishop of Gwangiu, the president of the Episcopal Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue, mentioned in his sermon at the prayer meeting of 11 religious groups: "We are more interested in increasing the numbers of our congregations, which we are able to see, than making the God we can't see known. We need to ponder if we are not intent in getting glory for ourselves."
The divisions among the Christians is not only a problem in evangelization but also very much contrary to the essence of Christianity.  When we are not able to treat each other as brothers and sisters, we can't expect to speak convincingly to the larger society about the need for harmony and cooperation.

During the Unity Octave, 11 religious groups did get together to talk about the   problems that prevent closer cooperation among the various groups. It was agreed that discussions in the future on achieving unity would be more theologically based than they have been in the past. And there was also agreement that not only should there be concern for all the religious groups in the country but there should be concern as well for the society at large, so that we all can work together toward the common good. This would be a sign to all of how earnest the Church is in its service to society.

The Apostolic Delegate, in his remarks to the group, said "We need to respect the gifts that God has given to others and, while remaining close to our beliefs and our mission, prayerfully search for the unity that Christ wants us to achieve."
The is the first time the religious groups have come together to prepare prayers and a common paper for the Unity Octave, a good omen that the work for unity will continue in the future. What is desired is difficult, but the intention expressed by all of working toward the goal, stressing the need for cooperation, should give us hope for the future.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Education in Search of Wisdom

During a college lecture a professor mentioned that over 10 percent of the students in his class habitually nod off to sleep. High school teachers, with words of condolence, said this should  not cause excessive grief,for in their classes only 10 percent  are listening. It is easy to see those who have given up on their classes: they are the ones with their head down on the desk, preferring to do academy work, or to read a book.

After exams many of the classes are no longer devoted to study but to watching videos or some other pastime. A professor working in the research center of the Catholic University writes, in the Kyeongyang magazine, about the difficulties in educating our students in today's world. Teachers are not to be  blamed, she says, and then she goes on to discuss some of the reasons why this is so. 

Most school curricula are devoted to following the standards set by the government.  Only about 10 percent of school time is spent in creative activities. There has been a change, she says, in recent years but still the amount of study is still small. She believes the education is geared to give them capabilities that will be helpful for the future but she would like more time spent on studies that answer the needs of the students, such as: What do they like...What do they want to study...What are their goals in life...Who am I? Time now spent in these pursuits, she says, is not sufficient.

In elementary school, when students are asked to pick a crayon to color with, you usually find most students looking at the students next to them to see what they have selected. When asked to write about what they want to do in the future, they will usually ask their father for help in deciding. Students mostly don't know what they like and what they are good at. This is not an easy matter to settle, she admits, and even at this stage in her life she says it may take a life time to find out. But efforts have to be made, she insists, to allow students the time to reflect on these important personal matters. 
She feels that knowing oneself is necessary if we are going to love who we are. Asking ourselves questions will help in the process: What are my strong points and their limits? Why am I happy or angry or don't like to study? Why do I dislike it when the teacher talks to my friend? and similar questions. This kind of teaching is available, she admits, but it is taking time away from the regular schedule; even the parents do not understand the need for this.

Parents are willing to do everything for the happiness of their children. And yet they do not ask their children what will make them happy. Isn't this the reason our children and young people, when judged by the index of subjective happiness, are ranked so low compared to other countries? 

She quotes a saying she once saw and liked: "Happiness comes when we get rid of the reasons for our unhappiness, and then, though indirectly, we will attain the fruits of happiness. This will require looking at ourselves honestly and not deviating from the desire to attain our goal." She  herself does not have the happiness and peace she wants, she says. That is why she likes the quote's motivating message, and why she wants her students to have time to reflect on who they are.

The words from Wisdom 6:12 gives her courage: "Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.  She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of our desires; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Contemplation's Place in Prayer

It is said that "we pray as we live and we live as we pray." Vocal prayer uses words, meditative prayer thought, and contemplative prayer, love. A seminary professor of spirituality, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, discusses how contemplative prayer is to be understood by Catholics. It is particularly important today, he believes, that we call on our traditional prayer resources to ask for divine assistance in dealing with living in the most unchristian of times.

Often prayer is not the means of knowing, loving and being more like God but rather as a means to be more successful in our lives. This is, he says, the reason we have to examine carefully our faith life and prayer.

Contemplation comes from the Latin verb 'contemplari,' meaning to discover the will of God and use all our energies in gazing and beholding him. As a Christian, through intuition, we first become aware of  God's presence and then gaze upon him with love. It is not a simple gazing, he says, but one that calls forth admiration and a joy that clasps our souls, followed by knowledge. Contemplation is the love-filled gaze of God and the things of God that absorb our attention. The Catholic Catechism (# 2724) describes it as "...the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love."

There are many varieties of contemplative prayer, but the writer focuses on two: acquired and infused contemplation. As the words imply, the former develops from our efforts, and the latter is given to us as a gift from God.

With contemplation, our life becomes more passive, but not completely, for with the prayer we become more personally intimate with God; we strive to accommodate ourselves more to the way God is calling us to himself by practicing the virtues, by imitating the life that Jesus has shown us.

With our ordinary meditative practices, often called mental prayer, we tend to see little improvement but with the graces of contemplation, we grow closer to Jesus. There are those who see prayer as psychological, others who search for a mental and emotional state of emptiness from which to prayer, but what is forgotten is that prayer comes with the help of the Holy Spirit and not only with our efforts. We are to get rid of our individual egoism, which is a great obstacle in getting closer to God.

"The love of God, the sole object of Christian contemplation, is a reality which cannot be mastered by any method or technique. On the contrary, we must always have our sights fixed on Jesus Christ, who went to the cross for us and there assumed even the condition of estrangement from the Father." --Letter to the Bishops on Meditation  #31.

By our practice of contemplation, we are more closely united to God and our understanding of ourselves; the world is more understandable and clearer, and we are better able to know our roles in society. This is to be discovered not only in the time of prayer but during every day of our lives.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Humble Enough To Be Corrected

The columnist in View from the Ark recalls the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis Tennessee in 1968 and the riots and violence that followed. Jane Elliott a third grade elementary school teacher embarrassed and angered, devised a very simple experiment with her students which the columnist briefly describes. Her experiment is written up in the book Blue and Brown Eyes.

Jane, told the students that they would be two groups in the class. The  blue eyed students would wrap a cloth collar around the brown eyed students. They would be treated as inferior and the blue eyed be given privileges. It was an exercise to understand how you feel when you are the object of discrimination. The next day it was the brown eyed students that would be the superiors and the blue eyed the inferior ones, and given the treatment the blacks received.

It was only done for two days but the children quickly  grasped and internalized what was to be done and even though artificially manipulated  those  discriminating felt  joy and those who received the discrimination felt great anguish and pain.

The columnist is using an article that was written on this issue of  discrimination in one of the daily papers. This kind of experiment is very dangerous admits the columnist for the chances  of being hurt seriously is not missing. And Jane Elliott also admitted that  it would be nice to have another way of bringing about the same kind of  learning.

In this experiment  those who participated and those who viewed it all were moved deeply. Words, no matter how well chosen do not  have the same effect as when you bodily experience  discriminating and being  discriminated. The  artificiality with the  experiment was not accepted well by the  adults when they were asked to participate in the exercise. After a couple hours the exercise  was discontinued. Once seeing the injustice they don't want to participate.

Bias more than a  reason for prejudice, is  often the results. Bias narrows our vision of the world  and makes it smaller, but prejudice  cripples the other which makes it much more harmful. The columnist said after reading the book Blue and Brown Eyes she compared it with the society in which she lives. Even the artificial exercise was considered dangerous by some, how about the the gap between the rich and the poor, status  in society, religion, political positions, personalities, appearances and the like. Don't we see how the bias and prejudice that we come in contact daily is affecting many in society?

Any arbitrary differences on which we base our
prejudice,  for the most part, is not reasonable or has any foundation. Race, color of skin, religion, we know where to stand. However, a little difference in opinion  and  right away we ticket the person as a follower of the North. Isn't this a sign of prejudice? Important for us is to give heed to the words of others who make known the prejudice that this shows, and become aware  of it. We have to revisit the Golden Rule and make it a living part of our life.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Living At A Slower Pace

"Let us live each day twice" was the headline of a recent article in the Kyeongyang magazine in which a university professor mentions  the way many of the Indian Tribes in the Americas considered the month of February.  She reflects on the Mohawk  people's understanding of the month as the 'slow moving month.' She first understood it to mean a month of hunger and cold, before seeing it in a more personally moving way, as a reminder to live each day more slowly and with more awareness. 

Citing the French philosopher Pierre Sansot (1928-2005) and his book The Meaning of Slow Living, she lists lists some of his proposals to start living a slower life: Go for a leisurely stroll, listen to people very intently, do everything with your whole heart, become attentive to your dreams, wait for opportunities and do  your best to make the most of them, spend some time writing, and occasionally enjoy a glass of wine--all to be done without a sense of business.

Koreans, she says, are known to be always busy. This is not a good trait, according to Sansot. To be pressed by time is to lose your freedom; we are to live in harmony with time and this is done by living slowly. Pascal said "Men have only one problem: They don't know how to rest in a quiet room."  A society that expects only efficiency and productivity is not conducive to this slow life that is being recommended. 

She mentions the hero of the fantasy movie About Time, who is told by his father that they have the capability of going back into time if they think long enough about it. Although relishing this way of life for awhile, he realizes that instead of going back into the past to fix problems it is better to live completely and fully in the present, and also to make the most of each moment we have been given, for it is then that we find in surprising and new ways the hidden happiness, fruitfulness and mystery of our personal relationships.

Thomas a Kempis in his Imitation of Christ writes "Now is the time to be up and doing, now is the day of battle, now is the time to change my life." And the professor adds, if we don't succeed today we have tomorrow to complete the work. Today we work, we walk, we dream, we wait. And when tomorrow comes, we have another chance to give ourselves to another new day by again giving ourselves carefully and completely to the work before us.

Every 24 hours we need to be awake to this new birth we have received and to begin it with a new awareness to live it well. Tomorrow's day and the next day, when they come, are always today's day, always new and always ready to give us great joy. With the birth of each new day, slowly, in orderly fashion, we also are born again.

Below is a paragraph from the book The Meaning of Slow Living:

More than anything else what elates me the most is the birth of a new day. At the birth of a new day I am filled with vitality. For 24 hours I am conscious that in every moment I can express who I am. To my eyes the birth of a new day comes to me with more emotion than the birth of a new infant.Tomorrow, another day will be born. Tomorrow again, I will be looking forward to the  future.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Returning to "Our First Intentions"

Parables have always been used as a means of instruction, and our Lord was a master in their use. The problems of society give rise to many of the parables still being told today. Jealousy and greed, for instance, two of the capital sins, though motivational forces for moving our economy and fostering progress, also are a cause of much evil in the world. The Taegu Catholic Bulletin recounts a parable that addresses these problems. 

One day a king traveling through his kingdom stayed overnight in the home of a shepherd. Seeing the behavior of the shepherd he was moved by his simplicity, honesty and overall demeanor, which he didn't find among his retainers.  Since the king valued the attributes of the spirit more than professional skills, he decided to make the shepherd prime minister of his kingdom. 

As prime minister he was  honest and faithful in his duties, but the other retainers, knowing he was only a simple shepherd, began to envy his way of doing every task impartially and dutifully; it made their work more difficult, and so they conspired to find ways to get rid of him

Noticing that he would go to his country home once a month, they decided to secretly follow him. The shepherd went to a hollow in the ground and, lifting a large jar from the hole and removing the cover, stared into the jar for some time. The retainers reported this to the king; it appeared, they said, that the prime minister had a pure heart, but that he was not the poor simple shepherd he claimed to be, for in his home, they told the king, he had a jar with all kinds of gold and precious stones. 

The angry king demanded that the prime minister take him to see what was in the jar he kept hidden in the ground. Along with the retainers, the king watched as the prime minister took off the cover to the jar; inside, they could see only old clothes and a shepherd's staff.  "I was a shepherd," the prime minister said, "but because of the kindness of the king I was made the prime minister. I come to look at the clothes and staff in order not to forget who I was, and still am at heart, a simple shepherd." 

From that time on, no one found fault with the prime minister. The prime minster's efforts to remember who he was helped him to keep the disposition that he had as a shepherd.

"First Intention" was the headline of the Taegu Bulletin article that recounted the parable. As a child there are some basic aspirations and intentions that we entertained. "Returning to the First Intentions" is the Korean expression to describe these first dreams and intentions we had as children, before being buffeted by the reality of life, changing our aspirations to adapt to what we came to know as the reality of the world. This we need to do, according to the article, but despite it all we should have our own 'jar' that we can return to and peer into for the dreams that should not completely  disappear from our lives.