Monday, March 31, 2014

Catholic Youth of Korea

"Young people are leaving the Church!" are the catchwords heard often when we discuss the present crisis in the Church. The cover story in the Catholic Times asks: Is this the reality?--while also mentioning that the absence of the young in the Church is not a recent phenomenon. According to current statistics, only 7 percent of Catholics from 20 to 35-years-old go to Sunday Mass, but this figure is best understood when compared to the overall percentage of Catholics going to Sunday Mass, which is 25 percent; this gives us a more accurate picture of the situation.

If the figures are correct, what are the reasons for the poor attendance? Have young people turned their back on the Church? A survey made by the Seoul diocese revealed that 36 percent of the young feel there is a lack of opportunities to grow in the faith. But 76 percent have a good feeling about the Mass and the Catholic liturgy. A sign, says the Catholic Times, that the young are thirsting for the experience of spirituality.

In Korea, parishes determine who is practicing their faith by using small paper slips with the name and address of the Catholics. These are used when the person goes to confession during Lent or before Christmas. There is a basket outside the confessional where they put the slip of paper prior to making their confession. They are later gathered and the names  inscribed  in the parish register. When a name is missing for three years in a row, that person is considered tepid. The statistics which are reported by each diocese are  based on this information.

The writer of the article mentions that young people, despite not going to Sunday Mass in large numbers, are often found participating in religious programs. There is also a continual  increase in the  number of young people who are coming into the Church. So we cannot assert, says the writer, that they are turning away from religion and the faith life. He wonders whether those making these statements are looking on the young with preconceived ideas and distorting what can be learned from their non-attendance at Mass.

Young people are looking for God in the places where they happen to find themselves, in their activities and where they feel most passionately alive. Since the young move a great deal  they don't  find it easy to plant their roots in parish life. But find it easier to be active in their school life and their workplace doing apostolic activities, and nurturing their spiritual life. In a variety of different groups they are active in service to others and helping those who have difficulties.

He lists a number of young people who are very much involved in  groups studying the Scriptures. They spend their day in the workplace and in the evenings are involved as leaders in these Scriptural study groups. Many of them don't use the identifying slips of paper, but they are, nonetheless, he says, zealous Catholics.

No matter what one may imagine is the case, the writer feels that the evidence does not support the contention of some that many of the young have left the Church and their religion. They are still very much the hope of the Church, he says, and this hope will continue to inspire the Church into the future.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

They Must Know They Are Loved: St. Don Bosco

A Salesian priest writes about an acquaintance who came to him for advice. A boy whose parents were working overseas was finding it difficult to adapt to the life in a new culture, and was sent to live with his grandmother back in Korea. He promised he would study hard to pass the qualification exams for college. But despite the promise, he showed no interest in studying, and spent most of his time with computer games and rarely went outside, living a very spiritless kind of life.

The grandmother, though disappointed by her grandson's lack of resolve in his studies, loved him dearly and wanted to respect his decision to choose the life he wanted to live. Deciding to find ways to help him, she went to a counseling center specializing in helping young people, and discussed the problem with them. When she tried to persuade him to give the counseling center a try, he told her that his situation was not one that needed counseling. 

In order to understand her grandson better, she scheduled regular meetings with the counselor. She had no intention to cure the grandson from the addiction, for at the time she did not realize he had an addiction problem.  What was important to her was to accept the grandson as he was. It wasn't easy, she said, but she never broke the emotional bond that tied her to her grandson. And when he finally began to feel her love for him, he opened up and revealed the difficulties he was having in his life. She then was able to speak to him about what was troubling her about living with him. Because of this ongoing dialogue and sharing their feelings about each other, he started to be more concerned with her feelings and with finding ways to please her.
The next time the priest met the grandmother she was filled with joy. The grandson had decided to begin  counseling for his addiction. Now serious about getting rid of the addiction, he was hoping for the best. How many more problems they will have the priest doesn't know. But both grandmother and grandson were hopeful for a successful resolution of the addiction. 

It took the grandmother some time to come to the point where she could accept the grandson's situation. This waiting, says the priest, was the sign of her love and respect for the grandson. 

Love, however, is not sufficient, according to St. Don Bosco. Love has to be felt when dealing with children. Almost all parents love their children but not all children feel the love of the parents. Love is often not shown in a way a child can understand, but given in a way the parents feel it should be given, in a way that pleases them. This love is a possessive love, the priest points out, the kind of love that controls and restricts. This kind of love has hidden within it the pressure that the child is mine and he or she is to like what I like.

Once a child perceives true love, they will make the effort to open themselves completely to the parents. This is the key to educating the young. Love that is felt, the priest concludes, should be the starting point when we are educating the young.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Greatest Value in Life

What is our greatest value in life? A research professor, a member of the Bishops Subcommittee for Women's Issues, explores the question in her recent column in the Catholic Times. She  asked a small group of people, who were mostly in their forties, for their answers:  family, work, improving their relationships with others, preparing for old age, and concern for their personal possessions were some of the responses.Social issues were of minor interest, some estimating that among the general public about 80 percent have no interest at all in these issues.

Most of us are busy making a living, she says, and have little leisure time to be concerned about  anything else. Especially at this time when much of the world is experiencing financial difficulties, many are anxious for the future. How are they to deal with these problems and keep the situation from getting worse? she asks. There is a mixture of egotism and a desire not to be left behind. Consequently they have no time to think of who they are and what their value in life is.

She quotes the psychologist  Dr. Rollo May, "Like in the times of the middle ages, during the black plague, the greatest harm today to our health is anxiety," and the reason for the anxiety, she says, is that other people are receiving recognition for what they have accomplished but for the majority of us it is missing. When we do not receive the recognition we think we deserve, problems begin to surface, we feel discarded and worry about being alone. And overcome by anxiety by not being able to fulfill our desires, we lose our sense of being and thoughts of suicide take over. 

From 1960-70, during the military control of the government, every five years there would be an economic development plan. During that time we had the Miracle of the Han ( the economic growth of Seoul  through which the Han River flows). All we needed to do, it was said, was "to do and it will be done."  We have been captivated by this "success story", the columnist reminds us. After the IMF this became even more pronounced. Those who were not able to benefit from this development considered themselves failures.

Some became despondent  and committed suicide. Others, looking for easy money, became addicted to gambling and the lottery, to shopping, to easy sex, and similar pursuits to escape the reality they were faced with. Money became the important value for many of them.

Now in the season of Lent, she wants to find out who she is and what is her highest value in life. Everybody she meets is busy, she says. But are we busy with no definite plan in mind, she wonders. Are we grasping the true character of what we are about? Do we have a healthy relationship with those around us?
We have to ask ourselves, she says, if the essential teaching of our religion is  the love of God and neighbor, or is it little more than a saying we find easy to say? She concludes the column with the words of Carl Jung, "Attempts to avoid  legitimate suffering lie at the root of all emotional illness."   She wonders if this is one of the problems, mostly unrecognized, that we are now facing in Korea.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Giving Christ to the World.

Recently, a symposium was held to discuss the relevance of  Pope Francis' exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) in the Korean Church. The president of the  Bishops Conference mentioned the need to first understand the documents issued by the Latin American Episcopal Council, in Medellin in 1968, and in Puebla in 1979. These two documents have influenced much of Latin American Catholicism, he said, and it's instructive to remember that Pope Francis was part of this world before coming pope.  Consequently, if we are to fully understand "Joy of the Gospel," he said we must understand  what was discussed in Medellin, and eleven years later in Puebla.

The bishop said in the first address of the symposium, "The Social Dimension of Evangelization," that pastoral workers have the right to express their opinions on the problems of society. Moreover, if the poor are to be integrated into society, we must begin solving the problem by having a better understanding of why the present societal structures are preventing this from happening. When the dignity and the common good are threatened, the Church should not keep silent, he said.

The second speaker, a Jesuit priest, mentioned that the Church, in the words of Pope Francis, is like a field hospital after battle. Evangelization is not just a slogan  but a way of following Jesus and putting our roots into our culture to improve it. These two aspects: following  Jesus and  evangelization, are part of the Christian life that have to work together. Christians have to be actively present where this is happening; the reformation of Church structures is not only a goal, but comes from the renewal that is fostered by evangelization itself.

Another participant said that there are two problems that must be faced. First, how are we to integrate the weak into society; second, how to dialog for peace. As Christians we need to hear and respond to the petitions of the weak if we are to achieve economic justice and be in solidarity with them. Peace requires that we promote human dignity and the common good, and work for an integrated development and justice among all people. He added that this requires renewal of the Church, the  pastoral work, and the way we do evangelization. We can longer delay this transformation, he said.

Another speaker considered the notion that our proclamation of the word has to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This will be manifested, he said, in the work of those who are praying, by those who are being directed by the love of Jesus while immersed in the world, by those who are moved by their faith life and by those who are out in the front lines, inspired in their work by their mission to evangelize--and always inspired and led by the  example of Mary, giving Christ to the world.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"God Gives the Increase"

A specialist in the field of education writes in the Kyeongyang magazine that the way we value and treat our students may be a factor in solving some of our educational problems. It may be similar, she says, to how we treat a pet animal, citing an example of a dog that  had been discarded by its owner and ended up at a retreat house. Kamsang was the dog's name.  When called by this name,  the dog would not look in the direction of the one calling, but lower its eyes and go off to a corner of the room. It's not difficult to guess, she says, the treatment the dog must have received from its former owner. 

One is able to learn a great deal from  the gaze of another, she says,  whether we are being accepted or rejected. In the classroom it is easy to see in the students eyes whether they are satisfied, agree with how the class is being run, or find the whole thing tiresome.  When students are absorbed in their lessons this encourages the teacher to continue on with the class programs, knowing they are of interest to the students.

There is no doubt, she says, that the teaching climate has been affected by recent societal and economic demands which have changed a great deal from the past, especially in the information and technology fields which have developed in recent years. But Korean youngsters have not fallen behind in keeping up with the latest advances. According to OECD, Koreans lead the world when it comes to getting information from the internet and working with computers.

Last year a personality questionnaire was given to middle-school students, with the intent of gauging how relevant in their lives were virtue, sociability, and the emotions. Sixty questions relating to these concerns were asked; a rating under 67 points was considered unsatisfactory--the average rating was 69.8. This was the rating the students gave themselves, while the teachers rated the students as 50.7, parents 60.5.  The article mentions there are many ways of interpreting the  results but notes that the teachers and parents tended to rate the students more negatively than the students. A good beginning to a more positive attitude on the part of everyone concerned, she feels, is to improve the way teachers value and treat their students, thus setting in place an ideal teaching process.

"Children change over  12 times " is a phrase that is often heard and she has experienced that in her own teaching. The trust and  positive expectation of the teacher has the power to change their students for the better, she says. When the teacher, however, has a negative opinion of the student, even if not openly expressed, it is usually picked up by the student, and is a great obstacle for the student to overcome. 

For a Catholic we know that we have come from God and have been made in his likeness. There is a seed in us that is to flower with the right conditioning. Each will grow at their own pace. There are those children that grow quickly and those who are slow. There are those that cause great trouble but if we don't distinguish with worldly eyes between superior and inferior qualities,  students  will grow at their own pace. What they need is the teacher's openness and patience, so that students are able to feel the teacher's concern and interest. This is the hope that Christ should give us as Christian teachers.

While still in the beginning of the new year, let us, she urges, instead of seeing the weak points of our students, look to see their strong points. She would like to have all teachers write before each student's name in the attendance book their strong points and to remember them by these strong points. "God is the one who gives the increase"  are words we need to remember as Christian teachers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Joy Of The Gospel

Evangelii Gaudium  sold over 10,000  copies within two weeks of publication. Hearing this news the editor of the Peace Weekly decided to read it.  He confesses that it was read quickly and he remembers little of what he read except for the words  underlined, referring to the four  principles governing the common good and peace.They are not easy to understand, he says, but he wants to review them with the readers.

Time is greater than Space.  This means, the editor says, that we should not be taken up with the success of the moment but be guided by big picture concerns.  "This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give priority to time. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in sociopolitical activity is that space and power are preferred to time and process. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back" (223).

Unity prevails over conflict, the second principle, means that when we try to cover over conflict it does not disappear: "When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners; they lose their bearings, projecting onto institutions their own confusion and dissatisfaction and thus make unity impossible. But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process" (227). “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9).

Realities are more important than ideas, the third principle, says Ideas are different from realities; therefore to be overcome with our ideas and overlook reality is unwise. Angelic purism , empty study of the Mass, goals unrelated to reality, moralism unrelated  to good faith,  wisdom unrelated to the intellect have to be fought against.  "We have politicians–even religious leaders–who wonder why people do not understand and follow them, since their proposals are so clear and logical. Perhaps it is because they are stuck in the realm of pure ideas and end up reducing politics or faith to rhetoric. Others have left simplicity behind and have imported a rationality foreign to most people"(232).

The whole is greater than the part, fourth principle. This is obvious. The pope is telling us, he says, that we can't overlook where we are and where are two feet are planted, but we should not forget where we are headed, and widen our vision to include the greater good.

These four principles are not easy to understand, the editor says, but they help a great deal in dealing with the problems that come up daily in the workplace and in our families.  He ends by quoting from section #221: "Progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related to constant tensions present in every social reality. These derive from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, which serve as 'primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena.'  In their light I would now like to set forth these four specific principles which can guide the development of life in society and the building of a people where differences are harmonized within a shared pursuit. I do so out of the conviction that their application can be a genuine path to peace within each nation and in the entire world."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pope's Visit to Korea

Pope Francis' forthcoming visit to Korea is pleasant news to our Catholics. A professor writing in the Peace Weekly notes that while any pope coming to Korea would be welcomed, Pope Francis has in a very short time made such an impression not only on Catholics but on practically everyone that his visit will be especially welcomed.

While writing the article the professor learned that over 90 percent of Italians are pleased with Francis. This is shown  in the  return to the Church of many fallen-away Catholics. The number of pilgrims who are coming to Rome has also increased and he has over 12 million followers on Twitter at his  @Pontifex site. His visit to Korea will surely not be an ordinary event, he says.

Being the recipients of this gift, Korean Catholics will have some difficult homework to do,
and it is not only to have a faultless ceremony. That will be  the task of others and done well. Fortunately, the government will be cooperating in welcoming the Pope which makes it a great deal easier.

What is  important is the reason Pope Francis is coming to Korea.  We will have the Asian Youth Day and the beatification of the  martyrs. The professor hopes that in the preparation of  the events, we will remember the pope's teaching and will act harmoniously  with these teachings during the time he is in Korea. There will be two dimensions that have to be considered, one internal to the Catholic Church and the other external.

He wants us to take an interest in the Asian Youth Day. It will be held in Korea but we need to remember that it is an Asian event. We need to be interested in breaking down walls and figure out ways of   strengthening the bonds of solidarity and friendship among the countries of Asia. This should be a serious concern for  all of us, especially because of a history of conflict that settled over Asia for so long. He hopes this gathering of Catholic Youth will be more than a "Korean thing" but will help bring about some reconciliation among the countries in the area.

Secondly the visit of the pope will of course have a Catholic tone. We should spend some time in figuring out what attitude and posture we should assume. He recommends that those who usually take the  first places will  on  this occasion give their  places to those that Jesus and  Pope Francis have showed a predilection for: the alienated and the poor, the farmers and fishermen, the handicapped, single mothers, homeless people, those living alone, the addicted, the refugees from the North, foreign workers--they are the ones who should have the place of honor. 
We also should not make too much of externals at these ceremonies, he points out. The nature of the visit being what it is, we can't  ignore the externals  but we should do our best to  decrease as much as possible the emphases on externals.   This is the sentiment which the pope has infused into the Church and we should honor this sentiment despite the difficulty of doing so during the inevitable pageantry that will be evident during his visit here.

By being especially mindful during this time of the virtues of simplicity, frugality, and humility we will set a good example for the world. He wonders if the place designed for the ceremony in the center of Seoul, which is bound to tie-up traffic, is a good  place for the event.  He would like to see the plans revised. Logistically, there is no need to use such a  vast area of Seoul; there are many less congested places where the event could be held with no loss in effectiveness.  Moreover, considering the appreciation of poverty and the place of  symbolism  in today's world, would it not be better to select a different location? he asks.

Lastly the beatification of 124 martyrs should be more then a single event, he says. He recommends  that the Church search for 124 small groups or works  deserving of support and with the whole Church involved find ways to promote them. This will add even more glory to the glory that we have in the beatification and will be a good  preparation for the canonization in the future. This will also please the Lord.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Money, Honor and Power, Which One Do You Want?

The author of an article in Bible & Life reminisces about a friend  he knew from childhood.  He received a telephone call from him recently, inviting him to his office; he was now, he explained, a lawyer serving the poor. The office was small and simply furnished,   bustling with many of the poor who were looking for advice. And he looked well and contented, a far cry from the time he had last seen him studying for the government exams.

Both of them had gone to college. His friend went to  engineering school  and after graduation joined a construction company. He was the pride of his family. In those days being the son of a poor farmer who ended up with a  big pay check was the sign to  his neighborhood of success. Although his desire was to become a lawyer, his family felt it was necessary to have technical training to guarantee a bright future and the means to take care of the family. So he abandoned his dream  and became an engineer.

During the rough times in Korea he was sent to Saudi  by his construction company. His friend mentions that with his introspective and academic disposition the construction site  was not a comfortable place for him to be.  On one of his trips home he told his parents of his desire of going on to study for the government examinations to be a lawyer. This was a bombshell, which turned  everything upside down in the home. The mother went to his childhood friend to ask him for help to dissuade her son from the move. His friend, the author of the article, knew that he always dreamed of being a  judge and although he understood the feelings of the mother, inside he was cheering him on.

They met and went out to eat. It was not the same person he knew from the past, the sleek and neat individual was missing and he was dressed in trainers and sneakers. His hands shook and the soup dribbled from his mouth. His left eyelid  trembled and he found it difficult to look his friend in the face and his speech was affected. The author writes that his friend was a nervous wreck and needed to be treated. It was not something he could speak to his mother about nor would he  ask him to give up his studies.

From that time on he would go to Seoul once a month and they would eat and go out to a movie. As children they recalled the time they went to four movies in one day. He was a great fan of movies and his friend thought this would be a great way to have him relax. Fortunately the following year he passed the exam and did go on to be a judge. His mother was dreaming now of her son in the back seat of a sedan with a driver able to make commands to the world. She was elated but it was all to change. He was implicated in a case in which bribes were taken and given. He made a mistake and freely resigned his position. His friend heard this while he was working with the poor in a public health  facility in the Philippines. The engineer turned lawyer did make amends for his mistake and the shame and  anguish that he had to deal with by giving his life to help the poor with his knowledge of law and society.

The author concludes the article with a remembrance of the time in Sunday School class when  they both said they would have nothing to do with riches, honor and power. He quotes his friend: "He saw the flower coming down the hill. The flower he hadn't seen going up the hill." In the future when it comes time  to write about the one-time judge there will be more than a few lines referring to  his involvement with the giving and taking of bribes.  Money, honor and power, which one do you want?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Strawberries in Season

The columnist in the Peace Weekly writing about current events mentions her trip to the market and buying strawberries. Their condition was poor and the owner of the shop told her they were the last of the season. She reminds us that it is the beginning of March and the strawberries have yet to flower, but she is told the strawberries are the last of the season. In the old days strawberries were a common and inexpensive fruit,  when bought in season. Today the winter strawberries are expensive and have become a much sought after fruit despite their unappealing taste.

With these words the columnist tells us that the formula for success these days is to be out in front of others. Fruit in its season , everyone knows, is tasty and healthy, even more so for vegetables in season. But those who are  producing these products are not waiting to send their produce to the markets, for the earlier they arrive the  better the price. This is not unlike the well-known  brands that go to the markets of the world. And not unlike teaching high school  mathematics to elementary school student to  prepare them for college entrance examinations. This preparation for  the future  makes much of the present meaningless, says the columnist.

Consequently, when  the student's desire for college is realized then he worries about getting a job. Once he has a job he worries about the next step in his search for happiness, in a never-ending pursuit of some future benefit.  She asks what makes our life so difficult?

The Doctrine of the Mean, a book by Confucius, states that the noble  person is the one who  practices the mean and the small-minded  person is the one who does not. Following the mean a person acts appropriately according to  time and place. The columnist maintains that it is the structures of our society that determine our actions and make us act against the present moment, which means  we are producing small-minded persons.

It is a fact that those who exceed others in the pursuit of knowledge will be considered the most capable, but we can't say they are happier than others. They are like the strawberries in the vinyl houses, says the columnist, that  have been hurried and consequently do not have the taste and aroma of those in season. Those who only study and do not allow for the other aspects of life to enter their world will be small-minded.

The society we are living in is urging us go faster, he says, than the eternal clock we were made to follow. We can't change that clock even one second so wisdom tells us that we should follow it, eating the fruits and vegetables in season and  studying the areas of learning proper to one's age.

By not bringing a premature future into the present our life will be  more meaningful,  happier, and more leisurely. A good future is the result of a present that is well-lived. Hurrying the process it not going to make our life more successful, but is likely to make our lives similar to fruit rushed to market, lacking in the virtues that come naturally when we follow the rhythms of nature .    

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Cost of Addiction

The horse race track on any given Sunday is filled with betters dreaming of hitting it big. Just another of the many rampant addictions that keep us from growing spiritually. A priest responsible for the pastoral care of those addicted expresses his thoughts in the Peace Weekly on the serious evil of addictions. 
" Addiction is not a simple  problem to deal with. The consequences are an enormous  loss to society and one that hurts the church greatly," he laments. "Children are addicted to games, mothers to shopping, cosmetics, fathers to the gambling casinos and to alcohol.  Addiction ruins our mental health, nurtures crime, destroys the moral order, in a word, it brings moral depravity and death."

In an accompanying article Pope Francis, in his Lenten message on destitution, is quoted as saying, "[Destitution] is not the same as poverty. Destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual....No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members-– often a young person--is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love."

Statistics show that in Korea one out of 8 persons is addicted. A professor at the Catholic University says that of the 50 million in Korea over 6 million are addicted to either alcohol, gambling, the internet or to drugs; the loss to society is enormous. Each of our acts has ramifications that we are not able to foresee or imagine, but the consequences will appear sooner or later to both the individual and society.  

The prevalence of suicide, abortion and the like in our society shows contempt for life and the destitution of our morals. When we do something that shows contempt for life, whether we realize it or not, there are bound to be grave consequences. 

The medical and educational concerns surrounding these issues should be addressed by the government, the priest urges. Other serious topics of discussion, he says, would be addressing the unequal distribution of wealth, and the current unemployment rate of about 4 percent. All these problems of society demand concern from  the government, churches and voluntary organizations in society, and in trying to solve them we should not in the process foster more material, moral  and spiritual poverty. 

The article quotes from 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 two points? This is a case of exclusion." We as Christians should  be concerned and do what we can to make our society better and more just.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Choosing Happiness

Most people marry to find happiness, and divorce to find happiness. Ironically,  after the second marriage, divorces outnumber those that occur after the first marriage.

In an article in the Kyeongyang magazine, a professor in a Catholic University  reminds us that we are the ones choosing happiness or unhappiness. In marriage both promise to care and support one another in an emotional relationship in which they promise marital fidelity, and with the registration of the marriage the legal responsibility to one another, and the common ownership of their possessions.

In marriage they promise to live life together, which often means eating together,sleeping together,  watching movies together, and to be completely open to each other. And to help each other during difficult times.

According to the statistics for 2012, there have been 114,300 divorces, about the same from the previous year. However, those with over 20 years of married life, divorces have increased 1.68 times from what it was 10 years before, and those with less than 4 years of marriage, divorces have increased for the first time, from 24.7 percent. In 1993, those with children who divorced numbered 68.8 percent; last year this number decreased to 52.8 percent. But the number of divorces among those with no children increased from 31.2 percent to 47.0 percent.

He lists the reasons for the increase of divorces: the change in attitude toward divorce within society,  the improvement in women's educational possibilities, the many employment openings for women, and their changing attitudes toward marriage as a consequence of their finding greater acceptance in the workplace,  fewer children being raised in the typical family,  the equal treatment of women under the law, expectations for a longer life--all have influenced  the number of divorces.

The number of couples that are living separately continues to increase. One out of ten is not living with their spouse.This number has continued to increase since the year 2000. In many cases this is a first step before the divorce.

Conflicts within marriage are many and the common element in these unhappy marriages is an inability to communicate honestly and openly. There is an obvious need for couples to learn how to share their feelings with  each other. A happy couple is not the one that doesn't fight but the one that has learned to work through their conflicts. It is not the number of conflicts that is important but the number of  ways they have discovered to resolve the conflicts.

He notes 10 ways to resolve conflicts within  a marriage. Not to exaggerate; not to come across as a know-it-all; be responsible for what was wrong; be clear about what you want; don't go to the past to bring up misgivings, stay in the present; in any conflict, avoid discussing the spouse's point of greatest vulnerability; don't magnify the hurt that was received; don't say anything you are not willing to carry out; don't just talk but listen, and don't look for either one to be the winner or the loser.

He admits that it took him many years as a counselor to realize that it was necessary for him to choose to be happy;  unhappiness, he realized, was also his choice. An academic who made a  study of stress said that divorce gives more stress than anything outside of death. If this is the case, it is easy to imagine the stress that a divorce causes the children. The article finishes with what is necessary for a happy marriage: love, respect, care, sacrifice, responsibility--and to choose happiness at  every moment.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Finding Reasons To Hate

An advisory member of the Central Emergency Response Fund writes in the Bible & Life Magazine about her experiences as a world traveler. Han Pia recalls a trip to southern Spain where after attending the midnight Christmas Eve Mass she decided to have an early breakfast. At the same table was a German woman in her 50s. Seeing Pia making the sign of the cross before eating, the woman blurted out: "Are you are still going to church?"

Anna, the name of the woman, greatly agitated, then listed the "crimes" of the Church: " In Europe the Catholic Church went witch hunting, tortured and killed hundreds of thousands without any good reason, they built St. Peter's Church by selling indulgences, they protected the slave trade  in  West Africa, they were silent during the second world war at the atrocities against the Jewish people, the clergy were only interested in  money and power, and recently in the United States we've learned of the sexual sins of the clergy"--finally ending with "How  monstrous all this is." She spoke as if Pia was the one responsible for all these crimes.

Even in Korea, Pia mentions in her article that she often gets pushed into a corner with the recital of Catholic faults such as: Why do Catholics worship Mary when the Scriptures say we should not have any idols...if God is the only one who can forgive sins why do Catholics go to a man to have their sins forgiven...Catholics perform the sacrificial rites of Confucianism...they drink liquor and compromising with the world, Catholicism shows itself to be a weak religion.

She has also been approached and told that she was a heretic and an anti Christ. Sometimes she answers in a heated tone and other times she keeps quiet. Since that meeting with Anna occurred the morning after Christmas Eve Mass, she decided to be silent, keeping all these thoughts to herself.

" You are right," Pia responded, "I also know about our history. Let us drink to the Catholic Church that we never see those things happening again. Cheers!" With a faint smile on Anna's face she too lifted her glass and they both toasted the Church. As they continued to talk she learned that Anna was a professor in a German university and had just recently  been divorced. She apologized for being so rude, saying that she was feeling depressed and when she saw Pia making the sign of the cross and seeing her expression of contentment, she was overcome with cynicism and out came those harsh words in  broken English.

"Anna, yesterday was the Eve of Christmas," said Pia. "If it wasn't I would have attacked you like a fighting chicken." She began to feel affection for Anna and wanted to tell her of the history of Catholicism in Korea, which she was proud of.  In Korea, Catholicism is respected, she told Anna, and went on to give a brief history.

Korean Catholicism started without any missioners about 250 years ago, Pia began. It was self-generated growth, the only place in the world that this has happened. Lee Seung-hun went to China, was baptized, returned and started to spread the faith among his friends and relatives. The numbers began to grow. Catholic teaching that we were all equal, men and women, nobles and commoners, was breaking down the traditional values of the country, which brought on the persecution. Catholicism  was  considered to be against our society and our morals and  needed to be  eradicated. Many thousands were killed with great cruelty and and yet they refused to deny their faith. The example of these  early Christians was among the major reasons for the respect the Church has received. She added that the papacy of Pope Francis has also added to the respect the Church is receiving in Korea.

Anna, a professed atheist, has no difficulty with Pope Francis and is in fact a fan. Pia is a great fan of Francis reading all the books that come out about Pope  and looking for news about him on the internet. As a lay person she has some worries about his health and the resistance that he may encounter as he carries out his "reformation."

She concludes her article with the incident that happened a few weeks ago. After Mass some doves were released and they were immediately attacked by large black birds and sea gulls. Pia saw this as a symbol of the resistance that Pope Francis could be getting from those who are not in sympathy with what he wants to do. Since she is a great fan of the Pope she keeps him in her prayers daily. To the question that she received from Anna--Do you still go to church?-- the answer is, she says, an unequivocal yes, and she will continue to go to meet the one who loves us so much.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Strike Against Having Children

"To encourage those families with  three or more  children, many rights and privileges will be given to them. Marriages are also to be encouraged between the noble class and ordinary citizens, and divorces will be regulated."

In the Peace Column of the Peace Weekly, the writer asks his readers to guess where and when these words were written. They happen to be the policy of the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago, issued  by the Emperor Augustus. The statutes of the law were rigorously carried out because the young people of Rome at that time were avoiding marriage and children. Those who were not married were assessed heavier taxes. Our situation here in Korea, says the columnist, is worse than it was in Roman times.

This year there has been another decrease in  the number of births, which the writer says does not augur well for the future of the country. Korea now has over a hundred schools with no students enrolled for the first year. The cities are no different and in one of the most famous schools in Seoul, in existence for 120 years, there were only 21 students entering their first year of schooling.

This also can be seen in our churches. The places that the children used to occupy are now empty. He notes that it is because the children are not being born that they are not  going to church. The numbers of those entering college will decease and also the numbers for the military. The government  knows the seriousness of the situation, and has increased the number of  day-care centers, provided financial incentives to parents for the birth of a child, lengthened the period of time-off from work and increased the budget to assist mothers. The government has also tried the policies of countries like France, Finland and even Japan with little success.  Numbers remain the same and young people continue their strike, as some call it, to not have children.

With the situation remaining in this serious state, with little likelihood that the policies will change,  marriages and births will also not change. The columnist believes that the government is not listening to the young men who will have the job of providing for the children they will bring into the world.

Young people are facing the obstacles of expensive weddings, competition within the workplace, the difficulty of supporting a family and the children that come.

The Roman Plutarch (46-120) has left us a few words about the avoidance of marriage in his day in his book On  Affection for Offspring (De Amore Prolis). "For when poor men do not rear their children, it is because they fear that if their children are educated less well than is befitting, they will become servile and boorish and destitute of all the virtues. Since they consider poverty the worst of evils, they cannot endure to let their children share it with them, as though it were a kind of disease, serious and grievous."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Curse of Enforced Poverty

Turning the clock back a few years, says the bishop in his weekly column in the Catholic Times, we would find quite a few places where one could enjoy leisure time activities. Each neighborhood would have open spaces where you could find movies and circus events, along with other entertainments. In the alleyways you would see children playing with picture cards, jumping rope or dancing, and hear the chatter of children.

With the coming of industrialization, these human activities began to disappear. Today, the bishop says, the places where people are gathering and enjoying themselves are places that require an entrance fee. So the poor have few or no places to go to enjoy themselves.

Could this be one of the reasons we have so many cases of depression and mental problems among the poor? the bishop asks. Many people don't remember seeing so many mental problems in the past. With the loss of human interchange we  are spending more money for medical care.
Jesus told us not to keep our eyes only on material things. Not an easy thing to do today when leisure time activities are often centered on the acquisition of money.  Can we as Christians excuse ourselves  from any responsibility for this state of affairs? He wonders whether we are an important part of the problem.

Seoul is a city where many rich people live. Recently, he says, a mother of two daughters, living in Seoul and working in a diner, fell and hurt her arm and then couldn't work. Finding no way out of the serious situation, she took her life and the life of her two daughters. Though many put the blame on our current welfare system for the tragedy, we should reflect, says the bishop, on the fact that our sense of neighbor is disappearing. Who  drove this mother to commit this tragedy? he asks. He can't erase from his thinking, he says, that we are all accomplices for what happened by closing our eyes to the ingrained injustices of society. What is worse, he says, is that we will continue to have many more of these incidents unless we, as a society, resolve to address the issue seriously.

Korea has for the last 8 years been number one in the number of suicides as a developed country. Last year we had, on average, 42 persons who committed  suicide each day. The relationship of poverty and the number of suicides is well established. Surveys have shown that 13 percent of men who are in the lowest 25 percent in income have had thoughts of killing themselves. While only 4 percent of the upper 25 percent had these same thoughts. Among college graduates 7.9 persons in every 100.000 killed themselves. For every 100,000 persons who had only an elementary school education the number was 121. 4 persons. The figures speak for themselves.

One of our maxims reminds us that even the nation is not able to keep a person from poverty, seemingly saying that poverty is not a problem of society but a personal problem of  laziness or stupidity or some serious incompetency; this kind of thinking lies behind many of these maxims, the bishop says. A Christian has a different way of seeing the problem. When we accept everyone as brothers and sisters and work together to eradicate the problem of poverty,  we will be living as members of God's kingdom.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Power of Words

"When we have many beautiful words being used, we will have a happy society." This headline expresses the opinion of a priest in View from the Ark in the Catholic Times. He reminds us of the last words of Cardinal Kim before he died: "Thank you, I love you." When he heard these words for the first time he considered them too common to give them much attention, but pondering the words now they have taken on a great deal of meaning. Are there any other words that give more warmth and move the heart as much? How many times during the day do we express such feelings? he asks.

The words we use have a great deal of power. People we admire are generally those who have a habit of using positive words and being enthusiastic, frequently using words of hope and encouragement. On the other hand, those who are failures often express grievances and give up, using all kinds of excuses, which the priest believes is not by accident. There is a Chinese proverb: "Good clothes keep a person's body warm and good words keep a person's heart warm." Encouragement, appreciation, praise--all move the heart. "People move toward the direction in which  they are praised" is an expression often heard.  A word of kindness can do a great deal to one living in darkness.

On the opposite side, a word  that is uttered without thought can often scar a person for life.  When we degrade, belittle or abuse another,  we are activating hate within that person and  giving them the strength to retaliate. Nowadays, on the Internet and, particularly on the social networks, there are a great many malicious comments and personal attacks which have contributed to persons killing themselves. The police who have investigated these cases say they have found that those who are sending out the malicious content frequently are innocent young people and adults who have good jobs and are good citizens, but are oblivious to the harm they are doing. This is a standing problem that  society needs to  eradicate, he says.

The words we use express our personality. They convey what is in our heart and mind. With words a wise person manifests their dignity and maintains  good relationships with others. As we continue to cultivate our personalities, he urges us to work to refine the words we use.

It is said that a habit that begins at the  age of three will often continue to be a habit at the age of eighty. Once it becomes a habit, it is difficult to change. That is the reason, he says, parents have the responsibility to teach their children the importance of the words we use. For we can sin with our words, causing harm to ourselves, but to others as well.  

We don't see words with our eyes, the priest reminds us, but they do have shape and can influence lives. Which means we should be responsible for our words, especially true for those in positions of authority, such as politicians who should have the welfare of citizens in mind.  One of our politicians, who repeatedly made the same mistake in his speeches, was forced to resign. A warning to all of us, the priest points out.

Words are like the seed that we plant in the garden. Good words will bear good fruit, and bad words will bear bad fruit. There are few things as easy as uttering words, but we should be mindful that with the ease comes the possibility of easily hurting others. When we use right and caring words, our society becomes a warmer, happier society. Are these thoughts unrealistic? he asks. He hopes not.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Era of the Religious Brand

Korea has the first academic with a doctorate in matters dealing with the brand names of commercial products, the study and theory behind them and what leads to making them well-known.  His work on brands, how best to develop them into household names, has helped industries to prosper; for his efforts, in 2001, he received a presidential prize.

His recent book The Era of the Religious Brand, reviewed by the Catholic Times, gave Catholicism high marks compared to the other religious brands and he explained why it received such a favorable rating. He compared Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Protestantism, according to five evaluation factors: growth, world distribution, stability, identity and activity.

According to this criterion, Catholicism in its spread throughout the world received 25 points, growth 22.5 points, stability 18.6 points, identity 12 points, and activity 13.7 points, with a total score of 91.8--100 being the perfect score.  The author attributes the good showing to the unity, holiness, universality and the manner of its beginning with the Apostles being sent out to spread the gospel. (Islam came next with 84.6, Hinduism 78, Buddhism 66.7, Protestantism 65.9 and Judaism 56.6 points.)

The author, Dr. Kim, points out that gathering information for this study was a very difficult undertaking, since he had nothing to work with. He had to travel both within and outside the country, read many books and meet with specialists in the different religions to come up with his assessments of the various religious brands. Because "brand" is not a word commonly used with religions and is closely connected with the commercial world, he did have qualms about how it would be received.

He hopes that what he has written will enable others to see the scientific reasons for the listing of Catholicism as the number one religious brand. This of course has nothing to do with whether a religion should be considered as having more truth than any other. It is only an external evaluation of religions according to the five different categories the author has selected. It does show, though, that the criteria selected can be successfully used not only to judge a commercial product but to assess how people view the various religions.

The result of this study is no surprise for those who have an interest in religion.  Catholicism is the  world's oldest multinational organization and also the most successful, with over a billion members, millions of employees and volunteers. However, Catholics know this is not the criterion that the founder will use to judge the community of faith that he began. The externals are not what will endear the Church to its founder.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

World's Longest Ongoing Tragedy?

Where is the longest ongoing tragedy in the world today? Though there are plenty of them, Korea has to be considered one of them, according to a recent Peace Weekly article.  After the Second World War the country split into two countries in conflict. The Korean War followed, followed by families separating, and news from the North of famine and atrocities.  This past month was the 18th  meeting of families that were separated because of the war.

On June 15, 1985 there was a joint declaration between Seoul and Pyongyang that allowed for the meetings of the separated families, and the first meeting occurred in September of that year. Up until the year 2010  there have been 17 such meetings and on 4 occasions pictures and mail were exchanged. 128,000 persons have been registered to be included in the meetings, but only 20,848 have actually met their relations, and only 3,748 by mail and picture exchanges.  Each year 4,000 to 5000 die without the chance of meeting their family. And only God knows how many have not registered and die with their memories buried with them.

After a three year hiatus, the 18th meeting of separated families took place this past month at North Korea's Kumgang Mountain resort. It included a 93-year old grandfather, who had left the North in 1951 after marrying and leaving his wife pregnant with his son. Although there had been hope that they would shortly meet again, it was only  after 63 years had past that he met the son, whose mother had died.

When he met his son, now 62-years old, the resemblance was so remarkable, according to the account in The Peace Weekly, that there was no mistaking the father and son relationship. What are the politics and ideologies, the article asks, that permit these tragedies to continue?

The Catholic Church, in 1999,  discontinued using the word 'unification,' preferring to to use the terms 'unity' and 'reconciliation of our people.'  Unification that does not bring peace will only bring more tragedy. The peace that we want is not a one-way peace but a peace that comes with reconciling and making efforts for unity. The Church, says the writer of the article, on the occasion of this recent meeting of separated families, has to work to bring about dialogue between the different ideologies in society if we are to prevent similar tragedies.

We also should pray, he says, for the politicians of the North and the South that they change their way of thinking. The countries that surround Korea, he strongly believes, also should be helping us to become a united country again. Only when the tears of the separated families have been wiped away will we have the unity of the peninsula that so many have been looking forward to for so many years. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Enduring Pain

Each day in the news we hear about persons who because of financial difficulties kill themselves, often with  family members. A university professor writing in the View from the Ark, the Catholic Time, presents a dire picture of those who take their own lives.  

One woman in her thirties, he reports, faced with mounting difficulties, jumped with her four-year old son from the 15th floor of her apartment building; another woman in her sixties, along with her two daughters, died by burning charcoal briquettes and inhaling the poisonous carbon monoxide fumes, and a manual laborer in his sixties, also a suicide who had been living in a rented basement, left behind 1,000 dollars to be cremated.

There are many difficulties associated with the current efforts being made to address the problem: in our welfare programs, the monies allotted, and how much the length of a stagnating  economy and the polarization of  society are contributing to the problem. Our aging society and the number of the elderly who are living alone are also factors that need to be considered. But up till now there has been only a passive and indirect approach to some of these  problems, he laments. The professor hopes that something will be done soon, but he admits he doesn't know much about the welfare system and the other means of addressing the problem. His eyes, he says, are pointed in the direction of the suffering that many have to endure in our society.

An important goal in life, he points out, is trying to understand how to deal with the  pain and anguish that  frequently is so much a part of the lives of many of us. We  try to diminish the amount of pain but this, we know, is not always possible. We try to prepare for the difficult eventualities, but the realities can only be seen vaguely and are difficult to prepare for, realizing that in most cases we have to wait until we come face to face with the problems and then decide what has to be done.

By reflecting on his  own life and experiences in overcoming pain, the professor says it has given him the tools to deal with whatever pain will come in the future. Though the pain he has had to deal with has not been overwhelming, it's the pain that comes from nowhere, and not knowing why we are having the pain, he says, that is the hardest to accept. When this kind of pain comes, how are we to endure it? he asks.

In our lives, irrespective of time and place, we are often faced with severe pain which we do  not understand, but the strength to endure it will come, he says, from acknowledging our innate dignity as persons created and loved by God. We must look beyond this world's standards  and work with the  truths of religion. The transcendent  truths will carry us through the difficult times, and it will be with  dignity. With this way of thinking we can  endure the pain that comes.

Even though everything may happen differently from what had been planned and hoped for, this is the result, he reminds us, of being a human being. As a believer he trusts in the truths of faith to give him the strength which will enable him to endure.

"Be glad  about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can  be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold, must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you  will receive praise and glory and honor on the day Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6-7)

The professor admits that these words, when heard by persons in severe anguish and pain, will come across as empty  and may even make them angrier.  However, it does no good to seek to blame someone or something for our suffering. No matter how much we look for answers or  resist the suffering, it will be to no avail, It is the result of being human.  We are left with the need to endure.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Korean John Chrysostom

There have always been those within the Church  who have criticized the organizational structures of Catholicism. The desk columnist of the Catholic Times does not discuss the rightness or wrongness of the criticisms, but feels it would be wrong  to underestimate or condemn them, especially when they are expressed with passion and love.

One of the most extreme was the the declaration to dissolve the Catholic Church of Korea that appeared, at  the beginning of the new millennium, on the bulletin board of the Bishops' website. On ten different occasions a netizen (a person who actively uses the Internet) declared his reasons for putting an end to Catholicism here in Korea. It was not the Catholic Church and its teachings, he said, that was the problem but the way we in Korea have  accepted Catholicism. He calls himself John Chrysostom (taking the name of an early Church Father known for denouncing the abuse of authority by Church leaders). It was a very sensational approach to a troubling issue.

He felt that we have taken the name 'Catholic' and have packaged it to suit ourselves, disfiguring what should be sacred. He had strong words for what he called the arrogance, self-righteousness  and clericalism of the Church; its accumulation of money and playing by the rules of capitalism,  and so on. Because of these faults, he is asking the laity to join him in achieving his goal.

The columnist says he will only treat two of the problems that he sees in the way the writer approached the subject, when he describes Catholicism as a structure that needed to be dismantled.  Of course it is not only a structure, but being an institution is of the very essence of Catholicism. Too often, even Catholics do not understand that to belong to Jesus, means also to belong to His Body, the Church.  The other faults he finds within Catholicism cannot be passed over carelessly, he says, for there are reasons for the netizen's criticisms.  But from the very beginning of his argument, the columnist sees it as overblown, and for a Catholic impossible to accept. However, there are problems he mentions that Catholics should reflect on deeply.

There are members of the laity, the columnist points out, who have a sense of mission and work hard at being disciples of Jesus. However, they  feel limited and often frustrated with what they see. But it is clear, he says, that there are those who find it difficult to live the life of a disciple, and who have a thirst for something more than what they are receiving, and thus live with a great deal of dissatisfaction. Many either leave the Church or compromise, guided by self-interest in the way they follow Jesus.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation (#275) The Joy of the Gospel,  tells the workers in the Church, while showing compassion for the difficulties they often face: "This attitude makes it impossible to be a missionary. It is only a malicious excuse for remaining caught up in comfort, laziness, vague dissatisfaction and empty selfishness. It is a self-destructive attitude, for 'man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable.'

"The joy of the Gospel is such that it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything. The evils of our world–and those of the Church–must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and our fervor. Let us look upon them as challenges which can help us to grow.

"In the second chapter, we reflected on that lack of deep spirituality which turns into pessimism, fatalism, and mistrust. Some people do not commit themselves to mission because they think  nothing will change and that it is useless to make the effort. They think: Why should I deny myself my comforts and pleasures if I won’t see any significant result." 

Words like these will help us to see a change in the way we relate with the Church, the columnist predicts, adding that it will be the 'Francis Effect'  on the Church.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Living with a Devastating Diagnosis

Adversity comes in many forms, sickness being one of the most common, and a diagnosis of Hansen's disease being perhaps the most devastating. The Peace Weekly, in a front page feature, tells the story of Mr. Ha, who at the age of 20 received the devastating diagnosis. The story chronicles his battle to make life meaningful, and how his encounter with Jesus helped him to overcome the agony and pain of the disease.

"Because of Jesus I  gained courage and confidence," he explained. "Seeing his arms and legs nailed to the cross, seeing his suffering, enabled me to accept my own pain and to overcome the fear that I faced because of what Jesus had gone through."

Ha (Moses) is 65 years old and has lost both his arms and legs to the disease and has been fitted with artificial limbs. He likes to recite a poem he is fond of:  "Many are the seasons with  pain that I have seen/ my heart with quiet ardor  has given birth to a flower/ The journey of the heart has given me unlimited contents to  my story/ the contents seem to be graspable, but they are not/ they go around in empty space and have disappeared/ At least once in a lifetime one receives an opportunity for change/  My life is like the wretched weeds that have been trampled/but new sprouts have broken forth from the  earth! (From "My Way")

He first noticed the onset of the disease while in elementary school. Fishing one day with friends, he fell into one of the gullies between the paddy fields and felt his arms go numb. His hands began to curl and shake. He sought the advice of the best Oriental medical doctors, but he continued to get worse. Some who knew him in the village suspected it might be leprosy and reported it to the public health center, and at the age of 20 he was diagnosed with Hansen's disease.

The family was isolated from the village community, and Mr. Ha went to the Catholic  hospital in Taegu for skin diseases, where he was treated by the religious sisters working in the hospital. In 1978, he moved to a village for those with the disease and during that time  was baptized, but he continued to feel unwanted and isolated because of the discrimination.  On one occasion, when he went to buy some food, the owner of the shop hastily closed the front door and refused to sell him anything. He began to hate seeing himself in the mirror and to avoid coming close to people when walking on the sidewalk. The hatred, he said, was so intense he tried to kill himself a number of times.

However, he continued to go to Mass and say the rosary, and gradually his feeling of self-hatred receded and he began to accept himself, understanding  the feelings of those who would point their fingers at him. Thinking of Jesus on the cross enabled him to accept all that was happening. His eyes were able to see not his own troubles but those of others. He also became  the errand and odd-job  man in the Sacred Heart Community. When he left the community, after more than 30 years, he cried uncontrollably, waving farewell to those he had known for over 30 years.

Moses was not able to get rid of his physical handicaps and he still felt the stinging silent rebuke he continued to receive, but  something happened inside of him that enabled him to live with his difficulties."To live with Jesus makes me rich," he said. "When a stranger shuns me, I'm not scared by the meeting."

The article ends with the words of Moses: "In life all of us, sooner or later, have to face sickness or disabilities of one kind or another, and even though we now might not be suffering such problems, wouldn't it be helpful to interact with those who now have such problems with warmth in our eyes, giving them courage and strength to carry on, rather than a cold unfeeling gaze?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Road Etiquette

During Lent we are often encouraged to do something that will deepen our spirituality or help us practice some virtue. In the Taegu  Diocesan Bulletin, a priest writes about a very simple act of kindness that takes little energy and yet has a great deal to do in making us more conscious of others.

When he received his driving license in 1996, there were fewer cars on the road and gas was a lot cheaper. He remembers hearing from his seniors and friends about the manners of the road--road etiquette. When, for instance, the driver in front moves over to create more space for the driver in back to pass, waving one's hand to acknowledge what the driver has done is considered road etiquette. This has nothing to do with law but merely a kindness, and he says it was like a promise that all would keep. But today, he says sadly, it is rare. There are those who turn on and off their emergency light when appropriate, but those who don't are by far the greater number.

Can we say this is a sign of a lack of concern for the other? Or, more likely, when driving, do we consider the other to be a stranger that we need not acknowledge? Our road kindnesses are disappearing, he says, as he remembers with fond memories "the good old days." In Titus 2:7, it is said "In all things, you yourself must be an example of good behavior." Christians have been called to spread the good news and to practice charity.

While we are sharing the roads with those with whom we have no  connection, Christians should not forget who we are, and even on the roads show concern and kindness to others. A wave of the hand is a small act but with it, will we not be showing our love and gratitude? he asks. Will it not make the roads of the nation that are so impersonal and lacking in concern, much friendlier and our driving less of a chore?

When we show others these little kindnesses, we are conveying an important message to others, who may feel overwhelmed by our busy and often impersonal world, that there is in fact some who will go out of their way to be friendly and appreciate their being here in the same world we live in. He would like Christians to be the leaders in this effort to spread "good will" on the roads of our country.

The word virtue is slowing disappearing in our society. 
Often, in Korea  we would hear the word 'way' which would be the equivalent of what we would mean by the word virtue. However, today we hear more about values, less so than in the States, but rarely do we hear the word virtue used outside of religious circles.

In Korea we talk about polishing or piling up the virtues, meaning that they require repeated effort to make them a part of who we are. They need to soak into our being is the way it is expressed. The effort of practicing the virtues of kindness, concern and love even on the roads of the country will make us more conscious of  the need to do this in all our actions.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Discussing What Is Meant by Mission

The Columban Missionary Society recently met in a two-day seminar to remember their 80 years of service in Korea and to discuss plans for improving the quality of missionary work in the challenging times ahead. Many specialists, both Catholic and Protestant, came together to share their ideas on the subject. The Catholic Times devoted  two articles and an editorial on the seminar.

In today's world, it was noted, we can't ignore the influence of native cultures and religions when discussing the role of missions. We have seen in Korea the presence of many foreign workers, intermarriages and the mingling of cultures, which is today another way of being Korean. The Church in Korea is also faced with this new reality, and was one reason the Columban Missionary  Society felt the need to discuss this emerging reality and the best steps to take to maximize the efforts of missionary work  in responding to this new world. 

Most of the dioceses and religious groups of the country are sending missionaries to other countries of the world: a sign of the growth and competence  of the Korean Church and the need for continued programs for the education of our missionaries. Because of the present challenges faced by the Church, the question many tried to answer, as they pondered the general topic of discussion, Missio Dei (Mission of God), was: Is there a need for a new way of doing mission?

One participant mentioned that God was always there as the motive force to help one to do good and avoid evil. Jesus came to show us the relationship between the love of God and the love of our fellow humans. Jesus connected the two. If we want to meet God, it is necessary  to do it through our neighbors. When we alienate others  and use God in the process we are making idols  to serve ourselves. Our discipleship to Jesus will depend on our response to our neighbor, on the love and forgiveness we have for others and  we manifest in our daily life, which is our faith life. There is a disposition for God in our DNA, said one participant, that we need to  discover in our mission work.

A Protestant minister said that the missioner should not be primarily interested in increasing the numbers of their community, but be more interested in making those we are evangelizing realize they are children of God and thus brothers and sisters. The ultimate goal of the missioner, it was pointed out, is to help people meet God. And what was to be avoided was making our thinking  the absolute criterion of mission work. God, not the evangelist, is the subject of mission work. Rather than setting the boundaries of our mission work from the perspective of our different religions, it was necessary to bring the people to Jesus,which is the Missio Dei.

Another priest participant said that because we are in a world with many different religions, we need to remember that Christianity is only one of many, and we should not lose sight of that reality. Conscious of this pluralistic world will keep us grounded and prepared to face the challenges ahead. Instead of thinking that each  party  of a dialogue has all the truth, it is better to think it is somewhere between us.

This will require looking for different ways of doing mission. * Learning from one another * Having open conversations with everyone, not only with believers, but with the atheist and the non-believer * Cooperating with those who are suffering  * Going  beyond isolationist spiritual thinking* Making our dialogue take flesh and doing it all with humility.

Another participant, a professor, saw the way God was working in the many different cultures of the world. God is also the God of all these other people, he said, citing Rom. 3:29. God manifested himself sacramentally in a variety of ways in the different cultures and religions of the world. These cultures and religions can lead many to go beyond their values and come to a true understanding of the Gospels.

One of the articles ends with the words of a  priest: The place of God in the life of the believer is continuing to decrease because of the secularization that is taking place. One of the works of mission is to make God present in that reality. When this is done, he said, mission bestows meaning to evangelization.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Give You My Blessing

“As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to first be a blessing to one another.”

These words of Pope John Paul remind us that we are all called to bless others, to be a benediction to others, and that which promotes well being is our common task.

A rector of one of our seminaries, in his book I Give You My Blessing, puts it this way"The first step is to realize who we are. Like standing before a mirror to check our outward appearance, we need to spend time before the mirror of our inner self, acknowledging who we are in thought, feelings and actions." The book wants us all to take time in silence to open our hearts and to be open to the blessings we are receiving. 

In Korea it has been the custom for centuries, he says, to wish others at the holidays, blessings. This has begun to disappear, replaced by complaints and backbiting. It is precisely here that we need to hear the words of blessing. In giving the blessing we are activating the blessings we have already received in the past.

The book is divided into three chapters: Know, Believe and Love, each one showing concretely the way they manifest the life of blessings. We need the  mirror of God to see ourselves as we are, to rid ourselves of the excess packaging we have acquired over a lifetime. When we have an understanding of our real value, then we will gain strength and our hope is made stronger. 

He encourages us to give as often as possible our blessing to others: those we love, those we don't, those we need to forgive, and not forgetting whenever we leave the presence of others to give them our blessing. In Korea, the younger person has cultural difficulties in blessing an older person, but the book makes clear that it's not because the younger person cannot but simply because of his inability to surmount the cultural conditioning.

There are many things like this that we should be doing but don't. Many are sick who would welcome being visited, and our troubling relationships with others might be improved if we paid more attention to them. We need to set aside more time, the book urges us, to focus on the many ways we can share the blessings received from God with all those who have come into our lives to share their lives with ours.