Monday, June 30, 2014

Sensitivity to Beauty and Common Sense

15 crew members of the Sewol ferry tragedy are on trial for murder and negligence in the death of the passengers. They left behind hundreds of passengers heartlessly, is the accusation, to save themselves. The country is awaiting the verdict. Many of the citizens who watched the rescue efforts see it as  murder by omission while  practitioners of the law, see prosecuting the crew for murder as going too far.

The editor of one of the newspapers reflects on the tragedy and the trial on the opinion page of the Catholic Times. She tells the readers that many of the countries in Europe  have the 'Good Samaritan Law' on the books  which  would consider what was done by the crew a serious crime.The 'Good Samaritan Law' would require that you help a person who is in a difficult situation. In France a person despite having the time, refusing to help a person who  dies, should prepare to spend 5 years in prison. In Germany it would be 3 years. China has a similar law when one refuses to help.

The writer tells us legal positivism is the basis for Korean law, meaning that virtue and law are strictly  separated. She gives the example  of  problems with children in nurseries where working mothers leave the children. Not infrequently the mothers do not pick up the children on time. To prevent this from happening, they prepared a monetary penalty. However, this only made matters worse for the mothers brazenly felt that they were now entitled to have the children stay later since they were paying the penalty.

Nowadays, when one doesn't stop for the passing  ambulance, one is fined 200 dollars. Without this penalty and leaving it up the consciences of the individual the results were far from what was expected. What is needed, she says, more than law is  a feeling of common sense to permeate society; not the kind of superficial  understanding that comes from one mind to another, but a feeling that comes from one heart to another. She mentions the philosopher Hannah Arendt, who considered this common sense of extreme value in society. In the competitive society that we have, this common sense becomes important  in the raising of our children. Common sense is similar to a social  sense. They are different, but it is a respect of the other and the appreciation of harmony and beauty. Without this common sense, the market-logic, competitive-logic and capital-logic will overcome us with coldness and greed.

To save this common sense it is necessary to be familiar with art and literature. Confucius also said something similar that with ritual and music, we will not have crime. Familiarity with the arts, the children will become good.

She concludes with an anecdote about the author of Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak, who on a cold day went outside to find wood for the fire and the log had a sprout coming out, he put down the log and spent the night in the cold. This kind of sensitivity to beauty and harmony she  hopes parents will try to develop in their children. With this sensitivity to life, the problems that we had with the Sewol tragedy will slowly disappear in our society.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Feast of St. Peter and Paul

Today in the Catholic World the Sunday liturgy concedes its place to the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the two giant apostles of  the early Church. The pictures that we see of the two have St. Peter with the keys and St. Paul with a book or a sword. They were the prime examples of the messengers of Jesus to the Jews and the Gentiles: men of great passion, strength and love and at the same time flawed human beings.

Reading about their lives and the way they reacted with those around them, if it came to a vote among the disciples of  that time it is unlikely they would have received the votes for the positions they had in the early Church. Peter was born in Israel but Paul was born among the Jews who  lived outside Israel in what we now call Turkey, both were selected by Jesus for their mission to the world.

Peter was a fisherman, with little formal education and with a good heart but not too quick in understanding what he was called to do. Peter, showed his weakness in denying Jesus three times. Paul  fought with Peter over his failure to follow the teachings of Jesus when it came to food because of Peter's fear of the disciples who maintained the teaching from the past. When they were not present Peter readily ate with the gentiles. He was called a hypocrite by Paul because of this dissembling.  

Paul, on his trip to Damascus to persecute the Christians, experienced Jesus in a way that changed his whole life. He was blinded and helped by Ananias, was baptized, and began to preach Jesus to all, but in a way that annoyed many of his fellow Jews, so much so that they plotted to kill him. His friends warned him of the plot, they helped him to escape to Jerusalem. But even in Jerusalem the disciples feared him, and it was with the  help of Barnabas that he was introduced to the leaders of the Church.

Barnabas  explained how he worked in Damascus in spreading the message of Jesus in the Synagogues; he was accepted and worked freely in Jerusalem, but even there the Greek speaking Jews responded by trying to kill him, and his fellow disciples told him the best thing was to go home to Tarsus. We hear the whole area returned to peace.

Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the leaders of the Church to help in the evangelization of the city and seeing how much had to be done he decided to go to Tarsus to find Paul and work together with him.  For a whole year they worked in Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

Barnabas and Paul returned to Jerusalem where they began the first of the mission journeys. During this journey, John Mark who came along as an errand boy, a cousin of Barnabas, left to return to Jerusalem without word, which Paul would not forgive and because of this on the second journey, Barnabas and Paul separated and went their different ways. Here is another example of Paul's stubbornness but we know Barnabas and John Mark were reunited in friendship later, expressed in Paul's epistles.

We are all weak individuals and the story of these two giants of the faith  should give us much consolation for they could work through their difficulties and with their openness to graces, despite some of their character faults, did great things. They were willing to examine themselves and to work continually in becoming more of what they knew they were called to be.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Columba Kang Wan-suk (1761~1801)

In the Peace Weekly,  a series of articles on the 124 martyrs who will be beatified on the coming visit of the pope to Korea continue to appear.  Among those who were martyred was Columba Kang Wan-suk (1761~1801)  the first Korean woman catechist.

During the Choson Dynasty and the promotion of Confucianism, the place of women in Korean society took a step backwards because of the feudal patriarchal society that was ushered in. Of course, this did not affect the  upper class as it did the ordinary and lower class members of society.Catholic teaching that we are all equal and made in the image of God was a big blow to the mores of society, and gave women a reason for self-esteem.

Catholicism gave women of that time the  values for living a full life, and enabling them to embrace the new faith and even give their lives for what they believed. Columba was a leader of these women. Despite the limitations of the society, she became a zealous leader, and practiced what she believed with sacrifice in search of the Gospel life. Because of her activity before the first priest Chu Mun-mo (James)  entered the country from China, there were already 4,000 Catholics in 1794. Just before the persecution of 1801 there were over 10,000 Catholics, and the large number of women is attributed to the work of Columba. Even the royal court was familiar with her work.

Before she entered the Church little was known about her life. She was the daughter of a concubine in a noble family in Naepo  Chungcheong-do. She was well-educated and considered by her peers as a woman of wisdom and virtue. She became the second wife of a man who was very mediocre and did not have a very happy life. She wanted to return to the world. It was at this time that she read some books about Catholicism and began to instruct her family and neighbors. Her husband wasn't interested and began to harass her and later took a concubine and  separated from Columba. She moved from Naepo with her mother-in-law and her stepson and began to work full-time with spreading the faith. In 1795, rather late, she was baptized by Fr. Chu and  was immediately made the  women catechist.

She hid Fr. Chu in her house, and it became the meeting place for the Christians. A custom of the times was that the government officials were not allowed to enter the houses of the noble class to search. She brought many from the lower classes of society into the Church and also members of the nobility and the grandfather of a future king of the country. She made no distinctions between the high and low. On April 6th of 1801, she was arrested in her house and dragged to the police station.The police tried on six different occasions with severe torture without any results to find the Chinese priest's location.While in prison, she continued to study her faith and strengthened those who were confined with her. On July 2nd, she was martyred.

Without the efforts of Columba would the results in  the Choson Dynasty have been possible? The work of Columba made it possible to enter the ordinary and lower segments of society. According to Arnold Toynbee: "All acts of social creation are the work of either an individual creator or, at most, of creative minorities."

Columba was of the noble class, the daughter of a concubine, a woman, who  lived as the second wife of an abusive husband,  makes her life all that more glorious.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Renewal of the Church

The director, a college professor, of the women's subcommittee for the bishops, writes in  View from the Ark of the Catholic Times about their recent questionnaire dealing with women's issues. During the last year, they had the 3rd questionnaire. The first one was conducted in 1995. The results showed that the women were interested in being more active in the workings of the Church. They were obedient and passive and were critical of the priests' role in the management of the parish and would like more of a say in the pastoral councils and the liturgy.

The second  questionnaire of 2004 asked for the training of women leaders and the means to hear their voices both in the parish and at the diocesan level.

In 2013, the result of this last questionnaire was not the same as the past but without big changes. Like in the past the women would like a change in the priests' attitude with more understanding. They have a desire for more fellowship among the parishioners, and more openness to the larger community in which the community exists.

In the last section of the questionnaire, the women were asked what they would like to see the Church do to make their religious life happier and more meaningful. They were asking for the women's subjective feelings on their relations with the parish. They wanted less discrimination between the male and female members, working to improve communication  with the Catholics, a change in the authoritarianism and reigning over the Catholics,  better preparation of the sermons, more humility and simplicity in lifestyle; they singled out participating in expensive sports, too much drinking, and associating with a small number of believers. They wanted to see renewal, a deeper spirituality, and the formation of priests  they respect. The number-one desire on the part of  the women was a  change in their priests' attitude, and renewal of life.

In a recent survey of all the Catholics on the occasion of the pope's visit to Korea, 98 percent wanted to see a renewal of the Church. A change in the authoritarianism of the clergy that relegated the laity to the periphery.This was the  response of about half of those questioned. One-third had problems with the worldly ways of the Church, pastoral work took second place to administration, neglect of the poor in the work of the Church, the immaturity and individual spirituality of the Catholics, lack of interest in the social Gospel, the separation of results and the internal life: life and religion. The women found that the sexes were not treated the same.

In the questionnaire of 2004 on women's issues, 26.6 percent said that the clergy were not treating the women equally. In the 2013 questionnaire, you had 34.3 percent said that to promote the place of women in the Church it was necessary to deal with the clericalism and patriarchy of the clergy.There was a need to improve the communication between the clergy and the laity.

The writer quotes a priest who said that the pastors   need to  listen more attentively to the needs of the women to enable them to be more enthusiastically involved in the work of the Church. The pastors should be conscious of the needs and desires  of the women in the parishes and reflect this in the administration. The professor concludes with the observation that the results of the  surveys show that the demands of the woman are getting larger, and she wonders if we are  walking without moving.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Surfing the Web

Surfing the web is a  phrase we hear often referring to the practice of browsing web sites and looking for something of interest. A religious sister who has made a study of media, and spirituality writes on the subject in the Catholic Times. She is moved by the interest that she sees of those who are surfing  and their expressions, very much like children who are absorbed in playing computer games.

The ocean of Information on  the Internet is waiting for us to access it.  Those who are on the beach waiting for the wave to surf-ride, she explains to her readers, are moving back and forth, which has  a similarity to what we call surfing the web. However, she says, in surfing the web it might seem that searching on the Internet will require reading and absorption, but she uses a study that says most do not spend more than 5 minutes at any one site. Consequently, she calls this more like shopping than reading.

Many people nowadays begin their search on the Internet in the morning, like having someone waiting for them to deal with the boring hours of their trip. However, when this practice becomes a habit, there will be problems in concentrating on a subject for any period  of time. We don't have the patience to read a book, and  we lose the ability to examine and look into ourselves. Searching is fast and easy, we are instantly gratified, which makes the painstaking effort necessary to do  a serious study the old way difficult. 

When  accustomed to a way of doing something, and repeating it often this becomes an embedded habit that will influence all we say and do. Easily to see how this will affect our spiritual life, the slow and deep contemplative way of living will be pushed to the edges. Prayer, liturgy, efforts to listen to sermons will all be affected. The structures of our  brains will be affected by what we do and think, and in time will change the world in which we live.

St.Francis de Sales says that there are those who are very busy and occupied  with others who are meticulously and carefully in search of God. This search rather than be quick and easy is slow and patient. We should not give our space and time for  deep thinking to the searching on the Internet. Especially when traveling on the subway, we should bury our smart phones in our traveling bag and take out a  'book'. Is it not then we can be open to meeting God?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anniversary of the Start of the Korean War

June 25, 1950 is the date the Korean War began.Today we remember June 25th with Masses, praying for peace, and speaking about preparations for unification of the one country of Korea. After the Second World War, the victorious parties divided the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel:  the north of the once Japanese colonial possession went to the Russians, and the United States occupied the area to the south. The division and confrontation have continued up until the present.

Both Catholic papers had articles on the situation, and the symposium held on June 12th on what path should be taken for unification. Opinions expressed  continued along the ideological understanding of the divisions. One of the headlines addressed the need for the conservative and progressive positions to come together to prepare for unification.

The word jackpot has been used for the unification of the country. The South is still divided among those who want a united Korea and those opposed. The opposition would be based on the financial burden that would be put on the South. The word jackpot is the dream of a better economic tomorrow with the united South and North.

The symposium mentioned the need for both the North and South to acknowledge their own failures and mistakes over the years. One position would see the war, the continual provocation of the North against the South, communism and the human rights violations in the North as insurmountable obstacles to unification,and the other side sees the history of one country, the need for brotherly love, helping those in need, forgiveness and return to the oneness of our Korean culture.

The way we have acted with the anti-communistic thinking has continued the hostile approach to the North, has contributed to the divisions we have in the South, and the anti-unification thinking of many. The Church has much to do in helping to heal the divisions we have concerning unification.

One priest suggested that on the visit of the pope to Korea, the international community has a means of  showing  an interest in the unification of the country. This would be a wonderful sign to the whole world. He would like the government to see the visit of the pope not only as a religious visit but as an occasion to contribute to policies that will quicken the day of unification.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sadness is Unavoidable

There is a museum dedicated to the life and work of the Catholic Japanese novelist Syusaku Endo in the Sotome district of Nagasaki overlooking the ocean. On the monument to 'Silence', there are inscribed the words: "Humanity is so sad, Lord, and the ocean so blue."

A priest writing for a pastoral bulletin introduces us to his thoughts on the Japanese novelist. The novelist asked for two books to be buried with him when he died. The books, Silence and Deep River were two of his favorites and dealt with  the theme of sadness. This sadness is  not the kind that you cry and with the catharsis,regain your composure and are refreshed. He is not talking about  the emotions. He is talking about the existential sadness that faces all of us in life with the accompanying agony through which we go in search of salvation, a pilgrimage of inquiry.

Humanity in seeing the difficulties of life that await, and the weakening of our human response, we face the  limitations imposed upon us by the present reality. Since we  cannot fight against the future, our weaknesses bring  sadness. However, when we don't deny the sadness and accept it, we are able to deal with ourselves as we are. Syusaku says when we work to purify and heal the sadness that is in us, and accept it then we will meet the person we were meant to be and happiness. 

Persons who do not feel sadness are not healthy. The article goes into detail on the issue. You have those who have no conscience and no feeling or remorse in hurting another. You also have another type who is charming and uses another for their own ends. This person also says the writer, has as no feelings for another's sorrow. He distinguishes between the Psychopath and the Sociopath.

The article concludes with the response seen in the mass media on the death of so many children in the Sewol  tragedy. While most of the citizens were in deep sadness in seeing the drowning of so many children and feeling with the families, you did hear some strange responses to the tragedy: feelings expressed  were improper; we must look at the accident. We have to get rid of the primitive feelings of sorrow. Why did the children of the poor  go on such a luxurious trip to Jejudo by boat when they had many places to go on land? 

If in  deep sorrow we are not able to meet the persons we are and discover our nobility we will not recover the persons we are meant to be. When we are not able to feel sorrow we are like a dog who eats the food given and in loyalty wags its tail.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Renewed and Reformed Church

Pope Francis will be coming to Korea in August, and  Korean Catholics are  enthused  partially due to the star quality of  Pope Francis. The priest writing in  a bulletin for priests mentions how the Vatican religious goods stores are selling from 70 to 80 percent more than usual thanks to the pope's popularity.  This popularity  hopefully will  translate into having more  people  interested in the Church and gain more respect for the Church in the society. However, more importantly will be for the Church to understand the meaning of the  pope's words and actions and bring about renewal and reform within the Church.

The pope will  be attracting our attention in  unfavorable circumstances to an appreciation of the joy of the Gospel. 'Joy of the Gospel' shows us the importance of evangelization but it is not just to increase the number of our Catholics but an evangelization inviting all of humanity to the Trinitarian  intimacy and  the love in unity.  The washing of the feet of a Muslim child is a sign of this vision. Jesus  wanted all humanity to accept the Fatherhood of  God, and this is the vision that Francis want us to have. He continues the article  showing some of the other aspects of the renewal and reform.

Pope Francis wants us first, to be  a poor Church.  "This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us"( #198). How do we go about being a poor Church? We cannot  have renewal without becoming a poor Church. Operations  with an eye for  profit and big welfare projects, there is more  lost than  gained. Making the Church vital requires that  we  deepen our spirituality of poverty. In these times of greed, the spirit of poverty is the means of healing. We have to train workers to be friends to  the  poor. The poor  evangelize us to be a Church of the poor.

The Church, secondly, needs to be prophetic. "Yet if he does not take time to hear God’s word with an open heart, if he does not allow it to touch his life, to challenge him, to impel him, and if he does not devote time to pray with that word, then he will indeed be a false prophet, a fraud, a shallow impostor" (#151) These words of Francis  will open us up to be opposed, but that is our glory.

Thirdly, we need to leave our comfort zone, be open and be a Church that goes out to others. This, says the writer, the pope mentions on a number of occasions in the Joy of the Gospel. We need to be interested in the needs of the people. We need to leave the sacristy to be with the people. This needs to be part of the daily life, visiting homes, the sick and  weekly giving of the sacraments to the sick.

There is a need of hearing the cries of the people, their pain, their complaints and being with them. They will make known their inner desire and be open to the answers from the Gospel. We have to show them the Gospel life. "We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide" (#272). When we go out to others it will seem at times that we are facing death, but we will be refreshed and concludes, be walking on water.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why Does the Church Exist?

The recent Sewol tragedy generated much reflection on the part of the citizens. The death of such a large number of children was due to human error. Why was there such a dereliction of duty? A priest writing in Biblelife had difficulty keeping the many negative thoughts from overcoming him, especially, when in his mind's eye, he kept seeing the Coast Guard life boat come to the sinking ferry and taking the captain and part of the crew off the ferry, and leaving the many children behind.

The Church is also imagined as a boat an ark. Is it the kind of boat that we can call for in a rescue?  Can I trust the boat to carry my precious children? Is it really different from the other boats and vessels, the nation and our trust in money, with which we are familiar?  When people are in crisis, he laments, the  places which are willing to extend a helping hand are disappearing. The responsibility of the Church to save the sinking world in which we live has to be continually examined and be ready for marching orders.

During the 4th century, the monks living in the city began to leave for the desert. At this time, the persecution of the Church ended. The Church became favored, churches began to appear in the public squares of the empire, and the monks did not like what they saw. The Church was not able to function as it was meant to by the orders of the  founder. The monks were seeing all the evils in the big cities and the way the Church was being influenced by the national state and wanted to leave the muddy and gloomy environment for the peace of the desert.

The article introduces us to Ivan Illich (1926-2002) who took great pains to point out the many problems in the relationship of the Church to the World. He used frequently two Latin words: 'the corruption of the best is the worse' and the 'mystery of evil'. Difficult he says to understand the horrible things that have happened only with the intellect.

"First, the evils of modern technology can't be compared with any of the other material cultures. Secondly, it is necessary to know the historical waste and luxury in society. It goes against all the Gospel teachings of Christianity and overturns them. The actual condition of humanity is a deformation that has come from Christianity. All our systems and structures in society are a distortion of Christianity."

The problems that we have in society, Illich said, are because the Church was not acting Church-like, and it is not far from the truth to say the thinking was too close to the thinking of the world. The reason for many of the evils was a distortion of the Gospel message. What are we to make of such an assertion? Jesus' desire and plan for the Church was the salvation of the world and when we recall the mission, we have to nod our heads in assent. Salvation was the object and target of the Church.

In Conclusion, he returns to the monks in the desert. The hermits were not leaving the cities to abandon the Church but the opposite; they wanted to save themselves, prepare a base camp, and have their feet on  solid land, so they could throw the rope to those on the sinking boat of the world. They wanted to save the world, which like a ship full of holes was sinking.

If we want to have the same energy that the hermit fathers had in the desert and help our fellow human beings and those who will come after us, we need to find solid ground where we are able to stand tall. Where is that base camp? We have to study to find the virtues that we have not been attentive to, and  return to the desert to practice these virtues.