Thursday, July 31, 2014


Articles by a professor of ethics continue to appear in the diocesan bulletin on  communication. In the past, he outlined the conditions for communication, this week he considered the structures for communication. To be at the same eye level as the  persons with whom you want to  communicate is the expression he uses, for him  basic to the structure of communication is reciprocity. If one is strong and the other weak, of higher or lower  rank, and this is not overcome, we do not have the reciprocity but the danger of tyranny.

He uses the example of anthropologists who when they visit the natives of an area behave differently than travelers. They relate very naturally, freely and deeply with the natives. They work to be on the same level as the natives which  enables the natives to open up to the anthropologists. They look at the environment with the eyes of the natives. When those who come see themselves as civilized and feel superior, look at the natives with pity, the natives will not be open. This being at the level of the other is difficult.

What is the meaning of being at the same eye level? Matching the eye level of the other means to be  equal with the other. I have to have the same respect for him as I have for myself. He is not me, and I am not him; we are different, and we respect this difference and see it as important, all a part of the equality of the parties. The ability to do this is the sign of our maturity. The maturity of this relationship will also determine the quality of the discussion.

Parents and teachers to communicate with the children and young people will have to acquaint themselves with the need to match the eye level of those with whom they are relating. Just looking at it physically, the children are going to be intimidated. The children are not able  to be at the eye level of the adults, so from reason the adults have to lower themselves to the level of the child. If the communication doesn't develop, the professor says, it is because of the inability to lower themselves to the level of the child. Parents and teachers when the problems are not solved often fail to realize it is their inability to understand the child that is the problem.

Vertical, hierarchical order of our society, authoritarianism, makes the matching of eye levels very difficult. This equality is seen best in the relationship between friends. But even here we have the equality of similarity, and inadvertently both   vying with each other, which can make the  relationship tiring. Our society has difficulty helping us to react with each other at eye level.

The description of what it means to have the structures in place to communicate are clear, but because of our character weaknesses, the obstacles seem insurmountable. Acknowledgement of the facts would go a long way in improving the position we  find ourselves in when trying to communicate.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

True Values in Life

Even the parishioners of the  small mission station here in Gyodong were given a petition to sign asking for legislation to determine the cause of the Sewol Ferry sinking on April 16th. Since the disaster a  hundred days have passed and the search for truth is still continuing.The tragedy and the conscientizing that is  taking place should bring changes to the country.

Family members of the victims are on a  hunger strike demanding an early adoption of a  law to find the cause of the incident that left more than 300 people dead or missing.

Both Catholic papers had editorials on the problems in finding  the truth. Flowery words are used to describe the anguish of the families and the sorrow that accompanies the tragedy, but little has been done to discover the truth. The tragedy was man-made, could have been prevented, and we have not come any closer to discovering who was at fault and why, after three months.

Ten of those missing have not been found and there is a fear that we will forget the implications of what happened. The impact on the public can be compared to the 9/11 tragedy in the States. More so than the States the sinking of the Sewol Ferry opened up avenues of thought  that were not  easily accessible to the public.

The sinking of the ferry brought to the mind, said one of the participants in a public discussion on the tragedy, the many problems we have in our society:  the emphasis on economic progress without qualification; the value we give to life and human rights, took second place to profits; widespread corruption; lack of interest for  safety; dereliction of duty; weakness of crisis management on the part of government;  incompetence; and the weakness of the mass media in reporting. Many other areas have been given light by the tragedy.

Another participant representing those who lost someone in the tragedy said we should not forget the kind of  society that permitted this disaster to happen. Because of political  party squabbles on how to proceed each party is jockeying for positions and not proceeding in efforts to find the truth. There are also those that are telling the families to put an end to their efforts to find the truth. It is not difficult to image the hurt that this is causing the families. All they want to know is the truth to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future.

At the conclusion of an article on the issues involved a university professor mentioned people trying to fix something after the problem has occurred, they are trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Closing the door with laws, systems, and procedures will not take care of the problem, says the professor, what is necessary is coming to a new understanding of what is important in life.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

'Time is Greater than Space'

With  the coming of Pope Francis to Korea, both within and outside the Church, various voices are heard expressing themselves. Some waiting for the pope's words of encouragement  and  consolation, others showing concern for the pope's health during the hot humid days of August. Voices of citizens who do not want to see government funds used on ceremonies  and want all to be kept small, in harmony with the pope's personality and values. There are also wishes  for the pope not to visit the largest home for the handicapped in Korea at the Flower Village, but rather to visit with  those who are demonstrating  against the acts of the  government in not  respecting the rights of the citizens, and the  unjust firing of workers in big business.

The peace columnist of the Peace Weekly feels it is  healthy to have these divergent views on the visit. Only one voice expressed during this time would not be a sign of a healthy society. There is one wish he would have; to lower some of  the walls and get rid of prejudices.

The pope wants us to think much about what we say and what we need not to say. We need to think deeply about what we say and write, and have a heart at peace.

We have invited the pope  to come to Korea, but at the same time he is inviting us to get closer to Jesus. We need to listen carefully to what he will say to us during the visit. More than being concerned with whom he meets and where he goes is what he has to say. We need to lower are walls and listen with equanimity.

The columnist introduces the story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) where our Lord said the listening was the better part. Francis is coming to Korea as a messenger of the Gospel: to give witness to Jesus  and spread his message. There needs to be a harmony between the two sisters, but Jesus did say  Mary had selected the better part, and  it was  not going to be taken away.  The pope  wants us all to have a closer relationship with Jesus.

In Joy of the Gospel: "Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space" (Joy of the Gospel # 222).  Where the pope goes is not as important as what he says. In #226:  "Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective; our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality. "

The different opinions expressed on the visit are a sign of life, but also we need a desire for unity and to work towards its actuality.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bullying in Society

Even in kindergartens we have conflicts among the children giving rise to violence and bullying. A religious sister, after reading an article in the daily paper brings the subject to our attention in the opinion page of the Catholic Times. She asks the readers how are we to deal with the increase of this type of violence?

A soldier recently because of bullying in his army camp responded with a shooting rage. Those of us  who have  experienced bullying, know how dispiriting and what it does to our self-respect. We, growing up, have seen this bullying and alienating of our friends. In those cases how did we behave? Although we did not join the bullying were we indifferent towards what was happening, feel no guilt from being a passive spectator? Were we like those who passed the one on the side of the road in Jesus' parable?

She feels the competitive society that is being formed with the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer is not irrelevant to the question of alienation we are seeing. The emphasis that we put on education is going to put those who are not attracted to mental attainments at a great disadvantage. In an environment that extols mental achievements,  teachers will consider a student not able to keep up with the other students as a problem, a reason classmates often bully students. Many children who are annoying the slower students do not feel they are doing anything wrong.

She recommends that we try to put ourselves in the place of those who are being alienated in our society. We have not been good in doing this within our educational system; she laments. We are able to do this when we take time to reflect on our way of living. How much time to we give to this kind of self-introspection? We are too busy to take time out of schedules to reflect on the way we live.

Happiness blossoms with our relations. When we are separated from the relational net to which we belong we are separating ourselves from happiness. Isn't this the reason that Jesus wanted to include the enemies in this relational net? They also have  a need to be happy as a part of God's creation.

Even though there is no bullying involved many are lonely and feel alienated from others. The need for intimacy in our relational network has been loosening, and many have been excluded from the network. Happiness is not something that we grasp but is a gift we receive when those around us are happy. We have to look around us and see those who are stooped over with sadness and give them hope. The words we use and the efforts we make to listen to them may be the means of opening their hearts. This is one step in adding to our own happiness. Isn't this the way we can do something to remedy the abuse and alienation that are wide spread in our society and bring happiness to the lives of many?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Family Life and Society

In the diocesan bulletin, a religious priest writes about a young woman  who came to see him for a consultation. She was very active in the youth work of the parish. The priest whenever invited to give a talk to the  young people at a Mass would always encourage,  give them hope. After one of his talks, a girl had the courage to come to see him after Mass.

Briefly, what she said was that from a very early age, she always trusted people. She trusted her parents, her relations and those around her. She believed everybody was like her parents from an early age.

However, from the time in school, she'd  received many scars and bitter disappointments  from her fellow students and her teachers: not only, in middle and high school but also in college and after in the workplace. This continued even in her voluntary work within the parish setting. She hated many and  felt guilty. Whenever she went to confession, she was always confessing the same sins.

Recently, she said this all came to an end. Now when she trusts others, and they disappoint her and  say things that hurt she no longer harbors any ill feelings towards them. She is very much at peace, and light hearted.  She found this to be very strange and came to the priest to talk about her new feelings.

The priest told her that there are many young people who have grown up with trust and  confidence because of their parents' personalities and education received in the home, but not all have been so fortunate. That is a reason we have to treat others with love and understanding.

There is a tendency, he says, to forget the environment that many have to contend with growing up. Many grew up in dysfunctional families; their experience in the homes appears in the society in which they enter: distrust, immorality, competition, envy, jealously, egotism, materialism.

If religions and those with folk beliefs implemented the family values and took them seriously we would have understanding, love, sharing, respect for creation, other humans, animals and the environment.We would be moved by  loving compassion, the world would be different. The problems we have in the families will appear in our society, and influence society negatively.

Pope Francis had this to say about family life: "It is necessary to reaffirm the conviction that every family is the principal setting for the growth of each individual, since it is through the family that human beings become open to life and the natural need for relationships with others. Over and over again we see that family bonds are essential for the stability of relationships in society, for the work of education and for integral human development, for they are inspired by love, responsible inter-generational solidarity and mutual trust. These are factors, which can make even the most adverse situations more bearable, and bring a spirit of true fraternity to our world, enabling it to feel as a single family, where the greatest attention is paid to those most in need" (6/20/13).

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Spirituality and Materiality

Spirituality is a word in common use. What do we mean by spirituality? The opposite of  spirituality is materiality. Jesus asked will it be property or God? When we put property before God, it is a life of materiality, when God is in first place, it is spirituality. Spirituality and materiality are like day and night, when one gets longer the other gets shorter. When spirituality becomes weak materiality becomes strong, and fills the space. The tendency to side with materiality results in a distancing from God and also from the poor. These words are the first paragraph of an article in Bible & Life by a parish priest.

In the Old Testament, the prophets repeated this message over and over: justice was measured by the care for the orphans, widows and the foreigners. Jesus' message was extremely clear, there is a danger that comes with riches. "You keep saying, I am so rich and secure; I want for nothing. Little do you realize how wretched you are, how pitiable and poor, how blind and naked!"(Rev. 3:17)

Today this option for the poor is well established, but in the Church's history, we have seen much discussion of the issue. The reformers in the 16th century cried out 'faith alone' which was heatedly debated and took our eyes off the poor.

Many forget who it was that insisted on the help for the person half dead on the side of the road, and think it was another Jew, Karl Marx. No, the Church never forgot that it is through the poor that we grow spiritually. Pope Francis "wants a poor Church for the poor." The writer feels that these words come from another age.

When we are asked to share what we have with the poor, we realize the difficulty. The Church to become a home for those in need requires the  Church to become poor.  " for your sake, he made himself poor, though he was rich, so that you might become rich by his poverty" (2nd Cor. 8:9). Pope Francis will be coming to Korea in August, this message he continues to repeat, hopefully we are prepared to welcome him and his message. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Adults are the Children's Mirror

'Adults are the children's mirror,' a proverb which the Koreans hear often. In an article in Bible & Life, a  professor in the field of communications mentions in jest, when he drinks a glass of water in front of children, he has to be careful. These ideas  are not only  Asian, for  in the West we hear: 'Every man's neighbor is his looking glass'. Over a period of time we gather the wisdom of the ages and enshrine it in our proverbs.

This thinking has been  reinforced  scientifically  by the experiments of the Italian neurophysiologist G. Rizzolatti who in the  1990s experimenting with monkeys discovered that the monkeys by watching an action and performing an action activates the same part of the brain. A 'mirror neuron' in the monkey's brain is activated when the monkey grasped a peanut or when the experimenter grasped a peanut. Put simply, when the monkey did something or another person did it, the same part of the brain would be activated-- the mirror neuron.

Scientists feel the mirror neuron in humans is more developed. Not only, when they see an action performed by another person, but when they hear about the act, it will activate the mirror neuron. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the person's volition but is automatic. The meaning of this sympathetic response can be seen in our communities. Mencius(372 BC-289 BC) who knew nothing of the mirror image reminds us that when we see a child struggling in the water, the first thought is to save the child; our humaneness comes to the fore.

Knowing this we are faced with many questions. We have the mirror neuron, the need to show compassion our humaneness, why is it so rare in society? This is a natural question that must follow. If we talk only about compassion and humaneness as a part of our makeup and leave it at that, we are left with a pie in the sky idea, which forgets that just as strong is our greed and partiality. Jesus in our human history has shown us how to get rid of our greed and partiality,  and reach the love we need to activate.

This brings to mind another question. Why with one-third of the world population Christian, do we continue to have wars, oppression, genocides and all kinds of atrocities? The answer to this question is also clear. More than sympathy, hostility more than love, hate is what we express in our lives. People with vested interests are the ones naturally who would be in control of a large segment of the goings on in society. The professor recounts what Jesus did with the vested interests of those in the temple. He taught: the way you treat the least in society is the way you treat him.

In our society, the people with the authority and the money are more interested in winner-take-all approach than the compassionate approach, and  consequently, the competition that we see. In the economic system that we have made, showing  sympathy to others has been  pushed to the peripheries.

In the Sewol Ferry tragedy, we see how greed, selfishness, corruption, blinded so many before, during and after the disaster; and the way  much of the  media treated the subject. There was opposition to groups in society sympathetic in doing  away with the irregularities that prepared for the disaster. In our society, the number of  irregular workers is extremely high. We lead other countries in suicides and the numbers of hours of work, the number of births the lowest. This needs to be shown to the citizens of the country and not hide the reality. Is it not the work of evangelization to show those who take pride in a winner-take-all value system that there is another way? In conclusion, the professor wants us to look at our internal mirror and make sure it is working.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Conditions for Communication

We are all individuals separated from one another, needing to relate to live. One separated individual needs to meet with another separated individual in order to communicate and live together. Our incompleteness and  separateness  are in some way overcome and  we survive. Aristotle said  we are  incomplete human beings. and build communities to overcome this incompleteness which at  the same time gives rise to conflict and  collisions.

Consequently, we have to learn how to live together. A professor writes in our  diocesan bulletin on what this requires of us. Living together requires art, the ability to communicate with others. There are certain conditions necessary to communicate, and he introduces them to the readers.

Humans are similar and at the same time different. We have a need to  communicate, and the similarity and differences make  communication possible. If we were all the same there would be  nothing to communicate: the more we are the same the less need to communicate. On the other hand, if we were different in everything and even in the  means of speaking, there would be no possibility of communicating. There would be no way of linking ourselves together. The more different makes the communication more difficult. Joining together what  is similar to what is different allows us to communicate.

Chronic absence of communication in our  society can be traced, he says to one of the causes we have listed. We still have the emphasis on blood relationships, provincialism, school ties; this cronyism is part of our society. The same blood, the same village, the same school does not allow for the different others to enter our circle. This is one of the  big problems in society and the breakdown of communication.

On the other hand,  society  emphasizes  individuality, creativity. international marriages, the differences when they are stressed we have the breakdown of communication. We have in the book Men are from Mars and Women from Venus an example of this thinking. Men and women begin to have problems in their relationship  when we stress the differences. The magic of love draws the two together in their differences and they marry, but when the magic of love disappears the relationship and communication breakdown. This is when they walk the path of thorns,  which is more difficult than death. Here one has to work to meet the differences of the other and respond correctly; this requires the practice of virtue.

He concludes his article with the example of a flower garden. We have a large number of different flowers in the garden. These are different but they all come from the same earth. When we have the joining together in this fashion of  the same and the different, we have something beautiful, and in our lives, the conditions necessary  for communication that will allow the  community to express beauty.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Passion and Dispassion

A priest working in a diocesan religious education center recalls his early years before entering the seminary.He writes about his experience in Bible & Life. In second year high school, he was invited by a close friend to go to the cathedral church in Seoul. An opportunity to ride the subway made the  invitation attractive. They arrived at the cathedral where there was a program for those  interested in the priesthood. This was the first time he heard of such a program.

Looking back over 25 years, he doesn't remember anything that was said, but only the delicious  high-class  doughnuts, their taste, aroma and color. Doughnuts made him want to be part of the group preparing for the seminary, and a desire to be a priest. He was taken up with a dream and a passion, but did not envision the dispassion that would follow the passion. 

In the seminary, it was not vocation, God's call, but concern about the grades.The very ambiguous call of God did not compare to the here and now reality of getting the necessary marks to move ahead. He admits more than vocation it was his choice, more than the will of God it was his dream, that was important. He wanted to be a seminarian, a priest; it was his desire that made him put all his efforts to be a priest; he was driven by passion. 

25 years have passed; he is now a priest. His passion enabled him to become a priest, but the passion disappeared. Passion is in our hearts but where there is also a trap. We are not persons with an earthly eternity. Passion does not exist eternally, and his passion dried up and disappeared, and in its place dispassion. 

The time in the Confession seemed like an eternity.  Telephone rings late at night were irritating. His sermons were unprepared and rambling. The TV remote control in his hand was more to his liking than the breviary. Satisfaction came seeing money pile up in his bank book. When praised his body responded and when criticized, he scowled, no more passion.

Passion enabled him to achieve what he wanted, passion gave him strength to realize his dream. But the passion was limited to this goal; attainment brought coldness. Dreams disappeared; passion  turned what he desired into something meaningless.

Dispassion  cannot  be turned into passion, and if it were possible, this would again return to coldness.  There is nothing that he could put between the passion and dispassion. 

Abraham was called by God to go on a journey, it was not his journey but God's journey. He found meaning in the journey that  was given. Abraham's passion came from  the call of God, and it never disappeared.  "Go forth from the land of  your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you...Abram went as the Lord directed him (Gen. 12:1-4).

 We have to search for meaning. Where I am now did not come by passion but from meaning, a gift I have received. The passion comes not from the realization of my dream but my answer to a call given by God; this passion will continue. It is my relationship with God that is important and will fill my life with meaning. Love that comes from God gives us passion, gives us meaning and lights the way. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Problems with Unhealthy Competition

Sewol Ferry tragedy continues to be an accident the Korean society does not want to forget. An article in the Kyeongyang Magazine: Competition is the Incurable Disease of the Country, visits the issue again. The writer is the head of a research institute attached to a University. He reminds us that we have signs of similar disasters in society. 

Heinrich's Law: in a workplace, for every one major injury there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries, this law, he says, is applicable to our situation. We continually see, he says, incidents and warnings of this in our society. As a member of the  OECD in its rankings,  we see warnings for the future. 

The numbers of suicides increase, births decrease, difficulties in finding  employment,  the intensity seen for college enrollment, the disparity between the rich and poor, etc.,  and he attributes this to the excessive competition in  society. He doesn't fault competition itself but what he sees as competition without a clear object, excessive, and competition for the sake of competition.

The country has come a long way since the Korean War. Competition has made us a strong economic country but with this continual running, and blind competition the individual, family and the country is in  danger of 'sinking'. It is like the cancer cells in our body that continue to spread until we cry out seeing the results. We are going so fast  we do not have the time to reflect on what we are doing. The reasoning behind competition makes us egotists; we don't want to fall behind, and when we fail all comes to an end. Many parents teach the children if it is not hurting you, no need to be concerned.  

Young people  for the past six years in the ratings of the OECD  for happiness, Korea continues to be the lowest of the 23 countries. The symptoms and warnings from the Sewol tragedy have to be faced by the citizens. (Sewol the word brings to mind to Korean citizens the human errors, the incompetence, corruption, cowardice, the failure of education and other aspects of society that allowed the death of so many young people when the Sewol Ferry sank. )Why are the young people so unhappy? The young do not have time to dream, and young couples are afraid to have children. He wants us to face the questions that the Sewol tragedy brings to our attention. 

The educational system is unhealthy. Parents leave the country for the education of their children or are separated from their  parents in the early years of education all because, he says, competition.  He lists the qualities that are desired by the parents of the middle class  published by Oxford University. First, fair play, second, to follow one's convictions, third,  not to act self-righteously, fourth, support the weak and confront the strong, fifth, to resolutely fight against immorality, dissatisfaction and lawlessness. These are far from what he says are the aims of our Korean parents: success and money.

Why do children have to study? How are they to live? What are they to do? These are all questions that parents have to consider and make part of their dream for their children. If it is the happiness of the children, they want, then parents have to take this into account in the way they act and speak. In the society we have made, the writer concludes, this way  of acting will be difficult because one has to overcome what we have seen and learned.