Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fighting Against Materialism

In English, we often use the phrase: born with a silver spoon in the  mouth;  meaning, the person was from birth born into wealth and  high society. The Peace Weekly brings to the attention of the readers a topic of discussion among the young. 

Young people have made their own spoon hierarchy: gold spoon, silver, bronze, and clay. Gold would be wealth from birth and social standing. Each spoon decreases the inheritance and lifestyle until you have the clay spoon: no inheritance and simple living. 

Some of the young people do not care for this division. Rafaela was brought up in wealth and went to the best schools but when told she was born with a gold spoon, denies this vigorously, and if you want to use  these words, she says,  laughing: " I am a  stainless spoon." She will be married next year and will  spend only about 1,250 dollars for the wedding not including the meal. "If I were a gold spoon person wouldn't I  have the reception  in some prestigious hotel?" 

Kim Matthew, whose family upbringing would be closer to the clay spoon group maintains that he is a gold spoon person. His  parents taught him the way to live and how to be happy. His mother lived by her convictions, his father quietly worked doing his best in everything, and both taught him what was necessary for a happy life. "Since that is the life I am living is that not a gold spoon existence?" If we used other values besides financial capability: self-respect,  no complaining  about one's condition in life, no feeling of inferiority, and each one pursued happiness, this spoon hierarchical thinking will disappear.

Park John feels that  using the word 'clay spoon' is disrespectful of one's parents. The very fact that we are using the analogy of spoons shows we are not living in a healthy society.

Justice and Peace Committee of Seoul mentions that the young people's bantering about spoons is a sign of their frustration with salaries, education and inheritance of wealth and their influence in society.  

Many irregular workers  have a hard time meeting expenses. Parents pass on opportunities for education, status and employment to their children. This passing between generations through inheritance is seen as one of  the reasons for inequality in South Korea. 

In a recent survey, the percentage of those who think they can raise their status in society by hard work continues to decrease. Peace and Justice community of Seoul, proposes that the policy of money and finances take second place, and persons and the environment take first place. Making these our  values would be a good way to begin the New Year. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Humility is nothing but truth... St. Vincent de Paul

An article in a pastoral review for priests, starts with a  report of a  labor and management dispute that happened over 20 years ago in a church establishment. Police were called to break up a demonstration of the employees and some of them were detained. It became  a legal problem;  priest representative was called before the court of law.

"Did you call the police to break up the demonstration?" asked the lawyer. "No"  answered the priest. The lawyer showed the signed statement by the priest that was in the possession of the police asking them to break up the demonstration, and called the priest a liar. This incident  was written up in the press and caused surprise in the eyes of many. The priest  continued in his position for a few years but the writer mentions that he left the priesthood.

Recently a  parish council  and pastor were in conflict. Trust  had been lost and the priest tried to squirm out of the mess with excuses and evasion, which made the matters worse.

Lies are endemic in  society, politics, finance,  and in religious society. We look at our own actions and we are no different from others. This makes for a lack of trust, difficulty in  dealing  honestly with others, finding love in society, and a reason relationships fall apart.

He gives us an example of a priest who did not manage his work correctly and  heard many complaints. Parishioners were downhearted and  began finding fault. A few days later after Mass he apologized for his blunder sincerely, and said he would work to put things in order. Complaints disappeared and many were moved by the apology. People are moved by honest and frankness. Just one lie is enough to merit disdain.

In a1980 survey by a public opinion organization stated that Catholic priests were the most trusted in society.

Often people feel honesty makes life difficult, and  almost unconsciously resort to lies. Consequently one has to make an effort to speak the truth on all occasions. It is not easy to be thoroughly honest. We see lying prohibited in the ten  commandments, and find the admonition often in the New Testament.  "A lie is a foul blot in a man,  yet  it is constantly on the lips of the unruly" (Sirach 20:23).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Virtue stands in the middle

In a recent diocesan bulletin, a college professor, remembers dreaming  of being a writer, and remembers reading with great  pleasure the poem: Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost.

What grabbed his attention was the title.  As a child during the cold winter with his stomach on the heated floor with no desire to go outside he could see himself at the edge of the woods, moved by the reading.

Both the title and contents made a deep impression on the child. Riding the small horse the traveler stopped before the wooded area captivated by the scene before him. The trip had miles to go, but it was like seeing the last scene of a movie.

Strangely, the professor was fascinated with the mention of the owner of the wooded area. He would know about all the trees, location, how large the property, etc., but would he know what  period of the year the wooded area has its  greatest beauty? The difference between seeing the woods in the morning or evening?  Does he know how charming the paths are in the wooded area? Without  this knowledge, can he say the woods are mine?

We are not able to possess completely what we own, just a part, but we think we are the owners. Living in the village and thinking that the wooded area was his, is false. He concludes his meditation by asking his readers did not Jesus come into the world to shows us how unreal it is to make something mine?

Dealing with the natural virtues the wisdom of the ages has proclaimed, "Virtue stands in the middle."  Use of what we call ours should have an understanding of this wisdom, which we call detachment: a much healthier approach to what we believe we possess, both materially and spiritually.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Meaning of Christmas

What is the Christmas Message? Many ideas are afloat, but the Gospel scene does speak for itself.  God chooses an image of absence, a lack, instead of  fullness and abundance.  Poverty is the first of the evangelical counsels, and it speaks to us starkly in the Christmas scene. Detachment is the  word that gives meaning to poverty. 

An article in the  Kyeongyang magazine reminds us of the place of poverty within the Church. He quotes Pope Francis in his talk to the bishops of Korea on Aug. 14th of  last year. "There is a danger, a temptation which arises in times of prosperity: it is the danger that the Christian community becomes just another 'part of society', losing its mystical dimension... When this happens, the poor no longer have their proper role in the Church. This is a temptation from which particular Churches, Christian communities, have suffered greatly over the centuries; in some cases, they become so middle class that the poor even feel ashamed to be a part of them. It is the temptation of spiritual 'prosperity', pastoral prosperity. No longer is it a poor church for the poor but rather a rich church for the rich, or a middle class church for the well-to-do."

Why does the Church have to be poor? This question he attempts to answer, using the words of a priest who began a committee to work with the poor in the Seoul Diocese.

1) Jesus was poor.
2) At the beginning of his public life, he chooses absolute poverty.

3) He wanted those that possessed  and those that did not, to share.
4) He wanted his disciples to be poor.
5) The Eucharist is an invitation to poverty. 

When the Church is not poor it participates in the corruption and injustices of society and becomes an accomplice. It borrows  strength  from the world and works with their principles. 

"Religion, of course does bring  large profits,  but only to those who are content with what they have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing,  let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptations;  they  get trapped into all sorts of foolishness and dangerous ambitions, which eventually plunge them into ruin and  destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their  souls any number of fatal wounds" (1 Tim. 6: 6-10).

Heavy  words to hear at this time of year when we want to make people happy, and enjoy the many gifts  we have received. Jesus was laid in a manger, a trough used to feed animals. Mentioned three times  in Luke's Gospel, not an  insignificant word, and full of meaning; the only word to describe Jesus' birth location. We may easily  be distracted with the stable and  animals and forget the message  Luke was giving us. Blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Justice Comes with a Price

"As a Society of Apostolic Life, our first priority has always been and remains the mission apostolate. We have always placed mission ahead of both community life and our own personal growth." These are the words addressed to the members, by the Maryknoll  Superior  General, in a report on the state of the Society at the end of the year. 

Fr. James Sinnott is a good example of a person whose priority was the mission apostolate, and it cost him a great deal. A recent book published by the Pauline Books and Media "A Critical Biography of James Sinnott," the subtitle was revealing: "The  People's Revolutionary Party and the Dong-A Newspaper fight for press freedom, shook my life completely."
In the forward to the book Kim Jong-cheol explains how he came to write the book. During the difficult years  under the Yushin Constitution from 1972 to 1981, Fr. Sinnott was well known by those who were imprisoned  under the Yushin Constitution. Families of the eight members of the so-called People's Revolutionary Party were hanged for being spies. They were later exonerated, and the  Revolutionary Party was seen as a fabrication of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency,  and  families  compensated. Fr. Sinnott together with Rev. George Ogle a United Methodist Minister worked to show the falseness of the allegations against the eight. Both Rev. Ogle first, and later Fr. Sinnott were expelled  from the country. 

Mr. Kim Jong-cheol mentions the last public appearance of Fr. Sinnott was at the 40th anniversary of the declaration of press freedom on Oct. 24, of last year. Fr. Sinnott gave a congratulatory message and very shortly after left the group. They noticed his weak condition and heard that he was admitted to a hospital shortly after where he remained until death. 

Two months after the death of Fr. Sinnott those who had great affection for the priest met together and agreed to write a biography of Fr. Sinnott before his first anniversary of death.  Others were willing to write the book, but because of lack of time to do the interviews and gather the material, Kim Jong-cheol was given the task. He knew Fr. Sinnott from the time when many of the reporters and those working for  Dong-A newspaper were having difficulties. The Korean Intelligence Agency was preventing commercial enterprises from advertising in the Dong-A and Fr. Sinnott and Fr. Ben Zweber, along with many other citizens, were putting ads in the paper giving the paper encouragement to continue the fight, but  lack of advertising and the control over press freedom by the government eventually weaken the will of the Dong-A company,  and they fired many of the  reporters and employees.

The  fight for the Peoples' Revolutionary Party ended with justice being done, and Fr. Sinnott lived to see the reversal, but the Dong-A reporters are still waiting for justice in their forty-year  battle against the State in the firing of the reporters. The recent court battle dismissed the state's liability for damages. The Hankyoreh Newspaper is the result of the fight with the State  and a free press. Dismissed reporters  started the Hankyoreh, which is still far behind the conservative press but gets high marks from journalists for reliability.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Working for the Common Good

How does one work for the common good? In a  recent column in the Catholic Times, a seminary sociology professor gives us some thoughts on  our economic slump and reflections on  the social gospel of the Church. We know there is little sympathy with  "trickle-down economic" theory.
We are in a long economic slump, and many have difficulties, especially the poor and the young. The government is making all kinds of efforts to pull us out of the recession: offering  subsidies to big industry, tax benefits to help sell cars and apartments,  removal of restrictions on industry, and making it easier to fire workers. Hope is that my taking these  steps, the economy gets a boost and all benefit. For this to happen, we need a number of pre-conditions to be in place.

Utilitarianism is a theory of efforts to promote the happiness of the majority of the citizens: a correct understanding of morality. Supposedly, everyone  working for his own individual good will eventually  benefit all. This is  a premise for trust in the  free market. When each works for his own good to increase wealth, this will feed into the consumption and distribution of the market, the unseen hand will regulate the market. Each person can approach the market and makes free competition possible. That is not what is happening; this vague belief is not  realized. Not everyone can freely partake in the market and enjoy free competition. We know how the big stores quickly shut down the small enterprises.

Unseen hand is not operating and this vague belief in the efficiency of  the market is not realized, rather we have  a jungle where the weak become the food of the strong. Not only does the individual when he uses all his ability benefit himself but can also harm the market, this goes contrary to the principle of the common good:  the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfillment more fully and  easily" (Social Compendium #164).

"The Catholic Church, in its social teaching, explicitly rejects a belief in the automatic beneficence of market forces. It insists that the result of market forces must be scrutinized and if necessary corrected in the name of natural law, social justice, human rights, and the common good. Left to themselves, market forces are just as likely to lead to evil results as to good ones"  Catholic Bishops' (Conference of England and Wales #77).

When the economics: the Gross Domestic Product increases and the citizens' income increases  not everything turns out well. Korea shows that the gap between the rich and poor continues to increase. "We can no longer trust  the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded" (Joy of the Gospel #204).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Small Christian Communities Worth the Effort

Korean Catholicism has spent a great deal of time  working with small Christian groups in the parishes. An article in the monthly bulletin for priests on pastoral matters, questions, whether the efforts have failed.
Parishioners do not attend is a common complaint. Members heard words spoken at a group meeting spread to the larger community, and stopped coming out. Groups get involved in arguments about politics and stop meeting.

The writer agrees failure to respect confidentiality, and conflicts over societal problems have done harm to the movement but are these problems confined to the small-group  movement? Is it not more correct to say they are problems the Church community has?   

When we look into the mirror and see some disfigurement, we don't blame the mirror for what we see:  smashing  the mirror doesn't make the  disfigurement disappear. The problems we have in the small communities are the ones we have in the Church. We can take the population of the world which we can consider 7 billion and see it as  a population of 100, and determine from the  hundred how many are literate, malnourished, have computers are college graduates and the like. We can use the 100 as a mirror of the 7 billion. 

The work we are doing with the small communities are opening our eyes to the work that we need to do with evangelizing in the Church. The small communities are a mirror of  the whole church. By getting rid of the small communities, we know the problems with the church, remain. We need to understand the problems,  and begin to evangelize and work pastorally to overcome our failings. "Let us not give up the habit of meeting together as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more...." (Heb.10:25). We need to return to this way of thinking.

Positive values from the  small-group  meetings are obvious: Christians are reading the Scriptures,  reflecting on what they read, and is influencing their daily lives. This alone is enough to want them to continue. The writer wants to see the seeds of the Gospel spread at these meetings, and our parishioners filled with a new vision: a community on fire with the Spirit and a dynamic force for good in the world. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Understanding of Mission Life

The Korean Foreign Mission Society celebrated their fortieth year of establishment with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Dec. 5th. At that time, they had a an academic conference in which they looked over the past forty years and looked ahead to their fiftieth year. The Catholic Times acquaints the readers of the celebration and the results of the conference.
Forty years ago when the Society was  established the understanding of mission in Korean Catholic society was deficient but during these years, there have been changes, the place of mission in the life of the Church has  been established. Korean Mission Society has strengthened its identity, examined itself theologically, and is imbued with the teaching of Vatican II.

The keynote talk by a priest, head of a research institute, congratulated the Society for its example.  The Mission Society, and the Korean Church as a whole is faced with a crisis in implementing the teaching of Vatican II:  authoritarianism of the clergy, separation of life and religion among the laity, also  a country in which the gap between rich and poor continues to grow and will impact the Mission Society.

A member of the Missionary Society of St. Columban, gave the first presentation in which he showed how after 82 years  of mission in Korea the missioners have become old, the decrease in younger members, has in his opinion, been a blessing  in bringing the talents and  insights of the laity to the church.

Problems and  difficulties in mission, the sudden changes in  pastoral efforts in the local church, the scandal of clerical sexual abuse, brought  confusion and frustration to the fore but also an invitation to missioners to be humble.

He recommends that the society after 40 years be theological open to the reading of the signs of the time, reflection on the history of the Church in Korea, and its traditions, and to bring the laity into the life of mission.

Another participant mentioned that during the past 40 years of mission, the Korean Mission Society has realized that mission is the life of the church. Mission to Asia and especially to China should merit the attention of the Society: a research institute to educate  specialists for the work, and to begin a society for mission in China.

He urges strengthening  efforts in education, and preparing  specialists for mission and a new model for lay people in mission.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Prudence: Charioteer of the Virtues

Natural religions placed great  importance on the  place of virtue. From Taoism, Buddhism and finally Confucianism, we see how grace builds on nature. Catholicism's stress on virtues was not foreign to the thinking of the sages who began to look into the new thinking that came from China. This similarity in a virtuous life with which they were familiar, made Catholicism in Korea, easy to accept.

In the spirituality column of the Peace Weekly we are told that the first of the natural virtues is prudence. Before Christ, in China and the Greek world we had the wise and philosophers teaching the need for virtue in search for the good life. They discovered that these required repetition. In Confucianism we have benevolence, propriety, fidelity, wisdom, and righteousness. We find lists of these virtues both in the Old and New Testaments.

In the book of Wisdom: "Or if one loves justice, the fruits of her works are virtues; for she teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these" (8:7).

Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise."

One difference for a Christian when we speak about the natural virtues is we understand God's grace can enter to make our acceptance more complete but it begins in the natural and our efforts are required. Cardinal Virtues are Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. All the other moral virtues hinge on these four and consequently are called cardinal.  They  can be infused with the grace of God but they begin in the natural.

"Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; 'the prudent man looks where he is gong.... It is called the charioteer of the virtues; it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience" Catechism of the Church #1806.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Easter Mass in Pyongyang Next Year?

On the first four days of December, a group of Korean Bishops made a trip to North Korea. Bishops and priests have made the trip as individuals but this was the first official  trip by a group of bishops. One of the priests who accompanied the bishops writes his impressions of the trip for the Peace Weekly.

The distance from Seoul to Pyongyang is only 155  miles. They arrived in Beijing, and the flight to Pyongyang  was delayed two hours. The trip from the time they left Seoul, and arriving in Pyongyang took almost 12 hours. They were greeted at the airport by a contingent from the Changchung Cathedral in Pyongyang and the Chosun Catholic Association. The arrival at the airport was not complicated and contrary to expectation, they were permitted to have their smart phones, cell phones and cameras which they used frequently during the trip. On the second day, they went sightseeing in bustling Pyongyang.

On the third day, they visited the Changchung Cathedral. At the front of the Church, they were greeted by the choir of six women all exquisitely dressed; facilitating admirably the liturgy of the Mass. About 70 to 80 attended the Mass, and the participation showed they were familiar with the  liturgy.

The day of the Mass was the Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier, and the president of the bishops' conference who was the main celebrant, mentioned that  we needed to evangelize ourselves if we want to be missioners. During the Mass, an Icon  of the Mother and Child, symbolizing the desire for peace between the North and South was presented to the catechist of the cathedral. They found  a photograph of  Pope Francis, presented a few years before, by a group of priests to the community, on the wall of the sacristy.

The vice president of the Supreme People's Assembly, invited the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly where he thanked the Church of the South for their efforts toward  peace from the time of Fr. Mun's visit up until the present, and stressed the importance of the meeting of the leaders of the North and South. This was an unexpected official welcoming of the delegation from the South.

The faces of those they met were all welcoming and always natural, smiling and joking with the group from the South. Employees were all polished in the way they reacted with the group. The bishops did a lot of talking with the representatives of the Church in the North, bringing them closer together. They promised to work for a better tomorrow, repair the Cathedral and in the future work to have priests go to the North for the big feast days of the year.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Harm, One Percent Can Cause

A university professor, a dramatist, writes in a diocesan bulletin  about  a newsletter he received from a friend, who works for a scientific research center. He has little knowledge of the scientific world, consequently, enjoys reading in the  field of science.

A recent newsletter he found extremely interesting:  a poison mushroom and an edible mushroom has only a 1% difference in its makeup.  According to the newsletter: mushroom is over 90 % water, protein less than 3%, carbohydrates less than 5%; mineral is 1% and can be either poisonous or medicinal.

Reading this information brought to mind his  own human situation. We can easily turn into a poison mushroom. Like a knife, a sharp word can cut, coldness in dealing with others can be poisonous, an insult  can leave lasting scars.

What makes us like a poisonous mushroom? What is the percentage of difference between the one who builds up and the one who tears down? Just 1% proud and prejudiced, can do harm to others and society. It doesn't take much energy to do great harm.

We can spend a great deal of our time in what we think is loving and doing good, it may be 99 %, but its the 1 percent of time spent in hating, that can do great harm to ourselves and others.

99% in doing good is not enough in the professor's way of calculating. One percent of poison can unravel all the good we do with the 99%. This is not difficult to understand and a reality we have experienced in our lives. A small defect can destroy much of the good we do. This should not upset us but make us humble and ask for mercy and be merciful to those  we encounter daily; something to remember during this year of Mercy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Alienation of those with Disablities

Father Benedict Min-seo is the first unable to hear or speak Korean priest; ordained in 2007 after many years of discernment and study. Thirty years ago, the handicapped found  attending college almost impossible. He writes this month in the Seoul Bulletin on the people he wants to thank for making the path to the priesthood possible.

He was on pilgrimage in Turkey when he received news of the sudden death of a priest who was the vocation director of the diocese. There was no possibility of receiving the necessary education for the  priesthood in Korea but was told of the possibility in the United States. He spent 10 years studying in the States and communicated monthly with the vocation director about his studies and spiritual life.

He had heard that the vocation director for the diocese because of eyesight problems was asking for a change but when he returned he was still in his position for which he was  thankful. He was the one who persuaded the cardinal, bishops, and priests to permit his ordination. He was ordained to the diaconate by the cardinal. The vocation director was changed, and he began to have doubts about the ordination to the priesthood, but all went well and the vocation director was there to receive his first blessing.

As soon as he returned from the pilgrimage, he went to the grave site to thank his mentor for the concern and love he showed him during the many years of  preparation. 

Fr. Park doesn't express himself completely on all the difficulties that he had in his article, but has made known in his writings obstacles  faced by those with disabilities. 

He was born in1965, and lost his hearing at the age of two after receiving the wrong medicine. His desire for the priesthood began at a young age, but this was not possible in the Catholic Church. Protestant Congregations have had deaf pastors for years. 

He wrote an article: Deaf Culture and Deaf Church, in New Theology Review, Nov. 2009. In the article, he shows us the way the deaf perceive the way Christians look upon the deaf and the difficulties they have in relating to fellow Christians. As we know it is difficult to understand problems others have, and the only way is to walk in their shoes for a good period of time, which is not really possible. The article written in English gives us an understanding of those with hearing problems and reminds us how little we know of those with disabilities.

 Often we are told the deaf feel more alienated than the blind. Concern for those with disabilities has improved greatly. We have parishes in Korea for the deaf and pastoral care people devoted to their needs. We are more sensitive to the needs of others: thanks to people like Fr. Park.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Temptation to Fruitless Pessimism

"Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!" With these words from Joy of the Gospel, a seminary professor, in an article of the Kyeongyang magazine,gives us a meditation on the ever-present  fruitless pessimistic temptations of culture.  

Pessimism's dictionary meaning: seeing only the dark side of life, gives rise to sadness and an attitude of despair. He uses a line from a novel in which the author says pessimism is a conscience without courage that continues to eat away at itself.

In Gaudium and Spes #16, we have the words: " In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this shun that."

"In some places a spiritual 'desertification' has evidently come about, as the result of attempts by some societies to build without God or to eliminate their Christian roots. In those places the Christian world is becoming sterile, and it is depleting itself like  over-exploited ground, which transforms into a desert” (#86 Joy of the Gospel). This attitude according to the pope leads to pessimism.

He brings to our attention the film: Life is Beautiful, directed  by Benigni in 1997. The last part of the movie takes place in a concentration camp. Under the Nazi regime, they rounded up the Jews in Italy and the hero, and  young son were sent to a concentration camp. The father makes a game of  the incarceration. The point the professor wants to make is that even in such unspeakable circumstances, forgetting the merits of using the Holocaust as a background, the  father was able to give the boy hope by turning the boy's experience into a game. Briefly, what images we have in our head and the understanding we have of God is going to determine what we see, how we judge and what we do. 

Christians because of Jesus  should  see, think, and act differently than those without this relationship. When we have a defeatist attitude we can't help but fall into pessimism. When we lose sight of hope, and images continue to enter our head that militate against hope, we need to look at the Cross. Because  sorrow and pain have disappeared we have not overcome pessimism; when we fail to see the victory of the Cross, and God's providence, pessimism remains.  Consequently for a Christian the opposite of pessimism is not optimism. 

Christianity is a religion with hope in the desert. We don't curse the darkness but light a candle and know that something will happen that will give us more hope, and a desire to give these candles to all willing to accept them.

Friday, December 4, 2015

North And South Korean Unification

Numbers leaving the North for South Korea continue to decrease. This year, according to an article in the Catholic Times, up until October, 978 escaped to the  South, which would be about 98 a month: first year the numbers have dropped to under a hundred.

Many are the reasons for the drop, but in first place is the strengthening of the borders between China and North Korea under Kim Jong-un. Once the route for leaving  the north is closed, natural to see a drop in the numbers. Expenses are now higher since the dangers are greater than the past: "High Risk, High Return." Although they have a strong aversion to the principles of capitalism, they still are experienced in their use. It was only a few who could  take the  freedom train for the South.

Living conditions in the North have improved so that many don't feel the need to risk their lives in leaving. Citizens are permitted to use personal funds in the market which  has made the market a different reality. They are able to take care of their needs for food and shelter; living is no longer what it was.

In third place is the difficulty in adapting to life in the South. Coldness which the refugees feel and the  financial difficulties they experience, becomes big news in the North. It is well known that  those who fail to make Korea home, try to get refugee status to go to Europe.

When the numbers decrease not because of the better living conditions in the North but because of the treatment in the South and opting for a third country should make us think.

Refugee response to life in the South comes to us  by the media in many different ways. When we have a scuffle with the police, leaflets are distributed; we have the women with heavy makeup and short skirts bringing up in conversations the strange things that happen in the North which adds to the distance and curiosity towards the North, and a 'we against them' scenario.

If we want unification, says the columnist,  should we not emphasis what we have in common instead of  what divides, to embrace instead of shun. Are we as citizens and government doing what we can to include them and co-exist with them using our resources to facilitate the relationship? He doesn't feel there are many who appreciate the question. 

We have 28,000 from the North living in the South. If we can't  accommodate them in our society, and we talk about unification, he feels this is hypocrisy, and to consider unification a desired goal and continue acting in this way are we justified, he concludes, in speaking about unification?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christian Spirituality

The spiritual column in the Peace Weekly reminds us we  live in relationships with others. We might think we are called as individuals for the spiritual journey but that is not the case. Relating with others is the way we grow in the practice of virtue and in the spiritual life.

He reminds us of the first Christians whose spirituality was relating with the other members of the community. "They spent their time in learning from the apostles taking part in the fellowship and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers" (Acts. 2:42). They partook of the Eucharist  and maintained the unity of their oneness with Jesus.

One of the early Church  Fathers Ignatius of Antioch in his letters to the communities stressed their oneness with the bishop and the importance of their relationship with one another. "It is therefore, befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ who has glorified you, by a unanimous obedience, you may be perfectly joined in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all  speak the same thing concerning the same thing and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery you may in all respects be sanctified" (Letter to the Ephesians Ch. 2). 

He gives us the story of St, Francis of Assisi who gave everything he possessed back to his father and was covered by the mantle of the bishop, symbolizing  his oneness with the bishop and the community. At that time, many were leaving the Church but Francis embraced it more firmly in its poverty. 

St.Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual exercises  also stressed the obedience to the Church. He was one who wanted his followers to think like the Church. Bernard, Charles Andre  who taught spirituality at the Gregorian in Rome in the present times also stressed the need for those on the spiritual path to be related closely to the Church and its teachings.

The column concludes with a look at shamanism and the influence it has on Koreans. Folkways in Korea will show us the desire of many to go at spirituality as loners, but that is not the spirituality that is Christian, but we find many who find this more attractive in their way of thinking. Christian spirituality is through the Church, with the Church and in the Church.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Church of Mercy Needs Renewal

Pope Francis has proclaimed  an extraordinary Jubilee with mercy at the center. He wants us to live the Holy Year of Mercy starting on Dec. 8th which will continue to the Feast of Christ the King of 2016, remembering the Lords words: Be merciful, just as you Father is merciful (Lk. 6:36). Yesterday, we began our liturgical new year with the first Sunday of Advent and Mercy is the theme. 

A seminar, sponsored by the Catholic Pastoral Research Center, and written up in the Peace Weekly  reflects on the work ahead. They wanted to study the direction the Church should be going with the new evangelization in connection with the teachings of  Vatican II which ended 50 years ago. Hope was expressed that we will have a new turning point within the Korean Church for they all agreed that the implementation of the Council left a lot to be desired.

In the  keystone address the previous head of the bishops' Conference stressed Pope Francis' vision for a synodal Church at every level with everyone listening to each other, learning from each other and taking responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel. The bishop mentioned the need to listen to the people and be companions with them in their struggles.   

One of the participants mentioned we don't see mercy expressed in society, and in our culture but neither is it prevalent within the church. Another mentioned the need to understand two words collegiality and synodality if we want to bring about renewal.

Another participant listed the assignment the Church of Korea has to implement: to see the signs of the time and prepare for it pastorally; concern for the weak, the common good, and seeking peace; renewal and dialogue with the world, efforts to change the way we do politics, finances and the culture is our prophetic call. These are the elements that have come from the Second Vatican Council.

This kind of reformation will require a great deal of effort in the local areas of the Church. In  recent years we have had Synods in many of the dioceses which were meant to renew the local church but it was like the listing of problems and tasks  as they would be in an encyclopedia without priorities, and follow ups. We need targets and priorities, if we want to see change.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Peace is More than a Dream

In recent weeks, we continue to hear the news about  violence throughout the world. Islamic State has taken credit for the killings in Paris. Korea's demonstrations against the government for its education, and labor policies was met with violence to stop the demonstrators. A past president of a diocesan Catholic Farmers group was struck by a water cannon and injured seriously, and is hovering between life and death.

In a Column of the Peace Weekly, we are asked what should be our attitude in the face of all the violence we see in the world? We have been given at baptism the mission as prophet and what does this require  of us in this present reality?
We will not arrive at peace in the world with a few people of good will acting righteously; it is a task for all of us. Popes have made it clear that peace is the work of all, and we will not have it without justice.

From the first, we were created to enjoy the gift of peace. In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us: "Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!"

Jesus' teachings are clear. "The precondition for peace is the dismantling of the dictatorship of relativism and of the supposition of a completely autonomous morality which precludes acknowledgment of the ineluctable natural moral law inscribed by God upon the conscience of every man and woman. Peace is the building up of coexistence in rational and moral terms, based on a foundation whose measure is not created by man, but rather by God (Pope Benedict's Peace Message for 2013).

This desire for peace is not a dream or a Utopia. Not just a wish we have but a real good  we work to achieve. Consequently, Christians have to work against all kinds of injustices, and work in solidarity with all movements for the common good. We have to resist all kinds of selfishness, violence,  greed,  thirst for power, and structures that breed hate and injustices: working on the side of the weak for their rights and dignity.

Peace we all know is not something we achieve quickly nor merely a distant ideal, but something with daily little steps, we persistently  and gradually work to realize: difficult though it be. In the fragmented society in which we live, working to realize this peace is carrying out the mission we have received from Jesus at baptism. And we start with ourselves.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Search for Authenticity

A recent symposium with the theme of Crisis in the Church  considered the reasons why people are leaving. Representatives from the German and United States Church  gave examples and compared their own problems  with the Korean Church's problems. Parents are not able to hand down their faith life to the children. People are thirsting for authenticity; one of the participants believes  it is this  lack of authenticity that people are looking for and not finding.

The failure of the Korean Church to grab the attention  of the Catholics is not unique to Korea. A professor from Germany explains that the secularization of the population has led to the turning of their backs to the Church. In 2010 there were more people leaving the Church in Germany than entering.

Germany is emphasizing the role of  the laypeople. The Church is discovering the value of the lay person and working to get them involved. The future of the Church is with the layperson and not the clergy. He further stressed that the Church is the people of God and in this they are not disconnected from  the clergy.  We need to put down our authoritarianism  and make the joy of the Gospel come alive.

The professor from the States reminds those present that women are not taking their rightful place within the Church. In the States those that approved of women priests  within the Church in 1987 was 35% in 2011 it rose to 55%. Within  Protestantism over half of the Churches allow  women clergy within the ranks. In Lutheranism and Anglicanism they are accepted as bishops. This is not the direction we should go,  he makes clear, but we should see what the laypeople are telling the Church  about women's role within the Church.

A Korean seminary professor says we need to find a way of having the women participate in the workings of the Church in an enthusiastic way. We have to find ways of being more persuasive in our teaching and in communicating with our Christians.

In the discussion that followed  there was a question about the new religions that are appearing on the scene.This is a sign the the Church is not fulfilling the role that it should have in society. People are not interested in what is the oldest and most original of the religions  but one that serves them the best. It is not the teaching that attracts but how it is received by the hearts of the people.

We have to find ways of being more authentic and closer to the Gospels if we are not to follow the ways of the West.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Competition for First Place

A column by a teacher emeritus tells the readers of the Peace Weekly of an e-mail he received about an elementary school child who had a health problem that prevented him from growing. He was a well adjusted, happy child, who got along with his classmates but short of stature.

At an autumn field day at the school, the child was in a race with his classmates. The older sister of the child and family seeing the child run brought tears to their eyes, but shortly this was the case for all who were in attendance for just before the end of the race the one who was in the lead stopped, and all the others as they came to the finish waited for the lagger, and all crossed the finish line together.

All made first place together. This is not the adult world in which we live. The columnist reviews his own life and realizes that more than considering the feelings of his children; he wanted them to be # 1. As a teacher, he was always interested in having his students number one. Not only in studies but in comparison to the other homerooms in cleanliness, singing  or whatever, nothing was better than number one.

There are many other things one can be proud of besides being number one. He has made the transition. Those that have made it to first place, hopefully will realize that they  have the privilege to be of service to others.

Each has special gifts, and these should be developed but society has a different set of values that it selects to prize and reward. We don't realize the harm this does to many who like the child, was not gifted as a runner.

We have in the Scriptures two disciples who wanted a better position within the group. When the others heard of this, they weren't pleased. Here we have a case even with those who were closest to Jesus for the first places. This did not help to develop harmony within the first community of disciples. Our Lord's words are very clear: Any one who wants to be first among you must be the slave to all (Mk 10: 44).

Competition is a part of life, and we will not see it disappear, but we can make it less harmful for the many who are not in the running. Even those who are in the running: the person who comes in second feels the loss of not being first more so than the  person who comes in third.

Society for many different reasons makes those who are first in many different fields the object of adulation. We even have it within the Church with the making of saints, but it goes without need of explanation, that these persons considered the first place of little value, and in the degree they felt so, were closer to God.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Korean Catholic Bible Week

During the last week of the liturgical year, the Korean Church celebrates Bible Week, hoping for  a larger reading audience for the Scriptures. Articles and the editorial of the Peace Weekly remind the readers the importance of input from the Scriptures to see the world through the eyes of Jesus.

This year the theme for the week is taken from Genesis: "God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1-31). We are urged to go to the Scriptures to find answers to our problems with the environment. Bishop's  message  reminds the readers that to undo some of the harm to nature we need to heed the Gospel of reconciliation and  intimacy with God's creation.

God has ordered us to take care of his creation. Reading the Scriptures we learn how precious creation is, and in Jesus, we see his intimate connection with nature and helping people to return to the  family of humanity from their ailments and alienation.
In Korea, we have many who have taken to transcribing the Scriptures: copying  each word by hand. In this issue of the Peace Weekly, we have those who have done this not only once, but one woman has copied the Old Testament 8 times in the last 18 years, and the New Testament 11 times. She says it deepened her faith life, and gave her more joy. She spends about 1 hour and 20 minutes each day in this way.

One young girl of sixteen heard that the diocese would give  a gift of an overseas pilgrimage to all the students who copied the Old and New Testaments. She began with the desire to go abroad; in the beginning, it was tedious and difficult, but she began to enjoy what she was doing.

There are many of these stories and those who accomplish the task find that it  gives them a chance to mull over each word and reflect on what they are writing. It is not to have another copy of the Bible but to meet God. We are forced to slow down and  become reflective when we read.

Reading, writing, and reflection on the words of  Scripture are meant to activate us to live them. Knowledge  we don't use is not really helpful to us. We need to live it daily. Hopefully, we will get more who will be attracted to reading of Scripture, doing it more frequently, with a change in lives.