Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mass Media And Truth

"Whatever is received is received in the manner of the receiver" is an aphorism from the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. We can change this somewhat to say that whatever is given is given in the manner of the one giving, especially when we are dealing with the mass media. We know how much the media weighs the facts with the thumb on the scale. Not  surprising, and expected, but does require wisdom  when going to the media for information and knowledge. Some media conveys more truth than others.

With Bible, has an interview with a professor in the  Press and Broadcasting Studies at the Anglican University. He was asked how does he see the present situation in Korea with the mass media. He recalls the days in 1985 and the purge of those in the media who were critical of the government. When  freedom of the press was returned in 1987 there was  growth. The atmosphere was there for a segment of the press to say what they thought was right. However, after 2008  many of those who were  connected with the government were in management positions within the mass media, and spoke for the government. Certain aspects are different but the professor says we have gone back in many ways to the pre-democratic days.

In 2009 we had a change in the law governing the press. In a democratic society the media to protect its diversity, the press and broadcasting companies were forbidden to have other business involvement. The Media Law of 2009 broke this understanding, and we have collusion with big business which are now able to own shares in the media. Alternative media is  fighting this, but they are small and the citizenry is not supporting them, so their influence is small.

How do we distinguish what is true and false? We have the responsibility and the right to search out what is the truth in the media. It is difficult to make this decision when it is only a one way transmitting of the news, and the most influential media does the distorting. There is criticism, however, and the need  for the public to compare news reports with one or two other reports, and support the news that is objective.

We have to be actively concerned with  what is  important. Each person in a  democratic society should be able to enjoy their human existence. We  have to go beyond the idea of merely helping and  protecting  the poor and have a new vision. The  professor gives us the example from a documentary (Barefooted Doctors) 2007, on the Cuban doctors who went to East Timor.

Most of the doctors who had gone to East Timor, left for their home country after a few months but doctors from Cuba did not leave. "You came to serve, why don't you leave like the other doctors?" They all, without hesitation answered:  "We did not come to serve. We are just doing our work the "East Timorese"  have a right to enjoy life." The idea of helping those who are not as well off, was not part of their thinking. This, the professor explains, is the way they were trained to become doctors. They train those who are going to be doctors at government expense. All is free. They work not as much for  money but to realize their potential as human beings, and to build a happy society.    

The professor shows us by his example the way the news is easily slanted by the news media because of their ideological positions and collusion with big business. The question he received was about free lunches in schools and the way some of the media attacked with: "Are we going to feed the rich with free lunches?" The press can use words and tone to sway the readers with the way they choose to see the world. Objectivity is not as important as pushing their agenda, and the professor gives us  the example of doctors from a poor country, who have one of the best medical systems in the world and the way they see the world in which they live. Being objective and conveying the truth is difficult, but deliberately,  when the media tries to protect their interests, and not the public interest, truth is sacrificed.          

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fighting for the Culture of Life

On the opinion page of the Catholic Times a Salesian recalls the days as a young priest when he saw the harm  students faced, because of ferocious competition. Many of them to forget the scars, shame, frustration and sense of inferiority, resorted to inhaling of glue and gas.

No matter how much effort was made to make clear the harm to health, it did not change behavior. He laments that society doesn't do more to keep intoxicants out of the hands of children as they do with alcohol and tobacco.

He also has problems with the mixed martial arts matches we have in Korea. They are the kick boxing type of matches, that  bring out the worse in those who are in the ring. It is not uncommon for the loser to be taken to the hospital after one of the matches.  One of the reasons some use to justify the matches is the  primitive instinct towards violence that some have, is neutralized by watching the matches. Christians  do  not see it this way. One member of National Assembly, because of his interest and activities, enabled the dropping of the matches from public television.

Money is what energizes the culture of death and the two examples the writer gives us are an infinitesimal  part of the problem. Thanks to Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Gospel of Life, we hear about the culture of life and the culture of death. Without realizing what is happening, there are many things  we countenance as normal that are destructive to life. 

Each human life has value from its beginning to natural death. As Christians we should be firmly and unconditionally on the side of life. Like the priming water that was used in the pumps of the past to bring water up, we should bring out the good from others by our words and actions that promote life. What we mean by the culture of death is not difficult to surmise, if we allow our natural feelings to control our thoughts and see reality as it is without any rationalizations and pretexts. 

He concludes his article by reminding us that  our indiscriminate desire for development feeds the   culture of death. We devalue life. Pope Francis mentioned while in Korea, "We need to fight against the culture of death that profanes the dignity of our humanity." The writer wants us to boycott all that is not on the side of life.                             

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Digital World of Purity and Love

A Religious Sister who speaks about media literacy had just finished her talk, and was leaving when a parishioner accosted her. "That was a moving talk, Sister. Those who have fallen into this immorality is not a small number even in this parish."  " Not a small number?"  She was surprised at what the man said, and he in turn was surprised by the Sister's question. She kept repeating to herself how many was the many he was talking about? Are those who are reading these words also surprised by her response?

Her article in With Bible treats the subject of the digital world and how it relates to love and purity. "What I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts" (Matt. 5:28). "Not a few?" many may think the Sister is just innocent, and those who wonder how many are those who do not commit adultery? Carnal lust invigorates the economy. Movies and dramas package immorality and make it attractive. Extra marital encounters are construed in such a beautiful way in movies and dramas. Advertizing on any city street appeals often to the lower instincts and we continue to say those who have lust in their hearts have already committed adultery.How many hear these words and laugh?

SNS world is easily accessed. We can quickly relate with many, and discontinue contact with a simple click. A professor made a study, she mentions, of those who habitually connect with the SNS world and found that the marital problems are many. No reason to fight and in this virtual world, we can use symbolic words, which stimulate us more than the real world, but also makes the real world unattractive. 

Sister mentions a 7 year old child she knows who has an old doll, the nose is missing and the clothes in the back have fallen off. The Sister once asked the child, wasn't it time to take leave of the doll? The girl very strongly said how could she part company with the doll that has been with her since she was a little baby?  

She mentions the movie Her that came out in 2013.  A man is  going through a divorce and is in the dumps. He buys a new computer operating system which is one of the first artificially intelligent systems. After installing the operating system he falls in love with the seductive voice coming from the computer. This love is always the love that he always wanted to have. Is this what the future new technology is going to give us?

Lust does not allow us to see the other as a person. When we have this craving we lose our peace  and prayer becomes difficult. When we have immorality in the family we can't say there is love present. Is it proper for the single person to look lightly on the beam of purity shinning on our inner temples.

She would like to see all have the same mind as the seven year old child in the way she loved her doll.      Our thoughts, feelings and even love is being digitized. Purity relegated to the past. She is asking her readers to give a nod of approval to her belief that purity is one of the best ways to go in search of God.                            

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

SINE (Systematic Integral New Evangelization)

Efforts to give life to the small Christian communities in the parish have been part of the on-going work of the Church for many years. Korea succeeded with the apostolic movements it has accepted from overseas; the Legion of Mary was one of the first and has been followed by most of the other apostolic movements in the worldwide Church. They have done much to make the church a dynamic growing community, amassing a great deal of good will from the citizens of the country.

The Inchon Diocese has now, after a two year period of preparation, decided to introduce SINE (Systematic Integral New Evangelization) to the diocese and the country. A priest and laywoman from Colombia and a bishop from Argentina, who was born in Korea, are     during the priest retreat, introducing them to the SINE to prepare them to begin the movement within the diocese.

The Peace Weekly gave the movement space on the front page and explains what the diocese hopes the movement will do. 40 of the  80  dioceses in Colombia have accepted the movement and the results have shown that the small parish groups are revitalized, those who have made the program know who they are as Christians, have matured in their faith life, and the clergy have become holier. They have seen the results and recommend the movement.

A small group in each parish, made up of the priests and the team that will be introducing the SINE to the parish, will first experience the process for a year, meeting every week and what they experience is what they will pass on to those who will follow them. The tools and materials used will be determined by the circumstances of each parish community but the objective is a mature, conscientious, holy, mission orientated parish.

Korea has been working with small basic communities for over 20 years and there have been difficulties but the work continues and the SINE, says the director of the pastoral work in the diocese, envisions  the movement as a  complement to what is going on within the diocese, and a way to satisfy the thirst that many have for a fuller spiritual life.

One of the weaknesses that is often pointed out by those who have studied our parish life, is that many have made their faith life an individual and private relationship with Jesus, and the communities' influence on our life is not prominent.This should help the communities realize how important our personal maturity, our religious maturity, and the interaction with members of the community is for the mission of the Church and the Christian.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Respect For Those Who Serve Us

Recently, a number of incidents in Korean society has exposed the friction between "superior" and "inferior" that caused rage among the citizens. A columnist in the Peace Weekly gives us the examples of this high-handedness on the part of superiors towards inferiors: customers at department stores and parking lot attendants, security personnel and apartment building dwellers. Once the abuse was communicated to SNS sites, those who have been pointed out as non-feeling and cruel, were shamed. They responded: they have done nothing that warrants the shame they have been made to experience. The customer is always right may have something to do with this thinking.

A philosophy professor at the Catholic University reminds the readers that even before modern times this impudent behavior was not accepted. What is the reason in our democratic society we continue to see this kind of behavior in such a public way? There has to be another reason besides the customer is always right.

Those in society who have the money and positions of authority may think that what they are doing for society in ways of service allows them to think they have control over the person. Our advertizing gives the illusion that if the money is there you can have anything you want. No, there are things we can't buy. We can't buy the person who is serving us. 

We are introduced to the second formulation of Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end  but always at the same time as an end." 

In our society we can't solve all our problems alone; with our money we buy products and services from others. With our purchasing power we can buy what is offered but we don't buy the person. "I have used so much of my money why do I get this type of treatment?" When we think we are buying the person we know what will follow.

In conclusion, the professor tells us about a coffee shop where the customers are given a discount when they address the employees by name and treat them politely. He hopes this kind of thinking begun in this one business will spread throughout all of society.

Monday, January 26, 2015

CCTV Alerts the Nation

What words do we use most frequently during the day? In the family is it: busy, it's rough, thank you,  sorry, I love you? How much time do we actually spend talking to other family members during the day? Would it be 30 minutes? 10 minutes?  5 minutes? One of the most  important things we can do during the day is to relate appropriately with children. Will it be positive, constructive and warmly or will it be negatively, passively and angrily? The way children are addressed determines to a great extend their personality-- words written by a religious sister in the Diocesan Bulletin.

Recently Korean news has brought to the attention of the citizens not only in families do we have problems in the way children are addressed, but shockingly we have seen how teachers in pre-school programs and children centers, who should know better, and have been trained for their work, have used violence in dealing with the children as young as two years old. Videos have been released to the public on TV news, which have angered the nation. Only to be introduced to other pre-school programs where the same kind of violence was seen, prompting the government and parents to get involved.

The Peace Weekly editorial thought it important enough to give it space. To see this kind of violence with children so young, without any restraint, using the fist to punch a child was too much for the country. The teacher after punching the child without crying, the child picked up the food that was spilled, and the other children without being told went to a corner of the  room staring at the teacher with fright. This was more than enough reason for those who saw the video to be angry.

The office of statistics has reported that each year about 200 cases of cruelty to students is reported  and the majority of these are with pre-school children. The importance of this period in a child's education in character building is well known, and the need for teachers trained in child care is necessary.

At present without any experience in a class room, by the internet, listening to a series of lectures and getting the necessary credit points one receives second class teacher accreditation for pre-school.

The editorial mentions in Germany two years of special schooling, two years of classroom experience, and  evaluation of personality and qualifications by a board is required, before they receive accreditation. More important than the one dimensional regulations to have CCTV in all the classrooms, is to make sure the teachers have the necessary qualification to be with children.  

We are not conscious of the influence we have on others and the bad example we give to others by the words we use, our behavior, and moods should humble us, and make us aware of the harm that is done when money is the standard by which we judge what is permissible in the education of the young.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Practicing What We Believe

The devil is in the details, begins an article in the Catholic Times. Often it is the small things, overlooked, that cause the problems. A priest writer wants us to understand how this reality is manifested when speaking about matters of justice.

The social gospel is the foundation of our teaching:   the principles of human dignity, common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, the universal use of our resources for the good of all, are all basically accepted by most Catholics. In the details is where we have disagreement.                                                                                                                                                                                          We are made in the image of God and have dignity,  but when we bring up issues in our society and our place besides the poor, and those whose human rights are ignored we have a difference of opinion. We speak a lot about the  common good but when it comes in conflict with our good we have a can of worms.

Solidarity is where one is willing to strongly  participate in the work for the common good, uniting ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus for us. However, the problem comes when instead of working to undo the darkness in the world we add to the darkness by being more concern with our benefits and interests.

Subsidiarity is respecting a person's autonomy, spontaneity and independence. To explain this principle he uses the example of a person who knows how to catch a fish and give it to another, not feeling a need to help the other to catch the fish. If we look at the family we see where this principle is often ignored and the  government when she doesn't respect the characteristics of different areas of the country and uses benefits to the country as an excuse, to bring harm to its citizens.

What we possess is not only for our use but for the good of all. My money, possessions, and knowledge are to be used for the good of all. A very beautiful teaching we can admire from afar but when we get into particulars such as raising the tax on the wealthy and trying to achieve a better balance on equality we have confrontation.

In the Church Today Document  of Vatican II #24 we hear: "This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself." When we are in church praying and feel close to God, and the small detail of 'the other'   comes to mind and the way we need to put what we believe into practice we can't just be content with knowing the principles. 

Today in Korea at all the Masses we are collecting funds for aiding the poor overseas, another prod to open our eyes to the other, and not just a small detail.                                                           

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Manipulation of Our Emotions

"I don't like it. When you don't like something, that's it." You are cut off from any more interaction. This is a problem that a religious sister whose field of study is Media Ecology brings to our attention. Our emotions have become a consumer product.

She recalls going to a play. The heroine was a plain looking woman who was on the chubby side. The sister's first brief impression was one of doubt but very quickly she was absorbed by her performance.  In the row in front of her sat a group of college students who began to giggle and laugh, spending most of the time showing little interest on what was happening on the stage. They were not impressed with the heroine; their emotional involvement had been shut down.

Walter Benjamin a German cultural critic, she quotes as saying: our popular art is no longer the type where we contemplate, get involved and attached, but see, hear, and enjoy, an object of feelings. Not something to appreciate but rather a play thing that diffuses our mental faculties. To the college students the external appearance of the heroine was all important. Their sense of sight had not been satisfied and that was the end of their interest. The play was a consumer product they passively examined; not an artistic creation they were to appreciate and critique. 

When something is not liked, that's that. They are not interested in the product.  It has to be interesting,  fun and an object of amusement or they lose interest. "I don't like it." I don't like to meet that person."  When they put in the word just, it becomes hopeless: "I just don't like it."  This closes down all the feelings. When alone, they go to the  movies for interest, when sad the television screen and laughter, when lonely the SNS where they can acquire friends.                     
In our economic system our consumer product is feelings. Consequently, the strategy is to use children and women as the objects for advertising. Our feelings take over from our processes of thought.  Emotions become the tools and the consumer product. The process of thought is circumvented and feelings become all important. When the feelings are not satisfied then it's bad, the reason? It just is. 

Even though the system is trying to deceive us we should not be sad or get angry. We are still the spectators who are active critics who are the creators of meaning. We still have strength to make sure that our emotional life is not made an object of the consumer society, are we not?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dreaming of Reunification of the Country

From the time of the division of Korea, North Koreans have fled to the South. Those who leave the North after entering China go to a third country because China refuses to grant refugee status to the defectors, and considers them illegal. If caught in China they are repatriated back to North Korea to face serious consequences. 

The Inchon Diocese's Committee for the Reconciliation of the Nation works to improve the relations between the two countries. On Jan. 15-16, 18 young people of the two sectors of the country met in a School for Unity Program. They began with some awkwardness  but quickly developed into a closeness of friendship.

There has been in the diocese programs where those who were refugees from the North were invited to live with Catholic families to accustom themselves to the culture and the South Korean way of doing things, but this was the first time that young people of the North and South spent time in a formal way to get to know each other, and dream of a united Korea.

Defectors in South Korea are usually called refugees but in recent years we have been using the words "people of a new land",  less disagreeable to the North than the word they used in the past: "people who fled the North."  There is also the word with a stronger meaning: "residents who renounced North Korea."  During this program we heard "people of a new land."   

After the start of the program on the mainland with a welcoming and a Mass they came to the Gyodong Peace Island, and to the mission station. Kim Young-Ai (Theresa) one of the committee members  and a parishioner of the  mission station gave a talk on Gyodong as the Peace Island and how many of  the citizens still consider themselves as people from the North who now live on the island, but dream of some day returning to their place of birth. 

There are still many persons living here in the South who at the big holidays come to Gyodong with nostalgia for their homeland. They may be those who left the North during the Korean War or family members of those who left. The distance to the nearest point in North Korea is about 2.5 kilometers. On a clear day you can see the North Koreans working in their fields.

The group was taken on a sight seeing tour of the island by Theresa and they spent some time in the area overlooking the North. After the  trip they returned to the mainland and spent time together in discussion and expressing their views on the days activities. They want to continue this school for unity in the future.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Secret In Living 100 Percent

One of the parishioners gave me a  sheet of  paper this morning after Mass that she found on the internet. Without doubt it was taken from an English speaking site and is making the rounds here on the Korean internet. It does  have a interesting lesson for us, and a word of gratitude for those who spent time in bringing it to our attention and for those who worked to give us a worthwhile lesson for their labor.

It was introduced, so said the paper, by a cabinet minister at a breakfast meeting that he attended. He gave credit for the idea to a foreigner. The topic was the  way we are to aim for a 100 point life. We are given the code and how to decipher it.  Each letter of the English alphabet is given a number value from 1 to 26. The first letter A =1, B=2  and Z=26.  As shown below.                                                                                                                                                                   

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

One of those at table asked what is the value of hard work for a  life well lived? The minister converted the letters into numbers and it reached 98. (8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11). No, it doesn't make the perfect 100.

How about knowledge? Knowledge gives you 96 points.

Money as a goal? That is only 72 points.

Leadership?  Gives you 89 points.

What then gives you 100 points? Attitude, gives you the perfect 100.

For a life well lived we need to change our attitude.

The global world in which we live enables us to see and hear what is going on in other parts of the world  and hopefully makes us wiser-- but-- depending on our ability to discern. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conscientious Objection in Korea

South Korea has mandatory military service and is one of the few countries without alternative service for those who are conscientious objectors. A seminary professor visits the issue in his article in the Peace Weekly on the Social Gospel. He admits to understanding the Korean situation for security but has problems with the way it is implemented. Why do the seminarians have to bear arms? He agrees that all need to be responsible for the security of the country but this can be done with alternative service for the country.

There are  many other countries with compulsory military service who allow for alternative service.  Those that have problems with serving in the military, are not confined to prison or treated as criminals

According to a report from the United Nations those who in 2013 where in prison because they refused to serve in the military for religious or other reasons were 723, and 669 were Koreans. This shows, he says, a serious  issue with which the country should be concerned.

He goes on to ask: What does Catholicism teach about this issue? "Conscientious objectors who, out of principle, refuse military service in those cases where it is obligatory because their conscience rejects any kind of recourse to the use of force or because they are opposed to the participation in a particular conflict, must be open to accepting alternative forms of service. It seems just that laws should make humane provision for the case of conscientious objectors who refuse to carry arms, provided they accept some other form of community service”(Compendium of the Social Gospel (#505).

The priest would like to see this issue discussed among citizens. Before the change of government there was a movement among the politicians to work for a change. The Catholic Church has made it clear where she stands on the issue of conscientious objection but because of North Korea it is not a issue that people want to discuss and this is also true within the church. Since you have those who are serving the country at great sacrifice, they do not look upon those who do not serve with sympathy.

There are some Catholics who are in prison because of refusal to serve in the military but the overwhelming majority are Jehovah's Witnesses. It is clear that the country is not going along with the rest of the world on this issue, and they feel justified because of their particular situation. Hopefully, with a  change in the thinking of the citizens we will see a change in the way we look  upon the issue. These men who return to civilian life after their prison terms will have a difficult time because they are considered criminals, a label that will follow them for life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lessons Learned About Death

Death is a part of life and we often want to close our eyes to the eventuality. You have those who welcome death, those who fight against it, and those who are resigned. A film maker Lee Chang-jae, a university professor of film, has made the documentary Hospice 2014, taken at a hospice managed by religious sisters. He wanted to  film the life of those who would face death, within a short period of time. Although not a Catholic he selected the Mohyon Hospice because of the atmosphere.

The Catholic Times has an interview with the film maker which gives us a good idea of what he learned from his experience. The first hurdle was to get permission to make the movie. The filming took 10 months; to ask permission to take pictures in such an environment required a great deal of maneuvering and sensitivity. He was able, after much talk, to convince the patients that it would be guidance for those who would come after them, a great gift, and they gave their permission.

Filming of the hour of death was difficult; it is a time for mourning  and he was with his camera. With the editing he says he was present at the death bed of at least 500 persons. Without his drinking, he said, it would not have been possible. He saw the film in the cutting room; doesn't have the courage to see it in a movie house.   

He  decided to make the film while on a 34 day pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. At that time in his life he was having some personal problems that he needed to resolve. He did not give the trip a lot of thought and packed his bag and was off. During the trip he was  systematically getting rid of his belongings. To lighten his bag he was even throwing out his soaps and  tooth paste. When he returned home he found that there were items that he hadn't even used once. In the journey of life he wonders how much do we possess that is not necessary, and makes the journey more difficult. 

If we had the opportunity to experience death it would change our priorities, our intentions would change, and we would rid ourselves of many of our attachments. He learned a great deal from the leave   taking of many. Rather choosing to be with the medical equipment is it not better to accept the values of life, and spend the time with the family in  preparation for separation?

He ended the interview with the questions asked by the doctors to the patients:  Do you want me to put you to sleep so that you will not feel any pain?  Do you rather prefer to feel a little pain and only half of you will be asleep?  Or feel pain but be wide awake so that you will be conscious of what is around you? What will you select? The response, he says, will tell us gently our attitude towards life.                                                     

Monday, January 19, 2015

Opening Our Eyes to the Developmentally Disabled

There are many things with which we are unaware, once we hear and see the situation we are moved with tenderness, and the closer we approach we realize the seriousness of the issue. The handicapped problem is one of these, with many of the  handicapped we are not dealing with a grave problem, however, the developmentally handicapped is of another kind. The Peace Weekly, with these words, begins the editorial on developmental disabilities in Korean society.

Parents want to live to take care of their child; putting it another way they hope that the child dies the day before they do. It is not difficult to understand the heart breaking grief of these parents. To be responsible for these children for a few days is difficult, to be with them every moment of the day for life is even hard to imagine. According to statistics we have 200,000 with developmental disabilities; the numbers of those caring for them are many.

Interest of the government in the problems of the developmentally disabled seems to be improving. It will still take some time before we see it operational within society. Church outreach to the developmentally disabled is not extensive. Of the 230 parishes in Seoul there are only 11 with programs for the disabled. This is the reality at present for the church which should be sensitive to this problem.

Whenever these questions about the alienated and  suffering in society appear the government and the church should have concern and support. The conventional response is often one as spectator. If we understood the stress and difficulties of these families we would not respond in this way. We often have a prejudice shown to them and a lack of understanding.

" Do you know how much happiness the existence of my  child gives to those around.  'It is difficult, very difficult' they say, and in their heart they give thanks. The disability of our child shows others the importance of family and the meaning of life. I tell my child: you have a big job to help in the work of God's  salvation." These words of a mother of a child with disabilities gives us something to think about.

One parish in Seoul starting in March, will have a Mass on each Sunday afternoon for the developmentally disabled and their families. There have been Masses for the mentally impaired on occasions but this is the first time there will be a regular Sunday Mass for the developmentally disabled. After the Mass will be time for play. A program for healing  will be prepared for the  mothers. All in the diocese will be welcomed.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Working for Christian Unity

Today begins the week of prayer for Christian Unity that will end on Jan. 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Christians remember the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John 17:21: "that all be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be [one] in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."

Nothing can compare to the harm done to the mission to evangelize given to the Church by Jesus than the divisions and disunity of those who believe in Jesus. Here is one of the more serious reasons for Christians not to attack each other, work to understand and respect each other and work for unity.

Both Catholic papers gave space to the Unity Octave and one article gave us questions and answers by the priest director of the Bishops' Committee for Church Unity and Religious Dialogue. Listed below are a few of the questions and answers. 

Why do we need to work for unity? Isn't it necessary for a family to work for harmony? One third of the Korean population is Christian. We are all in the family of Jesus and need to treat each other as family and friends. In living the Gospel we need to have the fellowship and brotherly love among ourselves. 

What are the works of the movement for unity in Korea?  Not only have we worked together in works for our neighbors but in national calamities and in  movements for human rights. We have worked together in the independence movement. We worked together in the democratization of the country in the 1970s; we have worked for the eradication of capital punishment and many other movements to better society. The translation of the Common Bible is probably the high point of working together.

By dialoguing and with study what changes can we hope to achieve? We will understand each other better. Catholics can refrain from saying that Protestants have left their home and are now without a mother, and Protestants can refrain from calling the Catholic Church Mary's Church. Catholics often say we are closer to the Buddhism than the Protestants. These and similar phrases do not help in getting to know and understand each other. We can hope for the day when Catholics and Protestants can discuss the Bible and even their religious life together.

What are the  biggest problems in achieving unity?   Christian history of Korea is short and many have accepted their religious belief as something private and not connected with others. Consequently the 
difficulty in changing one's prejudiced opinion of another. Faith life has to do mostly with our prayers and spiritual works but it is not expressed in our daily lives. This will take time says the priest, and a reason working with other Christians will be difficult. However, this is also the  reason we have to work together for unity.    

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How to Change the World

Changing family life will change the world, so believes the priest in his article in the Kyeongyang magazine. He is speaking about a program for engaged couples. They begin on Friday evening and conclude on Sunday afternoon. One of the participants expressed it this way: "We have talked with each other a great deal, I thought, but never have we been so focused, or talked at such depth as we did, a good preparation for the future."

The priest has been involved with the program for the last 5 years. The program is supervised by Marriage Encounter couples and one priest. The numbers who want to make the program are many so one has to register at least two or three months in advance. You have priests who make the program a condition for their witnessing the marriage, you have those who give the engaged couple the registration for the program as a gift. In most of the programs about one third of the couples are not both Catholic, and you have one couple in each program without any religious affiliation.

Older married couples talk of their experience of married life, the difficulties they experienced and the way they solved them. These are the topics the engaged couples will discuss in their time together. Preparation for the one day of marriage with their presents, meals, invitations and the like, is not as important, they realize, as the groundwork for a long married life, and the  problems they will face. 

Couples preparing for marriage are celebrating their new life together but also are concerned about the future. They see many who shortly after marriage divorce because of incompatibility. Instead of sacrificing and understanding the other, each considers their own needs. Working to overcome the difficulties of married life together is more difficult for some, than to call it quits.

During the program with the interviews, and confessions the priest meets couples who are at peace, mature, and those who are uncomfortable, and young. You have women who cry, couples who decide to leave during the program; couples who fight severely during the program and those who postpone their marriage or decide to cancel their marriage.

A dynamic sign that the program is serving a good purpose and having good results. Surprisingly, to get priests and couples to partake as leaders in the weekend is not always easy, but those who  take the program and after marriage want to be of help during the weekends are more than they need. He hopes to see the number of  programs increased and the weekends spread to all of the  dioceses in the country. We blogged this Weekend back in Dec. 14th of 2010, and was glad to see the growth in the numbers of those interested has increased.                                                             

Friday, January 16, 2015

Life of the Retired Can Be Lonely

Money accepted as God is contaminating every thing in our society. We hear often, in a mocking way, without money you can't go to Church. With money, no sin, without it you have sin. Many who have  retired or were forced to retire are living with difficulties often because of money.  

The first of these, says a priest writing for a pastoral bulletin, is losing the sense of belonging. All have this desire to belong. When a person retires there is the possibility of losing the feeling of security. No longer does one have a sense of belonging, feels lonely, and despondent. A person with a job can feel this loneliness, how much more a person who no longer has the work place.

Another problem for the retired is a lack of hobbies or interests. During their years in the work place one was too busy to have any other concerns besides work, and now retired, relating with others for some is not easy, and money can be a problem when they  hear the word hobby. For many each day is filled with boredom and despondency.

Family is the third problem. During the years in the work place there was not the time for dialogue nor the concern for a warmer family atmosphere, all changed after retirement. At this time discord was easily perceived. Fathers noticed that there was  more rapport with the mothers, which is no surprise since they spent more time with the children.

Many of the fathers mention after retirement the difficulties of life. The father has retired but the   mother's work continues. Often these words are heard by the fathers from the children. The home should be a place of refuge but it is not, and many feel more lonely in the home. They want to be closer to the families and that is where the Church should become involved.

This situation is one in which the  Church should take an interest and help with programs for the elderly. There are many families where walls have been built between the family members, and there is a need to find ways of giving comfort and helping the elderly couples to overcome their problems.                         

The modern families are not as closely knit as they were in the past, and although many parents are not giving all their savings to the children as once was done, the extended family is no longer a reality. The writer wants the parishes to become concerned for these elder members who don't feel a sense of belonging. Suicide is also a result of this restlessness. Programs for healing are required.                                         

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Families At the Center of Pastoral Work

Joy of the Gospel begins with the meeting of Jesus. This is the message of Pope Francis in his first exhortation. On the opinion page of the Catholic Times the priest writer asks: Is  there a foundation for the hope that we should have for the new evangelization?

Yes, he answers and gives us the writings of Fr. Gerald Foley to consider. "When we are baptized we become in earnest a disciple of Jesus not in the parish but in our families and in the work place. In our daily lives we discover the holy not in a passive way but actively, and it is only the layperson that can do it."

Christians in this fast changing world are finding it difficult facing their problems: lack of communication, conflict between husband and wife, parents and children, lack of trust, scars, the need for reconciliation etc. We also have problems with contraception, abortion, sex education, divorce and remarriage, sex outside of marriage, living together without marriage, depression, suicides, which give rise to bigger problems. In the past there was a dependence on morality and belief with little concern for problems in families, and few programs to address the new situations.

The priest feels there has to be an emphasis on families in the pastoral work of the church;  integrating our daily lives with our faith life. When the parishioners do not find support within the church they will start looking outside for the nourishment they need. This he feels is part of the reason for the increase of the tepid. Lack of joy in the life of Christians and the formality and sense of duty in their religious lives is not a good sign for the future.

We need a new way of doing evangelization. The Church is too much parish centered. He wants the family to be the center of pastoral work. This is also the thinking of Pope John Paul II, and the writer feels an epoch change has to take place in Korea. The joy of the Gospel has to be handed down to the children from the parents. God's  grace has to be experienced in the marriage and in the family. Pastoral work should be centered on the family.

This past year we had the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on topics related to the family and evangelization. This will be followed this year with an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod. The pope is hoping that the sessions will be a way of bringing the mercy of Jesus to the families and wants us to  dream of the possibilities. A dream of the whole church, otherwise it will be a series of day dreams, but if all of us have the same dream it will be the reality.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Comes First, Success or Happiness?

Catholic Digest has an article by a former education minister on the formula for happiness. What is the essence of education? His answer is to make the students happy. Parents desire the same happiness but for them success needs to come first. 'Sweetness comes after the bitter' is very much part of the parent's thinking: you study hard, go to a good college, get a good job, and succeed, and happiness will follow. On the contrary, in the  study of  psychology, economy and sociology, says the writer, it is clear that those who are happy are the ones who succeed.

He tells us about a trip to a monastery near the Black Sea that was built after the recognition of Catholicism by the Empire in the 4th century. The corruption in the Church was great, and a desire for a return to a renewal of the spiritual life. The monastery he visited was built on the side of a cliff and at its prime would have had over 200 monks; the location was close to  Constantinople and had many monasteries.  

These monks, he says, could have been searching for different values and goals. Some were looking for  reasons for the universe and life, some wanted  prayer, others found life in society difficult etc.....  They had three meals a day, related with their brother monks, worked with them and experienced many different feelings, practiced the virtues and were tempted with many of the vices.  

How did these monks experience happiness differently from those outside the monastery?  He refers to a study made in a convent of sisters on happiness. The happiness level had nothing to do with the experience in the convent or the level of maturity but more to do with habit and training. In other words sisters who where optimistic, joyful and positive were happier than those who did not have these dispositions. Sister who as children was happy would continue to be disposed in this way until death.

In the monastery on the cliff, happy monks lived together with the unhappy ones. And the writer concludes that what you do in life, or happens to you will not determine the degree of happiness but happiness will rest on a person's natural capabilities, habits and personality.  

He mentions  a professor at Berkeley who says a person with a lot of money has more purchasing power but also has more wants which takes away from the quality of life, and the possession of happiness, with the danger of becoming a slave to money. 

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky  who in her positive psychology studies says the same thing. Happiness brings success. We have to continually experience this happiness be trained and educated in this way of thinking. We should not be awaiting future happiness but happiness in the here and now. We need to educate for happiness and not success.

The opinion in the article works on the empirical scientific research that has been made but the ever present understanding of grace in a person's life, for a Christian, is something we can not evaluate with the tools of science.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Street People's Choir

"I am a member of the Street People's Choir" is the title of an article in the Catholic Digest. Pope Francis on his visit to the Flower Village while in Korea, in August of last year, arrived by helicopter. There to meet him were about 30,000 people. He transferred to an open car, during this time the Street People's Choir was singing, because of the noise, no one was conscious of their presence. 

The pope got out of the car and entered the vestibule of the building and took off his shoes. He was the only one who did, every body else walked in wearing  their shoes. The writer thought the pope's feet were hurting. The Street People's Choir was waiting for him and started singing again, but the noise from those in the building was so loud, the singing was buried in the noise.  

Behind the stage on which the Street People's Choir was singing was a placard written in Italian introducing them.  The pope saw the placard and looking towards the choir raised his two hands over his head and gave them a thumbs up sign telling them to sing louder. They were gratified by the sign of recognition.

The choir was from the Seoul railroad station where the writer of the article says she attended one of their recitals. She was surprised to see women in the group and was impressed with the director and accompanist. She wanted to join the choir to help them as an alto member, and asked one of the religious sisters who helped form the choir, and was accepted as a member. 

Because of the visit of the pope and the way the mass media carried the story, the difficulty of finding a place to practice was solved. This had been a problem in the past. After each practice there was a meal served which was appreciated by all. The writer mentions how she began a sponsoring group to help pay for the meals. She had some success, and hopes it will continue to grow.

She concludes her article with the words of Pope Francis:  "Important in helping the poor is not just  give a one time  monetary gift, but to join them to  become a member of the cultural life of society."  She would like these words to ring loud and clear throughout society.        

Monday, January 12, 2015

Is the Social Gospel Necessary?

The social gospel of the Church, in Korea like other countries of the world, is often misunderstood and  attacked. A priest in the Catholic Times gives us some  answers to many of the difficulties in his article. Those who are sensitive to issues of justice write and speak often on the problems they see, and this interest gives rise to much rebuttal, making the topic relevant.

Is the social gospel about problems in society? Why don't they see their own faults and those of the church instead of expressing criticism of society?  There are those who do not want to hear anything about politics, and want those  interested in the social gospel to go outside to make their opinion known. However, the Church exists in society. The social gospel is not only limited to society, humans need others to live, we were born to live with others, the social gospel helps us have a right relationship with God and our follow human beings.

Do you think the social gospel is something extra, good if we have it, and good if we don't? Our belief is made up of what we believe and what we need to do. What we need to do is the social gospel; it is not an extra but an integral part of the teaching. It is what I am called to do in my daily life.

There are those that bring in the separation of Church and State as a reason for not getting involved. We can't separate religion from life. The separation of Church and State is to prevent one Church becoming involved in the governing of a country. The Church is not to infringe in the proper field of the government but to teach the way of God. 

Many are those that think the social gospel has a leftist tendency and is part and parcel of the     progressive agenda. However, welfare and morality issues would be in most cases just opposite what the progressives desire and there is confrontation. On the other hand the conservative policies and directions in these areas would be more compatible. In examining society the social gospel may have many different opinions, but they are all based on Scripture.  It may seem at times to be similar to some special groups in society but it is based on the gospels which makes the difference.

A good gauge for the level of our religious life  will depend on our acceptance of the social gospel.  If we do not meet God in the Scriptures, pray, study and   do not share in the body and blood of Jesus at Mass, we will not be bearing the fruit of love. The social gospel is an important part of our faith life. When we have an antipathy or misunderstanding of the social gospel there is a serious problem with the teaching of the Church.  What is the reason for my misunderstanding, is it the Scriptures or the World? 

"So if the light in you is darkness, how terribly dark it will be"( Matt. 6:23).  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Diocesan Plan for Evangelization

Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus and the end of the Christmas Season. The Liturgical Year begins according to the Solar calendar but now we will be working with the Lunar Calendar. The first Sunday of Advent begins the liturgical new year at which time we try to convince ourselves of a need to change our minds and hearts to be more faithful to our call to discipleship. One diocese was written up in the Peace Weekly with their plans for evangelization for the new year. Evangelization is a work of the Church that is always on-going.

How do we  go about evangelizing? This is a question  pastoral workers and parishioners keep asking. The methods differ for the size of the parish, the number of Christians, and each parishes' environment. The diocese has made a manual with the consultation of the Christians to help the different parishes.

They divided the diocese into large, medium, and small, city parishes, and medium and small country parishes. They pointed out the problems in the large, medium and small parishes and what needs to change to better prepare to evangelize. The pastoral office in the diocese determined that the medium and small parishes whether in the city or country where similar.

 Large city parishes had a lack of team work: conflict and lack of unity. Dealing with the  strangers there is a stiffness in attitude and there is a lack of religion teachers and their quality needs to improve. To remedy the situation they recommended working to better the group activities, and the fellowship of the community.

 City and country middle size parishes had a lack of experience in evangelizing and a need for programs, material and tools. In the small parishes there was a problem with finances to invite speakers to instruct the community, and the age of the parishioners was a problem. This could be remedied with support from the diocese and the spread of information on evangelizing to these smaller parishes.

Despite the size of the parishes there is a lack of plans, workers, appropriate goals and the capability to deal with the parish situation. Hope is that each parish will have a mission committee and with the help of manuals give direction to the community. Starting in April they will have programs that will be prepared for the different environments of each parish. 70 percent will be the same the other 30 percent will fit the situation of the parishes. 

The diocese has the goal by 2019 to have 10 percent of the population Catholic which at present is only 7.4 percent, lower than the 10.4 percent in the country as a whole. Sunday Mass attendance is 27.7 percent which is higher than the average for the country which is at 21.2. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Faith a Great Gift

The magazine With Bible gives us a picture of life in an old Catholic family going back ten generations. The priest writer recounts growing up in a Catholic village. Up until the II Vatican Council marriages were always among Catholics so all his relatives were Catholic. Until the day he went to Elementary School he thought the whole world was made up of Catholics. In his class the only other Catholic was his cousin from his village. This was a bombshell to him, he had been deceived, using today's words it was a cultural shock.

From that time on he was embarrassed to be known as a Catholic. He would very surreptitiously make a small sign of the cross on his forehead before eating, and persecution had ended hundreds of years ago. 

One day his father went with a married Buddhist monk friend to a temple bringing him along, where he saw that the hands of the Buddha were bigger than the hands of Jesus, which caused some consternation, and he ate without any problem the rice given.

He envied the Buddhist children who did not have to do anything on Sundays. Mass was one of his biggest difficulties. He would with friends steal and eat the melons in the farms. He dreamed of time on Sundays to go catching frogs, and lamented being  born into a family of Catholics. He was dreaming of the day he would be able to skip Mass.

The day came one summer, he skipped Mass, and with a friend went prancing around the mountains and streams and came back for lunch. When he arrived the family was eating lunch and they all stared at him. There was no place at the table and his bowl was missing. His grandfather asked did he come to eat? There was no sympathy for him and he went outside under the eaves of the house wiping his tears. He hated everybody: God, Jesus,  his grandmother, the Blessed Mother-- from that day on he became a tepid Catholic. 

He dreamed of getting rid of his Catholicism. In the family they would have the morning prayers: for him it was the continuance of a bad dream; evening prayers a lullaby. The holy pictures on the wall would  be glaring at him, he was afraid of Jesus' family. After evening prayers there was the rosary and even at times the office for the dead.

This was not all, everyday three times you would hear the bell of the mission station calling him to pray the Angelus. Every evening he would have a string  rosary on which to pray, he would not get beyond the first decade. His grandmother told him if he fell asleep his guardian angel would finish it for  him. He says his guardian angel was was busy saying his rosaries. His family home was a monastery and he was a lonely tepid Catholic.

As the years passed he ended up in the seminary. How in the world he ended up in the seminary he doesn't know. When he finished his studies he went into the military. During that time he was at camp there was no opportunity to go to Mass, which he liked. He refused an appointment to work as a religious assistant figuring he would be doing that for the rest of his life. He was living the life of a tepid and was enjoying it. As long as God allowed him to do what he wanted all was well, and he feels this is common among the tepid.

Even after he became a priest he felt that his tepidity continued. The joy at ordination quickly left and he did not feel God's love. It was not easy to talk about God's love. When he was saying the breviary it was like the morning and evening prayers he knew as a child. He was curious about the things of the world.
He felt he received little from God. He tried to forget  the emptiness by filling it up with all kinds of works, not only by possessing material things but also knowledge, and working excessively with great pride: using God to grant what he wanted.

This all came to an end when after a year as an assistant priest he was sent overseas to study. During this time he found it difficult to breathe, and they did not know the origin of the problem; he was faced with a serious operation. Death became a possibility and he  began to see everything differently. He was looking for forgiveness. He wanted forgiveness and wanted to love.  It was at this time that he received the peace that he had never experienced before in his life. All the joys and sorrows of his life, his tears, regrets and worries were all washed away. Everything had changed. He had met God.

The article finishes with his gratitude for his gift of faith. It was packaged in a box that he opened when he faced death. God's love for him he saw with new eyes, and he wants to make this love known to others.