Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Issue That Doesn't Disappear

Korean Comfort Women ( Korean sex slaves for the Japanese military) issue is one that is not going away.The Peace Weekly makes it a front page article, two pages of special  coverage and an editorial. Most of the women are in their eighties and early nineties. Only 53 are alive and they are asking for an apology from the Japanese government. Every Wednesday, women groups demonstrate peacefully in front of the Japanese Embassy.  

Japan feels they have apologized sufficiently, and  private funds have been offered to the women but the Government does not want to acknowledge any responsibility for the comfort women. This is precisely what the women want the government to do. The government continues to pick on one or two issues where they may be technically correct, but refuse to consider thousands of glaring historical facts on the forced prostitution of Korean women. The nationalists in the Japan have a lot to do with the position of the government. 

On Feb. 25  they had the 1167 Wednesday gathering in front of the Embassy. Not only do the Japanese refuse to apologize, they do not want to acknowledge the fact that the government was involved: efforts  made  to rewrite the history of the period.

The pope on his visit to Korea did meet with the grandmothers who suffered as comfort women and was given a butterfly badge which represents the movement and their plight. The pope wore the badge  after he received the gift.

The editorial mentions it is not only the Japanese government but many international groups that hesitate seeking justice for these women. This coming March 1st  is a  National Holiday that commemorates the day in 1919  when 33 Korean nationalists and students declared their nation's  independence in Seoul and the establishment of a provisional government of the Republic of Korea. More effort is needed on the part of the Korean government to push the Japanese for an acknowledgement and formal apology.

Pope Francis said on his return trip to Rome from Korea we can't be neutral when we see pain. He also in his recent message: " we are seeing a selfish attitude of indifference that we can speak of a globalization of indifference."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Understanding the Paradoxes of Life

Where are all the college students? A priest begins his article in a diocesan bulletin with this lament. He remembers working with the youth back in the last years of the 70s and the  early years of the 80s: busy giving retreats, workshops and going to the different colleges for Masses and involved in many programs for the students. From those years we have many who are now ministering  in the Church and are leaders in society. What happened?

Except for a few parishes the college students are no longer seen in the parochial communities. At one time there was even talk of having a parish just for the youth of the diocese. Those days have past. He wants the Church to consider work with the youth as a  primary concern. They are the future of the Church and of society.

However, we have those who do not see the young people alienated from the church but rather looking for spirituality outside of the parish setting. Many college students prefer to associate with their fellow students in a  college environment, in Catholic prayer groups, student groups, diocesan programs located where they are.

Students in the West have shown  signs of alienation from the Church which is not  as pronounced in Korea. The culture is still very protective, and traditional morality still influences much of society.  Just  recently, the courts decriminalized adultery. We are not dealing with young people  that have opted for the ways of the West. The students are acquainted with the  West but many accept the traditional ways; a youth subculture,however, does exist.                                     

Many are searching  for a mature spirituality.  Pope Francis in his talk to the 6000 young Catholics from  23 nations last year warned about the "spiritual cancer" of materialism from the affluent countries. "We see signs of an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure which come at a high cost to human lives." Korea has shown signs of needing a different spirituality from  the one received. There is an emptiness and despair that shows in the number of suicides and as a world  leader in cosmetic surgery.

When the newly baptized  are asked why they have become Catholics the majority answer to find peace. It is true that a mature faith life will bring great joy and peace but it is not the response desired: a guarantee we are not prepared to walk in the way of Jesus, but to satisfy our needs. Peace and happiness are the results, the  consequences, a by-product of the life we live, and not the aim of our life.

Explaining this is far from easy. Ignoring the search for authenticity: the true, good and beautiful and expect peace and happiness is not going to do it. The search for spirituality is a sign that this is understood even though unconsciously.  Emptiness is experienced and with the young and old alike  the stress on the paradoxes of Christianity, which they also have in their own religious heritage, is a need in our educational programs.                          

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Relationships and Happiness

Korea is in the top ten of the  economically developed countries, but one of the lowest in the index for happiness. This uncomfortable fact motivates many to  express their opinions on the subject; a religious sister writes on the issue in a diocesan bulletin.

Sister teaches the mothers of children who are preparing for First Communion, and one of her questions for the mothers: Are you  happy?  When she asked this question one mother began to cry. Why was she crying? asked the sister, it was the first time in her life she was asked the question. Sister tells them that on a scale of 1 to 10, where would they be. If it is  low she  recommends  they take a  trip  like Hector in the novel: Hector and the Search for Happiness.                                                                                                                                      
Hector is a psychiatrist who finds that he can't do much to help people who come to him and he himself is not happy with the situation. Hector takes a trip around the world to learn what makes people happy.  

He made a list of  what he found during his trip that added to happiness. The first on the list is not to  compare yourself with others. 7) Be with those who want to be happy. 13) Feeling that you are of help to others. 20) A special attitude towards life. 23) Interest in the happiness of others. 

When the doctor returned home he began living out what he learned. He realized how happy he was, and enjoyed sharing what he had learned, which gave him more happiness.

Sister, made her own list of what makes her happy and what doesn't. She  doesn't judge  others for their failures; doesn't compete or envy another, and makes an effort not to  hurt another, and when she does, she apologizes.

We are  made to live in community because we are created after the image of God: the community which is God--Trinity. It is in relating with others that we  will find happiness.  We have been made to partake in the life of the Trinity here and hereafter: our aim and purpose in life. How we relate with God and others is important.

We are not on this earth to be a maverick;  to do things our way without concern for others. God wants us to relate in the way he relates. When we confess the Trinitarian  Godhead, and live its teaching, we find happiness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Did He Do It?

A religious sister writes in View from the Ark, of the Catholic Times, on  thoughts she had hearing  about the young man who left Korea to join the  Islamic State military forces. Why did he do it? She began to reflect on what the mass media said about his being alone for long periods of time. He dropped out of middle school, stayed home most of the time, and  only conversed with his brother, and had little contact with his parents. 

Here was a young man at an age where dreaming about his future life should have been attractive and shared with others; without consulting anybody, in  contact with the virtual world of the internet, he made his choice to join the Islamic State.

If he had been relating with others and hearing their beautiful dreams would he not have made a different choice? The passage from Genesis 2:18 came to her mind: "It is not good for man to be alone." Pope John Paul II gives an answer why being alone is not a healthy choice: one is not able to realize the fullness of  one's personality.  Relating with  others we get to know who we are, and by loving the other we ourselves become happy. 

In these times there are many who are living like isolated islands. Pope Francis mentions in his Lenten Message: "Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront." We no longer see others as brothers and sisters but as objects. We have become the slaves of fashion, power, money, and even distorted religious thinking. We have emptied our humanity and replaced it with shackles of violence.  

There is always the danger of forgetting God, those who surround us, and the world in which we live. We need to be listening to the weak voices that come to our attention, and be ready to open the doors of our  hearts. It is only then that we will have joy and peace. 

We need to be open to all those who come close to us and make known the mercy of God. We are all members of the  body of Christ. "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy" (I Cor. 12-26).

We have no idea what prompted the young man to join the Islamic State but there are many similar cases where not only the young but people of all ages and cultures decide to leave the known and familiar to join a movement and begin a way of life that is completly opposite to what they had been accostomed. This should make us think deeply and see the possibility  that everything we say or do has ramifications for good or bad that we will never know in this world.                                                     

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finding True Happiness

A seminary professor in his column  in the Peace Weekly, mentions how he is uncomfortable watching the daily news.  Repeated reports of  brutal crimes, violence, corruption of public  servants, preventable accidents,  leaves him feeling angry and miserable.  News that leaves a smile on his face, and a warm feeling in his heart are not easily found.  In this kind of world the meaning of our existence is not helped by what is seen and heard. 

With economic development our life expectancy has increased but also problems that we did not have in the past; prosperity is not able to solve the problems that arise with the increase in the numbers of the elderly. Our fathers and mothers are often being ignored by their families, and society, and left to live their last years in loneliness.

Foreign workers are here to help their families in their home country. Their lives in  dealing with very inferior lodging, difficult working conditions and environment,  makes their time in Korea far from happy.  Our children also with the competition they face jeopardizes their relationship with their classmates, which doesn't bode well for the future.

The more material goods we have don't bring happiness. Life may be more comfortable but happiness does not come with comfort. We lose the meaning for our existence. The more we have the more we want, the more we  enjoy the more we seek to enjoy. We learn that possessions are not what gives meaning to existence.

The professor  as a member of the human race has the  same problems.  As a child he dreamed of becoming a priest:  working for the poor and the  alienated in society. He can now look back on 20 years of priestly life. What he is doing has  little to do with the dream he had as a child. After one year as an assistant he went to Rome to study. Coming back to Korea he very happily was a pastor of a parish for one year, and then returned to the seminary to teach. He is now not teaching seminarians but ethics to the laity,  and is responsible for the  administration of the seminary.   

Rather than being sent to preach the Gospel he is working with logistics  and rational issues  as an administrator. He can't help but ask himself is he  happy in doing what he is doing. He thinks of all those without any belief system, who are dealing with the  same problem: trying to figure out the meaning of their existence.  

Catholicism, he says, "To these basic questions about the meaning and purpose of human life the Church responds with the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, which liberates the dignity of the human person from changing opinions and ensures the freedom of men and women as no human law can do. The Second Vatican Council indicated that the mission of the Church in the contemporary world consists in helping every human being to discover in God the ultimate meaning of his existence. The Church knows well that 'God alone, whom she serves, can satisfy the deepest cravings of the human heart, for the world and what it has to offer can never fully satisfy it' Only God, who created man in his image and redeemed him from sin, can offer a fully adequate answer through the Revelation wrought in his Son made man. The Gospel, in fact, 'announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, it rejects all bondage resulting from sin; it scrupulously respects the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice; it never ceases to encourage the employment of human talents in the service of God and of man, and finally, it commends everyone to the charitable love of all' (Compendium of the Social Gospel # 576).

True happiness for a Christian comes from the belief in Jesus. We are changed by this happiness, which motivates us to want to change the world. "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person and the assurance that he gives us: I am with you! It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program'. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem” (Compendium #577).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Women's World: Pontifical Council for Culture

An article in the Catholic Times reports on the recent meeting of the Pontifical Council for Culture at which meeting one of the Korean bishops participated. The article gives us an insight into what  transpired. The  meeting reflected on  women's culture and the place of women in society.

Women's generativity, and particular values need to be understood and made known. The women's movement is part of the Christian cultural movement. Bishop Lee  reminds us that women's values have to be respected and become part of our culture and movement for life, and inculturated in our theology.

The subject matter can be divided into  4 brief statements:
1) Between equality and difference-- the quest for an equilibrium.
2) "Generativity" as a symbolic code.
3) The female body:between culture and biology.
4) Women and religion: flight or  new forms of participation in the  life of the Church?

 Bishop Lee mentioned that in the meeting, the generativity of women was considered symbolically;  they divided it into four moments: desiring, bringing into the world, looking after, and finally letting go. Women have  a great deal to do with this generativity but it is not only the woman's work but also the man's: both in the beginning and end of the generative process. 

One of the big obstacles to this generativity is the  materialism of our life style. Another social evil is the commodification of the women's body: plastic surgery, so prevalent  in society, is a good example.

The bishop mentioned at the meeting the exaggerated importance of appearance, and the need to address this in our moral teaching and education. The bishop reported the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says Korea is the Cosmetic Capital of the world. The  percentage of citizens with cosmetic surgery are the highest in the world. “Plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh.” These are the  words, one person used to describe the cosmetic surgery being performed on women. 

 Young people don't even know why they are having the surgery; they are moved by the positive popular feeling  about the procedure. Even pastors  have nothing to say  about the surgery. "The body  expresses the being of a person, more than an aesthetic dimension closed in on itself; how can we avoid a purely functional approach to women and their bodies (seductive,  commercialization, marketing)?"                          

"Women and men in their personhood are equal but  have different values. These values should be at the center of the  women's culture and we need to understand them. Men and women complement each other and this should be made known in our programs within and outside the  church."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Discrimination is not Easily Abandoned

Koreans want the  best educational programs for their children and will sacrifice a great deal to achieve it. A professor writing in the Peace Weekly doesn't like what she sees. In one district, parents did not want  their children to go to the same school with children coming from rented homes. You have parents moving to an area where the  teaching is of a better quality, and  you have the 'goose dads' who are living alone  because the mother is with  the children in some oversea country. Our professor wonders if the parents understand what a good education should mean. 

She  mentions meeting a European student studying Sanskrit in India so as to read the ancient texts. Students from England and Europe are in Africa  studying the primitive languages. In  Bangkok, Thailand  we have the Chulalongkorn University where  many students from the States and Europe are majoring in  Asian studies. The professor feels there is a one sided understanding that education has to concentrate on learning English. Other areas of the world want to tear down the walls that separate us from one another: a desire to be more open to  cultures different from our own.  

While in California for a workshop, on a bus was  a Swiss intern at their Embassy, when the bus stopped for a red light, he saw a grandmother in tattered clothes  carrying a big bundle crossing the street. He quickly left the bus to help the woman cross the street and returned to the bus. The passengers, where on an  educational exposure trip on American  Democracy. Another member of the group that morning had taken a banana from the table and put it in her purse to give to the first beggar she met. Concern and sensitivity to others was evident.

One great difference from the traditional society and our modern society is the breaking down walls surrounding social status. More important than the status at birth are the efforts that people make that are valued. We have moved to equality under God and under law: from monarchy, in a circuitous  way,to a colony of Japan, to the Second World War, and Korean War to a commonwealth and a constitutional democracy. We had sadness and consolation: we put aside the nobility and commoner division and the  male and female servant divisions. Our common experience with empty stomachs and common background allowed us to become one nation, but in retrospect we did not work sufficiently to maintain our unity. 

Allowing  discrimination to appear by the kind of homes that we have, is not a sign that  our education has been doing its job. Nelson Mandela in South Africa was  able to do away with apartheid, (the separation of the races) and received applause from the whole world.  

We have the pope opening the Vatican to the homeless for showers, free haircuts, and  umbrellas  distributed on a rainy day. Discrimination and exclusions that nurture conflict and scars make us  see clearly problems in the world village. Discrimination between our children and those  living in rented apartments is sending a harmful message to our children. In the present society it is not easy to make known our  discrimination for it's a  throwback to another age, and she  wants  those who think this way to jump out to the front, and surprise everybody.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dreaming An Impossible Dream

A diocesan priest relates his experience in trying something new with the community welfare center that was entrusted to him to manage. The city and the board of examiners' vision for the center  was a home for the handicapped and non-handicapped living together without discrimination. This is the motto that is used with the community welfare centers that are established, but in fact there is little difference in the way they are run. Each facility has a way of expressing their special work.

During the latter part of last year the staff of the  community center began to think about its direction,  and programs that needed to be implemented. They met with some volunteers from the area, and decided to begin a musical ensemble with the handicapped and non-handicapped. They made plans for the new year and assembled a group with 17 youths who are mentally handicapped and 20 who are not handicapped to make up the musical ensemble.

In his article in a pastoral bulletin, the priest admits that many will see it as an unrealistic dream that will not go far. The members of the staff see it as a  dream that will go on for ten years. Music as the medium, they hope will allow the interaction among the young people that will have an impact on the city and the families of the handicapped.The handicapped will make friends with the non-handicapped who will, in turn, be learning some new values.

This November they are aiming to have the inaugural performance of the ensemble. They have already met as a group on three occasions, and private lessons have begun. Each week they will have a meal together after practice. At this time each of the teachers will express their hopes for the group very circumspectly.

They are already thinking of the invitations they will be getting to perform in different parts of the country. However, not all has been without problems. One mother didn't like the idea of her son practicing with the handicapped, considering that her son was being asked to serve and sacrifice for the handicapped. This caused some ill feeling  among the mothers. Changing thinking is not easy.

Not  all was negative for he saw on one  occasion where one child sat down by the side of a handicapped child and began helping him. In the beginning there was some hesitation but they both began reacting with each other as friends. The teachers and mothers were greatly pleased with what they saw.

The priest himself has bought a cello and will join the group.His desire is to regain the heart of a child. He has no idea how this will work out, but hopes for the best. No matter what, he feels that the encouragement it will give the families of the handicapped, in this unfriendly environment, is worth all the trouble and has great meaning.                   

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Father's Lesson To His Children

Parents in Korea have often in the past given all of their possessions to the children before death.  Buying a house for the son, when marrying, was frequent and helping a son to begin a new business venture was common. Parents in other societies would often do the same, but in Korean society parents often become penniless helping their children. This is changing and parents are not as quick to give all of their savings to the children before death.

Parents feel an obligation to pay for their children's expenses long after their off-spring have become adults. This results in  parents needing to be dependent on the children.Not uncommon is to see grandfathers and grandmothers with little energy, and dreams, precisely because they are dependent on the children.The following story in a diocesan bulletin is helping to educate parents on what they need to do in their retirement years. Stories of this type we see often, which is bringing about a change in the way parents  prepare for retirement.

A father had educated all his children and they all  were married and had left the family home. The father was diagnosed with a serious decease, and called all the children and their mates to the house.

"I have raised you and  sent you to college and  took care of the expenses for marriage and all that was necessary. You know I am not in good health, and  not able to work, and  I went into debt to educate the four of you. Here is a piece of paper to write down what you can repay."

The children stared vacantly at each other.  The second son who was not in the best of circumstances wrote down 50 thousand dollars. The other children were, as at an auction, deciding  what to write. The oldest son wrote down 20 thousand, the third son 15 thousand and the daughter 10 thousand. 

There were no visits to the sick father or telephone calls. He called the children again to his bedside and this time only the children came.

"I  don't want any fighting over the inheritance after my death, and bad feelings among the four of you, so I have  prepared everything with the help of a lawyer. You will all get 5 times more than you wrote on the pieces of paper. After this is deducted there will be  about 3 million dollars left which will be given to charity."

Hearing these word they were all struck dumb, and their faces turned deathly pale.                                                                                                                                           

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Searching for Wisdom

"Why do  people promise to meet at the first snow? Why so happy at the first snow? Maybe because  those that love are waiting for the first snow." These are the words of a Korean  poem that the  columnist uses to introduce his column: The Wisdom we can learn from Bhutan. The columnist a university president writing on the opinion page, of the Catholic Times, believes Bhutan has something to teach.

There is something romantic about the first snow fall. And in the small country of Bhutan, with 700 thousand citizens, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, the fairytale-like land proclaims  a national holiday at the  first snow.  National income is 2,300 dollars per capita, and yet 97 citizens out of 100  consider themselves happy. One of the happiest countries in the world.

In 1972 the  government considering their culture and environment has made it their philosophy to  enhance the life of the citizens with a just distribution of the wealth. This progressiveness relates not only  with economics but also with the environment; they are determined not to do anything to destroy the ecology of the country. The point of reference is the happiness level of the people not the amount of money each citizen has  to spend. They will find ways to make education and health free for the people in their constitution. Bhutan is the first  country in the world that has made 
Gross National Happiness (GNH) as their point of departure instead of the Gross National Product (GNP).

The columnist feels our present economic model is not person orientated and builds a culture of death. We are destroying our environment  and our traditional communities. The polarization of the "haves" and "have-nots" is getting larger and society less secure. Our 'new-liberal' social structures allow many of the poor to get caught in a trap  from which they can not escape.

In 2011 the young people fought against the economic insecurity and corruption by occupying Wall Street. A  movement that spread worldwide. The strong American welfare safety-net began to disappear, and tragedies followed tragedies in the use of guns and killings. The United States is a  super power but not an advanced society, according to the columnist-- a nation exists for the happiness of the citizens.

Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as a new tyranny. A  model in opposition to the dignity of the person, and  producing the culture of death. Capitalism is one of the biggest revolutions in the world, and a challenge to Christianity. We need a new paradigm that will have happiness for the foundation in the use of money."I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation." These words of St. Paul should fill us with a feeling of gratitude. We who  have  received an  abundance  from Jesus should be able to live in the spirit of  poverty. Would not this be a rightful understanding of the blessings received? Happy Lunar New Year!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beginning of Lent

Today we begin Lent, tomorrow the  Lunar New Year. A  pastoral bulletin gives us 11 resolutions from  Pope Francis that were taken from Facebook. They would make a good beginning for Lent and the New Year.

(Don't Gossip) (Finish my meals) (Make time for others) (Choose the  more humble purchase)  (Meet the poor) (Stop judging others) (Be friends with those you disagree)  (Don't be afraid to say "forever")  (Make it a habit to "ask the Lord") (Be happy) (Forget what others did wrong to me)

We are all on a journey living in a beautiful boardinghouse for a short period of time.  We have not built the world and are living in this world without any demand for rent.  And it is clear that we are not the owners of the house.

We know we are here for an indefinite period of time. Not for 3 or 4 days but for about 70 to 80 years and we leave. We tend to forget that this earthly journey will come to an end.

The owner of the boardinghouse quietly looks over what is going on. The travelers prepare their room as if they were the owners, and  if other travelers want to look at the room there is a price to pay. At times there is a  fight to take another person's room, and even  do harm to the other fellow travelers.

The owner has given us everything free: the sun , air, water and even the rooms we use, but we demand a price for their use from each other.

We are all travelers. The kind hearted owner had  given us the use of these facilities and wouldn't it be wonderful if we had the use of what the owner has given to all of us. We are only on this journey once. 

Today in the Masses within the Catholic world we received ashes on the forehead reminding us that our bodies will return to the earth from which we came. Life is short;  in the Gospel we are reminded to work in becoming  better tools: by thinking of others, communicating with God in our prayer life,  and  opening ourselves to receiving the graces he continually bestows by preparing the container with asceticism-- a word we are embarrassed to use.

The Holy Father in his Lenten message has warned us of the globalization of indifference.  He has selected three sentences for us to meditate on for this Lent: If one member suffers, all suffer together” (Cor.12:26). “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) We have here more than  enough matter for meditation.                                                                                                                               

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Growing Old Gracefully

We are all growing old: is there a way of doing this gracefully? In a bulletin for priests a Maryknoll priest writes about a one day seminar that the Maryknoll Fathers had in Korea at the end of last year-- conducted by Brother Wayne Fitzpatrick who is in charge of the Office of Life Long Formation for the Society.

Happiness for ourselves, and those we live with, depends a great deal on how we grow old. This is, no doubt, the thinking of the Society for preparing the one day seminar. We were given some articles to read; we heard a number of talks, Brother, asked some questions of the group and we discussed some  areas that he had covered in his talks.

One of the papers mentioned Carl Jung who said that in retirement the most important element is our spiritual outlook on life.  We  may be led to think that our strong points when young will be a great help in our retirement years, but Jung did not think this was the case. What was true when young is not necessarily so when old.

Many things change with time. We also have to change. We need to get  rid of harmful fixed ideas, and open ourselves to new ways of thinking. When we look back on our lives we recall many things we have learned, and because of them have become wiser. We know from experience that to die to ourselves is to begin living--Paschal Mystery. 

We should begin preparing for retirement when young. Without plans we will not know what to do and be confused when the time arrives. We should be able to go on doing what we want depending on the  condition of our health. 

There are those that after retirement adapt well to their new life but there are also those that do not.  Our health will have a lot to do with the way we enter retirement; old age and our bodily infirmities will have a big influence on our life, but our faith life is always there to give us strength. 

Being, is important, our natural disposition is more important than our external actions for with the right internal disposition the right actions will follow. Brother stressed the positive outlook on life, and listed 9 points that he wanted us to consider: attitude, love, friendships, keep on dreaming, forgive,  give ourselves to others, faith- gratitude for the gift of life, continue to discover the meaning of life, and achieving a balance in life.

We need leisure in life. Our spirit should not get old. We should learn to rest while working. "Pause a while and know that I am God...." Besides the activity in life we need to acknowledge  the receptivity in life. There is the possibility that we will be  faced with a time when we can only receive, and without  preparation in life this will be difficult. There has to be a balance between the active and the receptive which is a form of the contemplative life. 

This is not something that will come naturally but we have to prepare for it. Growing old gracefully is both a science and an art.                                 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Learning More than Was Expected

In September of 2012 an English Language Teacher in Elementary School decided to listen to her inner voice, gave up her secure teaching job, and went to Russia to study. She writes about her experience in the recent issue of the Korean Catholic Digest. 

She is 26 years old, and because of her long held  dream, and firm resolution, left teaching to return to being a student in Russia. From the first night in Russia, one by one, her strong aspirations began to disappear. When she saw her sleeping quarters she was transported back to the 70s, a great shock to her.

The place was filled with dust and cobwebs, filled with a horrible stench, a common toilet without lights, a ceiling that was leaking water, and a corridor that was filled with mold. Yuck! was the feeling that naturally followed from seeing her situation.  

Her roommate was Chinese who liked to listen to music to early in the morning with little understanding of what common living meant.

She began studying the Russian language, doing her home work, cooking her meals and cleaning up afterwards, and little by little adapting to her new environment.

In reality, her biggest difficulty was the discrimination she felt for being Asian. When she walked the streets the children would confront her; laughing they would be abusing her with words she couldn't understand, which made it all the worse. In the post office she would have persons push themselves in line ahead of her, which would fill her with pent up anger. Her personality was one that would ordinarily give 'tic for tac' but since she didn't understand or speak Russian she was more than upset.

What wealth and honors was she going to enjoy that would deserve this kind of treatment? She was an only daughter, and had a job that gave her prestige in her society; never before did she experience this kind of abuse... why did she ever come to Russia? She returned to her room and felt completely helpless, and began counting the days to return to Korea.

At that time Jesus came into her thoughts. Usually when she felt upset she would go to church. The thoughts about Jesus suddenly coming to mind was strange. She recalled how Jesus came to us and suffered all the discrimination and abuse for love of us, it was the first time, she ever thought about the virtue of humility.

Up until that time, she thought that she was a humble person, but realized she was full of pride. She wanted others to appreciate who she was. She was concerned on how she was coming across to others, and wasn't able to detach herself from the way others saw her. She knew that real humility was not concerned with this. The study of the language was not coming easy, she was struggling alone, but she came to the realization that more then learning Russian she learned something more important.

Why did she come to Russia?  More than regrets she is now thankful for her experience; a lesson that will remain with her for the rest of her life. She hopes  she will be open to imitating Jesus more closely and following his will.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Revamping Sunday School Programs

In the Peace Weekly, Diagnosis of Current Affairs, the columnist explains why he is working with human rights issues. He loves the work, and he attributes this love to the time he spent in Sunday School as a child. He thanks his parents for the gift they gave him, and considers it fortunate that those years gave him a world view, and a way of thinking which he was able to develop.

No one is born with a way of thinking or a world view, but it comes with education. In his public schooling he was exposed to the historical mission of national renaissance. He feels that he was repeatedly trained to see his mission as one with the nation: the nations development was his development. The existence of the nation was to determine his own existence. It was a military style training; the object was grades with little time for leisure.

Sunday school was different. No teacher tried to control the students; they were devoted to the teaching, which was also more polished. Even though poverty was everywhere they had slides, movies and other visual aids to help in the education. They had  camp and retreats that would require lodging and meals away from home. School support fees were only a few hundred won, and if you did not pay, the parish would take care of it, and they did not make you feel like a thief, as was the case, often, in the public schools. They were teaching other values that were missing in the public schools: love for others and what was  necessary in living the virtuous life. They were teaching what a thinking life should be.

Today the Sunday School Programs are dying. The churches are filled with old people. The children, and especially the young people are not interested, and this has been true for some time. What is the reason? Is it the pressure of college entrance and the after- school academies? Is it the ever present smart phones, and the tepid religious life of the parents? All are reasons,but the columnist feels the biggest problem is the lack of concern on the part of the parishes-- not like it was in the past.

The teachers are young, few, and are changed often.  Young priests do not have the experience, and after a few years leave. Teachers do not have confidence that what they are doing will have any concrete results. This has  brought about the decline in the  programs. Most of the parishes devout less than 5 percent of the budget to the school program. 

He concludes his column with a desire to make the programs even compete with the schools and academies. He feels there are many in the parishes  with the qualifications to teach. He wants the parishes to look for teachers among the older parishioners, school teachers, college professors and to  arrange for special lectures. Place placards on the streets inviting  those who are not members of the parish to come to the programs. He wants the parishes to give the religious education of the young high priority, for without these programs the future of the Church is bleak. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mastering our Emotions

On the spiritual page of the Catholic Times the columnist gives us a humorous story with a worthwhile message. One of the members in his religious community had a commitment in the city and arrived at his destination 40 minutes early, and  wondered what to do. He  saw an invitation to give blood nearby, and felt that would be a good  place to be of service and await his appointment.

He entered the building and after signing in, was  told to go to a cot and lie down and wait for the nurse. While lying down, he  began to open and close his fist  to enable the blood to flow quickly so as to quicken the process.

When the nurse arrived at the cot she excitedly said: "wow that is real good looking." Hearing those words the priest was embarrassed and laughing:  "I am not  so bad looking, you say, I have heard that often, ha, ha, ha!"  The nurse not knowing what to say: "I am not talking about your face, but the vein, which is very distinct and easy to see!" 

His faced flushed, embarrassed, he figured everybody was laughing at him. The nurse began drawing the blood and left.  He had only one thought, and that was to get out of there as soon as possible. He  continued to clench and open his fist to hasten the process.  

After doing this for a short period of time he heard a 'pi-pi' and the nurse came rushing to his cot and was surprised to see how quick the blood was drawn. She took the needle out, and replaced it with a sterilized  cotton pad.  She told him that he was not to leave, to drink some water, and rest for awhile. He was still overcome with the embarrassment he felt when he began giving the blood.

"I have a important meeting and will need to leave." The priest stubbornly did as he said, got up from the cot, put on his shoes and left. As soon as he opened the door and breathed in some fresh air, with a sigh of relief, he fainted. He doesn't know how long he was unconscious but he ended up on the cot in which he gave blood and the nurse, a doctor, and all those  who were waiting to give blood where gazing at him. It was the first time in his life that he wanted to die. 

Whenever he hears the word blood donation all these thought come back to him. The columnist concludes that after giving blood we need to follow instructions, but a bigger moral, and a more important lesson, would be to welcome the embarrassments in life, they are opportunities in mastering our emotions, which often enslave us, and cause much harm to ourselves and others.                                  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Economic Obstacles to Marriage

Marriage, having children, is no longer something we can take for granted or expect of the young. We hear often that one of the reasons for the low birthrate in Korea is deferring marriage to late in life. An article in the Catholic Times reminds the readers what the young people have to face when they contemplate  marriage.

Many do not have regular jobs which means that the salaries are low and envisioning marriage is not something they can easily do. Many have to pay back the debt for their schooling, and the prospects of requiring another big debt for marriage is demoralizing. Birth of a child and the schooling that is necessary goes into the 100,000s of dollars.

The article mentions a poster which explains to the older generation: we can't judge the young people as thoughtless and selfish; society does not make raising a family easy. The family is the basic community in society and when this is destroyed society ceases to exist. In Catholic social teaching the family does not exist for society or the nation, but the nation and society exist for the family.

This is the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Francis continues to speak of the failure of the economic system that puts money ahead of the human person. We are destroying the family and making persons serve the system.

As Christians we know that God has made men and women to join together as husband and wife, to raise a family. Today, however, society which we have made does not  promote the raising of a family. The structures of society make the raising a family, according to Christian principles, difficult. The structures of society also make young people unsympathetic to the teachings of the Church on sexual morality.

Structures of society are in opposition to the commands of God and are harmful to humans. What  God wants from us, has in Jesus been given to the Church. This has become our mission. We have to help our young people find a way to join together in marriage and raise a family.This requires a change in the structures of society.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

World Day of the Sick

Today is the World Day of the Sick, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. We are reminded to pray for all the sick and to thank and honor all those who work in health care and serve as caregivers. The day was established by Pope John Paul II in 1992.

Well being, and healing are two English words we see often, and society continues to present us with the ideal of health and wealth. Religion is a means for some believers to search for these values  but these values are not the ones Jesus gave to his Church. Jesus possessed none of the values that humans think are important:  wealth, honor, long life and at one time children. However, sickness brings  to human life much distress and suffering, and we rightly do all we can to do away with, lessen and prevent suffering.

The Peace Weekly editorial uses the words from Job 29:15, which Pope Francis titled his message, to bring the attention of the readers to this 23rd World Day of the Sick: 'I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame" and  recommends to us the 'wisdom of the heart'.

Many are those who see suffering as the reason to close themselves off from God. How could an all good, all knowing and all powerful God allow the suffering that we see in the world? He can't possibly exist and even if he did, they could not accept him. Job had problems with his God especially when his friends wanted him to acknowledge his own fault for his suffering which he was not able to do. We do not know the mind of God and for a Christian we know he  does not cause the suffering we have to endure, but allows it to happen for reasons our mind is not able to grasp.

The editorial reminds us that we as Christians have always seen suffering as a way of participating in the sufferings of Christ. When the sufferings are the kind that we can't avoid and must accept, it becomes a short cut to get nearer to Jesus.

Our faith does not make it any easier to understand suffering with our heads but it does give us the help to embrace it when we are faced with it. This requires  grace and personal experience. The editorial wants us to act in the way Job and the Samaritan did in loving and giving comfort to those who face suffering, and are in difficult circumstances. To do this we need to develop the wisdom of the heart.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Paper Books and Electronic Books

There are times at Mass where parishioners will take out their smartphones for the lyrics of a hymn,  or the readings for the Mass. Young priests will take their smartphones to the pulpit to help them deliver the sermon. In her column in the Catholic Times a religious sister distinguishes between the paper books and electronic books, and  comes to some interesting conclusions.

She admits when traveling she uses the smartphone for prayers, but after finishing wonders whether she did pray. She feels she has done her duty, and yet she doesn't feel it was a prayer. Was it  because of the distracted environment? No, for when she has complete quiet and alone she has the same feeling. Isn't it the fragrance from the weight of the  book of the Divine Office? In any event she feels that something is missing: whether it was habit, bias or whatever, there is something that she was not able to fill with the use of the electronic book.

With the liturgy, concentration is important. We try to get rid of distractions and focus all our attention on the  words we are reading and let them resonate deep within us, and  allow our faith to confess them. There is not a search for knowledge but meaning in our faith life, and to purify our hearts and spirit. Is the smart phone a hindrance in reading deeply the words in front of us?

The script in a written book and the script in a smartphone is the same all that is different is the container. The medium is different. McLuhan, the media scholar, has left us the famous words: The  medium is the message. The medium is already the message and influences our thinking and in the way we live. Walter Ong the English Literature scholar said the form of the medium contains the substance and  at the same time becomes the contents.

The words we use contained in the smartphone  is the  same container used for music, videos, SNS and  for innumerable amount of information. The use of the smartphone over the years has aroused in us many conscious and unconscious feelings that weaken our ability to concentrate  on what we are doing.

She mentions the studies that  have shown that there is a difference in the results of reading from a book and reading from a smartphone. To day there is an excessive dependence on smartphones. When we want to pray and click on the smartphone how does the brain react? She hopes that we will not abandon the use of paper books, for she sees the loss of our ability to concentrate and to maintain a peaceful interior due in some degree to our use of the smartphones.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Efforts to Communicate

A priest with the responsibility for pastoral work in  places of labor says Mass in different groups once a month. In time, he realized this pastoral work would allow some flowers to bloom and gradually make a bouquet and even a flower garden. He writes about one of the incidents in Bible & Life. 

In the workplace groups you have two types who attend the Masses: workers who want to be there, and  those who are there because their work bosses thought it was a good idea.    

He  brings to the attention of his readers a man from this second group. He met him for the first time  waiting in an area where those preparing to receive the sacrament of reconciliation were seated. His facial expression was one of displeasure, and he told the priest: "I don't want to go to confession." 

 "Well let us talk about it." The man after a long period of silence and  a deep sigh  said he hadn't  been to church for some time, and presently, he has no desire to return. His section boss learned about his baptism  and that is why he came.

After a short period he go up and went to the place for the Mass. The other fellow believers went to communion but he did not, and during the Mass he showed on his face that he did not like being where he was. At the end of Mass the priest expressed his desire they  all find hope in the work place. The man was seen by the priest writing something on a piece of paper.

On the way to the meal the man came up beside him and gave him a slip of paper. After a distracted meal the priest headed for the subway and  took out the slip of paper on which was written: "The work place is a war zone."

He wouldn't be going back to that work place for a month and  prepared an answer on a similar slip of paper:  "Even in a battle zone flowers can grow." They continued to communicate with these written messages on slips of paper.

"Flowers don't put an end to war. " 
 "Those who see the  flower will not be fighting."
"One person who stops and looks at the flower is not sufficient." 

This last message got the priest thinking. After receiving the slip of paper and seeing the man leave, was like seeing his father and made him sad. 

He ran after the man and asked if they could go for a cup of coffee. They talked for sometime on many topics. He as a young man was active in the church and even after beginning  to work, but he became frustrated and  faced many difficulties and did not feel the warmth of God's presence any more.... Tears began to form in his eyes when he received a telephone call from his work boss.  Waiting for him  to return the priest  was wondering how to answer his last complaint.

Shaking his hand as they separated the priest said:  "The ones looking at the flower are two, you and I , so that is reason for you to have hope, isn't it?"

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fighting For The Truth

Activists who take what they  believe seriously, and want to do something about the wrong they see  are not always welcomed in "polite" society. They rock the boat and make us uncomfortable. It is better not to see, or hear if is going to change the way we have been accustomed to live. 

A religious sister in her article in the diocesan bulletin tells her readers about two fathers she admires: the father of a girl who died in the Sewol Tragedy, and father of a girl who worked in Samsung's Semiconductor Industry and  died of leukemia. 

She met the father of the girl who died in the ferry tragedy and asked him why he continues the fast. He told her that he wants to know the reason for the death of his daughter, and since he has no money  and no power he resorted to fasting and is willing to risk death to find the truth.

By watching the  movie 'Another Promise'; she met the father of the girl, who died of leukemia, a taxi driver, struggling to meet family expenses. He was proud, when he  heard that his daughter got a job at the biggest conglomerate in the country. Within two years, however, she returned home with leukemia from which she died. The daughter before she  died asked the father to show that working in the semiconductor section of the company was the reason for her leukemia, and not something that came from her. The company kept denying any responsibility for the sickness. The father gave up his job and spent all his time trying to make the company acknowledge their responsibility. 

Her article shows how a father sacrificed the life of his son to save the lives of those who were riding in a train that had come to a drawbridge over a river. He was the railroad worker responsible for the working of the drawbridge. That day he brought his son to the workplace, the son fell beneath the tracks as the train was coming towards the bridge, there was no time and he chose to save the passengers, and sacrificed his son. This was the theme of a short movie that the sister remembered seeing, and relates it to the love of God for Jesus and all of us. There are times when we are called to sacrifice our comfort, our money and even our lives for something greater.

The two fathers on the occasion of the death of their daughters decided that the situations which caused the death of their daughters was not an act of God but of human culpability and were prepared to risk everything to bring this to the knowledge of the world. The sister admires these two ordinary men, who were willing to sacrifice for truth. There has been some success in the fight of these two fathers but the curtain has not come down on the final results of their efforts.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

North and South Korean Language Barriers

Korea has been divided for over 60 years, the lack of  communication between the North and South has affected the once common language of the country. North Korean Refugees who have come to the South are the first ones to experience the change and the difficulties in communicating in the same country. The language spoken in Pyongyang  and Seoul are different. At present, basic communication is possible, but if we continue going our two different ways, with unification we will have a  problem not easily remedied.

The representative of the bishops' committee for reconciliation of the country writes of some of the difficulties he has experienced in dealing with the refugees from the North living in the South.  He has invited young people from the North to a meal. The answer comes back bluntly, not a refusal but neither  an obvious acceptance: he surmises they don't want to relate with him, not interested, no need to be concerned. This understanding comes mostly from the intonation of their voice, facial expression and rough exterior. He learns quickly that's not the message that they want to give. The answer is actually OK, and is embarrassed in harboring the negative thoughts.

On one occasion after finishing a meal together in a restaurant the person said to his understanding: "my back hurts because of the way I put on my shoes." This was not at all what was said, but: "for no reason my back hurts." What the South would call octopus they call squid. And many similar examples are the  different meanings for words used. Some are completely opposite from their use in the South.

The North has made great effort to exclude foreign words in contrast to the South. Many of the words in the South,  because of the long interaction with the rest of the world, uses many words from English and other languages but the North has maintained a desire for 'purism'  this movement is also present in the South but has not progressed far. A limited use of Chinese characters have been accepted in the North after years of refusal; the South continues with the 1800 characters they work with in the schools.

The article mentions how often they use the same words to mean two different things. In conversation they think they are understanding each other but are not.  This is not an infrequent occurrence.The foreign words that the North Koreans see are one of the biggest problems they have in feeling at home in the South.

When relating with those from the North he recommends to remember how it would be living in a foreign country doing your studies. Gently ask after speaking whether they understand what was said. Because of embarrassment they will not ask you to repeat, but will give the impression they understand when they don't.  Don't force the issue, don't look down on them, don't get angry. Remember how we would be in a foreign country. With this attitude we will come to an understanding and acceptance of each other.                                       

Friday, February 6, 2015

Postive Understanding Of Palliative Care

A survey was made among 1500 citizens on their knowledge of hospice and palliative care, the results showed that only 39.5 percent were familiar with the hospice movement. An essay in the Catholic Times by a nurse in a Catholic University hospice ward gives us her thoughts on the subject of palliative care. 

She has been a nurse for  thirty years, and only a few years before did she become acquainted with the movement; if this is true of a nurse, she says, how much more so for others. She has worked in all the different wards of a hospital, and remembers the efforts she made to solve the problems the sick faced, and found great satisfaction and was filled with confidence in the work.

Assigned to the palliative care ward this all changed. In the beginning she felt helpless in dealing with the terminally ill cancer patients. She felt her limitations and great uncomfortableness in working in the ward. But with the passage of time she began to feel a numbness to her surroundings and felt guilty in being so callous, and wanted to get back to the thoughts  she has when she  first  became a nurse. This coldness appeared unconsciously, she feels, in defense of seeing so many who were dying,  something she did not experience in the other wards of the hospital.

One of her misgivings, at present, is not being able to make the last moments of the dying into memorable events for the families and the terminally sick. As she mentions there are many, even among the medical personnel, who feel  those in hospice are only there awaiting for death. It is true that they are there because death is imminent, but  we can't say we can't do anything. We can search for what makes them happy, and make the last years of earthly life memorable for the dying and their families.

We are all preparing to die. Hospice workers are trying to make this bereavement into something that will leave beautiful memories behind. Efforts are made to  make the time before death as painless and profitable as possible, and to minimize the sadness attendant on the death of a love one.

Isn't this the aim of palliative care? She concludes her essay with  her desire to be of more service to those dying and their families. She feels like an important  fellow traveler with the sick person and the family member, and to serve as the outstretched hand of an angel.