Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Seeing North Korea with North Korean Eyes


A refugee from the North, living in Korea, was in his living quarters overnight when below he heard loud noses that disturbed his sleep. He went out to the veranda and looked into the room below and saw a number of persons who were in a heated dispute. They were discussing the present government, the president's policies, capabilities, the directions of the government  and the like, and were bitterly critical of the present situation. He called the police and reported the reactionaries in the apartment below. The columnist in the Catholic Times, a representative of the Korean Bishops' Committee for Reconciliation mentions this incident in the Catholic Times, and had a good laugh in the process.

The refugee found the situation a serious one. Coming from North Korea, and hearing the criticism of the president was untenable. Hearing that kind of talk, after many years of living in a society quite different from our own, his actions are easily understood.

In the South with refugees from the North, if respect is not shown to Kim Il-sung, you are not giving a good impression to those from the North. These deserters from the North still have an idea of their leader that saw him as almighty and deserving of their respect. His diplomatic capabilities, the respect he received in every nation that he visited, his humility: he was always the first to extend his hand for a greeting, made a favorable impression on the  citizens.

During his time as their leader, the Communist stores were filled with clothes, and all kinds of fish they could buy cheaply. Their verandas had pollack always ready to be eaten. At the birthday celebration of the leader during the spring, all kinds of visitors from other countries would be present which showed how well respected he was to  the rest of the world.They were very happy.

In the 1960s when South Korean nurses and miners were going to Germany for work, North Koreans thought that if it wasn't for Kim Il Sung they would be doing the same thing, and were thanking heaven for such a leader.

From the time in the public nursery schools, before the portrait of Kim Il sung they would thank their  great leader for what he had done for the country. They all learned about his life in school and they all new the names of his parents and even a three old child would know his birthday-- April 15.

In all the provinces of the North there is a museum dedicated to the exploits of the great leader and where they learn about him. His whole life was devoted to making the life of the citizens better and died doing this. Almost all believed once he saw the  difficulties of the citizens he would act to alleviate the problems. We in the South, the columnist concludes,  have a long way to go before we  can understand the feelings of those in the North.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Searching for the Truth of the Sewol Tragedy


Learning the truth about any issue that is disputed is difficult. We make a distinction between what is fact and what is opinion, and opinion is always easier to accept-- we are not allowed to make facts. This makes the reporting of news in many cases the opinion of the writer and the facts are selected or ignored to bolster one's opinion. Knowing this does require judgement on the part of the hearers: facts are often not welcomed, opinion is less threatening.

In the Peace column of the  Peace Weekly we hear about the  father of one of the children who died in the Sewol Tragedy ( ferry that  sank on April 16, last year, 304 died and most of  them were students). The father of one of the students was baptized by Pope Francis when he came to Korea last year with the baptismal name of Francis. Wednesday of Holy Week will be the first anniversary of the  tragedy, just two days before Good Friday on which we  recall the death of Jesus.

Christianity promises us eternal life, but the families of those who died  remain  on earth and are fighting  against 'forgetting'. The father has started a trip from the pier at Paengmok Port near where the boat  sank to Gwanghwamun in Seoul. He walks three steps and bows, known in Korea as the Buddhist practice of sambo ilbae.

This is an effort of  Francis to keep the memory of the Sewol alive, it remains a 'pain point' for many: more value given to mammon than human life. The number of the irregularities involved are hard to determine and  the natural response is not to want to know, saving us the  embarrassment that often follows. Forgetting will not bring any change from before to after the tragedy.

The National Assembly, after much bickering has agreed to a new investigation into the deadly ferry  accident, but nothing has changed. The fear of the parents of those that died is that nothing will be done to prevent accidents of this type from happening again.

The Church is involved in trying to keep the memory of the tragedy in the minds of the citizens. The issue has been politicized which leaves a distaste among many of the citizens. On the recent 'ad limina' visit of the  Korean Bishops to the Vatican, the first thing  Pope Francis asked the bishops was the Sewol problem. Prayers continue to be said throughout the church to  find the truth behind the tragedy. The columnist ends with assurance that the church will continue to help to keep the memory alive, and to search for truth, and wants Francis to take care of his health.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Finding the Way Out of Darkness

In the recent  bulletin of the Seoul Diocese a mother recounts her ordeal in coming to an understanding of a trauma that took a serious toll on her life and family. She is a mother of  two children who became a Catholic at the persuasion of her mother-law. She was baptized with little knowledge of God and became his child. Her spiritual life obviously, she says, left a lot desired, she spent all her time raising her two children.

At the age of seven, her oldest son, because of the side effects of medicine, was mentally disabled. Her whole life was for her children and when this happened the shock and confusion that issued was too much for her to support. She tried everything to return the child to normality but all just got worst. She was faced with pain and disorder, and the child's mental capacity died. Her own life became one of living desperation. Life no longer had any meaning;  she was on the cross with Jesus. Gradually she began to realize that  by gazing on Jesus she was meeting Jesus.

This gazing on Jesus on the cross  opened her to a new dimension. In the  limits of the human, and through pain, she was able to go to the center of the meaning of life. She began to face the  reality of  pain and saw it all in a different light and to give thanks.

The scars that had been inflicted as a child led her to a feeling of gloom and depression which she began to work with in counseling sessions, and in the study of psychology. She began to receive healing, and to mature  and encounter God. In her darkest moments she was able to see God most clearly. To be born again she needed to die. This was the grace that was leading her to a new understanding. Her son was her teacher.

Her son remains mentally incapacitated, and requires great care but it no longer overcomes her. She has great trust  and love for God, and  the graces enables her to overcome her difficulties. Her son gave her strength for which she  thanked God. Everything is in the hands of  God;  she lives with happiness in her heart.

With and through her own trials she  wants to be of service to others who are going through similar difficulties in life. She prays for those who have lost their way in life,  and wants to help them with what she has found: to have the Lord grasp them by the hand and lead them on to a new life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Paschal Mystery


What are some of the things in life that I wish were different? A priest writing in the Kyeongyang magazine, often at Masses, starts off his sermons with a question. He did  this recently asking the congregation what they would like not to have been in their life. Some answered they had no problem with what they experienced. He is not too bright, he responded, and better discontinue his sermon, and with a smile continued.

He mentions the third year in high school when he was preparing for college entrance: he was on automatic pilot during the year, and living in a prison.  Each year when the students are going  through this period he remembers them in his prayers.

In Korea all males have to spend two years in the military, this is another period of his life that he would like not to have been. He had no opportunity of going to Mass for 6 months, and no vacation, not only physically cold but the atmosphere, and environment was cold.

When he received his first assignment as pastor two of his parishioners drowned in the Sewol Tragedy. One of the students was the leader of the altar boys, and was dreaming of becoming a  priest, loved by all in the Sunday School program. He would like to have that whole chapter erased from history-- none of the children would have gone on-board the ship to Jejudo.

After the tragedy the  priest feeling low, decided to take a vacation in the country. He spent time with the wild flowers and the butterflies that came to visit. It all begins with an egg, becoming a caterpillar, at which time it will shed its skin four or  more times-- molting. Stage three is the chrysalis or the pupa, and from here it flutters its wings and becomes a butterfly. And lives for about a month and dies.

He was angry when he went on vacation but seeing nature it made him reflect on the will of God. Endurance is built into nature. We are all invited to  accept death as a part of life, and to think of life and  resurrection. After all its struggle to go from an egg to a butterfly, the caterpillar with its short span of life does not complain. Jesus walked that very journey and left us an example. Holy Week will give us plenty of time to reflect on this central teaching of Christianity.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Clash Over Jeju

The recent issue  of the Maryknoll Magazine had an article by Chris Smith, a Maryknoll Affiliate, on The Clash Over Jeju. Below are sections taken from the  article highlighting some of the issues involved, and  efforts made to educate the public.

"After years of protests and delays, the South Korean Government is pushing forward with plans to build a 4.3-million square-foot naval base on Jeju Island to house a new destroyer fleet to patrol the East China Sea between China and Japan.

The base is being located on the site of a 450-year -old village that supports the livelihoods of 1,500 farmers and fishermen and has been designated a U.N. World Heritage site. The local population first expressed its overwhelming opposition to the naval base-- with a  94 percent no vote-- when the plan for construction was announced in 2007.

More  than 50 farmers have cited damage to their crops, and water for drinking and farming has been contaminated by dust and oil generated by construction, which has already begun and is threatening the coral reef habitat offshore. The South Korean government argues that the base will help promote tourism and bring jobs to the island, but opponents say the most likely jobs will be in bars, brothels and souvenir shops, hardly compatible with the farming and fishing backgrounds of the local population.

Recent events on Jeju Island, which is South Korea's  most popular tourist destination and is known as the  "Island of the Gods" because of its unique natural environment, have underscored how strongly    residents and activists from around the globe are determined to block the completion of the naval base....The Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea has also weighted in on the naval base, supporting the demonstrators' position against construction.

Under the terms of the Mutual Defense Treaty and Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and South Korea, the U.S. military retains the right to use the base for operations in a regional conflict.

As  the movement to stop the Jeju Island naval base  enters its eight year, the Ecumenical Working Group on Korea (along with other allied organizations) is planning to send a multifaith peace delegation to North and South Korea this year. The protests and actions against the base construction are expected to continue this year as part of a greater movement to reclaim Jeju Island's future for its inhabitants. Since  2010, more than 450 activists and residents have been detained or arrested protesting the naval base.

The story of Jeju Island is hardly new-- a small population's interests and needs for sustainable future are sacrificed for the interests of 'national security' and the military."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Human Trafficking and Slave Labor

"Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs..."

In the Kyeongyang magazine a lawyer, working for a human rights group, writes about human trafficking and slave labor in the 21st century. Part of the  Palermo Protocol, quoted above,  is the  United Nations'  internationally accepted definition of human trafficking.

The article begins with the story of Lia a girl from the Philippines who had a talent for singing. She heard about a girl from her village who was  going to Korea to work in the entertainment field, and she wanted to do the same. She was introduced to the entertainment agency and  came to Korea. She ended up in a night club exclusively used by foreigners, it was next to an American military base.

Lia had the job to fill the glasses of the customers with booze. Each month her quota was more than  300 glasses, if she did not achieve that goal she would receive a Bar Fine-- which meant that she  would have to sell herself for sex. She refused but she was told they would send her to a even more difficult club, so she chose the Bar Fine.

Lia told the owner of the club  she wanted to return to the Philippines; and was told she had a contract for 6 months, and if she left she would have to pay the  debt incurred by coming to Korea. She was deceived into taking a stimulant to help her in  her work that was supposed to be for health.  She complained to the agency that arranged her trip to Korea, and was sent to another more inferior establishment.

The article mentions the abuses that an Indonesian  citizen received on a Korean deep sea fishing vessel that was sailing from New Zealand. He received the work by giving his house ownership  documents as security. He was abused, overworked and given little food. Because of the documents  he left at the agency in Indonesia he was afraid he would not be making the 300 hundred dollars per month, that had been promised.  

He recounts many other  incidents in the   article that  show  slavery  and  human trafficking is not something of the past. We may look at the past and lament at the cruelty and inhumanity of the treatment, but many have no idea of what is happening in many parts of society even today with the handicapped, women and foreigners.

He concludes his article by wondering what will future generations think of us. Are we concerned with those who are treated as slaves and have lost their freedom as humans? Our answer to that question will determine how the future will look on this generation.          

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Copying of the Scriptures


In Bible & Life magazine there are five articles on copying the Bible by hand.The movement started among the Protestants but it has spread quickly among Catholics. When one thinks of what is involved in copying the whole Bible by hand we realize it is no easy task. Depending on the  time spent it could  take many years, or for those that are determined to do it within a one year span, a great deal of will power, a certain amount of physical endurance and a love for learning.

Korea's religious history includes Shamanism, Buddhism, Confucianism and within the last 300 years  Christianity--all have influenced the culture.  All helped to make Koreans respectful of religion,  even if they do not have any religion or belief. 

Statistics show Korea to be one of the more atheistic countries of the world, and listed high are those with no religious belief, but the terms used need a lot of explanation. Love of learning and their deep love of nature opens them to the unknown and world of blessings.

The articles show how the copying has brought blessings to the families and to the individual in many different ways. One  parish has required the copying of the Gospel of Mark before  baptism. There are parishes that have given prizes for the completion of the copying. There are many who have copied the Bible not only once but many times. 

Fathers and mothers often give copies of  the books,  to the children as a remembrance of what they think is important in life, and a gift filled with love and meaning, they hope the children will never forget. The copied books become a precious remembrance of their parents.

One article by a priest mentions  the emptiness that some of his parishioners feel after finishing the copying and they return to copying again. Here, the priest mentions that even such a noble task can become unhealthy an addiction, and wants the parishioners not to forget to use their energy also in helping their neighbors.   

Thomas a Kempis the author of the Imitation of Christ is known to have copied the whole Bible four times in his life and the books are still existent. Before the printing press books where precious and expensive but today when we have so many copies of the Bible in every possible language and so easily available, with little expense, it is truly a work of love to spend the time copying the words of Scripture. Would be surprised to hear of other countries with this kind of devotion, by so many,  expressed in this way.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dominus Vobiscum-- The Lord be With You

Where is God? Twenty years ago many would point to heaven but that is no longer the case. However, in the Our Father we  do  say, "Our father who is in heaven." Where is God? A priest who works in the pastoral office of a diocese, in his article in Bible & Life, wants us to reflect on this question.

He recalls  the famous words: 'the foot prints on the sand'. In a dream the writer went back in  life and remembered the intimate  relationship with God, but during the times of difficulty he noticed that there were only one set of footsteps in the sand.  He brought this to the attention of God: "Where were you when I was having trouble?" "I was carrying you during those times"  was the response.  

We may be moved by these words but the fact is we cry out when the pain is too much. The mother with the diagnosis of an incurable disease for a child or the death of a  child. The mother prays but who can blame her for being overcome with a heavy heart and deaf to all? The person who worked hard in his job  and was fired, the person who was selling his wares along the sidewalk and was told to move along, the student who worked hard in preparing for the exam and continually fails, the person who  was deceived by a friend who took off with all his savings; was God with them in their difficulties?

"My burden since your birth, whom I have carried from your infancy.  Even to your old age  I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is  I who have done this, I who will continue, and I who will carry you to safety" (Isiah 46:3-4).

I believe that you will save me and raise me on the last day. But is there nothing that you can do with the pain I am suffering now?  Carried at the breast, on the back, but what is the reason for the bitter-poison like pain that I have been made to swallow?

When he goes up to the altar to say Mass and looks over the congregation that has come to the Mass and sees those who have their eyes filled with tears and his eyes meet their eyes he greets them: "The Lord be with you."

In the Old Testament we have God being with his people. When the angel appeared to Mary she heard: "Rejoice,  O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). Jesus in his last words in the Gospel of Matthew: "And know that  I am with you always, until the end of the world."

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Our Father who art in  heaven is rightly understood to mean that God is in the hearts of the just, as in his holy temple. At the same time, it means that those who pray should desire the one they invoke  to dwell in them."

The article concludes with the priest saying that he looks into the eyes of the woman in pain,  who is appealing to God, and in the Mass before the last blessing he raises his voice and  speaks out: "The Lord be with you!"

Monday, March 23, 2015

Preparing for Marriage


When children grow up in a home where parents love and respect each other the memory of the relationship is their reference point, and the blueprint for their marriage. On the other hand, when you have divorce, separation or children living with a parent who has remarried they have many different models of married life. 

A priest who is working in pastoral work for families writes about the topic in a diocesan bulletin. Children who saw love and joy in the lives of their parents,  becomes the blueprint for their own marriage; when they did not find this in their own family they will look for another blueprint: they will vow to do things differently. Depending on the maturity of the children  they will internalize their experience as an example to follow, or not.

Since husband and wife have different experiences of family, this can result in family squabbles.  Mother may have not liked the way the father was authoritarian, and the father may have disliked the mother's sentimentality and fragility. They both may want to work against what they did not like in their own upbringing, but this is not always easy to do.

Not always surprising is when the parent ends up imitating the very things that they didn't like in their own home life. The conditions of the work place can influence the workings in the family and this often  unconsciously.

Family experience will be a great help to the young couple; they will also look for an ideal of family life  from the popular culture. Those with a strong spiritual life will look for answers from their faith life and the family of Nazareth.

Young people have been exposed to family life from an early age in the popular culture as seen on TV, movies, popular songs etc.. They did not understand all they saw and heard but has been absorbed.  Often what they have received is not going to be helpful, and forms their convictions that will influence their married life.

Common ideas about marriage the young have heard are many: a spouse should be this kind of person--  satisfaction in marriage should be of this degree-- married life is something to be endured-- married life is heaven, is hell-- these and many other expressions have been heard and remain with the young.

Married life brings changes and the environment  changes. This is part of the married journey. Much of the common expressions are false, and this has to be understood. He concludes the article by asking: are not the common notions that have been accepted about marriage going to prepare for the hurts that are experienced? 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Adultery and the Marriage Bond


Recently, the law criminalizing adultery was found “unconstitutional” by the Constitutional Court of Korea. The results from the decision have been noisy. The Catholic Times has an article on the issue by a priest director of a research center on family. There is a fear, on the part of many, that the sexual act will be seen outside the context of marriage to the detriment of marriage.

The Constitutional Court  said the criminalization of adultery infringes on the right of the sexual determination and privacy of the individual, and freedom in one's personal life; the duty of maintaining the family bond rests with the individuals in the marriage and not the government.

Times have changed and adultery is no longer a violation of the constitution, however, society is  still swayed by Confucianism, and religion continues to influence society. In Catholicism marriage is the joining of husband and wife by God. Marriage opens a couple to be in service to life, realize the blessings of God in history, and share the image of God with others. In  the marriage act the couple are cooperators with God in passing on life. 

Sex is not merely a biological act but the way a husband and wife  give themselves completely to each other, and relate to each other in one of the  deepest manners. With sex the couple gives themselves to each other until death. "I promise to take you, N, to be my husband, I promise to be true to you  in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, I will love you and honor you all the days of my life." Catholics believe in the indissolubility of marriage and therefore for a Catholic divorce is not possible. 

For the crime of adultery to be established it was necessary to assume divorce proceedings, had already begun. This was the practice in society. The partner who was suing for divorce, was saying they  no longer were able to live with the person in the marriage bond. The Constitutional Court saw the question as one of legality and excessive punishment. There was no need for the nation to enter and punish adultery as a crime; it was a moral issue, where  censure was in order and not a case for criminal law to solve. 

No longer was adultery to be punished by law but was a  question of morals and ethics and the concern of religious convictions and moral values. Seeing adultery as a crime was not an area the church had much to say. Adultery was seen in society as the beginning of divorce proceedings. Catholicism had higher values to follow, so the issue is not meaningful for the church.   

We are  sexual beings but not limited to this, we need to be directed to the spiritual. The church goes even beyond the act of adultery to the 9th commandment where even impure thoughts are forbidden. With the abolition of adultery as a crime,   couples have to be  concerned with the weakening of the marriage bond in society where pleasure of sex is the only issue, and  the trend towards selfishness becomes paramount, consequently, the  family needs to straightened the precious standards of family life. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Healing Knows No Boundaries


In the Maryknoll Magazine for January/February Fr. Gerard Hammond our local superior had an article describing his volunteer work with the Eugene Bell Foundation. This U.S. based not-for-profit organization provides medical humanitarian assistance to rural North Korea, where at least 100,000 people are living with tuberculosis. Below are some of the words taken from the article.

"Visiting North Korea to bring medical supplies to people with tuberculosis is like being in one of the  passages in the Bible where the sick crowded around  Jesus begging to be cured.

We do our best to enroll as many patients as possible, giving priority to those who are sickest. But, unfortunately, due to a chronic shortage of medication, we have to turn many away. Not everyone who receives treatment recovers, despite our best efforts.

Last year's visit of Pope Francis to South Korea was a great blessing for all of us, especially the people who have suffered so much after the  Second World War  divided Korea into two countries in 1945. The pope celebrated a  Mass for peace and reconciliation at Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea. Although North Korea rejected the pope's invitation to allow North Korean Catholics to attend the Mass, I hope his visit will be the spark for the beginning of a  move toward peace on the peninsula and for the reconciliation of the peoples of North and South Korea.

The Catholic Church, like other religious groups, is allowed to operate in North Korea only under extremely tight restriction. It must work within the confines of the state-controlled North Korea Catholic Association (KCA) there are 3,000 Catholics in the North, but outside experts put the figure at around 800. The best Pope Francis could do was to invite to the Mass for peace and reconciliation five representatives of families whose loved ones were kidnapped by the North and 30 elderly Catholics who crossed into the South during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

On Aug. 14, the pontiff met each one of the 14 Maryknollers serving in South Korea. When he greeted me, he simply said, 'North Korea-tuberculosis' and squeezed my arm.

On every trip we provide each patient a six-month supply of multi-drug-resistant medication. On  average, a patient will receive four medication boxes over a two year period. These boxes give patients one last chance at recovering from this deadly disease and help prevent the disease from spreading to their families.

Part of the North Korea trips includes 'graduation ceremonies' for patients who have completed treatment. Usually members of the delegation place necklaces of cranes ( a symbol of long life) around the necks of these patients. I am often asked to say a few words of congratulations and encouragement. I get a big smile when I promise to pray for them. I hope you too will remember our  patients in your prayers."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Playing and Success in Life


Structures in society influence the way we think and act, some for the good and some not for the good.  A university dean writing in the Catholic Times tells us that children who know how to play are the ones who are successful, and goes on to explain his thesis.

In Asia, he says, we like to see landscapes with mountains, and rivers. It makes us feel at peace. However,in much of our society we are separated from nature, and those who suffer the most from this isolation are the children. There are many maladies and mental difficulties  that can be traced to this isolation.

Sports are good, but other games and being close to nature, animals and plants are a great help in  relating with others, and developing the imagination, and creativity. A Japanese scholar is quoted as saying that the children who know how to play do well in their studies.

All parents want their children to be leaders in society. Preparation for this comes in friendliness with others, having  a moral sense, able to understand another's situation, and able to sustain a loss.  We want a  person who is genuine, and has developed their humanity. Capability in society demands more of their emotional make up than IQ. Nature stimulates the child's senses, they come in contact with different sounds and smells, they feel the  bright rays of the sun and fresh air, all help to heal, console, jolt the spirit of inquiry, adventure and creativity.

We know that there is not a direct connection of success in life and honors in study. Without the ability to related with others one will not be successful in life. According to the dean, the International Civic and Citizen Education Study placed Korean students very low in cultural  interaction skill, and the ability to live harmoniously with others. The results have been shocking to many in society. 

Our students no longer have to go to school on Saturdays and have the weekend to play  and to develop their emotional and human qualities.  Our students, says the dean, have the longest hours of study compared to other countries and when they go to Sunday School and are faced with more of the cramming methods of education it is easy to see why they don't want to go.

He recommends another way of conducting the Sunday School programs so that the students will be looking forward to meeting their friends and to  enjoy the time they are together. He feels that if that is accomplished, even if they fall away later, they will remember the happy days of their Sunday School years which will help them to return. 

Here we have a ideal situation but there is the need to impart some knowledge to the students, and without that  we only entertain which is not what a Sunday School program should be.Those who are responsible for the programs of the students in parishes know the difficulties and the need to  make the programs more attractive and better attended, a work in progress.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Traditional Teaching On Prayer

Prayer,is a frequent topic of Lenten Sermons; the Peace Weekly reports on the talk given by a Benedictine priest at the Cathedral Parish in Seoul. He begins with the definition of prayer as the soul to  soul talk with God, briefly describing what is central to our religious life.

This was the thinking of Clement of Alexandria (150-215) and Evagrius of Pontus (345-399). Prayer is dialogue with God. What can be said about the subject is plentiful. God transcends us but also has 'personality'. Our prayer is from one person to another. Christians believe they can relate with God.

We need to understand, he says what we mean by dialogue. It is not a simple give and take of words but the receiving and giving. Receiving the word is to hear the word attentively; giving is to respond. With this understanding we have hearing and responding. Since we have difficulty hearing what another says there is a problem with our response. Our prayer with God also has this pitfall. We need to hear what he says, and live it in our lives.

Steps for prayer: with the  body-- vocal prayer, with our head-- meditation, and with our spirit-- contemplation. We do not know God with our mental faculties, but with our whole being-- the inner recesses of our being. We have to go from the head to the inner most parts of our being. At Baptism we received this Gift from God, his Spirit.

Prayer should be short and simple. In the Gospels the  tax collector and the prodigal son were reconciled with God with few words. Prayer is not a transaction with God but done with a pure heart not to receive something but to turn everything over to the providence of God, and desire all that he wants for us.  This is the way the Blessed Mother prayed:  "may it happen to me  as you have said." Jesus in the Our Father taught us to pray: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We pray not to have our way, but by the help of the Holy Spirit to become the tool that will accomplish his will by emptying ourselves.                                                                                                                                    
Our attitude in prayer should be one of humility. We are to lose ourselves in God. In searching for God we are to  forget our self-- the attitude of the tax collector in the Gospel. We need the attitude of gratitude. The highest point of our prayer should be as in the Mass where we thank God for all he has done for us.

Prayer continually draws us to a oneness with God, which requires sorrow for our failures; the key that liberates us from the illusions of our spirituality.                       

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hidden Christians of Japan


Yesterday, March 17, we  remembered the 150th anniversary of the  finding of the Hidden Christians of Japan. Both the Peace Weekly and the Catholic Times had  articles on the history of the Church in Japan. In 1614 Catholicism was banned in Japan. Many  were martyred but many also went underground, passing on what they received to their  children for over 250 years.

Japan opened the door to foreigners only slightly in 1853, and Catholic Missioners from France belonging to the Paris Foreign Missionary Society  built a church in the Nagasaki area that was only for foreigners. The priest Fr. Petitjean  had just finished the church and shortly after  was visited by a small group of those living in the area.

The story of this first encounter of a French missioner with the ancestors of the Christians from the  16th and 17th century are well known. Details are  told in many different ways but the essential elements are  pretty much the same. A family of ten who were the descendents of the early Christians met the  French missionary with  trepidation and the expectations that this had something to do with their belief, and when they learned about the Blessed Mother, the Pope and that the priest was celibate, they knew the priest belonged  to the church of their ancestors from 250 years earlier. They had continued to use the word from the Portuguese--Christao, transliterated in Japanese meant Christian.

March 17th 1865 at  noon was the beginning of a new era in Japan of Catholicism. At the beginning of the 17th century there were 400,000 Catholics in Japan who because of the persecution were killed or forced underground, and this year is the 150th anniversary of their discovery in the  meeting with Fr. Petitjean. They have kept the history of Christianity in Japan alive. Little by little they began to appear from other areas of Japan.They  became the central figures of Japanese Catholicism.

Even after this meeting with the priest, however,  persecution of the Catholics continued,with death and  exile to remote areas of Japan. Because of the serious criticism of many of the countries of Europe the Meiji government withdrew the edict of persecution in 1873, but it wasn't until 16 years later that the constitution was changed,  allowing religious freedom for the country.

For seven generations Christians were considered wanted criminals; in  exterior action they acted like Buddhists and when they were  thought to be Christians and picked up for questioning, often would walk on the holy pictures  to save their lives  and on  returning to their homes would ask God for forgiveness. For hundreds of years without priests or books they remembered  the liturgical feasts and continued to baptize and have Catholic weddings. This year they are formally celebrating the Feast of the Hidden Christians, with the representative of Pope Francis present at the festivities.   

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sunday Mass: Highlight of the Week


Sunday Mass: can't help but not go (obligation),  others look  forward to going. The subject of an article in  Bible & Life written by  a priest who spent 40 days on a silent retreat at a Benedictine Monastery where the monks go to Church four times daily: early morning, before noon meal, before evening meal and before going to bed at which time they sing the Liturgy of the Hours.

The article mentions the numbers of Catholics who come from different parts of the country to spend time at the monastery and attend the liturgy. The large  church is often filled. On feast days the Mass is sung in Gregorian Chant; visitors are given books with Korean lyrics below the Latin, with the strange musical notations, few are able to follow.

The Mass usually lasts about one hour and half, and on big feast days two hours, yet they come long distances to be present at the Mass. There is nothing extraordinary about the Mass except for the singing which many fine moving and helpful in directing their minds and hearts to the altar. 

The priest who is from Seoul sees a big difference in the way those who come to the monastery for Mass and the way some of his parishioners are quick to leave after communion and some after the last blessing even though the Mass on Sundays only takes 40 minutes. After the Mass is over at the monastery the 70 monks process out which takes time for them to leave the sanctuary, all the visitors  wait in their pews.

He has spent some time in the country parishes and notices a difference  in the way the city and the country parishioner attend Mass. It is not possible to say that the country people have more time on their hands; they are also busy. The difference is not, country and city however,  but the way we look upon our spiritual life, and the importance we give it. 

The future will without doubt see greater distractions and reasons to be occupied with our daily cares.  Advances in technology more common, and we will be more attached to our  smartphones as a 'vade mecum' (something useful that one constantly carries about), which already is the case for those both in the city and country.  We are already finding it difficult to address the question of smartphones and liturgy for many will see it as a help instead of a distraction but this is an area where we need a great deal of personal discernment and discussion.

Some remember to set the phones to vibrate so the ringing will not distract others but at Mass should not we be so intent on what we are doing, that God and what he wants to say to us is all important. On our part  we do everything we can to diminish the distractions, smartphones and even watches distract. We need to see the time spent at the liturgy as the most precious time of our week and not do anything that will take our mind off the Mass. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Level Playing Field for All

Anger is one thing and violence that follows from anger is quite another; in our present society we see the results of anger increasing. Catholic Times has an article on  anger in society, and  begins with a number of the recent incidents where anger was not controlled: resulting in murders, injuries and serious violence.

One report said the number of those seeking help at hospitals for anger disorders continues to increase. The difficulty that Koreans have admitting a problem in this area, says the columnist, indicates the  numbers are much larger. Social problems  from this uncontrollable anger syndrome accounts for 40 percent of the crimes of violence.  Last year  over 366,527 crimes of violence, 152,249  were from fits of anger.  

What is the reason for this  uncontrollable anger? Authorities  say much of it comes from the self-centered environment that we have. Society puts great value in satisfying our personal desires, and when obstacles are in the way, anger appears. Our society is a very competitive, and ways of relieving  anger are not easily found.                                                                                                                           
This is not a sufficient reason for the situation,  however. In the family  we see the development of this anger, not solved, it extends out to  society. A professor is quoted in the article: all are somewhat angry in our society. Those in the 20s and 30s face unemployment, and are not happy with the way structures are managed. The generation of the  40s and 50s are fearful of losing their jobs, and fear the unknown retirement, and those in their 60s and 70s are not appreciated. 

Last year we had the Sewol tragedy-- the reason for  anger of most of our citizens for something that need not have happened. We had the International Monetary Fund crisis in 1997, that left Korea with a restructuring process that is still felt.

There are also those who find the polarization of society and the income disparity a reason for the anger. A situation that many feel is not possible to overcome no matter what they do: the haves and have-nots of society and the stratification of the situation.

What can be done with the present situation?  Realization that anger is a part of daily life and find ways to reduce, prevent and cope with the stress that one experiences in life. Find a hobby, asking others for help in managing the anger, and if necessary to  go to a doctor for help. Families should be helpful in the process, and efforts in schools and families in character building. 

When society has problems that are not resolved, efforts are necessary  to make for a just and fair society. Extreme interest in results and  the competition in society has to be faced with the realization what this is doing to society. This can be  examined with principles and theories but continual efforts are necessary to prepare a level playing field for all the citizens.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welfare State and Heaven


In her Peace Weekly column, reflections on current events, the writer tells the readers she has been baking bread for the last 20 years and it is not difficult. The process of baking is science, cooking is art. The reason bread is baked at home is that it is tastier than the bread you buy, because of the ingredients that go into making the bread. She even thinks of bringing back some of the ingredients from her next trip to Europe. For with almost all things you get what you put in.

Without putting anything into the oven you can't  expect bread to pop out. Our image of a welfare state is all about receiving. The columnist when in elementary school  studying geography, and  heard about the Scandinavian Countries, and the way they solved the problems with health and education she considered it like heaven. This understanding is not completely wrong, seeing the expense for a college education, and the part time work many have to find to finish college

When we receive something for free, there are those who are giving. When we go to the hospital and receive a receipt for payment, noted  is what the individual pays, and what is paid by the health insurance, paid for by many. 

We can't identify payment of taxes and expenses. There are other ways to get the money: selling one of our islands down South or deciding not  to sponsor the Olympics or by other strange and extraordinary means. Otherwise, something we are doing now has to be curtailed. The fact, she says, we can think of welfare without taxes is sad. 

If we want welfare programs we need to face squarely what we need to do. Other peoples problems have to become our interest. If we want to give help to the homeless and free lunches to our school children we  need to  change our thinking, or else it is only pie in the sky.

No matter what is done there will always be opposition. In Germany, tuition is free for a university education.Numbers going to a university are much lower than Korea. The parents of the  students going to the university are  relatively better off than those     who don't, and the free education system in Germany has opposition because those who  go to college earn  more than those  who don't, so many are not happy with free education that the citizens have to pay for with their taxes. This is easily understood. Free health, secondary education and help for the elderly does not have the same difficulty that  free university education has. 

She concludes with the words of a German hymn. "When we forget ourselves,/ and leave behind the road we have taken/  and begin again,/  really begin again.// Heaven and earth meet/  we have  peace among us.// Heaven and earth meet/ peace is found among us."

Heaven comes down to touch earth that is not what we mean by heaven is it? However, a welfare state  is getting close to what heaven would be like.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Recollection-- For a Full Life


When we are sick we divide the world into those who are sick and healthy. 
What kind of world do we have when we overcome this kind of thinking? We acknowledge that we have the sick and healthy but we go beyond that, and it doesn't influence us. This is being recollected.

A Jesuit priest commented on this word in his Lenten sermon that was written up in the Peace Weekly. are the Chinese characters for the word we could  express by 'recollection'. Knowing, but not necessarily  having the knowing influence us would be his  definition. During his talk  all kinds of coughing was heard, but recollected (attentiveness)  means that it didn't distract those present from listening. Those who are taken up with the coughing are captured by it.

When we pray we have many worldly thoughts that come to mind. 'Recollection' means  we are able to empty ourselves.

Our aim in prayer is to be one with God. We know what God wills for us,  and we work to implement it. We do not try to  get God to do our will. Often our oneness with God is of the type where we  want to control God, which comes from pride.

Believing in money we are controlled by money, believing in power we are controlled by power. We are controlled by what we believe. Jesus should be our hero. We listen  to the words of Jesus and make sure they are his words, and not our words.  

What is happiness?  Is it  possible to speak about happiness  to those who believe that no matter what they do they will not be happy? We often decide what  happiness means for us: mentally deciding what is happiness and what is unhappiness.  But is unhappiness really unhappiness? A person who fails the exam for college has just taken the first step in a new world that wasn't even suspected.

We need to become attentive to what will bring true happiness. God, Jesus lives in me, how can I not be happy?  Even if poor or not healthy, Christ lives in me. This for a Christian is mind-boggling.

He concludes his  talk with the ways to achieve this attentiveness. First: God gives us only what is good. Secondly: need to understand the will of God. Thirdly: carry out God's will. One of the biggest distances we have in life is the distance from the head to the heart, and the distance from the heart to the feet is even greater.

One of the Korean proverbs similar to the English: once bitten twice shy--- once we have had a bad experience we are careful not to repeat it. Very difficult to abandon completely what we have experienced in the past. Being recollected is one of the ways we go about doing this.   

Without effort this is not accomplished. We want prayer to be easy, and we want to approach God without effort-- not caring about what he desires. Is this not  being interested in what the spouse wants, and desiring only what I want?  

We need to know what we are thinking. It is in this  recollection that we have attentiveness and we come to an understanding of God's will. The priest's desire was for us to to be recollected as the topic of choice for Lent.    

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mentoring the Young Engaged and Married Couples

 
Catholicism considers the family the basic unit of society, and society will only be as healthy as the families. We hear this often in our teaching on the family. When family life is strong a society can overcome all kinds of difficulties. However, divorces continue to increase, and presently Korea has one of  highest rates among the developed countries of the world.
 
The reasons for divorce are many: difference in personality, financial problems, infidelity, domestic problems.... There is also an increase of those who divorce even in old age. A fact that we tend to forget is that the more children in a family the less likely,  divorce.

We have many problems with marriage, and many in our society have no idea what Catholicism teaches about marriage and family life. The Synod on the Family which began with the Extraordinary Synod in Oct. 2014, will continue with the General Synod of 2015. The desire is to  help families live their Christian family life in our present world reality. 

In the Peace Weekly is  an article on the  mentoring  program for those that will be marrying and for our young people. The Diocese of Jejudo is the first to begin such a program and have recruited 85 couples that have been recommended by the parishes. The program will last for 9 months with a meeting once a month. The participants have completed a course in Catholic teaching,  completed a course for parents,  and have been volunteers in the Marriage Encounter Movement. 

Topics discussed and talks given will include: when the wife speaks I will open my ears; family finances, and labor; children's education; wisdom in family squabbles; independence from the family members of the husband and wife; and the common goals of  husband and wife in their preparation for old age.
 
The bishop in the inaugural talk to the group mentioned that when all is well in the family, society and the church will be healthy. He hopes they will be a  help in helping the newly married and young  people in the diocese  to have a new appreciation of  married life. 
 
We do have programs for the young and engaged but this program will be mentoring the young and those who will be preparing for marriage. The problems that the young have to face in our society makes living the married life difficult. Many of the young do not see marriage as a good and delay it, and many of the women seem to be  more interested in their development which militates against marriage.
 
Koreans because of their  Confucian values, and manners in  society have a respect for their traditions and would not be as quick to jettison what they understand married life to be, like areas of the West. However, the late marriages are one of the reasons for the  low birth rate and we have more opting to     stay single which is a big change from the past.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Refugees from North Korea in the South

The representative of the Bishops' Committee for the reconciliation of the country is impressed with the refugees from North Korea who are here in the South. In his Catholic Times' column he mentions that with events in which the North and South are present, he marvels at the positive outlook of the refugees.

When you ask them to sing they respond with grace, and pick their song; asked to dance, they extend their hands like a butterfly and fluttering their hands begin to go around in a circle getting everybody involved, and in a short time we have everybody in the group in a joyous mood. When all is over they are the first to begin the clean-up.

To get the Koreans from the South to sing is quite a feat. There is a lot of talk, back and forth, before they acquiesce but to get them to dance, requires more difficult steps for results. At the conclusion of the event those of the South look around to see how the  group is behaving, we do not make the first move, and quietly move towards the exist. The columnist knows where those from the North got their mature and positive attitudes.                                              

The columnist reminds us of the 2003 Universiade in Daegu. A bus load of North Korean cheerleaders coming back from an archery competition, and returning to Daegu, saw a placard that was  put in place by the farmers of the areas to welcome the cheerleaders.The placard showed Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung  shaking hands, the two leaders of the North and South and that time. It was raining and the cheerleaders from the North saw this as disrespect for their leader and complained. They stopped the bus and after lamenting with loud cries at the disrespect for their leader, they  took the placard back with them to their sleeping quarters.   

We, hearing what  happened, are greatly surprised at the reaction of the  cheerleaders. We see only a placard but for the cheerleaders it was like a  religious  image and more so. Do we have anybody cleaning the picture of Jesus or the cross every day?  In the North  each house has a portrait of Kim Il-sung and his son in a prominent place. Each day they would take time out to show devotion to their leaders by cleaning the  portraits with special cloths.

Their devotion to their leaders would be similar to a religious act on our part. This is the kind of training they receive from their earliest years, and continues for life. Their motto is always be ready. The leaders are like the sun for the country. This is the brainwashing they have received, and worship of their leaders is the natural outcome. 

All their acts have loyalty as their foundation and the way they receive political trust, and the reason they concentrate on heroic actions. The closer they are to the leaders  the more  envied by others and makes  them ready to do  every thing spontaneously and quickly.                                                                       

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Problems in Family Life

Kyeongyang Magazine has an article on marriage in the different cultures of the world, written by a professor of cultural anthropology. She goes to the different types of marriages that we see in the world today: monogamy, polygyny ( having  more that one female as a mate), polyandry ( having more than  one male mate at the same time)  We have also same sex marriages in the society.

Polygamy, is the marriage of a spouse of either sex with more than one mate at the same time.  In recent years  this has changed in many cases to marriage to one person at a time: brought about not always easily but because of the changes in the cultures, the laws of a country, and economic conditions. 

Because of the frequency of divorce we have serial monogamy.  In many of the cases the children are relating to the parent  who has left, and is helped financially, and the relationship continues, which  is not much different from polygamy. 

Recently many of our young people no longer feel that marriage and the raising of children is the way they will find happiness, but will only hamper their personal development. They have seen in families the conflicts between husband and wife, and with children: abuse, violence, abandonment and even murder. Communication in the family is difficult; and they see the number of old people who die alone.

When we see the problems families have, we need to ask ourselves what is a family? The family is no longer what it is meant to be. The families relate with each other without  love and with indifference. The need  to relate with each other with love, understanding, concern, giving-in, will change the mentality and enable the family to overcome the difficulties they will face.

The message of religion for the family is not the  systematic formalities they have learned, but love, respect and equality of the members in relating with each other with the practice of the virtues. Each member has to remember that their best intentions, no matter how noble and beautiful, and worthy of praise, the body will not permit their implementation without a great deal of effort in their cultivation.  

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church the virtuous person does what is good consistently, easily, and joyfully. Koreans hear the  proverb: a habit at 4 years of age will be with the person when he is eighty. The effort to rid ourselves of the bad habits will require many repeated actions to undo the hold that bad habits have on us.

She concludes the article by wanting the Church to not only emphasis the teachings of the Lord, but to work to  change the unhealthy  conditions  families face in society.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Wisdom of the Modern Luddites

"It is rare to see someone reading a book, while riding in a subway or train." A nun, who writes a column in the Catholic Times, on Media Ecology, begins her column with this observation, and attempts to verify it by peeking at those using their smart phones in her travels. Most of the time they were  watching drama, or playing a game, on occasions reading text, but the speed was such, she wondered if it could be called reading.

She mentions studies that  showed readers of paper books had more retention than those reading e-books, easier to remember what they read, and  able to  give a decent report on what was read.  

The tendency with the  screen text makes it faster to read  but at the same time understanding and attention problems arise: words are simply passed over. In one elementary school the difference between the reading from a book and the electronic medium-- mistakes in understanding were three times more likely to happen.

Electronic books are appearing much more often today. We have ten times the number of e-books in our society compared to  3 and 4 years ago,  and this will  continue to grow. In California they are already saying paper books will disappear. In our own   country the government has shown a desire to quicken this with their policies.

She reminds us that reading is not only to search for knowledge  but especially these days we need training  to concentrate, and efforts made to develop endurance. In the 18th century with the reading revolution, it required the working together of the body and mind to do the difficult work of reading. The work required a change to our body and mind, and helped to develop the thinking process.

Books were not only the  containers of knowledge.  Paper books were uniting the sense of sight to that of touch, that conveyed the connection of these  dimensions of the person. When we fingered the pages we had the touch of hand and the sound of the turning of the page, the scent, the leisure  between the turning of the pages, weight of the book, which added to the satisfaction. Is this possible, she asks, with the electronic media?   

Here we have another example of technology and the great improvement in our way of living but at the same time we also should be conscious of a loss. The word Luddite in certain quarters has taken on a new meaning from the term used with those that found technology taking away their means of livelihood. However, for the modern Luddites, they see some of the negative aspects of our development.  Would it not be a  sign of our wisdom to acknowledge the possibility, and do what we can to prevent some of the harm that comes with technology?