Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lesson from the Sewol Disaster

On April 16th we had the first anniversary of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry. The tragedy is now well know throughout the world and Korea is still looking for answers. 476 passengers and crew were on a trip from Incheon to the  holiday island of Jejudo-- 11 hours after leaving Incheon it sank killing 304.

Bishops' Mass Media Committee and the Seoul Diocese sponsored a forum on the  sinking of the ferry and the Church's role in dealing with the wounds caused by the  tragedy. The topic continues to be contentious for only small steps have been taken to appease the anger of the parents of the victims; the independent inquiry the parents want is  still far from a reality.

The movement to 'live correctly' was one of the  presentations at the forum, and what can be learned from the tragedy. Progress and development are positive goods but they also come with some serious negative results if we forget who is meant to benefit from the progress. The professor recalled the corruption that was involved, the lack of concern for people in the pursuit of financial profits, selfishness, greed, taking the easiest way to the greatest benefits, forgetting responsibility and the need for competency, unfettered competition with no concern for the damage that results prepares for a man-made disaster.

One of the presenters mentioned many of the Catholic laity did not show an interest in the aftermath of the tragedy for the victims. We need to break down the narrow mindedness and concern only for our own needs, and our failure to go out to others who are hurting.  

A mother of one of the victims mentioned many individuals showed solidarity with the victims and  parents. Solidarity was shown from below but she lamented that the government  showed little of this concern.  

A psychology professor mentioned at the port closest to the  place of the disaster there was a lack of sensitivity shown to the victims and the families by some of the government civil servants, which left a lasting wound on the families of the dead. 

Cardinal Yeom, who gave a talk  of encouragement to the forum members mentioned when the ferry sank,   many of our values and societal trust went down with the ferry and the victims. He hopes the tragedy will be a light that will show us our future direction. 

Transparency is a difficult attitude to attain for it allows the truth to appear no matter the harm done to the individual or group. Most of the time it is not something a person or group permits to happen without outside pressure. Hopefully the truth of the Sewol disaster, which is mostly known, will be allowed to be part of Korea's history and a lesson to future generations.     

Monday, June 29, 2015

Church as Institution

Today is the Feast of Peter and Paul, two leaders of the early church. Meditation in the Daily Mass booklet for the feast centers on the  reading of Matt 16: 13-19. Church can be understood in many different ways and thanks to Cardinal Dulles we have his six models: institution, communion, sacrament, herald,  servant  and community of disciples. Besides these six there are many more ways to see the Church but the model that begets the most opposition and loathing, and not only from those outside the community is the  institutional understanding of Church.

In the Gospel for the Mass we hear: "I will entrust to you the keys of the  kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven." These words bring to mind a fence,  repugnant to  many in our society.

We speak about the universality of Church-- why do  we need a fence?  We are Christians, is the answer given in the meditation, but can believe and proclaim what is not Christian. In the world in which we live there are many elements that threaten the Christian life. Not a few in the Church who are zealously active and use the  Scriptures as their witness, propose teachings that can't coexist with the teachings of Jesus. Often not realizing this is the reality.

For many in the history of the Church, the institutional model had great meaning. Much of society has lost  trust in institutions, but we still have Catholics who have a great love for the institution, with its failings and weaknesses. Seeing the church only as a  human institution, there is no organization or institution that has done more for humanity. A rudimentary familiarity with world history and a willingness to be objective and see the bad with the good in the context of the times will permit a person to acknowledge that the Church has been a beacon and given hope and meaning to much of humanity. It continues to be a conscience to the world even though few are listening.

The meditation ends with a reflection that the Church continues to preserve us in the visible unity of faith. We who are descended from the Church of the apostles, he hopes, will continue to nourish a love for the Church as institution, but to remember the Church is much more than an institution.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Does a Person Enter a Cult?

"Father, my child has become a cult member." Laments of this kind are common, says a priest authority on cults, writing in the Kyeongyang magazine on the new religions and their dangers. How to deal with the new religions is no easy task. Numbers of those  involved in the new religions is well beyond what we imagine.

Catholicism has no counter measures in response. We hear often the Church is the  breeding grounds for the  new religions, meaning that members often come from Catholicism. We don't think it deserves our attention, consequently, lack of interest. However, when we meet those who have been involved in cults, we realize it should be a concern, for it shows our failures to be a loving community of faith. Our true character as a community appears, and serious problems in the way we have instructed our Christians.

When he receives a request for counseling his first thoughts are a feeling of helplessness in dealing with the 'new world' they have entered. Parents often get angry but this is of little value. Once the person has been brained washed the chances of success in convincing  them of the error of their ways is far from certain. Much better is preventing them from getting involved with cults.

Those who have become cult members, more than the teachings they are captivated by the community they have entered: the upright life of the members, zeal, they are impressed with the community they have joined,  and moved to give assent to what they are taught. They respond to their cult leader like the apostles followed Jesus; they remember with great happiness the days of instruction. There is a type of addiction and love-sickness response to their attachment.

Many of those who become involved in a cult have a history of problems in family life: lack of self-esteem,  confidence, and looked forward to a future with gloom and alienation. Joining the cult they find themselves, and gain confidence for the future. They find new meaning in the virtual world they have entered. Even when one leaves the cult there remains the problem of identity.

The cults tell us a lot about ourselves. We are not on fire as Christians or believe what we say we do. We live our faith life without passion, and mission. Pope Francis mentions that we have a worldly spirituality. Those who have accepted the cults have usually not been members of their parent's religious community growing up. It was easy for them to give up their faith for it meant little to them. We will continue to have many of our Christians living their faith by habit. Which means we will continue to see large numbers leaving the church. We have to be more concerned in the way our Catholics are educated. There is a need to draw up a new way of instruction that will meet the needs of the world they will enter. We all have to take an interest in making our communities vehicles that will instruct the members in what it means to be followers of Jesus.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What is the Church?

What is the Church? A priest who worked as a missioner in South American tells the readers in his article in the Kyeongyang magazine the answer he heard most often on the missions: "We are the Church," and wonders whether Korean Catholics would express it this way.

Since the II Vatican Council we see the Church not as a vertical structure but as a horizontal People of God Church. No longer seeing the laity as passive, receiving orders  but active, conscious of their rights and duties. "These faithful (laity) are by baptism made one body with Christ and are established among the People of God. They are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions of Christ. They carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian people with respect to the Church and the world" (Constitution of the Church # 31).

In many of our parishes we have divisions and conflict: an authoritarian attitude on the part of the priest, and disinterest on part of the laity."In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances" (Joy of the Gospel # 62). Many of the Christians are interest only in money and appearances,

The article frankly states that in most situations the laity have no voice in the parish and are to listen to the priests and religious and follow instructions. The structure of the Church, he says, is the reason for this situation and results in passivity. " Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ (Joy of the Gospel #2).

Conflict between the clergy and the laity can't all be placed with the clergy. Life style of the clergy needs to change but also there is criticism for the sake of  criticism, and lack of honesty in dealing with the clergy. With a little more love and religious faith we will have more understanding and friendship. 

Small Christian Communities have to be promoted;  Christians discussing the work of the Church and their place on the front lines. Priests need to give more  example with their lives  rather than with words. Laity need a way of being Christian no less than the clergy. Daily life of the laity and their religious life has to be one;  they need  to begin sharing and experiencing the Gospel message in the parish setting and bring it to the world.
                     

Friday, June 26, 2015

Constructive Dialogue In Society


Obstacles that prevent communication are many. In the Peace Weekly Column, the journalist shows how we have  a lack of communication both in government and in the church and attributes the difficulty to either incompetence or pride.

He doesn't want to blame but only to speak out about the lack of communication in our society which he compares to poison mushrooms that continue to spread. Communication fails because of lack of contact but this can be remedied by contact but when we have contact and fail to communicate he sees the reason either in incompetency or pride.

Pride is one of the capital sins; not only concerned about oneself but also looks down on the other. With a proud individual we will not have communication:a change of heart is required. "Have the same attitude toward all. Put away ambitious thoughts and associate with those who are lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation" (St. Paul, Romans 12:16).    In a democracy the voice of the people in most cases should  be seen as the voice of God. When pride is the rule this system suffers.  

When we are dealing with incompetency we need the humility to acknowledge this and make the efforts to acquire the knowledge and competency or the humility of giving the position to others with more ability.  

Communication within society and within the church is an important issue. Pope Francis would like to see a culture of encounter. We know that he speaks often of dialogue but there are many who  do not care for what is involved. In a recent talk to the Brazilian leaders he said: " I consider essential for facing the present moment: constructive dialogue. Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option: that of dialogue. Dialogue between generations, dialogue with the people, because we are all people, the capacity to give and receive, while remaining open to the truth. A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, art, technology, economic culture, family culture and media culture, when they are in dialogue with each other."                         

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Seeking An Honest Viewpoint



MERS, and the reports received have been criticized by many for their lack of clarity, and for the many false rumors associated with the outbreak of the disease. Plenty of blame for the government and mass media, consequently, the  priest columnist in the Catholic Times, wants us to  see everything from the eyes of the poor.

This kind of talk quickly gets picked up as leftist, communistic rant by those who don't appreciate the great good done by our free enterprise system. Is it not an act of simple politeness to try to understand the other in the most benign way possible? A poor person has no standing in society and will see reality without the prejudices that the privileged ones have of their society. We can also see this within the church. Pope Francis is upsetting many precisely because he wants to view society and the church with the eyes of the poor.

Information is not always transmitted fully is a problem, but not passed on correctly is more of a problem. Mass media is influenced by ideologies, and pressure from power which diminishes freedom. Big money and connections with big business influences the freedom of the media. Consequently, it is difficult for the media to be objective and neutral. Even with the MERS epidemic we see how this reality influenced much of the reporting.

The failure to report the facts does great harm to our democracy. Without all the facts the citizens are not able to make the right decisions. "Information is among the principal instruments of democratic participation. Participation without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable. It is necessary to guarantee a real pluralism in this delicate area of social life, ensuring that there are many forms and instruments of information and communications. It is likewise necessary to facilitate conditions of equality in the possession and use of these instruments by means of appropriate laws. Among the obstacles that hinder the full exercise of the right to objectivity in information, special attention must be given to the phenomenon of the news media being controlled by just a few people or groups. This has dangerous effects for the entire democratic system when this phenomenon is accompanied by ever closer ties between governmental activity and the financial and information establishments" ( Social Compendium of the Church #414).

Religious people need a sensitivity to discern; from the flood of information that surrounds us we need to select the correct information. The columnist stresses we have to read and see what is presented with the eyes of the poor. News that incites us to progress and development and inflames our greed we have to suspect. On the other hand, information that cares for the poor, appreciates the solidarity of humanity, respects workers is serving the common good. 

We need to criticize the information that is false, and slanted against the poor. No matter from where this kind of incorrect information comes, citizens have to  speak out,entering into the debate and speaking in the public square. This shows we are a mature democracy:  teaching the  social gospel, and acting as mature citizens and Christians.         

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Abuse in the Family



Abuse in the family, physical, emotional, economic, and sexual are serious social problems. An article in the Kyeongyang magazine written by a professional, who has worked in the field for many years, informs the readers of this serious issue which is not disappearing.

Violence against women in the home has many faces, and she gives us an example of a couple married for over ten years, who were ordered by the court to go for counseling after the woman reported the violence to the police.

During the first session the husband made it clear that the wife was the cause of the violence: her actions warranted his response. She talked back, did not keep her promise, did not do the cleaning, she was lazy, and he was trying to teach her what to do. Verbal abuse follows physical abuse which remains with the person for a life time, and engenders suicidal thoughts.

Husband does not feel any guilt and the wife who has to live in this situation trembles in fear, and her only thoughts are how to prevent the next beating. Children are the reason she is not able to leave the situation. Children without a mother is worse  then being beaten and prevents her leaving the abuse. Society considers the abuse a private issue located in the privacy of the home, no one wants to get involved, but the writer makes it clear it is not a private issue but a social issue. 

Patriarchy considers family like a possession. One does not find it easy to talk about the abuse and the shame the wife feels is part of the reason eradication of violence is not doing well. Society sees the mother as the sign of sacrifice, service, and devotion, if she doesn't live up to this ideal imposed by society she will be criticized, consequently the shame she feels and silence.

Violence in the family is not seen as violence by many: a reason for the failure to eradicate it. Many  hearing the screams from a home will pay no attention, and let it pass as a family matter. There must have been a  reason for the beating, if this attitude changed and persons would report the abuse and knock on the door of the offending house, she says, we would see a decrease in numbers. 

When abuse is reported, we have perpetrators reflecting on what they have done, and with the counseling both privately and in groups we see change in behavior and the women receiving counseling also feels less pain in her ordeal. There is no reason whatsoever to justify this violence. Efforts are necessary to make the families basic communities of love and places where growth in body, mind and soul is promoted and evident.                       

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Peace of the Lord be with you"



Children after birth are given a name which in many cases contains a wish of the parents for the child. Much meaning comes with the name and this is also true of a country. An article in the Catholic Times, addresses the topic for the readers on the 70th year of the division of the country.

Korea  also has  a name.The South is called the Republic of Korea, and the North is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Is that what we call the two areas or is it  North Korea  and South Korea? Or do we call North Korea the Puppet Regime and South Korea a colony of the  United States?

If we want communication to proceed we know the need to be sensitive to the feelings of the other party, otherwise we face each other as enemies with no hope of progress. The columnist remembers the time in the  seminary when he and his classmates worked as volunteers helping the refugees to prepare for qualification exams, and were concerned on what to call the children. Would it be defectors or new migrants?  They decided to call each one by their name, accepting each one of them as individuals, without giving them any label that would lessen the respect and love that they wanted to show to each of the students.

When we pray for the reconciliation and unity of the country, we are not recognizing the wrong headed philosophy or  refusing to see all those who are hurting under the system. Catholicism has difficulty coexisting with Communistic materialism, and  we are not asking those who suffered during the war to forget all that transpired, but to think over what happened and learn from the history. However, if we are not able to look beyond what we experienced there is no hope for peace. 

June 25th is the day we remember the Korean War and pray for peace. We Christians should be the leaders in this movement.

 Peace is not merely the absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity. (Compendium of the Social Gospel of the Church # 494).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Prayer As Seen by an Outsider


Prayer is an important issue with those with religious belief. We have many ways of praying. Catholic traditional ways of praying and stages of prayer go back centuries. We hear about vocal, meditative and contemplative prayer. St. Teresa of Avila had the nine stages of prayer. However, one does not expect to find a column in the secular press treating five stages of prayer. A columnist in today's Chosun Ilbo  introduces us to his five levels of prayer which he  says he gathered from those who do a lot of praying.

His first level is asking for favors: money, health, promotion at work. Prayer to meet the person's needs: prayer begging God for help, which the columnist doesn't find surprising. When fire falls on  one's foot  the response is to do everything possible to put out the fire. All self-esteem is  put aside, and one cries out for help, and the mental faculties do not enter into the picture.

The second stage is paying attention to what God or the heavens are saying to the person. No longer asking, but listening quietly to what God is saying.

Thanksgiving is the third level. No matter what happens: failure in business, sickness even the death of the individual, the response is thanksgiving. To reach this level he says requires one to be at least in his fifties.Everything is in God's providence which the person acknowledges, and gives thanks.

Fourth level is praise. In everyday life all becomes prayer: eating, talking to family and friends, involved in work all is prayer. Even though he is not making any effort to pray, the prayer is automatic.

Lastly we have the stage in which there is no desire to pray and not even conscious of God.

As Catholics we can see that the columnist was very ecumenical in gathering his information on prayer, and putting it into five stages. We may quibble over some of the expressions but there is a great deal in what was expressed that we would nod in agreement, although we would not express it in the way the columnist did.  

He concludes the column by telling us that prayer begins with the first level, From the third level on we are dealing with persons who are very comfortable with prayer, and the ordinary person would not find it easy to enter. 

He also feels the place of prayer is important. A place with many rocky cliffs, and mountains is conducive to prayer. In the famous monasteries of Europe they are nestled in the rocky mountain areas of the region, very similar to the topography of Korea. He also tells us that where a Saint has prayed in the past the prayer will be more effective. On a visit to the home of St. Francis of Assisi, the columnist noticed the areas was encompassed in light. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prayers for a United Korea

Today, in many of the Masses throughout the country we prayed for reconciliation and unity on the peninsula. The division of the country came after the end of the Second World War in 1945-- ending the colonial rule of  the Japanese, and turning over the peninsula to the trusteeship of  the United States and the Soviet Union, in time to become independent, which never happened. On  June 25th 1950, we had the  civil war between the two  divisions where two million died, and 10 million were separated from their homes and relatives, and in 2015, still without an armistice. 

Catholic media has visited the problems that we have with the divisions of the country and asking for prayers for the unification of the country.Kyeongyang magazine, has a number of articles that give the readers an understanding of the problems and  difficulties that are faced.    

The North has changed much during the 70 years of separation. Hunger has brought change and the movement away from some of their socialist principles have been adapted as we have seen in China and Russia. North Koreans are open to information from the outside world and one of the articles mentions they enjoy watching some of the  dramas from the South. Also, free to purchase many  products in the market even those from the South. This will  continue to bring change to the political structures.

National Security Law  in the eyes of many is a big stumbling block preventing steps for unification. In the world today freedom of thought and speech is understood and  Korea is still under the National Security Law.  One of the articles mentions how the political parties and even academia are not speaking out. From the time of President Syngman Rhee it continues to do great harm to the process for unification. "Any person who praises, incites or propagates the activities of an anti government organization, a member thereof or of the person who has received an order from it, or who acts in concert with it, or propagates or instigates a rebellion against the State, with the knowledge of the fact that it may endanger the existence and security of the State or democratic fundamental order, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than seven years ( taken from Wikipedia).

How do we work for unification and peace on the Peninsula? One article reports the agreement between the North and South in the Kaesong Industrial Region which is operated with the North. South Korean companies employ North Korean labor in a joint  venture, but there continues to be squabbles, and it has never reached the potential that was envisioned when they started in 2002. Efforts expended for unification by organizations and religious groups are many, but they do not last long because of the political reality.

One of the most serious obstacles is the way the citizens see the situation with the North. You have the humanitarian position that wants to help the North to raise their economic level and make the transition to unification easy, while the second group waits for the North to collapse, and then will help them to unite with the South. The Church is very much on the  side of the first group, but not all the Catholics would agree. We need to have a win-win scenario but this is not easily achieved.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Life of a Korean Seminarian


A seminary professor  writing in a pastoral bulletin for priests reflects on "weariness and rest" of the clerical life. He spends time with the first year students. When he first received the assignment he thought he would be spending time with them in their studies and prayer life. He has been in seminary work for six years and his  lectures and prayer life have not been a problem. He doesn't remember when it started but at the end of a semester he is tired and exhausted.

In the first two years he felt  vacation time for  the seminarians was too long. Now looking at the freshman class he is in admiration of their life. They are not allowed to have smart phones, no internet,  no games, can't leave the seminary, no TV.  How is it  they can give all this up? He finds their appearance at the liturgy a beautiful sight.

Meeting the students he has to give all of  himself to them. When he is stressed out, and deals with them sternly,  they will be uptight, and just look for correct answers. When it is not heart to heart, we are just talking in circles. We have a superior talking to an inferior-- military style. There is not the respect for the other but  wanting the other to understand the superior, and respond to him. Initiative in the work of formation is not with the formator but  with the student.

We may think with heart to heart talk, joy would be the natural result but in his experience he finds pain appears first. These young men have many scars. They have suffered an educational system where competition was everything, and they fear  more of the same. They were exposed to snobbery in the home, where they were compared to others, becoming a priest they would have a respected job. He reminds us that many of the students lived through the IMF times ( international financial period) where the  economy was not doing well. They experienced a great deal of anger, and difficult times.  Suggestive modern culture  left traces on their psyche. Thankfully, the parish community and  sports were able to liberate them from the scars enabling  them to take the  necessary steps to enter the seminary. 

Seminarians do not  have a romantic understanding  of the life they will be entering. Difficulties, frustrations  and  a heart that has received many  wounds is who they are, and prepared to meet a world filled with gloom. It is beyond their strength    and are tired by it all.  Words of Pope Francis  during the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass are words of consolation.                                                          

"Our weariness, dear priests, is like incense which silently rises up to heaven.  Our weariness goes straight to the heart of the Father, now how to rest by accepting the love, gratitude and affection which I receive from God’s faithful people?  Or, once my pastoral work is done, do I seek more refined relaxations, not those of the poor but those provided by a consumerist society?  Is the Holy Spirit truly 'rest in times of weariness' for me, or is he just someone who keeps me busy?  Do I know how to seek help from a wise priest?  Do I know how to take a break from myself, from the demands I make on myself, from my self-seeking and from my self-absorption?  Do I know how to spend time with Jesus, with the Father, with the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, with my patron saints, and to find rest in their demands, which are easy and light, and in their pleasures, for they delight to be in my company, and in their concerns and standards, which have only to do with the greater glory of God?  Do I know how to rest from my enemies under the Lord’s protection?  Am I preoccupied with how I should speak and act, or do I entrust myself to the Holy Spirit, who will teach me what I need to say in every situation?  Do I worry needlessly, or, like Paul, do I find repose by saying: 'I know him in whom I have placed my trust.' " 

"Let us learn how to be weary, but weary in the best of ways!"

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pilgrimage for the Handicapped

Parish communities have personalities that some can read rather quickly. Writing in the pastoral bulletin  a priest shortly after arrival at his new parish assignment noticed the large number of  persons using electric wheelchairs. At the  Sunday Mass he noticed about 10 wheelchairs and in the community he saw many who were using these electric wheelchairs to move around.

Majority of the community were living in only for rent  apartments, a good indication of the poverty of the neighborhood. He made up his mind to prepare a pilgrimage to a shrine Pope Francis visited while  in Korea. He wanted to treat  the handicapped in the best possible way and  made plans to bring the handicapped to the shrine by taxis.

The reason for these thoughts come from the words of Pope Francis in Joy of the Gospel: "This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them" #198.

He got in touch with the  welfare center run by the diocese, and worked with them. There were 19  parishioners and 13 from the community. 32 all together with 35 volunteers to take care of the handicapped. The taxi drivers  came from the Taxi Drivers Pastoral Association  of Seoul  who donated their time and 35 taxis for the pilgrimage.  

One of the participants said it was like looking at a scene from Lourdes. After arriving at the shrine there was a garden feast for all the pilgrims. Dinner was  not just a  meal but a sacramental feast of love. It was  a time  for all to feel a bond solidarity.  
More than the  handicapped, the priest observed, it was the  volunteers who seemed to be the happiest. He concludes his article with the words from  the same exhortation:                                        

"No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice" #201.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Good Stewardship of Creation

Korea has always looked on farming as an honored occupation.  Aristocrats, farmers, artisans and tradesmen was the  order in which traditional society saw the  different occupations. Even today the farming profession is respected, even though few are interested in following  in the ways of their ancestors. Reasons for the change are easily seen: work is difficult,  money is little, and society has many other possibilities that are more attractive and esteemed.

The liturgy this past Sunday was a reminder to Christians that  farming  has a lot to teach us. We learn some of the basic laws of nature from farming, and  respect for the earth, and what it can do for us. One of the diocesan bulletins reminds the readers of the joy that comes with farming. 

Writing about the readings for the 11th Sunday of the Year, the priest mentions that he has been farming for the past two years and brings his produce to the bishop's table.Those eating with the bishop praise his efforts for their freshness and taste-- all naturally grown.

Farmers in Korea have a problem with turning over their land to organic farming for it is  more difficult than using chemicals and sprays to help in the work. The produce would also not be as plentiful, which for a farmer is a great sacrifice when the marketing of the produce is important in supporting family.

He asks the readers to get involved in a little vegetable garden on their property. We see this being done also in apartments, on roof tops, and in verandas with  plastic containers, and also those who become weekend farmers, renting land in areas out side the city. 

Weather conditions are doing a lot of harm to the farmers way of life, the prices of food continue to rise, and the fear that many have with the pesticides that are used is helping to make farmers out of the city dwellers.

Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment  will formally be published this Thursday and we are already beginning to here the pros and cons. Korea will have little difficulty in accepting the encyclical for they are very conscious of  the change of weather in the past decades. Most of the world's scientist see it at least as a partially  man made situation, and the majority of our citizens will have little difficulty  understanding the good stewardship that is expected from the citizens. There have been for many years great concern for the enviroment with the 'Anabada Movement': Save, Share, Exchange and Reuse. Hopefully the rest of the world will follow the 'saner and greater numbers' and see that the wanton disregard for creation as a sin.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Invest All that is Necessary to Help Families

How do we  prevent the destruction of family life? This is the question in an article in the  Kyeongyang magazine, by a priest, head of the family pastoral  center in the diocese.

We are all familiar with the words by which the couple affirm their love for each other: "I, N., take  you, N., to be my wife (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."

It is with this bond of marriage we have the basic cell in society and the beginning of a family, the first community. In this community they learn about the culture and traditional values and  work together to solve their  problems of  food, clothing and shelter. However, this basic community is under great stress: divorce, violence in the home, gambling, dependence on alcohol, children running away from home, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law tensions, all making family life like children playing house.

Society is making the individual more important than the community of family. The roots are going down deeper in our society,  sacrificing the family for the  satisfaction of the individual, and selfish needs. The Church is hoping to  have some  answers to the problems the families are facing, in the October meeting of the synod on the family.

The words of our Lord: "Thus they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined" (Matt. 19:6). For many  young people these words are an echo from an empty void and mean little. With the lack of restraint and patience we will continue to see divorces.

Divorces are  not only problems for families, but  for all of society. Important as  it is to care for families who have divorced, more so to help families overcome their difficulties to prevent their break up. This will require educational programs in which the     couples  examine their values, the use of money, and objectively look upon sexual intimacy and its meaning,  their spirituality and the  way they see God's place in the family. Prayer should be an important part of family life.  

Necessary is counseling for families that are having difficulties, and places of rest for those suffering violence in the family. There is a line from a  pop song that the  writer uses in the conclusion of the article: "In April we have the loving heart but when they separate it is winter."

Divorce shakes the  foundations of society.Not only the couple, but the children and all of  society is affected.  We have the pain of loss. Pastoral work to help families overcome the difficulties and be with them, is important.  We need programs that will help the couples overcome the differences and help them  make the efforts necessary to keep the family together. The family is the place of salvation, and we should invest all this is needed to help families.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ingratitude in Response to Favors


A priest writing for priests in the Pastoral Bulletin recalls a trip to Germany some years ago when he visited with a Korean family living in the country. The grandmother who had her grandchild beside her, turned to the priest, and told him that she is praying that some day he will be a priest. The son hearing his mother saying these words suddenly, upset:"I don't want my son to be a priest, stop praying for him in that way."   

That night when he returned to his  dormitory he asked a friend of the boy's father why such a strong reaction to the mother's words.  He was told that on trips to Germany by many priests from Korea, the father would spend  time  showing the priests  around the country and making them feel at home in Germany. However, when he went to Korea he would look up these priests and felt they were not pleased  to see him.This reaction on the part of the priests that he spent time with in Germany and their response when he met them in Korea, changed his attitude.

In the article the priest remembers the time he has been the object of a person's generosity and has always felt pangs of conscience  for not given the proper response when he has met the person at a church service are event.

He often hears priests are cold and curt with the Christians. Many priests even with the the older Christians, wait to be greeted. He feels that it is rare to have a priest make the first gestures of greeting--    good at receiving  love but  not in giving.   

Celibacy he believe is the  reason that we  are not comfortable with  expressing words of  love and warmth. We are not familiar with close relationships,  so we lack a sensitivity and emotional maturity. 

When we lack love in our lives, he says, and  do not    go out to others, our humanity begins to die.  He gives us the example of the Dead Sea that only receives and doesn't give.   

We hear often the  treatment  Korean priests receive from our Christians is the best in the whole Catholic world.  Nothing to do with our qualifications or efforts, but thanks to Korean society. Benefits given to us by  Christians are many, we need to repay the debt. 

We should be serving them with humility and kindness, but instead they see pride in our actions and behavior.

He concludes the article with a passage that is loved by many: "You have been told man, what is good, and  what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

Monday, June 15, 2015

Climate Change


MERS virus has brought fear to the lives of many in Korea. Visitors to restaurants have dropped noticeably and meetings have been cancelled. On the subway many are seen wearing masks. The government and health authorities have been criticized by the media for the lack of transparency and urged to set up structures for controlling the spread.

A columnist in the Peace Weekly on current problems mentions how in the last 30 years we have had the spread of new viruses like MERS, HIV, AI , SARS, Ebola....  Global warming has brought typhoons, tidal waves, droughts, floods, and frequent cold and hot spells. Many scientists attribute this to the use of fossil fuels.

Our earthly village is giving too much attention to the creation of  wealth, bringing about a polarization crisis, and we have the crisis in ecology. All the different countries are trying to resolve the  polarization even if it is only  to maintain their authority; ecology is  a question of life or death, according to the columnist. Developed countries  are beginning to accept a carbon tax, and there is an effort to develop natural energy sources, but with unwise development and the use of fossil fuels, we have reached a situation which will be  difficult to stop. Many see the long range efforts to preserve our environment, and work for the  common good, will give way to efficiency and profit. 

He mentions the efforts of Norway in Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic, where they have stored the samples of the world's seeds in case of serious damage to our  eco-system.

Pope Francis is scheduled to release his encyclical on the environment this  week:  called "Praised Be",  taken from  the Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi. Pope John Paul II  in 1979  proclaimed St.Francis as the patron of those who are in love with creation and are  working to preserve it. 

The columnist hopes that we will take warning on the damage that is threatening the global village. God has given us creation to look over it wisely.

IPCC is an intergovernmental body under the  United Nations  that has  warned about the dangers that will come to the earth by the end of this century unless something is done with global warming. 

The columnist finishes the column lamenting that Korea does not seem interested in curbing the use of energy. Bishop head of  the Committee for Peace and Justice, on  world environment day, mentioned  in his message that Korea  is one of the countries that imports little  energy that is  environmentally friendly. He hopes that in the December of this year when the nations of the world gather in Paris to discuss agreement on climate change, the Pope's words will help us reach a consensus on this serious problem.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mature Understanding of Church


Has the Korean Church been able to accept the teachings of Vatican II? A symposium in a diocese, written up in the  Peace Weekly, doesn't think Korean Catholicism has left behind pre-Vatican II thinking, and accepted the  changes in our understanding of Church.

Words we hear often: Is it a  rupture with the past or continuity with the past?  Many have black and white thinking-- all or nothing. Why is it  difficult to see the continuity with the past, and  evolution of our  thinking on certain subjects? We do believe in   movements of the Holy Spirit  leading the Church, and yet some have difficulty in understanding that circumstances, and questions never asked before require we  formulate new ways of speaking to a humanity with different values.

In the early fifth-century, a church father, St. Vincent of LĂ©rins is often quoted as one who saw preservation and development as a truth of life. Pope Francis is quoted  using the words of St. Vincent which speak loudly of something we have problems understanding  even today."The doctrine of the Christian religion should follow the law of progress, so that it may be consolidated by years, developed by time and made more sublime by age."  St. Vincent is also the same church father who said:“We hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by everyone."

A seminary rector during the symposium said cold-headedly, he believes the Korean Church has not accepted the thinking of the Second Vatican Council. He wants the Church to go back to the documents and begin living the teachings. For the Church to go out to the world  and preach repent, the Church has to repent, when we say: be on the side of the poor, are we merely using words? We often use the word love and often hurt others,  and  talk about communication and fail to communicate.

We need to  examine ourselves in these areas. We need to be just in our dealings within the church. We need to change our pastoral work so that the laity become active in the pastoral work: help to inclulturate the Church's teachings to Korea, help to bring about unification of North and South in our teaching, and work to bring it about.

Another presenter made known the  need to open up the way  for the lay people to work in evangelization overseas, make the need for evangelization known to the community of Catholics,  and to arouse interest in the evangelization of society and the world.  

Saturday, June 13, 2015

I Hate to Go to the Academy!

Recently one of the  internet sites  had a  poem written by an elementary school girl with an illustration of the mother on the floor and the child by her side as a vampire with blood on her lips. Description of the  caricature, even now, is difficult to express in words, and easy to understand the response of those that saw the site. The child wanted the mother to know how much she hated going to the private academy for more study after school.

Complaints were so many and so critical of the site that the publishing company apologized and withdrew all contents, Children are not as conscious of what others will think, but honestly and simply express their inner feelings-- in this case difficult for adults to accept.

A college dean writes about the problems faced by the children in our educational system in the View from the Ark of the Catholic Times. He gives us another example of an essay written for a daily paper by a child who expresses the stress that students experience and wants the  parents to know this is the reason for the suicides, and laments that the children  are like  sponges, made to absorb repeated stress.

Children who frequent these private, after school academies, face a continual barrage of  slogans that  make the time at the academies  stressful and  fuel the competitive spirit in learning. Each day  they are exhausted by the studies and  repulsed  by what they   will continue to face, and a reason they turn to  their smart phones for relief. Fear of being a drop out in our society is present, and a reason for suicides.

Our columnist  tells us the day of the  geniuses has come to an end, and we are in the time of the creative thinker. No matter the conditions, they are prepared.  They can accept failure and  frustration with their fighting spirit. They can adapt to any situation and become  close to any person. Education you see, considers marks important but the education you don't see fosters leadership, creativity and  sacrifice. Competition is one form of violence. Extreme  competition instead of motivating for success  will foster frustration.

Competition fosters  academic cliques,  and ranking in society, an evil that  militates against harmony. The educational system we have  instead of fighting against the evils in society  has helped to increase the structural evils.  Development of society requires the mutual help of citizens and not the  elite of society acting as individualists.   

Recently we have more talk about the good results  of play even in theological thought. We are able to stimulate our senses, memories are helped, language and emotional life, creativity  and  social life is fostered. Before criticizing children for their behavior,  we should give them a place to work on liberating themselves from the demands made on them. Since our teaching of religion has a goal to speak to the whole person, and develop  mature human beings--  this makes for a strong  nation and church. Is there  any pastoral work that is more important than this?                 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Women from the North and Men from the South

In Korea we have close to 30 thousand refugees from the North and 70 percent of them are women.
Many of these women were married in the North and have left family to escape the hunger. Circumstances, and the whirlpool of life in which they were involved was the reason for the life they now have in the South.

Loneliness and missing their families are their biggest difficulties  in the South. Hunger which they faced  was their reason for leaving, but the longer here  the more they miss their families, and feel guilt for having left them, although they now have escaped the hunger.These are the words of a refugee from the North who has a column in the Peace Weekly.

As time passes many prepare to build another nest here in the South and end up marrying a South Korean. Marriage Information Companies they have  established, and family members introduce them to mates, hoping to overcome the loneliness with marriage. Compared to men in the North, who she describes as unsocial, the men in the South leave the women with an impression of intimacy and kindness. After marriage, for a  short period of time, they are happy but shortly the difference in culture and thinking begin to appear, and misunderstanding follows. Marriages, occasionally, don't even last a year before divorce.

Personalities and money matters are often the issue. Women in the North have been under a dictatorial government and in fighting the evils in society, in order to live, have had to endure much. This has made their way of speaking coarse, and even in small matters they fight to resolve their problems. Men here in the South are quiet and introspective and facing this demeanor on the part of the wife is difficult to understand.

Women feel it is their job to handle the money of the house. In the North this was the women's work. In the house to have money that is 'yours' and 'mine' is  not understood. With this kind of thinking we have a lack of trust and women despair.

We have the separation of the two Koreas and in marriage we find the difference so pronounced that living together as husband and wife is difficult. Is this not a lack of care for the  other? Men need to understand the women's scars and make allowances; women need to  understand how the man looks upon the use of money and see her husband as a partner for life.

Problems defectors face in the South and especially those married to South Koreans should be used as a  blueprint to work towards unification. Without serious efforts to help the defectors adapt to life in the South, our approach  to achieve unification will lack honesty and be a pipe dream.                   

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Need for Change in Family Life

"Do you know the reason why young couples are  reluctant to have children?"  "Not Like their parents, they are not confident in taking on the sacrifice required, and weren't especially happy as a child."  

We have the lowest birthrate in the world. Something has to be  done: reeducation, change in thinking, and change in society. These were some of the thoughts that came out of a seminar on family and media, sponsored by the Korean bishops. An article in the Peace Weekly gives us a brief account of the contents of the seminar.

One speaker said that half of the high school girls  have no thought about marriage, and children. Word  circulates that college girls will discuss family planning with their neighbors, not something we can easily laugh about. What is meant is they want to know how much money it will cost to have a child?  Parents need to show how important life is, and raise the children to find happiness, and we will see a change in the birthrate.

Children do not consider the grandparents as part of the family, and this is easy to see. Increase in longevity will see  four and five generations living together, and  require healthy mature parents to help educate  children for this reality. 

One of the  presenters, a commentator on our  popular culture,  shows the readers  how difficult it is to see a healthy adult life portrayed in TV dramas. Usually one out of  three dramas has a secret with a birth of a child, these embarrassing details makes  the life of the child difficult. We don't have dramas in which the tired, exhausted young people  show trust, and follow with  expectation  the example of the adults. 

She does  give an example of some programs that give a positive understanding of the lives of the elderly and she mentions how the drama received a popular response from all the viewers across all the  generations. She makes a plea for more of this type of drama which will bring change to the thinking of the viewers. 

Another presenter showed the importance of dialogue in the family. The professor talked about communication within the family, and the results from it. Communication allows for intimacy, self respect, and  raises the satisfaction of family life. This becomes the motivating force  for a healthy family life: listening, encouragement, reminisces-- basic elements of communication. He concludes his remarks hoping the many different kinds of families will begin using this kind of communication.   

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How Easy To Misunderstand


One of the diocesan bulletins has an article by a priest responsible for the pastoral work with families in the diocese. He lists five ways in which  couples fail to understand each other. Give and take  between husband and wife is distorted by serious misunderstandings.

"Francis has a cold and fever and is in bed. He asks his  wife to come home early from work to be with him. The wife answers that she has some important work to do and will not be able to leave work early.  Francis believes that Clara doesn't love him, for she  thinks nothing of his request. Francis thinks this will always be the case. Clara's deficiencies all come to his  attention. He has lived  with her for 20 years, and she doesn't understand his feelings. He will not be able to trust her, and is overcome with anger." 

He calls the first way of misunderstanding the catastrophic response: a great obstacle to communication. This happens when a simple word or action brings an extreme response. A spouse comes to an unjustified conclusion-feels attacked, hurt and angry.

A second misunderstanding is the black and white or all or nothing response. If it is not now it will never be. The words always and absolutely are often used. We have an inability to nuance what was said or see extenuating circumstances: not able to see the gray.

Tunnel vision is  seeing only one side of the issue, and usually the negative. One is prevented from seeing the larger picture, and the other's good points.

 Often one comes to a conclusion not warranted by the facts. One jumps to a conclusion with flimsy facts.

The fifth misunderstanding is to think the other  person is a mind reader and not bother to spend time discussing the issue. Not understanding we are  a failure at mind reading, we  give all the blame to the other. "Living with the person for 20 years is it necessary to  bring it up. I know what the answer will be." This kind of thinking is only going to make the problems more serious.

These misunderstandings are made with husband and wife in mind but often the same problems occur in our failure to  understand the other. We think it is the other person's fault  and fail to make the connections that would allow us to see our own responsibility for the lack of communication.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Internalizing the Gospel


View from the Ark of the Catholic Times, a priest columnist, tells us  about a  theological research  center run only by lay persons.  All theological subjects are treated but  the lay person's place in the Church is naturally a subject of study. One of the few in the  Catholic world.

Many of the movements in which lay people are involved, and we have many in Korea: Legion of Mary, Marriage Encounter, Cursillo etc. are made up of married members. Their spirituality, they falsely believe, as a married person, does not reach that of the clergy and religious, which leaves the laity with a feeling of inferiority.

Columnist mentions a priest writer who says in the West the numbers going to Church have decreased greatly, but those interested in spirituality have increased. People want a spiritual life but not a church, they are happy with questions and don't want answers, they want truth but not obedience. They are dreaming of the restoration of a new world of values.

He sees Korean Catholics in a completely opposite way. They want the Church but not spirituality;   answers not questions, liturgy not piety, obedience not truth, and he says this with sadness. They are not concerned with what is going on in the world but, to an extreme, only in what is happening in the family. There is not an appreciation of mission and social responsibility.

Clergy, religious and lay people need a mature spirituality to live a holy life. Not only to experience God but to enable us to go out to our brothers and sisters and to the world in which we live.

The theological research center in the diocese is not just educating but equipping their graduates to go out and work in society with the social gospel that they have learned and working with different groups. We see this in many other dioceses of the country. This is an answer to what the society to which we belong needs, and the Church needs to be prepared to offer it.

Even though there are many things we don't like about the direction the government is taking, we don't just complain without any Gospel reasons, and do something foolish. Instead we use what is happening to internalize the message, and come to an unified way of thinking about what we are called to do.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My God vs Our God


"I made our God into my God" are the first words of  an article in a diocesan bulletin by a TV writer.

When she was young she was a Sunday school teacher in her parish  community. A work she found extremely enjoyable and would not consider it anyway as a task.  Her attachment was like a person with a new car. Attachment  gave birth to selfishness and from there she said she became arrogant and wanted to do everything her way. When we get our way, she says, results are not always good. Leaving her teaching also came with a lot of pain. Looking back, numberless times, and reflecting on what happened,  she knows that it was her selfishness that brought about the unwanted results.

Whether it was fortunate or not she moved her parish register to another parish. She began anew with another community and got involved as a volunteer with a scripture study group. But here also she had problems. Here again under the mask of devotion,  her selfishness was quite different from those with whom she met.  She was intent in overcoming her fault but it disappeared only to appear in another guise, and to destroy everything she was trying to achieve. Unkind words were spread, and not intended, feelings of hate were past on to others and received, and she again removed herself from the  community.

The real problem,however, came following on this:  "I am a person that causes disorder in community!"  With this thought in mind  she felt it best  not to be part of the community which would be doing what God would want.  So from then on she quietly prayed, studied and went to Mass, and in doing so she felt closer to God than she did when she was part of the community.

However, with the help of grace she made the Cursillo and again experienced community. She realized at that time how foolish were her thoughts that she had  living the solitary life of faith. Fear you might sin, and consequently doing nothing is not what we are called to do. Far better is to be sorry for you faults, and continue to work to grow and mature.   

God does not want us to make him 'my God' but wants us to make him 'our God'.  Jesus has told us:  "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst" (Matt. 18:20).