Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Kind of World do we Desire?

In Matthew's gospel 16:13, Jesus asks his disciples: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" A priest writing for the Bible Life magazine from this question asks the readers: Who are we and what kind of world do we want to build? Religion gives us the answer to these two questions.

In John's gospel, he tells Mary Magdalen to tell the disciples: "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." We are all God's children. In Matt. 6:48, Jesus  raises our dignity: "You must, therefore, be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Buddhism and Confucianisms both have a similar teaching. They also have a spirituality. Everybody is of great value and possess dignity, a teaching of all religions. However, in our daily lives, we see discrimination and unfair treatment of others. We can't help but ask why this discrepancy from what we know to be true. This whole area of discussion is complicated but we have a responsibility to examine the reason for the ambiguity we face. Over 120 years ago both Buddhism and Confucianism were rebuked precisely on this point.

The writer mentions the English world traveler Isabella Bird Bishop who visited Korea in 1894 and in a period of 4 years traveled widely within the country and wrote Korea and Her Neighbors. In her book, she wrote: "In Korea, we have two classes, the plunderers and the plundered. The nobles and bureaucrats are vampires who have the license within society, four-fifths of the citizen are members of the lower class, commoners. The lower classes are to supply blood for the noble classes." According to this foreigner, the king and nobles divided society into higher and lower.  A peaceful mandate, which would maintain the status quo and their privileges, despite the harm to the greater society.

During this time Buddhism and Confucianism were inconsistent. Catholicism was busy building churches and looking down on the royal house from their high knolls. During this difficult time, there was one philosophy that was progressive and this was Tonghak. ( 'Eastern Learning' a nationalistic, syncretic religion that opposed Western culture and wanted social reform and the equality of all the citizens).

These were miserable times but many valued the presence of God within and if we accepted the presence of heaven within us we would have a brand new world order. Tonghak taught that we need to help one another whether one was wealthy or poor. When we have many doing this we will have heaven on earth. No reason for war and killings we can make a society without prejudice, without receiving or giving wounds, we will have a world of saints. We need not wait for a heaven after death but we will have it here on earth. These were the words of a leader of Tonghak to his daughter before being executed. 

The desire of putting the spirit of the Tonghak movement into the preamble of the new Korean constitution is heated. The leaders of the movement are praised and thanked for their efforts for independence and a new order: hundreds of thousands died for these ideas and a desire to give support to the movement  for their sacrifice to the nation. The first leader of the movement left four Chinese characters for his first disciple which asked him to fly high and far and spread the teaching of the movement.

The writer concluded the article asking the readers 
during the month of October, the mission month, to 
fly high and far to spread the goodness of God to the whole world.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

School For Love

One of the strange realities of life is the lack of education for the most important events in our lives. Catholics are required to attend a course of instructions before marriage but it's very short.   

In the Catholic Peace Weekly a woman who began a school in teaching about love, remembers that before her own marriage she spent only 4 hours in preparation and she believes it should be for a least a semester. Looking back on her own experience before marriage she decided to begin her school for communication and healing-- Love School. She is interviewed by a journalist for the paper.

The divorce rate continues to rise and even among the couples who have lived together for many years.  Divorce is not contemplated but many marriages are not happy. She had for 8 years given talks on marriage and met many married couples and was familiar with their concerns and concluded that if they were to love correctly they would have the solution to many of their difficulties. She spent time preparing the course and will begin this month.

How does one go about loving? Sweethearts, couples and family members can leave  scars in their encounter with the other. They express love for the other and at the same time, out of their mouth they spit out poisonous words. Isn't this because they have not learned what is happening in the encounter with the other? The reason for our writer to begin her school for communication and healing.

In the program, the participants will spend a great deal of time learning about themselves. Examine one's tendencies. How does one express what is going on inside, what are the feelings and how to express them and to practice how to make a request and say no. We need to know our hearts and bodies if we are to love.  'Love another as we love our self' but we understand this in our own way. For many, it calls for loving the other more than oneself. She maintains this is not loving but a sacrificial act.

The interviewer asked what did she think was the biggest problem between lovers. Thinking that they are loving was her answer. The male thinks it is by doing something for the loved one but the loved one has no desire for what was given. This is a common event between lovers. The female by talking feels she will achieve pleasing the other. Each fails to understand the other.

She was asked what did she believe was Jesus' understanding of love?  M.Scott Peck, in The Road Less, Traveled defined love thus: "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." She gives the example of not caring for a fish meal but eating it on occasions for the other. This extends me for the other. This is not forcing oneself but doing it willingly for the other and for one's personal  growth in virtue. This is what love is. Not using the other, controlling or using the other as an accessory for that is not love.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Let' s Have a Drink!

Korea is a society which encourages the drinking of liquor.  In a recent popular TV drama, the drinking to excess was romanticized in two consecutive episodes. In a preview for a drama, they had a caricature of drinking from a barrel for spring water filled with Soju (Korean liquor). They used famous young people as models. Beer is cool and Soju is smooth everybody can enjoy, are the methods to tempt the viewers. The mass media just shows the pleasure and delights of drinking with few of the dangers and the need for control.

An authority in the field begins his article in View from the Ark in the Catholic Times with the above words.  He reminds the readers that in the developed countries liquor comes with a warning. No well-known entertainers are used to push the products and all is done very simply by the display of liquor products. In the movies, you don't see scenes where you have conflict and the drinking to excess but only at banquets where it is done very naturally and without fanfare.

In our society it is different. Our young people are continually exposed to drinking scenes. 'I want the opportunity to drink like the entertainers.' 'When things are tough and spirits are low it's  time to drink.' ' Drinking to a point where losing control of yourself is romantic.' Our young people drinking is no longer considered misconduct. 75% of juveniles have experienced drinking and 25%  drink at least once or more a month.

When he meets a juvenile at the hospital because of drink he is baffled. They drink despite the efforts of  parents. When they meet the police officers they respond: "Don't all the adults drink? We have started a bit early is there any big difference?" The writer is disappointed that the schools and society are not  pro-active in trying to dissuade the young from drinking.

The brains of the young people are still being formed. Young people drinking causes a number of problems. They are not able to control their drinking. Usually an adult who drinks too much will be faced with drowsiness, headaches, nausea, and will stop but this is not the case in the young. In their brain the brake mechanism does not react. In one years time there are about 4000 acts of violence perpetrated by drink in the young. What is worse is that the young exposed to drink at an early age are 5 times more open to becoming alcoholics.

Once a person becomes an alcoholic the chances of change are difficult. Preventing the problem is much easier. Among the 30 nations of the OECD, the efforts made to control the abuse of alcohol-- Korea is near the bottom at 22nd place. The developed countries do not look upon the merriment that comes with alcohol as something good. Their culture sees restraint and carefulness as something to be attained.

In many countries the selling of alcohol and the  places where drinking is allowed are regulated. Advertising is regulated with strict guidelines. Adults  need to be concerned with the temptations that alcohol has for the young and take responsibility.

Pope Francis had these words for the young in one of his talks:"You are the makers, the craftsmen of the future, Go out and 'make noise' because where there are young people there must be noise. Be courageous,  and when people say 'have a little alcohol, take a bit of drug', No. Go against this civilization that is causing us so much harm."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Nobody Wants to Die

A radio performer writing in a diocesan bulletin gives us her thoughts on death. She does a lot of traveling and during her night trips which she takes often there is one person she remembers. He is the author of the well-known, The Little Prince--Antoine de Saint-Exupery. 

He studied architecture at the School of Fine Arts and became an aviator. In his bestseller The Little Prince, he did his own illustrations. The book quickly received the love of many in the different cultures of the world. His image was on the French 50 franc paper currency indicating the respect and love he received from the French people. In 1944 on a flight over the Mediterranean he disappeared.

When the writer was in her twenties she was sorry seeing that he died so young but since he mysteriously died similar to the way the Little Prince exited from the narrative she found this charming. Like the stars in a desert that keep on moving they both returned to the stars....

However, a few years later on a night trip to South Africa, her thinking changed. She no longer considered Saint-Exupery's death something beautiful but painful and lonely: leaving this world in deep darkness and alone.

She believes these thoughts on death come to her now because of age. She was talking to her friend about the blessings of death. Her friend is ready for death if it comes in her sleep. She is prepared for it now or if it comes in 10 years she will welcome death.

The writer, however, is not so open about the situation. We are all afraid of death. We all have to experience death for the first time and bribes don't work. Just a few weeks ago while in bed she had an excruciating headache that prompted her to even think of calling 119 (emergency telephone number). While in that condition she was overcome with drowsiness. She asks the readers if they could imagine what was going through her head at that time.

She didn't want to go to sleep for she feared that she would die in her sleep. She couldn't help but laugh at her thoughts. She hadn't written her will and wasn't ready to die. She got up the next morning with the sun and gratitude in her heart.

She remembers a French popular song from the 1980s: 'Tout le mond veut aller au ciel mais personne ne veut mourir."  Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.

Monday, September 18, 2017

'Me Alone' Society

A survey that was recently made shows that in the year 2025 we will have over 30 % of the citizens living alone. 'One member household', 'eating alone', 'individual economy', all new ways of expressing a new social reality. We moved from the extended family to the nuclear and now the living alone situation. A priest professor writes in the Kyeongyang magazine on this new reality. In his opinion not a temporary phase but a new cultural reality.

A broad definition of culture would be the mold for the life we live. Consequently, once we change the culture we have all kinds of confusion in society. Korea was a nation with the extended family and respect for the elderly, filial piety was a great value. We passed very quickly to the nuclear family and to the one person household: single life, divorce, the death of a spouse, either willingly or not we have independence and isolation for many different reasons.

Korea for over 500 years during the Joseon dynasty, outside of politics and economics, stability was present. These days we have the  philosophy of individualism spreading and taking hold in society.

Individualism challenges tradition, cultural practices, established structures, and religion, with contrary values. Heidegger, the German philosopher, called this losing your hometown. Now everyone does their own thing.

Individualism of the West has matured and is embedded in society. Korea without any preparation is made to face this new way of being and the results are selfishness and immaturity. Also, we have chaos in society and many find it hard to cope: develop mental and identity problems.

This new culture of aloneness is not within the monastery but in the life of the city. On the foundation of individualism, an absence of security,  technological advances in communication, development of women's issues and the like which become part of city life.

In Sweden 47 %  of the citizens live alone. In the capital Stockholm 60 % live alone. Individualism and independence have supported the culture. However, they live alone but form communities, recreate together, eat together, simply expressed they are authentic and altruistic and have a well-developed welfare network.

The individualism of the West is based on a Christian foundation and contains a respect for humanity, and a person's autonomy and a high degree of welfare for the citizens. Korea has a shamanistic underpinning and outside of the individual, a universal concept is not well developed. A universal concept allows for devotion and a high degree of altruism and concern for social welfare. A  'me alone' society is concerned for itself. Money and time are missing for the interacting with others. We are so busy with our own needs that it's difficult to be concerned with others. This is not true with those with money and leisure.

Across all strata of society, there is a need to work on  identity, confidence in one's dignity and to increase a person's autonomy. A sense of joy in life will work to increase our concern for welfare. Happiness comes when others are also happy. Hell is  isolation and heaven, solidarity with others. This is true for those living alone and those living with others.

'Me alone society' has to be cognizant of this otherwise we are heading for disaster and for the writer this will not be easily avoided.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Foreign Workers in Korea

Korea is no longer a homogeneous society and has come a long way from the days as the  hermit kingdom. In a article in a diocesan bulletin the writer reminds the readers that Korea has over two million migrants but has not acknowledged this reality. Stories of racial discrimination continue to appear in the news.

Since we have no laws protecting the immigrants, the children of Koreans married to immigrants and the migrant workers have a difficult life. Korea needs to understand the multicultural reality of society and begin adapting to it.

Korea is an aging and low birthrate country, consequently the need for  workers and the need for mates for their citizens which requires foreigners not only as workers but as spouses for many of  the country areas, making for a multicultural nation. Many see them as a necessary evil and do not accept them as helping to build up the nation.

Society needs to see the problems associated with the large numbers of  foreigners in society and understand the difficulties that the migrants have in adapting to Korean life: the lack of a sufficient knowledge of Korea makes for difficulty in relating and having a harmonious family life with the spouse and children. This often results in conflict over small issues and  the break down  of family life and divorce. 

The children within this family have difficulty in school and are often bullied and not accepted by their classmate. All making for future social problems.

Korea has also to deal with refugees. They have different kinds  of obstacles to face. Korea has one of the highest entry barriers for refugees and the numbers are few but the migrant worker problem is a different dimension. Korea needs workers who are willing to do the difficult, dangerous and dirty jobs that Korean are unwilling to do.

The country has not come to grips with the immigrant integration problems because the foreign born population is still small and temporary. More efforts are made to prepare foreigners with a basic knowledge of Korean and the culture. The migrant workers have helped the country to prosper and  some are  proposing  an increase of  foreign workers on a more permanent basis. A sign that we made see changes in the near future.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Reading" in Korean Catholic History

During the Jeoson Dynasty (1392-1897)  book reading was fostered. Wise kings would do much to  increase learning  and put the wise sayings and doings of the sages into print. The  government  would control everything.  Kings for the most part would  at least hold as an ideal the life of scholars. An article in the Catholic Peace Weekly on the subject written by a literary critic reminds us of this history.

Interestingly during the Jeoson Dynasty the king with his retainers would have something similar to a forum to discuss philosophical and political questions. This was considered very important and  looking back in history the  wise rulers were readers and would never miss a forum to discuss questions with their retainers. The ideology behind it  was Confucianism a religion of the book. Scholars did not just memorize the teaching in the texts but practiced in their lives what they learned. Through their reading they wanted to meet the wise men of the past: Confucius and Mencius

When Catholicism  entered Korea this was the culture they found. Yi Byeok (1754-1785) played a important role in the beginnings of the Roman Catholic community  of Korea. He on his own studied the teachings of the Church. He was absorbed in reading  books from China on western  learning. He was the person who convinced  Yi Seung heun,  Peter  (1756- 1801) to be baptized. On his return he brought many books and religious articles which helped spread the teaching in Korea.

In the reading of these books they became familiar with the teaching of the west and called what they were acquiring western learning rather than Catholicism. Because the historical times were very propitious to learning from books this made it easier for the spread of Catholicism. The way the ancient scholars and sages acquired knowledge in the past was the way that Catholicism spread.

What we describe as Lectio Divina  the reading and meditating on the Scriptures the scholars who were showing interest in Catholicism were reading the new books and putting what they were reading into practice and finding  change in their way of living.

The first printing house for the Scriptures came in to Korea from Japan in1886. The Daughters of St. Paul and the Benedictine press  started later, and we have the increase in the number of religious books published. He concludes his article by asking how much reading our we doing.? The number of those reading continues to decrease and he asks  the readers to imitate the early Christians and their love for reading.