Thursday, November 23, 2017

Bigger Churches and More Christians

In the last half of the 20th century, industrialization and democratization of Korea brought about a great increase of the number of Catholics. From 3% of the population to over 10% growth  needing the building of new churches and 5 new seminaries. It was a growth  rarely seen in the church and a reason for pride.

A priest writing for other priests in a pastoral bulletin asks his readers: Do we have a better way of life from the increase of the number of crosses on church buildings and the number of Christians in Korea? Are we happier society for the increase? You ask 10 people and you get the same answer: No, is the very natural response  to the question: no ifs, ands and buts.

Jesus' came into the world  to reform it.   He gave his life for the cause and we his followers are given the same mission of making this world one according to his will. Why then since we have an increase of twice to three times what it was,  we so called Christians have not made any difference in the world we see? We perceive no sign of change. Rather with the passage of time why do we feel more anxious, tired and  unhappy? Let us suppose that  the majority of the population  joined us would there be change? Seeing the results of the increase we have experienced our answer  wouldn't be yes.  Why?

The writer feels we have forgotten the responsibility we have as Christians. Often is heard the structures of the church are vertical, clericalism is rampant. Few are the members of the clergy who have reflected long and deep on the situation and are  concerned with the situation. Tearing down buildings, extending present buildings and building new buildings is what is important. The building of churches and the increase of believers has little to do with the evangilization of the world.

We do not want to misunderstand what the work of the community of faith is. Church is here to work for the establishment of  God's kingdom. The Church is not the kingdom but a means to bring the kingdom here to the world. When we are only interested in extending the church and fail to spread the message of the Gospel and absorbed in security and our own growth we become a business enterprise.

He concludes the article by reminding the readers that when we only think of building up the church making it larger and forget the mission of the church we forget the shabby looking  Jesus who stood before the sign of  authority and power of Pilate. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Crisis Within The Church, Violence Our Self Portrait

In the present community of faith, we see two extreme ways the church is seen. They both see a crisis and are concerned. A priest writer in a Bulletin for priests begins his article with these words.

A so-called conservative school sees the situation with a martyr's attitude: they face a stark reality and proceed to analyze  the situation. After the Second Vatican Council, the church was contaminated with disbelief, worldliness, and liberalism. It's their task to return to the time before the Council as a loyal remnant in the church.

The other school predicts that if we continue in our present ways the church will decline and cease to exist. What is necessary is for the true Christian to throw off the aging and frustrating system the Church is trapped in and modernize, become efficient and get the applause of society.

In these two extremes, there is a common element in that both of them see the other as the cause of the problems the church faces. The two camps with their strong fortress mentality both predicting the downfall of the church have in their logic no place for love but only condemnation, no concern for the other but judgment. Within these two camps, we have a narrowness of thinking, self-inflicted pain and attitudes that give birth to despair and the soil for violence.

This attitude does recognize that the church is made up of human beings and is limited in what it's able to do. Both these camps are violent in their activities towards the good people who believe that the Church from the time of the Apostles is being led by God and his Spirit.

Sarcasm is adrift in the Church and our self-portrait. This attitude hurts us and defeats without finding hope in our Lord. Medard Kehl SJ, a German theologian, has thought deeply about the challenges that face the church in the modern world and fights against them in his book: Where is the Church Going?  He asks those with closed minds and self-inflicted pessimism with the following proposal. " To grow in hope is not to strive only for results by all means and give people all that they desire. What we are about is  to be faithful in living our faith without vacillation of any kind."  In other words: faith for a Christian is doing what we are asked as natural and wholeheartedly, without looking around to others and wanting to hear applause. This will make us free and relieve us of many burdens. We are not always looking for immediate results from our efforts but at the same don't surrender. Efficiency is not our most important value.

In a changing world, negative conclusions about the situation faced by the church or obsession with survival follow from a lack of faith and deep reflection on the meaning of church. With the deep reflection, we begin to understand our being internally, externally and the truth. We come to a deeper understanding of the reality we are experiencing and a deeper level of hope.

In Korea, the candlelight processions did bring about visibly the desire of many of the citizens for a new start. At this point in history with all the conflict within and outside the community of faith, we need to reflect more deeply on the reason for the existence of the Church, the world, humanity and the light will come.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Church Needs to Challenge The Culture

Human consciousness depends on education, tradition, culture and belief system but it is not fixed, changes take place, we have growth and integration. A seminary professor begins his article in View from the Ark with these words on the Church's place in society.

Change produces resistance. A human being is biologically programmed to avoid pain and rest comfortably. Emotional stability is necessary to resolve both physical and inner conflicts to adapt to changes in an environment. If these changes match the views of the individual, pain is accepted, if not persons are disturbed, and problems with depression and suicides often follow.

The church is no exception. Looking at the 2000 year history of the church it has been on a journey of cultural adaptation and indigenization. In the spirit and culture of the times, it tries to understand its beliefs and make known what it has received and finds its identity.

After the Resurrection of Jesus, the early church was waiting for the return of Jesus and the end, testifying to their faith by martyrdom. After becoming the State Church of Rome with its freedom and power it began to preach the Gospel to the pagans and with its power build the earthly kingdom. People were subdued in the name of Jesus with violence and wrong judgments made.

However, the Church has undergone many changes, renewed and reformed. According to the promise of Jesus, the Church has been guided by the Holy Spirit to defeat the power of evil and proclaim the Gospel throughout the world. The Catholic Church dressed in the robes of Western civilization settled in Korea but was resented by the nation. It gave the hope of the Resurrection to the people. Believers found a new family in the church and shared hope and comfort and often witnessed to hope by a martyr's death.

There is a saying that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, At first we think that the sum of the parts make up the whole but when the individuals are gathered and form a community they are affected by the surrounding environment that influences the community in ways that were not present in the beginning. This is called the 'emergent property' principle also experienced by the Church. The gift of the Spirit that each individual receives is small but the spirit in the community would be greater than that of the individuals. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the level of guidance we believe is at a higher level than the social organizations of society.   

Often the mass media, the spirit of the age, the bias in society gives the citizens false and distorted values and brings harm into society. In the Church, however, believers receive the fellowship of other believers through the teaching of the faith and when the community becomes one they help defend the church and grow beyond their personal gifts and to the universal good.

Many criticize the church for not being any different from any other organizations in society and rightly so for the church is meant to be different. Gerhard Lohfink a German theologian makes clear that what is needed today is a church that is a contrast to the society we have. We are not a church to be successful in the ways of the world using the ways of the world with authoritarian power but with the teachings of Jesus. The moment authority becomes power we are no different than the world. If we lose the cross we lose everything. Is this not the lesson we  learned from history?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Young Christian Workers

Many years ago, a priest writing for a clerical bulletin, recalls a trip he made for a wedding Mass. He hailed a taxi whose driver seeing the clerical garb greeted him warmly telling him he also was Catholic and recounted his change of heart in recent years.

He was baptized as a child but did not take it too seriously. Recently, however, it all changed and he found great joy and meaning in everything he did as a member of the JOC.

(Young Christian Workers, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne in French) is a movement for young workers that began in France. The taxi driver was a member of this movement and his taxi became his altar where he offered up his daily work, greeting all graciously and supporting his family. He was living the lay apostolate as a taxi driver.

He mentions a women member of the JOC who left her office job to work in a factory. Pay was poor, the work difficult but she felt on a mission. She had more persons to show her love and concern. At Mass, she would associate with those who were in their work clothes and did much to increase the numbers in the JOC movement and give meaning to the life many were living. 

JOC was very active in most of the countries of the world but that is no longer the case. Society has changed and so has the membership in the movement. In Korea, it was very active but now there are just about 10 groups that are still meeting.

Young people are at the learning stage so we may ask how can they participate in the apostolate of the Church. Young peoples' world is different from that of the adults. They study, play and work together. A difficult place for adults to enter. Only the young can enter and influence the direction of life.The group meetings are not education from above with cramming but young people sharing with other young people about their lives.

Many of those who in adult age continue to work in the lay apostolate of the church have their beginnings in the JOC. They were formed in way that gave them confidence and a joy that comes with concern for others in making a better world,

In recent statistics that the priest has seen show that 50% percent of those asked feel that religion is not necessary for society. With the passage of time the numbers who have a negative feeling towards religion continue to rise, Many are the reasons for this but the bad example given by religious people is great.

More than one non-believing philosopher has mentioned that Christians work to increase their numbers but more than efforts to evangelize, living what they preached would be the best method of evangelization.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Korean Catholic Church's Present Address

Religious men and women leaders conducted a  seminar commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation held on Oct. 31, the day Martin Luther attached his grievances on the church door.

The Catholic Times in an editorial and article reported on the seminar's theme: "Where are you?" (Gen. 3.9). Agreed was the need to examine the years since the Reformation and determine what we have learned about communication and the way we come to decisions.

Briefly, the outline of the discussion was about the communication structures in the church. God's people can go to the Lord without getting lost when we have the proper communication structures within the church.

Five hundred years later what we can learn from the Reformation is that the Church's journey to the Kingdom of God, the community of faith, can not neglect for a moment the continual work of reflection and renewal. History shows us how we have been made God's community and we continue on this journey when we constantly renew ourselves, in line with the words of Jesus: Stay awake.

Difficult to see the Christian community today making efforts for reflection and renewal. We seem to pay more attention to external matters: number of believers, church buildings, money offerings, events and the like.  We are lost in external matters and forget what is important. We repeat the history of division brought about by the lack of communication that was present in the past and continues in the present. We don't know how to go about renewing ourselves.

We Christians, the children of God, have a duty to be awake,  pray and witness to the life of the Gospel, together. The influence of the world can easily shake the faith of the community and bring confusion and difficulty. That is why we have to be awake, examine and reflect on the calling we have received.

Clergy, religious and laity are all members of the Church and we need structures that allow an easy access to meeting and discussing the mission we have all received. Not only meeting to consult but also participate in the decision making.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Family Conversation

Kyeongyang magazine has an article on the keys for family dialogue by a layperson involved in diocesan pastoral work.  He has worked on programs for families for many years but reminds the readers that monks can't cut their own hair. Looking over his own conduct in the family many are his faults as a father and husband. During a family fight his wife often lets him hear:"A developer of family programs is that all that I can expect from you?"

Knowing the way and walking the way are two different realities. However, knowing what to do makes the doing a lot easier. Working on family relationships a question he often receives: What is the secret in family dialogue? He has listed them for the readers; gathered from his experience even though he's still a learner.

1) Talking begins with the eyes and not the mouth.

2) Speak with warmth in the voice. When the words expressed are kind, the ones returned will be warm and kind. When the words heard are not, responding  with warmth and kindness that is love.

3) Keep the words you speak and the ones you hear at a ratio of 50 to 50. Like in Ping Pong give and take should be the same. Monopolizing the conversation is bad but so is not speaking. In the family, others know what is in the heart in the degree it's made known. 

4) The reason for dialogue is to understand and to sympathize with what is spoken. We express our love with our words. Speaking is not to make everything come out the way the speaker wants.

5) Putting oneself in the other person's shoes.  But no matter how much we try we will never understand the other completely. Like the words of the  song: "I don't know even myself how can I know you."

6) Speak from the heart. Speak frankly, plainly,  gently and with few words. More important than speaking frankly and plainly is to speak gently. More than the truth spoken is the respect one has for the person speaking.

7) Don't compare to others. For Catholics to compare with Jesus and the Blessed Mother is an attack on the family. Speak only what is seen without comparisons.

8) Better to speak about what is desired than what is not: positive instead of negative.

9) Speaking with a smile.

10) Listen to all that the family member wants to say and not prevent them from speaking fully.

11)  Physical  contact with the person your speaking  is a help in being understood.

12) Honest agreement shown in response to what you hear that comes from the heart.

13)  Better than asking questions with a yes or no answer, ask open questions: What do you think about this etc.? 

14) When speaking agitated that is the end of dialogue.

15) Speak about dreams of the family members.

He concludes the article by reminding the readers this is for those reading the article. Expecting this to be the response of the family members, better to forget all that was said.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We Are Not Meant To Live Alone

A religious sister working in a diocesan pastoral  center for the prevention of suicides writes in the View from the Ark of the Catholic Times that we need others to live a full life. She mentions last month in a city of Korea a man 47 years old with a chronic kidney problem was found dead in his house and the police say he had been dead for a week and are still investigating.

In the same city on the same day in another house, an 81-year-old man, dead for a week, was found.  Five years before he was operated on and never really recovered. He lived alone and the police are investigating the reason for death and talking to the acquaintances of the bereaved.

This is not a rare occurrence. According to government statistics in 2011, 639 died alone, without any known relatives. In 2016, 1032 died alone, twice the previous figure. Loneliness and dying alone was seen as a problem of the poor, sick and old persons,  but that is no longer the case. Nowadays, the divorced, unemployed, and those facing financial ruin are found dying alone.

Last year in Seoul 162 died alone and 137 of them were men and 36% of them were in their 50s. The social network has broken down. Farming areas of the country still have a place for the aged and the welfare of the old is still a big concern. However, when the young or middle-aged are unemployed,  living alone, poor and where contact with others is limited, we have the dying alone situation occurring.

The situation is not limited only to those living alone. According to the OECD (Better Life Index), Koreans in comparison to other countries in the support they have in community is the next to last of the 38 countries in the OECD. To the question: When in difficulty do you have persons to go to? 75.8 % percent answered Yes. The average for the OECD was 88%. Two years early in Korea, it was 77% who answered yes.

One in four respondents said they had no one to ask for help and are not receiving any social or psychological support.

Many who feel the crisis of life and think about suicide do not want to burden their families with their pain and suffering.One can sympathize with their feelings but often their choice gives the family more pain.

Pope Francis in his visit to Korea in 2014 said in a meeting of religious leaders: "Life is a road we can't walk alone. We need each other we need to live in relationships with others." 

She closes with the hope that even though we are a burden to others, in need of help, we should ask for help. Our society benefits and coldness and loneliness will be greatly diminished.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Art of Dying: Art of LIving

According to the Church's liturgical calendar, we are now in the month of the Holy Souls, the last month of the liturgical calendar and late fall. A seminary professor reminisces for the readers in a diocesan bulletin on his visit to the cemetery for Mass and the thoughts that came to him walking as on a picnic viewing the grave sites. He thought of his own death and considered it 'practicing for death'.

Many ancient philosophers believed that it was proof of a true philosopher to spend time during life  'practicing for death'. From the time of Socrates and Plato in the Greek era to Marcus Aurelius and Seneca in the Roman era, reflecting on 'Practicing for Death' was the preeminent example of a philosophy of life.

For the ancient sages, the meditation on death was the 'ars moriendi' ( the art of dying) which was the way to prepare to live: 'ars vivendi' (art of living). This was the way to put our minds and souls in order to enjoy the gift of life, true happiness and to learn the way of correct living.

In the book Phaedo by Plato he talks about the death of his teacher Socrates: true philosophers spend their entire lives preparing for death and dying, so also with Socrates who welcomed death when the time came.

It is the practice of meditating on death that one has the correct perception of what life is all about and this was also the teaching of the wise in Christianity. 

Imitation of Christ, a book that was familiar to many from the middle ages to the present has some wise words on death. "Very soon your life here will end; consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. Today we live; tomorrow we die and are quickly forgotten. Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come! Therefore, in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much. It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow?" (1st Book chap. 23) 

Living life sincerely, fully and happily is preparing for death and being thankful for the gift of life. Thankful for what I was able to do and offer up all my failings and with empty hands to trust in the mercy of God with a transparency of soul.

The writer finishes the article with a mention of the Cantata #82  Ich Habe Genug, composed by J.S. Bach for the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mother:

"It is enough.

I have held the Savior, the hope of all peoples,

In the warm embrace of my arms.

It is enough."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Religion Can't Ignore the Pain of Citizens

On Oct. 26, 1909, at 9:30 am shots rang out at Harbin station in China. Ahn Jung-geun a member of the Korean freedom for peace and the fatherland army in Siberia and Manchuria, assassinated Ito Hirobumi of Japan. An article in the Catholic Times reviews the ways Korea views the history of the Japanese war of aggression in Asia.

Japanese occupation of Korea took over half the land away from Koreans occasioning the ruin of Korean farming and causing the exodus of 400,000 Koreans to migrate to Hawaii, Siberia and Manchuria. A Korean historian expressed this as: "when a Japanese house comes, five Korean houses leave." Japan dragged the young people into the war of aggression, into the cold mines and darkness.

In the Chinese Nanking Massacre Memorial, they show the killing of one person every 12 seconds in a dripping water exhibit. Young girls were forced into sexual slavery and if they refused would be killed cruelly. From December 13, 1937, the Holocaust killed  300,000 people in six weeks.

The Nanking Memorial shows in detail the times of tension and chaos. Of the many 'comfort women' serving the military in the area, 36 were Koreans, forced into sexual slavery. The atrocities of the war of aggression remain in the memory of many Asians. Nanking is called the great massacre and leaves one shuddering thinking about what transpired at that time.

Patriot Ahn at the age of thirty was moved by the cruelty shown by Japanese imperialism trampling the peace of the East which he could not ignore. Both as a Korean citizen and as a Christian he couldn't close his eyes to what was happening in Asia. "God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person but also the social relations existing between men" (Compendium of the Social Gospel #52).

While in the Lushun prison after the assassination, he asked the Parish Foreign Missionary priest Fr. Joseph Wilhelm to hear his confession. Bishop Mutel was the eighth bishop of Seoul and refused the request of Ahn considering him a terrorist but Fr. Wilhelm disobeyed and went to the prison and heard Ahn's confession.

Japanese authorities refused to return the body to the family and the bishop supported the decision. The change in people's opinion and the way the assassination is viewed now in the church and society is far different from what it was 100 years ago.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Real Friends Are Disappearing

Real friends are beginning to disappear is the topic of an article in the Kyeongyang magazine by a university psychology professor. He begins with the story of a student who was in the States studying for a doctorate at a time when a telephone call to Korea was expensive. Receiving his degree he was fortunate to find a teaching position at a small rural college but the loneliness was overwhelming. He missed Korea, acquaintances, and food. On the spur of the moment, he traveled for about an hour to buy a container of kimchi which he devoured with tears flowing freely.

In our present world, this situation may be hard to understand. SNS and the internet allow instant communication and all kinds of friends. The very definition of friend changes. Friends were not easily made; a lot of time was expended and according to the  French: like a good wine the longer the friendship the better. 

Thanks to SNS contacting friends is easy but at the same time making friends is no longer what it was. The ending of friendship is easily done on both ends. To keep the friendships going requires a lot of time the more friends the more time and a feeling the friendships are superficial.

Worse, is the time spent with those friends online the less time spent in the real world with those you are relating with offline. In the real world when a topic of discussion ends we have a period of silence until another topic is introduced with the smartphone this dynamic is not so readily experienced.

The writer mentions being in a restaurant when a family of three entered. They selected a table and the mother and daughter were busy with their smartphones and the father with his newspaper. Mother and daughter ate with the smartphones in their hands. After finishing the meal the father mentioned it was time to go but the daughter did not hear and continued sending a text message. The only words emitted during the meal was the ordering and the father reminding the family the meal was over. A family meal with the smartphone.

This scene is not so infrequent as we would like to believe. Lovers both sitting down at a table with their smartphones in their hands: personal interaction, place of contact in the here and now, has moved to another location.

Benefits from the smartphone are many. However, they will never replace the human contact with another person that we all need. Frequently we need to put the smartphone down and look straight into the warm eyes of another. It is there that we will be feeling the warmth of another person's heart and mind.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Wearied by too much Contact

A  college professor in an article in a diocesan bulletin asks the readers if they are familiar with a word that has only one vowel sound different from another word that means tedious, bored and weariness. The word he introduces to the readers is a new word that those in their twenties use meaning tired of relationships made on SNS. (권태기 and 관태기)

Relating on the social network the number of friends increase but intimacy is reduced. Of course, there are different symptoms and degrees of response. College students are concerned with many things: studies, working to increase specifications for future work and part-time work. Making friends on SNS is too time consuming.

Strange as it may seem many of those using the social network are faced with more anxiety, feel lonely and empty. Facebook or Twitter would impact some one way, Instagram in another way, the feelings are not always positive. Those they meet on the social network continue to increase but the superficiality of the encounter becomes boring, the heart to heart exchange between intimate friends is missing.

Humans are social animals is a phrase that begins to have less meaning. More time is spent eating alone, going to the movies alone, traveling alone for it is restful. Society is giving them less joy and a lot of weariness.

A flower stays in one place and spreads its roots underground and conveys its beauty but it doesn't do this alone but helped by the wind, rain and the sun's warmth.  

Young people may have been too anxious to relate with as many as possible and temporarily reached a surfeit. All that may be necessary is a rest from the busy world of SNS and a return to the normal world for a time. 

Korea is traditionally a collectivist society but this is changing especially among the young. Korea has one of the fastest growing single person household increases, helping the trend towards individualism. Still far from the west but the young are quickly closing the gap. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hidden Violence

Along the road, in the city, various signboards catch the eye. Around schools, it is not rare to see the phrase drug-like rice cakes, drug-like kimchi, drug-like pork. Of course, it is an effort to give the greatest value and to attract to what is being sold. 

Drugs are dangerous substances they destroy bodies and souls. Using the word drug repeatedly connected with food we eat daily desensitizes the young and old alike to the evil of drugs. A college professor in the Catholic Peace Weekly brings the subject of hidden violence in our daily expressions to the attention of the readers.

A lawyer on a broadcast news-program criticized politics using the phrase repeatedly: 'putting a knife in a person's back'. What does the phrase mean? Nothing to do with killing the person but to put a person into a corner or make problems for the person. Not something good to imagine. On the SNS to increase the number of clicks strong sexual suggestive descriptions are chosen conveying much with little.

A great deal of violence is contained in this language. Frequency of contact with these images makes the reality of the imagined all the more tangible. Familiarity doesn't necessarily make for correct  thinking or choice. If we do not have a critical view of the information we are given we can eventually think and act according to the information received.

A male penis appeared in a promotional sculpture made to announce a local government event. Explicit sexual descriptions are often reported in college festival sites. Dramatic expressions increase our emotions and effectively convey meaning in a short period of time. This can lead to a violent response. The virtue of modesty and sublimation in society has long disappeared. When wants and desires pass the level of reason we are approaching violence.

What we express with words or pictures is a reflection of our lives. Expressions of violence flow into our culture and daily living. Physical force is not the only way violence appears. We need to remember that symbolic expressions that we use and common ways of acting are often a cause of harm to our bodies and minds. We need time to reflect on what we see and hear, to discern the hidden violence in-bedded in what we are exposed to in the mass media.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Alcoholism And Hope

"Alcoholism is a disease cured only by death." Lament of many families who have members addicted to alcohol. View from the Ark column of the Catholic Times has an article on the issue by a person working with alcoholics.

After many years of hearing lies, frustration builds up and despair appears in the form of a pitiful scream. A hopeless disease gives birth to frustration. Alcoholism makes the life of the victim a mess, and brings depression and insecurity to the family. They can't blame each other leading to the break down of the family. Often the alcoholism is handed down to other members of the family.

Even the doctors who have tried to help the sick person have a feeling of failure. The sick persons, tears in their eyes, stopped drinking and leave the hospital and within a few months completely drunk return to the hospital and threaten the doctor. On occasion when a family member returns to report the death of the person the bewilderment of doctor is hard to imagine. In fact, the death brings the end to the addiction.... Efforts to help the alcoholic seems meaningless.

However, those who have achieved success and the doctors with one voice say there is hope with alcoholism. In a local Korean study 50 to 60% of those who have been treated in a hospital return to drinking within three months. Only 15 % stay off drink. Out of ten only 1 or 2 stay off drinking. Another study showed that 80% of those that stay away from drink for two years continue.

Those who are addicted to alcohol have a difficult  road to travel: " I consider my years as an alcoholic as a blessing." Words uttered by a middle-aged person who was freed from alcohol for the last two years. Before he became an alcoholic he was not a happy person. He worked hard and made a lot of money but was not able to handle the stress and no direction to his life.

When he hit bottom and started to change, his way of life changed giving new direction. Relationship with family and friends all changed for the better. If the drinking problem was not there he would not have changed and he would not have found the joy he now has.

Christians not only remember the failure, suffering, and death of Jesus but the new dawn the Resurrection. We need to overcome the momentary failures. As long as one does not despair there is hope.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

More Than Words

In the deep recesses of a mountain area of Korea, a little church stands out like a star. Three miles from the main road lined with wild pears and peach trees, you enter a small village of 30 houses. Fruit trees were planted by the community from which they make a drink they sell. The village leader is a 54-year-old Protestant minister. A daily newspaper recently had an article on the life of the minister which was recopied for a bulletin written for Catholic priests.

He dreamed of a missionary life in Africa and went to Australia for training where he stayed for 4 years. During this period instead of learning about mission life, he was exposed to conflict. Each was only interested in their own church and didn't care if the others existed or not. He wanted community and decided to return to Korea in 2002.

He went to this area to live and the community thought that he was going to be working with the handicapped and even tried to stop him from entering the village in his car. He asked for a village meeting. At the meeting the village leader made him promise not to visit the houses asking them to believe in Jesus. He promised and meant it. He would not speak about Jesus and  do only what Jesus wanted.

Since he was the youngest in the village he was the one they asked to solve their problems and he took care of the odd jobs of the community. He was addressed like everybody else, no titles.

Although he didn't build any church the thought didn't quickly disappear. The community was still abusing him and believed he would eventually show his true intentions.

He and his wife were busy living the Christian life in the village and one day one of the villagers asked: "Who is cleaning the road of the rocks? Another villager responded: "Who in the villager would be doing this kind of drudgery?" From that time the abuse stopped and instead praise. They made him the village leader unanimously. He was busy.

During the New Year's Celebrations, they put a pig's head, steamed rice-cakes, pollack, and fruits on the road and had a welcoming sacrifice for the New Year. They called the village head to be present. They asked him to represent them in prayer. In that desolate country place: "Sun, moon, stars all created things that God has made, we thank you"  these words resonated loud and clear. All the grandmothers and grandfathers answered with 'Amen'. It was hard to believe.

At the seventieth birthday of one of the grandfathers who had a little too much to drink suggested that since we work during the day it would be nice in the evening to get together to pray and sing hymns. He was the first to be baptized. The church began with him 8 years ago. Four years later the village leader who called him a Jesus freak was baptized and today of the 45 villagers half come out to the church and on the feasts of Easter and Thanksgiving all attend the church service.

The church has some peculiarities: no tithing, there is only one service on Sundays, in the afternoon work of service for others.  

He often hears a  fisher needs to go to a place where there are a lot of fish. He is happy to light a little spark in his part of the world. He feels people are not happy because they do not have intimate personal relationships in the society in which they live. He has found happiness with the villagers and together with nature in a close relationship doing God's work, how could he not be happy!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Rationality of Common Sense

In human society, important factors are the common feelings and skills to communicate and build friendships. This common feeling often means common sense. A seminary professor in the Catholic Times begins his article in View from the Ark with these words on 'Rationality of Common Sense and Reason, and the Art of Consensus'.

Presently in society, we see much that doesn't make sense. Parents abandon their children so they can live alone, children kill their parents for failure to help them, using friendship to deceive another, lovers who fall out of love threaten and kill, blacklisting people with whom you don't agree to secretly push them out of society, buying people with money to do your will. These things, of course, have always been present in society, the mass media, the social network, and the smartphones have possibly just made it easier to access what is happening.

It's important to remember that much that determines common sense is not rational but public opinion, manipulated statistics and news and gossip. We have different ideologies pushed, refusal to dialogue, unconditionally criticizing others irrationally, makes a society that's not interested in common sense.

The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, emphasized that when we work searching for consensus and freed from ideologies we have a community that allows free discussion and rational dialogue. He believes that when you have an honest dialogue between persons who are equal and trust each other consensus can be reached without this thinking we have only violence.

Last year, society's common sense and through reasonable examination of the hidden long-standing irregularities and inconsistencies a change took place. "Righteous anger" was expressed peacefully as we learned the truth that was disguised and concealed. Coming up against the lies of long-held power we experienced what true freedom, justice, and peace were. Habermas's common sense and rational dialogue help us in the first step to solve the problems present with different opinions and values with constant dialogue and discussion.

According to the Samsung Economic Research Institute, Korea spends 27% of GDP per capita on conflict cost. Conflict is a part of every society but efforts are necessary to resolve them and they are not attained overnight. They must begin with the individual person. It begins in the family, the attitude of the parents and the children. Listen carefully to each other and from where each is coming. We learn perseverance, respect, and skills of persuasion, and  learn to communicate to coexist.

The Church needs the same skills. For the Christian, this should be more vital and important. If we as a Church are not open to dialogue, communication, fellowship, and common sense it's a sign we will have  problems in dealing with some long-standing evils.This is what Martin Luther was speaking about 500 years ago through the Reformation for renewal something we need to remember.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Human Rights Issue

Recently in Korea, there has been a controversy over harmful effects of women's sanitary napkins. A college professor writes a column for the Catholic Peace Weekly about the problem and mentions that chemical products and electronic devices have some undesirable effects and since we can't return to primitive life, it's not possible to eliminate all the harmful elements living in modern times.

Sanitary napkins, however, should be looked at from a different perspective. It is used from girls in their teens to middle age. There are differences but it is not like scrap paper which we use and throw away. Women use the sanitary napkins two days to one week during the menstrual period and it is dangerous that they have not been tested for toxicity before sold in the market.

Women's groups have called for proper inspection and announcement of results. Of course, it is not an easy matter to determine the degree of harm that comes with the contact with the skin of these substances. The whole issue is not one easily understood. She hopes that this incident will help us to be more sensitive on the harm that may be caused.

However, this sanitary napkin problem is not only a consumer problem but a women's human rights issue. There are many concerns about the substances that come into contact with the skin.

One step beyond this is concern for the harmfulness of the contraceptive pill that women take directly and is not properly tested. In the case with emergency contraceptives, the so-called morning-after pill,  which contains high levels of hormones is a dangerous drug. The fact that there is no such discussion on the hormonal contraceptive pill is a violation of the human rights of women.

Compared to the sanitary napkins the risks from the contraceptive pill are so serious that they are unimaginable. In Korea, it is tragic that the only information they have received is from the advertising of the pharmaceutical companies. Does the birth control pill really make our bodies beautiful and the life beautiful like the advertising says?

A society that respects women has an obligation to provide proper information to women. And women should assert their rights. This is our right to a healthy life. Not only sanitary napkins but also the risks of taking contraceptives should be a human rights issue. It's a violation of their rights to recommend a hormone preparation to a woman without any tests of the harmfulness.

Without taking the proper steps to guarantee the safety of the drugs used is this not an example of discrimination towards women when they are told to eat dangerous birth control pills?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Frauds in Religion

In Korea recently mass media has carried the stories of religious people involved in con schemes. This upsets the religious people in society and a question to the Catholic Peace Weekly on the feelings of a reader when he hears these stories and wonders about his own faith life when those who are leaders in religion show this kind of behavior.

The columnist begins by telling the reader that one mud fish can easily muddy the water. Crooks are present in religion as in all the other areas of life. Moreover, in religion it's actually easier to con a person for the victims are more open to believing the person is speaking the truth. In many other fields persons are quick to doubt but religious people when they encounter priests, ministers or Buddhist monks are ready and conditioned to believe, making religion an easy place to deceive people.

Since a con person is asking for money it is rather easy to determine and distinguish the motive but since they are clever even when they succeed their followers don't quickly decrease in numbers. We have a number of ways in which they do their deception.

The defense mechanism they often use is speaking in a way that is just opposite to what they are truly about: reaction formation. An example would be speaking about justice and the poor and acting contrarily. Love for the poor is a natural trait of a religious person and when this is done to an extreme one's antennas go up.

When justice and welfare and the like are overly stressed there may be a search for material things and honors. People have difficulty criticizing  their actions. Externally they are just persons showing an interest in the welfare of the poor and this image is not easily attacked.

The second category are those who use treats in their approach. You feel their energy when they approach you. This is seen in the new religious groups but also in the traditional  groups, where prayers are asked to a degree that is beyond a persons possibility and asking for donations and  thanksgiving gifts.

In this case believers find it difficult to reject for they are afraid that something will happen if they refuse a person who is doing so much good. These persons know the weak points of the common person and manipulate  their anxieties  for their benefit. They make threatening prophesies about the family and the souls of the dead because of their sins and  push people into a neurotic state.

They are not the object of rejection but of respect because people think that rejecting them they are rejecting God. In conclusion  he recommends what to do to avoid being caught in a religious fraud. We need to be mature Christians and know the teachings of the Lord. When you have a integral understanding of the Gospels and their flow you will feel an instinctive rejection of the behavior of these con artists.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Problems in Community

A university professor writing in a diocesan bulletin recalls a meal he had with an old classmate from high school he hadn't seen for some time.

Friend 1: Did you have a dinner engagement yesterday? You look tired.

Friend 2: I guess I drank too much liquor.

Friend 1: You are too caught up in drinking. You need to cut back.

Friend 2: I really don't enjoy drinking.

Friend 1: Why are you then always the last to leave a group?

Friend 2:  It's not because I enjoy the booze.

The friend opened up to his companion. " Over the years I noticed that when a person leaves the group we begin talking about the faults of the person who left. We were all enjoying each others' company, laughing and praising each other but once a person leaves it all changes.... I am afraid the same thing will happen to me so I stay around to the end and  drink."

His friend was surprised at the remarks. In his group when a person gets up and leaves it's just the opposite, everyone has some nice words to say about the person who left.

The professor was always envious of his friend for all the bonuses that he received in his place of work. Hearing the words of his friend he was thankful for the environment in which he was working. In his environment when a person is not there the words are always kind which is a bonus that can't be exchanged for money.

In many cases, the reason a person doesn't enjoy the company in his  place of work, in the group he belongs, or in meetings is he doesn't experience any bonuses from the encounter. Is this not the reason to avoid future contacts when possible?

Isn't this the case also in our church community? What a blessing to be a member of a community without any backbiting. A person when he leaves is missed, and when we enjoy the encounter to the very end.

We are all very sensitive to hurts and enjoy being well thought of and the hurts that we have in community living make for some challenges. We are all a little broken with faults that can develop into conflicts with others. Empathy and compassion and a good portion of humility will allow us to accept the difficulties and to work for reconciliation and peace.

"Treat everybody with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor. Do not allow yourself to become self-satisfied.  Never repay evil with evil but let everyone see that you are interested only in the highest ideals" Romans 12:16.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Desires of Clergy and Laity in one Diocese

One of the dioceses in Korea recently finished evaluating a  questionnaire that was sent to 140 parishes as work on their synod continued. Participants were divided into three groups: (A)  believers' awareness, (B) (tepid) nonpracticing Catholics, (C) examination of parish life. An overall conclusion of the diocesan family was a desire for change in the way religious life was lived. Catholic Times Weekly gave much space to the results of the questionnaire.

The feeling of belonging and satisfaction within Catholicism was high, however, interest in diocesan plans and parish life was relatively low. Concern for this world's goods was more important than religious concerns and personal concerns over community interests.This was also the condition found in other religious groups, an area where the Catholic Church of Korea needs to work.

Although parishes have shown concern for evangelization the believers are passive. Pastoral workers have not shown an interest in getting the laypeople involved in the concerns of the parish. Priests among themselves have shown a high degree of communication but this has not been extended to the laity.

Interest in small community meetings in the parish is present but the young show no interest. Other age groups are more concerned with fellowship than with religious concerns, and a sense of obligation is the motivation of many.

Priests and the lay people were asked what they wanted the diocese and the parishes to do. The priests thought the most important issue for the diocese was the renewal of priests 25%, education of the parishioners 24%, concern for the tepid 14%, establish a vision for the diocese. The laity were concerned mostly with the tepid 45%, educational programs 17%, priests' renewal 8%, programs for the young 7%.

On the parish level: priests wanted renewal programs for the laity 25%, interest in the youth 26%, concern for those who have left the community 17%, training of volunteers for service 14%. The Laity considered work with the tepid important 27%, liturgical education 14%,  evangelization 14%, education for service 14%.

Laity's areas of concern was lack of interest in parish life 23%, lack of community concern 20%, separation of faith life and daily living 19% and a mature religious life 13%.

Desires of the laity in regards to the clergy: to see a humble clergy who would listen to what others had to say to the very end 37%.  Living a simple life and not concerned with material goods and careful with Church funds 16%. Not to come across as self-righteous and to work together with the laity in the running of the parish 11 % and priests who prayed 10%.

Monday, October 16, 2017

New Program for Catechumenates

The Catholic Pastoral Institute of Korea has made a study of the catechumenate in our parishes and have made some suggestions for change. The Catholic Times and Peace Weekly had articles on the study and a list of areas for change. They have studied the Protestant and a diocese in the States to help in the evaluation of the situation present in Korea.

The reason for the study is to help prevent the falling away of the believers after baptism. In a survey that was made 73.9% of the baptized did not have any experience of religious life during the period of study. The problems that were uncovered were five in number. The most serious were the lack of experience of prayer and the spiritual life. It was all in the head. 

During the catechumenate, the time needs to be spent not only in teaching doctrine and transmitting information but a time to begin an encounter with Jesus and begin the journey of faith. What we learn during the period of study should help us to experience the spiritual life and find joy and hope in the way we live our lives. Many have never moved from the head to the heart and experienced the joy of the Gospel.  A  reason why so many leave after baptism,

A program of study needs to include teaching, fellowship, worship, and service. They have become familiar in their Greek original expressions: Didache, Koinonia, Liturgia, and Diakonia. All four need to be considered and experienced during the period of the catechumenate.

Stressed was the programs after baptism a period called Mystagogy where the newly baptized reflect on their new life as Christians and continue to learn about the Scriptures and the Sacraments and how they will help in the Church's mission and experience their place in the community of faith.

Mentioned also how often godparents of the newly baptized are not taken seriously. They need to be with the newly baptized and help them along the new path they have decided to follow as a disciple of Jesus.

Most of the catechumenates last for about 6 months, 56%. 35% go from 8 to 10 months only about 2% go for a year. 102 parishes were surveyed and 1400 teachers and catechumens were questioned. The number of those baptized continue to decrease and the tepid continue to increase. The hope of this study is to see a change for the better in the future.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Overcoming Crisis with Hope

Office of statistics recently published their figures for the number of suicides for the year 2016. Numbers for teenagers has been dropping from 2011 but the  2016 statistics show an increase from the previous year from 4.2  persons per 100,000 to 4.9. All the other age groups except for the teens and those in the twenties showed a decrease.

A religious sister in charge of a center for the prevention of suicides writes about the issue in the Catholic Times for this week. She mentions that those who have studied the issue see the problem emerging because of a large number of young people out of work, the break up of families, and the lack of hope in the future.

Internet and dramas on TV have contents that incite this kind of thinking. Studies bring stress, no longer do they believe that with success in their studies they are guaranteed a good job and a good life. The dream is disappearing and they are  faced with big challenges for the future.

Problems arise for the young since they are maturing, they are not adults and do not have the experience to accept the negativity in their life and the strength and knowledge to overcome what they face. They do not find it easy to rationalize and intellectualize what they encounter and can easily blame themselves for the situation they face.

Whether this is coming from others or oneself they have difficulty facing the situation and the stress urges them on to end it all. She has interviewed many adults at the center and not a few when they were in their teens contemplated suicide. This is reason enough to work in the prevention of suicide among our young people.

The ranking of the Korean youth in comparison to other countries in the OECD on the level of happiness is at the bottom. They have been there for the last 6 years but also ranked high for  violence in the home, and both physical and emotional abuse. This is often expressed with others and can turn towards oneself and suicide.

Adults need to see the potential and possibilities of our young people and not be quick to evaluate and condemn them. They need to be respected and helped to find themselves. Adults need to empathize and  help them find their dreams.

She ends her article with a few lines of a poem by a Korean poet:"I have failed, misfortune was present but again I go toward hope for in me there are still flowers that have yet to blossom. I have worked to give bloom to the flowers that others wanted and neglected the flowers that I wanted and are  still waiting to bloom" (Literal translating of meaning).

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Education of the Whole Person

A few years ago a high school student left a note for his mother just before he jumped to his death from a high-rise apartment. The note was only a few words: "I did it." He succeeded getting the grades his mother desired and ended his life. 

Success and competition as a standard have put Korea at the bottom in ranking for happiness and high in the number of youthful suicides. A teacher and authority in the field of education gives the readers her ideas for the education of the whole person in an article in the Kyeongyang magazine.

Whole person education is a topic whose sphere is immense. However, there is a loud cry to center it on the virtue of empathy. It includes understanding another person's situation, sympathizing and going beyond to empathy.  Responding correctly to the situation with sentiments that will enable a heart to heart meeting with the other.

Surprisingly the ability to empathize with another is not that common. Gender, environment, genes all influence our actions and often fosters quarreling and conflict. Living within a community without resolving these problems we will not find happiness.

The differences between us and the other is a reality we have to acknowledge if empathy is to enter. The pivotal point is how to overcome the differences. 

There are programs used in different countries at present and the Canadian experience was mentioned where a kindergarten teacher has worked with nurturing empathy among children with the results that after a year even the frailest of the children were not exposed to aggression or any type of serious bullying. These programs are being spread to many parts of the world.

Need to understand we are beginning from different values and moral points of view. By discussion, communication we can narrow the differences. This is done with words. With verbal and nonverbal means  we can succeed in interacting with one another.

Secondly, there are those who with words can communicate with another. They have read a lot, experienced much, and have feelings that are common to many. A person that gets along with others has a wide field of understanding and is able to express this in his dealings with others. This requires reading and experience.

Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is vertical while empathy is horizontal. It's walking in the shoes of the other and wanting to experience what the other experiences.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Habits Determine Our Future

"Don't live so fast!" The priest writer remembers these words of a shopkeeper on a visit to a market with his mother when he was a seminarian. On the way home, with a smile on her face: "The stranger seeing my son for the first time, sized you up correctly didn't he?" With these words, a seminary rector gives us a meditation on habit written up in Bible Life magazine.

Impetuosity was one of his faults. From a young age, he always found it difficult to patiently work on anything for any period of time. A habit that influenced his life negatively and he wanted to gain control.

He looked for tangled messes of thread and patiently unraveled them. Did this cure his impetuosity? No, it continued to be present but working with tangled messes, he was able to tame his old friend.

We should never underestimate the power of habit. On television, he recalls a program using hidden cameras that followed some performers during a whole day picking out their good and bad habits. The cameras highlighted: habits of eating salty and spiced foods, eating fast, drinking liquor at night, missing eating time, exercise, breathing deeply, and their way of sitting. We are ruled by our habits.

A habit found at three will go to eighty. A Korean proverb which shows that children under three are not conscious of themselves but this changes. Scary is the knowledge that the habits we pick up at that age will last a lifetime.

From Latin, we have the word 'fortune and virtue'. Fortune is good luck, experienced without preparation, while virtue is the selection of the good with deliberate practice and repetition, a continual choice that becomes a virtue.

Evil acts, whether it is today or tomorrow we don't know, the results will not be good. Like the evil acts, good acts that are repeated countless times will become part of who we are.

At a meeting, the writer mentions they were talking about the healthy teeth of an older  gentlemen. In the conversation that followed the gentleman gave his secret which very simply was to brush your teeth with devotion 3 times a day. Doesn't seem a very serious secret method but after some thought, he did agree.

My habits will determine my future. Not only physical health habits but also spiritual health habits. The habits of prayer, thanksgiving will make the future one of hope. Do our spiritual health habits have the same weight as brushing our teeth? They should.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Serious Reflection Needed In Choosing

When priests make their opinion known on the pros and cons of specific government policies some of the believers feel the priests are getting involved in politics and criticize them. Writing in the Catholic Peace Weekly a lay staff member of the newspaper mentions that he also gets questions on the issue from the readers.

He answers: "It would be a problem if the priests were to make political statements or take a political position. But I don't think it is right to oppose the remarks as political if it is a statement for the common good and social justice."

It's clearly a problem when priests support a certain political party but reasonable to expect a priest to make clear the Church's teachings on various political, economic and social issues to help people make right choices. Of course, judging and deciding is the conscientious choice of the believers.

How many political parties meet the ideal values that the church teaches? "It is difficult for the concerns of the Christian faith to be adequately met in one sole political entity; to claim that one party or political coalition responds completely to the demands of faith or of Christian life would give rise to dangerous errors. Christians cannot find one party that fully corresponds to the ethical demands arising from faith and from membership in the Church. Their adherence to a political alliance will never be ideological but always critical; in this way, the party and its political platform will be prompted to be ever more conscientious in attaining the true common good, including the spiritual end of the human person" (Compendium of the Social Doctrine #573).

Change of government started five months ago and still has a high approval rating with the citizens in its efforts for reform and getting rid of corruption. Many citizens approve but there are those  with expectations who are concerned and waiting to see.

Our columnist doesn't like the direction the government is going and is concerned. Seven high-ranking candidates failed to be confirmed for government positions. The thinking among many in government says those appointed must have the right national philosophy.

The problem is that with this sharing of the national philosophy those who have helped give birth to the new regime are preferred over those with expertise in their field, competence, and morality. If the help the candidate gave the party is more important than qualifications for the job then the columnist feels we are just bringing more corruption into the system and asking for trouble.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Will it be Empathy or Discrimination ?

The American futurist Jeremy Rifkin, in his book "The Age of Empathy" reminds us: 'Humans are basically a sympathetic species' recalling the history of humanity's  loss of empathy in the civilization of competition and exclusivity. We need a new paradigm of empathy and networking that we have lost and need to regain. So begins an article by a seminary professor in the Catholic Times.

Empathy is not merely sympathizing with another, understanding with the mind another's feelings and situation. Rather it is to participate and share in the feelings and to want to become one in the experience of the other. He personally has come to use the word often and realized that in the last century humanity experienced exclusion, conflict and selfish greed making it difficult to practice living together with others harmoniously.

In the past, the traditional society rejected values and ways of life that were not passed down. Modern society does not reject the different and what one considers error but wants to engage with the other in dialog and cooperation.

This new spirit of empathy in society has a great effect on the sense of faith of the believers living in the community of faith. Our journey of faith is different, we have a sense of sin, suffering, love and hate, wounds inflicted and conscious of the world's deception in moving us towards death: determined to seek freedom, peace, joy, holiness which is no different from others.

Our spiritual senses, in daily life, naturally go in search of what feels good, doing what is beneficial is done repeatedly and becomes second nature, a virtuous act. Helps me make the right decision in life and reinforces my intuition and makes it grow.

Isn't this what happens with those who read the Scriptures, attend the liturgy with joy, and enjoy praying alone? They will take the difficult tasks in the parish, spend time with the community, look for ways of being of service. This is because they are at peace internally and experience joy in their life.

Not all believers, however, express this sense of faith. There are  those who do not go along with the expression of the faith of others and prefer to discriminate instead of empathizing."I am different from them," individuality and interest become predominant and in community, complaints become commonplace. It's not easy to accept differences whether from a feeling of superiority or inferiority.

In society, we have the explosion of conflict on the international scene instead of a desire for coexistence with dialogue and consensus. What is true in society is also found within the church community. We are a spiritual community led by the Holy Spirit if we are to be a sign of joy to the world then in our Christian communities we need to develop a spirit of sympathy and cooperation. 

A mature community needs to develop and to experience this life of faith if we are to be a leaven in society. Is this not what Pope Francis wants to see in our communities, where God's people testify to the gospel and become a community of communication and fellowship and light and salt to the world?