Thursday, May 19, 2011

Personal Experience Best Teacher

A professor at the Inchon Seminary recalls an injury to his ankle during a tennis tourney and writes about the experience in a  Catholic monthly. The day of the injury he felt no pain and gave the ankle little thought, but after 4 hours of teaching, the ankle was greatly swollen. He went to the nearest oriental medicine clinic for acupuncture treatment and was told he had stretched the ligament and it was now inflamed.

He was a big man, which aggravated the pain, and the use of crutches made his life very uncomfortable. Climbing the stairs to his third floor room caused him to sweat heavily. And because he was not able to go to the chapel for prayer and Mass nor to the refectory for meals, the kitchen staff had to bring the meals to his room. He blamed himself for the situation and for inconveniencing the whole community. This turned his attention to those who are handicapped and the problems they have in their daily lives.

The priest goes back to the time he applied to the seminary and was asked by the priest-interviewer why he wanted to be a priest. He was not ready for the question, and could only remember that, as a child, when the priest came to  the altar to say Mass he looked elegant, and that seemed to him all there was to it. But then he remembered reading a book about Damien, who took care of the Hansen diseased patients on Molokai Island and so he told the priest that he wanted to spend his life, like Damien, working for those who lived in difficult situations.

On his way home on the subway after the interview he couldn't forget the question and his answer. Did he answer truthfully or did he lie to improve his chances of getting into the seminary? What  really was the reason he wanted to be priest?

Whatever the answer to that question might be, he decided to live up to what he had told the priest during the interview. And all through the years in the seminary in Seoul he would use his free time to volunteer twice a week to work with the handicapped. He was a member of a seminary group that studied how to best help the handicapped. He learned the sign language for the deaf, and studied the development of children with mental problems. While many of his classmates would go to the movies or have a beer with friends on their free afternoons, he would be part of the volunteer group that spent their free time helping the handicapped.

Statistics show that by the end of 2009 Korea had  2,429,547 handicapped, an increase from the year 2000 of more than 153 percent. The physically disabled number 1,293,331; the mentally handicapped, 251,818; the  deaf, 245,801; and the  blind, 241,237. The total number of handicapped represent about 5 percent of the population; considering that we have an average family of 4 that means about 20 percent of the population are involved with the handicapped.

The professor, who now teaches the Social Gospel, ends his article by noting what the Church has to say about our relationship with the handicapped in society. All of us are in some way handicapped,  which should enable us to be empathetic to others. To love and be loved is the essence of the Social Gospel. There is no room for discriminating against anyone; those handicapped are to be treated like any other human being.  The professor admits he has more sympathy now for the handicapped, and can appreciate their  difficulties because of what he experienced.

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