Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Moment Never to be Erased

Every other week a dentist travels to the St. Joseph Clinic to help the homeless and the poor who need dental work. He writes about this voluntary service in a recent issue of the Korean Catholic Digest. Offering to help the poor did not come easy, he said. He felt ill-equipped to provide such care. His life was unexceptional, and a few years before, he had lost almost all of his possessions, which made him lose confidence in himself. How could he even attempt to help others, he asked himself, when he could not manage his own life.

He was also plagued by the question that kept coming to mind: How could all those who volunteer their services do it for free? He found it difficult to understand; he knew that even a charity hospital has difficulty providing free service. Thinking there must be an explanation, he checked out the clinic using the Internet. And while reading what he could find in other media, he learned of the death of the founder, who began the clinic in 1987. He was a well-known doctor with an exceptional personal history. He had given up his private practice, his possessions and even marriage, to work full-time at the clinic--helping the sick who could not afford to pay for medical treatment--until his death by cancer. He felt embarrassed by the negative thoughts he had about the clinic.

He soon offered his services to the clinic and was surprised to learn of the uncertainty that life holds for so many people who must live without financial security. Some of his patients were orphans from the very beginning of their lives; some because of sickness or accident were separated from their family; some because of the immorality of a spouse left home. Even eminent persons in their fields of endeavor, such as presidents of corporations in difficult straits, were forced to come to St. Joseph's or similar clinics. He would reflect, he said, on how circumstances could get so bad that we end up in such straits. He even wondered, at times, if he came to the clinic to help or to learn about life.

Working late one evening he heard the music from a Mass being celebrated in a room separated from his only by a folding partition.  Hearing the hymns being sung he said it felt as if he were somehow in heaven while working on his patient on earth.  

On one occasion, planning to operate on the socket  of a tooth of a patient who was not able to eat because of the pain, he noticed from the X-rays a tumor next to the tooth he would be working on. He removed the tumor and then worked on the socket of the tooth. Profuse bleeding soon filled the area of the mouth he was working on, which brought to mind past experiences that proved to be difficult, so with a heavy heart he checked all vital signs and continued the operation. At the same time, a Mass was beginning in the adjacent room. After the final suturing he had a desire to receive communion; all the worries now gone, he was at peace.

One of the dental assistants opened the folding partition, and he entered the room where Mass was taking place, approached the altar and received communion. The feeling he had at that moment, he said, has never been erased. 


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