Monday, August 4, 2014

On the Spot Experience

Many are the ways Christianity is criticized and its supposed flaws made known. Much of the criticism lacks understanding; some are justified, but one of the most damning and difficult to deal with would be the supposed  words of  Mahatma Gandhi: "I love Jesus but hate the Christians." He heard and saw the words and acts of the Christians, and they were not those of Jesus: they  looked down on the poor and discriminated, which he experienced in his own life.Those who have to do the dirty, dangerous and difficult tasks in society are our best critics. 

A priest writes in a bulletin for priests about his experience in working for one month in a factory.His parish priest gave permission during his last year in the seminary. He was short of stature and searching for work was difficult, seeing his small build, they  had no place for him, and finally, he ended up in the factory where his father worked. The experience was to be long lasting.

The first two days of work were no  problem but after a week, it began to take its toll; he came to the limits of his strength. His mother wanted him to quit, but he was determined to finish the month. It was not his desire to get to know the fellow workers of his father and his superiors, but he did. He was determined to see what was required of his father to support the family, and he felt deep sorrow for his father.  If it wasn't for the month, he would never have known what the father was doing in the workplace.

Looking  back on the one month he feels it was filled with grace. He experienced what his father did for over half a lifetime, his difficulties, the environment in which he worked and also at times experiencing personally the  exploitation in the workplace. At the end of the month on the bus to Seoul, he relaxed knowing it was all over.

He has participated in the work for fairness in the workplace and the rights of labor to unionize. Korea continues to be against regulations that hinder the business sector, which means they don't look with any joy on the workers unionizing.  One month as a worker was a great blessing. It is only those who have been sick who can sympathize with the sick those who know suffering who can feel with those suffering, those who are poor who can energize  the poor. This was the lesson learned from the one month.

We know that book learning, lectures and studies are important,  but there is nothing that can compare with on the spot experience. Korean bishops have gone to  fishing, farming, mining villages to learn about the  conditions these citizens have to live with. This has made their talks less abstract and bookish, and given them a better feel for the problems Korea faces.

One of the reasons we as Catholics are not as sympathetic to those who are having difficulty in making ends meet is that we have become a middle class Church. Many of those who are struggling are no longer at home within the household of faith, which will require more of us to identify more closely to those who are hurting in our society and to speak out. Without this understanding, we will lack the empathy needed to identify with the lowly in our society and make it more difficult to understand Jesus and his teaching.

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