Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Understanding the Alienated


The Catholic Peace Weekly in its All Sorts of Discussion Column by a psychologist of spirituality gives us possibly the reason he entered the field.         

It happened one winter when he was a seminary student. A priest and 14 seminarians sat tightly together in an old 15-seater van. They were going to visit a benefactor in the deep mountain area of Korea. They were all worn out on the long journey that took more than five hours. Fatigue peaked when driving on an unpaved mountain road after leaving the highways. It was like the "Disco Pang Pang" ride, found in Theme Parks. In addition, the smell of sweat gave the columnist motion sickness and a feeling of nausea. 

Physical discomfort, however, was nothing compared to cigarette smoke. He was the only one who didn't smoke in the van and felt he was on the verge of choking. Sitting in the middle because he was small-framed, he asked the student next to him to change seats because it was so stuffy and difficult to breathe. When he opened the window, a biting cold wind entered the van. Still, the bitter winter wind was much better than the cigarette smoke that gave him nausea. But the happiness was only brief, and soon had to shut the window because of the strong protests from the students. Thinking that this must be how a badger running away from smoke felt. 

Anger began to appear. Physically painful cigarette smoke wasn't the problem. He was hurt by the harsh and selfish behavior of colleagues who were not considerate of the one non-smoker. He was not happily tolerating the implicit message of his colleagues that he should be sacrificed for "the greatest happiness of the majority." Even at an early age, he was well aware that Catholic teachings did not follow the logic of utilitarianism. In Catholic social doctrine, the key point is that the "principle of common good" and the "principle of subsidiarity" do not require the sacrifice of the few for the benefit of the majority.

Finally, he plucked up the courage to ask the priest next to the driver's seat for help. "I'm sorry, Father, but it's so hard for me to breathe. Why don't you stop the car for a while and smoke outside?" There was a wish that the priest wouldn't ignore his appeal. But the priest's reply betrayed his faith and expectations. "If you don't like cigarette smoke that much, you can smoke too."

What in the world did he mean? He thought the priest would be on his side. He was disappointed because he felt that the shepherd was avoiding his responsibility. However, after reflecting on the priest's words in the van on the way back, he thought that it had a deep meaning. The priest wasn't telling him to smoke but asking him to accept before judging. He was being asked to understand and accept the current situation first rather than to judge which is right and wrong. 

Of course, he has never smoked since this incident. However, he did not deliberately avoid having conversations with those who were smoking. It was awkward at first for him to talk in groups drinking tea instead but it soon became natural. Besides, after that day he realized that he had received special grace. He began to see better who were those alienated in a community and began to feel with them. Maybe that's why he is now in the work of meeting those who feel alienated in society for one reason or another.

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