Being the vice president of Mission, Ethics, and Spirituality at Covenant Health, people might incorrectly assume that Gordon Self, our May Sophia Talks guest speaker, hadn’t experienced adversity or internal struggles in his life.
With the help of strangers, he survived a drug addiction that dates back to his teenage years in the 1970s, and experienced moments of compassion in his life that led to his career in healthcare.
The pursuit of dirty-foot-washing compassion is something all Catholics are called to. “To get down from our mount, and out from behind our professionalism, and being exposed to real risk – this is what characterizes the work of true social justice,” Self emphasized. “Not disposal sympathy or left over generosity, but real compassion.”
The Covenant Health VP added: “As they say in Day One of chaplaincy school, it’s OK to cry, but don’t cry louder than the patient. There’s enough angry people in the world without yet another bitter, resentful advocate, which can easily happen when we’re not tempering social justice with compassion, attentive to the needs of all.”
It was an experience he had as a teenager in the 1970s that nudged him down the desire to help others.
Back then, he was a Manitoba native travelling the Maritimes and struggling with a drug addiction. He was treated with compassion by a woman he met on a ferry to New Brunswick, and was later welcomed into the home of a Catholic family in Moncton after hitchhiking.
Once he returned to Manitoba, he was determined to reciprocate the compassion he received in the Maritimes, so he befriended a Vietnamese family who had recently arrived in Winnipeg during the Boat People crisis.
“I may have helped them, but they saved me,” Self said. “What could have easily been two tragic outcomes – victims of pirates on the high seas or drug dealers in seedy downtown hotels – God’s Grace had that we were both able to help each other find a way forward, and to flourish.”
His full speech can be viewed in the video above.