Originally printed in 2005 in Washington DC:
CALLED TO BE BLESSINGS, by Theresa Lindner
Did you hear the one about the four men who lowered their handicapped friend through the roof to Jesus who was preaching God’s Word below?
We find this inspiring story of a service being made handicapped accessible in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus was preaching in a house, and a crowd gathered outside so thick that there was no way this paralyzed man could gain access to Christ. So the man’s friends carried him up to the roof, tore a hole in it, and lowered him down to Jesus below. Their tenacious commitment to their friend, and their determination to gain him access, moved Jesus to care for the paralytic man (Mark 2:5).
Since my 8 year old son became ill two years ago with a progressive neurological disease, my family and I have learned a lot about accessibility, inclusion, and barriers. There are barriers of stone, prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding. Physical barriers such as a flight of stairs or a curb can keep a wheelchair-bound person from entering a building or participating in a church service. But attitudinal barriers deny a person access to the community of the heart and soul. The good and faithful servants of Blessed Sacrament have sought to integrate persons with differences into every aspect of Church and Sacramental life, and have reached out to all saying, “You belong”. The Catholic Church teaches us through St. Paul that “though we are many we are one body in Christ, and individually we are all members of one another.” Blessed Sacrament has re-configured the church, re-imagined how to do Liturgy and the Sacraments, and re-shaped the role each person plays as a member of the Body. But still too many of our disabled and sick brothers and sisters and their families remain at home on Sunday mornings. Recent census figures show that about 1 in 5 Americans have some kind of disability, and 1 in 10 have a severe disability. There are millions of Catholics living in the United States with a disability, and yet if we look around at our churches on Sunday mornings, we see an amazing lack of disabled people at Mass. The need for the ill and disabled to hear God’s Word, receive the Eucharist, and commune with other believers at Mass each week is critical, for He alone truly is our strength. Our daily trials are tests of our faith, character and endurance. If anyone needs to hear a Homily each week and receive the Eucharist, it is we who are struggling to keep our minds filled with hope and our attitudes filled with faith.
God invites us all to His banquet table in Luke 14:12-15. The idea of inclusion is not new. Jesus teaches us by example throughout the Bible that we are to accept persons with differences as they are, and to see people’s hearts: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1Sam 16:7). The value of each person is intrinsic and our value in God’s eyes is unchanging. We have watched the Pope soldier on despite increasing debilitation due to his illness. And at a Symposium on the Dignity of the Person with Mental Handicaps held at the Vatican last January, the Pope wrote, “The quality of a life of a community is measured by the care given to the weakest, especially the disabled.” The love of God and the love of one other is inseperable.
I think when we feel compassion for another person it is God’s way of telling us to be a blessing to that person. Being a blessing might mean holding a door open, sending a note, offering a smile, or helping someone get to Mass on Sunday. Being a blessing might mean looking straight ahead when the person beside us at Mass isn’t following “the rules”, or mumbles or calls out while the rest of us are in quiet prayer. Maybe our blessing could be saying a “Hail Mary” privately for someone unable to sit still, or experiencing body jerks during Mass. In Genesis (1:31) we read that God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. God didn’t say they were perfect. He said they were good. No one is perfect: we all have flaws, we all have differences. We must keep our hearts of compassion open, and be obedient to what God calls us to do, and whom He calls us to be.
In Matthew 25:31-45, the parable of the Last Judgment, we are told, “Inasmuch as you have done it for the least of My brothers, you have done it unto Me.” As Catholics our destiny is to serve others in His name. Compassionate outreach to the ill and disabled is a very special service to Christ. No one can make this journey alone. We all need a church family to encourage us and help us along the way. Consider a flock of geese flying in a V formation during migration. When we look closely at them we see that one goose flies in the lead, acting as a windbreak for the others in the flock until he grows tired and falls back into the lines of the V. Immediately another goose will fly up to the lead position, battling the wind that will soon tire him. And all of that honking we hear as they fly overhead? Those are the sounds of the geese in the back of the formation, shouting a kind of encouragement to the lead goose and to one another.
So perhaps the next time we see a mother struggling with a spirited child during Mass, or somebody flies off the handle at us, or we are seated next to someone who is weeping, we should consider that God has probably placed them near us for a reason. Maybe He is asking us to fly to the lead position for a moment. When God puts love in our hearts for another person we must act on it. We must say yes. We must be willing to be inconvenienced or interrupted now and then. We must be willing to be someone’s windbreak when called. For the person God has placed on our heart needs what we have to give. And in giving, God will be creating a good work in us, too. God puts compassion in our hearts as much for us, as for the person to whom we are reaching out. Write to a special-needs family you know who doesn’t attend church, and invite them to Mass at Blessed Sacrament. Call your elderly neighbor and tell them you want to drive them to our wonderful 10:15 Mass so they can enjoy the beautiful music. Invite the special education student in your child’s class to their birthday party. God’s Love empowers even the most timid among us to become blessings and champions to His purpose. Jesus came to show us the way, to give us eternal life. He left us here to be used by Him to help accomplish that purpose.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:1
Theresa Lindner is a member of the Blessed Sacrament Disabilities Ministry.