Browsing Pastor's Corner

Special Needs Homily

Jan 18, 2018

In today’s second reading Saint Paul is very insistent that God is for the Body. So much so that not only does Jesus Christ have a human body just like us, but He refers to His Church as the Body of Christ.  We of course each have our own individual bodies, referred to as Temples of the Holy Spirit, but there is the larger more important and hopefully inclusive body or community that is the extended family of redeemed humanity.

A reality made possible in and through Jesus Christ whose sacrifice at Calvary and being risen from the dead enables and empowers us to be children of God and therefore each of us, one another’s brother and sister. A body therefore is also a community and one such community, those with special needs, their care-givers, their families and benefactors and supporters we celebrate today and every day.

I would first like to share a short essay called Welcome to Holland written by Emily Perl Kingsley given to one of our special need’s parents. The author is trying to encourage parents to see that although they are on a different journey, it is still a fulfilling and beautiful one.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say.

“What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

This same dear friend who sent me this essay also had this to say:

Are you aware of People First Language? For example, we say a "person with autism" not " an autistic person". We are all people first...our disabilities do not define us...they are a part of who we are. How often in one’s life of faith, rather than being defined by that faith and the love that fuels it, we are instead defined by our sins and short-comings, either by ourselves or others.

The devil to discourage us and rob us of our true sense of worth and dignity as children of God names us by our sin, whereas God calls us by name, as He does with Samuel and in today’s Gospel when Jesus invites and calls who will be His first Apostles to Come and see. And when they do, they discover the most incredible and most marvelous news of all. 

Jesus is the Christ, He is the Messiah, He is Lord and Savior. And it will be this relationship more than any other, even more than their own immediate families, where they and all of us will discover who we are and how infinitely precious and special we all are.

As my friend explained: People with disabilities want to be treated just like everyone else and have opportunities for friendship, study, work, a real place in their community. They just need help getting there! They do not want to be "segregated" from society. Sometimes I feel like it's the "typical" people who need the education to open their eyes about accepting their peers with special needs.

There is an amazing young woman with CP who uses a wheel chair to get around, uses a computer voice activated device to speak ...and she is a full-time student at Fairfield U! She wants to be a writer! Her mother lives with her on campus and accompanies her to class, etc. A young lady with a dream! She can't walk or talk...but that is not getting in her way! She needed the opportunity...and she got it! We all need that 'village' to thrive. 

Each Sunday here at Assumption, a mom and nurse get Ethan ready to come to Mass, on a hospital guerny hooked up to a respiratory machine.

I cannot even begin to imagine how long it takes to get him ready, placed on that van and then brought here…that’s heroic…especially when so many people if they sniffle once will find that and hundreds of other excuses to not come to Mass.

We all need that village to thrive except for us as Christians that Village is the Body of Christ and not only do we have an obligation to help each other but we receive full support as well from all the Angels and Saints in Heaven. Here on earth, Jesus insists whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do for and to me.  The Lord is for the Body big time…not partially but fully. 

We are created to be in communion because of the one who created us…three in fact: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three eternally loving beings who forever have been in communion with each other as a family of infinite and all-powerful love.  That desire for communion and the power of that love has been extended to us.  Especially in Holy Communion when in receiving the Body of Christ we become not only a part of Christ’s Body but the entire family of redeemed humanity.

We are created in the image and likeness of God…not partially because we have handicaps or limitations. We are not less human or less divine…quite the opposite and more so.  During the Eucharistic prayer, we are reminded that Jesus took bread, blessed and then broke it before distributing.  The power of Christ is demonstrated in and by His brokenness; that being bound to the Cross and sorely and painfully limited and weak…it is then that He redeems the entire universe and all of us in it for all times.

The greater reality is that we are all people with special needs, but special does refer to the exceptional neediness; the special is that God so loves us not only to create us in His image but sending His Son because He so loves the world, He did so in our human flesh…for the Lord is for the body. And our need is that all of us have been severely injured, impaired, limited and handicapped by sin. 

We therefore need a healer, a redeemer, a Savior…who does all this in His broken body from the Cross. But a body that more than fully restored, is then fully and infinitely repaired, renewed and perfectly resurrected…all those injuries healed.  For that same power is within us as Saint Paul says: God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power…releasing us forever from the crosses of our wheel-chairs, guerneys, aging, broken hearts and minds and from all our limitations.

He willingly does so because we are so especially and eternally loved; therefore those with so called special needs…being more like Christ have bodies which are holier Temples of the Holy Spirit where God most happily dwells. We are first and foremost all of us a people of God…sons and daughters of God the Father, brothers and sisters of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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