Disabilities Mass – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 23, 2020
Some of you know that I have a cousin, Jason, who has been a resident of Saint Joseph’s Center for about thirty years. Jason is in his mid-forties and moved to Saint Joseph’s when he was in his early teens. His mother, Jen, was my first cousin. She died two years ago of cancer.
Although Jason is wheelchair bound and has many challenges, he’s very expressive, codes his environment extremely well and has a memory most of us would envy. Just a few days before this past Christmas, Jason’s aunt and step-father invited members of our family to a local restaurant to visit with Jason and to celebrate Christmas with him.
Not having seen Jason for quite some time, I wasn’t sure how he’d react to my presence. But true to form, he smiled broadly when he saw me and immediately pointed to the table that I should sit down and join everyone for dinner. Throughout the meal, Jason keenly observed everyone around the table, smiling broadly and occasionally gesturing to one or another of us. While not spending much time eating himself, he intently colored pictures from a book and then handed them to most of us who had joined him for the evening. When it was time for him to leave, Jason, who has some difficulty articulating his thoughts, managed a very clear “thank you” to each one of us, along with offering his incredible smile which touched our hearts more than we could have ever imagined.
For years before she passed away, Jason’s mother would often describe him to me as “unconditional love.” While I always appreciated her sentiments, they seemed to me to be much more words of deep affection that any mother would share about a child – especially one with some significant challenges. Being with Jason before Christmas for the first time without his mother, I realized just how true her description of her son was. In everything that Jason did that evening, there was love, affection and an openness to every one of us who joined him at that table. There was no judgment – no criticism – no expectations. Just gratitude and love.
Today’s gospel passage comes from Jesus’ treasured “Sermon on the Mount.” Its tone and intensity, however, are vastly different than the sermon’s opening verses with their soaring words that we’ve come to know as the Beatitudes.
In the portion of the “Sermon on the Mount” proclaimed this morning, Jesus challenges us to be more – more than we might ever think possible. “Be perfect,” he asserts, “just as our heavenly Father is perfect.” A pretty tall order. And one that some scripture scholars see not only as the central message of the entire Sermon on the Mount but as an essential element of authentic discipleship.
There’s little doubt that most of us understand the need to come to terms with Jesus’ teachings that exhort us to turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute us and love our enemies. In confronting such challenging words, however, we can easily overlook what lies at the heart of this passage and the lesson it contains for every Christian.
Yes, without a doubt, forgiveness and reconciliation are the foremost building blocks of the great law of love that Jesus demands we embrace in our relationships one with another. But Jesus calls us to be much more than merely law abiding citizens of his kingdom. The type of love that Jesus describes in this portion of his sermon gives us insight into the path to be followed by his disciples.
The word that Jesus uses for “love” in today’s gospel passage is the Greek word agape. … Agape indicates not a romantic or emotional kind of love that we have for special people in our lives. Rather, it calls us first to recognize the humanity we share with all people as children of one God. It is a demanding love that calls us to love the unlovable, to reach out to the alienated, to embrace those who are different, to dismantle whatever walls divide and isolate people and to build bridges that bring people together.
My cousin Jason didn’t need a theology degree to teach me and my family a lesson about the love that Jesus describes in his “Sermon on the Mount.” He simply taught us by his example that the love Jesus calls us all to embrace is indeed both real and attainable.
Every year, Pope Francis greets hundreds of faithful people as they gather to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. A few years ago on that occasion, he shared these words, “The world does not become better because only apparently ‘perfect’ people live in it. It becomes better when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase. … Each of us, sooner or later, is called to face — at times painfully — frailty and illness, both our own and those of others. And for Jesus,” he said, “the sick and the weak, those cast aside by society, are precisely the ones he loves most.”
What powerful lessons from Pope Francis, from the Word of God proclaimed this morning, and especially from my cousin Jason and so many like him! The lessons they share are surely worthy of our consideration this day as we gather in prayer to celebrate our faith in the enduring love of God – a love that is seen most vividly in the powerful example of the lives of so many of you, our sisters and brothers with developmental disabilities. More than you realize, your unwavering trust in God and your example of acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude and selfless love provide us all with priceless lessons for how best to live as disciples of Jesus.
My friends, this treasured moment of prayer sends a powerful message to the world in which we live. … We are all a part of God’s plan. Each of us is treasured by God, for being just the way we are. And each of us is well-equipped for the ministry of service in the Church.
Thank God that we belong to a Church that reminds us that God’s criteria for fitting in is vastly different from the world’s. And thank God for our cherished sisters and brothers with disabilities who give us a glimpse of what it truly means to fulfill today’s gospel mandate of Jesus when he says, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” … For beyond a doubt, they are!