Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Disabilities Mass – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 24, 2019

Sometime after the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate States army, was visiting a friend’s farm in Kentucky.  The family took the retired general to the remains of what had once been a massive, grand old tree in the front of their house.  The wife of Lee’s friend was still very upset.  She cried bitterly that the tree’s limbs and trunk had been damaged by artillery fire from the northern army.  She looked to Lee for some words condemning the hated Union forces or at the very least, some sympathy for the loss of her beautiful tree.

After a brief period of silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget about it.  …  Cut it down.  It’s the only way that you’ll ever be able to let go of the anger and get on with life.”

Today’s gospel from Saint Luke’s sermon on the plain is among the most radical yet practical teachings of Jesus.  What he asks of us is quite different from how our world has taught us to act or society expects us to respond to evil and hatred.

When someone wrongs you, Jesus says, forgive them.  …  When given the opportunity to win at another person’s expense, Jesus expects us to be compassionate.  …  When someone does something we consider to be sinful or evil, Jesus insists that we neither judge nor condemn but love that person just the same.  …  When we do something good for someone, Jesus warns us not to expect something in return.  …  And Jesus pleads with us to absorb whatever evil is done to us and not respond in kind, so that the cycle of violence that so often is perpetuated in an endless manner can end with us.  …  In other words, “cut down the tree, forget about it and get on with life!”

Anyone of us, faced with the mistreatment that Jesus describes in today’s gospel, might very well be inclined to question the practicality of his words.  “Love your enemies, pray for and do god to those who hurt or hate you?  Jesus needs to live in the real world!”

To be sure, Jesus’ recommended responses to such situations are not our natural inclinations when hurt or hated.  Nonetheless, Jesus very much lived in the “real world.”  He chose not to spit when spit upon, nor curse when cursed, nor resist arrest.  He reattached the slave’s ear that Peter cut off.

While unrealistic from our perspective, from God’s perspective, Jesus’ way is our salvation.  His words actually reflect how God treats us when we become enemies by rejecting God’s ways.  …  In other words, “Do unto others as God does unto you” and treat them with forgiveness, mercy and love.

Some time ago, Pope Francis greeted hundreds of people with disabilities during an audience in the Vatican and 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 and from the Word of God proclaimed this morning!  They surely are 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 and mercy provide us all with priceless lessons for how best to live as disciples of Jesus.

This treasured moment of prayer sends a powerful message to the world in which we live.  Our presence together at this Mass is a blessed reminder that 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.

My friends, 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 brothers and sisters with disabilities who give us a glimpse of what it truly means to fulfill today’s gospel mandate of Jesus when he says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  …  For beyond a doubt, you best teach us how to be merciful, how to love generously, how to forgive and how to bless our world with God’s peace!