Sunday, October 29, 2006
Why are the blind and the lame with us?
Along with the mentally ill, and anyone else with some sort of handicap or disability?
In the history of man, we have relegated people with disabilities to anonymity, segregating them from normal society. Think of leper colonies, mental institutions, what have you. Or families, such as the Kennedys who put their daughter Rosemary in an institution after a botched lobotomy. (A family rich enough to care for her at home by the way - yet she was an embarrassment for them. Although, it was very common to institutionalize people with disabilities in those days.)
We often ignore the handicapped, or pretend we don't notice. Some of us complain that they have special privileges, such as prime parking spots, or automatic doorways and special restroom facilities.
In today's Gospel, everyone was trying to get rid of the blind Bartimaeus, rebuking him and trying to silence him. How many times did Christ's very disciples try to get rid of the pesky lame; the woman with the hemorrhage, being one of them. "Get rid of her." they said.
In modern times, Nazi Germany tried to get rid of anyone with mental disabilities. The Holocaust started out with the extermination of the disabled and elderly. That mindset is not too distant in our age known as the Culture of Death. While we legislate concessions for the handicapped in the business world, requiring employers to make accomodations in the workplace for those with disabilities. That is a good thing, albeit some employers resent it, along with other employees who feel themselves somehow discriminated against by the implementation of these special privileges.
This morning I remembered Jean Vanier, the founder of l'Arche. L'Arche is a community that began in France by the Canadian born Vanier. He invited into his home people suffering from severe mental handicaps. He lives with them in a family setting, caring for them, but above all providing a safe place where they might live in dignity, ennobled by the love and compassion of Jean Vanier and his co-workers. He never condescended, or pitied them, rather he treated these brothers and sisters as fellow human beings with value and purpose.
What is their purpose - why does God permit this? They have a purpose, to be sure, otherwise God would not have called them into existence. I sometimes wonder if they are not God's very precious gift to humanity. That they are here to teach us how to love, to exercise ourselves in charity. To illustrate for us what is important in life, that our success, our status is fleeting. When I meet such people, I am deeply touched by their innocence, their candor, and in many instances, their joy.
On the other hand, there are those who are angry and loud, their disabilities exacerbated by unacceptable behaviors, as well as alcoholism or drug abuse, or some other moral failing, for which they are not completely responsible. These people seem to be the most challenging to love, much less tolerate. These are the ones many of us say should be locked away. Yet these too are invited to the Heavenly Banquet, these are the children Jesus says we must allow to come to him, not hindering them, these, as with Bartimaeus, he commands, "Bring them to me."
We live in a country wherein most pets have a better life than the homeless, the mentally ill, and the marginalized poor. Yet one would think, that these animals we treasure as part of our family, could teach us to care even more for others who may be dependant upon the charity of others. After all, we are not above cleaning up the bodily eliminations of our pets, feeding them, caressing them, supplying top medical care for them. Yet for some reason, we can easily dismiss a person with special needs, ignoring them all together. When, if we could embrace them in their disabilities, look into their eyes and see our own humanity, in all of it's frailty, we might be free enough to love, to compassionate, to exercise ourselves in charity with the donation of our very self.
"I will gather them from the ends of the earth, with the blind and the lame in their midst." 1st reading of the day, Jeremiah 31.
The blind and the lame will always be in our midst - it is their vocation - they are our helpers on the way to Heaven. Let us strive more deliberately to love one another - even the seemingly most unlovable amongst us.