In the previous few weeks I had the privilege of being interviewed on the topic of anxiety in church ministry by Dr. Grcevich over at his blog Church4EveryChild. He runs a ministry called Key Ministry which aims to help kids with hidden disabilities and their families, connect to a church community.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve encountered more and more stories (probably because my interview opened my eyes more to the topic) of families who have children with both hidden and non-hidden disabilities, struggling to get connected and feel a sense of belonging in a church and its community.
As I have been thinking more on this issue, I am very much reminded of the work of Henri Nouwen as he left places of power and influence (i.e. Notre Dame, Yale, Harvard, etc.) to spend the remainder of his life working at L’Arche with those who had disabilities. It was during Nouwen’s work there that I believe some of his most powerful books were written. But it was through the work of Jean Vanier that L’Arche was founded, and it his words that often remind me of the importance of weakness and disabilities in our own lives. Vanier writes:
There is a lack of synchronicity between our society and people with disabilities. A society that honours only the powerful, the clever, and the winners necessarily belittles the weak. It is as if to say: to be human is to be powerful.
Those who see the heart only as a place of weakness will be fearful of their own hearts. For them, the heart is a place of pain and anguish, of chaos and of transitory emotions. So they reject those who live essentially by their hearts, who cannot develop the same intellectual and rational capacities as others. (Becoming Human, p. 46)
As we find ourselves in the midst of Lent and heading towards Easter I love this story that Vanier tells.
The Eucharist teaches the lesson that “Jesus loves me just as I am,” said the founder of an organization that ministers to mentally handicapped people.
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche Community, spoke Monday to the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, under way through Sunday in Quebec.
Vanier told the story of a mentally handicapped boy from Paris on the day he received his First Communion: “After Mass, which was a family celebration, the boy’s uncle, who was his godfather, said to the child’s mother: ‘What a beautiful liturgy! How sad it is that he didn’t understand anything.’
“The child heard these words and, with tears in his eyes, said to his mother: ‘Don’t worry, Mommy, Jesus loves me just as I am.'”
Vanier affirmed: “This child had a wisdom that his uncle was yet to attain: the Eucharist is God’s gift par excellence.
“This child gives witness that a disabled person — sometimes deeply disabled — finds life, strength and consolation in and through Eucharistic communion. Is not this a call that the whole Church should hear?”