We all have cruelty of the heart. We all have inner darkness and inner violence. There are limits to our ability to love and embrace the worth of others or trust our own capacity for inner growth. We may be consumed by pride or self-conceit. It is hard to embrace and love people who are spastic, ugly, those who drool or dirty themselves. Everyone wants to turn away from sickness and death. (That is why euthanasia and assisted suicide can be so attractive.) It's much easier to live in a beautiful world with beautiful people rather than face a less beautiful world, as it really is, and try to give it beauty.
America is called to defend the vulnerable, not only by virtue of your rock-solid American heritage rooted in Anglo-America common law but by the principles behind the great vision of your Founders. But your Christianity takes you further. Christ speaks to the heart of man, even today, calling us beyond defense of the vulnerable, to embrace and befriend the sick, the handicapped, the immigrant and the old. Why? Because that is what He, the Master, would do. Christ said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have love you. (Jn.15.12). We do not love one another my killing each other. Jesus said that if we love Him we should keep His commandments (Jn.14.15). And Jesus gave us the heart of His commandment when a lawyer asked Him what was the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus answered:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hand all the Law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:37-40.)
Followers of Christ are called to open up and befriend the disabled, the sick or marginalized of society. After all, that's what He would do. Jesus calls us from seeking affirmation to affirming the worth of others. Can you move from needing to be understood to seeking to understand other image bearers of God? Even those who are unlovely? We are called to include them as part of the human family. And being part of the human family affords everyone certain unalienable rights and responsibilities. It's threatening to your personal sense of security and safety to befriend the disabled, sick or dying. I know that! I used to be able-bodied and healthy.
Risks of Befriending Handicapped and Disabled
When I was able-bodied and healthy, I was afraid to befriend profoundly disabled people because it touched on fears deep within me of suffering and discomfort. To do so reminded me of my own mortality. I was afraid that a person with a severe disability might engulf me with their anguish. I was afraid that because of their isolation and loneliness they might cling to me with a desperate iron-grip. I had a circle of friends and family. I feared that if I introduced a severely handicapped person into that circle of friends they might push away my new disabled friend, and me too. Disabilities have a strong stigma and I was afraid it might rub off on me. Fear has been terrible motivation in my life.
If you open yourself to befriending the disabled, the sick or dying, the homeless, the immigrant, the woman in crisis pregnancy, you may find it uncomfortable and threatening. If you befriend the disabled or handicapped, you may make other people feel challenged to do the same thing. They may push you away and become aggressive. Why? Because befriending the severely handicapped reminds people of their own mortality and can bring them face to face with their own inner darkness and their own inner handicaps.
Shamefully, I must confess my own inner darkness: I am a coward. I am two-faced: On one hand I am a disability activist across North America, championing the cause of inclusion and embracing all the human family, . . . yet my own heart-poverty reveals itself in my terror of quadriplegia and nursing homes. I avoid auxiliary hospitals like a plague. I see my future and myself in those people. That is my heart-poverty because when it is my turn to live in a nursing home, I hope others will not behave toward me as I do by turning my back of those in nursing homes. It is my terror and yet I do not comfort or embrace those living my nightmare. I want to escape from my own weakness and the weaknesses of others.
This message was made into a television program that has aired on EWTN across North America under the title To be, or not to be ... the Human Family. To order a copy of this program for $14.95 plus shipping (VHS only) send me an email at MPickup@shaw.ca