“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


I was once asked to speak to the topic "I am more than my disability". I fashioned my address, in part, on the Leonard Cohen song "Anthem".  He is a tired old man, but so am I. At the end of my presentation I played the last half of his song beginning at 3:20 in the video at the end of this blog. This is part of what I said that day. 

... Fulton Sheen wrote this:

“... the human heart is isolated and in agony: it has more love to give than any earth-bound object can receive – it clamours to be loved more lastingly and comprehendingly than by any human lover. But both longings – to love perfectly, and be loved perfectly – are mere vacuums in man.”[1]

Ego is a supreme contradiction of love. My ego has been so large that God needed to subdue it so that I could clearly sense His Being and be sensitive to His leading and discover the purpose and meaning of my life. My illusions of self-sufficiency needed to be shattered because it kept me from divine intimacy that was/is dependent upon God’s grace and sufficiency. 

My heart needed to break in order for me to understand why I could not love perfectly or accept God’s perfect love.  I needed to be 
stirred and shaken to the foundations of my soul with nothing left but a broken heart. 

For so much of humanity it is in brokenness that we can begin to seek wholeness.  Have you ever noticed that many of God’s truths seem to be wrapped in apparent contradictions or paradox:

·       In life we find death and in death we find life.[2]
·       In weakness we find strength. In our strength we find          weakness.[3]
·       Many who are first here will be last in the kingdom of God; those who are last here will be first there.[4]
·       In self-sufficiency we find defeat, but only in defeat can we begin to truly understand the depths of God’s sufficiency.[5]

I needed to be reduced to physical, emotional and spiritual collapse 
for only in that state did I sincerely and finally ask “Why was I 
born? What is the purpose of my life? What is the meaning of my existence?” I am reminded of the words of a song by Leonard Cohen:

...  every heart to love will come, but like a refugee. Ring the
 bells still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a
 crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”[6]

He has said and written many questionable things but on this point
Leonard Cohen inadvertently stumbled on a truth.  In our pain and 
brokenness the light of perfect love can come, if we let it. And we 
can use our pain to encourage others who suffer.

One day I got a call asking me if I would visit another young man 
named Derek who had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. 
Let me give you a bit of background about Derek. This guy was a 
winner. He had Brad Pitt good looks. Derek had just finished a 
degree in engineering and his career was beginning to take off with 
a large Calgary oil corporation.  Derek and his beautiful wife were 
jet-setter professionals. They drove a flashy BMW, skied Lake 
Louise on winter weekends and vacationed in Maui.  His MS was 
catastrophic from the onset. His vision became severely impaired 
and he landed up in a wheelchair very early after onset.

When I met Derek he was living alone in a darkened apartment. His wife had left him, and his career was gone. I sat with him and 
listened to his grief. He allowed me special entrance into his sorrow. I was able to say to Derek, “God is with us at this moment. You may not believe that but I tell you I can feel His presence. Let the Holy Spirit comfort you as I have experienced His comfort.” Derek was too angry to accept my witness but as the old saying goes: “You may not be the last link in the chain toward a person’s conversion ─ just don’t be the missing link."

Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee

We must open our hearts to divine love.

I have discovered that I have been more use to God disabled than I 
was when I was able-bodied. Before I was hurt, my heart was closed to all but the most basic of spiritual truths. It was only when my heart cracked and broke that Christ’s light came into my heart.

My journey through chronic illness and disability involved a re-discovery of the natural human dignity that is the possession of every human life beginning at the spark of life we call conception. It has nothing to do with our circumstances.

An individual with a severe disability or incurable illness must 
ultimately turn to the spiritual aspect of life (in as much is 
cognitively possible) – if they are to discovery meaning of their 
anguish. It involves searching for the Source of human dignity – 
that which sets humans apart from the rest of creation: In other 
words, God.

Humanity is not defined by knowledge or power. We do not get our worth and value by what we can do, our abilities or sentience; it comes from merely being.

For those of us who are severely disabled ― and are able to seek
the revelation of God’s divine love ― we must be open to letting God use our pain, anguish and trials as a vehicle to spiritually mature us and transform us to be more like Christ. This is important because, as this transformation begins to change us, we will discover our natural human dignity, if we remain open to Christ’s leading.

It was important for me to resist the temptation to become bitter, not focus on my predicament, and simply surrender again and again to that divine love of Christ.

Grief is like a river that can block the sufferer from continuing his individual life journey. It is imperative to cross the river of grieve and discover what is on the other shore. After the initial shock passes it becomes critically important to actively and intentionally rebuild one’s life and incorporate the new reality into the future.

The individual must develop a new self-identity that includes his disability or condition ─ and his loved-ones must encourage this process and accept the new person and how he perceives himself.  But the individual’s new reality should not be focused on his disability.  This transition phase is uncertain and even dangerous.

Some people refuse to rise above their circumstances and cross their river of grief to face a new reality.  They want their old life back or they want no life. They are unwilling to cross their river of grief and they can become suicidal. Unresolved grief in people with disabilities (and their loved-ones) can fuel calls for euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

This is an important fact for everyone to understand ─ particularly
in the current climate where euthanasia and assisted suicide acceptance is creeping into North America’s mindset. Understand that unresolved grief must be proactively addressed.  It must be addressed as an issue that extends well beyond people with disabilities and their families: Their communities must acknowledge that settling unresolved grief is critically important for the sake of the community’s greater good.

Playing a supportive role at local parish levels to those overwhelmed by persistent grief is a necessary ingredient to help hurting people eventually return to active parish and community life.

For me, the bridge across my river of grief was the Cross. Christ was not merely waiting on the other shore ─ He’s been with me throughout every leg of my disability journey. He continues to help me re-define and re-develop my life; Christ is helping me understand where, how and why I fit into the world with my new and evolving realities.

Disability journeys often involve developing new dimensions of self-identity that are different from a previous self-identity but no less vital ─ and perhaps even more vital as each individual discovers new aspects of their living experiences.  Granted these new dimensions of life can involve pain but pain may be necessary for our spiritual development.

The Church teaches this:

"The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, No. 364.)

This is a reality that does not change with disability or sickness. The human body will always share in the sacred dignity of bearing God’s image, regardless of its brokenness or state. The human soul always remains intact and waits for new dimensions of the living experience to be revealed that were previously unknown and unexplored by us or those who love us.

An atrophied and unresponsive body is still a temple of the Spirit. All I have is cracked and broken. I have no perfect offering to give God. Strangely yet wonderfully that was when His love became most evident. The separate parts of my life do not add up to the sum total. That is only possible through Christ. He makes sense of it all and completes my life. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

Yes, I am more than my handicap. We are all so much more than whatever handicap keeps us from reaching the potential God intends for us. It is only when we surrender our broken bodies, hearts and lives to the living Christ that we will begin to see new spiritual dimensions blossom within us and the body of Christ.

[Click on image below or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDTph7mer3I For Leonard Cohen's Anthem.]

[1] Bishop Fulton Sheen. LIFT UP YOUR HEART (Boston: G.K. Hill & Co., 1975), P.267.
[2] Luke 9.24, John 11.25
[3] Psalm 8.2-3, 1Corinthians 1.27-28, 2Corinthians 12.9-10, 13.4.
[4] Matthew 19.30 & 20.16, Mark 10.31, Luke 1,52-53,
[5] John 3.27, 15.5, 2Corinthians 3.5.
[6] Leonard Cohen song called Anthem.

1 comment:

Tom Reynolds said...

Mark, thank you for this inspiring and penetrating witness. Yes, we are broken. And so was Jesus. He was broken so that He might share with and redeem our brokenness. Truly through the cracks of our brokenness Jesus desires with an eternal desire to be the Light that heals us with the beauty and warmth of His unconditional and infinite Love. This is most clearly experienced in the Eucharist as He personally humbly stoops to come into us to be one with us so as to dwell with and transform our weakness with His Light.

Than you again, Mark. I will pray for you.

In the Light and Beauty of His Love,

Tom Reynolds