In a culture obsessed with physical fitness and impossible standards of beauty, people with disabilities are too often marginalized, looked down upon or not looked upon at all, considered as “less” than the fully abled. In past times – and, to some extent, even today – disabilities were considered punishments or judgments from God.
Such thinking, said Father Dan Dower, is wrong and contrary to what God intends.
Father Dower, pastor of Christ the King Church in Kilgore, was the homilist at the April 29 diocesan Mass for families with special needs, celebrated in the Chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul. Father Gavin Vaverek, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Lufkin, concelebrated. About 100 people attended the Mass.
The annual Mass is a liturgy specially modified for those it seeks to welcome and celebrate. Readings and the homily are short, and songs have simple refrains that are easily echoed back.
In his homily, Father Dower spoke about the paradox that people with disabilities present. Those paradoxes were reflected in the readings for the liturgy.
“I especially like the first reading,” he said. “The first reading is about me, but it’s also about you. In the first reading, we hear God telling all of us that when we are weak, we are strong.”
He paused a moment, screwed up his face in perplexity, and asked, “What? How can it be that when you are weak, you are strong? How is that possible?”
Scripture, he said, gives us the answer.
“Remember that the Bible tells us that nothing is impossible for God. Who knows that?” he asked. “Raise your hand if you know that. Everybody out your hand up, because we all know that.
“I know,” he said when few hands went up, “people don’t like to raise their hands in church. But it’s okay. You know what I do? On Easter Sunday, I make the people all stand up after the Gospel, raise their hands up and shout at the top of their lungs, ‘Alleluia!’ We are an alleluia people, and we rejoice because God has saved us from our sins.
“And that,” he stressed, “is the weakness that God is talking about, the weakness of our sin.”
Sin is universal, Father Dower said.
“We’re all weak, we all sin, we all do things we’re not supposed to do. And sometimes we do it because we want to. But God says, ‘Even if you’re weak, I can make you strong.’
“We heard in today’s Gospel about the blind man,” he said. “And the question asked of Jesus was, is he blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin? You know, people used to think that if you were born with a disability it was a punishment from God. And God tells us in today’s Gospel that that is not true. No disability, no shortcoming of any kind, is a punishment.
“Here’s the paradox,” he said, dropping his voice to a near whisper, “the part that can be so difficult, especially for you families. They are a gift from God. A gift. Even in the darkest days of your life, even in the most difficult times that you have, you look at your children and at yourselves, and you know that God has given you a gift.”
The world would disagree, but, Father Dower said, the world is wrong.
“The beauty of God’s creation and the perfection of God’s creation is not measured by man’s standards,” he said, “but must be measured by God’s. And God’s standard is that love is the perfection he seeks. Love is the gift that he gives us that is perfect. Love is the power that overcomes all weakness. Love gives sight to the blind. Love gives hearing to the deaf.
“Never forget,” he urged those in attendance, “that you and your families are gifts to the Church. And I’m here to tell you thank you. Thank you for all that you do and that you give us, with your children and your families. God bless you all.”
The annual Mass is part of the Diocese of Tyler’s continuing efforts to expand its outreach to those with special needs as well as their families and caregivers. Linda Khirallah Porter, former director of faith formation for the diocese, is the coordinator of the outreach, which includes catechesis for those with special needs.
A regional Mass will be celebrated Saturday, Aug. 26, in St. Michael Church in Mount Pleasant.
For more information on special needs ministry in the diocese, or for links to resources, please see the web page here.