While studying bioethics at Yale University, a man in a wheelchair rolled up to me. He said, “we should do lunch. You’re the first person in a wheelchair that I’ve met that has kept the faith and I want to know why?” Sadly, I was never able to eat lunch with the man. Yet his question haunted me. Why do so many people who are disabled lose their faith? How can we minister to the wider community? What unique voices and struggles do people with disabilities possess?
When a person has a disability, their faith journey may be more challenging. A person who is disabled may feel isolated, alone, and angry. I know because I have been there. I have lived with Cerebral Palsy and suffered from a spinal cord injury. I know what it is like to wait for healing that never comes. Yet I also know radical encounters occur when one unites their suffering with Christ. As Catholics, we are called to share our story. I feel God wants me to share my story as a Catholic with a disability. I want my story to serve those, who walk a similar path.
If you are a faithful Catholic person with a disability, you may experience heartbreak. You may find it difficult to hear the Gospel stories about healing. For example, the healing of the paraplegic man may make you think why can’t I have that healing in my life. A person’s sympathetic touch as they pass you in the communion line may make you angry. You just want to be treated like everyone else. If the hymn book is beyond your reach, you may not be able to sing along at Mass. You may wonder if you are resigned to singleness. You can’t imagine married life with a disability. Yet people who are disabled want to participate in religious life fully. I have learned that nothing is impossible for God. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God has a plan and purpose for us. This plan encompasses the call to holiness. Disability should never be an excuse not to embrace this call.
A disability manifests itself in a person in a variety of different ways. Yet all people with disabilities want to be loved, welcomed and understood. The community of the faithful can help a person with a disability by being that listening ear. A disability can make a person’s faith journey complex. A person with a disability must confront uncomfortable truths about suffering. These truths are easier to bear in the midst of a loving community
Join me for this new series about faith and life with a disability. I will share some personal experiences and showcase spiritual lessons one learns when navigating life with a disability. I will address some common issues people with disabilities face and how Church Teaching protects people with disabilities.
If you are a person with a disability, I encourage you to not lose faith and hope. Remember that the grace of God is made perfect in your weakness and by God’s grace you can overcome.
In the Overcome series, you will be able to read about these subjects and more:
Going from the valley to the mountaintop
When Healing Hurts: How I Almost Lost My Faith
Spiritual Lessons My Caregivers Teach Me
Dating with a Disability
Making Room For a Disability
IVF: a Critique From a Disabled Perspective