THE PERSON WITH DISABILITIES: THE IMAGE OF GOD AND A PLACE OF HIS WONDERS
The richness of the person with disabilities is a constant challenge to the Church and to society, to open to the mystery present.
The person with disabilities is the place of the wonders of God and a person rich in humanity.
Disability is not a punishment; indeed it is a privilege, which God uses to manifest his love and crown all with the glory of the resurrection.
This preparation intends to help the biblical-theological discovery of this truth and reality.
It is in this spirit that we entrust this preparation to all of you, in view of the full integration and insertion of persons with disabilities in the life of the Church and society, to valorize the gifts they bring, to reconcile ourselves with them for failings in their regard in the spirit of the Great Jubilee and to encourage an attitude of caring, assistance and solidarity.
The Preparatory Committee, Rome 2 March 2000
LIVING MAN, IMAGE OF GOD
“…I look at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set in place – Ah what is man that you should spare a thought for him? The son of man that you should care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, You have crowned him with glory and splendour. (Ps 8)
Man, male and female, the greatest of God’s creatures, has been ‘crowned’ by God with his love. The greatness, dignity and value of humanity lies in the fact that it is part of the mystery of God, who is “Love”. The love of the “Father forever” (Is 9,6) is the ‘crown’ of man and clothes him in transcendence. Alongside with such greatness, glory and honour we experience pain, sickness and limitation. One of these limitations, with all its queries, is mental or physical disability or a combination of both.
God said: “Let us make man in our own image and likeness…
God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”. (Gn 1,26-27)
“At the time when the Lord made earth and heaven there was a yet no wild bush on the earth nor had any wild plant yet sprung up, for God had not sent rain on the earth, nor was there any man to till the soil. However, a flood was rising from the earth and watering all the surface of the soil. God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and thus man became a living being” (Gn 2,4-7)
Characteristics of this Image
As living beings created in the image and likeness of God we are united with Him and, like God, humanity is surrounded by mystery. Man is an extraordinarily rich reality: his values surpass that of any other created reality because the fact that he is unique and unrepeatable guarantees his original dignity.
The human person, the living being, beyond all exterior appearances, reflects Love who created him with the ability to love and be loved, with his being, his faculties and his freedom. Every person has in his/her constitution the honour, glory and dignity of God. Man is the being with whom God speaks intimately in the “garden in the evening” (Gn 3,8) he is the reality which God created for himself, in order to pour into it the fullness of his own life, to be in communion with this reality, which he has given the ability and responsibility of love for others and of communion with others in freedom.
The Mystery of Our Limitations
Man, in the beginning, created in the image and likeness of God, uses his freedom negatively for an alternative plan of mistrust, alienation, violence, and dominion (cfr Gn, the successive passages of Cain, the Deluge and Babel).
The image of God, given and entrusted to man, contrasts with human freedom which did not confide in God, but isolated itself from Him, from others and from the cosmos.
Falsehood, envy, jealousy and sin cause fear of loving, hiding from God, rejection of dialogue with God as his creature, and division from Him, from others and from the cosmos (Gn 3, 1-7). This creates violence, abuse, and lack of life, which in turn disrupt God’s plan of love for humanity and for creation.
From this stems the sense of limitation, finitude, fear, and lack of interpersonal communication. Indeed the whole world experiences “slavery to decadence” (Rm. 8,20).
Fragility, sickness, pain, disability, solitude and death are seen as acts of injustice by God, but it is precisely sin – the abuse of freedom – which causes these dramatic limitations.
We must say, however, that the sin of our first parents with all its consequences and responsibilities had the power to dim, although not eliminate, this image, which God blessed from the beginning. “God saw that it was good” (Gn 1 passim).
A feeling of Limitation
Therefore also in our limitations, the splendour of God is revealed in his greatness and glory, since, because of the human dignity with which each of us is endowed, we all, despite our limitations, manifest the glorious face of God.
Our limitations were assumed by Jesus with his Incarnation and in absolute annihilation and solitude, in being considered nothing but horror, he revealed authentic love, which is always, and only a gift. With the Incarnation and Redemption, Jesus transfigures humanity’s historic weakness and fragility endowing human limits with new contents: “restoring to mankind the likeness of God, deformed at the beginning because of sin’ (GS 22).
“God created man in his own image… male and female he created them. God blessed them…(Gn 1,27-28)
“I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free of the slave drivers. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them” (Es 3, 7-8).
God has never withdrawn his blessing from those whom he created in his image and likeness, even when He appears to forget them, or when the image, affected by some disability or out of free choice, no longer seems to correspond. Indeed he continues to seek, with his tender and universal love, all of them, but especially those who are weak, limited and voiceless, those most affected by limitations in their bodily or mental capacities.
God ‘comes down” from his inaccessible solitude to draw near to the human condition.
“God so loved the world as to give his only Son” (Jn 3,16). God’s compassion is set in the vision of love, all that is marked by sin, fragility, and limitation becomes, in the ‘weakness’ of the Son, a vehicle of new life and resurrection.
This is why God prepares through the centuries the path towards the Incarnation in history of his Son, in order to show once again the splendour and greatness of what was created in his image and likeness.
JESUS: God’s Compassion
“God so loved the world as to send his only Son” (Jn 3,16)
He took upon himself our infirmities, he bore our sickness” (Mt 8,17; Is 53,4).
“The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS 22).
He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1,15).
The image and likeness of God, obscured in its beauty by sin, is restored to its splendour by Jesus who, being “born of the Virgin Mary has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (GS 22).
This he did taking upon himself human history, solitude, decadence and limitations, living them voluntarily to the extreme in order to transform them from within and fill them with new significance (cfr Rom 15,3; Heb 5, 7-10)
The mystery of humanity limited, fragile and disabled, is at the centre of his attention “Are you the One who is to come or must we wait for another?” John’s disciples asked and Jesus replied recalling the prophecy of Isaiah “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, to the poor, is announced the good news (Mt 11,3-5)
The whole mystery revolves around the fact that He sought the company of persons who, for various reasons, were forced to live on the edge of society (cf Mk 7,37). These were the ones whom he made the objects of his care and attention, saying that the last shall be first and the lowly shall be exalted in the Kingdom of his Father (cf Mt 20,16; 23,12).
Seeing the man born blind, Jesus rejects and breaks the automatic connection between illness and sin. “Neither he nor his parents have sinned, but it was so that God’s works might be manifested in him” (Jn 9,3).
With the Passion and Cross, he experiences and shares to the full the greatest drama of the person with disabilities: extreme solitude and rejection-exclusion on the part of others, experiencing injustice and abandonment. Indeed, the knowledge of the human limitation of death “the final enemy” (1 Cor 15,26), fragility and finitude, frighten and terrify him to the point that he sweats blood (Lk 22,44) and experiences human questioning about the presence of God in this mystery (Ps 32; Mt 27,46; Mk 15,34; cfr Job 16, 9. 12-14; 17, 13-14).
At the same time however he renews his trust (Ps 31,15), hope and obedience towards God creator and saviour, (Ps 21) who is always present with man, in the One to whom Job says “I know you can do everything and that nothing for you is difficult “ (Job 42,2).
From the Cross Jesus gives his Spirit, both by returning to the Father, and by sending the Comforter to fortify men faced with their fragility, weakness, sense of bewilderment, solitude and to reassure them that disability is a place “where God works” (Jn 9,3; cfr Lk 1,49) and it is also a place of authentic love, which gives itself constantly and reveals the mystery of God and of man to man himself.
And it is on the Cross that the Son of God reveals himself, definitively and fully, (Mk 15, 39) giving the hope/certainty of God’s concern for man.
In obedience of the Cross he is exalted (cf Phil 2,8). The Cross becomes the icon of the resurrection. The resurrection is the Father’s answer to the choice of the Son who trusted in Him even on the Cross. The final goal of the reconstruction of the glorious image of God given to mankind, is the resurrection: “He who has raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit living in you” (Rom 8,11) and “we will be like him because we will see him as he is” (1 Jn 3,2).
THE CHURCH: Compassion of Christ
The Church continues the revealing mission of Christ manifesting these riches to society often indifferent to the cry of persons with disabilities.
Society often tends to solve this problem with indifference or by reacting to disability with violence eliminating the persons with disabilities because they disturb its parameters of egotism, hedonism and fear, which it, society, bases on profit and dominion of others with no concern for improving the life of the person with disabilities. The Church, to be truly the Bride of Christ, must consider the persons with disabilities and those around them, as theological places where “God works his wonders”, realizes his love for mankind and invites the community to conversion and to discernment of Gospel values.
TESTIMONY OF LIFE: Claudio
Claudio is a spastic, unable to walk, or speak, he uses a wheelchair. In 1986 he wrote a letter to the Cardinal of Bologna.
At the time he was 24 years old and he wrote the letter with a typewriter pressing the keys with his nose. Here are a few excerpts of the letter.
The joy of the Risen Lord be with you! The most beautiful gift the Lord has given me is life. Giving me life, the Lord gave me himself because the Lord is life.
Life is not static it is dynamic: it is going to live in the house of the Lord where there is everlasting joy and eternal life.
To live in the house of the Father is, in this period, the thing, which attracts me most, because I am sure that the Kingdom is near, nearer than we think.
We only need to open our eyes, closed by our sins, and lift our heads: then we will see life conquer death, joy conquer sadness, love conquer hatred, truth conquer falsehood; but above all, we will see the Lord conquer the evil one.
If our eyes are closed, we cannot see and consequently, we are blind; and the blind can only imagine reality.
Jesus is the only one who can say to me, to you, to everyone: “Talita Kum” because Jesus is life. Nothing can separate us from Him, not even death. “Great things you have done O Lord for us, you have filled us with joy”(Ps 125,3).
Communities of Life
In various parts of the world, there are communities, which welcome people with disabilities and treat them with equality, as healthy people.
These valorize to the full the mystery of the Cross in the life of the person with disabilities exalting it however in the power of the resurrection, in many forms of living and various initiatives, collective and individual, in which persons with disabilities reach a high grade of humanity.
These communities are based first of all on the value of accepting those who are different, who risk being excluded, in the mystery of the Cross, which is before us, in its urgency and absoluteness and which we cannot reject. “Treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you” (Rom 15,7)
They develop gradually a plan of life given by the participation of volunteers, professionals, and families, with the impulse which sharing the life of the person with disabilities creates a process of liberation and transfiguration of personal and collective ills.
The examples of the lives of some persons with disabilities transfigured by the power of the Lord’s resurrection are enlightenment for choices of vocation and Christian commitment to others.
“Handicapped persons, sustained effectively, are capable of exceptional energy and values of great utility for the whole of humanity” (John Paul II, March 31, 1984)
This is what these communities of life with persons with disabilities testify to the world, anticipating in some way, the Kingdom of God.
COMMITTEE FOR THE JUBILEE DAY OF THE COMMUNITY WITH PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
PREPARATION FOR THE JUBILEE DAY 3 DECEMBER 2000