Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 27, 2008
Know that Jesus would choose life
God's family includes the lame, the blind, the broken bodies, minds
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
I recently delivered an address to the Catholic Women’s League in Edmonton. The title of my talk was The Meaning of Suffering: A Christian Perspective.
My address was based upon Pope John Paul’s 1984 apostolic letter, The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. This letter was written the same year I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
More than a decade after his apostolic letter, Pope John Paul lived a Gospel of suffering for the world to see. His courageous witness in face of marked degeneration of Parkinson’s disease proclaimed solidarity of the Church with the world’s disabled, sick and dying people. The world’s people with disabilities took notice: I know I sure did.
They are waiting
In that dramatic journey, through profound disability, Pope John Paul illustrated with poignant clarity that no matter how desperate life’s circumstances may be, no matter how close we may be to death’s door, Christ and his mother are there.
The Mother of God prays with us even at the hour of our death. This is what we pray in the rosary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Her son Jesus has always been the path to authentic personal freedom, the source of love and joy despite our physical circumstances. He waits for us at the end of that hour, as we step across the threshold from this world to the next.
In the spring of 2005, the pope made his last public appearance at the balcony of the papal apartment above St. Peter’s Square. He tried but could not speak. For a few agonizing moments (which seemed like an eternity) he struggled to say something to the expectant crowd, but he could not.
The pontiff was wheeled back into his apartment. It was clear that Pope John Paul was near death. To me, it was his most eloquent moment — yet he didn’t say a word I could understand.
It seemed (at least to me) as though he was reaching through his own suffering, to the world’s wretched masses, the disabled, the chronically ill, and the dying. To me, it was a silent proclamation of his oft-said words , “Be not afraid.”
Quite simply, Pope John Paul’s final witness was for a culture of life and inclusion — even for those people who may cause discomfort and embarrassment to others. That blessed witness continued to the last hours of his life.
I will always be grateful to Pope John Paul because, throughout the years of my own increasing disability, I have felt the sting of knowing I have caused discomfort and embarrassment to people. John Paul’s message that Christ and his Church stand in solidarity with the world’s disabled, the chronically and terminally ill was (and is) of profound importance in a world where health and physical perfection are idealized.
After my talk, a young woman asked me about a predicament she is facing. She and her husband want to start a family. Unfortunately, she was recently diagnosed with a crippling disease with a genetic origin. Her children will have a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the disease.
Should I have a baby?
Her question was simple: “Do you think I should have a baby?” Tough question. If I were in her position, I would have a family. I told her, “Always be open to life.” There may have been people present who disagreed with me. However, she asked for my opinion and I gave it.
After nearly a quarter of a century living with aggressive and degenerative multiple sclerosis I have become convinced humanity’s highest ideal should not be physical or mental perfection. I believe God created us for love — both human and divine — and that is the highest human ideal.
Choosing to have a child that may be disabled affects neither of these forms of love for the parent or the child. In fact, it may enhance that family’s capacity for human and divine love. God calls us to a higher standard of love.
Perhaps the real question the young woman should ask is: “Can I love a disabled child?” Looking into her eyes when we talked I suspect her answer is “yes.” But the question has a broader application.
In a time and culture where many disabled children are either aborted or allowed to die shortly after birth, are we able to love the handicapped child? Can we honour the natural dignity of a profoundly disabled child in our midst?
What about the profoundly disabled adult, the demented senior? How about the deranged person meandering through the streets of the inner city?
The popular slogan asks, “What would Jesus do?” We know what he would do. That is the queue that we must take as his followers. The servants are not greater than the master.
(The address was videotaped and copies can be obtained through contact Lorraine Turchansky at 780-469-1010. My speaking notes are posted on my blog at http://markpickup.blogspot.com. A written copy is available through Paul Quist, archdiocesan director of marriage and family life).
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