“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
My Searching Heart:
Ever since I was a small child, I had a deep desire within the depths of my heart to be a nun. As a little girl, my mom once asked me if I wanted to be a nun; and even though I did not fully understand what that truly meant, my heart was full of peace as it danced for joy. Throughout my life this deep desire would re-visit me from time to time. Once I became Catholic, I visited many religious communities, who turned me away, due to having a disability. Once while talking with a religious sister, she told me that her community would not except me, because I had low vision. After that conversation with that sister, the reality of how much rejection people like myself truly face within the church, hit me home. I felt my heart break into a million pieces. However, I had a choice to allow what this sister said to me to bring me down into a place of despair or to allow it to be the fuel that would light the fire within, calling for change.
The Sad Reality:
For the sad reality is that people with disabilities have to face many closed doors of rejection before finding their vocation. And again the alarming reality is that most religious orders will not except men and women with physical or mental disabilities, due to the community’s rule of life or lack of resources to care for such individuals. But why does it have to be this way for people with limitations? The question constantly comes to mind, how do we educate religious orders about bringing inclusion within their communities, where discernment would be based on if a person matches the charism and rule of life, rather than based on the broad assumptions of a disability. And again how can we bring hope for people with disabilities who have a deep desire to fully consecrate themselves to the Lord?
In addition, many in our churches expect people with disabilities to live an easy life where they do not have to make a serious commitment wether to marriage, the priesthood or religious life, due to it being “too hard” for them. Still they get pushed to the sidelines or behind the scenes to watch everyone around them living their vocations. However, God has given them a vocation as well, where he is also calling them to give a gift of themselves, in one way or another whatever that might look like for the individual. For people with disabilities are fully human too where they have the same desires for love, intimacy, and belonging. They have dreams, desires, ambitions, and goals that they too want to accomplish within their lives. For there are many gifts within our Church that are waiting to be discovered within the harts of those with disabilities and other challenges, if we but only open our eyes to see.
But the reality is that many religious orders prematurely close the door on anyone who is different and does not fit their mold. In addition, the salvation message gets forgotten through such actions of rejection. For who did Jesus call to be his disciples? Was it not the tax collectors, the doubters, the thieves, the prideful, the prostitutes, and even The traders? He called Peter to be the first Pope, even though at the crucifixion he would deny Jesus. He even called Judas to be his disciple, even though later he would betray Jesus into the hands of those who wanted to kill him. And still he call Paul, one of the greatest and most zealous persecutors and murderers of the believers to be one of the greatest apostles of the faith. Jesus did not call the qualified, rather he equipped some of the greatest sinners into becoming some of the greatest saints.
And later on, he called many men and women to bring the truth of the gospel, such as Blessed Margaret who was rejected by her parents, due to being blind, a small person, and humpbacked to be a vessel of God’s healing for the sick and also to challenge the religious orders of her day. And again God called St. Brother Andre to be a prayer warrior and spiritual advisor for the sick and oppressed, even though he had many Health conditions and limitations of his own to deal with. For he was never allowed to be a full monk in his religious order, due to his frail state and status in life, having to do the grunt work for the Community such as all the household chores. And still God called a little frail Polish nun, named St. Faustina to be the apostle and ambassador of his Divine Mercy for the world, even though she was very frail having poor health. Christ called her to write in a diary about his Divine Mercy, which later on would be well known to Catholics throughout the world, even though she hardly knew how to read or write.
Finally, God is calling people right now throughout the world to bring the truth of the gospel to those around them and to discern a call to the priesthood or religious life, where some of these people have disabilities and other challenges to overcome. However, these people are being turned away, rejected and the door slammed closed on them, for simply having to do things differently, because of a disability. For as a Church, we pray for more vocations to the religious life and the priesthood, but reject many who feel the call pressing on their heart, because they have a disability or other barriers and challenges to live with, not taking the time to get to know them or do proper discernment.
Dreams for Future Opportunities:
For I long for the day where I see more leaders within our churches who have a physical or mental disability, such as being blind or having clinical depression, which does not hinder them from bringing people closer to Christ. I long for the day where men and women who feel called to the religious life or priesthood would not be hindered, due to a physical or mental disability, e.g. being in a wheelchair or having schizophrenia, which can be managed with the wright medication. Again I long for the day where mental disorders, such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar, or schizophrenia would no longer come with a Bad stigma attached to them. For I long for the day when people with disabilities weather severe or mild would no longer be segregated into their own groups of being “us and them”, but rather we all being one body of Christ great and small alike having the opportunity to serve the Lord, using our many diverse gifts and talents. Still, I long for a day where people with disabilities are no longer lumped into a large group of people who do not measure up. Lastly, I long for the day where people with disabilities are recognized for their gifts, qualities, and abilities, rather then their limitations.
The truth is that all of us have limitations, disabilities and other challenges to face every day; but in Christ we are being commissioned to take our place within the church. For as sons and daughters of God the father, we all have been given the gift to discern are vocation, which will look different for every individual, whether they have a disability or not. Some are called to give themselves completely to God through religious life or the priesthood and others are called to raise a family, becoming the domestic church within the world, and still others are called to a vocation of single life, fully devoting themselves to bring the good news of Christ to all that they encounter. Finally, there are some who are called to be a light of Christ to those around them, within their places of work, day programs, group homes, hospital rooms, or to those who care for them and their daily needs. But each person is called to discern their vocation within the universal church and should not be hindered or Limited by people’s broad assumptions of a disability or other challenges.
But how do we as members of the Church progress forward in having a deeper understanding of those with mental and physical disabilities? Where do we begin to have true understanding for those who seem different from us, but in reality are simply human beings on the same Journey as us to the promised land of eternal life? It is through being educated about living with a disability, and from there not just learning about the limitations that come with a particular disability, but rather, learning about people’s abilities and how they rise above their limitations. For so often, when we educate ourselves about someone’s disabilities we tend to focus on the limitations, forgetting to learn about their many abilities that help them to rise above their barriers and challenges. And again, we ask them what they can not do, rather then asking them what they can do. We as the body of Christ need to come to a place of helping all people whether they have a disability or not, unlock their gifts and talents and from there, unlocking their vocation within the Church.
Here are some other articles and websites for people with a disability or other challenges discerning their vocation. I hope that these websites, blogs and articles help fellow discerners. And at the same time help bring more awareness of people with disabilities and other challenges also being called by God to discern their vocation.