Our grandson, is 7 years old and has severe multiple disabilities.  He just celebrated his first Holy Communion at the same time as his older brother.  Normally, children who make their first Holy Communion, in addition to having received the proper preparation, must also be conscious of the reality that Jesus in present within them.
Père Thomas Philippe, however, right from the beginning of L’Arche, decided to allow the most disabled persons access to Holy Communion.
What is the level of consciousness of our grandson?  Not even his mother can really say; she who knows his slightest needs better than anyone; who knows his pains or what gives him pleasure; because communication with him is very limited.  It is essentially reduced to a few fleeting glances, little exchanges that you must know how to decode.
There is life within him, deeply hidden within him that remains a mystery.  What is happening inside him when he breaks into laughter when he is all alone in his bed, or strapped into his wheelchair?  Is he experiencing something particular?  Is he able to think, to dream, to form images?  Mystery!
What does his life consist of?  You really cannot say that he DOES anything, aside from his « natural functions », and even then he needs to be helped.  When he is able to clumsily grasp the objects that are placed in front of him, he lets them fall without being able to pick them up again.  And even though his senses are perfectly intact, by himself he is not able to scratch where it itches, or wipe away a tear, or chase a fly from his face.  He is simply there, not even able to ask for help when he needs it.  He is only “presence”, at the heart of a family of four children.  A presence that is often heavy because he needs a lot of care; a presence upon which all the attention is focused. He is the most fragile and the most helpless.  He seems to be there to remind everyone of the essential, and he does that very well.  Maybe that is his mission.
He can communicate his joy and his suffering, but does he ever really become angry?  How is it possible that he could sin ?  He is entirely innocent.  It was to give himself to the  poorest of the poor that Jesus chose the appearance of bread.  That makes him a tabernacle when Jesus is inside him.
He does not have much to give.  Even his smiles, when they spread across his face, do not seem to be addressed to anyone in particular.  And in spite of all that, his beauty attracts us.  He is the object of continuous care and caresses and attention.  Since he is able to receive so well all that we give to him, why not give him the essential, Jesus himself.  Then, he will fulfill even better his mission which is precisely to remind us of that which is at the heart of what constitutes our life and his.  No matter what the success, the failure, the intelligence, the capacities… the essential is elsewhere.
The family, said John Paul II, is a small « domestic church », with Jesus always at the centre even if he is hidden.
We can visit a church and be in admiration of the architecture. We can look at the vaulted arches rising above us, the columns crowned with sculpted capitals… and often we pass before the Blessed Sacrament without even knowing it, or without having sufficiently given reverence.
In the same manner, we can visit our grandson’s family and forget that he is there.  Each member of the family is worthy of interest, like the columns with their decorated capitals that support the vaulted arches:  the oldest child, who is eight years old, already sees himself as a tennis champion awaiting his laurels; the third child, who is three, already impresses us with the extent of his vocabulary; and the baby was only born in the beginning of the summer and quite naturally is the object of all the attention.  And him…?  And him in that picture…?  How does he stand out?

« Each person is a sacred story », Jean Vanier tells us.

As Jesus, who asks nothing, and who can remain hidden for days on end hidden within the tabernacle if we do not open it in order to contemplate Him…Our grandson is there in his wheelchair smiling, or twisting in the lap of his mother, or lying in his bedroom resting… and if I, his grandfather, give him little or no attention, or do not show an interest in him, it is his mother who suffers most of all and it is the Body, it is love, that is wounded as if it were Jesus himself that had been forgotten.

Our grandson received the Divine Life the day of his baptism, and in a completely hidden manner, that Life continues its work within him.  He is able, simply by his presence, to transform the persons in daily contact with him because it is not possible to remain unmoved before him.

Not having any apparent self-will, what could he offer to God?  How could he offer himself?  One day, in the afterlife, he will participate in the eternal wedding banquet and the vision of the Father.  He will be transfigured as all of us will be.  Today, it is his parents that make the offerings for him. First of all, they offered him on the day of his baptism, even before they knew of his disability.  Afterwards, sometimes in communion with his sufferings, day after day, they have continued to welcome him as they discovered more and more the extent of his weakness.

Today, the family rhythm is determined by his needs.  All the decisions, from the most important to the smallest detail:  car, house, shopping, meals, vacations, strolls, visits to friends, trips… all are conditioned by his presence, by the desire for his well-being and development – which often implies sacrifices. The reality is that, being totally dependent, he cannot go anywhere by himself.  He cannot even move himself.  He is as vulnerable as the Eucharistic bread placed upon the altar – Jesus offered for us – he can only remain there where we have decided to place him.
And at the same time, it is really he that is showing us the way and educating us; teaching us patience, respect for fragility, a sense of gratitude and self-sacrifice, the value of the sacredness of life and of Hope.
All of the care and attention that he receives are in direct relation to the measure of dignity that his parents have always felt is rightfully his because of the life that he has been given.  This is way they insist so much that his bedroom be beautifully decorated, that he is always well-dressed, that his birthdays are always celebrated with as much flare and preparation as those of his brothers.
As grandparents, we can only be in admiration of such care and attention; of the tenderness and love that is given in spite of the growing difficulties and problems that are to come.  Difficulties and problems that, on a human level, and without faith perhaps, could have crushed out all form of hope.  But Hope is there.

Will there be progress… ?  Let us strive first of all to welcome him as he is.  And if we are able to maintain confidence, and to look at him through the eyes of God, then perhaps it will be him who teaches us most about how to go forward.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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