1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Fourth Sunday of Lent
FR. JOHN YOCKEY
The institutional buildings stand empty now just east of the city of Jefferson. Founded in 1904 as “St. Coletta School for Backward Youth,” its name was changed in 1931 to “St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children.”
The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi (the Lake Drive Franciscans) ministered there with caring devotion for years. The spirituality which enfleshed their dedication helped raise national appreciation for the right of every person with special needs to develop their full potential.
Today, St. Coletta of Wisconsin, Inc. models small, group home living to offer focused support while each resident mainstreams in a school or work place suited for them.
She’s been called “the grandma of special education.” Sr. M. Theodore Hegeman, OSF (1907-2003) served in numerous capacities at St. Coletta’s, becoming a widely respected leader in her pioneering field. President Lyndon Johnson honored her at a White House ceremony for her untiring advocacy on behalf of those so unfairly marginalized.
Sr. Theodore composed the ceiling-to-floor inscription inside the old main entrance off Highway 18. “This home is dedicated to Christ and his little ones whose handicap he willed to lead others to him, to confound the proud, to receive … guileless service. To serve them is to be one of God’s hands to share others’ pain, to live the charity of Christ. In them we see the most probable saints of God who give selfless glory to him and manifest his power.”
A startling claim, profoundly Christian, basic to the meaning of the cross.
Sunday’s Gospel recalls a cultural presumption of ancient Israel. The severe handicap of physical blindness was considered divine punishment for either one’s own sin or that of one’s parent(s). The healer from Nazareth corrected such serious error and shed light on the real heart of the matter.
The man he meets was born blind “so that the works of God might be made visible through him,” Jesus clarifies. (v. 3)
Blindness, like any handicap, is grace-filled, a paradox we often miss but an underlying fact of life we need to recognize for a mature grasp of human dignity. Note the plural: “works of God.”
The Creator was at work in this son of Abraham his entire lifetime. The obvious burden of his condition with its social stigma greatly humbled him and his parents. God alone knows how they persevered, but they did. Their very weakness demonstrated strength other than their own, empowering them to carry on regardless of limitations, discouragement and setbacks.
When he sees the man, Jesus mediates his cure through natural elements, affirming their value. He spits on the ground, makes clay with his saliva and smears it on the man’s face. The Lord sends him to wash his face in a pool, and he returns “able to see.” (vs. 6-7)
His physical sight confirms the faith, which moved him to trust Jesus while still blind. That faith only deepens after he suffers expulsion from the synagogue for praising his healer. Later, Jesus reveals that he is the long-awaited messiah. The man believes and falls down in worship.
The Risen Christ continues his work in our own conversion process. His compassion toward the vulnerable demonstrates where he’s readily found. We draw closest to him when we quit pretending and accept our personal vulnerability. Our individual handicaps are true Godsends which teach us how special each of us is precisely because each of us needs the Lord.
Whether we’re athletic or crippled, sharp or dull, sober or addicted, we have issues. But we’re beautiful in God’s heart because of our crooked lines, not despite them. He, not we, makes us holy.
He brings us together. There’s no room for arrogance. Rather than see through one another, we’re here to help see one another through.
St. Anthony on the Lake Parish, Pewaukee, is blessed by residents from a St. Coletta group home who are a valued part of the 5 p.m. Vigil Mass. They’re just themselves, real people who therefore add so much. A few have slurred speech, but nothing a hug can’t understand. We share updates and prayer requests and just enjoy keeping in touch.
Sr. Theodore was right. The most probable saints of God manifest his power in candid simplicity.
- Do you accept your own vulnerability?
- Does your parish welcome everybody?
- How do the “marginal” enrich your community?