Years ago when we attended school we did not know anyone who had a disability. In those days people with disabilities were often isolated, institutionalized and kept out of view. Many things have changed for the better since then. People with disabilities are largely raised at home, educated in schools with typical students. Attitudes are changing for the better. It is heartening to see this.
Still there is a long way to go when it comes to full acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities in the Church and in the culture at large. People with disabilities are just as equally made in God’s image as the rest of us.
We are told in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis the following:
God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27
When we encounter another human being, we are being brought into contact with the divine image, which that person reflects back to us and this strengthens us. When we see the image of God in a person with a disability, we are changed forever and radiate gratitude back to that person and to God. Everyone who lives with, works with or ministers to persons with disabilities has the opportunity to recognize the image and likeness of God in them.
We are seeing more special needs catechism programs, curricula, materials and technologies than ever before.
More children and adults with disabilities are receiving the sacraments and participating in the liturgy with reverence and attention and most importantly with joy and an awareness of the deep abiding presence of God. In addition to the religious education of children with disabilities, the Church can minister to the spiritual needs of parent and families. The Church can help us to access divine mercy and guidance within our soul. The Church can help us guide and structure our prayer lives so that we can relate our experience as parents of children with disabilities so that we connect deeply with God.
When we look through the lens of faith, when we emphasize that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, we as people of faith can focus our gaze so that fear is replaced by love. We find the strength to engage the person with disability and relate to him or her in a deeply compassionate and personal way.
David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more.