Archdiocese of Washington, DC by Msgr. Charles Pope:
Allow me to begin with a parable. Every now and then I take a perfectly good paper clip and I untwist and reconfigure it for some purpose. Once I used untwisted paperclips to hang Christmas ornaments on the tree. Another time I untwisted and fashioned a paperclip into a hook to keep my file drawer from rolling open. Now if paperclips could see, or think and talk, they might be horrified and saddened to see a fellow paperclip so deformed. And perhaps I could try and explain that these “deformed” paperclips were actually not a disaster, they were quite useful and important to me in their “deformed” condition. But alas, the paperclips cannot understand this, they just “look” with sadness and horror on the deformed paperclips. After all how can you expect a paperclip to understand something other than clipping paper? They are just paperclips after all and can’t understand deeper things beyond the world they know, which is clipping paper.
I have often wondered if this isn’t something of the truth about us in our understanding of things such as disability, birth defects, and personal challenges of some of our fellow human family members. As we look upon the disabled, the handicapped, those who struggle with deformity, mental illness, profound and/or mild mental disability we are often moved to sadness and even horror. And we easily ask, “Why does God allow this?!” We quickly conclude that such people’s lives are unhappy or that they will never reach full potential.
And yet I wonder if we really know what we are talking about. Who of us can really say what our own purpose in God’s plan is, let alone anyone else’s? We are like paperclips in a drawer who know only one thing. Our minds are too small for us to ever understand the very special and significant role that even the most “impaired” in our world play. Perhaps in heaven we will realize what an indispensable and central role role they had in God’s plan and victory. Of all the paperclips in the drawer some of the most useful to me are the ones I twist and refashion.
A knowledge too high – I pray you will accept my humble example of a paperclip. I mean no disrespect to the human person in comparing us to paperclips. We are surely more precious and complicated and God does not glibly use us like paperclips. But my example must be humble to illustrate what is, for us, a knowledge too high to grasp: the knowledge of the dignity and essential purpose of every human being to God and his plan.
Our judgments in this matter cannot be much better than a paperclip in a drawer compared to God’s omniscient wisdom. If it is absurd for us to think a paperclip could understand our ways is it really much less absurd to think we can understand all God’s ways? And if we cannot understand his ways, why do we make judgments as to another person’s role, usefulness, beatitude or status?
We too easily look down on the poor, but scripture says we should look up to them and that God is especially close to the poor, the suffering, the brokenhearted and the humble. Scripture says he uses the lowly to humble the proud. And yet still we so easily look with pity on those we consider disadvantaged.
A Story – Over twenty years ago I worked for a year with the profoundly mentally disabled. They lay in beds and wheelchairs often with little muscle control. None of them could talk and only a few could engage in rudimentary communication. There was one man in his forties who had never emerged from the fetal position. He lay in a large crib his tiny, yet clearly adult body, curled up like a newborn babe. And on his face the most angelic smile that almost never diminished.
He had been baptized as an infant and to my knowledge could not have sinned. I looked with marvel each visit upon innocence and a beatific countenance. What an astonishing gift he was. And who knows, but God, why he was this way? But God DOES know and I think had very important reasons to permit this. There was something central and indispensable in this man’s existence. Some role only he could fill. Apparently I was not able to fill that role.
He was not disabled, he was differently abled, uniquely abled for something different than the ordinary. Looking upon him I had little doubt that he was directly in touch with God in a way that I never had been, for his radiant face infallibly conveyed that. With our human eyes we can be saddened even appalled. But we’ll understand it better by an by. One day, in the great by and by, we may well be surprised to learn that the most central and critical people in God’s plan were the most humble and often the most broken, and that we would never have made it without them.
This video depicts the paradox of disability that sometimes shines through to teach us that we do not see the whole picture. A child was born with significant defects but suddenly as he grew remarkable gifts showed forth. Just a little reminder from God, a glimpse of what God sees, that the disabled are to him differently and wonderfully abled. Meet Louisville's own Patrick Henry Hughes.