In a world that seems to expect perfection, people with disabilities can often be pushed to the margins. But the reality is that something as simple as an accident or an illness can befall anyone at anytime. You may wake up tomorrow and find yourself with a disability. How would that impact your life, your relationships, and your faith?
Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ, former host of St. Joseph’s Workshop, stopped by The Inner Life® recently to discuss living your faith with a disability. Fr. Matthew shared that he is an example of how one never knows when an injury or illness will change your life. When he was in his early 20s he suffered an injury in his brain, due to congenital defects in his brain’s blood vessels.
He recalled, “I ended up in the hospital and had brain surgery to repair the blood vessels in my brain. But in the process a lot of brain damage happened from the bleeding, from the subsequent surgery. And it left me with a lot of weakness on the left side of my body in particular. I had to learn how to walk again. I had to learn how to be independent again, and to use my left arm again.”
“Some of that use came back, I’m grateful to God I am able to walk and get around pretty well,” he said. “But not everything. The use of my left arm never really fully returned. I have some strength in the shoulder, but in the fine motor control in the hand, it never came back. And it was a challenging thing to face. Because there I was, a pretty young guy thinking my life was just beginning, and now it seemed like everything was thrown into confusion for me.”
Though a response of anger or doubt would be an understandable reaction, Fr. Matthew said that the experience actually deepened his relationship with the Lord.
“In my case it was very instrumental in helping me to look at my life more deeply,” he said. “It was directly because of that experience that I began to start looking at the priesthood, and eventually would enter the priesthood.”
“When everything is stripped away, when lose the ability to take care of ourselves, our ability to provide for ourselves, we have nowhere else to turn. We have nowhere else to go except to God, and that was a grace that I came to realize through that experience.”
A listener named Julie called in to The Inner Life and also shared how her Catholic faith has helped her accept the disability she has lived with since birth.
Julie confessed, “Early on I didn’t love myself. I didn’t love the fact that, to my childish eye, nobody in my environment had limitations like I did. And so there was a deep, deep resentment and I lashed out. I didn’t always accept the limitations.”
Julie shared that though she felt the world didn’t accept her, she always felt accepted in her Church community – and that led her on a journey to accepting herself.
Sharing her experiences of church as a child, Julie said, “That was the one place where I felt that it was a sanctuary from the world. The world early on showed me that it really wasn’t going to accept me the way that God did. The messages I got at Mass from the wonderful priests constantly, on a weekly basis, told me how much I was loved.”
She also shared that her Catholic faith has continued to be a place where she finds love, hope, and acceptance – especially during the tough times.
“During this pandemic I’ve been turning to Relevant Radio®, and it has gotten me through. My faith has been able to give me the courage to get out of bed in the morning, when it was really hard to.”
Echoing the experience of Fr. Matthew, Julie pointed out that living with a disability offers more opportunities to see how the superficial standards of the world are fleeting and unable to satisfy. The difficulties we face are an opportunity to see more clearly how much we are loved by our Creator, no matter what.
Julie said, “This pandemic has been a blessing in that it’s given me the isolation where the only thing I could really turn to, other than calling my family, is turning to God. And he’s constantly reminding me, through his words and the shows on Relevant Radio, how much I am loved no matter how I look on the outside.”
Listen to the full conversation below: