Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

‘We’ not ‘they’ — disability in the life of the church

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

From birth, Father Justin Glyn, a Jesuit in Australia, has been legally blind. Today, he is a civil and church lawyer who provides legal advice to his religious community and teaches in a seminary, all the while writing on theology, law and social issues.

By wearing telescope-like glasses, he has a bit of vision, but, as he puts it, “the world has always been a blur to me.” And so, most of his information comes from what he hears.

Father Glyn is featured in a new initiative promoted by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, called #IamChurch. This is part of the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, marking the fifth anniversary of the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation following the Synod on the Family.  

In a series of five videos, Father Glyn and others demonstrate the daily struggles of persons with disabilities, but also speak about their involvement in the lives of others. Instead of feeling like they are a burden to others or are “set aside,” they share how they actually provide their own contributions to society and their communities.

The goal of this effort is to present a healthy and theologically correct understanding of disability that is based sacred Scripture, our tradition and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. “My limits have their downsides,” Father Glyn says, “but they come with their own blessings. Not seeing much has helped me to develop a good memory, which has been helpful studying law and theology. But it has also worked well with my love of languages and music.”

Equally important, he observes that “as a priest, my limitations remind me that all of us are limited ... that we are not called to perfection as individuals, but we are called to share with each other the wounded limited nature which we believe Christ came to share with us and unite with his own.” 

The challenge for each of us then is to begin speaking about disability in the life of the church in terms of “we” and not “they.” When we do so, a whole new pastoral approach to disability opens. We begin to treat those who experience a disability not as passive recipients of the church’s attention, but as active Catholics who help all of us to discover our common vocation as baptized believers, all of whom are limited in some way.

During the Sunday Mass of Feb. 13, which will again be televised on WLS-TV, I will include a clip of one of these videos in my homily, which will focus on the Gospel of the beatitudes. In that scene, Jesus looks out over the crowd and points to all those suffering some form of human limitation: poverty, grief, persecution, want of every kind, and he calls them “blessed.”

Like the beatitudes, this initiative of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, led by Cardinal Kevin Farrell, invites us to discover people who are too often victims of the throwaway culture. They testify to a resilient humanity, as women and men who are not victims, but who help to reveal the face of the church to itself. These women and men, lay and consecrated alike, rightfully remind the people of God what it means for the church to be truly “we.”

They remind us, in the words of Father Glyn, that “we are not called to perfection as individuals. No! We are all called to share in the limited and vulnerable nature that we believe Christ came to share with us.”


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