A blind person is said to have asked St. Anthony: “Can there be anything worse than losing eyesight?” The saint replied: “Yes — losing your vision.”
This story resonates with Deacon Paul Escobar, who was ordained in January 2010, years after permanently losing his sight at the age of 30 following an unsuccessful glaucoma surgery.
Two months before he was to marry his wife, Lupita, he was completely blind. (The couple celebrates their 20th wedding anniversary in August.)
“It took me just one split second to shed a tear and give my life to God,” Deacon Escobar recalled about his vision loss. “I put everything in his hands.”
“I learned Braille within 30 days, and then I began the process of learning the various tools that would support me in my efforts to continue to be an effective and efficient employee,” Escobar recalled. “This meant locating, learning and using what were then very rudimentary software products designed to interact with my computer, my fellow employees and all the agencies we supported” for his information-technology work.
His acquired skills also help him in his work as a deacon — the word comes from the Greek diakonia, meaning servant or minister. Jesus made clear that the loving service of others is a hallmark of his disciples: “Let the greatest among you be … as the servant” (Luke 22:26).
Deacons in the Catholic Church teach the word of God and help lead the community in the practice of their faith. They assist at the altar, distribute the Eucharist, bless marriages, preside over funerals, proclaim the Gospel and give homilies, minister to the sick and assist in other duties.
Deacon Escobar loves serving the Church in this way — because he has always loved the Church.
His faith was instilled in him by his parents in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, town of Monte Alto, where his family was involved in their mission parish of Christ the King. His father was one of the trusted parishioners chosen to lector and announce upcoming events toward the end of Mass; his mother helped with the altar preparation; and the rest of his nine brothers and sisters played a variety of instruments and sang in the choir.
“The Church was a big part of our family life,” Escobar said.
So it is fitting that he found his way to the diaconate.
“I enjoy being a deacon,” he said. “We’re not the shepherd — we’re more like the sheep dog, helping to ‘herd’ the flock, while the priest is the shepherd leading the ‘sheep’ to the gate.”
Father Tom Pincelli, pastor at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Brownsville, Texas, urged him to study for holy orders and is pleased with his ministry. “He has faced challenge after challenge with no complaint and brings his positive attitude to his ministry in a variety of ways,” Father Pincelli said.
“There’s a sense of purpose to everything he does,” Father Pincelli continued. “Paul had every right to feel sorry for himself, but there’s never been any indication that his ‘other-abledness’ has held him back in any respect.”
The deacon ministers outside of the Church, too. He has utilized a variety of software programs in training 51-year-old Ismael Cavazos, a quadriplegic since the age of 18, on communicating via computer.
Cavazos met Escobar through the Texas Commission of the Blind in 2008.
“Technology has changed so much these past few years; I continually try to keep up with all the never-ending changes,” Deacon Escobar observed.
He says that he has relied upon his other senses, especially memory and hearing, more since losing his eyesight.
Rafael Mendoza, Escobar’s co-worker and fellow programmer in the county IT department, has known the deacon for the past 20 years, before Escobar lost his sight. “Everyone in the office admires and respects Paul for the effort he has made to get ahead,” Mendoza commented. “He’s incredibly self-sufficient and serves as an example to us all.”
The software Escobar uses is called “JAWS” — Job Access With Speech. It enables the computer to speak any word that the cursor pinpoints and also interprets what’s visually on the screen. As Escobar mouses around the screen or types a document, the program tells him what the cursor is pointing to or what he has typed so far.
Other new technology helps him during Mass: “I use my iPhone together with a wireless keyboard and an ear piece. I have to spend some time formatting the information into short lines of text between four to six words long, so that, as I’m speaking what I’ve just heard, I’m listening to what’s coming up. I guess you could call it ‘multi-sensing’ — speaking and listening at the same time.”
He added, “There’s even newer technology coming up which will help me to know what types of items are in front of me or help me to read the newspaper or the Roman Missal by just pointing to a page on the actual book.”
Even though technology helps him, he admits that it is frustrating to not have sight, because, “unlike many other religions, the Catholic Church involves all the senses — not just speaking and listening. It would be nice to see [again].”
The goals of Escobar’s ministry reflect his enthusiasm: “I hope to be able to always have the right words to say to someone in need and to be able to perform all my duties with ease,” although he admits, “I’ve got a long way to go with that.”
“All my life I’ve felt God’s presence. He has been very good to me. Some people will ask, ‘How can you say that he has been good to you when you can’t see?’ In many ways, God has given me more than a person who has all of his senses. I can do a lot with what I’ve got.”
“In looking back at my life,” he reflected, “I can truly say that I am thankful to God for all he has given me. Everyone I interact with helps me ‘see’ God … especially when they can look beyond my blindness and support my ‘vision.’ I want to give my Lord all that I can, and being a deacon can, I feel, help me to do this.”
Sue Groves writes from
Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
Sue Groves/The Valley Catholic photo