Love, Life, Grace and Salvation Are Pure Gifts From God

“‘God is Love’ and love is his first gift, containing all others.” (CCC 733)

Alonso Cano (1601-1667), “The Crucifixion”
Alonso Cano (1601-1667), “The Crucifixion” (photo: Public Domain)

“We are called to be great saints; don’t miss the opportunity!” — Mother Angelica

Born with spastic cerebral palsy, I am the third oldest of nine children. I use a power wheelchair for mobility. At 69, dependence on others has been a reality for my entire life. For most of my life, my dad was my primary caregiver. He was my arms and legs, taking care of my basic needs until he couldn’t do it anymore. This is a column about a time when he still could.

Dad set up a special checking account for a special newsletter ministry that lasted 10 years, from 1983 to 1993.

When I graduated, with the help of a spiritual director, we began a newsletter for shut-ins and the disabled community. Priests and other renowned Catholics wrote for us. Over the time it existed, a couple of parishes at different times allowed us to use their nonprofit stamp. We called the newsletter “Wheels for Christ.”

Many people worked behind the scenes, allowing us to put out a professional newsletter monthly from September to June each year. Reaching out to people in this way was very rewarding. I knew we were touching lives and reaching souls.

The newsletter ministry began with the word processor I had gotten years before on Christmas from my parents. From that day to this, I attempted to develop those skills and glorify God. Countless people have helped me along the way. I am blessed they have been in my life.

I began this column with a quote from Mother Angelica, the foundress of EWTN. The quote is a challenge for all of us. This is especially true for those of us who depend on others to keep our independence. The humility of having people take care of our basic needs isn’t easy. Still, it is one of the splinters in the cross I have carried throughout my life.

Writing about my faith and my disability has been my life’s passion. It has helped me share both good and bad times. In a huge way, through my writing, God has transformed me from an angry child to an adult who accepts my state in life. This has been a lifetime process and will continue to be until the day I die. Like most of us, I still have times when I shout out to God and say, “God, you are pushing the envelope too far!”

Every time I say it, I feel guilty. Like Mom used to say, “Feeling guilty is a Catholic thing.” A vivid example of this happened one Christmas: My oldest brother was scheduled to serve midnight Mass. Despite a blizzard, the entire family packed into our station wagon. With prayer, we got to and from the church safely.

This was in the mid-1960s. It showed us children the depth of our parents’ faith — in hindsight, it might have been wiser for us to stay home that Christmas Eve. At times, it seems this happened a lifetime ago, and it did. Still, I recall it as if it occurred yesterday.

I also recall our family praying the holy Rosary nightly. The Shrine of St. John Neumann sponsored the 15-minute broadcast on a local radio station in the early evening. It was a family ritual. Back then, it was either the Joyful, Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries. When I was a child, this classic prayer form seemed repetitive. It was something we did nightly as a family.

When I went to college I got out of practice for a couple of years, but I began attending daily Mass at the Newman Center. Over time, with frequent Mass and Eucharist, I was being transformed from a “Sunday” or “obligated” Catholic to someone who has tried to live his faith daily.

A wonderful priest, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, introduced me to the “Scriptural Rosary.” He made three 30-minute cassettes, one for each of the original traditional mysteries, with his own meditations. When the Mysteries of Light were introduced, he made a tape with reflections for the Luminous Mysteries.

The Luminous Mysteries were not introduced until Oct. 16, 2002, late in the papacy of St. John Paul the Great. Over time, this has become my favorite set of Rosary mysteries. These were about Christ’s public life — namely, the Baptism of Jesus, the Wedding at Cana, the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration and, lastly, the Institution of the Eucharist. These are especially powerful when one uses A Scriptural Rosary Book. Through such a tool, I’ve come to love this traditional Catholic prayer form.

Among my treasured memories of the years I knew the Oblate priest were two Masses he celebrated in our family’s home. More than 30 people gathered on each occasion. Our dining table became an altar. Bread and wine were transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. What a blessing!

At one point, a new computer was something I really needed. The money came that I earmarked for some time.

I wanted something simple. I didn’t need an instrument with a lot of bells and whistles. The simpler it is to work, the better. All I wanted was a tool to share my faith, and in the process, give glory to God.

A simple note of encouragement can brighten someone’s day. Like a visit from a friend, a letter or note can connect a person to his or her past. It may even give an individual hope for his future.

Those words of encouragement can put wind in your step to seize the opportunity and, like St. Paul, “run the good race.” Such chances mean others might find you as an important voice in developing your working skills. We all have developed skills by navigating through our life experiences. We all have lessons and wisdom to share with others. This is true of our faith community.

Life and grace were given to us by God — a true gift granted to us by our Creator. We can use this precious gift for good or evil. A loving God gives us free choice. Sin came into the world through mankind. Christ’s life, death and resurrection gave us sinful human beings hope of eternal life with Christ in heaven.

I hope my words are a source of encouragement to those who read them and realize the gift from God those words were intended to be!