Be Gifts to Others and the World

Family Matters: Catholic Culture

Cerebral palsy prevents my friend Terry from walking and from using her arms and hands as most people do. She can’t cook her food, drive a car or even put on her own jacket without assistance. She is not angry at God over these limitations. She feels confident that he made her and loves her as she is — and that he has allowed (not designed) her disability for her good.

As a young woman, she asked God in frustration why she could not have a family. Over time, she has experienced peace in accepting that he has a different plan for her life than conceiving and bearing children.

When the Psalmist wrote, “I praise you, so wonderfully you made me,” he wasn’t referring only to those who have neither disability nor disorder. God doesn’t define us by our difficulties, whether they be nearsightedness, mental illness or same-sex attraction.

He sees our beauty, loves us and calls us to be gifts to others and to the world, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his theology of the body.

When we give ourselves as a gift — in the midst of our challenges — we discover who we really are. We are created male or female, and our body is fused together with our mind and soul. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve saw in each other no “interior rupture and opposition between what is spiritual and what is sensible,” St. John Paul wrote.

Who we are on the inside is connected to the body on the outside, although that sometimes gets lost in our modern world.

Whether we are married, consecrated or single, we express the gift in the original truth of our bodies — in their masculinity and femininity.

We are created and enter the world as male and female, with awareness of the masculine and feminine meaning of the body, St. John Paul II wrote: “Man, whom God created male and female, bears the divine image imprinted on his body ‘from the beginning.’ Man and woman constitute two different ways of the human ‘being a body’ in the unity of that image.”

While God loves us inside and out, he knows what we can and can’t change about ourselves. He won’t necessarily take away a disability or disorder, because, through it, he can bring good in our lives.

But he does call us, through his grace, to become new persons in Christ.  

As they strive for holiness, many Catholics hear God call them to be a gift to their spouse in marriage. Others, such as Terry, give the gift of themselves to people around them in the single or consecrated life.

We can fully discover our true selves only in a sincere giving of ourselves, according to the Vatican II pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes.

Terry’s disability does not keep her from giving her uniquely feminine gift to others every day — through her words, actions and the joy she receives from the Lord. She says she takes confidence in the Lord’s affirmation of love for her body, as well as for her soul.

“If a man or a woman is capable of making a gift of himself for the kingdom of heaven, this proves in its turn (and perhaps even more) that there is a freedom of the gift in the human body,” St. John Paul wrote.

In Christ and in his Church, Terry and believers in every state of life find the freedom to be who they really are — a gift.  

Susan Klemond writes from

St. Paul, Minnesota.