My parents, nieces and nephews are active in Special Olympics. I have helped coach track and this spring spent the day at a swimming meet for Special Olympians. My niece has special needs and the entire family has become involved – supporting her, coaching the athletes, raising community awareness, organizing events. I have written before that we all have times and places where we KNOW God is. Sure, it is easy to experience God in church on Sunday. But I know, without a doubt, God is on the track at Melrose High School Thursday nights in the spring and summer, working in the lanes at Melrose Bowl each Sunday afternoon and evening in the winter, and is present everywhere these amazing athletes are.
There is a truth and beauty in their smiles. Nothing is hidden or masked. You can see, hear, and feel their joy. Often their spirits soar, filled with genuine excitement, and express it without fear of criticism. They are open about their feelings, not hiding behind pride or fear. They are gifted with the ability to live in the moment.
Their motto, recited before each competition, is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Loudest cheers are not necessarily for the winner, but for the final person to finish. Because they kept going. They never gave up.
It struck me – how do God’s teachings apply? I did some research and found information about the need to understand the teachings regarding salvation and having the ability to repent from sin. But what if you are unable to comprehend the idea of “sin”? Do they live in a special state of grace based on their challenges? These are all profound theological arguments for scholars far above my Catholic understanding/pay grade.
This is what I know. Yes, in church on Sunday, they won’t know the “right” words. (But, who are we to judge? Do we have the revised Nicene creed with “consubstantial with the Father” figured out?) They might not know how to hold their hands or when to bow or genuflect. But are the mechanics, in their cases, that important? Shouldn’t we delight in their presence in our community? What if we all could live that honesty, with our hearts on display?
I found John 9:2-3
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
A day with these athletes will show you these works of God. I personally believe we just need to trust God’s plan for them and us. I think they are definitely created by God to teach us all a few things. (And their families teach us about strength and patience – God bless all of you!) They are gifts from God and not condemned, not punishment, not retarded, or any other awful, judgmental description.
God is alive in them! His works are displayed in them! In the Irish language, they use the term “duine le Dia” to describe individuals with mental challenges. It translates to “a person with God.” One night on the track, in the lanes, on the court, or in the pool will show you this is true.