Paula has profound intellectual and multiple disabilities and she spends much of her time rocking gently, smiling and looking around her. She cannot talk but she clearly loves to sit outside in her wheelchair, in spontaneous appreciation, listening to the birds, feeling the warmth of the sun and the cool of the wind, taking in the scent of the flowers. Just watching the world go by. Above all, she loves people to come and sit with her. As Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche says, people like Paula live by the heart.
Paula reminds us all, especially very busy people, to stop and see that God has given us so many gifts, and often the most wondrous gifts are the simple ones that we take for granted. It is also easy to overlook or ignore or indeed think less of people who rely on the heart, who do not seem to be ‘like us’ because of disability, age, vulnerability or frailty.
In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples come to a crucial turning point as Jesus asks them, “who do you say I am?”. Peter’s reply, you are “the Christ” is inspired and spontaneous. It is from the heart. People like Paula ask simply by their presence, “who do you say I am?”. The response is also inspired: each human being, whatever his or her capacities, is wonderfully made in the image of God and as St Paul tells the Galatians, all the baptised are one in Christ. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’.
In his encyclical on ecology, Laudato ‘si, Pope Francis points out that we are deeply connected to the world around us. However, he adds that “a sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.” The Pope says that “we have only one heart” because ecology is also human ecology. An attitude of the heart allows us to see the world around us with wonder and as grace filled, so that all creation is alive to the glory of God. And the heart reminds us that every human being is a Christ for the other.