By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 28, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE—Growing up, Stephen Eubanks attended Mass and religious education classes regularly. But because he was deaf, he struggled to learn and understand his Catholic faith. He hopes that today, with more readily available resources, others will not experience the same obstacles in their relationships with God.
Eubanks offered the second reading in American Sign Language at the Nov. 3 Faith and Sharing Mass celebrated by Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III at St. Gabriel Church. The Mass was hosted by the St. Gabriel Knights of Columbus and the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry.
Eubanks, a Knight in the St. Gabriel Council, had the idea to host the Mass for those with disabilities at St. Gabriel as part of the Knights’ Faith in Action Program. Under this new format, Knights of Columbus councils are encouraged to host an annual Mass for “individuals or families who might not normally feel comfortable participating in a regularly scheduled Mass,” according to their website. The archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry typically offers a Faith and Sharing Mass for those with special needs twice a year.
During his homily, Bishop Shlesinger spoke of his 95-year-old father and his desire to maintain his independence.
“He still goes bowling once a week so he’s still able to walk and drive a car short distances. I have a question for y’all. Should I help my 95-year-old father, or should I let him help himself?” he asked. “Surely, he does things a little slower and it causes me to be a little more patient with my father, and I think there’s another purpose to letting somebody do for themselves. Father taught me many things in life, but I think when we get older, we crave our independence and don’t want to depend on other people to assist us all the time.”
God sustains us
The first reading from the Book of Wisdom, Bishop Shlesinger reminded the congregation, said that God’s imperishable spirit is present within all of us.
“I found that interesting. When I think about the food we eat, oftentimes we put something in the food to make it imperishable. By some kind of chemicals or salt as a preservative, we can extend the shelf life—or through refrigeration, the life of a product,” he said. “But God’s imperishable spirit is in us—trying to preserve that life within us.”
God has a remedy for all things, the bishop said, though it may not always be the one we expect.
“I never liked the phrase, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ I know what it means—that we’re not supposed to be lazy and that certain things we should do for ourselves,” he said. “But God helps those who ask for help or pray. God always asks us to pray—ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
We have to have total confidence in God, because he sustains us, Bishop Shlesinger said.
“We are very clever people. We have Yankee ingenuity. We are inventors of interesting things to make life easier, to make doors more accessible to others. We have medical procedures to help us live longer. But even in these inventions of these good things, we can be more dependent on ourselves rather than God. We’ll get to God when we can no longer help ourselves,” he said. “Why don’t we start first with God and ask for God’s help in all things?”
For Eubanks, the bishop’s homily struck a chord.
“Bishop Ned spoke about his 95-year-old father and how we don’t always need to do things for others, but we need to support them while they help themselves,” he said. “Also, we need to still support those with disabilities who need us to help and encourage them to help themselves.”
Eubanks said he thought the Mass was “wonderful” and accomplished what he’d hoped when he brought the idea to his fellow Knights.
“I wanted my council to host the Faith and Sharing Mass at St. Gabriel so that it will bring awareness to those with disabilities who are struggling in their search for God,” he said. “Many times, these people are forgotten, and some Catholic parishes do not know how to service their needs.”
Maggie Rousseau, director of the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry, strives to be a resource for parishes who work to make their programs and ministries more accessible to those with disabilities. The Mass at St. Gabriel was an example of helping with a parish’s needs and enabling access for all.
“Because of the Mass, we identified three individuals/families living with disabilities from St. Gabriel’s who have not yet received sacraments,” she said. “The parish and I are already in contact to see what we can plan to get the process started. The families are very excited to have their children in full communion with the Church.”
A Mass for the deaf will be Dec. 14 at Transfiguration Church, Marietta. A Faith and Sharing Mass will be held in the spring at St. Joseph Church, Athens. For more information on these Masses, or the work of the Disabilities Ministry, contact Maggie Rousseau at email@example.com or 404-920-7682.