When Rick Santorum’s article “Two Years Worth Every Tear” was included in my book, “A Special Mother is Born, ” my favorite line was “Living with Bella (his daughter with trisomy 18) has been a course in character and virtue”. Each of the thirty-four stories written by parents of special needs children contains a lesson which the so-called ‘disabled’ child has taught the family, and those who have been fortunate to meet them. Each lesson is unique, yet there is a common theme; having a child with special needs is a school of love for the parents.
“Greater love has no man than this, he who gives up his life for his brother” John 15:13
None of us who contributed to my book died a physical death for our child, but day by day we die to ourselves for our child’s special needs. Our expectations of what type of child we would have dies and is replaced with a new vision of what perfection is in God’s eyes. Then a whole new paradigm of giving is unveiled, as we learn that love is expressed in little, repetitive, unseen acts of service. In allowing ourselves to be shaped and molded into willing servants of love, our character is purified from selfishness, providing fertile soil in which virtues grow; patience, humility, kindness, diligence, and most of all, charity, or love.
“For the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 1:13
God’s ways are not the ways of the world; we avoid the pain which accompanies character formation. We’d rather have our own way, and remain selfish. A child with special needs challenges our complacency. That is why a child like my daughter with Down syndrome is widely rejected and great pains are taken by the medical community to help women avoid giving birth to them. Those whose disability cannot yet be prenatally diagnosed are seen as tragedies.
Dominic Gondreau’s life is no tragedy. It was planned from the beginning of time by a loving God who had an amazing time in history in mind when He created Dominic. This moment when Pope Francis, circling St Peter’s Square in the pope mobile, spotted him and took Dominic in his arms before the eyes of the world. The little boy with cerebral palsy threw his arm around the Pope’s neck and returned his kiss, radiating a joy from his face which captivated the hearts of millions as it graced every major news headline that evening. His father explains what transpired.
“Why is the whole world so moved by images of this embrace? A woman in the Square, moved to tears by the embrace, perhaps answered it best when she to my wife afterward, “You know, your son is here to show people how to love.” To show people how to love. This remark hit my wife as a gentle heaven-sent confirmation of what she has long suspected: that Dominic’s special vocation in the world is to move people to love, to show people how to love. We human beings are made to love, and we depend upon examples to show us how to do this.”
Paul Gondreau is Dominic’s father, and a professor of theology at Providence College. His education prepared him to understand a moment like this, but his experience as Dominic’s father was no less instructive. I was fortunate to meet the Gondreau family at Camp Care, a semi-annual gathering of families with special needs children at Crossroads Physical Therapy in Connecticut. I was impressed by how Paul, his wife Christiana and their children gently cared for Dominic, played games with him while basking in his cheerful presence.
We swapped stories, relishing the kinship of special parents. Paul told me that his work took him to Rome for a semester and I wished them bon voyage. While watching the Easter Mass of Pope Francis live, in the pre-dawn darkness of Connecticut, I was thrilled to see Dominic singled out for attention by the Holy Father. As their embrace was cheered by the crowd, I let out a shout of joy, waking my family with, “Pope Francis gets it, he knows the amazing gifts our special needs children offer the world and he wants the world to know too!”
Paul Gondreau, the consummate professor, does not allow this teachable moment to be lost,
“But how can a disabled person show us how to love in a way that only a disabled person can? Because the Cross of Christ is sweet and is of a higher order. Christ’s resurrection from the Cross proclaims that the love he offers us, the love that we, in our turn, are to show others, is the REAL reason he endured the Cross in the first place. Our stony hearts are transformed into this Christ-like love, and thereby empowered to change hatred into love, only through the Cross. And no one shares in the Cross more intimately than the disabled. And so the disabled become our models and our inspiration. Yes, I give much to my son, Dominic. But he gives me more, WAY more. I help him stand and walk, but he shows me how to love. I feed him, but he shows me how to love. I bring him to physical therapy, but he shows me how to love. I stretch his muscles and joke around with him, but he shows me how to love. I lift him in and out of his chair, I wheel him all over the place, but he shows me how to love. I give up my time, so much time, for him, but he shows me how to love.”
Thank you Professor Paul Gondreau for the exegesis on the power of the Cross, and thank you Professor Dominic Gondreau for the lesson on love. May God grant us the humility to learn from his professors.
Read the entire article by Dr. Paul Gondreau here: