In Philadelphia in the 1950s, a little boy was told that he could never become a doctor, a soldier, or a priest. The nuns – his grade school teachers – surely meant well when they encouraged Rick Curry to strive for more tenable vocations. When Rick was born without a right forearm, many presumed that a missing arm would limit him. Rick even got excused from a day of school when the right forearm of St. Francis Xavier toured through Philadelphia. Rick’s classmates prayed that this visit would restore Rick’s right forearm. It did not. When Rick returned home from the relic visit, still one-armed, his sister told him that she was glad he hadn’t changed – she liked him the way he was.
Rick Curry, SJ, saw his missing arm as a gift that enabled him to minister more deeply with others who have a disability. As a Jesuit brother, he founded the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped, a group that encouraged persons with disabilities to embrace their performance talents and give voice to the experience of having a disability. Rick also worked closely with wounded military veterans, empowering them to adjust to the physical and emotional consequences of military service. Many of these veterans, like Rick, were missing limbs.
“Rise up in splendor, your light has come!” In today’s beautiful readings, we are reminded that each one of us has received the grace of God. God is alive among us! We are called to recognize and celebrate the many gifts that God has given us, and we are called to recognize and celebrate the gifts of others. Sometimes, there can be a temptation to minimize the gifts that we or others have been entrusted to share with the world. We might think that we’re not good enough, that our gifts are too dented or meager to be of much use. We might have been told that we could never be a such-and-such. We might be paralyzed with the notion that we can’t offer all that is needed, that our gifts would not make a difference in a world so laden with very real brokenness.
Sometimes, also, we can be tempted to judge another person’s giftedness and faith. In the time of Saint Paul, there was great debate about who was called to be a Christian – was this new faith exclusive to Jewish believers, or was Christ’s Church open to non-Jews? In his letter to the Ephesians, today's second reading, Saint Paul emphasized that “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” We are all co-partners in the Mission of the Church. All of us! Women, men, every race, nation, and way of life. We’re all in this together.
I was born with cerebral palsy, a non-progressive neuromuscular condition. My walking style has invited police citations for public intoxication, and my speech can lead people to think that I have a mental impairment. Most of the time, I’m indeed sober, and CP does not affect my intelligence. I’ve had the frustration, many times, of being told that I can’t possibly have much to offer. People with disabilities are recipients of charity, not co-workers in the Christian Mission of justice and mercy, right? So wrong. Each one of us has meaningful gifts to offer, no matter what.
Just as the Magi brought gifts to Jesus, we are all called to generously share our gifts with Jesus. Our Light, Jesus, has come. The glory of the Lord shines upon each one of us. Recognizing and sharing the gifts we have to offer, and to be open to the gifts of others – this is what “rising up in splendor” truly means. We must continually encourage and support one another in our Christian journey. The prophet Isaiah reminds us today,“Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you.”
A little more than ten years ago, Jesuit Brother Rick Curry decided to seek ordination as a priest. He received a dispensation from the Canon law that requires a priest to have two hands, and was ordained a priest in 2009. Despite once being told that he could never be a doctor, soldier, or priest, Fr. Curry held a doctorate in theatre and devoted his life to ministry with wounded military veterans. Let us all follow Fr. Curry's example of refusing to let others' vision
restrict our own Light.
Sadly, Fr. Curry died two weeks ago and is being laid to rest this weekend in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote this week of this man’s wonderful ministry with the headline,“Fr. Rick Curry… used his missing limb to lift others.” As we focus today on Epiphany and on the promise of the new year ahead, let us enthusiastically embrace the gifts that we, and each one of our sisters and brothers, can use to lift up one another and bring Light to the world.
Kathleen Friel has been a Xavier parishioner since 2005, active in liturgical ministry, Ability Xavier, and Peace and Justice. She is also a member of the coordinating committee of the Women’s Ministry at Xavier. Kathleen has a PhD in neurophysiology and is the Director of Cerebral Palsy Research at the Burke Rehabilitation Center and Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County, NY. Growing up, she was also told that she could never be a doctor.
Since his passing, several beautiful stories about Fr. Rick Curry, SJ's life have been published in the New York Times,Philadephia Inquirer, and Washington Post.