There’s an organization in Jamaica called Mustard Seed Communities that provides homes for people with severe disabilities. In my last assignment, the members of the parish youth group would go down there each year to volunteer as part of a mission trip. It was not easy work, but it was very rewarding to see how the teenagers from the parish learned to interact with the residents of the Mustard Seed homes. Many of the children they were helping suffered with cerebral palsy and cognitive disabilities, so our kids couldn’t really converse with them or interact with them in the way they were accustomed to with their peers back home – no clever jokes, no sports, no games. At the beginning of the week, you could see that our kids were very uncomfortable; confronted with those twisted little bodies in their wheelchairs, they had never felt so helpless in their lives. But it wasn’t long before they learned that the children in the residence weren’t so different from them – they liked music, and to be tickled; they liked normal things like birthdays and cake. By the end of the week, our kids were taking the children out of their wheelchairs and holding them for hours on end, they were smiling and laughing as they took the time patiently to feed them, and they were saying their prayers for them as they put them to bed at night. Through the experience, they discovered the humanity of the children of Mustard Seed and their own humanity as well.
In every Mustard Seed community there is a chapel. As part of the daily schedule, the full-time caretakers bring each child into the chapel to sit before the Blessed Sacrament for an hour. It’s perhaps understandable that people might wonder what the point of that is. After all, these children would have no real understanding of what the Eucharist is or how to pray. It’s a remarkable demonstration, however, of faith in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It doesn’t matter whether or not the children actually understand what they’re sitting before. Our Lord is there in the Blessed Sacrament, He delights in having them there with Him, and like the sun He radiates His love upon these beloved children of His.
At some point during the week, the supervisor of the community where we stayed told me in conversation that all of the children at Mustard Seed had received the sacrament of Baptism. Thus, the wound of Original Sin that they inherited from our first parents had been washed away and their souls were filled with the life of God. Through the sacrament, they were grafted into the family of Christ, the Church, and enjoy status as sons and daughters of God. As I watched these children in the chapel and saw our kids caring for them that week, it dawned on me that these children, because of their cognitive disabilities, were incapable of personal sin. That means they were perfect souls, little saints among us, who when they die are certain to go directly to heaven. We cannot say the same for ourselves. Unlike them, we can and do sin. We are not perfect souls and must work out our salvation, with the help of grace, during our lives in the world. It was then that I realized that by going there to work at Mustard Seed, these little saints were actually helping us more than we were helping them. For when, please God, we encounter our friends again in the perpetual light of God, their eyes will light up with perfect recognition and they will thank us for the small kindnesses we showed them during our week on mission, and we will thank them for helping us poor sinners get to heaven.