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home : from the bishop : from the bishop February 21, 2019

Embracing our cross as an opportunity for grace
A Message From Most Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., Bishop of Trenton

I recently saw a movie entitled, “Hyde Park on the Hudson,” starring Bill Murray as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It told the story of the 1939 visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents of the current Queen of England, to President Roosevelt at his home in Hyde Park at the time of the New York World’s Fair.

Although the storyline suggested that the purpose of the trip was to enlist the support of the United States in the looming war against Germany, that was only a subplot to the movie’s portrayal of FDR’s ongoing extra-marital affair with a distant cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley.

As with many Hollywood style films, this portrayal attempted to create sympathy for the President’s infidelity. It was easy to resist that effort. I was more struck, however, by the very evident depiction of Roosevelt’s disability, hidden as it was at the time by those closest to the 32nd President. He was crippled from his youth by polio and was confined to a wheelchair. Frequently enough, the movie showed him being carried by aides to and from chairs and cars.

At a time when x-rays and medical histories of leaders regularly appear as headlines on the evening news, it amazed me how FDR’s infirmities could be so carefully guarded. Even more than that, I found his ability to govern our country out of a devastating depression and through a World War from a wheelchair almost unbelievable. Fact often is stranger than fiction.

There is something personal about my interest in Roosevelt’s biography. For most of the past year, I have been dealing with my own disability. Diabetes, which affects some 25 million Americans, has resulted in my left foot’s exposure to frequent ulcers and the slow destruction of its bone structure. For several months, I have worn a large, clumsy cast on my left leg. I visit a doctor regularly. I frequently need the assistance of a walker or crutches or a cane or someone’s arm or shoulder to move about.

Although I am the bishop and leader of a rather large northeastern diocese with 850,000 members, I have never felt the need to hide my affliction. On the contrary, I have tried to be very frank and open about it. I have a disability which is, in spiritual terms, a cross to carry. And I will probably have to deal with it in some fashion for the rest of my life.

No one chooses to be disabled or physically challenged. No one enjoys carrying a cross. Even Our Lord, on the night before he died, prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want (Matthew 26: 39).” And no one really knows why one particular “cup” is visited upon one person and not another. It just is.

I would be less than honest if I said I didn’t wonder. And, yet, in those quiet moments when it’s just the Lord and me talking, I sense that the Lord has given me an opportunity for grace. I’d like God to “let this cup pass” but for some reason, known only to him, I have to drink it. And I do.

With each passing day, the grace of acceptance and perseverance replaces an inclination to feel sorry for oneself or give up. I am not seeking any sympathy or pity here. I simply believe that in all the twists and turns of life, there is something to be learned, something to be achieved, something to be sacrificed, something to be used for good. At times, that “something” may be the result of a physical disability or challenge; at other times, it may be more emotional or vocational or social or relational. Sooner or later, everybody faces a “something” in life. The questions then become: What do we do? What do we think? What do we feel? What do we believe? The answers to these questions yield another, more consequential one: How do we live?

When I was a young boy and something would upset or bother me, my mother would say, “Only you can make you happy.” She was so right. And her advice is good for us all. We can choose to wallow in anger or self-pity or despair or we can say, “This isn’t easy but I am not going to let it get the best of me.”

When the weight of Jesus’ cross crushed him to the ground on the road to Calvary, he picked himself up not once, not twice, but three times and moved on. Yes, he died, but he then rose from the dead making the same reality possible for us all.

That’s what Easter is all about. That is what our faith is all about.

If only we would give it a chance.

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