In a beautiful entry on his blog, “Sententiae Minores,” Father Adam McMillan posits the following:
“I have for years promoted the idea that Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead was a developmentally disabled man. I would like to see St. Lazarus named a patron of the developmentally disabled and to serve as an example of their presence in the world of Jesus.
“In our eugenically murderous world where birth defects are ‘cured’ by abortion, we do not see as many disabled people around us as would have been present in any first-century village. There surely were such people around Jesus, so Lazarus may be the right person to represent them.”
Father Adam then goes on to cite several reasons why he holds that Lazarus, the friend of Jesus from Bethany, the brother of St. Martha and St. Mary, was developmentally disabled, among them the following well-thought-out concepts:
“Though a relatively important character in the New Testament, Lazarus not only never speaks but also never acts on his own. He is not named an apostle. He is not present outside of homes: his own and a neighbor’s.
“He lives in a home which is identified as the home of his sister Martha (Luke 10:38). Neither he, nor she, nor their sister Mary, are said to be married or have children. Nevertheless, Martha seems to be in charge of the household. When she appeals to an authority to get Mary’s help, she does not appeal to Lazarus but to Jesus (Luke 10:40).
“Jesus seems to be teaching the disciples when he calls him, “Our friend Lazarus” (John 11:11). This way of referring to Lazarus is suggestive of how people still speak about the severely disabled: reminding others of their value by speaking of them as a loved one and friend.
“The Jewish people who are present at the mourning are not there because of their own relationship to Lazarus but to comfort Martha and Mary (John 11:19).
“The mourners seem surprised that Jesus had such strong feelings for Lazarus (John 11:36). “After Jesus raises him from the dead, he has him walk as proof of life (John 11:44). Jesus does not have him speak, though that might have been good evidence. This fits with the idea that he is nonverbal.
“There is also no mention of Lazarus’ experience during those four days of death nor anyone asking him about them. The priests and Pharisees do not interrogate him like the man born blind (John 9:13-34) nor as they interrogated John the Baptist (John 1:19-28). They simply plan to kill him, as if he had no value in their eyes.
“If people want to see Lazarus after Jesus raised him from the dead, it is necessary for them to come out to Bethany rather than wait for him to come to Jerusalem (John 12:9).”
These are, of course, not the only reasons why Father Adam holds this position. Whether he is correct or not, the Church has never ruled on this issue.
However, it makes an important point: People who are developmentally disabled are special and beautifully loved by Jesus. These differently abled women and men have gifts and talents to offer the body of Christ, the Church, and their personhood.
We are blessed in the Diocese of Brooklyn, in parishes throughout Queens and Brooklyn, with parish faith formation programs that offer religious education classes for students of all ages. Holy Trinity in Whitestone regularly offers a monthly Mass for special needs persons. It is, by all accounts, a blessing for the community.
Under the guidance of St. Lazarus of Bethany, may more parishes’ faith formation programs rise up so that we can celebrate those among us who are developmentally disabled, who are important parts of the body of Christ, the Church.