Braeden may not articulate his love for Jesus in the way we do, but he does it in his own way that is just as meaningful. He truly understands the beautiful gift that he is receiving.
People can be rich and have a beautiful home, but if they are without hope and love, without God's blessing, they are poor in spirit.
That's why the Mass on Sunday May 17 at St. Francis Assisi Church in Braintree was nothing short of a "miracle" when several children, including my 8-year-old special needs grandson Braeden O'Doherty, received his first Holy Communion.
As Father Joe White said at the Gate of Heaven CYO Basketball League Awards Night, where he received the Jack McDonough Award for his dedicated service to the youth of South Boston, "the mission of the Church is to help all people know God." Father White is among those who know and love Braeden, and how special this day truly was. Father White also reminded us, that it was our own Richard Cardinal Cushing who first opened the doors of opportunity to special needs children, long before it became popular in society. We grew up in a South Boston listening to him advocate for the handicapped and disabled. Father Joe will soon be heading up a new program initiated by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, which will serve men, women and young adults who are experiencing substance abuse.
The religious instruction that Braeden received from Marie Manning and the staff at St. Francis was amazing, but the loving example and dedication of parents like Braeden's is truly heroic. Their sacrifices and love for their special needs children is a gift from God. They work hard for their children and never lose faith. They truly perform miracles every day.
When receiving their first Holy Communion, children get something far more important than material things -- they are receiving the gift of Jesus. Braeden may not articulate his love for Jesus in the way we do, but he does it in his own way that is just as meaningful. He truly understands the beautiful gift that he is receiving.
I told my friend Barry Hynes, a caring Catholic, "Barry, I've had the privilege of knowing some extraordinary people while serving Boston as its mayor, representing our great country as ambassador. But Braeden receiving his first Holy Communion is the proudest day of all."
My grandson may not win a high school state baseball championship or play basketball before millions on national television, but he's experiencing something far more important.
Yes, today is a special day for not only Braeden, but all parents of special needs children who find comfort in God. They are proving that with love, determination and patient instruction, all children can get to know and receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus' love. In my book, special needs parents and programs like religious instruction, and sports programs like the Challenge Athletic League and Special Olympics perform miracles every day. After all, in God's eyes, everyone is equal.
Raymond L. Flynn is the former mayor of Boston and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.
- Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.
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