Over the past few weeks we have talked about different needs brought to our attention by real people across our readership. From the outset, this Mission has existed to bring the voice of Saint Thorlak out from under the snows of time to speak to our century with his distinctly autistic look at faith and pastoral administration. The “faith” end has been covered fairly thoroughly in our discussions of the Way of Saint Thorlak, which has freed us up these past few posts to talk more about administrative aspects of addressing the needs of people seeking spiritual nourishment.
There is a very popular meme which reads “Autism Does Not End At Eighteen.” Likewise, the pastoral needs of autism do not come to a close when a person successfully receives the bulk of their sacraments, be that at Confirmation or Matrimony. In fact, the needs continue week by week as autistic individuals seek to receive the Eucharist and participate in parish life. In this sense, people affected by autism are exactly no different than any other person, typical or otherwise. Every human person seeks to understand God using the faculties they have. Engineers find God in a more formulaic, orderly fashion than artists who find Him in the nonverbal emotional palette. Extroverts find God more readily at coffee hour, and introverts find Him in the silence of the chapel. Autistics… well, I can’t speak for all of us, that’s for sure. I can only speak for myself, and then I can generalize some of my own observations and curate some of the comments I have gleaned from conversations over the years. But absolutes? No such thing. Each person with autism is as uniquely varied as the next.
I boil it down to this: As we relate to others, so we relate to God. By “we,” I mean human beings. Including those with autism.
As we learn how to relate to others… as we learn how others react to us… as we experience others… so we experience God.
I think this about summarizes every pastoral need, and every effective pastoral approach to our needs.
As others are merciful to us (that is, as they are able to welcome us EVEN WHEN we drive them to the limits of their comfort), so we learn how God shows us mercy.
As others take an interest in our thoughts, our lives, our loves, our needs: so we learn how God takes an interest in us.
The patterns we observe in others are those we apply to the universe, and to God.
Thus: As others demand conformity and compliance and perfection, so we assume that God does, too.
As others avoid us, forget to include us, or assume that we don’t want to be invited even if we are going to say “no”… so we assume that God feels that way about us, too.
As we correctly or incorrectly conclude acceptance or rejection from those around us, so too, we conclude God follows suit.
Pastorally, that means: Parish staff members model God to us.
If a parish staff member takes the time to understand our needs, we see how God understands our needs.
If accommodations or modifications are not possible because of space limitations, lack of resources, disruption to the liturgy or invalidation of sacramental norms… and a parish staff member explains that to us in a way that is clear and honest… we see how God is not a mythical genie who grants wishes, but rather, a wise Father whose solutions to our needs often require trust on our part that He desires what is best, even beyond what we thought that was.
What do autistic people need, pastorally speaking? Very simply:
This week, I uploaded three of my talks relating to this topic. They can be found here. In these talks, I specify the obstacles that are most likely to exist between autism and fully experiencing our faith. Next, I propose that “social skills” are the foundation for the next level in our developmental hierarchy: spiritual skills. Lest it seem like a daunting task to have to create such a program, never mind train people and implement it, I dare say it already exists in our pastors and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Everything we need is already there, if someone will take the time and walk us through with caritas, voluntary humility, wonder and demonstration by example. St. Thorlak pioneered this method eight hundred years ago. His administrative genius has been recognized in the Canon of Catholic Saints; shall we now avail ourselves of his formula?
I have begun speaking. I do not intend to stop any time soon. How very autistic of me.
If you would like to hear more, please, contact me with the needs you have. It is my Mission.
Pray: Heavenly Father, show us the needs we have, and lead us to ways to address them, together.
Contemplate: Is there a distinct “autistic spirituality” in the same way we hear there are autistic approaches to other fields, such as industry, service, design and implementation?
Relate: As others experience us, they experience God. Be aware of this as we go about our week.
We begin this week with some housekeeping items.
First: The Mission of Saint Thorlak now has a phone line receiving both voice and text messages at +1 (585) 568-7147.
With this comes some important notes:
1) This line RECEIVES MESSAGES ONLY. We maintain strict confidentiality among those who contact us, and at this time, our system does not allow for adequate privacy for us to make voice calls. We are able to reply by SMS text to mobile phones, or to respond to messages using email, but we are not able to respond by voice.
2) This line is for FEEDBACK AND QUESTIONS. We will check messages weekly and respond as we are able, and as we feel is appropriate. We may not necessarily respond to every message. If we do respond, it will be either by email or SMS text.
3) This line is NOT FOR EMERGENCIES OR CRISIS SITUATIONS. We are not able to monitor this line with enough regularity to assist with immediate needs.
As with all new features, there are bound to be glitches here and there, so we thank you for your patience as we establish this phone line as part of our regular offerings. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience created by our policies, but privacy is of great importance to us, and in our current physical location, we cannot yet guarantee the degree of privacy our standards require.
Fourth: For those who have asked if anyone makes icons of Saint Thorlak, the answer is – Uncut Mountain Supply! The link may take a day or two to become active, so check back if it is not yet available… but we have it on trusted word that Thorlak is at last part of their icon catalog.
Good things are coming, and for this we thank all of our fellow travelers, and thank God for the grace to travel this journey together.
We leave you with a reflection written in recognition of the recent visit of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux and her recently canonized parents, Louis and Zelie, to Iceland in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary Jubilee of the Diocese of Reykjavik. We keep the Diocese and all of Iceland in our daily prayers!
For plain text of this reflection click here.
A request has recently come to the Mission of Saint Thorlak for a prayer suitable for children. What a beautiful thought, and yes, certainly, something that is much needed.
We are very pleased to introduce A Child’s Prayer to Saint Thorlak, which is written in simple verse and evocative of the special relationship we Catholics feel with the holy departed. Despite the title of the prayer, Catholics do not pray TO the saints in the sense that we hold them up as idols or lowercase-gods. We do not believe saints have any more power than we do because the saints are people, just like we are. Nobody goes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). However, as we ask our tangible friends to pray for us, we too ask the departed souls – whom we believe live on intangibly after bodily death – to pray for us. Saints are those whom the Church has carefully scrutinized and determined to be examples of virtue worth looking up to, and whom we believe to be in the company of God in eternity.
“A Child’s Prayer to Saint Thorlak” reads like a conversation with an invisible friend, and how very appropriate for those of us on the autism spectrum. Many autistic children enjoy friendships in their imaginations to much great benefit. An imaginary friendship is non-threatening and proceeds at the pace of the child’s comfort. It can be just as helpful in developing social skills as tangible friendships, so long as the child eventually seeks to apply these skills toward actual connections. And, to be perfectly frank, it’s not only children who imagine friendships. Autistic teens and adults do this too, though likely in secret because of the fear of the shaming we would receive if anyone found out we still do this at our age. In its purest form, this sort of fancy is little different than the “imagery” used by athletes to help improve performance between games, or the “envisioning exercises” cultivated by entrepreneurs to hone their business models long before seeing them through to reality. “Imagination” has been reduced in American English to meaning “make-believe,” but in its essence, this word is much more.
Contrast “Imagination” –
What a pity, that we can have imagination powering great ideas, but reduce it in an instant with a twist of grammar to something that is not true, and will never exist beyond “fancy.” Yet, how powerfully we know those people we hold in our minds and hearts – in other words, in our imaginations!
Linguistic nuances aside, let us look at the Catholic saints again. These are the saga-heroes of the Christian faith, great women and men and children who lived ordinary lives with extraordinary virtue. Catholics profess at every Mass that we believe in “things visible and invisible,” and “life everlasting.” The saints are more than just static characters from the past; they are alive, invisible, and interceding for us before God.
Perhaps that is a better term than “imaginary.” Yes. Invisible. Just out of sight.
Like so many of us: known better by minds and hearts than by eyes.
Just as real, just as needy, just as valuable. Just as hungry to be known for who we are.
Just out of sight.
Pray: Heavenly, Invisible Father: May I remember that You are there, as I am here, in mind and heart. Help me to know those I do not see… and those who do not see me.
Contemplate: “Imaginary friends,” by linguistic definition, cannot be real. “Invisible friends” can be. Who are our own invisible friends? Are we, perhaps, an invisible friend to anyone else?
Relate: How do we keep our “invisible” friends from becoming “imaginary”? How do we keep ourselves from becoming invisible?
This week, we offer a site tour for any who find that interesting or helpful!
Our website is a collection of information, initiatives and interactive features emulating the example of Saint Thorlak of Iceland. Hopefully, these are organized intuitively and are easy to navigate.
We have been working this week on optimizing our layout for mobile devices, and we have seen some improvement. If there are any pages that give particular difficulty, please let us know, and we’ll make the necessary tweaks.
Our target audience is anyone, although we generally find higher numbers of visitors who are in some way affected by autism or seeking to know more about our spiritual philosophy. We also meet a good number of people who are curious about Saint Thorlak, as he is still relatively unknown in the world of saints and famous figures from medieval Nordic history.
And now, without further ado, clicking here will take you to our video site tour!
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak