At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he challenges us to put his many words into practice. We are to love, to forgive, to care for those in need, be generous, reflect the Beatitudes, seek God and his kingdom and trust in God, along with the many other exhortations contained in Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew’s gospel.
When we do these things, Jesus says we are like a man who built his house on a rock. The rains came, the streams rose, the winds blew, but the house remained and did not fall. The rock is, of course, Jesus.
What kind of foundation is our life built on? Is it based on the values of the world – wealth, position, pleasure and all of the things that popular culture esteems; or is it built on love and the values Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount?
My friend Leo has been volunteering as a coach for Special Olympics for over 35 years. Ironically, he began this work even before one of his daughters was born with Down syndrome. He is one of the most dedicated advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that I have ever met.
In addition to Special Olympics, he was one of six parents who were instrumental in starting and funding one of the first special education programs in a Catholic high school in the U. S — Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia. More than a dozen students with intellectual disabilities have enrolled in this program each year since its founding in 1998, including our daughter, Emily.
More than 1500 students from the general student body have volunteered as peer mentors to these students, assisting with their inclusion in various academic courses and school activities. As a result, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities receive an education that serves their academic, social and spiritual needs in a loving and nurturing environment.
Approximately, ten years ago, Leo joined with other families to establish Porto Charities, a tax exempt organization to raise funds to support the expansion of these kinds of programs in other Catholic schools in the Arlington, Virginia Diocese. By the fall of 2019, the Diocese will have inclusion programs in all four of its high schools and a half dozen or more parish schools. While many others have supported Leo in this effort, he has been the driving force to support a segment of our population that is often neglected.
Leo may not talk about his faith a lot, but Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
On October 1, Leo will receive on behalf of Porto Charities and its many supporters the 2018 Seaton Award of the National Catholic Education Association in recognition for their service to Catholic schools and God’s special children.
Leo, and the many others who have joined with him, are putting Jesus’ words into practice.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)