The Memorial of Saint Damien of Moloka’i
Today, brothers and sisters, “the LORD takes delight in his people” and his people “sing to the LORD a new song, a hymn in the assembly of the faithful” (Psalm 149:4, 1).
Today, Holy Mother Church celebrates the life of one of her faithful sons who went about with the praise of God in his mouth and who took up the two-edged sword that is the love of God and the love of neighbor, the blade of which pierces even through the hardest of hearts (cf. Psalm 149:6).
One hundred and thirty-seven years ago today Damien de Vuester arrived with Bishop Maigret at the leper settlement of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’i, at the place of which it was then said, “In this land, there is no law.”
When Damien died sixteen years later, in 1889, among his fellow lepers, having spent his life in their service for the glory of God, what he initially found to be “the hell of Moloka’i,” he left what he transformed into a community known far and wide for its deep faith, unwavering hope and boundless love. Through his selfless service in conditions we can scarcely begin to imagine, Father Damien brought the joy of the Risen Lord and the unshakable promise of the Resurrection. To a people who sat in darkness, he brought the light of Christ and gave to those who found no meaning in life a reason to live and a reason to die.
He found the courage to willingly go where so many others feared to venture because he was “convinced that the Good God does not ask me the impossible.” With a reckless abandon Damien entrusted himself completely to the heart of Christ and made his adobe in its recesses.
In his ministry among the lepers, among the Lord’s “poor sick children rejected by other people,” Damien frequently encountered the mystery of death and was constantly helping them prepare for a good death.
Being so surrounded by the reality of death led him to visit the cemetery each evening where, he said, “My greatest pleasure is to go there to say my beads, and meditate on that unending happiness which so many of them are already enjoying.”
Damien prepared for his own death by loving God through his ministry to the lepers, both in building their houses and healing their wounds and in tending to their spiritual needs. All of his efforts were to devoted to them and, through them, to God. His faithful love of God and neighbor helped him to say on his deathbed, “How sweet it is to die a child of the Sacred Hearts.”
Father Damien teaches us, too, to live with knowledge of our own death in mind:
...begin from this very day to prepare for a happy death. Let us not lose a
moment of the little time we have still to live; let us walk on in the way of
holiness and justice, persuaded that at that moment we too shall have the
happiness of hearing those consoling words: "Come, ye good and faithful
servants, who have been faithful in small things, to take possession of the
kingdom I have prepared for you."
It was the certitude of his own death that fostered his life of prayer and opened up within him a well of love that he shared so freely with all he met.
His focus was no morbid obsession but a realization of his hope in the resurrection of the body; it is the joy of this hope that he brought to a land of death and despair.
If we, my friends, live with this same hope that motivated Damien to work tirelessly for his lepers, we, too, we can hope and purpose to those who see no meaning or value in their values.
Today there is no shortage of such souls, even here in our Diocese. For whatever reason, too many people are living as though God does not matter, as if actions have no consequences, as though they either will not die or as though death is all there is. Too many live in the darkness of despair and need the light of the resurrection brought to them.
Far too many people of good will hesitate to venture into this darkness, but it is here that we must go to seek out those who are lost. It is Father Damien who shows us the way to do so, with humility, love and the strength of confidence in the truth of the Advocate whom Christ has sent (cf. John 15:26).
The lepers of Moloka’i recognized in the life of Father Damien the love of Christ because he showed that he was not above them but was one of them. He did for them even what he would not ask them to do. They saw him give of himself time and again all for the love of God and through his dedicated love he led them to Christ.
Let us this day seek the intercession of Father Damien, that we, with him, would willingly go where others hesitate to go that the love of Christ might be brought to all people. Let us pray that, with Damien, will be able to say of those to whom we are sent: “I would gladly give my life for them.” Amen.