If you are not yet familiar with the life of the Leper Priest (about whom I have written frequently), Word on Fire has published an excerpt from Brandon Vogt's forthcoming book, Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World, he which he explores Father Damien's work at Kalaupapa that describes his personality well:
One early realization was that to show the lepers the value of their lives, he had to first demonstrate the value of their deaths. So he built a fence around the local cemetery, which pigs and dogs regularly scavenged. He also constructed coffins and dug graves, committing that each leper, even if marginalized throughout his life, would receive a decent burial upon death. This had a remarkably uplifting effect on the community.Until the very day of his death, Father Damien strove to serve his fellow lepers with everything he had, and more, going so far as to say, "I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ." Through his zeal and love, Father Damien brought together again those affected by, as they called it, "the separating sickness." This is certainly the work, the mission, of every priest, but it is no less so the mission of every deacon.
Damien also devoted his attention to the sick. He brought the sacraments to bedridden lepers. He washed their bodies and bandaged their wounds. He tidied their rooms and did all he could to make them as comfortable as possible.
What surprised the lepers most was that Damien touched them. Other missionaries and doctors shrank from the lepers. In fact, one local doctor only changed bandages with his cane. But Damien not only touched the lepers, he also embraced them, he dined with them, he put his thumb on their forehead to anoint them, and he placed the Eucharist on their tongues. All of these actions spoke volumes to the dejected lepers. They showed that Damien didn’t want to serve them from afar; he wanted to become one of them [more].
When Father Damien arrived at the leper settlement, he wrote to his family, saying, "I wish to give myself unconditionally to the poor lepers. The harvest appears to be ripe here. Pray, and ask others to pray both for me and for all."
The harvest in no less ripe in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois today. Please join me in praying for Samuel, Adam, Marty, and Jason, soon to be deacons, that through the intercession of Saint Damien and of Saint Francis of Assisi (at whose tomb I will soon pray for them), that they, too, will always be known for their desire to serve not from afar but from within.