On this day in 1889 at 8:00 a.m., Saint Joseph Damien de Veuster, SS.CC, died at the age of 49, according to the words of one who brought the sad news to Father Wendelin, "like a child going to sleep." Only a few days before - on 2 April - Father Damien declared, "I am no longer necessary; I am going to Heaven."
When he preached at the funeral Mass for Father Damien in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on 30 April 1889, Bishop Herman Koeckemann, SS.CC., Apostolic Vicar of the Hawaiian Islands, spoke eloquently of the Leper Priest:
There is perhaps not a city, small or large, in the civilized world, where the name of Father Damien is not known and blessed by al sympathetic hearts. Every good man has a right to our respect, but there are degrees in the merits of good men.A good Christian is rightly honored by his fellow Christians; a generous benefactor is entitled to the gratitude of those who have received his benefits; a zealous propagator of the Gospel of Christ who works honestly for the salvation of souls, and who practices himself the works of charity he preaches to others, will always earn the admiration of fair minded people.Father Damien unites all these claims to our admiration in an eminent degree, and even many others in addition. But he has two more glorious titles which raise him above the rest of good men - he is a hero and a martyr of Christian charity.History points out to us many heroes of different kinds. The most celebrated are perhaps those brave men who risked their lives on the battlefield for the defense of their country, with the firm resolution to conquer or die in the attempt.Father Damien seems to me to have been a hero more glorious than he who falls on the battlefield, sword in hand. At about the age of thirty-four, in the full strength of youth and in perfect health, he offered to share the fate of those unfortunate ones, separated from their families and friends. He asked, as a favor, the permission to live at the lazaret, in order to console and to comfort, physically and morally, the suffering portion of humanity assembled there through inevitable necessity.His hierarchical superiors, with joy and admiration for his singular merit, accorded him their consent for his voluntary immolation. He not only exposed himself to the loathsome disease, but he faced the danger with a supernatural Christian indifference, perhaps with more hope than fear to fall a victim of his charity.Without doing harm to anyone, he has, like Christ, conquered by means of his death. For many years he suffered all the symptoms of leprosy. During these last two years, it had become evident that the disgusting sickness had taken hold of his body. Nevertheless, he still continued his arduous work as long as the least ability remained, until God called him to his reward, a real martyr of his devotion to the Work of Christian Charity.
Let us ask Father Damien to teach us that same selfless heroism. Father Damien, pray for us!
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