“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be people of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” – the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth
I was preparing my post-Winterfest lesson and thoughts when I ran across Father Damien. I’d heard of him before but had never spent any time pondering his life. With the theme of our week being L2, loving others, it seems serendipitous that I found Father Damien online while looking for examples of people loving others with no thought for themselves.
It seems Father Damien’s life has become a hot topic online because of his upcoming canonization; this is the culmination of the Catholic church’s process of making someone a Saint. And the Vatican has announced that Father Damien will be declared a Saint on October 11, 2009. You can read more of the process to declare someone a Saint at this website: Catholic Online. Now, let me set down in writing what I believe about Sainthood before we go much further. The process of Sainthood includes declaring a miracle on earth has occurred because of the intercession of a Saint in Heaven. In simple terms, someone on earth would pray to Father Damien who is with God, then Father Damien would intercede to God on behalf of the person praying. This interceding by Father Damien would then cause a miracle to happen in the answering of the prayer here on earth.
The belief in Saints interceding for us seems counter intuitive to me since God promises that His very Spirit intercedes for us. So I don’t believe I need a Saint or an earthly Priest or anyone else to go between me and God. Jesus himself is the only priest needed for us to access God. This simplicity of apporaching God and the removal of barriers, whether they be sins or people, Priests or Saints, is the glory of Christianity. See the book of Hebrews, chapters 7-9 for more on this.
Sorry for that little digression but I thought it important to mention. More importantly I want to say this: no matter what we think of the process of Sainthood, there is no denying that most people presented for Sainthood have lived lives of undeniable sacrifice. Father Damien is one such example. From what I read about him, he must have been an amazing person.
Father Damien arrived in Hawaii in 1864 at the age of 24 during the time of a leprosy (Hanson’s Disease) outbreak. Those suffering from leprosy had been exiled to a village called Kalaupapa, in a remote location on the north end of the island of Molokai, cut off from the main population by mountains. With no one to care for the physical or spiritual needs of the over 800 people with leprosy, Father Damien volunteered to go live in the leper colony in 1873. He knew this would most likely be a death sentence as he would be in close contact with the diseased people. Father Damien went anyway, fully understanding that he would live with and die with these people. He cared for them, guided souls, built houses, built schools, built caskets and dug graves for 16 years. And Father Damien died there with them. It’s a tragically glorious story of a life well spent and you can read more about him here.
You really need to read about this guy. It makes me consider how many times we go about our days with a mixture of self-worry, self-pity and self-focus. I know not all of us feel a call to go live in a leper colony. I don’t personally feel that call. But I am feeling a call more strongly each day to live a life of sacrifice, service and thankfulness. I wanted to share Father Damien to call our focus into question. If a person like him can walk with his eyes wide open into a death sentence of service, then you can be a picture of God’s love in the hallways of your school, in your office and in your home. So can I.
Father Damien is considered a Martyr of Charity: someone who dies, not by the force of someone else, but by their own choice while living out their convictions. While a martyr chooses to be killed for his beliefs, a martyr of charity freely lays down his life for his beliefs. Martyrs of Charity have really caught my attention because I have trouble even being a Servant of Charity consistently. This picture on the right was taken two months before Father Damien died in 1889 from the disease he’d fought for so long against. He was only 49. I think the man was a saint in every earthly sense of the word and I think God wants more of us to be convinced to live as servants of humanity. You can do it right where you live. Get to it and I will too.