My Dear Sisters and Brothers! When Hawaiian lepers were sent away a young Belgium priest who ministered there asked a local bishop for permission to go to Molokai. His name was Damian de Veuster. He was 26 at the time. The bishop not only gave him permission but accompanied him to the island and like a good shepherd introduced the young missionary to 816 lepers saying that Fr Damian ‘is one who will be a father to you and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you, to live and die with you.’ That colony of lepers became Fr Damian’s home. He cared for them spiritually, socially and physically. He motivated them to be involved in bettering the living conditions of the island. Despite being advised not to touch lepers he kept giving them Holy Communion, Holy Anointing as well as attending to their wounds. Lepers were stunned because before no one wanted to touch them. Fr Damian’s gestures showed that he didn’t want to serve them from afar. He wanted to be one of them.
As Fr Damian’s fellow Catholic we should be proud but also we should keep in mind that what that priest did was inspired by the attitude of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who as we could hear in our Gospel feeling sorry for the leper, stretched out his hand and touched him. This hand of the Lord, which was pierced on the cross, is still stretched out to bring the healing caused by the worst disease ever. It is neither leprosy nor COVID-19. It is sin. That’s why after hearing about leprosy in our First Reading we turned to God praying the Psalm 31: I have acknowledged my sins, my guilt I did not hide. We acknowledge our sins. We don’t hide them because we don’t want the sin to consume us like leprosy consumes the body. We lay our sins bare when we go to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation because after having confessed our sins humbly and honesty we can repeat with full confidence the words of today’s Psalm: You Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. Then we can truly celebrate our new life exclaiming: ‘Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord, exult, you just. O come, ring out your joy, all you upright of heart.’ It is our Risen Lord, who touched the leper, who touches us in his Sacraments too and makes us just and upright of heart.
When the Hawaiians sent the lepers to Molokai it was out of fear. Why Fr Damian de Veuster chose to go there it was out of love for Jesus who shared with the young priest his love for the outcasts. Fr Damian who wanted to be one of them eventually contracted leprosy too. Then he wrote to his brother in Belgium: ‘I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.’ When on death bed he kept praying: ‘Thy will be done.’ Can you hear in his words the words of the Son of God, Jesus Christ?
Fr Damian died on 15 of April 1889 at the age of 49. Did he die of leprosy or out of love? When Pope Benedict XVI canonised Fr Damian in 2009 it was recognition that the death of the new saint was out of love.
I pray so that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is speaking to us right now through his Holy Word and who will offer his Body and Blood for us at this Mass, may heal each one of us of any torments we may be carrying.
St Damian of Molokai, pray for us.
Have a wonderful Lent.