Years ago, a friend told me of a trying time in her life. After being diagnosed with skin cancer, her physicians recommended that she receive treatment at a renowned skin cancer center. Upon arriving there, her condition continued to worsen. The following day, she recalled laying on a hospital stretcher and feeling as though her body was on fire. At that moment, this faithful woman of prayer needed Jesus more than ever. With a desire to enter into prayer with Him, her condition allowed her to muster just two words: Help me!
Two thousand years ago, a similar cry for help befell Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark (1:40-45), a leper came to Jesus and, kneeling down, begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
In an instant, Jesus transformed this marginalized leper and placed him among the “included” class. By doing so, Jesus also provided those who would follow Him with an instruction manual of sorts, one whose echo may be found in the words of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians. (10:31-11:1)
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
In other words, we are to be God’s hands, God’s feet, and God’s eyes to all His children. And our mission is to spread God’s love and hope to all, but especially to those on the margins.
In our times, St. Damien of Molokai (1840-1889) is an example of one who took this mission to heart—-and followed it. For in 1873, the apostolic vicar of the Honolulu diocese, Bishop Louis Desire Maigret, believed that the leper community at the settlement of Kaluapapa needed a Catholic priest to assist them while also understanding that the assignment came at a high risk. In his introduction of Fr. Damien to the 816 lepers who lived there, the bishop spoke these words:
Fr. Damien will be 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.
During his time with them, Fr. Damien not only cared for the lepers but also established leadership within the community to improve its standard of living. While serving as their spiritual father, Fr. Damien also found time to teach, paint houses, and build farms, roads, hospitals, and churches. In short, he became one with them—and for them. After living more than a decade with them, he himself contracted leprosy and died a few years later at the age of 49.
Today, if you were to ask now St. Damien or others listed in the Book of Saints why they did it, they would likely return to those words of St. Paul. They did it all for the glory of God! Through the grace of God, may we be like St. Damien of Molokai and invite all of God’s people into our midst.