Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Damien Today: A Saint for Our Times

Today, May 10, is the feast day of St. Damien. As stated in a letter from the General Superiors to the Brothers and Sisters of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on the occasion of the canonization of Father Damien,

Damien is a universal brother, a model of humanity, apostle of those with leprosy, a hero of charity, an inspiration for anyone wanting to serve the excluded and forgotten, a source of pride for Belgians and Hawaiians, a glory for the whole Church. The power of Damien and his influence in peoples’ lives extend far beyond the limits of our Congregation. . . .

As in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, in Damien we discover the face of God where people seem to have lost even a human face. The dedication of Damien to those with leprosy and his becoming a leper himself proclaim loudly the infinite dignity of each person and the love of God for his children. For that reason we praise God in his saints, who are reflections of his glory. We praise God in Saint Damien who is his son, the work of his hands, his gift to the Church and the world. . . .

Damien is not “ours”. He belongs to God. He can only really be understood as belonging to the Lord of life who shaped him and made him his own. Holiness is the work of the Lord. His love is what justifies us. From this perspective, the canonization becomes a confession of hope-filled faith. The love of God is at work among us, as it was active in the life of Damien. The love of God can continue to transform us in spite of our weakness and our shadow side. . . .

"The trouble with many saints is that their lives are presented as so holy, so astonishing, so out of the reach of ordinary mortals that our only response is to venerate them and to ask for their intercession. Similarly, the recounting and embellishment of so many miracle stories associated with their lives on earth, adds further distance between them and us. This cannot be said of Damien, whose only miracle on Molokai was the miracle of Gospel love. Someone once said that to save another person, you first have to love them. From an initial natural revulsion to diseased flesh, Damien grew to love his beloved lepers to an extraordinary degree, identifying so much with them that he became one of them. How could he have lived such heroic love for all those years? The answer lies in ways that are all available to us: prayer, scripture, Eucharist, sacraments, adoration and the awareness that what Damien did for his sisters and brothers he did for Christ. He once wrote that it was at the foot of the altar he received the strength to love those he ministered to. The First Letter of John asks us how can we love God who we cannot see and not love our sisters and brothers who we can see. Damien’s life and example proves that such love is possible, and reminds us of how to live such love."

--Narration in the film

For more information, go to this website of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Ireland and England.

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