Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Several years ago, a brother priest and some dear friends were blessed to visit the Island of Molokai where St. Damien De Veuster and St. Marianne Cope ministered to lepers. At that time, there were twelve people afflicted with Leprosy or Hansen’s disease who are now cured but remained on the Island. If I had to guess, they preferred to be hidden from the world after being treated so harshly when diagnosed.
There was a time when people refuse to touch lepers for fear that they will contract leprosy themselves. But Father Damien was different. He would hug those with leprosy and hold their hands to make them feel better and in the process restored their sense of human dignity. The lepers realized that Fr. Damien didn't care what they looked like or if they were sick. He saw them for what they truly were - children of God.
Fr. Damien later contracted leprosy and many would see this as a tragic consequence of his decision to love as Jesus loved. Even his religious superiors criticized him for taking too many risks. Fr. Damien witnessed to human dignity by sacrificing his own life.
Fr. Damien comes to mind as we observe October’s Respect Life Sunday that flows into Respect Life Month designated so by our bishops. During a homily, Pope Francis reminded us of the dignity of the human person. He said, “even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Saints like Fr. Damien challenge me. I’m not sure that in the same situation that I would be blind to the risks of touching or hugging a person diagnosed with Hansen’s disease. Since my visit to Molokia, I have begun to pray to St. Damien asking him to help us to see every person as God sees him or her and that we will never shy away from a human being who is sick, or dirty, or ignorant, or mentally ill. There is a beautiful prayer that I like to pray that reads: Forgive us for failing to see Christ in the poor, the distressed and the troublesome, and for our failure to reverence your Son in their persons. Perhaps that could be a part of all our prayers.
Of course, respecting life is a large umbrella. There are countless things one can do to improve the lives of others. Along with prayer, I challenge you to do something--pray at an abortion clinic, help with our parish’s Culture of Life Committee, which includes helping women in crisis pregnancies. Perhaps, you feel called to serve the poor through our St. Vincent de Paul Society. Maybe you could visit an elderly person in a nursing home or pray for the imprisoned. We need to pray for peace in our world and in our families.
This is a short list of ideas that I am sure you can add to. In the end, our bishops are calling us to do something! May God bless us with his wisdom to see every person as made in his image and likeness.BACK TO LIST