ORDINARY 33 (A)
Come, share your master’s joy. – Mt. 25: 23
Fr. Damien DeVeuster was a Belgian priest who gave his life to the care of lepers in the colony of Molokai, Hawaii. He died in 1889 at age 49. Molokai is the island where lepers were sent to rot & die, literally. Partly as a carryover from Biblical stories, a leper was considered unclean & cursed, someone to be isolated from “clean” society. For many years these unfortunate people were sent to Molokai where they were left to die in the most horrible conditions. As a young priest, Fr. Damien felt that these people above all needed to know of God’s love for them. He asked his bishop for permission to move to the island & be with the people & do what he could for them.
The bishop saw him as a person of great promise & tried to talk him out of it. He didn’t think that one with so much potential should throw himself away in that forsaken place. It was what someone later called “Holy Waste” – a beautiful phrase. But Damien persisted & soon entered the leper colony. In the early weeks he was often dreadfully sick to his stomach as he saw the horror of the conditions under which these people lived. It was all he could do to force himself to stay despite his strong intention. But he went to work.
First of all, he found up the mountain a source of fresh water, & he was able to build a little system that would bring this water down to the village. From this came the colony’s first sanitation system. Then he showed the lepers how to build little house to replace the flimsy hovels they had been living in. It was the colony’s first housing project. He built a clinic, & although he had little medical knowledge, he could at least dress their sores & give them some comfort.
He would also talk quietly about Christ. Ordinarily he would wait until the person asked him, “Why are you here? Why have you come to help us?” He never failed to take the opportunity to tell them that it was the love of God that had brought him there & was sustaining him there. His wonderfully infectious spirit of joy began to permeate the colony. For the first time in the memory of anyone on the island, the sound of laughter was heard. The people were actually beginning to feel the wonder & joy of life again.
Fr. Damien helped them build a small chapel & he would preach each Sunday. The people became accustomed over the years to his beginning the homily with these same words: “You lepers know that God the Father loves you.” Then he would go on to say something that was always full of hope, full of life, & full of joy. Several years went by until one Sunday morning he began with the words “We lepers know that God the Father loves us.” This was how he broke to the news to them that he himself had contracted the disease by living so close to them. He continued to pour himself out in this ministry of love until he died, a leper among lepers.
Genuine Christian discipleship always leads us to a Molokai in some form. Discipleship has no meaning for us personally until we have learned to be channels of Christ’s light & love. This is the message for us in today’s parable. There are three simple & direct points we can relate to:
1) As long as we are unwilling to risk our lives for God’s purposes, there can be no enrichment of our life. In doing nothing we gain nothing.
2) The power we receive from God to live life more abundantly grows with use, & withers with disuse.
3) When we faithfully carry out the responsibilities God assigns to us, we merit the assignment of even greater responsibilities.
One of the glorious things that happens when Christ’s life becomes truly operative in us is that all the things conventional wisdom tells us is important cease to be so. Other people are no longer there to help us in some way – we are there to help them. Before this coming week is out, go out of your way to minister to just one person – no lofty pledges, no big numbers, just one person. There is someone out there who is hurting in some way or has a special need of some kind that you can handle in a loving way. Then you will be invited to enter into your master’s joy. Where is your Molokai? If you have yet to discover it, keep looking. It’s out there waiting for you! AMEN!