Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai
May 10, 2016
Acts 20:17-27, Ps 68, Jn 17:1-11
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- One of the most important things in life is to have a clear sense of our goal, our direction, our purpose. As the old aphorism goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” Many people are lost, even in the midst of hurried journeying, because they don’t really have a clear sense of the ultimate direction of their life. St. Ignatius of Loyola called us to make decisions as if we were doing them before the Lord our Judge looking back over our whole life, because thinking in light of eternity can help us to discern what is truly important. The Imitation of Christ likewise urges us to live each day as if it is our last, because, one again, if we knew that our time was limited, we’d prioritize the important and let the unimportant pass.
- In today’s readings and today’s feast, we see three great examples of living with a clear purpose that comes from God.
- In the Gospel, taken from Jesus’ priestly prayer on Holy Thursday on which we will focus through Thursday, we see why Jesus was living. He was living to glorify the Father. He was living to accomplish his work of salvation. He was living to reveal the Father’s name, and as Pope Francis has reminded us, the name of God is mercy. He was living to give us the Father’s words. As we’ll see tomorrow, he was living to consecrate us in the truth of the Father’s word. As we’ll see on Thursday, he was living to help us to enter into the communion of Trinitarian life and to express it to others. This focus of Jesus explains everything he ever did. And he turns to us and says, “Follow me!” He wants us to live with the same focus on God’s glory and our glorification in him, on receiving and extending the work of salvation, on bringing honor to the Father’s name by living and proclaiming his words, on living according to our baptismal consecration, on really seeking and allowing God to bring his desire to make us one as the Persons of the Trinity are one.
- One of those who allowed Jesus’ work to be accomplished in him was St. Paul. Today and tomorrow we will have his valedictory address to the Church in Ephesus, meeting with them at the port of Miletus. Today describes his sufferings, tears and trials, the imprisonments and hardships that he endured and those that still awaited him, but through all of it, he says, he “did not shrink from telling you what was for your benefit,” “from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God,” from “bear[ing] witness to the Gospel of God’s grace. doing so in the square and in private, “in public or in your homes.” As he said to the Romans elsewhere, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” because he thought the whole Gospel was “good news” with power to save, and he wanted everyone else to know the truth that would set them free. So he was able to say humbly, “I consider life of no importance to me if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” Everything was with that goal in mind. What a beautiful thing it would be if at the end of our life we were able like Paul to look back with no regrets for our cowardice in shrinking for the Gospel, for the ways we were ashamed of it because we worried more about human respect than others’ salvation. The Holy Spirit for whose outpouring we’re praying during this Decenarium gave him courage and will give us courage, too. He will help us to live with the purpose God has given us, considering life of no importance in this world provided that we can live in a way to enter into eternity and bring many others with us.
- The saint whom we celebrate today is a beautiful teacher in this same lesson on purpose, a lesson he sought to communicate to the difficult congregation he had been sent to serve. Saint Damien of Molokai was born in Belgium. When he was 24, his brother August, whom he had followed into the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, was too ill to go as a missionary to Hawaii, and Damien took his place. There he was ordained a priest and worked for nine years mostly on the island of Hawaii. He showed early signs of his pastoral zeal in a letter he to his parents, imploring them, “Do not forget this poor priest running night and day over the volcanoes night and day in search of strayed sheep. Pray night and day for me, I beg you.” In 1873, Bishop Louis Maigret briefed the Sacred Hearts Fathers on the need for priestly ministrations in Kalaupapa on the Island of Molokai, which King Kamehameha V had set up seven years earlier to quarantine lepers. Of the 816 with Hansen’s Disease in the enclave, 200 were Catholic, and he had received letters from several of them begging him to send a priest so that they might suffer and die with the consolation of the sacraments. The bishop knew what he was proposing: a slow martyrdom, as chaplain to a walking graveyard. Fully conscious of the consequences, Fr. Damien stepped forward to take the assignment. When he arrived on May 10, Bishop Maigret prophetically introduced him to the colony of lepers as “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.” He was living with that purpose in mind!
- The 33-year old priest got right down to work — every type of work. He built churches, homes and beds. He created farms and schools and worked to enforce basic laws. He fought to have medicine sent and to get his people whatever medical care was possible. At first, it was hard for him to approach the lepers because he had a natural revulsion to the fetid odor given off by their leprous sores. To overcome this olfactory repugnance, he began to smoke a pipe so that the smell of tobacco would make it possible for him to approach the lepers with dignity as he began to dress their ulcers. While what he could do for their deteriorating bodies was limited, he knew that he could help prepare their souls to meet the Lord, to help them live with an eternal purpose. The first thing he did was to give increased attention to the funeral rites. He knew that if the lepers saw how much care he showed them at their death, they might begin to sense the value of their lives. He brought them the sacraments at their bedsides and tidied their rooms and beds to await the imminent visit of the Lord Jesus. He formed choirs, taught them how to sing beautiful hymns at Requiem Masses, and taught others to play accompanying musical instruments. He cleaned the cemetery and adorned it with flowers. He even made coffins. At the same time, he instituted perpetual adoration, so that the lepers would know that the Lord Jesus was with them always and so that they would have the opportunity to pour out their hearts to Him in their need. Father Damien knew, too, that this was what sustained him. “I find my consolation,” he wrote in a letter, “in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Savior in the Holy Eucharist.… Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content.” It is unsurprising that his witness began to win over the members of his community. Six months after his arrival, he had 400 people preparing for baptism. A cheerful spirit began to radiate in the community in place of the former dejection.
- His greatest cross, he said, was not having another priest to whom to go to confession. Despite the accolades he was gaining from the stories about him across the globe, he humbly knew how much he needed the Lord’s forgiveness, how often he shrunk from living and proclaiming the Gospel, how often he failed to live for God’s glory, to live by his word, to live in communion. He would often have to row out to ships in the harbor, ask if there were a chaplain on board and then, since he was prevented from coming on board, without shame shout up his sins to the confessor. It was a great witness to sailors, priests and lepers alike, and something that helped them recalibrate the direction of their life and whether they were courageous enough to embrace the mercy God was extending if only we would receive it in humility.
- In December of 1884, Fr. Damien discovered that he had contracted leprosy. He wrote, “My eyebrows are beginning to fall out. Soon I will be disfigured entirely. Having no doubts about the true nature of my disease, I am calm, resigned, and very happy in the midst of my people.” To those who asked him how he was holding up, he said, “Our Lord will give me the graces I need to carry my cross and follow him, even to our special Calvary at Kalawao.” He died during on Tuesday of Holy Week in 1889. Just as the Lord Jesus loved us enough that he came into our world, took on our human flesh, and redeemed it, so Fr. Damien entered into the lepers’ world, courageously took on their dreaded disease, and united it and them to the Lord. He became for them and for us an icon of Christ’s tenderness and mercy for every person, revealing the beauty of his soul that no illness, however repulsive, can disfigure. He will forever be the face of the Good Samaritan because by God’s grace he had willed to do everything that he could to love others as he had been loved by him first. He gave God great glory here on earth and now God has glorified him forever.
- The reason why the Second Vatican Council called the Mass the “source and the summit of the Christian life” is because it is in the Mass that each day we renew our purpose and direct ourselves toward eternity. We come to glorify God, to hear Jesus announce to us his words, to accomplish his work of salvation, to consecrate us within his own consecration to the Father on the altar, to make us one body, one Spirit in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s by directing our whole life to what we do here, and receive from here our marching orders and direction each day, that we will come to celebrate forever the reality to which this Mass points, the eternal glory of God forever in heaven, where St. Paul, St. Damien, the Blessed Mother and all the angels and saints await us.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 20:17-27
of the Church at Ephesus summoned.
When they came to him, he addressed them,
“You know how I lived among you
the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia.
I served the Lord with all humility
and with the tears and trials that came to me
because of the plots of the Jews,
and I did not at all shrink from telling you
what was for your benefit,
or from teaching you in public or in your homes.
I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks
to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus.
But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem.
What will happen to me there I do not know,
except that in one city after another
the Holy Spirit has been warning me
that imprisonment and hardships await me.
Yet I consider life of no importance to me,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.
to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels
will ever see my face again.
And so I solemnly declare to you this day
that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you,
for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 68:10-11, 20-21
A bountiful rain you showered down, O God, upon your inheritance;
you restored the land when it languished;
Your flock settled in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided it for the needy.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
Blessed day by day be the Lord,
who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation.
God is a saving God for us;
the LORD, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.
R. Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
Alleluia JN 14:16
I will ask the Father
and he will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 17:1-11A
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
I glorified you on earth
by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
“I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.”