the saint of the outcast…a martyr of charity

“Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who
seek to please Him.
His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures
as to the greatest of them. Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations,
to tell Him of your miseries, fears, worries, of those who are dear to you,
of your projects, and of your hopes.
Do so with confidence and with an open heart.”

St. Damien of Molokai


(two images of the priest, now saint, Damien of Molokai—images both with and without leprosy)

Are you aware that one of the most dreaded diseases, a centuries-old disease,
that being leprosy, continues to affect people around the world to this day?

At least 150 people yearly, just in the United States alone, are still diagnosed
with Leprosy otherwise known as Hansen’s disease.

Did you know that there are actually 700 functioning leper’s colonies still in operation
in India alone?

Are you aware that there actually remains a leper’s colony in Hawaii?

Yes, on those beautiful tropical islands of Hawaii there is actually an active leper’s colony
which has existed for the past 145 years.

There was a time, much like with the plague, when those affected with leprosy were
forced to wear warning bells announcing their proximity to others…
Upon hearing the bell, all those within ears reach, knew to avoid the oncoming individual.

Leprosy, being highly contagious, eventually forced officials to isolate those afflicted—
hence the colonies of the lepers.
Yet thankfully today, caught early, Leprosy is treatable and is even curable.

Today’s quote is by a man who spent his entire adult life caring for those afflicted
individuals on the island of Molokai who were suffering from the ravages of this horrific
disease.
Not only did they suffer physically, knowing death would be slow, deforming and painful,
they also suffered from the social stigma that went along with living with leprosy…
that being a life of total isolation and expulsion from society.

Father Damien offered those who suffered a sense of belonging,
importance and unconditional love.

Looking past the fear, the deformity, the stigma…
Fr Damien offered the gift of humanity as well as dignity back to those who had been
looked upon as less than.

There is no greater pain to a human being than to be stripped of one’s humanness.
To be regarded as less than…even less than that of an animal.

Father Damien saw past the disease and saw human beings…who were hurting.
He brought back to these individuals the gift of hope…

After 11 years of caring for the colony, Father Damien also contracted the disease.
Yet despite his growing illness, Fr. Damien worked even harder on behalf of his
charges procuring recognition by the Hawaiian government to provide basic
services for the colony.

Father Damien died at the age of 49.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II and was later canonized by Pope Benedict 2009

He is honored to this day not only by the Catholic Church but also by the state of Hawaii
for his service to her people.

Father Damien reminds me a great deal of Mother Teresa…a woman who also spent a life
of caring for and tending to those with leprosy as well as other debilitating
and isolating disease.

These two saints took the example of Jesus literally by living and giving their lives
to the service of those in the deepest of need.

And so it only seems natural during this season of gifts and of giving that we recall those
who have given their all for the betterment of others…

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

Saint Damien de Veuster of Moloka’i’s Story

When Joseph de Veuster was born in Tremelo, Belgium, in 1840, few people in Europe had any firsthand knowledge of leprosy, Hansen’s disease. By the time he died at the age of 49, people all over the world knew about this disease because of him. They knew that human compassion could soften the ravages of this disease.

Forced to quit school at age 13 to work on the family farm, Joseph entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary six years later, taking the name of a fourth-century physician and martyr. When his brother Pamphile, a priest in the same congregation, fell ill and was unable to go to the Hawaiian Islands as assigned, Damien quickly volunteered in his place. In May 1864, two months after arriving in his new mission, Damien was ordained a priest in Honolulu and assigned to the island of Hawaii.

In 1873, he went to the Hawaiian government’s leper colony on the island of Moloka’i, set up seven years earlier. Part of a team of four chaplains taking that assignment for three months each year, Damien soon volunteered to remain permanently, caring for the people’s physical, medical, and spiritual needs. In time, he became their most effective advocate to obtain promised government support.

Soon the settlement had new houses and a new church, school and orphanage. Morale improved considerably. A few years later, he succeeded in getting the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, led by Mother Marianne Cope, to help staff this colony in Kalaupapa.

Damien contracted Hansen’s disease and died of its complications. As requested, he was buried in Kalaupapa, but in 1936 the Belgian government succeeded in having his body moved to Belgium. Part of Damien’s body was returned to his beloved Hawaiian brothers and sisters after his beatification in 1995.

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, it selected Damien as one of its two representatives in the Statuary Hall at the US Capitol. Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009.

Reflection

Some people thought Damien was a hero for going to Moloka’i and others thought he was crazy. When a Protestant clergyman wrote that Damien was guilty of immoral behavior, Robert Louis Stevenson vigorously defended him in an “Open Letter to Dr. Hyde.”
Franciscan Media.

Later in 1889 Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Hawaii
for an extended stay. He had tuberculosis, then also incurable,
and was seeking some relief.
Moved by Damien’s story, he became interested in the controversy about the priest
and went to Molokaʻi for eight days and seven nights.
Stevenson wanted to learn more about Damien at the place where he had worked.
He spoke with residents of varying religious backgrounds to learn more about Damien’s work.
Based on his conversations and observations,
he wrote an open letter to Hyde that addressed the minister’s criticisms
and had it printed at his own expense.
This became the most famous account of Damien,
featuring him in the role of a European aiding a benighted native people.
(Wikipedia)

hands

“I take comfort in the fact that somehow,
in the mysterious resources of the human spirit,
even pain can serve a higher end.”

Dr. Paul Brand

“I don’t pray that you may be delivered from your troubles.
Instead, I pray that God will give you the strength and
patience to bear them.”

Brother Lawrence

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(the hands of Mother Teresa / A Photographic Record by Michael Collopy)

The other evening a visitor to my blog made a comment on a post that I had actually
written 3 years ago…

It was a post about feet.

And the feet in question were not just any pair of feet,
but rather the tired and worn feet of a relentless saint of a woman.

A woman, mind you, Pope Francis most recently declared a saint.

(https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/these-feet-were-made-for-love/)

For some, especially my high school students…at the time I had originally shared the photograph,
the image of her feet were hard to look at…
for the image was that of a pair of feet that had not lived a pampered life
but rather a life of back breaking labor, toil and work….

And we are each the better for those feet.

In the commentary of the post, a dear friend of mine lovingly and sweetly reminisced
about the rough and worn hands of her grandmother.
Recalling the vivid details that had been etched on her young heart.

The new visitor added to that very train of thought with her own poignant memories of the rough and worn hands of her aunt…and of the very touching response from her uncle to her aunt’s weary anguish over her “ugly worn out hands”…

There is a post unto itself in her very touching words…

And it was today that I read the most beautiful tale of hands that I thought most appropriate to share with this most current thought of hands…

“What practical effect does Christ’s identification have on the person who actually suffers?
A dramatic example of the effect of this truth was seen in
the ministry of Dr Paul Brand while he was working among leprosy patients in Vellore, India.
There he preached a sermon, one of his best known and best loved.
At the time, Brand and his workers were among the few in the area who would
touch or closely approach a person with Hansen’s disease—townspeople quarantined them.
Brand slipped in late to a patients’ gathering,
sitting on the mat at the edge of an open courtyard.
The air was heavy with combined odors of crowding bodies,
poverty, stale spices, treated bandages.

The patients insisted on a few words from Dr Brand,
and he reluctantly agreed.
He stood for a moment, empty of ideas, looking at the patients before him.
His eyes were drawn to their hands, dozens of them,
most pulled inward in the familiar “leprosy claw-hand,” some with no fingers,
some with a few stumps.
Many patients sat on their hands or otherwise hid them from view.

“I am a hand surgeon,” he began and waited for the translation into Tamil and Hindi.
“So when I meet people, I can’t help looking at their hands.
The palmist claims he can tell you your future by looking at your hands.
I can tell your past.
For instance I can tell what your trade has been by the position of the
calluses and the condition of the nails.
I can tell a lot about your character,
I love hands.”

He paused and looked at the eager faces.
“How I would love to have had the chance to meet Christ and study his hands!
But knowing what he was like, I can almost picture them, feel them.”

He paused again,
then wondered aloud what it would have been like to meet Christ and study his hands.
He traced the hands of Christ,
beginning with infancy when his hands were small, helpless, futilely grasping.
Then came the hands of the boy Jesus, clumsily holding a brush or stylus,
trying to form letters of the alphabet.
Then the hands of Christ the carpenter—
rough, gnarled, with broken fingernails and bruises from working with saw and hammer.

Then there were the hands of Christ the physician, the healer.
Compassion and sensitivity seemed to radiate from them,
so much so that when he touched people they could feel
something of the divine spirit coming through.
Christ touched the blind, the diseased, the needy.

“Then,” continued Dr. Brand,
“there were his crucified hands.
It hurts me to think of a nail being driven through the center of my hand,
because I know what goes on there,
the tremendous complex of tendons, and nerves and blood vessels and muscles.
It’s impossible to drive a spike through its center without crippling it.
The thought of those healing hands being crippled reminds me
of what Christ was prepared to endure.
In that act he identified himself with all the deformed and crippled
human beings in the world.
Not only was he able to endure poverty with the poor,
weariness with the tired,
but–clawed hands with the cripple.”

The effect on the listening patients,
all social outcasts,
was electrifying.
Jesus—a cripple,
with claw hand like theirs?

Brand continued.
“And then there were his resurrected hands.
One of the things I find most astounding is that though we think of the
future life as something perfected,
when Christ appeared to his disciples he said,
“Come look at my hands,’ and he invited Thomas to put his finger into the print of the nail.
Why did he want to keep the wounds of his humanity?
Wasn’t it because he wanted to carry back with him an eternal reminder
of the sufferings of those on earth?
He carried the marks of suffering so he could continue to understand the needs
of this suffering.
He wanted to be forever on with us.”

As he finished, Paul Brand was again conscious of the hands as they were lifted,
all over the courtyard,
palm to palm in the Indian gesture of respect, namaste.
The hands were the same stumps, the same missing fingers and crooked arches.
Yet no one tried to hide them.
They were held high, close to the face, in respect for Brand,
but also with new pride and dignity.
God’s own response to suffering made theirs easier.

T.S. Elliot wrote in one of his Four Quartets:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
the questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart

The surgery of life hurts. It helps me, though, to know
that the Surgeon himself, the Wounded Surgeon,
has felt every stab of pain and every sorrow.

Philip Yancey
Jesus’ Reminders

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https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/these-feet-were-made-for-love/

I want to be sure of you

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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The above image is of my two cats. They are not related and differ in age by almost 5 years with the smaller orange puff ball on the left being the “old lady”. Do not let her fur fool you, she only weighs a tad over 5 pounds. The lean long one, my “little boy”, on the right is just 2 years old and weighs a whopping 15 pounds.

These two cats are both rescues. They have come into our lives to only enrich our world. I know what your’e thinking…you’re saying you know how cats can be—temperamental, distant, self-centered. But these two are different, with the younger one especially being most attentive, attached and engaging—not only to us, but to the older orange cat as well.

There is something quite touching and wonderfully assuring when watching and observing the behavior of two animals, especially animals that are not related by any sort of litter, with even those of different species being most magical, who develop deep bonds. Yes, I do believe pets, as those among us who have pets will no doubt agree, that pets do and can love us as we love them. I also believe that animals can feel a sense of “love” in the bonds that are forged between not only pet and owner but with a “fellow” or similar pet.

I say all of this as I ponder over the bonds and relationships we all develop in our lives. Be it bonds between family, friends, lovers, pets—we all seek a connection. It is an intrinsic need I suppose, that of connection. We yearn to bond with others. We bond with other people and we bond with animals–I suppose we have been hardwired to “bond”—as we are created by and in love to in turn love and be loved.

So imagine my deep emotion over this particular image that was posted on a blog that I follow. The image has been making the rounds on the internet and even through news media outlets throughout this past week.

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My friend Father Hugh, a Benedictine monk and priest who is from Australia and is currently serving in his ministry in England, has a blog that is both thought provoking as well as a place of comfort and refuge (http://hughosb.wordpress.com )

It was on his blog where I first saw this recent picture of Pope Francis embracing and praying fervently for a man who has what I am assuming to be the dreaded disfiguring disease of leprosy—and if not leprosy, an equally disfiguring disease.

At first glance one is not certain what it is that the Pope is holding but upon further studying of the image, it becomes clearly apparent and then very off putting and disturbing. The image is difficult to take in. One wants to look immediately away in shock and unease. It is troubling.

I was immediately moved to tears as I looked at the images—yes there are several images of this encounter but I have posted only one. The image has remained with me ever since I viewed it several days ago. There is tremendous power in this image and tremendous compassion.

I imagine life has not been kind to this man. By the looks of a few grey hairs I would suppose him to be in his mid 50’s on up—my age. However I could be wrong and he could be much younger or indeed, older. I would imagine that as the disease has progressed the sense of isolation this man has most likely experienced has also progressed.

I suppose he has been most lonely–as he has not been able to enjoy those moments out with other people that we all take for granted. No dining out, no movies, no trips to the mall, no visits to church, no attending a play or concert—lest the staring, the suddenly hushed tones of those who see him, the whispers, the sense of being most conspicuous–constantly hiding in the shadows as it were. In the middle ages lepers were made to wear a bell around their neck so that others would hear them coming and could avoid all contact.

A human who has been denied the opportunities that the majority of us take for granted of being able to forge our need for the bonds and connections of relationships. Even the very essence of our need as living beings, the need to touch and be touched, all denied this man.

Not only is it hard for me to look upon this man, the thought of touching and embracing him leaves me troubled. Could I so openly reach out physically to this man? I am ashamed that I have to “talk” myself into the actions of simply being a compassionate decent human being.

Pope Francis has given this man a most tender and precious gift–not just his prayers, as you and I can easily pray for this man, but the Pope is filling a most basic human need and desire in and for this man—to feel another human-being’s touch, warmth and embrace. To touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to love and be loved. . . despite appearance, despite disease—all basic needs we all take for granted every day.

There are many lesson here in this image and I shall leave them to you to discern for yourself as we will each, no doubt, take away a different one as it pertains to our different lives—may we be mindful that not all people on this planet are having the basic human needs met. There is tremendous isolation and loneliness for so very many. Not necessarily to the extreme such as a leper , but isolation just the same–the lack of relationships and bonds forged by one human to another.

May we, may I, look beyond the visible surface of appearance–reaching out to those who yearn to be touched and loved and connected. . . to those who just wish to be sure of the companionship of another human being who recognizes that they too are human beings longing for recognition and for the connection of a deep intrinsic bond–to touch and be touched. . . to love and be loved—Amen, Amen