Saint Damien of Molokai
The unofficially-official patron Saint for the Outcasts and Saints Blog.
The day of his death April 15, is a minor holiday in Hawaii. His feast day in the Episcopal Church is recognized on April 15.
Those with Hanson’s Disease (leper is a slang term), outcasts, Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii and Unofficial patron Saint of living with HIV/AIDS.
Saint Damien of Molokai, was born in Belgium and given the name Jozef De Veuster. After joining The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, in 1860, he took the name Damien after Saint Damian a martyr from the sixth century. Initially he was not selected to go to the colony in Kalupapa, Hawaii, but volunteered after his brother had fallen ill.
In fact, Saint Damien, was initially told he could not join the monastery, because he lacked the necessary education. He left school at thirteen, to go to work to support the family. Saint Damien was, fueled through inspiration of his calling toward missionary work similar to Saint Francis Xavier (the same that was the inspiration for Saint Katherine Drexel, the Saint of the month in March). Though he did not stop seeking his spiritual calling, but started using every opportunity to learn what was needed.
The beginning of Saint Damien of Molokai’s life and the struggle that he had to move toward his calling of joining a religious order, is one of the common threads seen in the lives of saints. He as many other saints did not accept the action of others attempt to cast them out. Although it might be seen as perseverance, for a holy person it offered an opportunity of aligning oneself with Jesus. This is where Saint Damien was able to take the connection to Jesus he experienced, to expand even further into his spiritual life, as he aided others in finding their life.
The connection that he already had with Jesus, moved beyond the doubters of faith, making it possible to humble himself to become a part of a community deemed as unworthy to be part of society. It is said that Kalupapa was selected because of the rugged terrain and the rough seas, making it an almost impossible trek to make. Not really for someone to accidentally happen upon, but so that the residents of Kalupapa who had compromised health could not leave. In that, alignment with Jesus, with those on the outside of the community Saint Damien asked to become a part of that community of outcasts. Upon his arrival, he said, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all with Jesus Christ”. He understood, he too had to be an outcast to fully understand his faith.
Eventually Saint Damien did succumb to Hanson’s Disease, but not before aiding a community to find their worth. He did not wait for someone close to him to be infected with the disease, before he was able to see the worth of individuals, to have proper housing, a place to worship, healthcare or the many basic needs to care for our whole self, in body, mind and spirit. Saint Damien already knew these people, because he knew Jesus. It was his practices of striving to align with Jesus that he was able to continue toward an even stronger spiritual connection. The connection was strengthened by his actions of bringing more people to Jesus, finding themselves within scripture.
Saint Damien, first found a connection where he could and initially felt familiar. This awareness enabled him, to then fully surrender to God, to meet the needs of people he did not understand, but accepted. He was able to see that we are all God’s children and that the more of us who learn and live this, the stronger we all are.
There are many benefits of having Canonized Saints and Holy People in the church, because it helps us to see ways we can put action into scripture. Such as Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was also known to have put herself into communities not welcome as a part of the greater community.
These holy people through their daily faith practices, would cast themselves outside of their community to align with one of the teachings from Jesus, to not see the divisions we create as humans. They were able to experience within their practices the awareness of how, anyone being separated from Jesus and their community, weakens our spiritual fabric for everyone. The gift we each bring is unique, but first there needs to be an opportunity to be an active participant.
For example, about a year ago, I was part of a group that was asked to look at our life, for a time when we have not felt a part of a group, our family or in some way holding a different experience than the majority. The answers were broad, ranging from having a different gender than co-workers, living through addiction and recovery, to living with cancer, chronic pain, and even having a different spiritual belief than their family. These were moments where each of us felt like an outcast. While also becoming aware, of how this isolation impacted their spiritual life, because of not feeling a part of a community.
This type of awareness offers an opportunity of looking inward. To ask; how did we feel having a different set of experiences than others? Or to be the same person, before someone knew we are different than they initially perceived? This is similar to the experience Jesus had, when people suddenly turned on him. He was still the same man as before, one person made a case against him to lead to his crucifixion. Jesus was cast outward to live his last days as an outcast, setting before us a living example of vulnerability.
As outcasts and saints, we can hold a different awareness to people similar to us, in our human form, enabling us to connect scripture into actions. The sacred thread connecting us into the fabric of our faith, continues to weave throughout our lives. We first have to be open to receive the grace of God. As many holy people, saints and Jesus have demonstrated, everyone is worthy of that grace. Perhaps, our lives can begin to look similar to that of Saint Damien of Molokai, to see the worth of people society has seen as outcasts to strengthen our divine fabric. Thankfully, there are saints who walk upon the Earth to help fellow outcasts to experience their connection to the divine.