Blessed Joseph de Veuster (Fr Damien the Leper)

(entered heaven this day in 1889)

Dear Dawn,

In your last note you sounded a bit like Jeremiah.  He too complained about what God was asking him to do; he made all kinds of excuses.  My sprite young niece, you need not be so complicated!  Certainly you are young, and certainly you still have a lot to learn.  So what?  Can your inadequacies inhibit the power of God’s grace from working through your humble but sincere efforts to change college culture?  I don’t think so.  You just need to stir up your courage.  Remember, you and your fellow COMPASS members have been confirmed in the Holy Spirit.  You have the omnipotent and omniscient God on your side.  Courage!  Maybe the example of today’s saint will help.

Fr Damien was born in Belgium, the son of a hardworking and practical man.  At a young age, however, he felt called to serve another hardworking Man, Jesus.  He joined the religious congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (the Picpus Fathers), finished his studies, and volunteered for the missions in Hawaii, where, upon arrival, he was ordained.  His first assignment was a parish bigger than his entire native country.  He started his nine-year ministry there by building a chapel with his own hands.  Then he took to the road.  He visited every corner of his immense and wild parish.

Hawaii at that time was still saturated with traditional religious practices, some of which bordered on the satanic.  During his pastoral visits Fr Damien often had to confront these traditions.  That wasn’t exactly a motive for winning popularity contests.  One night while he was camping outside under a tree, he was disturbed by the sounds of what he recognized as one of these pagan rituals.  He followed the noise to a nearby cave.  Peeking in, he saw the natives engaging in a ritual sacrifice of a dog.  At one point they pulled out a voodoo doll of Fr Damien himself.  At that moment, the indignant priest burst into the cave, toppling the sacrificial paraphernalia and tearing the voodoo doll to pieces – just like Christ cleansing the Temple.  This was a language the natives understood.  That such an action was not immediately punished by the dark forces these people worshipped was a boost for the cause of Christ.

Fr Damien is best known, however, for his volunteering to take up missionary activity in the dreaded community of Molokai.  It was a leper colony.  No missionary had hitherto been courageous enough to take it under his wing.  Whereas the rest of the missionary activity was making great strides throughout the Archipelago, Molokai remained a vortex of misery, despair, and rampant vice.  Fr Damien volunteered for the post as soon as his superiors opened up the possibility, knowing that it would be a lifetime assignment – he would never be permitted to return to non-leprous communities.

For the next sixteen years Fr Damien poured out his love on these abandoned souls.  He built chapels, houses, and streets.  He engineered a clean water system and instituted farming and gardening so the lepers could support themselves.  He reformed the decadent morals by evangelizing courageously through his own example, words, and ingenuity.  He gave these hapless people Christ, and their meaningless, miserable lives became fountains of faith, hope, and love.

He suffered for it, though.  Calumnies stained his name.  He was rejected and ostracized – he wasn’t even allowed to climb aboard a supply ship to confess his sins; he had to announce them from a skiff floating alongside (he did so in Latin, to maintain a bit of discretion).  Finally, he himself caught the disease.  Even so, he continued his tireless work until the day he died.

I think your situation on campus is similar.  Sin is spiritual leprosy.  In that sense, your campus (judging from how you describe it) is nothing but a huge leper colony.  But God has given you faith, and the sacraments, and a heart that yearns to help your fellow students.  Take courage, my beloved young niece!  No more excuses!  Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Your loving uncle,


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