When Joseph was a boy, he had a dream.
He wanted to become a priest.
Even better, Joseph had someone to share his dream with – his brother. The two of them decided to do something incredible with their lives. As young men do, they dreamed big. Not only would they be priests, they’d be missionaries. And since they were brothers, they’d follow two holy brothers to give them inspiration – the sainted twins Cosmos and Damian.
Things went well for the duo at first. Both eventually began studying for the priesthood. Soon Joseph’s older brother was ordained. But things didn’t go so well for Joseph. He had a problem with Latin, and you know what that means. The superiors of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary didn’t feel he had the proper education to become a priest. So, Joseph watched his brother become a missionary priest, while he was left behind.
But God still had a plan for Joseph.
He became a brother, taking the name Damien. Everyday he prayed before a picture of St. Francis Xavier, patron of missionaries, to be sent on a mission. His brother was assigned to the Hawaiian Islands as a missionary, but became ill. Damien, even though he had not yet been ordained, stepped out in faith and asked to replace his brother.
When he received permission, Damien set off for the islands. What greeted him was certainly a lush and beautiful site, extraordinarily exotic to the young Belgian. But Damien was a missionary, not a tourist. After spending nine years in Honolulu, he felt called to request a perilous assignment. He wanted to go to Molokai, the Island of Lepers.
He must’ve been crazy.
Why would he do such a thing? What man in his right mind would ask to be sent to such a horrible place, a place filled with suffering, hopeless people – people who have nothing to offer but a highly contagious horrific disease????
Damien sought to bring hope. He had the peace that no man can give, the peace that no man can explain – the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus. Eager to share that with those who suffered, he willingly gave his life to the people of Molokai.
Damien was instructed to not touch the lepers. This request he did not obey. He was told to keep his distance. He couldn’t follow that advice either. He touched the lepers, dressing their wounds. He embraced them, bringing them close to his heart.
You know by now that of course Damien became a leper. Eventually he died there on Molokai with his people, and was buried with two thousand other lepers near St. Philomena’s Church.
Throughout his life, Damien sought to follow the will of God, and to serve his neighbor. Last Sunday, he was canonized a saint.
The PIME Missionaries join the international Catholic community in celebrating the canonization of missionary priest Damien De Veuster. Inspired by his example, may we do the impossible, the outrageous, the unbelievable thing for God.