St. Damien of Molokai was one of four priests who volunteered on a rotation schedule to live and work in the leper colony of Kalaupapa in Hawaii. He was the first priest assigned, but after several months there he wrote his superior asking to stay permanently. He had already become formed in community with the people he was caring for and knew he could not desert them. Being a bit rough around the edges himself, Fr. Damien somehow felt comfortable with those forgotten outcasts.
Yesterday's first reading from the book of Acts spoke of the early Christian community: "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." (Acts 2:44-47) When Fr. Damien first arrived on Molokai, he found the colony in shambles with no real structure or sense of identity. With much prayer and hard work he slowly transformed that abandoned segment of Hawaiian society into a true community which worked together for the good of all and gathered regularly for worship. Forced together because of a shared disease, they were able to find a common refuge: Jesus Christ and His Church.
God, being in community Himself, gave us the Church so we would be in community with one another. We are meant to encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2), weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). We are baptized, confirmed, and share the Eucharist in community. Church is our haven and our solace when the world seems particularly harsh and cold.
Fr. Damien brought Christ to the Kalaupapa colony and in doing so, brought fellowship, purpose, and hope. Each person became an important part of the Body of Christ, "and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." As part of that same body, and following in the footsteps of St. Damien, may we be a comfort to someone today.
St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us!<Â