It is the memory of having lain under the funeral pall twenty-five years ago the day of my vows that led me to brave the danger of contracting this terrible disease in doing my duty here and trying to die more and more to myself the more the disease advances, (the more) I find myself content and happy at Kalawao. (St. Damien of Molokai)
When Fr. Damien was ordained a priest he lay prostrate on the floor and was covered with a funeral pall as a symbol of his dying to himself. We can only wonder at his thoughts as he lay there in the dark, not fully understanding the eventual consequences of his vows but faithfully willing to sacrifice all for his God. And he did, indeed, sacrifice everything working night and day both spiritually and physically, standing side-by-side with his parishioners as they built homes and schools, bringing Christ to the sick, baptizing and burying them. I am sure there was many a time when he wanted to quit, but remembering the day of his vows inspired him to continue.
The Priest is Not His Own is the title of a beautiful book by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in which he writes: Our service is an arduous one; it involves not only labor in the fields in the daytime, but serving tables at night. It is the mere duty of the priest to work both morning and evening. When he is exhausted he cannot say: Well, I already did my Boy Scout duty today I built three rectories, now I can retire; I heard confessions three hours today, I have done my duty Labor union rules might regard that as sufficient; but we belong to a different union, where love, not hours, is the standard. When we think of all the Lord has done for us, we can never do enough. The word enough does not exist in love's vocabulary.
Fr. Damien would have agreed, because that is how he lived his life - not counting the cost. Even after he contracted leprosy himself he worked tirelessly for his people and never said enough until God carried him home. He took Christ at His word when He said, Lo, I will be with you always (Matthew 28:20), and gave of himself as both shepherd and lamb, like every good priest.
St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us!