This past week The Church honored the memory of St. Damien de Veuster. It was said of Father Damien that there was nothing supernatural about him. He was a vigorous, forceful man with a big kindly heart in the prime of life and a jack of all trades. He was a man of determined tenacity to Christ his world, specifically the world of the leper colonies of Hawaii. Ambrose Huthison, who worked alongside him and became a close friend of Father Damien, said that “he loved to work with him in his crusade to put down evil. There was no hypocrisy in him.”
Fellow priests thought Father Damien was too uneducated; they believed he wasn’t up to the task. Yet St. Damien persisted in prayer and study and depended on the intercession of St. Francis Xavier to be chosen for the mission to the lepers. St. Francis Xavier was a priest who served The Church in Portugal, India, Japan, and China. He, as well as St. Damien, died in their service to the people they helped.
The Church honors the memory of Saints of Scripture and Salvation History during Eastertide who continued Christ’s mission of setting captives free. The people they served are the nobodies of history that remain nameless to us, yet they bear the name: Beloved.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Gospel according to St. Luke 4:18-21
We read of the mission of the Early Church during Eastertide and we witness the disciples and followers Christing the world by setting captives free through the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through them.
The readings for today in The Divine Office and the Mass include two events from the Acts of the Apostles that embody the mission that Christ gave to the disciples. We recall Peter and John’s encounter with a nameless lame man in our Morning Prayer readings:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
And then we read about Saints Paul and Barnabas’ encounter with a nameless lame man in our Mass readings:
[There was a] a crippled man, lame from birth,
who had never walked.
He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him,
saw that he had the faith to be healed,
and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.”
He jumped up and began to walk about.
The first saints-in-the-making saw the nameless nobodies and listened to their pleas for help, and they gave them Christ through the Holy Spirit flowing through their lives. Those nobodies, no doubt, had been crying out to other nobodies passing by for a long time, but someone different passed by them in these encounters. The disciples and apostles didn’t hear their pleas as noise; no, they stopped, looked intently at them, and listened. And it made all the difference for those nobodies! There have been multitudes of nobodies throughout Salvation History up to this very day who need someone to look intently at them, acknowledge their pain, and listen to them. And here we are Christing our corner of the world, living beside nobodies who wait for us to look intently at them. Isn’t the Holy Spirit just waiting for us to stop and listen?
The Saints in Salvation History chose to suffer as Christ suffered because of their deep love for God. They were ridiculed, ostracized, maligned, and persecuted, but they remained faithful to Christ’s mission to set captives free. Saints Peter, John, and Paul were martyred, and Father Damien became a leper himself. He chose to remain beside the lepers, and as he continued to fight against the prejudice and ignorance of his day, society gradually changed its mind about the “nobody lepers.”
Today we aren’t surrounded by the extremes of physical disease as our ancestors were, but I submit, that we suffer from the extremes of spiritual dis-ease–the blindness of pride, the lameness of fear, the deafness of pride–it emanates from the nobodies in our lives. Well, fellow saint-in-the-making, who is in your corner of the world just waiting for us to look intently at them and listen to the pain of their lives? How long have they been observing us as we come and go past them? How long have they been waiting for us to stand up for them in the face of prejudice and misunderstanding?
LORD, sometimes it’s not easy to listen to others’ complaints. We sometimes grow impatient with their fear, pride, and anger. Just as you bore our disease, may we love the nobodies that are difficult to love.
Holy Spirit of God, make us self-forgetful. Remove our self-preoccupation so that we may abide with the marginalized and forgotten in our corner of the world.
LORD, our Savior, and Healer open our eyes and ears to the reality of the nobodies in our life that need us to listen to them for you. Quiet our hearts so that we may join you in setting the captives free.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.