What’s the glory of the Catholic Church?
Is it the buildings, the cathedrals, the stained glass windows? The architecture? The music?
Is it St. Peter’s Basilica? The sculptures of Bernini, the music of Palestrina? I think that the glory of the Church is the saints. There are so many saints, and I’m sure we’re familiar with some of their stories and are inspired by them.
One of my favorites is about a holy man who was born in Belgium and volunteered to be a missionary in the South Pacific. His name was Jozef De Veuster – but his religious name was Damien, and he’s now known as St. Damien of Molokai – Molokai was the island in the Pacific. The people of Hawai’i loved him so much that they proposed that he be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
He became a priest in the missionary territory of Hawai’i and was there with other priests and the Bishop. The Bishop told him, “We’ve got this problem. There’s an island of about 800 lepers who’ve been quarantined. Please pray for them every day at Mass, this is a very hard situation to be in.”
Young Father Damien raised his hand and said, “Bishop, I’d like to go visit them and bring them the Sacraments for two weeks.”
The Bishop said, “No, no, I’m not asking anyone to volunteer.”
But Damien insisted, “I really want to go and visit them for two weeks. I’ll be fine.”
The Bishop relented and Damien boarded a ship to Molokai. As he arrived, he was lowered into a rowboat, and the huge waves against the island turned over the boat. He arrived in Molokai soaking wet, and all he had in his hands, his Bible, his breviary and the shirt on his back. And he came to this colony of 800 lepers.
They were helpless, they were hopeless. The place was disgusting, it smelled awful. There were all sorts of abuses going on. But when they all saw this healthy, young priest, they were stunned at what was going on. That first year, Fr. Damien found out that there were 200 of those 800 lepers who considered themselves Catholic. After one year, 600 were Catholic, and after two years, all 800 were Catholics!
Why? Was it because he was a brilliant preacher, or teacher, or writer? He really wasn’t. He was Christ among them.
Later on, he would catch the disease and die of it. But what gave him his strength was that he celebrated the Mass every day, reverently and piously. Every chance he had to go to Confession, he would go, and it wasn’t easy; he had to stand on shore and shout his sins to a priest on a passing boat because the priest wouldn’t come close to the shore.
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