Memorial of St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, Priest
As a child growing up in the Midwest, our backyard had a vegetable garden, apple, pear, and cherry trees, raspberry bushes, a grape arbor, and beautiful rose bushes. My mom would often escape the housewife and mother of five tasks by donning her garden gloves and boots with pruning shears and heading out the back door. She would take great care in cutting off the dead branches and trimming the healthy ones to promote new growth. This was her prayer time, one with God and nature. Not only did she teach us by example how to care for these plants, but the fruits of her labor were also served gathered around our family table.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit… without me, you can do nothing.” We are directly connected to Christ through Baptism; as we become the branches of his vine, his grace flows to us, and we are nourished.
Today we celebrate the feast of Father Damien of Belgium, who was assigned to the island of Molokai to serve as a chaplain of the leper colony in 1873 for a 3-month rotation. He soon volunteered to remain permanently, caring for the physical, medical, and spiritual needs of the lepers who were restricted from living on this island. He may not have been able to cure their leprosy, but he brought them healing in soul and spirit. The Lord came to dwell among them through the Eucharist, as in today’s Gospel. It was a gripping moment when he began his homily one day with the words, “Fellow lepers.” He certainly did bear much fruit in his short life. Saint Damien de Veuster died at the age of 49 of leprosy.
What in my life needs pruning to increase my spiritual fruits?
“Let us remember before this noble figure that it is charity which makes unity, brings it forth and makes it desirable. Saint Damien prompts us to choose the good warfare, not the kind that brings division but the kind that gathers people together. He invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brethren and still today call for the charity of our presence as servants, beyond that of our generosity”. Amen. (Pope Benedict XVI, Canonization homily of Saint Damien de Veuster)