Do you smell that? It is that new-saint smell. Today, for the first time in history, we celebrate the feast day of St. Damien of Molokai, who was canonized just last year. I think it is quite an honor to be able to celebrate a saint’s feast day for the first time.
St. Damien of course is best known for his work among the lepers in Hawaii. He lived among these outcasts for years, ministering to both their physical and spiritual needs. But most importantly, he identified with them, becoming an outcast for the sake of outcasts. He took this identification to the greatest extreme: he contracted leprosy himself and eventually died of the disease.
We see the same type of identification through suffering in Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She sought out those who felt abandoned and wished to identify with them. She prayed fervently to God that He would grant her desire to be like them in love. And He granted her request in an unfathomable way: He allowed her to feel abandoned even by Him. She knew what it was like to feel that no one loved her – not even God – and thus was able to fully love and identify with those she served.
And of course both St. Damien and Blessed Teresa were imitating their master, our Lord Jesus Christ. The incarnation is the most radical identification of them all: the Almighty Son of God became man out of love. And this identification went to the furthest extreme: suffering and ignominious death. This is the Christian answer to suffering: that God Himself joins us in our suffering; He can truly identify with everything we suffer. And in this identification through suffering, He lifts us up to Him in love.
Like St. Damien, we are called to identify with those who suffer: this is the path of true love. May we never turn our backs to the poor and suffering, but instead always join with them and bring them to our suffering God, who will lift them out of their suffering and into His loving embrace.
St. Damien, pray for us!