No greater love

Perhaps one of the most touching stories I've ever read about was that of Joseph De Veuster's or more popularly known as Father Damien the Leper or Father Damien of Molokai.
He is of Belgian descent and was beatified in June of 1995 under the title of Blessed Father Damien, Servant of Humanity.
Despite his parents' longings for him to help them in their farm, Joseph decided to be a priest. In his growing up years, Joseph's mother kept sharing to him stories about the lives of the holy people and about God. Somehow, this has a profound effect on his decision to be priest.
Father Damien believed that the only way we can discover life is when we accept death. That conviction was put to the test when, after 13 years of his priesthood, he decided to live with the lepers of Molokai (in Hawaii).
Who in his right mind and good health would decide to live in a leper colony? Today, leprosy is curable in the early stages, thus averting disability. But in the 17th century, there was no cure. People were expected to infect others as well as die, thus they were isolated in their own island. They are considered as outcasts.. Because of the isolation, the spiritual and other needs of the lepers are not met because most people shy away from their areas.
We've known of people, who, upon knowing that they will die, tend to stop taking care of themselves or the people and things around them. Every activity seems to be heavy because there's sadness in the heart. What would be the heaviest and scariest burden to carry than the thought of you dying?
Such was the case in Molokai. Even before their breaths left them, the people there live life as if they are already dead.
Father Damien spent 16 years with the lepers. He even faced scorn from others who did not like the improvements that he was making in their lives. In his eyes, the lepers were his flock and he loved them. He knew that the only way for them to trust him is for him to live with them. So, he ate the food that they offered from their infected hands and lived with them without concerning himself on whether or not they are going to infect him. Gradually, Father Damien restored in each leper a sense of personal worth and dignity. He also showed to them the value of their deaths. Before, when the dead are just thrown on the cliff or burned, he taught them to give their dead a proper funeral complete with a casket, prayers and music. He gave them confessions, Holy Communion and he anointed the bed ridden lepers. He took care of them.
He also asked the lepers to help him build their community. Thus, the so-called “colony of death” became a happier place. Cottages, a church, water system and other necessary equipment to function as a community, were erected in Molokai.
As expected, Father Damien became a leper and died, the community as well as his fellow priests and missionaries were saddened. But not before Molokai's plight was made known to the world. After that, more missionaries took care of the lepers of Molokai, continuing Father Damien's legacy.
At the course of reading Father Damien's story and his background, I gathered that he's not an extraordinary man. In fact, he seems an average person and never performed any miracles in his life. He's also known to be ill-tempered and coarse.
What's really amazing is his capacity to love. I've never heard of such love by a human being to another. Parents love their children because they are their flesh and blood. Piece of cake, every parent does that. Brothers and sisters love each other because, again, they are of the same flesh and blood and grew up in the same house. Another piece of cake because every brother or sister does that. Such love are nothing compared to what Father Damien gave to the people of Molokai. Unlike our biological families and closest friends, Father Damien was willing to love and be there for people he doesn't even know or for people who are in need; people who are deformed and contagious. That kind of love can only come from God.
But Father Damien was human, just as we are. But he was capable of such love – accepting the lepers no what they are and loving them anyway.
It reminds me of the time we easily hit back at people who hurt us with their words or actions. Of the time that we only love people who loved us back or have given us something ;positive in return. Of the time that we treat with respect the people who dress good compared to those who don't. Ah, just so many instances that made me feel small upon reading the story of Father Damien.
* * *
I'd like to share a paragraph from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It goes, “It's not about you. The purpose of life is far greater than your own fulfillment, your peace of mind or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense.”/Marie Katherine Villalon

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