When Damien de Veuster arrived in Hawaii in 1864, he found an island-community beset by infections. Over the years, travelers and seamen had introduced diseases like influenza and syphilis. Yet none were as bad as Hansen’s Disease, more commonly known as leprosy. First reported in Hawaii in 1840, leprosy devastated people in many ways. First, because the disease was highly contagious and untreatable until the 1930s, people contracting it had no hope of recovery. This often led to deep depression among its sufferers. Second, leprosy caused a progressive degeneration of their skin, eyes, and limbs. It thus disfigured people and eventually immobilized them. Finally, few diseases isolated people from their communities as much as leprosy. Sufferers were seen as outcasts and cautioned to stay away from everyone else.
In 1866, to curb the spread of the disease, Hawaiian authorities decided to consign lepers to an isolated community on the island of Molokai. On three sides, the colony, called Kalaupapa, bordered the Pacific Ocean, and the fourth side featured massive, 1,600-foot cliffs. Once the lepers were out of sight and no longer a threat to the general population, the government turned a blind eye to their basic needs. Shipments of food and supplies slowed down, and the government removed most of its personnel. The result was a highly dysfunctional community marked by poverty, alcoholism, violence, and promiscuity.
Puritan missionaries became convinced that leprosy stemmed from the people’s licentiousness. But Damien knew that was not true. He believed the people on Molokai were basically good, not corrupt, and that sin did not cause the spread of the disease.
In time, Damien came to see the neglected colony as the answer to his boyhood longings for adventurous missionary work. He asked the local bishop for permission to go to Molokai, and the bishop not only granted approval, but personally accompanied Damien to the island. He introduced Damien to the 816 community members as “one who will be a father to you and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you, to live and die with you.”
This introduction did not surprise Damien, who had no illusions about what his mission would entail. He knew working in the disease-ridden colony virtually guaranteed that he would become infected too. Yet he never wavered in his commitment.
At first, the conditions around the lepers proved overwhelming. Damien often felt as if he had opened a door to hell. Victims wandered about, their bodies in ruin and their constant coughing the island’s most familiar sound. Damien could hardly bear the stench:
“Many a time in fulfilling my priestly duties at the lepers’ homes, I have been obliged, not only to close my nostrils, but to remain outside to breathe fresh air. To counteract the bad smell, I got myself accustomed to the use of tobacco. The smell of the pipe preserved me somewhat from carrying in my clothes the obnoxious odor of our lepers.”
Eventually Damien overcame the distressing sights and smells. His superiors had given him strict advice: “Do not touch them. Do not allow them to touch you. Do not eat with them.” But Damien made the decision to transcend his fear of contagion and enter into solidarity with the Molokai lepers. He committed to visit every leper on the island and to inquire of their needs.
One early realization was that to show the lepers the value of their lives, he had to first demonstrate the value of their deaths. So he built a fence around the local cemetery, which pigs and dogs regularly scavenged. He also constructed coffins and dug graves, committing that each leper, even if marginalized throughout his life, would receive a decent burial upon death. This had a remarkably uplifting effect on the community.
Damien also devoted his attention to the sick. He brought the sacraments to bedridden lepers. He washed their bodies and bandaged their wounds. He tidied their rooms and did all he could to make them as comfortable as possible.
What surprised the lepers most was that Damien touched them. Other missionaries and doctors shrank from the lepers. In fact, one local doctor only changed bandages with his cane. But Damien not only touched the lepers, he also embraced them, he dined with them, he put his thumb on their forehead to anoint them, and he placed the Eucharist on their tongues. All of these actions spoke volumes to the dejected lepers. They showed that Damien did not want to serve them from afar; he wanted to become one of them.
Damien was careful never to present himself as a messianic figure, soaring in from a higher, more privileged position. He invited lepers to join in the work, turning his service to the community into an act of solidarity. He had them help build everything from coffins to cottages. When the colony expanded along the island’s peninsula, his leper friends helped construct a new road. Under his supervision, the lepers even blasted away rocks on the shoreline to create a new docking facility. Damien also taught the lepers to farm, raise animals, play musical instruments, and sing. Although the lepers were used to being patronized or bullied, Damien spread among them a new cheer and sense of worth.
This refreshing spirit impressed visitors to the island. “I had gone to Molokai expecting to find it scarcely less dreadful than hell itself,” wrote Englishman Edward Clifford in 1888, “and the cheerful people, the lovely landscapes, and comparatively painless life were all surprises. These poor people seemed singularly happy.”
Despite the idyllic community Damien had built through a decade of work, the moment he feared finally arrived in December 1884. One day, while soaking his feet in extremely hot water, Damien experienced no sensation of heat or pain—a tell-tale sign that he had contracted leprosy. The disease quickly developed, causing Damien to write to his bishop with the news: “Its marks are seen on my left cheek and ear, and my eyebrows are beginning to fall. I shall soon be completely disfigured. I have no doubt whatever of the nature of my illness, but I am calm and resigned and very happy in the midst of my people. The good God knows what is best for my sanctification. I daily repeat from my heart, ‘Thy will be done.’”
Soon, he also wrote home to his brother: “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
Even before contracting the disease, Damien spoke of himself and the people of Molokai as “we lepers.” He identified closely with those he came to serve and thus, before and after the disease, offered a powerful, concrete expression of solidarity. And it was for that reason he become known not by his homeland, but by the island community he served—Saint Damien of Molokai, patron of lepers.
©Brandon Vogt (www.BrandonVogt.com) is the Content Director at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is an award-winning writer, blogger, speaker. He's been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. Brandon converted to Catholicism in 2008, and in 2011 he released his first book, “The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011). Vogt lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their four children in Central Florida.
Life was good. Or so I thought. I was living in New York City on the upper Westside with my new bride, and working as an actor. Maybe you have seen one of my award winning performances: Dunking my face into a bowl of baked beans, singing into a chunk of Velveeta cheese, talking with a mouth full of cookies, or maybe as the bright neon orange and green live version the very popular toy at the time, “Big Frank.” As well as in film, TV shows, theatre, and something very dear to me, Third Rail Comedy, the sketch comedy group I was a founding member of. One of our reviews at the time said we were “rude, crude and lewd.” We considered that a badge of honor. I was auditioning or filming during the day and performing sketch comedy in clubs at night. Yes, life was good. But let me back up a bit. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised Catholic. We went to Mass every Sunday and on holy days, and fasted from meat on Fridays. This fasting thing was not good for me. See, I hated fish at the time and I dreaded the Fridays when we had tuna fish casserole. I attended Catholic school for six years. I can remember when I was about eight, sitting in a dark auditorium at school with my mom and dad watching my older sister and younger brother in the school Christmas play. She was a candy cane and he was an elf. And while gazing up at their brilliant performance on stage I remember thinking, I would never, ever want to be on a stage in front of people. I was an extremely shy and introverted child. It is nothing less than ironic that I wound up an actor. But that is another story. By this time, our family moved to Florida. In seventh and eighth grade, I attended weekly catechism classes while in public school. And I was an altar boy. My mom and dad, brother and two sisters and I were by all accounts a Catholic family. Looking back, I remember it all fondly and feel quite fortunate to have had a faith centered family. But in my early teen years, seeing kids in the neighborhood playing and having fun while I had to get dressed up and head to church began to be a real drag. I began to realize that I went to Mass because that is what we did on Sunday, not because I wanted to go. My faith was not something I believed, but something I went along with. I began to wonder if what went on during Mass was real and true or just made up rituals and stories. I made half-hearted attempts to read the Bible, but found it all rather boring and hard to comprehend. I did not take the time or effort to investigate further. So, like any good son, I just went along without complaint. Okay, maybe a little complaining, but inside I knew it would never really get very far. The more I went to Mass, the less sense it made to me. I mean, who is this God? This bearded man I imagined in my youth. I found it a challenge to grasp the concept of Who or what was God. If He was not an old man in the clouds, Who was He? I thought that if I could just get a picture of what God looks like in my mind, then I would be able to understand. But that image never materialized. Instead, my frustration grew and my doubt multiplied. While at college, I moved out on my own and that is when the drifting really began. On weekends while at home, I would attend Mass. But for one reason or another I would not make it to church on many Sundays. There were times that I would make an attempt to seek out a Catholic church close by the college, but never followed through on showing up on Sunday. There was always an urge inside me that wanted to seek out God, to go to Mass, but I tried my best to ignore that feeling, thinking that it was just a habit from always going to Mass with my family in my youth. I also allowed negative news in newspapers or television about the Catholic Church to put a deeper wedge between me and my faith. I thought that if the Catholic Church did not satisfy me, maybe a non-Catholic church or another religion might be a better fit for me. I tried non-denominational Christian churches, unity churches, found my way to a few different Buddhist temples and a Baptist church, but none of them satisfied me. So I decided to ignore that urge and enjoy college life. One thing for sure, I was spiritually adrift. After graduating college as a newly minted theatre major, I began auditioning at professional theaters in the area. The local theater scene was coming into its own and I found a nice fit with a theater company and enjoyed performing in a number of productions. One day, after a morning rehearsal for a play I was performing in, I joined my family in the hospital waiting room where my mom was having surgery. As we sat awaiting word on my mother’s outcome, I scanned the room and at the other end, I noticed a familiar face. A very attractive girl that I had gone to high school with, but never said hello to because I was very shy. As I was deciding whether to say hello or not, her aunt spoke up and said, “I think she knows you.” Two years later, Dede became my wife. After meeting with some success locally with my acting, we decided to take a bite out of the Big Apple. That first year in New York City was an exhilarating and frightening time. What a rush for me it was walking the streets of Manhattan going from audition to audition! After about six months of beating the streets, I began booking commercials. I did thank God for my new found success, but did not bother to follow that urge inside me to attend Mass. On the surface, exploring what this island metropolis had to offer, with my wife, made that first year even more exciting. I began living the dream of every actor: Working only as an actor. And in New York City no less! Then, without warning, my wife began experiencing neurological issues. After consulting with a neurologist and undergoing many medical tests, it was discovered that she had Lyme disease. A ticborne illness which mimics multiple sclerosis and at that time was rather rare. There was controversy on the best protocol to effectively treat this illness. After two years of treatment with a doctor who was very knowledgeable with the disease and whom we both trusted, she was symptom-free. About a year later, our son was born. As any new parent can attest, those first few months were joy-filled exhaustion. Bringing new life into this world, learning how to be a parent, hoping you do it “correctly,” whatever that is. I was smitten. That little guy filled me with a type of love I had never experienced. How I am going to guide and teach him was a constant thought in my mind as I would gaze at him asleep in my arms. One thing I knew for sure was to give him as much love as humanly possible. At my mother’s insistence, our son was baptized into the Catholic Church. That first year with our son was a blast and a blur working and enjoying our new family. After our son’s first birthday, my wife’s health declined dramatically. Vertigo, exhaustion, difficulty walking, and temporary partial blindness filled her with fear. After many tests with her neurologist, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We were devastated to say the least. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, with my wife’s positive attitude and constant smile, we began to find our way with this new wrinkle in our life. Vaguely familiar with the disease and with the doctors saying symptoms are different for everyone, I began to research and learn all I could about this thing called MS. At that time, I felt invincible. I did not need anyone’s help, I could do it all: Assist my wife, care for my son, work, and so on. There was no thought of going to Mass, asking for or needing God’s help. I could do it all. And I did. For a while. As an actor, there is time during the day between auditions that I could take care of our son, assist my wife, grocery shop, and do whatever else came up. I had tons of energy and relished the fact that I could do all that I did. I would get my wife and son situated, then go and audition or film, then come home and do what needed to be done. Then, I was off again. A few evenings a week I would rehearse or perform with my sketch comedy group at clubs around New York City. At times it seemed like I was always in motion. Living in New York City was convenient in that everything was a train, bus, or cab ride away. About the time our son was two, the urge inside of me of going back to church was getting harder to suppress. I began to think that maybe we should go to Mass as a family because that is what I did growing up. So we began our half-hearted attempts of attending Mass. We were often late, I was easily distracted by my son who could not sit still for a second, and many Sundays we could easily talk ourselves out of going to Mass for one bad excuse or another. But, even through the distractions and excuses, that urge was ever present in my heart. There were periods of time when my wife was almost symptom-free and could get around and have a “normal” life, which we did our best to enjoy to the fullest. As time went on, however, walking became more of a challenge for her and getting around proved more difficult. And that began to put a strain on both of us. As time passed, I realized that life in New York City would become a major challenge for my wife because to her diminishing mobility. So we decided to relocate to California. Settling in the valley just over the hill from Hollywood, it had everything that we were looking for: Lots of space for my son to play, easier for my wife to navigate, and opportunities for acting work. After a time, we became acclimated to our new area, not to mention that we loved the weather. I cannot remember how, but I found a church nearby that we would attend on occasion. When we attended, I found myself sitting in the pew questioning many things about the Catholic faith and the Mass. Why Mass? I mean, is all that takes place in the Mass necessary? At times I would be half asleep. I would complain to myself that the readers are boring or that the priest is boring. Does he really believe what he is saying? Other times I found myself getting very angry during homilies. So much so that I would get up and walk out of the church in a huff. I was not happy. I did not quite realize it at that moment, but somewhere along the way, I developed an attitude that someone else was to blame for whatever was going wrong in my life. Impatience, frustration, anger, and many other emotions churned in my mind as more responsibilities began to pile up and I was becoming more resentful of my circumstance. My focus shifted from what I can do for my wife to, look at all this stuff I have to do for my wife. Through the anger and frustration, I still had that urge inside pulling me to Mass. When my son was in kindergarten, I began to think if I should have him go through the sacraments, reconciliation and first Holy Communion being the first two. I really struggled with this decision. I mean, I was struggling with my faith or lack thereof, so why push him into something that I had many questions with? After much thought, I decided that I would have him go through the sacraments and when he finished confirmation, he could decide for himself if he wanted to continue. After signing up for the Sunday morning class, I found out that the Holy Communion/Reconciliation class is a two-year process and on top of that, parents had to “volunteer” two times in the class. And if that was not bad enough, the class began at 9AM on Sunday. I struggled making it to Mass at 10AM! Oh great, I thought. My plan was to “volunteer” the first two classes and get the obligation over with quickly, then I would not have to deal with it for the rest of the year. My plan worked, sort of. I attended the first class with a few other parents and our job was to help keep the kids focused. A bit of a challenge, because there were thirty some kids packed in that classroom. I do enjoy children, so interacting with them and doing my best to keep them focused was a fun challenge. And something else began to happen, I found myself listening to what the instructor was saying. I remembered the Bible lesson she was teaching the kids from when I went to Catholic school, but somehow it felt like I was hearing it in a new way. I felt drawn to all she was saying. I went back the next Sunday and again, found myself listening intently to everything this catechist had to say. My “volunteer” obligation fulfilled, I went back week after week to help out and get reacquainted with the faith in which I was raised. I ended up helping out the two years of required classes for Reconciliation/First Holy Communion. I actually looked forward to those classes. I was very happy for my son, but still very confused and had many doubts about my faith, the Church and if it was real and true. But that feeling inside of me, that urge, would not let go. I decided that if my son was to be confirmed in the Catholic Church, which was a two-year program for ninth and tenth grade, then he should continue with the non-required catechism classes third through eighth grade. Even though I had my doubts, I felt that to give my son a fair shot of knowing the faith, he should have the benefit of those classes which coincided with a typical school year. So, we continued our routine of my son going to catechism class on Sunday, then we attended Mass right after. We would take our position in the pew about three quarters of the way back of the church, sometimes further back but never closer. I suppose it felt safer back there, like the priest could not see that far back and we could get lost in the crowd. I doubted almost everything I knew about the Catholic Church. Does the bread and wine really transform into the body and blood of Christ? Was Mary really a virgin? And even more unbelievable to me—did Jesus really resurrect from the dead? Now come on, really? Week after week I would ask myself those questions and more. Is all that takes place in the Mass necessary? I would say to myself, “there has got to be more to this (the Mass) than just this (what I am seeing).” After about five years of asking the same questions wondering if there was more to the Mass than what I am seeing…it happened. There I was, in the pew with my wife and son, I am slouching, half asleep, and mind wandering when I began to feel an odd sensation in my chest. I began to feel a warmth, a heat in the center of my chest. I sat up, I looked around to see if anyone else might be feeling what I was feeling. In a matter of moments this heat intensified and my chest felt as if it was opening and this heat turned into an intense fire, burning in my chest. An incredible fire with the most amazing indescribable feeling of love. A love so intense, so beautiful, so unconditional just flowing from my chest along with this intense burning fire. I began saying to myself, “I get this, I get this, I get this,” but I did not know what I was getting. Then, in my mind I could see curtains opening. Curtain after curtain, one after another opening, deeper and deeper in my mind. Then, every question every doubt I had about the Catholic faith, about the Mass, about Mary, about, about everything—it was answered at once. YES! It is all true. It is all real. As I was sitting there, having this life altering experience, I was unsure what to do next. I just had every doubt and question about my Catholic faith that I ever had, answered in an instant. I am sitting there, with my chest open with a roaring, surging fire ablaze with the most incredible feeling of love that I ever experienced and I am thinking, what do I do now? Should I walk up the aisle and stop the priest during Mass and tell him what is happening to me? Should I stand up and shout with joy of my experience? I wanted to, but thought the people would think I was a lunatic. So, I just sat there, trying to comprehend what was happening to me. After Mass I did not say anything to anyone, not even my wife. I just was not sure what to make of this fiery love burning inside of me. It was with me the whole week and I could not wait to get back to church the next Sunday to see what was going to happen next. Upon entering the church, I felt an instant connection in my chest, almost like I was being plugged back in. Although I had the fire ablaze in me throughout the week, it felt like this is where I needed to be. The church. Week after week it continued and I found myself moving up a pew or two every week. After about four weeks, we were sitting in the front pew and all I could say in my mind as this fire of love burned in my chest was, “How do I get there?” The tabernacle. I just wanted to be as close to the Holy Eucharist as humanly possible. As I write this, I cannot help but think of the angels and saints desiring to be near and praising Jesus at the tabernacles in Catholic churches around the world. Oh to be near You Jesus, oh to love You, stripped of ego and all pretense! Now, as challenging as this story would have been for me to believe if someone told me this over ten years ago, this part of the story would have been even harder to accept. As we sat in the front pew each week, a word or a phrase from a song, a reading, the homily, basically anything that was uttered or sung during the service, whatever the Holy Spirit needed me to think about, that word or phrase would burn in fire in front of me. Yes, I know, that is hard to believe. It took me a couple weeks to realize that this was really happening to me. Each week, I was not expecting, just accepting of what was unfolding to me and taking in all that was offered. This continued for about eight weeks. The fire and feeling of love in my chest stayed with me for several months, then slowly it began to dissipate with time. But to this day, almost every time I enter a Catholic church I feel that connection and a bit of the heat in my chest. I have been asked, “Why did you get to have this experience?” My smart alec answer is, because I am super-duper special. But in reality, to God, we are all super-duper special. I honestly do not know the answer. It may be a combination of reasons. I was so determined to know what was going on in the Mass. Not just what we could see but, all that we cannot see. The spiritual, mystical, unseen aspect of the Mass. I just kept asking over and over and over again. Week after week, month after month, year after year, “There has got to be more to this (the Mass) than just this (what I’m seeing).” And on that day, God answered me. Maybe He was so tired of me asking that He finally said, “Stop your whining, here’s your answer.” For whatever reason, I am thankful. That gift brought me back to the fullness of the faith in a huge way. I am a full participant in the Mass, searching and opening myself to an ever deepening understanding of my Catholic faith. I expect to always be discovering more of this incredible Church that Jesus founded and handed over to Saint Peter, the first pope all the way through to Pope Francis. As my son continued through the CRE program at church, each week I would sit outside of the confirmation classes. I would peek in the classrooms as I walked by and would become distressed at what I was seeing. Teens looking like they were half asleep, ignoring the teacher. In another classroom, the kids were clowning around with one another not even paying attention to the teacher. Each week the same thing. I would sit at the benches and think, oh no, when these kids get confirmed, they are never going to come back to church! Someone has got to do something. I began getting the urge to tell these kids my story, so that maybe they would understand how important their Catholic faith is. Each week I would think the same thing but resisted that urge inside of me. Okay, yes I know, I am slow at understanding that God is speaking to me. It eventually clicked that I had to tell them my story. A friend introduced me to the director of religious education. The next year, I was teaching one of the confirmation classes and in the first class of each group of teens, I tell them my story. I have been a confirmation catechist for the past nine years and I continue to grow in passion about my faith and seeing the kids respond in a positive way to my story and classes is truly a blessing to me and I trust, a blessing to them. All thanks to God! And yes, I am following the urging (yea I know, what took me so long?) to share my story through this story in the quest to help more and more people grow in their faith, come back to their Catholic faith or come into the Catholic Church. As the song says, “all are welcome in this place.”
Several years ago, I was given a housewarming gift unlike any I had ever received before. Christ the Pantocrator, an icon written and given to me by a most beloved friend. An exquisite, incredible work of art. It is a window into the soul of Our Blessed Lord, with its bright gold brush strokes surrounding and haloing the dark brown of Christ’s hair and stoic frame. It is, however, His eyes that seem to pierce right through the soul as one cannot help but gaze into them. A small crumb of Heaven, it is a great treasure, though it has become more to me than an object. It is an invitation, an encounter with the Divine right here in my little home. If you grew up with or are accustomed to “art forms” such as Jesus at the Bat or Precious Moments, icons may at first seem rather serious and perhaps even a little drab to the malnourished eye, the nature of an icon being that of solemnity and profundity; but like many worthy and even acquired tastes, icons present a singular presence and awareness that no other art form can offer. Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette, a resident monk at Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in Millbrook, New York, says, “In the icon, there is never room for creative fantasy or a fancy imagination. In its austere sobriety, the icon and the iconographer never step beyond the Scriptures or the virtues of the holy person they represent. Icons are truly vehicles of prayer, for besides instructing us in the mysteries of the faith, they also embellish God’s house with the beauty of a mysterious supernatural presence. To pray daily before an icon is to become aware in a unique way of the presence it represents. During the veneration of icons, a daily experience in our monastic worship, prayerfully we come into physical and spiritual contact with the mystery or person portrayed in the particular icon. This powerful, intangible contact feeds not only our faith, but also our prayer and our piety.” I remember placing it gently upon my mantel, thinking it a proper spot for such a piece of art. (Icons were something quite familiar to my upbringing as my mother also shared a friendship with the iconographer already spoken of above. In fact, it was her art that played a significant role in my mother’s “ongoing conversion,” as she used to call it, and to mine as well). I would walk past it in the mornings, blindly reaching for the coffee pot, and it seemed as if He was looking at me, present and yearning. A quaint hello was at the very least a polite response on my part to so longing and tender an expression of love. And then there would be the diaper changes before the fireplace, or the family prayers at night, and there He was again . . . waiting, hopeful, lovely, and so, so beautiful. I found myself falling deeply and truly in love with so loving a Face. A mere glance at His serene countenance would give me a gentle peace, a calm encouragement in my vocation. It was not long after that, that my mother became ill. I do not just mean sick, but terminally ill. They gave us three to six months. The devastation of that kind of diagnosis goes beyond expression. I spent much time in confusion, pain, and fear. Sometimes I went for what seemed like days without sleep, hovering over her sickbed; at other times, I felt I that I could not get out of bed. And as I would gather my belongings to go out the door to the hospital, my eyes would turn to that icon. There He was. He was always there. I would take Him with me, in my heart, a little oratory within of that beautiful, serene Presence. And when I came home at three o’clock in the morning some days, He was still there, as if He had never left my side. Little by little, I let Him enter in—and He came, never demanding, never threatening, but softly, peacefully, and oh, so gently. My love grew, as did mom’s cancer and when she finally died, He was there still. My Beloved: before me, beside me, above me, within me, around me. I do not know if I could have come out of that tragedy with the peace and joy that I feel today had it not been for that little icon. His presence filled my soul with a courage that even others were aware of and often inquired of me about. That daily, small, divine invitation produced spiritual fruit that I have no doubt will last my whole life, and continues to be fruitful each and every day. It is not something that you can experience in a Precious Moments image. The icon transcends the timeline of history, as our gaze reaches into the heights of Heaven, giving us renewed strength, determination, and a willingness to fulfill our earthly obligations with profound hope and an unspeakable joy in God Almighty. Do you have icons in your home? Do you make time each day to have even a small encounter with the Divine Romance? Consider purchasing an icon, perhaps of Our Lord or His Blessed Mother, and place it in a prayer corner within your home. Go there, in times of joy and especially in times of sorrow. He will be there. He will always be there, giving you strength, stability, tender love, and hope. I can attest to this reality in my own little life.
The Curé d’Ars said that, “All that we do, without offering it to God, is wasted.” He is of course right, but it must be emphasized that the Morning Offering is not a magic formula. It does not automatically transform the forthcoming day. That is why something further is required. My mother told me that after she had made her Morning Offering she would spend a few minutes reviewing the day ahead and making a few resolutions that would enable her to try and consecrate every moment of the day to loving God directly in prayer, and indirectly to loving our neighbors through all that we say and do. It might be to do humdrum tasks that we keep putting off, like changing the sheets on the bed, putting air into the car tires, defrosting the freezer, or something that is more important. There is always that friend or relative who is sick or in need, who we should phone, or write to, or even visit. Alternatively, perhaps we should make a resolution to apologize to a family member, a friend, or someone at work, for the way we behaved towards them. It is very difficult to stand up for someone who has been abused by authority at work, or elsewhere, or to speak the truth when no one wants to hear it, or to make a stand for what we know is right. Nevertheless, these are some of the more important things that could occupy our minds as part of Morning Prayer. Perhaps we could end with the most important resolution of all, which is to try and make the forthcoming day one in which we try as best as we can to enable God’s love to draw us up; not just into the life of Christ, but into His priestly action. It is only there that we will be able to love God as we should, by offering Him all that we are and all that we do. But most of all by offering Him the way that we have tried to serve Him in and through the neighbor in need. In this way, every day is a day in which we spend every single moment trying to observe the New Commandments, firstly by loving God, and then in loving Him, loving our neighbor in need. One of the most important truths of the spiritual life that we neglect at our peril is that we will not ultimately be judged by the wonderful feelings that we have experienced in prayer. We will not be asked how many ecstasies we have had, how many miracles we have worked, or how many people we have healed, but, rather, how have we served God in the neighbor in need. If we have done this—even if we have failed in so much else—we will be invited to share in His glory, because He will say to us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:31-46). But if we fail to do this, then we will be condemned to hear other frightening words, “Depart from me, for I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. For in truth I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:31-46). The Morning Offering and its implementation then is not just a nice pious practice for those who have the time to do it, but something on which our ultimate destination depends. It is the place where the whole of the forthcoming day is dedicated to loving God through a continual process of prayer, self-sacrifice, and the service of others. In this way, all that is said, done, and suffered, all that is enjoyed and celebrated, is offered in, through, and with Jesus to our common Father. This is the new worship in spirit and in truth that Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman. We are called to take part in the priestly action of Jesus every moment of every day. We can be encouraged by the words of one of the Desert Fathers, who insisted that we will ultimately be judged, not so much on what we have achieved, but on how best we have tried. In the word of the Jewish philosopher Simone Weil, “A person is no more than the quality of their endeavor” and that is how God will judge us if nobody else does.
“…one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” –Ephesians 4:4-6 For the first time in fifty-two years the city of Cleveland, Ohio, has a championship. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA title and all of Ohio has been “All In” for the team. Just like in playing poker, being “all in” means to invest everything, put everything on the line for one goal. Over 1.3 million people arrived to attend the championship parade and rally, some braving three-hour waits at the bus and train lines, others parking miles away and walking to the parade. Our hometown hero, LeBron James is being called the ‘chosen one,’ Cleveland’s ‘savior.’ Main Street in Akron has been renamed “King James Way,” and pundits are referring to his leaving Cleveland for Miami and returning as his “crucifixion” and “resurrection.” Yes, Cavs fans are ALL IN! Being a long time Cavaliers fan, I am thrilled. I attended game three of the finals with my son who flew in from Florida, a tradition that began last year with the loss to Golden State in game six of the finals, and continued this year, only this time with a title. Hopefully, we will be together as the Cavaliers defend their championship next June. But, for me, being “All In” begs the question, “Am I “all in” for Jesus, too?” With the love, good will, camaraderie, and common purpose, just imagine if we were as passionate about our salvation through Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus; the chosen one, King of kings, who truly was crucified and rose from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins, would look at lot different if more Christians were really all in for their faith. Instead of church attendance being on the decline since 1950, churches would be overflowing, people patiently waiting in line just to get a seat. Instead of being afraid to share our faith with others, it would become the main topic of conversation as the Cavs have become in Northeastern Ohio. Instead of hiding our faith, we would be wearing tee shirts declaring our devotion being “all in” for Jesus. Just imagine it! How would our world be different? Can you imagine the love, good will and common purpose that would exist if more Christians were “all in?” So what can we do to be “all in” for Jesus? ◗ Celebrate His victory! Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the greatest victory ever. Not only was it a victory over death, but He died for our sins, not just yours and mine, but everyone’s. “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” –1 Corinthians 15:57 ◗ Find victory in the trials of others. Being a cancer survivor myself, I take great pride in celebrating with friends their victory over life’s many trials. Beating cancer, finding a job after a long wait, overcoming a physical handicap, and succeeding when others might question why even try—these things are worthy of us being “all in” in our recognition of these victories. “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” –James 1:2-4 ◗ Give God the glory. Having the physical attributes, height and weight, and the skills to be a great athlete are often genetic. We need to thank God for these gifts. For most of us, our gifts are different. We have the skills to be great in other areas. But, remember to thank God for these gifts. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 It is a wonderful thing to celebrate a world championship for your town, especially when it has been over fifty years since the last title. Cleveland deserves it. But, let me ask you: Are you “All In” for Jesus, too?”
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