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St. Damien of Molokai: Brother & Servant to the Forgotten

Imagine an island, shaped vaguely like a shark, rising from the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The center reveals a massive crater, some 300,000 years old — the result of an underwater volcano. To the west of the crater, huddled up against the shoreline, buffeted by water and wind, there are clear signs of human establishments. In fact, humans have lived on this section of island since about 650 years after Christ was born, determinedly carving out lives from sea and mountain and forest.

This island is called Molokai, in the state of Hawaii, and this small western section of dorsal fin was witness to an astounding outpouring of God’s love and inclusion and sacrifice.

In the narrative of Salvation history, we understand that God specifically selected, nurtured, and prepared the tribes of Israel for the Incarnation.  The Passover, with the blood of the lamb saving the people from death, was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. The Arc of the Covenant, which contained relics of the priesthood, the Law, and the bread of Heaven, was a glimpse of what God would accomplish with Our Lady’s fiat. Even leprosy, the bodily ailment that filled ancient Israel with such fear and loathing, resulting in total exile of the afflicted, was meant to prepare us for the coming of Christ. 

To the ancient Israelites, leprosy was a graphic demonstration of the destruction and loathsomeness of sin. Nothing unclean shall ever enter the presence of the Lord, and the various illnesses that were called “leprosy” in the Old Testament were tangible allegories of the horror of human transgressions. This is what makes Christ’s interaction with, and healing of lepers so heart-breakingly powerful.  Here was God Himself, fully immersed in the stream of humanity, physically touching our sinful nature, and unflinchingly healing us. This is a love that is beyond our comprehension, but a love that we were created to absorb and reflect back into the world.

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