October 11: 28 Sunday Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Hebrew 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30
This Sunday, the Universal Church witnesses the canonization in Rome of five blessed among whom is Father Damien Joseph de Veuster, who left everything in his native land of Belgium. Damien came to Hawaii as a young novice of the Sacred Hearts in 1864 and ordained in May of the same year. He committed himself to what nobody else wanted to do, to care for people infected with Hansen's disease at Kalaupapa in Molokai, Hawaii. He responded to the call of Christ that we hear from the Gospel of today “Go, sell what you have...; then come follow me.” Father Damien sought the wisdom of God by responding to go to Kalaupapa to make a difference for God among the lepers. By his heroic sanctity of life, he configured himself to Christ and persevered in such terrible conditions. His was a total detachment in order to possess Christ. Father Damian identified himself with victims of leprosy to give human suffering a new meaning in the light of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By the time Father died in 1889, people all over the world knew about this disease because of him. They also knew that human compassion could soften the terrible suffering brought about by this disease. No one knew better than Father Damien both the risks and the demands of living among those with leprosy. What sustained him as he tells us, is holiness of life and living in the presence of God. “Were it not for the constant presence of our divine Master in our humble chapel, I would not have found it possible to persevere in sharing the lot of the afflicted in Molokai...The Eucharist is the bread that gives strength...It is at once the most eloquent proof of His love and the most powerful means of fostering His love in us.” (Letter to his brother).
Saint Damian of Molokai canonized this Sunday lived the message of Jesus in today’s Gospel. Unlike the rich young man, unlike the young adults of his time, contrary to the expectations of this world, Damien left everything: left family, friends and country for the unknown. What Jesus demands of the rich young man of his time, he demands of us today. The example of Father Damien is inspiring to the young people of today. Like in the case of Father Damien, to obtain eternal life is not a matter of saving one self, but a question of freeing oneself from worldly cares and pleasures, so that God may save us. In other words, it is a call not only to renounce everything we own, but also to give our total selves to Christ like Father Damien. That is precisely what we lack like the rich man in the Gospel, namely detachment from everything that hinders our spiritual journey. Only then like Father Damien, can we become free to follow Christ and to be totally identified with Christ. To seek salvation is to start a journey with Christ towards perfection, towards the exclusive love of God. Selling everything means freeing oneself of the idols that weigh us down and prevent us from responding fully to Christ's invitation. So what is the message? 1) Jesus challenges us (as he did to Father Damien and so many followers) to detach ourselves from everything that hinders our spiritual journey; 2) More than ever before, we are challenged to free ourselves of the idols that weigh us down and prevent us from responding fully to Christ's invitation; 3) Like Father Damien, it is by having the Lord beside us always that we will find joy and happiness in our life; on a journey to holiness (Letter to his brother, 1881).
©2009 John M. Mbinda