May 10, 2006

Damien of Moloka'i

I was fascinated to read Blessed Damien's Wikipedia article. I had no idea that:

1. There was so much controversy around him
2. Gandhi had taken him as an inspiration
3. He had once been voted greatest Belgian of all time

Of course whenever you talk about someone who served lepers, Franciscans everywhere get excited. Francis himself, in his Testament, presents his encounter with lepers as the environment of his conversion:

The Lord granted me, brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: When I was in sin, it seemed very bitter for me to see lepers. But the Lord led me among them, and I had mercy on them. And when I left that place, what had been bitter was changed into sweetness of soul and body, and I lingered a little, and left the world.

As one of my formation directors once pointed out to me, Francis' time with the lepers was not just an act of charity, but an act of minority. And this is the core of the Franciscan vocation, to make yourself minor. To go to those placed below you in the world's structure of class or hierarchy, and put yourself below them. In the end it's nothing more than an imitatio Christi, an imitation of the descent of the Word of God, who did not consider equality with God something to be "grasped at." (Phil. 2)

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