Doing God’s Will – Lessons from the Saints

Saint Damien of MolokaiMy Homily from the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings focus on doing God’s will. We hear it quite clearly in today’s Psalm, “Lord, I come to do your will” (Psalm 40) and in the Gospel as we hear John the Baptist describe the Baptism of Jesus from John’s perspective (John 1: 29-34).

John testifies that what had been made known by the Spirit was true; The Promised One, The Lamb of God, had come. This was John’s purpose in life. This was God’s will for John: to prepare the way so Christ may be known to the world.

Today, let us contemplate two questions from our readings:

  • How do we discern God’s will in our lives?
  • How do we help Christ be known in our world? How do we do God’s will?

Time in prayer and reflection is a good start. So is studying the lives of the saints to help understand the big and little things others have done to serve God.

I love this quote from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), “We cannot do great things on earth, only small things with great love.” To do God’s will, we don’t have to focus on the “big and great” things in life. Small acts of kindness shared with great love can make saints of us all. Saint Damien of Molokai is a great example of this. Let me share with you a little about Saint Damien and his connection with my work.

I work as Director of Sponsorship for the Marianists – a religious order brothers and priests. In my job, we  support the universities, high schools, retreat centers and parishes sponsored by the Marianists throughout the US, Puerto Rico and Ireland. Next month, my wife and I will be traveling to Hawaii for my work (and for some vacation time). There are four Marianist-sponsored ministries in Hawaii (one university, two high schools and one parish).

Here’s the connection: When the Marianists came to Hawaii in the late 1800s to establish schools, the priest who presided at their welcoming mass was Fr. Damien a Catholic priest from Belgium. Saint Damien of Molokai (as he is now known) was a strong, hard-working, athletic priest who went to minister to a leper colony in Hawaii.

Originally, the bishop had arranged for priests to take turns on a three-month rotation, but when Father Damien saw the colony’s destitution, he decided to stay and work there full time. I understand that Father Damien made this decision at the end of a retreat on the grounds of what is now known as St. Anthony Parish in Wailuku Maui, a parish that is sponsored today by the Marianists (a parish we will visit next month).

You could easily make a case that Damien’s decision to minister full time to lepers was a “big thing.” But what makes this Saint so special are all of the “little things” he did – his acts of mercy and love that made such a difference.

  • St. Damien built hundreds of small houses to replace the miserable huts the dying lepers were living in
  • He laid pipes to bring in fresh water from inland springs
  • He built coffins and created a cemetery to bury the dead who previously had been piled into shallow, mass graves
  • He established small farming plots, built clinics and chapels, formed a choir and orchestra, tended the lepers’ hideous wounds with his own hands
  • He brought dignity, order, work, and hope back to the crowds of sick who poured into the colony

For eleven years he tirelessly practiced these corporal works of mercy. Then one Sunday morning in his twelfth year in Molokai, Fr. Damien climbed to the ambo and read the Gospel passage for the day. He paused, looked out across his crowded church, which he and his lepers had built, and began his sermon by addressing the congregation as: “We lepers…”

The congregation gasped when heard this. With those words Damien had informed them that at last he too had contracted the dread disease. For four more years he continued laboring on as his body rotted away, until death took him to his reward. Fr. Damien was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009. He is the patron saint of those with leprosy and the patron of the State of Hawaii.

I share this story with you as a reminder that:

  • It takes time in prayer and reflection to discern God’s will – have patience and commitment
  • Sometimes the signs and answers are so clear to us in our discernment; sometimes they are not – have faith and trust in God
  • Doing God’s will is not just about doing “big things” in life –  we do God’s will even in what seems to be “little acts” of kindness and mercy
  • Even though God’s will may be wrought with pain and sorrow, we are never alone – we are worthy and we are loved

Each Mass, during the Communion Rite, the priest elevates the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus and repeats the words of John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” And how do we respond? The same way as the Roman centurion in the Gospel of Matthew who finds faith in the power of Christ. We say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Today, let’s pray those words from the very depths of our hearts, appreciating in a fresh way all of their beauty and meaning. Let us be open to God’s will in our lives, and confident in his faithfulness, his love and his mercy. By our actions, let us make Christ known to the world.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

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