The Reality of Fr. Damien

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Last summer, the future of the Catholic Church AOC said a statue of Fr. Damien of Molokai at the Capitol building is an example of “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.”

She quickly realized that she picked a bad example and backpedaled faster than Deion Sanders in his prime, but yes, she said such an astounding thing.

The folks at First Things are still buzzing with it, recently running this excellent piece about the saint: The Real Damien of Molokai.

Its description of what Fr. Damien did for the lepers of Hawaii made me want to cry, revealing the leprosy in my own soul by comparison.

The conclusion itself is worthy of philosophical meditation:

Hansen’s Disease slowly ravaged his body, and the lepers saw their own suffering united to Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass in a new way. By the time Fr. Damien died in 1889, more than 600 of Molokai’s 1,000 lepers were Catholics devoted to the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary. 

When the Church beatified Fr. Damien in 2009, President Barack Obama, who was raised in Honolulu, praised him as “a voice for the voiceless.” But he was more than that. Fr. Damien was a witness to God’s presence among the forsaken, and he died a priest of Jesus Christ surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. 

In the eyes of many, Fr. Damien is merely “a white man.” But the flattened image that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez says honors “colonialism,” “patriarchy,” and “white supremacist culture” is not the real Damien. The congresswoman’s narrative, filled with its own curious form of hate, dehumanizes the man who exemplifies what it means to cherish human dignity. Her woke resistance is resistance to reality. The real Damien, St. Damien of Molokai, points us to a superior resistance that doesn’t deconstruct reality, but rather reveals it. 

St. Damien reveals reality.

In the words of 1960s acid heads: “That’s heavy, man.”

What is “reality”? Humans have been asking that question for thousands of years and we still don’t have a complete answer, but we know that, whatever it is, it’s existence, and in order to exist, it must have been created by God. To the extent it exists, it participates in God . . . becomes more real. God is good, so to the extent something is good, it has more existence . . . it’s more “real.”

That’s how premier goodness like Fr. Damien’s reveals reality.