The cross-country trip, the beard, the hair dye would all have seemed like some mid-life crisis if it weren’t for the one-man play our pastor Fr. Dan Brady did this past weekend. A number of years ago, our pastor saw this play on PBS called Damien that was written by Aldyth Morris. In 1978, Damien received national recognition when it won the Peabody Award. Fr. Dan explained that this powerful play was instrumental in helping him discern his vocation to the priesthood.
Fr. Dan’s been in a number of plays and musicals put on by the amazing music ministry at our church, but this was a role much different from others I’ve seen him in on stage as well as around the altar. (Our church is in the round, and he generally walks around the altar while giving his homilies).
Fr. Dan writes: “When I first saw this play on PBS in 1978, while I was in the seminary, it had a profound effect on me…” When my husband, mom, our beloved brother, and many dear friends saw this play in 2011, it had a very profound effect on us as well.
Fr. Damien was born in 1840 in Belgium. He joined the Sacred Heart Order, was ordained in 1864 in Hawaii while serving one of their mission churches there. In 1873, he requested to become the priest for the leper colony on Molokai (otherwise known as Kalawao). He faced horrible living conditions and witnessed some of the most terrible suffering imaginable, yet he refused to abandon his flock. He clearly took his vows of charity, celibacy, and obedience to a level many other priests couldn’t even fathom. Damien ministered to the lepers banished to the desolate, nearly uninhabitable island of Molokai in mind, body, and spirit.
He fought long and hard to get the lepers food, building materials for proper dwellings, and medical supplies. He offended many with his persistence in ensuring that government and diocesan authorities would not forget or dismiss the needs of the lepers they had exiled. Damien stood up for the sanctity and dignity of every human life. In 1884, the priest who wasn’t afraid to get down in the trenches with his congregation to fight for what was right was diagnosed with leprosy himself. He considered it a blessing that he was then truly one of them. He died of the illness in 1889.
I doubt there was a dry eye in the place on either of the two evenings when Fr. Dan so passionately portrayed Fr. Damien. I’m still in awe of how dedicated this priest was to serving “the poorest of the poor” who were definitely “in the distressing disguise of Christ.” We are all called to love and serve others as Jesus did, but when people are willing to give up everything and anything that would bring them even a modicum of comfort to live out God’s will with humility and obedience, the holiness of being made in God’s image seems to shine the brightest.