Even Greater Things

(Homily for Pentecost Sunday)

Message: St. Damien illustrates Jesus who became one with us in our diseased human condition. And like Jesus, his prayers brought a great gift - a comforter who would do even greater things.

Today - Pentecost Sunday - we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. The descent of the Holy Ghost fulfills the promise of Jesus - that if we love him and keep his commands, he will ask the Father and the Father will send the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. And through this mysterious person - the Comforter - he would do even greater things.

To illustrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, I would like to use the example of St. Marianne Cope. You may have heard of her: After the death of St. Damien, she was the one he was the one who took charge of the leper colony on Molokai.

Born in Germany, her family emigrated to the United States when she was one-year-old. She became a Franciscan Sister and helped found two Catholic hospitals in New York, as well as the College of Medicine at Syracuse University. The Franciscan Sisters recognized her gifts and elected her Superior General of the congregation.

Mother Marianne was a "mover and a shaker," a powerful woman in the burgeoning American Church. All that would change because of the prayers of a humble priest - a priest serving outcasts on an island in the Pacific Ocean.

Fr. Damien had been working with lepers for about fifteen years. He always addressed his flock lovingly as "my dear brethren," but one day in 1885 that changed. At the age of 45, in a calm clear voice, instead of "my dear brethren," he began with, "My fellow lepers, I am one of you now." His toes had a numbness that would not go away and they began to slowly decay and twist. The disease would soon spread to his hands, face and entire body.

The people were sad, not only because their beloved father was dying, but because his death would make them "orphans." They would have no one to care for their spiritual and corporal needs. Fr. Damien pleaded with the authorities - civil as well as religious to send a group of Sisters. Some fifty congregations turned down the request.

Fr. Damien was a man of Belgian peasant stock - humble and devout, but immovably stubborn. He did not give up. He kept pleading and praying. One Sister finally heard his plea. As religious superior she had visited Hawaii, precisely when Fr. Damien had come for a treatment to see if there was any hope of slowing or stopping his disease. Her nursing sisters cared for Damien for about a week. His faith and determination greatly impressed her. I think you know who she is - Mother Marianne Cope.

With a small group of nursing Sisters, Mother Marianne arrived at Molokai on November 14, 1888. In spite of his weakened condition, he received them with joy. Four months later, he died - entrusting his beloved lepers to the care of Mother Marianne.

St Damien of Molokai and St. Marianne Cope: They beautifully illustrate Jesus' love for us. Like Father Damien, Jesus will not leave us orphans. He prays to the Father, who sends the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.

Jesus prophesied that by the Holy Spirit, he would do even greater things. St. Marianne Cope illustrates than increase. As well as being an excellent nurse and pharmacist, she was an outstanding administrator. She organized the people to care for each other, helping them to develop their talents. For example she taught the ladies to sew, to make clothes with beautiful lace.

Mother Marianne put forward a philosophy of "personal dignity in the face of death." It foreshadowed the hospice movement. Like the Holy Spirit, she deserves the title, "Comforter." After serving the hurting and the outcast for 30 years, she died on August 9, 1918.

St. Damien illustrates Jesus who became one with us in our diseased human condition.* And like Jesus, his prayers brought a great gift - a comforter who would do even greater things. Amen.


*Mahatma Gandhi gave this tribute to Fr. Damien and to the Catholic Church: "The political and journalistic world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, counts by the thousands those who after the example of Fr. Damien have devoted themselves to the victims of leprosy. It is worthwhile to look for the sources of such heroism." (Jan De Volder, "The Spirit of Father Damien" Ignatius Press, 2010, p.167)

Versión Castellana

From the Archives (Pentecost Sunday):

2016: Led by the Spirit
2015: Disciple Makers Week 8: Holy Spirit Make It Possible
2014: Practical Sign of Hope
2013: Even Greater Things
2012: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty
2011: It Was the Holy Ghost
2010: The Power of the Holy Spirit
2009: The Soul's Most Welcome Guest
2008: Double Gift
2007: With You Always
2006: He Testifies to the Truth
2005: The Greatest Unused Power
2004: A Man Open to the Holy Spirit
2003: To Drink of One Spirit
2002: Healing of Memories
2001: Hateful Comparisons & Precious Gifts
2000: The Spirit & The Flesh
1999: Each in His Native Language
1998: Empty Rites?

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