The Church of Saint Agnes

1680 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright, KY 41011

The Church of Saint Agnes
1680 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright, KY 41011

Saint Agnes School | Contact Us

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Date: 
Sun, 02/15/2015
Author: 
Rev. Msgr. Donald Enzweiler

The first case of leprosy appeared in the Hawaiian Islands in 1840.
This dreaded illness was introduced into the native population
by ships coming from Europe and the Americas.
Within 30 years leprosy had become an epidemic. 
There was no known way to control its spread
and there was no known remedy.
 
In 1868 the authorities in Hawaii established a leper settlement
on Molokai... a remote and inaccessible Island.
It became law that Hawaiians found to be suffering from leprosy
were snatched by force from their families
and sent to "Devil's Island" to perish.
 
It is said that conditions on the island were horrific.
No healthy person dared to set foot on its shores.
Those with leprosy were literally dumped in the surf
and had to make their way ashore on their own.
There they would seek shelter in caves or in the squalid shacks.
There was no civil or even moral law.
 
There was a Belgian priest, Father Damien de Veuster,
from the missionary order called the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
He arrived in Honolulu in March of 1864.
Devil's Island eventually became his parish.
 
He made his first task to restore dignity to death.
Before he arrived the deceased were tossed into shallow graves
and their bodies were allowed to be eaten by the pigs and the dogs.
Damien established a clean, fenced in cemetery,
and started a proper burial society.
He then built a church
and worked alongside the people building clean new houses.
Within several years "Devil's Island" was transformed
from a way station of death
to a proud and joyful community
with about 800 members.
 
From the start Damien did not shrink from contact with the people.
And sure enough... he himself contracted leprosy.
This didn't slow him down:
he continued with his building projects...
he continued fulfilling his pastoral responsibilities.
In his last years he suffered terrible bouts of loneliness.
He had no contact with... no support from...
the other priests and brothers and his religious community.
He was forbidden to visit the mission headquarters of his order in Honolulu.
Once, a bishop came to Devil's Island to visit
but the bishop refused to disembark from the ship.
Damien wanted to go to confession and receive absolution.
He rowed out to the ship... but he wasn't allowed on board.
With all the crew listening
he had to shout his confession from the rowboat to the ship.
 
The leprosy finally took its toll;
Father Damien died in April 1889 at age 49.
 
Father Damien did what Jesus did in today’s gospel.
Father Damien became aware of what was happening on Devil’s Island
and he felt pity.
He not only felt pity….he responded with compassion….
he dedicated his resources….his time, his knowledge, his very life
to make a difference in the lives of people discarded by society.
 
Pity is “…an unbearable sorrow felt in the depths of our inner parts.”
It is a physical feeling, stirring deep within,
triggered by the sight of other human beings
in deplorable, if not helpless, situations.
 
Pity is a naturally occurring emotion.
In other words, God created human beings to feel pity.
To feel no pity is unnatural.
Something is wrong when we cannot feel pity.
 
Pity is a Christian virtue…..we are admonished and exhorted to exercise pity.
Jesus showed pity….and so his followers are to imitate him.
Why is pity so important?
It is the inner disposition that leads us and guides us to mercy.
Pity is the inner trigger….telling us that something isn’t right,
something is  unGodly with the situation we see…..
And mercy is the response:  contributing something within our power
to ease the difficulty, to lessen the burden, to relieve some of the pain,
to lighten the load, to soothe the anguish…..
 
Pity is motivated by love….
our innards stir to pity because of the presence of love.
In the absence of love,
when we encounter human illness or human helplessness
our innards are stirred to anger and disgust and even hatred.
It seems today….we associate pity with humiliation and shame.
Pity is associated with being helpless
and being disgraced because of this helplessness.
When someone says “I pity you”
we feel like the object of their distain…like we’re being patronized.
To be pitied is almost as insult.
We don’t want to be pitied…..
We feel it’s condescending….like someone is looking down on us.
 
I contend that our usage of the word,
our understanding of the word has become corrupt
to the point that we don’t want to feel pity
and we don’t want others to feel pity toward us.
As such we have removed pity from our hearts.
There is a danger in all this:
if we can’t feel pity, if we can’t feel sorrow in the depths of our inner parts,
then somehow love is being stifled in our lives….
most likely by “hardness of heart”.
Hardness of heart is a sign that our lives have become too mechanical.
The absence of pity means something essential is missing from our lives.
True Christian love responds with pity
at the sight of human helplessness.
Christian pity then moves us to reach out in mercy.
 
When is the last time we felt pity for someone other than ourselves….
someone in a helpless situation,
someone shouldered with burdens beyond their ability to bear?
Pity the outcast;  pity the lonely;  pity the poor;  pity the terminally ill;  pity the homeless;
pity the downtrodden;  pity the forgotten;  pity the outcast.
And then let that pity lead you to mercy….
lead you to do something within your power to bring comfort or relief or solidarity.
 
Pity is a natural, loving response.
It connects us with other human beings.
I don’t know about you
but I want to know that Jesus feels pity for me because of my sin.
For his pity leads to an outpouring of mercy.
And mercy leads to redemption.
 
Let us pray for the renewed ability and desire to feel pity.
May it become for us a decisive attitude….
a force within us that affects our decisions.
Every human being has the capacity the feel pity.
It’s part of our created nature.
 
May we all rediscover and never underestimate, the value of pity.