This Our Exile

I’ve loved St. Damien for as long as I can remember. A Belgian priest, he was a missionary to the people of Hawaii when he volunteered to go to Molokai and minister to the lepers who had been left there to await death. When he arrived, the colony was in chaos. The patients were ripped from their families on the other islands and taken by boat to the peninsula of Kalaupapa, a small area of land bordered on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and on the fourth by sheer cliffs, including the tallest sea cliff in the world. As their ship approached the island, they were thrown into the water to swim to shore where hunger, lawlessness, and despair awaited them.

Via Forest and Kim Starr.

The Cliffs of Insanity have nothing on Molokai. Via Forest and Kim Starr.

Father Damien instilled order, erected dormitories, and cared for the sick; more than that, he offered hope and salvation. Ordered to keep the lepers at arm’s length to protect himself, he chose instead to live among them as a brother and eventually found himself their brother leper. He was rejected and slandered, forced to live without benefit of confession except when he shouted it to a priest on a passing ship. He died slowly and painfully, rejoicing to die like Christ as he had lived like Christ.

You're even allowed to make phone calls from the plane--assuming you have decent coverage, which I never do. Down with Virgin Wireless!

You’re even allowed to make phone calls from the plane–assuming you have decent coverage, which I never do. Down with Virgin Wireless!

Because I lead a charmed life, this week I got to go to Kalaupapa. I boarded the tiniest plane I’ve ever seen (9 passengers) and headed to the island where St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope gave their lives to love the poorest of the poor.

Coming from the mainland, when you land in Kalaupapa, it’s hard (for a minute) to feel sorry for the lepers. This is paradise, after all. How can you complain when you’re surrounded by such beauty? Sure, you’re imprisoned, but it’s not exactly Siberia.

A perfect image of what Molokai is: a graveyard in paradise.

A perfect image of what Molokai is: a graveyard in paradise.

After I got over rejoicing in how far I am from the polar vortex I escaped, though, I began to think. It’s beautiful, yes. Stunningly so. But all there was to do was wait for death. These exiles knew they would never see their families again; palm trees and bright blue waves don’t make up for the anguish of separation. On clear days, they could see their home island of Oahu in the distance: close enough to see but impossibly far. In all the good things they experienced, there was a poverty, even after St. Damien brought order and hope. No matter how good things got, there was an unfulfilled ache underlying every moment. They wanted to go home.

I’ve been feeling this exile more strongly lately. I’ve been longing for home. As beautiful as these islands are, as delicious as the fresh pineapple and kalua pork are, as kind and loving as the people I’ve met are, I want to go home. Not to my legal address, but Home. This life of ours is an exile, a season far from the one we love with only hints of the land we were made for. This world may be magnificent, but the foretaste of joy often strikes me as insipid, the glimpses of beauty washed out. We were made for so much more and when I stand on the shores of Molokai, I feel the yearning of the mothers, the children, the friends who would have traded paradise in an instant for a lifetime at home.

Impossibly far, and yet still we hope.

Impossibly far, and yet close enough to hope.

A sweet priest who is kinder to me than I deserve recently introduced me to his congregation as a hobo, but specified that “hobo” really stands for “homeward bound.” I guess that means we’re all hobos, all of us pilgrims working our way through a beautiful land of exile. It’s easy to mistake the way stations for the destination, easy to fill our hearts with promise and lose our hunger for the Promised. When our prison is paradise, we sometimes stop yearning to be free. We settle for what this world has to offer and forget that this world is not our home.

Don’t let satisfaction lull you into complacency, nor difficulty drag you into despair. When all is well, remember that you were made for so much more than the small pleasures and even the deep joys of this life. When life is hard, remember that this is your exile; your homeland awaits. Memento mori, my friends, and rejoice.

They had a stamp you could put in your passport! So now my passport certifies that I've been to Israel and Kalaupapa. Apparently, that's it.

They had a stamp you could put in your passport! So now my passport certifies that I’ve been to Israel and Kalaupapa. Apparently, that’s it.

St. Damien, pray for us!

St. Damien, pray for us!

P.S. If you want to boost my ego (not that I need it), you can head over to Bonnie’s and vote for me for the Sheenazing Blogger Awards! And when you’re not voting for me, be sure to vote for my sister: A Blog for My Mom. If you don’t read her blog yet, start. It is literally my favorite thing on the internet.

sheenazing 2014

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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2 Responses to This Our Exile

  1. Meg,

    After reading your blog, I understand now why I have never been to Hawaii. Of course, I haven’t yet been to Rome or Israel either, but I have been to a few places in the East. Anyway, I know now that a visit to the islands without a visit to Kalaupana would be a wasted visit. Saints Damien and Marianne Cope, pray for us indeed…Amen!
    Jason Roebuck recently posted…I hope it’s not too late…My Profile

  2. Pingback: Feels Like Home | Held By His Pierced HandsHeld By His Pierced Hands

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