St Damien of Molokai, Fr Doyle, and the role of the priest in a time of danger

The world is living through an extraordinary crisis due to the Covid-19 viral infection. Quite apart from the morbidity and mortality that will flow from the virus itself, the lockdown mechanisms introduced to curb the virus will also take their toll in potentially far reaching ways.

Catholics face a particular pain during all of this. Our inability to avail of the sacraments is a real suffering. While in principle there is an argument for the short-lived suspension of public Masses during a time of public health crisis (St Charles Borromeo did as much in the plague of Milan), perhaps of even greater consequence is the suspension of the sacraments of Confession, Baptism and the Anointing of the Sick. The sacraments are the ordinary economy of God’s grace. It is true that He can provide grace as He sees fit, and that in extraordinary times extraordinary graces will not be lacking. Indeed, this virus and the lockdown measures are at least permitted by God, who wants us to draw definite fruit from them. Perhaps many of us have been too casual about the sacraments, taking them for granted and allowing familiarity to cool our devotion.

Nonetheless, there are creative ways in which the sacraments of Confession, Baptism and the Last Rites can be provided safely, despite the need for social distancing and the ongoing lockdown.

Generations of priests have risked their lives to bring these sacraments to the dying. St Damien of Molokai, whose feast it is today, risked the slow and painful death of leprosy to bring spiritual aid to exiled lepers. Fr Doyle risked instant obliteration from German shells to bring the sacraments to wounded soldiers. May their example inspire priests today to creativity and courage in this time of danger.

This excellent meditation provides us with a reflection on St Damian, Fr Doyle, and the heroism of priests in a time of danger.


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