Jesus, His Church and “the uns”
Today, January 23, is the first feast day for the newly canonized Saint Marianne Cope. I wrote this reflection while I was in Molokai last week.
“The uns . . .”
George Higgins — the legendary “labor priest” from Chicago was, if I recall correctly, the first person I ever heard use that expression, yet he attributed it to the future — God willing — saint, Dorothy Day.
I borrowed it in my brief concluding remarks and prayer at last October’s Al Smith Dinner, as I praised God for the Church’s lookout for the uns — the un-documented, un-employed, un-housed, un-fed, un-healthy, un-born, un-wanted, misunderstood, un-justly treated — and prayed that our beloved country might work for a culture where that dreaded prefix — un — might be no longer.
It was, of course, Jesus who embraced the uns, namely, us, the unsaved!
And He had a particularly tender spot in His most Sacred Heart for those suffering folks that society called “the un-clean,” the dreaded lepers!
This posting was written in Molokai, in the Hawaiian Islands. The thoughtful shepherd there, Bishop Larry Silva, kindly invited me to the local celebration of Saint Marianne Cope, newly canonized, who came here 125 years ago, from New York State, as Mother Marianne, to care for these “un-clean” on Molokai. (Her feast day is tomorrow, January 23.)
Here she joined the legendary Saint Damien of Molokai at his “colony” on a secluded, segregated corner of the island, in embracing those with Hansen’s Disease. She did it, Saint Marianne wrote, because Jesus did it, and because Saint Francis, the patron of her religious congregation, did it.
She and her sisters not only ministered to these dreaded misunderstood uns; they identified with them. Saint Damien did so to such an extent that he became a leper, literally. It was Mother Marianne who nursed him as he died, who made him the sling for his ulcerated, decaying arm that we see in his final photographs.
Jesus and His Church are always on the side of the uns.
About five years ago, I travelled to India to visit our Catholic Relief Services workers. There we had lunch with a radiant group of sisters, all Indian, and their 200 or so students, all girls from about six to twelve. The girls lived there and went to school. But our CRS guide told us the sisters were in deep trouble. Some of them had already been arrested, even put in jail. Why?
“Because these little girls are Delats, what the culture here used to call “un-touchables.” The powerful people here are threatened that, once these girls are educated, they will no longer stay around for positions of servitude. One of the women from the established families even asked, ‘If these girls are educated, who will bring us our tea?’ Thus, the sisters are considered disruptive and threatening.”
Three years ago, the bishop of the United States went-to-bat for the uns, the unborn baby and the undocumented immigrant, who were left uncovered in legislation bishops had promoted for nine decades, the Affordable Health Care Act.
Next week every parish in the archdiocese will have its second annual food drive for the unfed of our communities, and over four thousand of our people, mostly young, will March for Life for the unborn this Friday in D.C.
One of the nicest compliments we bishops of New York ever got, in my four years here, anyway, came from Governor Andrew Cuomo when we met with him in Albany in March, 2011.
We had spoken to him of the concerns of the Catholic community of the state. When we had said our piece, the governor commented.
“Bishops, most of the time, people come to see me about an agenda to advance their own interests. For the last twenty minutes, I’ve heard you speak on behalf of people who can really not help you much — the prisoners, the sick, the homeless, the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant. I might disagree with you on a number of issues, but I’m proud of my Church for speaking-up on behalf of those most people don’t . . .
“For as long as you did it for the uns, you did it for me . . . “
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