Sep 9 – Memorial for St. Peter Claver, Priest
St Peter Claver was born in Catalonia and studied at the University of Barcelona. He became a Jesuit; and while he was studying philosophy in Mallorca, the door-keeper of the college, Alfonso Rodríguez, saw that his true vocation was to evangelize the New World, and encouraged him to fulfil that vocation. (Rodríguez was later canonized on the same day as Peter Claver himself).
He arrived in Cartagena (in what is now Colombia) in 1610, and after his ordination six years later, he became ‘the slave of the Negroes forever’, labouring on their behalf for 33 years, attending to both their spiritual and material needs. The slave trade was repeatedly condemned by the Popes; but it was too profitable to be stopped and, on the whole, the local church hierarchy kept quiet about it, much as they did in North America in the 19th century.
He brought fresh food to the slave ships as they arrived, instructed the slaves and baptized them in the faith, followed their progress and kept track of them, even when they were sent to the mines and plantations, defending them as well as he could from oppressive slave owners. He organized teams of catechists who spoke the many languages spoken by the slaves. He worked in hospitals also, looking after lepers among others, and in prisons.
Naturally he made himself unpopular by his work. As his superior said, ‘unfortunately for himself, he is a Catalan — pig-headed and difficult’. Opposition came from both within the Church and outside it, but there were always exceptions. For instance, while many fashionable ladies refused to enter his city churches because they had been profaned by the presence of the blacks, a few, such as Doña Isabel de Urbina, became his strong and lifelong supporters.
At the end of his life, he fell ill with a degenerative disease and, for four years, he was treated neglectfully and brutally by the servant whose task it was to look after him. He did not complain but accepted his sufferings as a penance for his sins.
1 Cor 7:25-31
“Your reward will be great in heaven”
I grew up with my grandaunt. She was in her 50s when I first moved in with her as a baby and, despite the fact that she had no stable income, she took me in. She subsequently became a nanny, taking in a few children in order to earn a living. We were poor, and she was often worried about where funds were going to come from.
So, when I first heard of the Beatitudes, the passage comforted me. I understood what it was like to not have, to feel that the world was against us. Yet at the same time, this passage in the Gospel of Luke puzzled me. I often wondered what the message was; did it mean that one had to aim for poverty, to be subject to others, to weep and be hated, in order to obtain an amazing eternal life? What about my relatives who were well-to-do despite being Christians?
Over the years though, things have gotten much better for me, materially speaking. I have been blessed with jobs that paid me increasingly better over time, and I no longer felt deprived (I once had to buy a secondhand pair of sport shoes when I was 15, just so I could get to wear something special. I could never have afforded a new pair). I enjoyed earning and spending, and felt that that was the be-all and end-all.
Over time though, I felt something was still lacking, and fell into depression thrice (when I was eighteen, forty and the most recently, about four years ago).
Atending the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) helped me realise that there was more to life than just accumulating material wealth. My wife put it very well one day when she told me, “We need to focus on the Giver, not the gifts”.
That was when it hit me; the Beatitudes was never about one being poor or rich, sad or happy, or any of the circumstances that Jesus talks about. It was about being attached to the earthly gifts; our happiness, wealth and other forms of good fortune. It hit me that such attachments will cause us to work hard at retaining them and, in the process, causing us to take our eyes off our God, losing Him in the process.
What an amazing and powerful message, years in the receiving.
Brothers and sisters, may we learn to always keep our eyes on our God.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)
Prayer: Father, help us to not focus on the temporal gifts we have received on earth. Help us, instead, to keep our focus on what is truly important — You.
Thanksgiving: Thank You Jesus, for teaching us the important lesson — that You are our provider and the source of everything that is good for us.