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.
“…because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back. ”
Anyone who thinks that Christianity – true Christianity, is an easy Sunday morning stroll in the park (or a pleasant 10-minute nap in a pew), will know after reading today’s Gospel, that it is anything but easy.
Like the Beatitudes, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel continue to challenge, confound, confuse and throw into upheaval, the very essence of humanity. They go against the very core of what it means to be human. They go against the very instinct of being human – the natural human propensity towards revenge, unforgiveness, deceit, malice, denial, betrayal, falsehood and self-preservation.
“A man must be superhuman or simply mad, if he is to ever be able to live up to the demands of the Gospel!”. If you thought that as well, then you have probably hit the nail on the head. But I think, that is probably exactly the reaction that God intended for us to have. That we needed to get this shock to our system in order for a crack to be made, which will then allow the light of faith to penetrate. And with this light, the mustard seed of faith, lying dormant, in the darkness of sin within us, can start to come to life.
You know God. He loves to turn the world upside down. Just because something is crazy difficult to achieve does not, however, mean that it is impossible to achieve. Yes, it requires superhuman effort to live the values of the Gospel. This superhuman effort is called Divine Grace. And with this grace, the impossible becomes possible. Yes, you need to be a little off kilter mentally, to live out the values of the Gospel. But in Corinthians 1:25, we are told: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength”. We sometimes (often?) forget that the world we live in is very much a fallen world. That this world belongs not to Christ, but to the prince of this world. And it is in the nature of the evil one to deceive, pervert, corrupt, divide, delude, lull into a false sense of security, of social normality, of popular acceptance, values that are antithetical to the Gospel. Against the real folly and stupidity of this world, the wisdom of the Gospel is foolish and stupid. The Gospel values that lead the way to salvation are an unnecessary and inconvenient detour from worldly values, leading us down the pleasant and easy road to perdition. Case in point? After more than 1.5 YEARS of the pandemic, the world is still in its stupor of foolish arrogance, pride, selfishness, hypocrisy and indifference. It is still unable to work together against a common enemy, still unable to think more of the other than of oneself, still unable to work for the common good than for selfish interests of the few and the privileged. It continues to wallow in its sorry pit of self-destruction, merrily singing the tune of its own beat, whilst dancing and prancing towards its own damnation and self-destruction. As shared in one of my earlier reflections – I can still imagine God looking down upon us, with a loving, but deeply sorrowful heart, saying to us: “When are you going to wake up? When are you going to care?”, “When are you going to finally wake up from your stupor of sin, selfishness and stupidity?” Looks like He has still got some waiting to do. Thank God, at least He is infinitely patient.
Unlike God, I would long have given up on this world. I would long have stopped making any human effort, let alone divine effort, to make a difference or to make this world a better place. I would long have gone into a cave somewhere, locked myself inside and thrown away the key, than to have to continue to face the folly and stupidity of this world. And of my own folly and stupidity.
Thank God I am not God.
And thank God, that He is God.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father, help us. Give us the grace to be delivered from the lies and deceitfulness of the evil one. Give us divine wisdom and fortitude to continue defending, uplifting and living the values of the Gospel.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your most holy presence. Save us from a world and from ourselves, so sinful and indifferent to sin; from our imprudence and thoughtlessness, from our agitation and wastefulness. Make your presence penetrate deeply into us into the depths of our soul. And we will be saved.