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 9:16-19,22-27
“…the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.”
I am quite sure many of us have come across those who simply refuse to be taught or guided, despite all of our good intentions. Most times, these ‘doubters’ try to signal their dissatisfaction by making statements such as, “Well…we’ve always done it this way.” Or ask ‘leading questions’ like, “Oh, where did you learn….?” Inevitably, these people seem to have a plank so huge in their own eyes, they are ignorant to advice, or any form of coaching/teaching.
Human nature is such that when someone else points out, however diplomatically, a weakness or flaw in another, the ‘walls’ start to rise and the person naturally retreats, or goes into defensive mode. I myself have used the term ‘circle the wagons’ at work, when I feel that my team has been unfairly attacked/treated. It is an instinct borne out of the days when man had to hunt, kill and protect his family and loved ones.
These days, many leaders have been told to choose their words wisely when doing appraisals of staff who may be underperforming. The element of ‘unfair bias’ must not be allowed to creep in, lest the staff/personnel take issue and sends a letter of complaint to HR. So how then, as leaders, are we to tell it like it is and be honest in our feedback – be it at work, among colleagues/staff — or even in ministry, among fellow Christians who may (or may not) be happy to coast along in their service and remain ‘mediocre’?
Over the past few months, I have come to appreciate four Ps – patience, persistence, prudence & prayer – as I journey with my own trainers (both physical and vocal) as well as ‘coach’ others. It takes a lot of patience to be able to persist in journeying with others who may lack certain qualities – especially intangible ones such as confidence, self-awareness. Giving of my time to others started to take its toll at one stage but I persevered and lo and behold, something clicked with a group and just last week, I was encouraged by how supportive every member was towards a sister who had volunteered to vocalise at the rostrum.
I have also learnt that being prudent in giving feedback and choosing words just as carefully as I would in a work setting can be extremely powerful. Many times, I have had to hold my tongue so as to let the natural group dynamics play out…all the while, clinging onto my wooden Jericho cross in my pocket. Inevitably, a happy compromise/conclusion is arrived at and I end up marvelling at how God works through people who are imperfect. Indeed, never have I witnessed the reality of how He qualifies the called more than in my current faith journeys. And, in all things, it is prayer that unites – both individual and group prayer.
Brothers and sisters, to have a plank in our eye also hinders us from becoming more Christ-like in our interactions with others. It is not a ‘condition’ limited to those in positions of leadership, who are expected to dish out advice or feedback. We could be shutting out what God wants for us by not heeding well-intentioned words from family, colleagues, ministry members, priests, leaders (government or otherwise), coaches/mentors. By thinking that we know better because <insert reason>, we reinforce the plank in our very own eyes. That, for me, would feel pretty uncomfortable.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)
Prayer: Dear Lord, help us remove the splinter/plank in our eyes each day at work, at home and in ministry. Give us a new lens, especially when we have to deal with difficult people/situations, so that we can glorify you and radiate the face of Christ to those around us.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Abba Father, for your loving words of encouragement and guidance that come through our priests, mentors and spiritual directors/counsellors. We thank them for their kindness and willingness to serve and to offer their unique talents to all who rely on them.
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