9 September – Memorial for St. Peter Claver, Priest
He 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 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-27
I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands. Do you know what my reward is? It is this in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.
So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak. I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings.
All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win. All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither. That is how I run, intent on winning; that is how I fight, not beating the air. I treat my body hard and make it obey me, for, having been an announcer myself, I should not want to be disqualified.
Jesus told a parable to the disciples, ‘Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit? The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,” when you cannot see the plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.’
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Raise your hand if you have ever been quick to pass judgement on someone without knowing the full extent of the situation. How about if you’ve delayed (or denied) forgiving someone because you firmly believe they’re in the wrong? Even if you know deep in your heart that you’re not a saint either.
It’s easy isn’t it? To criticize someone when they slip-up. Yet, how many of us are willing to look at our own shortcomings and criticise those instead? Theoretically, I would gladly say, “Of course, I am willing to take a look at myself and fix what’s wrong.” In practice however, I would never do it, or would do it extremely grudgingly and maybe once in 20 blue moons. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking along these lines.
I couldn’t make it to World Youth Day this year but someone I know posted on Facebook the words of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in the days leading up to it. “If we deny our wounds, we will inflict wounds on other people,” he told the crowd gathered in front of him.
If you think about it, this holds true for everyone. How can we even attempt to ‘fix’ someone else if we are broken ourselves? Yes, we as Christians are called to evangelise and shine the light towards God. But that in no way means hand them a book of instructions that we have yet to read and apply ourselves.
Jesus calls us to walk the talk in today’s Gospel and walk the talk, we must. So, let us try to practice forgiving each other, no matter how big or small the mistake. We may sometimes forget the wrong years down the road but the other person may never forget that they were never forgiven.
Remember, our journey towards God is not meant to be easy because changing is never easy. Lots of scraping and chiselling is needed to form a statue out of a block.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Rebecca Grace)
Prayer: Lord, we pray for the strength to forgive and forget the same way You do for us.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people you’ve placed in our lives and the ways they have unintentionally hurt us. We know that this is Your way of teaching us to be more understanding and forgiving. Just as You are.