Sep 9 – 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.
Not long ago, you were foreigners and enemies, in the way that you used to think and the evil things that you did; but now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body. Now you are able to appear before him holy, pure and blameless – as long as you persevere and stand firm on the solid base of the faith, never letting yourselves drift away from the hope promised by the Good News, which you have heard, which has been preached to the whole human race, and of which I, Paul, have become the servant.
One sabbath Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples were picking ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands and eating them. Some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath day?’ Jesus answered them, ‘So you have not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry how he went into the house of God, took the loaves of offering and ate them and gave them to his followers, loaves which only the priests are allowed to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’
Why are you doing something that is forbidden?
We’ve had some changes at our parish lately. We have a new parish priest and with new ‘management’, things are bound to change. For the first month or so since the new parish priest took over, he made quite a few changes to the church and the way things are done. Not everyone was happy with the changes. This has led to some drastic reactions by some ministry members. As a result, people in ministries have dropped out. And we seem to see a migration of sorts among the parishioners. Some of the usual faces have since disappeared and there are some new faces too.
The ‘plight’ my parish faces today is nothing new – in our workplace, our communities, or even in our very own homes. We become so comfortable with the way things are done. ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ attitude leads us to resist change.
I feel that some change is good. It keeps us on our toes and leads us out of our comfort zones. I myself am a creature of habit but in this case, some of these changes were a long time coming.
Have we become a community so used to ‘the way things are done’ that we resist new ways even if it’s for our own good or for the good of the community?
In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees were quick to point out to Jesus “Why are you doing something that is forbidden on the Sabbath day?” They were so caught up in the strict observance of the traditional and written laws, of what is right. They were so legalistic that it became oppressive to the community at large. But Jesus was quick to point out what King David did when his followers were hungry – they took loaves from the house of God and ate them, loaves meant only for the priests. Here, Jesus demonstrates that he has power and authority over all things that hold people back and trip people up.
I am not saying that our new parish priest is ‘changing the laws’ in our parish. But sometimes, what used to work in the past may not be right for today, and so we must be ready to embrace change that is good. Change that deepens our faith, makes our church more vibrant, change that allows everyone in our community a fair chance to make a difference.
Brothers and sisters, are we too caught up today in sticking to what we deem is ‘right’? Can we not go beyond ‘the laws’, beyond ourselves and our motivations to allow God to work in our lives for our good and the good of our Church?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)
Prayer: “For am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God?” Galatians 1:10. Jesus, if we have become legalistic in our faith, forgive us. Teach us to see beyond ourselves and what is comfortable for us and see the greater good that You are doing for us.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for teaching us your ways. For opening our hearts and minds to receive You.