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 as well, 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.
It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to pagans. The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory: this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ. It is for this I struggle wearily on, helped only by his power driving me irresistibly.
Yes, I want you to know that I do have to struggle hard for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for so many others who have never seen me face to face. It is all to bind you together in love and to stir your minds, so that your understanding may come to full development, until you really know God’s secret in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.
On the sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up! Come out into the middle.’ And he came out and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I put it to you: is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?’ Then he looked round at them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better. But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.
“Stand up! Come out into the middle.”
Strangely, I feel that these words spoken by Jesus to the man with a withered hand, can be addressed to all of us; especially in today’s climate of political correctness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for good manners and politeness. However, I do believe that political correctness has gone awry. Instead of the general freedom that we seek, we are now more limited in voicing any opinions and beliefs. We often remain silent or even deny our personal beliefs, just to ‘keep the peace’. But is it really peace, or our pride of wanting to be ‘cool’ and ‘with it’ that we want to keep?
Let’s be honest, Jesus’ teachings were not, are not and will not be popular on this good earth. In fact, they are downright unpopular and infuriating at times. But as true followers of Christ, we need to stand up for our beliefs. We need to come into the middle and stand firm in defending our faith, even if we cause unwanted attention and ridicule from others. I am not promoting fights or heated arguments with others; Jesus was peaceful and so must we, be peaceful. But on the occasion when we are in the midst of opposition and against the tide of sentiments regarding our God, we have a duty to stand up and defend Jesus and His teachings – peacefully and respectfully. Political correctness does not mean we have to agree or avoid the issues, simply avoid offending the others. Hence, peacefully and respectfully disagreeing would not, and should not, offend anyone who is reasonable.
We are called to stand up, in big ways or small. Why wouldn’t we stand up if we can be like the man healed from a withered hand?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)
Prayer: Dear Jesus, grant us the courage to stand up for Your teachings in the face of opposition. Grant us the grace to live according to Your teachings.
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us Jesus as our teacher and guide. His strength amongst opposition shall be our aim and example.