Memorial of St. Peter Claver
1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-14
Peter Claver, SJ – Man of Vision
Luke’s vision in the Beatitudes shows God responding to us according to the way we treat others. "Forgive and you will be forgiven; do not judge and you will not be judged" (6:37). He continues to talk about vision, a blind person cannot be a guide; before removing a splinter in someone’s eye, tend to the log in yours!
Blindness, things in the eye, a vision of God seen through the lens of our way of loving – far from the revival of 3D or the breath taking pictures of swirling nebula and giant galaxies from outer space, Luke is dealing with the black and white, shadow and brightness.
I toured Cape Coast Castle in Ghana this summer. It is one of several trading posts along the Atlantic built in the 17th century by the world powers of that age. A ramp exits the castle at water level where small boats would serve as ferries to the larger, ocean going vessels anchored off shore. The castle served as a holding place for those who would arrive at foreign destinations as slaves. The lower area of the castle was a maze of damp, crude, cave like chambers that would have been packed with people. Those who resisted were locked in another chamber, opened only when everyone in it had died. There were no windows, only vents that let in a little air along with some light. What a horrible experience in and of darkness.
At the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC there is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Africa. On entering you step over the well-known diagram of a slave ship that shows where the ‘cargo’ was positioned to assure there would be no wasted space. It is black against the white stone of the floor.
In this world of black and white, extreme physical cruelty and no mercy, a Jesuit brother, Peter Claver, waited at the docks in Cartagena for the arrival of the slave ships. When his work was interrupted by illness in 1654 he had been doing it for 44 years! The prayer he taught the slaves was this, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, you will be my father and my mother and all my good. I love you much. I am sorry for having sinned against you. Lord, I love you much, much, much".
What would have been the very simple catechesis given to these sick, disoriented people sold into slavery? You have security in the love of a personal God. The story of Jesus suffering, with which they must have been able to identify. They were called to love, ‘much, much, much’, and be sorry the failures of love.
Peter Claver was for people in darkness and a world of shadows what Paul in his letter to the Romans calls, ‘a guide to the blind and a light in darkness’ (2:19). Enlightened as we are at Baptism, and fellow followers of the Risen One, symbolized in our procession behind the lit Paschal Candle at Easter, may we see with the vision of Luke, and be a bright light to help those dragged down into the shadow and darkness when that vision is lost, as was Peter Claver.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, Maryland.