Peter Claver called himself, ‘Slave of slaves’, words in our opening prayer this feast day We recall his charity and patience, his seeking the things of Christ. With Peter as our example, we are called to love in deed and in truth. While in a different time and world Peter and ourselves deal with similar spiritual issues.
We say that it is where we find ourselves that we live the mystery of Christ. Peter did that. Meeting the salve ships emptying their cargo at Cartagena must have been heart breaking? He saw disoriented survivors who had lost loved ones, home and freedom. And, while Peter built a reputation for his holiness and a certain respect from owners and ship’s captains, these men were about a business, and at best Peter worked in the cracks with his medicines and his efforts to ease fear and show charity.
Imagine the patience and charity that Peter showed to slave owners. How could he live in such a system? He had to accept it. This was the world in which he found himself. He was unable to make the changes he could imagine, but he dealt with the reality before him as best he could, and somehow did not give into debilitating disappointment. Who among us might not profit from Peter’s willingness to live patience, charity and hope in the difficult places we may find ourselves?
The picture does not become brighter. After the ships were unloaded many of the slaves were needed to do mining work. The frightening digging deeper and deeper into the dark earth for silver and gold, and the vicious toil it demanded would mark the beginning of life in the New World and be the cause of the deaths for many of those sent to the mines. Options did not exist: work or die. A sad echo in history of refugees and exiles fleeing dangers in their homelands and seeking to survive in foreign lands. Among their numbers today undoubtedly are ancestors who suffered similar trials.
Peter did what he could. He must have talked to God constantly with questions and confided to God his frustration about the suffering in his world. Peter did not have the satisfaction of seeing changes. His work was interrupted when he fell ill. He remained bed ridden for the final years of his life. His prayer must have been on going trust in the truth of God’s love that his life witnessed to.
Today’s readings are most appropriate for the life of Peter Claver: “you have been raised in the company of Christ…be intent on the things above….there is no Greek or Jew here, ….no slave or freeman. Rather, Christ is everything in all of you.” And the Beatitudes of Luke tell us that we work now to make the Kingdom of God present, and we draw our strength to do this because the Kingdom is establish already in Jesus Victory. Peter Claver did this with his charity and patience, drawing strength from his prayerful hope in Christ. He didn’t see the results while alive. He did in the joy of God’s presence. And maybe too he saw the tremendous celebration in the city of Cartagena after he died? Although it seemed he had disappeared in his illness, at his death his small, broken world had been watching all along. It erupted in celebration of the holiness of the ‘slave of slaves’, a holiness we desire to make our own today.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.