On Monday, we celebrated a Jesuit Saint that I can relate to very strongly. Not only because of how he lived his missionary life, but because his missionary zeal to serve in the New world was influenced (even shaped!) by another Jesuit Saint, Alfonsus Rodriguez, (a brother!!!). However, what St Peter Claver did end up doing with that zeal was neither from Brother Al, nor from himself, but from the vibrant presence of the Holy Spirit at work in him! Once again, I have copied the text of the Saint's life from EWTN, but have changed some of the language, and added commentaries or exclamations of my own!! To see the original text, please click the Saint's name below.
St. Peter Claver
St. Peter Claver
PATRON SAINT OF SLAVES
Feast: September 9
Like many other Saints, it's not necessarily where Peter was born or how he lived his pre Jesuit life that marks his story, but how he was able to answer a very radical call to service for others. This is precisely what led him to the Jesuits in the first place: A zeal for his neighbor's salvation. He did his first studies as a Jesuit at the college of Majorca, where he met the holy Brother Rodriguez, then porter of the college, an eminent contemplative, from whom Claver derived much spiritual profit, and even a knowledge of his future vocation (the original text said career, but we all know they meant vocation!). After much pleading to be sent out to the Americas, Peter departed in 1610. He never returned to his homeland again. Completing his studies at Santa Fe de Bogota, he was ordained at Carthagena (Columbia) in 1615, and from that moment devoted himself to the care of slaves from Africa.
We've all heard the horror stories of these death ships that brought the slaves from Africa..the disgraceful conditions they had to live in as they were carried across the sea. No person in their right mind today would venture on such a boat. Peter was different. No sooner did a slaver reach the port than he hastened (my emphasis! He didn't just wander on to the boats..he hastened ..he was eager for this!) on board with his interpreters, a basket of delicacies for the sick, and other necessaries. he became known for the care he offered them, but also for his zeal in educating them in the faith. It's said that he would have baptized some 100,000 slaves in his lifetime.
Not wearied with these labors, he visited the hospitals, and especially that of the Incurables and Lepers, whom he nursed with the greatest charity. Besides all this, his austerities were frightful: his life was a miracle, as nothing but a miracle could have sustained it in such a climate, where a scratch is often fatal. Among the Spaniards he labored reluctantly, as they had clergy in abundance; but the poor could always have recourse to him, and he spared no toil for non believers in his midst. He finally died the 8th of September, 1654, at the age of 72, a faithful imitator of the great Francis Xavier. Canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1888
There are two posters that are in my room at Cardoner House of Jesuits that really inspire me: One of Miguel Pro, a Mexican Saint who was executed by the National army in the early 1920's because he continued his duties as a Priest when the government was trying to eradicate the Catholic Church's presence in Mexico; The other was of today's Saint, baptizing an African slave. I brought both posters back home with me from Venezuela, because they remain to this day, humble reminders of what will is asked of me as a Jesuit everyday. This needs to be explained a little.
No, I don't think I'll be asked to willingly become a martyr for the faith, or to go minister to slaves, but I will be asked to learn to die to myself a little more, day by day. Sounds dramatic, but I think it's at the heart of what every religious and person of deep faith does. When we pray, when we serve others, when we work in our ministries, we don't really put ourselves ahead of others. We live and work for the well being of others. Even this little blog thing I do...it helps me appropriate some of the passages and Saints of the day for myself...but my main motivation for continuing this, is to share with others my love for our faith, our Saints, but above all, to share my passion for our Lord Jesus, 'brings us the fullness of life' (paraphrasing today's first reading!). This Jesus who makes us realize how lucky, blessed, enriched we are by God's presence in our life every moment of every day. And what do we do with all this richness?
We share it of course! We give of ourselves to others, that they may also receive the blessings of our Lord in their own life. We do in fact, die a little to ourselves, and our own selfish needs, in order to live for others. We don't completely die to ourselves, obviously! For example, I fully intend to continue watching my beloved tv shows for myself, and to treat myself to chocolate or candies once in a while. But the call I receive everyday, is to live this life, not with the aim of serving my own needs, but those of others. God has taken care of me, so that I can take care of others. It's in that work, that I feel, I will truly know life.
This is a bold statement. Most people -including many Catholics I'm sure!- would prefer to believe what the Bon Jovi song states 'It's my life"...and since I won't live foreever, I should do what I want, when I want. I know I once subscribed to this philosophy (and I definitely still love the Bon Jovi song!). However, nowadays, as a Jesuit, this is not very appealing to me anymore. Like other people of faith, I chose to respond differently to the gift of life....as Paul says in Colossians, we understand that " before we knew God, were were dead in our sinfulness, God made (us) alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses," Again, we return to that question...having been given life by God...what will we do with it? It's a question that will be with me till the rest of my days...but those two posters will always remind me of those who have answered this question with every moment of their lives.I don't have to strive to be like them, but I do have to be reminded of the call to live fully what God gives me every day!