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St Peter Claver
Priest (entered heaven in 1654)
So you’re bored at Mass and you’re distracted in prayer. Welcome to the human race. If being holy were fun and easy, sinners would be saints. Get humble, accept your imperfections, and work to improve them instead of complaining about them. The only worrisome thing in your note, in all honesty, was the tone. It was kind of blasé, as if you didn’t think these spiritual questions were really that important, as if you were merely going through the motions of a routine instead of trying to put your heart into things. That made some yellow lights go off over on this end. Have you forgotten about sin, my up-and-coming nephew? It is real, it is evil, it is killing souls, and conquering it was the reason Jesus Christ came to earth and established his Church. Christ’s Kingdom is the anti-sin Kingdom – and therefore the anti-death, anti-evil, anti-meaninglessness Kingdom (i.e. pro-life, pro-good, pro-meaning and purpose). We have to keep a vibrant awareness of sin (as unpleasant as that may sound) if we want to keep a vibrant awareness of the value of grace and salvation. When the latter wanes, it could be because the former has waned, which often leads to dangerous consequences.
It’s funny how all the saints constantly referred to themselves as great sinners. We might think they were being modest, but their words go too deep for that. Take today’s saint, for example. Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit who came to America during the colonial days (he lived in Columbia) for the sole purpose of ministering to the African slaves – the thousands upon thousands of them that were inhumanly dumped into the colonies every year. His base of operations was the port city of Cartagena, one of the major unloading spots for the slave ships. He spent his entire life serving these people who were gathered into indescribably filthy corrals after being shoveled out of rat-infested holds where they had been packed like cattle for the long sea voyage from Angola and the Congo. He treated the sick, fed the hungry, baptized and instructed as many as he could (which was especially difficult since he didn’t know their languages), and then made pastoral visits to them in the neighboring plantations every spring. He also continuously appealed to the slave owners to follow the Pope’s exhortations to put an end to the “supreme villainy,” or at least treat the slaves humanely. Few people helped him – few could tolerate the horrendous conditions. When he himself became so sick and frail that he could no longer even move himself out of his room, he was forgotten and left to waste away. Only when word spread that he was in his death throes did people remember how much he had done, and then they flocked to kiss his hand and steal things from his cell as relics. It is estimated that in 40 years he baptized 300,000 slaves. If anyone shared the burning love of Christ, it was St Peter Claver.
And yet, he never congratulated himself. Once when he was praised for his zeal, he responded, “It ought to be so, but there is nothing but self-indulgence in it; it is the result of my enthusiastic and impetuous temperament. If it were not for this work, I should be a nuisance to myself and to everybody else.” And when complemented for being able to handle the most disgusting cases of disease, he replied, “If being a saint consists in having no taste and having a strong stomach, I admit that I may be one.” False humility? Perhaps, but an aura of something more surrounds those words.
I would say it is a sincere awareness of his own sinfulness and weakness. To his credit, he never let it impede his work for the Kingdom, and most likely it spurred him on to do more and more, knowing that he would never be able to do enough. Only if we have a healthy awareness of the reality of sin will we be able to throw ourselves fully into the work of salvation. Keep that in mind, my young nephew, and count on my prayers.