During the 17th century CE, Cartagena, Columbia was one of the major centers of African slavery in the Spanish colonies. One thousand slaves a month survived the voyage to land in the slave pens and be sold, to help extract the gold of the New World. For forty years, between 1610 and 1654, a Spanish Jesuit priest, St. Peter Claver descended into foul, dark cargo ship holds to bring water and fruit to hungry and thirsty men. He washed their wounds with wine and to spoke words of kindness to those who had only known curses and whips. He then instructed them in the rudiments of the Catholic faith with the help of native speaking catechists. It was said that 300,000 men were baptized. St. Peter Claver proudly called himself a slave of the Africans, identifying with them as he begged for food supplies. He was slandered by civil and religious parts of the society. They did not see slaves as men made in the image of God.
PUT ON JESUS CHRIST
St. Paul tells us in Colossians, today’s New Testament reading, to put on Jesus Christ. Thus laying aside the old clothes of the flesh. This statement is a clear allusion to what happens with the sacrament of baptism. Remember the white baptismal garments infants are still dressed in and catechumens were dressed in, during that rite performed in the early Church. The baptized receive sanctifying grace. They receive the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Along with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. And all moral virtues, including “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience …love.” In order for those virtues to grow and be acted upon, we as Christians need to marinate in the Bible if we wish to teach and admonish one another.
PROCLAIM THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Having contemplated and acted, St. Peter Claver wrote in a letter, “Thus we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. After this we began an elementary instruction about baptism.” Showing the love of Jesus Christ by physically ministering to them, he had prepared these slaves to learn that they were loved by God. That, in fact, Jesus had died to reconcile others to Himself, to forgive sin and to bring peace interiorly and to all the world.
St. Peter Claver shared this peace by actions and the words of the Gospel to help alleviate and to eventually eradicate the injustices of slavery. He is an icon of the Golden Rule stated in our Gospel, Lk 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” He taught us that mercy is costly love. Love in spite of the obstacles of society and revulsion he must have felt going down into the stench of the slave ships. He humbled himself, like Jesus did, becoming obedient to the task God called him to do.
PRAISE THE LORD
Let us not be guilty of a vice of our era, ingratitude. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.” Our responsorial Psalm 150 uses “praise” twelve times and St. Paul tells us in Col 3: 15 and 17 to be thankful and give thanks to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in all that we do. We do this by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs when we worship and pray and serve others. Today in a special way we give thanks to God for the example of St. Peter Claver and his love of the African slaves.