Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest

Lectionary: 441

Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.

"Is the chaplain ever off-duty?" The question came up recently in an informal discussion among my colleagues at the VA. 

I am known throughout the hospital as the priest with the black shirt and white Roman collar. Everyone in Louisville knows that sign and I have never shown up at the hospital without "the collar." 

If I were to do so some people would not recognize me. They might see the face and say, "I know this guy!" but they expect the collar to accompany the face; without it they'd be at least confused. 

Some might even be upset. The feeling might not be overt anger or outrage but it might be unsettling, like a tremor to one who has never experienced an earthquake. They might say, "You're not supposed to dress like that!" 

In fact I don't wear my "clericals" all the time, nor my Franciscan habit. My family knows I appear at our gatherings in whatever I happen to be wearing. But I have learned not to make the gospel any more difficult than it has to be with my appearance, attitudes, opinions and behaviors. 

I ponder the question of clerical garb as I hear Saint Paul speaking of his being a "slave to all so as to win over as many as possible." He was willing to do whatever it took to open doors to the Gospel. 

To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some 
I Corinthians 9:20-22
The Jesuit Saint Peter Claver discovered his ministry to the African slaves as they arrived in Cartagena, in the "New Kingdom of Granada." Inspired by their misery as Saint Francis was by the sight of leprosy, he called himself the "slave of the slaves." He would do whatever it took to relieve their distress and bring them to Christ. He could not stop the barbaric enterprise; it would continue for centuries in the Americas. Slavery finally disappeared more than 200 years later in its last stronghold, the United States, in 1864.

Peter Claver took to his ministry so readily and with such eager energy, he made the work look easy. Although most people avoided the stench of the slave ships, he was the first to enter the holds and assist the human chattel into the sunlight of South America. He buried the dead, tended the dying, cared for the sick and assisted the able. Many supposed they were brought to America as food, Claver's friendly manner reassured them they would not be eaten.

Whenever possible he taught them basic prayers and beliefs of the Catholic faith; he is believed to have baptized over 300,000 souls. Whether they understood what the Sacrament meant, it signified to their new "owners" that they deserved decent treatment as fellow Christians. Inspired by the Holy Spirit the servant of God makes the work look easy. 

May God give us that cheerful, willing and eager spirit as we discover and fulfill our various ministries. May our graceful work appear both effortless and amazing. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.