Epistle: I Cor. 9:16-19, 22B-27
Gospel: Luke 6:39-42
We wear white today because it is the feast of a great and holy Jesuit priest, St. Peter Claver. Father Claver came to the Americas as a Jesuit missionary and he was one of the first people to speak out against slavery in the Americas and the inhumane treatment of black people. The Spanish and Portuguese were the first to bring African slaves to the Americas, in conditions so inhumane that we could not possibly imagine what they were like. Some accounts that I read about St. Peter Claver’s life said when the slave ships arrived at Cartagena de Indias, the people were starved and brutalized, and Father Claver was often the one person who would come aboard the slave ships and bring food and water and something that passed for comfort in a time of such terror.
A great many people take today’s Gospel to mean that we should not ever discuss or admonish others about sin or inappropriate behavior since we ourselves are sinners, but that isn’t what Jesus is telling us. Admonishing the sinner is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, after all. Jesus is reminding us that before we can carry out that work of Mercy for others you need to make sure that our own house is in order in a spiritual sense because Jesus understood human nature, he understood that those who did not want to be admonished for their wrongdoing would accuse those who did so of hypocrisy, he was warning us not to allow ourselves to be opened up to that charge as much as possible, to see to our own spiritual care before trying to admonish others of the truth. People don’t like to hear the truth very often. The slave trade persisted in Latin America and eventually in Anglo-America despite the repeated condemnation of Pope after Pope, lest we are tempted to think that professing Catholics refusing to listen to the Church and instead follow after their own naked self-interest is some new problem…
People accused Father Claver of hypocrisy, and uttered all kinds of false charges against him. One the things people used to accuse him was profaning the sacraments, because they said that he was giving the sacraments to creatures who did not have souls. For his part, St. Peter Claver said “I am the slave of the blacks forever.” He regularly risked his own life to bring the sacraments as well as sustenance to people who had been abandoned and forgotten by all of the society in which they lived. It would be fair to call him the first public abolitionist in the Americas. In his lifetime he is said to have baptized over 300,000 enslaved people.
May God give us a fraction of the love and concern for abandoned and forgotten people that St. Peter Claver had. Amen.