On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations)
I have visited the part of rural Catalonia in Spain where Peter Claver was born. One September I had lunch with some of the local clergy, who spoke with frustration about the widespread indifference to Christianity among their people. They warmed, however, to the subject of their holy Jesuit Peter, whose feast they had just celebrated. With good reason, I daresay.
It is well beyond my capacity to imagine the circumstances of Peter’s ministry to the slaves of Cartagena. Each day when a ship arrived, Peter entered into its hull that had been a crucible for hundreds of stinking, maltreated, malnourished and frightened men, women and children during the weeks of a transatlantic voyage that followed their forcible removal from their homeland.
One by one, Peter attended to them, comforting and baptizing the dying, treating the infirmities of the ill and wounded, offering food and drink to all. Once the slaves had been taken to their temporary housing, Peter visited them to offer further spiritual and material aid, not knowing how soon they would be herded off to market. When asked at the end of his life how many baptisms he had performed, Peter replied “a little over 300,000.”
I suspect that the hardest part of Peter’s work was not its physical and psychic hardship, tremendous though it was, but rather the cruelty and indifference with which nearly everyone else regarded his beloved Africans. The struggle for justice was not merely a losing battle in Peter’s day; it was not even on the radar of his society. Most of Peter’s contemporaries must have regarded his ministry with varying measures of befuddlement and hostility, especially those who most directly benefited from the slave trade.
Rather than give himself over to despair, however, Peter gave himself over to Jesus and his presence in the destitute, the marginalized, the forgotten. In the final years of his life, after he had contracted the plague from his labors among the sick, Peter suffered cruel mistreatment at the hands of the former slave whom the Jesuit community had hired to care for him. This situation persisted because the saint considered himself unworthy of better treatment and hence complained to no one. To the end he shared in the lot of those he had served in life.
—Sam Conedera, S.J.
Lord, those in power hated your compassion and healing of the sick, the outcast, the poor. Each time you brought hope and dignity to the suffering, the powerful plotted ways to get rid of you. This treatment followed the lives of the saint and persists today when goodness moves to protect the voiceless. We pray for those who sacrifice health, financial well-being, and reputation because they refuse to look the other way and persist in standing up for the mistreated. Lord, please strengthen our resolve to advocate for those who are victims of injustice and help us to speak up when another’s good name is maligned because of jealousy, cruelty, or insecurities.
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