Commentary on the Gospel of
Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, Priest
What amazing and beautiful readings we have today, on the feast day of St. Peter Claver. The readings are prescriptive in how we are to live as Christians. The first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians calls us deeper towards living in a manner that to which we’re called, and living in a way that really illuminates our identity as beloved children of God. The first reading is full of simplicity while also being so profound. The psalm reminds us that all of creation praises God. And, our Gospel compels us to reorient our values away from society’s expectations back to Christ’s values.
In this American society where I find myself, elements of a fast-paced life that seem to contradict this message from Paul and Jesus, are all around. Quick judgments, critical and precise assessments, microaggressions, people carrying the weight of past traumas and hurts…in the face of these realities, the message of the first reading can seem countercultural and unrealistic. Forgiveness for a person we have a grievance against is not easy when the hurt is deep, or the stakes are high. Letting the peace of Christ continue to control of hearts can be a struggle when we’re up against deadlines, difficult duties, selfish motivations, unreasonable expectations, a debilitating illness, or when we’re exhausted, hurt or overwhelmed. Even though we all have so much to be grateful for, filling our hearts with gratitude can seem out of reach. Even though we try, we aren’t always acting in the name of our Lord. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of loving, of showing generosity, of letting go of grudges and of expanding our boundaries of what’s acceptable and fair.
Today is the feast day of St. Peter Claver, SJ, who left Spain after joining the Jesuits to go dedicate his life to working with, and for, slaves in South America in the early 1600s. He would greet the boats of newly arrived African people who were there to be sold into slavery, greeting them with love and dignity, and seeking to help them in any way he could despite his own hardships. He also tried to dismantle structures of the slavery. It is clear that Peter Claver truly put on love in all that he did and let peace of Christ control his heart. Everything he did and everything he said was in the name of Christ; the frightened people arriving in Columbia were met with God’s, kindness, humility and care when they encountered him.
Today, as we speak with God and welcome God into the various activities, stressors and joys of the day, I invite us to choose one line or directive from this beautiful first reading, or psalm or Gospel reading from Luke, Chapter 6. Maybe there is one specific line that that God is inviting me to sit with, today.
Or, maybe there is an invitation in St. Peter Claver’s ministry that is particularly timely for us today as we, throughout world, and especially here in the United States, are engaged in the work of antiracism. As a result of our identity as holy and beloved, we are compelled to work tirelessly against systemic racism and minister to the suffering on the margins or in captivity in some way. As Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ says in his book, Tattoos on the Heart: “soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased.”
Let this inspiration (either through a line from Scripture or through the life of St. Peter Claver) guide us a little closer to this ideal way of living as a beloved member of God’s family to all those with whom we encounter, especially those on the margins.
St. Peter Claver, pray for us!