Memorial of Saint Peter Claver
1 Corinthians 7:25-31, Luke 6:20-26
When you consider the racial tensions throughout our country, it seems appropriate that we should be celebrating the memorial of Saint Peter Claver. Today’s saint was noted for his intelligence and piety. While still a student, he wrote these words in his notebook: “I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave.” Before proceeding I would ask you to put aside two prejudices. First, put aside the outrage over the riots that are inflaming the cities. I was in Cleveland in the sixties and know how frightful and fearsome an angry mob can be. Secondly, put aside the cynicism about law enforcement. I was a police chaplain and know that there is nothing worse than a bad cop, but there are also several officers that put their lives on the line every day. If you are willing to do this, we can proceed.
The problem with monks is we tend to look at the world from exalted heights. G. K. Chesterton penned these lines: “I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray… Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from… One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak” (The Hammer of God). The only-begotten Son of God came down from his lofty throne to walk among us as a man. He wept with those who wept; he rejoiced with those who rejoiced; he extended a hand to those in need, and he reconciled sinners to the Father. Like Him, we are called to help all we meet to lift up their heads and look to the heights, from where shall come to their help.
Christ who was crucified for our sins and rose for our justification can make all things new. He alone can heal the wounds of prejudice, hate, and violence. He alone can heal the sin-sick heart, changing it from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, making it capable of feeling, loving, and forgiving. Christ was lifted up on the cross from where he could call us who have been bitten by the snake of hatred and prejudice to lift up our heads and see the path to forgiveness and reconciliation. Grace is the workmanship of the Holy Spirit; it imprints on us the image of Christ. While still in the garden, Jesus wrote these words on the tablets of his heart: “I dedicate myself to the service of sinful man until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave.”
In the beatitudes, we find the way that Jesus expects us to live when we conform our lives to his. We must change our lives so that He may increase, and we may decrease. We must change our lives so that like Christ we may dedicate ourselves to the service of the fallen and wounded world until death, realizing that we are called to be slaves. I was touched by these words of Rev. Al Sharpton spoken at the recent march on Washington: “You might have killed the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream because truth crushed to earth shall rise again.”
Both the anxiety caused by COVID-19 and the tension caused by racial unrest reminds us of our need for God. In the face of the pandemic, only God can provide for our existence and sustain us. In the face of racial prejudice and bigotry, only God can make us human and compassionate again. Saint Paul wants believers to see themselves as a new creation by becoming like Jesus in word, actions, and behaviors.