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Summary: Like Peter Claver, we can be means of helping others to escape the slavery of sin.

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September 5, 2011

Testimony of the Saints

Labor Day

I sometimes ask my students what occupation God would put on his tax return, if He had to file one. That usually brings puzzled looks until I say 45-2093, farming. God’s original occupation on earth is planting a garden. In it he put a man and woman as stewards. Never mind that they messed up big time. In the OT, agriculture is the occupation of choice, either farming or raising cattle. Man is made to glorify God through His work, that work being a kind of analog of God’s own work of creation.

Part of human’s messing up God’s design is slavery. It is tempting to beef up the bottom line by cheating one’s laborers. Slavery takes that sin to the max. Slavery is the lie that one human being can have a right to all the labor of another human being, with the obligation only of providing the basic food, clothing and shelter to the slave. Now the Catholic Church has been one institution that for hundreds of years has preached the dignity of all humans, and has specifically worked to eliminate the slave trade.

That, of course, is not enough. We also have to help those who are enslaved. The Jesuit Peter Claver, who entered his religious order at the very beginning of the 17th century, left Spain for the New World in 1610 and was ordained at Cartagena just five years later. Cartagena was one of the major entrepots for the South American slave trade. Thousands of African men and women were shipped there. Those who survived lived in squalid conditions. Peter Claver worked in the yards where the slaves were penned, providing food and medicine and Christian doctrine. The histories claim that he baptized some 300,000 converts in his forty years of mission. He worked tirelessly in their behalf, visiting the local plantations and even living in the slave quarters to help improve their lot. He helped enforce the handful of laws protecting the slaves. His ministry included the leprous and the prisoners. Miracles were attributed to his ministry. It was said that he could even read men’s minds, something also attributed to other saints like John Mary Vianney.

Can we wonder at the devotion of this man, when he had even before coming to the Americas, wrote in his journal, "I must dedicate myself to the service of God until death, on the understanding that I am like a slave."

At his ordination, he declared that he would be the servant of the Ethiopian forever. “Claver had conflicts with some of his Jesuit brothers who viewed the slaves merely as slaves. Claver saw them as fellow Christians and encouraged others to do so.”

Today there are some very miserable slaves in our world, and some of them cross our paths daily. Some are slaves to their sexual desires, or workaholics in servitude to their careers. Others are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or both. Anything that is not divine can enslave us. Our acts of special kindness, and our prayers, may inspire them to open up to us and share their misery. When that happens, we need to be available as counselors, crying towels, and the ears and hands and heart of Christ. Like Peter Claver, we will be used by Christ to touch a world in desperate need of Him. Pray, too, for Mary’s intercession. She was a nobody in a nothing village, but her openness to God ultimately converted the world. She can help us to be means of grace to those around us.


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