By Denise Trull
Happy feast of St. Peter Claver.
It's meditating on the nature of time that makes this Jesuit saint so incredible to me. Thirty years working in the slave ships that docked at Cartagena, a city in Columbia where he had been sent as a missionary.
How long did he watch those ships come in and out of the harbor before he felt called to do something about the men and women and children inside them?
And then once he noticed, how long did he pray for the courage to enter the nightmarish holds where they were barbarously packed in like animals?
How long did it take him to get used to the darkness, the smell, the crying babies, the suspicious eyes of the men and women who knew him only as one evil Spaniard among many?
How long before he reached out and touched a cheek, a hand, a head with his kind hands?
It says that he came into those holds bearing food, medicine, brandy and sweets. And he often said like a mantra, "We must speak with our hands before we try to speak with our lips." How long did it take him to realize this?
It takes St. Peter Claver's kind of patience and perseverance to conquer one question at a time. He chose ONE thing to do for Jesus and those whom Jesus loved most - the outcasts. They were his brothers, sisters, children. Peter put his heart there, and there it stayed for thirty years...rain, shine, smells, nay sayers asking what use it would be. Peter didn't bother to ask those questions. He left those questions to God.
He served them food, listened to their woes, baptized them, taught them about God's mercy. How long until they believed such a thing? And while he was teaching, he served "brandy and sweets" and bandaged up their wounds. I love that he had the exquisite charity to give them something as lovely as brandy and sweets instead of cast off bread or scraps. Those two things meant care, respect, love enough to give something of worth to them. This reveals a tender and beautiful heart.
I would like to think after much time doing this, he finally received a look from one of the slaves that spoke trust and love to him. That what he was doing was understood. It is said that he baptized over 300,000 slaves in his time. Their love for him became immense.
The rest of the world in Cartagena couldn't have cared less. The last four years of his life were spent battling a grave illness. He was confined to his rooms and was too weak to celebrate Mass - for a priest, what a cross. No one visited him, no one cared for him. He was completely forgotten. His tender heart had to endure that for four years - this loving man so filled with a friendly and sensitive congeniality was forgotten. Except by God. And that was enough.
Sometimes we love saints because they struggle with the same things we do. Sometimes we love them because they are so different from us and there is a lesson there. St. Peter, for me, is the second. I am a "flitter" - I like change. I am a sprinter - I want change, um, NOW. Spending some time talking to and reading about St. Peter settles my soul. He was steady, faithful, single minded, and humble enough not to always be asking why. I know sometimes I think of him smiling at me with kind eyes and saying, "Stay on the road. Don't abandon the plow, it's hard but it gets better with grace. Try to answer one question at a time”.
St. Peter Claver, pray for us!