Posting with permission, here is the text of a brilliant homily by Fr. John Perricone, given on September 10, 2017, the day after the feast of Saint Peter Claver.
The homily needs no introduction as it is beyond my power to improve upon Fr. Perricone's gifts when it comes to teaching Catholic history, applying it to current issues, and issuing a strong spiritual challenge. Thanks to Nora Brower, Jim Morlino, and Dan Marengo for calling this homily to my attention and getting the permission to disseminate. Enjoy!
ST. PETER CLAVER: SOMEONE FOR WHOM BLACK LIVES REALLY MATTERED
A homily by Father John Perricone, delivered September 10, 2017
Hollywood award shows used to be de rigeur viewing for most Americans. No more. Perhaps because a kind of collective delirium has set upon the artist class. Take the Emmy’s this past Sunday, for instance. One of the celebrity winners, Donald Glover – a black man – snidely remarked, “I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most oppressed list.” Not only was the remark counterfactual, but sheer madness. No wonder Americans are fleeing from award shows, becoming, as they have, events like a Nazi Nuremburg rally with all its deadly fascist hysteria. Americans prefer listening to sane voices like Shelby Steele, the black intellectual, who recently analyzed this circumstance in the Wall Street Journal:
“Today Americans know that active racism is no longer the greatest barrier to black and minority advancement. Since the 1960’s other pathologies, even if originally generated by racism, have supplanted it. White racism did not shoot more than 4,000 people last year in Chicago. To the contrary, America for decades now – with much genuine remorse – has been recoiling from the practice of racism and has gained a firm intolerance for what it once indulged.”
One of the editors of the same Journal, Jason Riley, also a black man, wrote within a few days of Mr. Steele: Between 1890 and 1940, for example, black marriages rates in the U.S. were higher than white marriage rates. In the 1940’s and '50s, black labor participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes; and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points. Between 1940 and 1970 – that is, during Jim Crow and prior to the era of affirmative action – the number of blacks in the middle class professions quadrupled. In other words, racial gaps were narrowing. Steady progress was being made. Blacks today hear plenty about what they can’t achieve due to the legacy of slavery and not enough about what they did in fact achieve notwithstanding hundreds of years in bondage followed by decades of legal segregation.”
So much for blacks occupying “the most oppressed list.” Facts are inconvenient things, the bane of fevered zealots. But what might a true champion of the black people look like? Well, like St. Peter Claver; who cared less for zealotry, and more for charity.
While Claver was born in Verdu, Spain in 1580, he was ordained a priest in Cartagena, Columbia in 1616. Deeply impressed by the mistreatment of African slaves he requested his Jesuit superiors that he be assigned to them to teach the Faith and administer the sacraments. They consented.
For some 100 years prior to St. Peter’s arrival in Columbia the Spanish government had dealt in the inhuman and barbaric slave trade. By the early seventeenth century Spanish entrepreneurs were importing over 10,000 slaves to Columbia every month. All in open defiance of the condemnations of both Pope Paul III and Urban VIII, culminating in Blessed Pius IX’s declaration that slavery was a “supreme villainy”.
With an impassioned priestly soul, St. Peter would daily find a spot at the Cartagena’s bustling harbor to await the tortured human cargo. Impatient with the docking protocols, the saint would convince sailors to procure a small boat to take him to the anchored ships. Climbing aboard he hurriedly made his way down into the bowels of the ship where the slaves were stacked like cattle, mere inches separating one from another. Within such suffocating confinement the slaves ate, drank and evacuated themselves. During the long transatlantic voyage, the men had hands and legs shackled, causing excruciating open ulcerations. Along with the ravages of dysentery, the floors of the deck were coated with mucus and blood. The stench was so overpowering that not even seasoned sailors could bear it for more than several minutes at a time. This was Hell. Until St. Peter Claver arrived.
Without a slightest hesitation the Saint rushed to the chained slaves as though they were long lost friends. Their captors treated these slaves like animals; Claver handled them like rare jewels. Shocked surprise shone on their faces as Saint Peter fed them, washed their wounds, carried those too weak to walk. But then the saint did something that went beyond food or drink or relief from suffering. He kissed them. Only an ordinary kiss, but far beyond ordinary to these prisoners. It swept these unfortunates into a different world, one shimmering with a transcendence few men ever know. St. Bonaventure comes to mind when he related a similar event in St. Francis’ life. A leper approached Il Poverello begging his blessing. The saint bent over him and kissed his oozing pustules. They miraculously disappeared. Bonaventure remarked: “Oh, that marvelous cure! But even more marvelous, that kiss!”
On land, St. Peter followed the slaves to their new places of bondage. There he instructed them in the Catechism, baptized them, administered Holy Communion, and heard their Confessions. In his preaching the Saint would show them a large gold medal, with the images of Jesus and Mary, then spend hours standing as the slaves queued to kiss the holy medal. The Saint set up his humble quarters near where most of the slaves were housed. Some suffered wounds from their labors, and for lack of treatment, became infected, producing a nauseating odor. Other slaves would refuse to live near them. Saint Peter would take the infected slaves and give them his quarters, while he slept on the floor.
By the time the Saint died, he had spent 33 years among the Columbian slaves, having baptized 300,000 of them. To a modern world weary of religion, but boasting a fashionable sensitivity to the plight of the suffering, St. Peter teaches the only answer to human misery is supernatural love. He never turned to political solutions, cries of injustice or rebellious demonstrations, he gave them only the consolations of the sacrament of Penance, and the nourishment of Christ’s Body in the Holy Mass. Claver never removed his simple black cassock, even as he endured the heavy labors of caring for the souls of his charges. He would have found strange the modern excuse that the cassock separates the priest from his people. On the contrary, he knew that the cassock unites the priest to his people. Like glue. Clothed in the cassock, the people don’t see the man, but Christ. But perhaps therein lies the contemporary neuralgia to the classic habit of the priest.
St. Peter Claver can never be called a humanitarian. Humanitarians are moved by their feelings; saints are moved by their love of Christ. Humanitarians see only victims, saints see souls for whom Christ shed His Precious Blood. Outside the orbit of Christ’s Cross, men become mere pawns on a chess board or props to score political points. The current vogue for Third World adoptions is perfect illustration. Most of it grandstanding for political effect, whilst simultaneously telegraphing their loathing for all things redolent of Western Civilization. No less than the Leftist Columbia professor Dr. Mark Lilla admits as much is his latest work, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. where he writes:
"One strand in the New Manichaeism descends from the French structuralists’ understanding of the Other, a phrase they associated with all that was marginal in Western societies. But they had little interest in bringing the excluded ones into a fuller participation in Western society and instead developed a romantic infatuation with the exoticism of Otherness. With updated Orientalist condescension, the Manichaean intellectuals went into ecstasies over the colorful manners and primitive virtues of the non-Western stranger, whom they identify as closely with the good as they did his Western counterpart with cancerous evil. Overlooking the thuggishness of any number of non-Western regimes, they portray Western democracy in diabolical terms as the real home of tyranny – the tyranny of capital, of imperialism, of bourgeois conformity even as they insisted that what was most humane in the Western traditions – his rights, his freedoms, his laws and liberal pluralisms – were so many structures of oppression, a cover for the West’s ethnocentrism, colonialism, and genocide.”
Humanitarians would never do what Peter Claver did, only saints could.
Debilitating sickness riddled the body of the Saint in his waning years. An African slave was assigned to care for him, in fact, one of those who had been the recipient of Claver’s transformative priestly ministrations. For the remaining months of the saint’s life, Claver’s caretaker mistreated him, often refusing to feed him, frequently even beating him. Claver finally died alone, not one of the 300,000 near him to bring some sweetness as he lay taking his last breaths. His solitary accompaniments were the ungrateful brutalities of one whom Claver had poured the goodness of his priestly heart. Never did the Saint utter a word of complaint, excusable considering the context and circumstance. But a saint sees all as possibilities of merciful closeness with the Crucified.
Understanding of this sublime mystery comes from quite an unexpected quarter, the acclaimed historian and social critic, Christopher Lasch. He wrote about the proper trajectory of religion in a perceptive essay: “Moderns find it difficult…to reconcile expectations of worldly success and happiness, so often undone by events, with the idea of a just, loving, and all-powerful Creator. Unable to conceive of a God who does not regard human happiness as the be-all and end-all of creation, they cannot accept the central paradox of religious faith: that the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy.”
St. John of the Cross comes to mind in a letter to St. Teresa, “Outside of God, everything is narrow.”
St. Peter Claver never restricted his priestly attention to only the African slaves. He was available to every soul in need of Christ’s salvific power. Once he ministered to a wealthy Spanish official who was in prison, awaiting execution for a capital crime. St. Peter found his way to the high ranking Spaniard, and gave him a prayer book, encouraging him to pray from it every day. He did. Every day until his death, and before his execution he received Last Rites from the saint. When his family recovered his belongings they were surprised to find a prayer book among this bon vivant’s possessions. Upon opening it, they found an inscription written in the hand of the deceased, “This book was owned by the happiest man in the world.”
Only one thing would make a man happier than being cared for by a saint. Becoming a saint himself."