Peter Claver

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Briefly on Saint Peter Claver whose feast is today. The priest was a Spanish Jesuit known for his work with the slaves in the Americas during the height of the slave trade. As slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas approximately 1/3 of them would be die due to disease. Upon the exit from those salve ships, today’s priest would aid those slave who suffered from a multitude of infirmities. Many were near death. One of today’s readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH) recorded the priest’s methods of receiving slaves. The readings describe how Peter would segregate an area, and then cleanse their wounds. To gain their trust he made every effort to treat those slaves with dignity. The priest’s writings highlight how he would offer some a smoke or vapor treatment where the vapors of the burning plants would offer relief to what I guess was infection of the lungs. I must assume those plants were similar to eucalyptus. After that he would introduce them onto the Catholic faith, and offer baptism. He baptized many. Peter in his letters records how receptive the slaves were to the “medical vapor treatment.” They were thankful for the treatment Peter gave them.

Today of course those smoke treatments of yester year have largely been debunked, they offer no sound medical remedy to any known ailment. To what then were these slaves cured of? Might they have been cured in part from the brutality of the slave traders? Might the slave trader’s brutality and profiteering and disregard for human dignity been offset by the peace of Christ offered through Saint Peter Clavier? I mention this because this week started with the first celebration of Saint Theresa of Calcutta. She also offered no medical relief for her congregation who were the wretched dying of Calcutta. Like Saint Peter Clavier her healing was through the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, a healing of battered and disregarded souls. There is a similarity between the two, Theresa and Peter. They both healed with the love of Christ.

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?

I can hear those that argue against them. Those that argue Saint Teresa’s patients would have been better served by medicine, and Peters through legislation. The fact though is that Teresa’s “patients” were ignored by society and that is the definition of the outcast, the fringe of society. The fact is Peters patents were legally property, something to be bought and sold. In fact, the medical remedies offered by Peter Claver were legitimate medicine of the day, while today they would be challenged by competent physicians. The human dignity restored by Peter Claver can be challenged by no one, it is a tenant of today’s human rights. Peter and Teresa fought against both injustices faced by their patients, Teresa took the margins of society and made them her life’s focus. She returned dignity. Peter to the property of a slave trader and returned them back to humanity. He too returned human dignity. Both did so in the name of Jesus Christ.

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