Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Solemnity of St. Peter Claver
St. Henry Catholic Church
September 9, 2016
“I have found my lost sheep.” Luke 15:6
Last weekend we witnessed the canonization of a truly remarkable woman of the 20th Century, St. Teresa of Kolkata. The story is told of how an American visitor saw her removing maggots from the flesh of a dying man. The visitor remarked out loud, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” St. Teresa responded, “Neither would I.”
No, what motivated St. Teresa was not money. To paraphrase St. Paul, she was Christ’s and Christ was hers. She did what she did because she saw with the eyes of Christ, thought with the mind of Christ, and loved with the heart of Christ.
Much like our patron, whose Solemnity we celebrate today, great saints, like St. Peter Claver, live their lives in imitation of Jesus Christ. And what is an essential element of what motivates them? Their desire, in imitation of Christ, to seek out what is lost.
The Gospel today is filled with examples of people who have lost something—the shepherd who loses one sheep, a woman who loses one coin, and a father who loses one son (Luke 15:1-32). The three all have one thing in common. They will not rest until what was lost is found. The shepherd searches the hills until he finds the sheep. The woman turns her house upside down. The father waits expectantly for his son, knowing that he will return one day, and when he does, will not allow his son to finish his prepared speech of repentance. “[H]e was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32).
It is said that St. Peter Claver was responsible for baptizing approximately 100,000 slaves. Like St. Teresa of Kolkata, he would not have done it “for a million dollars.” He did it for love. He knew also that in baptizing the slaves he was giving them a new dignity. He also knew that through baptism, according to the Spanish law of the day, the slaves would have rights. Of course, the challenge was to apply those rights, and it is for this that St. Peter Claver acted as an advocate for these poor powerless human beings.
There is a growing tendency in our world not to accept responsibility for our actions. It is a deadly tendency. Those who bought and sold slaves thought nothing of it, and when confronted with the reality of the human sufferings for which they were responsible, defended themselves and blamed someone else. We find much the same attitude today. The action may have changed, but the attitude has not—whether it is abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, disregard for human dignity, and cruelty to the defenseless. Those who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions will always blame someone else. In this twisted way of thinking, they become the victims of abuse. In some way, this is the dilemma of the older son in the Gospel. He cannot reconcile himself to the prodigious welcome of the father and so makes himself the offended party.
St. Teresa of Kolkata and St. Peter Claver were not of this mindset. They could not take offense, because they were not victims, nor did they have any grievance. They had taken to heart the words of Sacred Scriptures: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).
Bishop Glen John Provost