The Church has ever looked to the example of the saints for hope and encouragement, as well as heavenly intercession, especially in time of trial. Jesus is, of course, our best model and uniquely potent helper, but His Mother and His friends, the saints, are up there with Him.
These are certainly days of peril and woe, when we crave some light and heavenly assistance. Throughout the world we see violence, terrorism, threats of war, and attacks on the blameless. In our own beloved country, we cringe at episodes of hate, bigotry, exclusion, and racism.
Many are those who analyze these worries and evils, and offer explanations as to why they are happening. Some of these commentators I find perceptive and helpful, while others seem incendiary and more harmful than valuable.
People of faith have their own diagnosis: all of this happens because we have forgotten God’s insistence, clear from the moment He created us, on the innate dignity of each human person, and the unquestioned sacredness of every human life.
Believe those self-evident truths—to borrow the words, not of the Bible, but of our country’s founders—and obey them...and violence, social hatred, and horror inflicted upon the helpless halts.
Next week, on September 9, we’ll celebrate the feast of a citizen of heaven who can give us confidence by his example, and solutions with his intercession before the throne of the One who insists on the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of each human life:
St. Peter Claver. Ordained a priest of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in Colombia in 1616, he labored ceaselessly to care for the “poorest of the poor,” those whose dignity was denied and whose lives were considered chattel, the African slaves. His vow was to be “the slave of the Blacks.”
From his own bare, austere room at the Jesuit mission in the seaport of Cartagena, Colombia, he kept watch for the “coffin ships” arriving in the bay owned by the vicious slave traders, who invaded African towns and took innocent Black men, women, and children as animals to be sold in the New World. Today we call this human trafficking.
Off he’d go to meet these boats, sneaking on with friends carrying bundles and baskets of fresh water, food, clean clothes, and medicine. He would labor non-stop to soothe and comfort these Black slaves, the only solace these oppressed people experienced.
Added to his first aid and critical care given these abandoned children of God, rendered by a “blackrobe” whose skin was as white as the thugs who were beating and herding them as merchandise, were words of hope. He whispered assurances that God was with them, that His Son Jesus had suffered like them, and that they were treasures, not trash, in the gaze of their Creator and Savior, offering prayer and even, after an elementary catechesis, inviting them to be baptized. They had within them, Peter Claver guaranteed the Black slaves in such wretched condition, tyrannized by white brutes, the spark of God’s life, an identity as a child of God, an eternal insurance that their demonic “owners” could never destroy.
Nor was he scared to confront the traffickers with a prophetic challenge to halt their injustice and free their “cargo,” human persons who were worthy of respect, human lives sacred to God.
No wonder Pope Francis will stop at Cartagena next week on his visit to Colombia to look out the window of St. Peter Claver’s room, to pray before his tomb, and to beg the world to recover our conviction that every human person deserves dignity, that each human life must be respected.