Loving in Deeds and in Truth, 22nd Saturday (I), September 9, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Peter Claver
September 9, 2017
Col 1:21-23, Ps 54, Lk 6:1-5


To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here:


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Peter Claver and prays in the Opening Prayer that just as he became a “slave to the slaves,” and sought “the things of Jesus Christ” so may we learn to “love our neighbor in deeds and in truth.” As a young Jesuit, he left his native Spain in order to go to Cartagena, Colombia, to minister to the African slaves where they would disembark after a brutal trans-Pacific journey, be sold and bought. Their condition was execrable. He spent his last 44 years of life as slave to the slaves, a Good Samaritan, catechizing them by learning their dialects or finding translators, baptizing more than 300,000 of them, sharing their life and doing everything he could to introduce them to Christ and the interior freedom he brings even in the midst of slavery. He slept in the slaves’ quarters rather than in their masters’ when he came to preach missions to them. And he sought to bring the message of conversion to the slaveowners.
  • The letter he wrote that the Church ponders on his feast day in the Office of Readings has never ceased to move me, much like the letters of St. Francis Xavier or of the North American Martyrs. It shows the extent to which he sought to love: “Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity,” he wrote to his Jesuit superiors, “numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on the wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them. We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see. This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick. After this we began an elementary instruction about baptism, that is, the wonderful effects of the sacrament on body and soul. When by their answers to our questions they showed they had sufficiently understood this, we went on to a more extensive instruction, namely, about the one God, who rewards and punishes each one according to his merit, and the rest. We asked them to make an act of contrition and to manifest their detestation of their sins. Finally, when they appeared sufficiently prepared, we declared to them the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Passion. Showing them Christ fastened to the cross, as he is depicted on the baptismal font on which streams of blood flow down from his wounds, we led them in reciting an act of contrition in their own language.”
  • The lives of the saints always show us the most powerful commentary on Sacred Scripture put into practice, and his life provides an interpretative key for today’s readings. The Opening Prayer talked about loving “in deeds and in truth,” two criteria that are really important. If love is real, it must be shown in action and it must be sincere, it must be more than mere deeds, but something that flows from a loving heart. It must literally “merciful,” misericordia in Latin, “a heart for the poor.” In the Gospel, the problem with the Pharisees were that even though they knew the Scriptures they had read, they missed the point. They were spying on Jesus trying to catch him, and they obsessed about what they thought were violations of the third commandment all the while plotting to break the fifth. God through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy said that when people were walking through fields and were hungry, it was not sinful to pluck heads of grain or an ear of corn because he had provided that for them. It wasn’t stealing. The context of today’s Gospel was that it was a Sabbath Day and the Pharisees thought that there were multiple violations of the Sabbath involved in the work of plucking, threshing, winnowing and preparing to eat what was plucked. So little did they love their neighbor or understand all God had written about mercy and love that they thought God wanted his sons and daughters to starve rather than to eat of the food he had provided. They didn’t love in deeds or truth. Jesus came into the world to show a different way, to show us how to “read the Scriptures” and allow them to be read faithfully in us. Similarly in Cartagena the slaveowners could hear God’s words about love, about mercy, about doing unto others as they would want done to them, they could come to retreats and Mass and other liturgies, but they were missing the main point in failing to love the slaves in sincere action. We always have to be on guard to make sure we have merciful hearts that become merciful hands.
  • In today’s first reading, we see how St. Paul continues to respond to the Gnostic heretics in Colossae, who thought that matter was evil and therefore that Jesus either couldn’t have been God (because his body would have been evil) or couldn’t have really taken on our flesh, given us himself in the Sacraments, made the Church his Body etc. They taught that to get to heaven they needed the secret gnosis or knowledge that they possessed but that somehow Jesus didn’t ask the apostles to share with most people. St. Paul summarized the essence of the Christian message that God through Jesus reconciled us in the fleshly Body of Christ through his death — he was real! — and did this with a purpose, to present us holy, immaculate and irreproachable before God. Salvation was coming from God, not from our intelligence. It was available to both slaves and slaveowners. But what was required was responding to this work of God, “persever[ing] in the faith, firmly grounded, stable, and not shifting from the hope of the Gospel,” persevering in faith working through love. This is what we see in the life of St. Peter Claver, this is what we see in many of his converts and assistants, and this is what God wants to see in us.
  • The root and center of St. Peter Claver’s life, what gave him strength, was the Eucharist. He was able to bring God to the slaves, a prize so great that it could give meaning even to a brutal subjugation as it was a foretaste of something so great that it could fill us with hope in a valley of tears. This is the food that helps us to become holy before God. This is the nourishment that helps us to persevere.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1
COL 1:21-23

Brothers and sisters:
You once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds;
God has now reconciled you
in the fleshly Body of Christ through his death,
to present you holy, without blemish,
and irreproachable before him,
provided that you persevere in the faith,
firmly grounded, stable,
and not shifting from the hope of the Gospel that you heard,
which has been preached to every creature under heaven,
of which I, Paul, am a minister.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 54:3-4, 6 AND 8

R. (6) God himself is my help.
O God, by your name save me,
and by your might defend my cause.
O God, hear my prayer;
hearken to the words of my mouth.
R. God himself is my help.
Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord sustains my life.
Freely will I offer you sacrifice;
I will praise your name, O LORD, for its goodness.
R. God himself is my help.

LK 6:1-5

While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath,
his disciples were picking the heads of grain,
rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.
Some Pharisees said,
“Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Have you not read what David did
when he and those who were with him were hungry?
How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering,
which only the priests could lawfully eat,
ate of it, and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”