Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Slaves, Labor, Human Dignity & Salvation

Our Lady Queen of Apostles

This week, we mark three celebrations, one secular and two spiritual. On our secular calendar, we celebrate the American national holiday of Labor Day, highlighting the dignity and contributions of people and their work. We cannot ignore the fact that there are still so many people in our world whose labor continues to be under-valued, unappreciated and under-rewarded.
On the Liturgical Calendar, we have the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. As Pauline Cooperators, we celebrate Mary in a special way in her role as Queen of Apostles and patron of those who labor in the fields of Christian spirituality. In theory, it is easy to separate the idea of simple material labor from spiritual apostolates. However, in real life, the secular material world and the spiritual evangelical world are inextricably intertwined. That intertwining is often apparent in the life work of so many of our great saints.

 This is especially evident in the life of the second saint whose feast day we celebrate this week. September 9th is the feast of Saint Peter Claver, a 17th century Jesuit missionary. His work provides a preeminent example of a faithful apostolate which reflects great sensitivity, charity, and evangelical zeal. As a young man, Claver became acutely aware of the injustices and outright evils in then-accepted burgeoning slave trade throughout the pre-modern world. He was to become a significant advocate for and missionary to the slave populations, first in Europe and, later, in the Americas. His work in the apostolic fields left a lasting legacy, still richly present in this 21st century, especially for African-American communities in the United States.

As I was reading the “Saturday Weekly Prayers” in The Prayers of the Pauline Family (the official Pauline prayer manual published by the Daughters of Saint Paul, Boston: 1991), the image portrayed in the prayer to our Queen of Apostles described much about the love and charity, as well as of the evangelical zeal, of Saint Peter Claver:

“With your all-powerful intercession and your humble and irresistible prayers, which always move God’s heart, obtain for me the grace to realize the value of every human person ransomed from hell with Jesus’ most precious Blood. May each one of us be enthusiastic about the beauty of the Christian apostolate. May the charity of Christ urge us on. May the spiritual misery of poor humanity move us.... Grant that vast Africa, immense Asia, promising Oceana, troubled Europe, and the two Americas may exercise a powerful attraction in our being.” (p. 160)

Peter Claver was born on June 26, 1580, and died September 8, 1654. He is a patron saint to slaves and to African Americans in particular, as well as a patron to seafarers. His entire life was dedicated to mitigating the effects of slavery and to promoting human rights for even the lowliest members of society. This Jesuit priest from Spain ministered to African slaves in Cartagena, Spain, and later in the Americas as a missionary to Colombia. Peter Claver is said to have converted over 300,000 slaves to Catholicism.

Father Peter Claver was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on January 15, 1888. By an interesting echo in history, the 41st anniversary of his canonization would see the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a spiritual leader who would become the world’s pre-eminent civil rights activist. These great men and their legacies provide excellent examples to all.

In 1909, Father Conrad Friedrich Rebesher, a Joshephite priest, founded the Knights of Peter Claver, Inc.  It was modelled after the Knights of Columbus, and is the largest African-American fraternal organization in the United States. In 1922, just two years after passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote, a Ladies Auxiliary was formed to engage African American lay women in the mission of the Order.
Today, the mission of the Order includes the following goals:
v  Supporting the local pastor, parish and bishop;

v  Engaging in activities which exemplify their Catholicism;

v  Helping to develop character in youth and providing scholarships to advance their education; and

v Sponsoring programs which encourage spiritual and intellectual stimulation as well as civic pride among its members.

As a Pauline Cooperator, I can appreciate their mission and see great similarity to our own mission as collaborators with Our Lord and his mother, our Queen of Apostles.
Here is the Collect Prayer from the mass of Saint Peter Claver from the USCCB Liturgical Readings website:

"O God, who made Saint Peter Claver a slave of slaves and strengthened him with wonder, charity and patience as he came to their help, grant, through his intercession, that, seeking the things of Jesus Christ, we may love our neighbor in deeds and in truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  

Marie-Louise Handal is a Pauline Cooperator based in Manhattan, New York City. She is an educator and writer who has participated in organizing and hosting a number of Pauline Family special events, media presentations and educational programs in the New York Archdiocese and environs.
      Her education includes a Master’s Degree from St. Joseph's Seminary, a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the New York Archdiocesan Center for Spiritual Development, a Master of Science in the Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and a B.A. in Mathematics & Science from Hunter College. She is currently a candidate for the S.T.L. from the International Marian Research Institute, the American Branch of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum, Rome.

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