St. Peter Claver was one of those generous heroic souls whom God sends upon this earth to serve as a stimulus to our zeal, to urge us on to dare and do great things for His glory. Alone he stood upon the beach of that reeking haunt of sin, Cartagena, and saw the galley-ship vomit forth its human living burden of slaves. He saw these poor wretches dazed with their long confinement, sick in body and weary of soul, cast on the burning sand, their eyes wild with terror at the vision of the nameless death they thought awaited them. Here was scope for his zeal. Was not the image of Jesus stamped deep upon the souls of each of them? Did they not bear the likeness of the sacred Humanity in their tortured limbs? Was this goodly harvest to be left ungathered and hell alone to reap the fruit of man’s cupidity?
COMMENT: St Peter Claver SJ lived a remarkable life. He was a slave to the slaves who were captured and brought to Cartagena. He looked after their temporal and spiritual needs, catechising and baptising up to 300,000, and defended their rights and welfare when occasion arose. Normally a third or more of the slaves who were brought to Cartagena died en route from disease and ill treatment. Numerous contemporary accounts report that the smell of the diseased slaves who arrived on the slave ships was overwhelming, and practically nobody else was physically able enter their cramped, sweltering huts where they were left to die. But Peter Claver braved the disease and the horrors and often fed and washed to the sick and dying, and could often be found burying the dead himself. One biographer said that Peter Claver encompassed in one life the missionary zeal of St Francis Xavier, the dedication to the confessional of St John Vianney and the care for the sick and the lepers of St Damien of Molokai. Pope Leo XIII, who canonised St Peter, said that no other life, except the life of Christ, had as much impact on him personally.
From today’s quote it is clear that Fr Doyle had much regard for this great Jesuit saint. Indeed, in their spiritual lives and in their heroic service of others they had much in common. Incidentally, Peter Claver lived a frightful life of penance right to the very end of his days and he far exceeded Fr Doyle’s own austerities. If this is not a stumbling block to devotion to him, then neither should Fr Doyle’s asceticism be a stumbling block.
More on St Peter Claver can be found here:
Here is an excellent video on St Peter Claver.