Holy Hour for peace in our communities
I wish to thank you for coming to the Cathedral this evening for this Holy Hour of Prayer for Peace in our Communities. The Catholic Church throughout our country is observing today as a national day of prayer in the wake of tensions and race-related strife in communities these past several months. We pray this evening for peace and reconciliation, for justice and solidarity, for unity and cooperation, and for an end to violence.
This past Sunday, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonized a saint. Saint Teresa once wrote: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” These words seem very appropriate today. In so many of our communities, particularly those where there is racial tension, we must remember that we belong to each other. There are bitter divisions in our country. I think of the divisive politics we encounter today and the lack of civility in public discourse and political debate. We have forgotten that we are brothers and sisters in this human family. Every person is created in the image of God. It seems that the way people speak about those they disagree with or the way people sometimes treat their neighbor of a different race or ethnic group reveals a failure to see the image of God in their neighbor.
As Christians, we believe that every person has a transcendent dignity as a creature made in God’s image. But how often this dignity is ignored, forgotten, or rejected! The dignity of the unborn child, the dignity of the undocumented immigrant, the dignity of prisoners, the dignity of the poor! Senseless violence in certain neighborhoods right here in Fort Wayne, often drug-related! All this reveals a forgetfulness not only of human dignity, but also a forgetfulness of God. The great majority of Americans profess that they believe in God, but sadly many live and act as if God does not exist. When this happens, human dignity disappears.
The bishops of the United States chose today, September 9th, for this Day of Prayer because today is the feast of Saint Peter Claver, the patron saint of racial justice. For 44 years, this amazing Jesuit missionary priest cared for the spiritual and physical welfare of hundreds of thousands of African slaves brought to Colombia, South America, in the 1600’s. At a time when many whites considered the slaves to be less than human, Saint Peter Claver devoted his life to their service. He was despised for this. For a time, the authorities prohibited him from baptizing the African slaves. Every month in Cartegena, 1,000 enslaved Africans were unloaded from boats. Many were sick, covered with sores, and terrified upon their arrival. Saint Peter Claver saw in each and every one the image of God. He saw Christ in the face of every slave, like Mother Teresa centuries later who saw Christ in what she called “the distressing disguise of the poor.” Saint Peter Claver would go out in a small boat when the slaves arrived and get on board the ships to minister to them, to try to calm their fears. He would tend to the sick. He would bring them food. Saint Peter Claver would reproach the slaveowners for their brutality. He would work tirelessly to keep the African families together and not split up. He was their advocate, their defender, and their spiritual father. We ask for his intercession today as we pray for racial justice, for peace, and for respect for the God-given dignity of every human person.
We heard in the Gospel reading this evening the heart of the moral teaching of Jesus. It’s one simple commandment: “love one another as I love you.” This divine love appears most radiantly in the cross where Jesus lays down His life in an act of perfect love. Our Lord requires that His disciples practice the same kind of radical, self-giving love. The visible sign of our love for Jesus, the sign that we are His friends, that we are Christians, is our obedience to His command to love one another. The Holy Eucharist which we adore is the true Body and Blood of Christ. It is the sacrament of charity which nourishes us and strengthens us to love one another as He has loved us. It is the Eucharist that strengthened Saint Peter Claver in his heroic work. It was the Eucharist that strengthened Mother Teresa as well. An interviewer once asked Mother Teresa how she could spend her life going into the streets, tending the poor and the dying. He said: “these people are diseased, they smell, they are awful to behold.” Mother Teresa replied: “Every morning I participate in Mass and I spend an hour in Eucharistic adoration, gazing at Jesus. If I can see Jesus in a little piece of bread, in the Sacred Host, how can I not see Jesus in the face of those who are suffering?” It’s true. We see Jesus right here in the monstrance. When we leave here, we must see Him in our neighbors, especially in those who are poor.
Let us remember the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta as we pray for peace in our communities: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” And let us remember the heroic example of Saint Peter Claver. May these two great saints intercede for us and our communities!