A New Look at the Life of St. Peter Claver: “The elderly who dream and the young who prophesy”

Diego Fares SJ

 Diego Fares SJ / Church Life / 15 February 2018

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When he met with Jesuits during his recent journeys to Colombia and then Myanmar and Bangladesh,[1] Pope Francis referred to St. Peter Claver in a way that invites a new reading of the life of this saint.[2] The expression used by the pope was charism, but he did not so much speak of the charism of Claver, but rather the pope presented the very person of Claver as a charism. Claver made himself the “slave of the slaves,” becoming for them a real Paraclete – a counselor, advocate, intercessor.[3] By his very life he prophetically denounced the social blindness of an era that had introduced the slavery of black people.

The pope stated: “There is a basic charism for the Colombian Jesuit: a person whose name is Peter Claver. I believe that God has spoken to us through this man.” Then, using images, he described what strikes him most about Claver: “This impresses me. He was just a weak boy, a young Jesuit in formation, yet he spoke so much to the old porter. And the old man nourished his aspirations. How good it would be if the elderly in our Society were to step forward and the youth follow them: this would fulfill the words of Joel: ‘the elderly will dream and the young will prophesy’ (3:1). And so there is a need to prophesy, and to speak with the elderly.”[4]

There is an emblematic episode in the lives of these two saints. Claver was going for a walk with his brother Miguel Serra. The porter, Alphonsus, was always at his post. “One day, Alphonsus saw these two young men going out and, enlightened once more, shared this quite mysterious phrase while indicating firstly the chest of Peter, ‘Here the Father,’ and then his companion, ‘Here the Son,’ and then putting his hands between the two: ‘Here the Holy Spirit.’ He hardly pronounced the final word and it remained suspended in the air, without any meaning. In showing the Holy Spirit, it seems as if the entire impetus of his love came over the three … This episode had great repercussions for the life of Claver. In fact, the priest himself recounted the story to many of his friends, and it was referred to in the process.”[5] In this story we find the origin of what the pope calls “the Claver charism”: the unique and continuous action of the Spirit, transmitted from one generation to another.

The bridge between the old who dream and the young who prophesy

In his writings St. Alphonsus tells how in a dream “his guardian angel showed him countless thrones on which the blessed were sitting and in the middle there was a space that was more resplendent than all. He wished to know the mystery and was told: ‘This is the place prepared for your disciple Peter Claver as a reward for his many virtues and the countless souls that he will convert in the Indies with his sweat and hard work.’”[6] Here then is the dream of the old man brought to fruition by the young man.

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