I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time now. Today’s feast day of St. Peter Claver reminded me to go ahead and do it. St. Peter Claver ministered to Africans brought to the New World in chains, at the port city of Cartagena, Columbia. He saw the humanity of those who were regarded as not having it––those who were treated as trash, brought on slave ships, penned up like animals with hardly any breathing room, covered in feces and vomit, beaten, raped, fighting to survive in the most hellish conditions.
St. Peter Claver is relevant to our day and age in which certain lives are more valued than others (though not to the same degree of the time in which he lived). He’s someone who would have understood the slogan “black lives matter.”
Now, I should say up front that the reason for my writing this is not based in any kind of political ideology or agenda. I simply want to share some reasonable thoughts on the importance of being consistent about the unchangeable truth of the dignity of the human person.
As I’ve stated several times before on Facebook and in other forums as well as in real life conversations, I understand what is meant by “black lives matter,” and why saying “all lives matter,” as a knee-jerk response is disingenuous and dismissive. We can’t pretend that there isn’t a problem, a problem of dehumanizing and devaluing people, a problem of racism and injustice. Let me explain. When I hear or see that “black lives matter,” my brain adds the word “too.” See, the reason why I think that it’s wrong for someone to say that “all lives matter,” as a comeback to someone who says that “black life’s matter,” is precisely because some people act as if all lives actually don’t matter. What good is it to say that “all lives matter” if you act as if this were not true. And this is why the necessity of the slogan arises. With all the cases we hear of police shootings of unarmed black men and the other instances of systematic racism, we need to be reminded that “black lives matter.”
Objectively speaking, of course, all lives matter. Every single life matters. But subjectively… do we act like that’s true? I’ve seen Facebook pages with the words “all lives matter.” I’ve also seen nasty comments from the same people, dehumanizing the politicians that they disagree with, dehumanizing undocumented immigrants, insinuating that they are no better than animals, and in some cases, even deserving of death. (To be fair, I’ve seen “the left” and “the right” dehumanize politicians.) Disagree with people, by all means! But try not to lose the sight of their humanity! Or risk losing the credibility of positive statements like “all lives matter.”
Pope Francis often says that were living in a “throwaway culture,” where certain lives are treated as useless, disposable, and without value. We should care for everyone, from the moment of conception to natural death. Because I believe and understand that abortion is the taking of innocent human life, I believe and understand that human beings outside the womb are sacred, and vice versa. What good is it to say that the black baby in the womb is sacred when a former black baby , is a “thug” who “gets what’s coming to him” when the cops roll up. Or, to put it another way: before a baby with a chronic disability was born, they said that she deserved to live. Thankfully, her mother chose life. Many years later, that girl, that woman, encounters somebody who considers themselves to be pro-life. She looks for some kind of acknowledgment and is completely and utterly dissed by that individual. That individual is being inconsistent. That individual is being a pawn of the throwaway culture.
So, life matters. Let’s show the world that this is true indeed. Just paying lip service with a hash tag on Twitter is not enough. St. Peter Claver lived as if life mattered. He’s known to have said that “[w]e must speak to them with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.”
St. Peter Claver, pray for us.
(If you would like to read more about the Saint who referred to himself as the Slave of the Slaves, here’s a quick biography worth reading: http://www.kofpc.org/st_peter_claver.php)