- News & Events
- Contact Us
He would spend his days in Cartagena, begging for food and clothing, watching and waiting for boats on a cold wharf. He’d work in filthy conditions that at times smelt like rotting bodies, for no pay, and almost always be sick himself. He was not owned, but Peter Claver thought himself a slave. What he would beg for, he would pass on. And where he’d work would be by choice - for he was, according to our Claver House hymn “the slave of slaves”.
Jesus in this gospel receives definite rejection for his works. In his lifetime, he wildly unsettled the religious foundations of what life for many in first century Palestine was based upon, by preaching confronting concepts which many, and justifiably so, could not comprehend.
Claver in his lifetime similarly rejected a challenging idea that plagued his environment, this being the use of human slavery. The only difference is, the concept of slavery in the 1600s went for the most part completely unchallenged, while Jesus’ claims received widespread opposition. It is because of this that Peter Claver can be considered completely, and utterly, ahead of his time. He knew that he could not abolish slavery as a lone visionary, yet devoted a lifetime to providing comfort and companionship to those enslaved. He in fact wrote in his personal diary, “I must dedicate myself to the service of God, on the understanding that I am like a slave.” I cannot speak for Claver, but I imagine if he was around nowadays he’d listen to the gospel of Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick writes in his personal diary named To Pimp A Butterfly, “I know if I’m generous at heart I don’t need recognition; the way I’m rewarded, well, that’s God’s decision.” I don’t know about you, but to me this just sounds like an extension of Claver House’s mantras “to serve not to be served” and “to give and not to count the cost”.
Service to others in an everyday sense, however, is of course limited to what our environments allow. A couple years ago, an Old Xaverian of at least 60 years spoke at an assembly and he opened his address with a timeless classic of stressing being a man for others. For many, this broad order never fails to fly over our heads, whether we heed this advice knowingly in our lives or not. Yet this man went on to provide his simple interpretation of the saying which has resonated with me ever since. He stated simply, that being a man for others, is being a friend to others.
This made me think about something my brother told me in passing when he was in Year 12. He said, “I can’t think of a guy in my year who I haven’t had a conversation with.” With a year level of 250, at that time, this took me by surprise. Yet, when considered, we spend roughly 180 days at school a year, times this by the 7 years you spend at school and you get a really big number of days. I don’t know how many exactly because I dropped Maths after Year 10, but the point is: how hard can this simple gesture of showing interest in someone else be?
Being genuinely interested in those around you every day is the best way to give your service to them. To take it back outside our everyday realm, this is what Peter Claver did on a much larger scale. He provided 300,000 slaves with his literal friendship and the metaphoric friendship of God, by baptising them. He gave them the idea that someone cared about them, which I imagine at times would have been a hard thought to grasp for those who for months on end lived in the bottom of ships amongst excrement and starved slaves.
Peter Claver’s remarkable inner solidarity is for me relatable at times to the solidarity within the wider Xavier Community. It is based around the value we place so highly on the authenticity of empathy. This is simply displayed by the ostensibly comical chant “we love you because you’re a Xaverian”, a love that is by no means conditional but, on the same level of Lily Potter’s love for Harry, that is used to console a failure on the sporting field. Or it is by those who share their stories at the packed voluntary Masses for the benefit of each other, often addressing subjects such as depression to create an understanding of what our peers may be facing away from the corridors of Xavier.
And when the now Old Xaverian Jack Lloyd was recovering from surgery on his head to remove a tumour during his final year at Xavier, the entire of Class of 2011 shaved their heads to match Jack’s look in support.
Yet even when there is no tangible act that can be done, the community is able to show solidarity. Just last week following the death of Henry Hall’s mother Vicky, a close mate of many in Year 12, again, the entire year level headed, without notice, to the chapel at lunchtime to pray quietly and hear prayers from some of his closest mates - and for the boys in blazers at the funeral, not a dry eye was in sight.
Therefore, it is in these times of hardship and rejection, as coherent with Jesus’ experience in the gospel, that our community does not cry for fellow Xaverians, but cries with them.
It was in essence, not just his works, but this incomprehensible ability to empathise for fellow human beings on such a profound level that made our house patron Peter Claver, so admirable, for he gave his life, to serve, and not be served.
2017 Claver House President