Peter Claver vs. Immanuel Kant

One of the greatest heroes of the social justice wing of the church is, quite rightly, the 17th-century “slave of the slaves,” St. Peter Claver. Born in Barcelona, Claver joined the Society of Jesus and was known, even as a young man, as a person of deep intelligence and piety. Spurred by what he took to be the direct prompting of the Holy Spirit, the young Spaniard volunteered to work among the poor in what was then known as “New Spain.” Arriving in Cartagena, he saw the unspeakable degradation of the captives brought in chains by ship from Africa, and he resolved to dedicate his life to serving them.

The seamless garment

St. John of the Cross teaches that within spirituality and morality there are no exempt areas. Simply put, you cannot be a saint or a highly moral person if you allow yourself a moral exemption or two. Thus, I may not allow myself to split off one moral flaw or sinful habit and see it as unimportant in light of my positive qualities and the overall good that I do. For John of the Cross, you cannot be a saint and have a moral blind spot, even if it’s a minor one. A bird tethered to a rock, he says, cannot fly whether the cord holding it is a cable or a string.

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