Archive | September, 2015

Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015

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An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

William Wordsworth in his poem “The Virgin” called Mary, the Mother of God “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” By the grace of God the Blessed Virgin Mary was our wounded humanity’s lone exception to St. Paul’s statement that, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Regardless, God’s mercy endures for all of us sinners who strive daily to preach the Gospel with our lives.

God’s great and tender mercy is the message of the Gospel Pope Francis is emphasizing as the bridge between truth and love. Like a marriage, the Christian life is not one of perfection this side of heaven, but in being open and honest to living the truth – as God has revealed and as the Church has taught – in love, with the mercy of God that consummates or unites the two as one.

This is precisely why Pope Francis chose to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary whom he declared to be a holy man and great evangelizer of the American West within, at times, an unjust system of Colonialism. After all, our baptismal call to Christian holiness or becoming a saint has never been about perfection or impeccability, but instead striving each day, however imperfectly, to grow in Christian virtue by choosing God’s will over our own in loving God and our neighbor as our self.

When meeting with the Native Peoples in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to California in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged that there were serious negative and unintended effects of Colonialism: abuse by Spanish soldiers against Native women, diseases Europeans brought over which many Natives had little immunity toward and died, and forms of evangelization which were much more aggressive than the Church would consider proper today. But, not Father Serra, whose great good John Paul II said was in bringing the Gospel message to the Peoples of the Americas.

For example, in seeking to protect his Native converts, Father Junipero Serra (at age 60) took two years to travel from Carmel-Monterey, California, to Mexico City and back, to obtain from Viceroy Bucareli the first “bill of rights” for the Native Peoples – a 32 point representation.

Thus, on September 23, 2015, outside the eastern lawn as the afternoon sun was beginning to descend toward the western sky high above the grand dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the United States), God’s mercy was displayed in our Nation’s capital amidst the great excitement of Pope Francis’ first visit to our beloved country when the Vicar of Christ celebrated the first-ever Mass of Canonization on U.S. soil, by officially declaring once and for all that Fr. Junipero Serra, OFM, STD – “Apostle of California” – was a saint.

No matter what happens in the future: whether a majority of California’s political environment succeeds in removing Father Serra’s statue from the “Hall of Nations” in Washington, D.C., or whether so-called academics rewrite California history to their own bias, nothing can change the fact that Father Serra has been declared a saint – something that Serra Clubs around the world and many Catholics, including Native American Catholics, already knew.

In fact, it was a Native American Catholic from California (Andy Galvin), a descendant of the Ohlone Tribe (to whom Father Serra ministered) and current curator of Mission San Francisco (Mission Dolores), who — proudly wearing his native eagle feather shawl —joyfully processed up to Pope Francis carrying the ornate Caravaca cross reliquary containing a first-class relic (piece of bone) of our Church’s newest saint – Junipero Serra – during the canonization ritual of the Mass.

In canonizing Father Serra on his pilgrimage to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis made clear that even though the Church as Christ’s Body is made up of sinners, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In doing so, his Holiness affirms that Catholics can truly look to St. Junipero Serra in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) as a humble servant and witness for the New Evangelization teaching us to “always go forward and never turn back!”

St. Junipero Serra – Pray for us!

Father Allan Paul Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove. This essay originally appeared in the parish’s bulletin.

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Archery season finally underway

September 28, 2015

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I finally got out into the woods with my bow over the weekend. With my wife on retreat and my two kids living at home having plans for the evening, I went to one of my hunting properties in Wisconsin to sit in a stand.

I am excited about this stand, which is set up along a trail that runs parallel to a ridge along the St. Croix River. Early season is always a crapshoot, but I fully expect this spot to be good once the rut kicks into high gear and the deer start moving more during the day.

It was a gorgeous evening, and I was all smiles as I climbed into a stand for the first time this season. I settled in and leaned back against the tree where my ladder stand was positioned. There was lots of squirrel activity, and a couple of them chattered at me for a while. They will often do that when they spot a hunter in a tree. I find it annoying, but they usually quit making a racket after a while.

With about an hour of shooting light left, I heard some noise below me about 25-30 yards away. I looked down and saw a deer walking through. It was out of range, and I could only see part of it. But, I did make out the legs. It walked and stopped a couple of times, then continued on. I pulled out my grunt call and gave a few grunts in case the deer was a buck.

Whatever it was, I was not able to steer the deer my way. That ended up being the only one I saw. I’m not disappointed at all. I enjoyed a beautiful evening, and at least saw a deer. Last year, I didn’t see a deer from my stands until Nov. 1.

I can’t wait for the rut to get going. In about a month, things should start cranking up. I hope to spend plenty of time in my stands. The good news is, when the timing is right, sometimes the sits are short, meaning a deer comes by early and I get a shot off. Two of the three deer I have taken with a bow have come before 7 a.m. The third came at 11 a.m.

When it comes to deer hunting, timing is everything. That’s why I plan to be in the woods as much as I can in early November.

 

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Saints Cosmas and Damian, martyrs

September 26, 2015

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CosmasDamienMore Legend than History.  There is very little accurate historical information about Sts. Cosmas and Damian, but their legend has been popular and revered over the centuries.  As the story goes, Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, born in Arabia sometime in the early to mid-Third Century.

Medical Doctors.  Cosmas and Damian were both devout Christians.  They moved to Syria where they studied medicine.  They settled in Aegeae, Cilicia, in Syria, where they developed outstanding reputations as highly skilled and effective physicians.  They considered their work an extension of the healing ministry of Jesus, the Divine Physician, and an act of Christian charity for their patients.  They were devoted to their patients and treated them with exceptional kindness and compassion.  Not only did they use their medical knowledge and techniques for their benefit, they also prayed for them.  Many were cured of their afflictions due to both their treatments and their prayers.  They also were a source of spiritual comfort and peace.  Some of their healings were so remarkable that they were considered miracles.  They gave of themselves generously and selflessly, charged no fees for their services, and consequently in the Eastern Church they became known as the anargyroi, Greek for the “moneyless ones.”

Arrest and Martyrdom.  Both Cosmas and Damian were open and vocal about their belief in Jesus, and as a result they were arrested during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution against Christians. They were forcibly taken before Lysias, the governor of Cilicia, who had them tortured first.  They survived attempts to drown, burn, and stone them, and they were finally beheaded.  They were put to death along with their three brothers:  Anthimus, Euprepius, and Leonitis.  The date of their martyrdom is disputed, variously reported to have been in 287, 300, or 303 AD.  Their remains were entombed in nearby Cyrrhus, Syria.

Expanding Devotion.  Cosmas and Damian were held in such high regard that a basilica was built in their honor over their tombs in Cyrrhus.  As the story of their heroic faith continued to spread, other major churches were built in their name.  A major church was erected in Constantinople during the Fifth Century.  A pagan temple in the Roman Forum was converted to the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian during the Sixth Century and, at the direction of Pope Felix IV (526-530), their relics were transferred from Syria to the basilica in Rome.  Devotion to Cosmas and Damian continued to extend widely, particularly to Greece and Russia, and throughout Eastern Europe.  Their names are mentioned in the first martyrology in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Intercessory Roles.  St. Luke is the best known patron saint of physicians, and he is joined by Sts. Comas and Damian, as well as St. Pantaleon.  Sts. Cosmas and Damian are also the patron saints of surgeons, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, barbers, and the blind.

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Transition day: Bridging the World Meeting and papal visit

September 25, 2015

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Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

The World Meeting of Families has wrapped up Part I: the congress, a series of keynote addresses and breakout sessions in multiple languages, daily Masses with extraordinary processions of miters, and 20,000 people trying to navigate a convention center. It has been well-managed chaos, making it seem like that huge number of participants can’t actually be real. It’s the most people the World Meeting has attracted since its founding by St. John Paul II in 1994.

Part II begins tomorrow, when Pope Francis arrives for the World Meeting of Families. Anticipation is thick. This morning, security set up a perimeter around the area Pope Francis will be tomorrow, and getting in and out appears daunting, although right now it’s easy. (Although one Philadelphian just called it “a police state.”) I have no idea what to expect tomorrow when our group arrives. We’re scheduled to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa tomorrow for Mass tomorrow, but it sounds like other groups in the Minnesota contingent are changing plans to get to downtown Philadelphia earlier.

Nobody’s really certain what to expect. My husband asked if I’m going to try to take a selfie with Pope Francis. I’ll just be happy if I glimpse him with my own eyes.

For me, there’s a definite perceived disconnect between the Holy Father’s visit and the World Meeting of Families, even though I’m completely aware that the World Meeting is why he’s here. He’s made that clear, too, through his emphasis to Congress on the importance of the family and his concerns about young adults’ fear to form their own families, as well as his overtures to children throughout the trip so far.

Sister Candace Fier, a Schoenstatt sister and the director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of New Ulm, said that disconnect isn’t supposed to exist.

“I would hope that people would see it as one,” she said. “I’ve talked to people who have attended other World Meeting of Families, and I’ve gotten the impression that the United States is really the only one that has separated the papal visit from the World Meeting of Families. We’ve kind of made them two separate events. I think the Holy Father was coming for of the World Meeting of Families, he was coming to address our families. He was coming to make this a worldwide encounter with the father of the Church, and in that sense I hope that people don’t see it as two separate things, because we take away from the beauty and the depth of what this experience is meant to be.

“He came to see our families together,” she continued. “He came to give a message to our families here — not individuals here or there. It’s not another speaking engagement, another thing that was put on the agenda for his visit to the United States. He came to give a message to this group as the Holy Father has done every three years since John Paul started it. I hope we don’t lose sight of that, because I think we need to listen carefully. The message is specific to us as families, as Church.”

At the core, that’s why Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

“It’s the World Meeting of Families — not the World Meeting about Families,” Michael said. “We just thought it was important to bring them, plus the sense of getting the larger Church, the global Church for them. They’re not going to remember a whole lot about what people say, but they will hopefully have some memory of a bunch of people.”

People’s reaction? “The weirdest thing is that a bunch of people will take pictures of us with our kids, like, ‘Look — a real, live family!’,” he said. “Other than that, it’s been fine, everyone’s happy to see kids.”

Kristen has a backpack of crayons, coloring books, toys and prizes for good behavior.

“It keeps them entertained for at least 10 minutes,” she joked.

I’ve maybe been among those weird, oggly pilgrims Michael mentioned. I really miss my husband and toddler, and seeing families together makes me think of them.

There have been many families at the World Meeting; it includes a youth conference for school-age kids, and plenty of mothers have been nursing their infants. This morning during Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s address, I walked past a few siblings playing on the convention center floor with Legos. Smart mom, I thought.

But the challenge put forth during the World Meeting for so many moms and dads is far beyond keeping kids quiet in Church or a bishop’s presentation. It’s making the home a domestic church.

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On pilgrimage, pizza and walking 108 miles

September 24, 2015

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Pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. CNS

Pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. CNS

I have to admit, when I think “pilgrimage,” I think of throngs making their way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their knees. I think of the steady flow of men and women into Santiago de Compostela, Spain, after weeks or months of hiking. I think of the seven-church walk in Rome and the inevitable blisters.

Frankly, I think of pain, suffering, sacrifice, hunger and thirst. I don’t think of a king-sized bed at the Holiday Inn Express, which is where I’m sitting after enjoying an all-you-can-eat pizza dinner.

Yes, I am on pilgrimage, but it’s one where the hardships have been subtle, less self-inflicted, and, for me, more about squashing impatience, annoyance, self-centeredness or sarcasm, in favor of a spirit of solidarity with those around me, whether they be fellow Minnesotans or from a continent on the other side of the globe.

They, too, arrived by plane. For others, it was train, bus or car, and it is no less a pilgrimage. But there is at least one group that is reclaiming a core aspect of the medieval pilgrimage on their journey to see the Holy Father — a long, hard walk.

On Sunday, a group of 22 left the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Baltimore, better known as America’s first cathedral. Wearing neon yellow shirts, they started walking north to Philadelphia. It’s a trek of 108 miles. At night, they rely on parishes and schools for shelter and showers, but it’s safe to surmise that when they arrive Sunday in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, they’re going to be sweaty and tired.

The leader is Father Jack Lombardi, a soft-spoken pastor from the narrowest stretch of Maryland’s panhandle. A frequent pilgrimage leader to Europe’s sacred sites, he decided to take up a U.S. cause in 2012 and gathered dozens of pilgrims to walk 100 miles from his parish in Hancock to Baltimore in support of religious freedom. The U.S. bishops, with Baltimore Archbishop William Lori at the helm, had taken up the fight against the federal health care mandate for all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients. The walk was Father Lombardi’s show of support and a fundraiser for local charities.

The following year, Father Lombardi led another pilgrimage, this time from Baltimore to Washington. In 2014, he brought a group to France, where they walked with shirts reading “We’re walking for YOU!” in English and French.

When Pope Francis announced he would be in Philadelphia, so close to Baltimore, there was no way Father Lombardi was going to turn down the chance to get to him on foot.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Father Lombardi several times as a staff writer for The Catholic Review, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a position I left last year to return in January to The Catholic Spirit. One of my earliest assignments was in Hancock, where Father Lombardi, a respected retreat master, told me about his love of pilgrimage. Last summer, I sat on the porch of his parish house listening to pilgrims describe adventures in several of France’s holy sites.

This year, Catholic Review editor Paul McMullen will have his own tales, as he’s part of the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. He posted on Facebook yesterday that they had crossed into Pennsylvania and shared a story of the group comforting a woman who was shaken up after the group happened upon her car accident.

Calling their walk “A pilgrimage of Love and Mercy,” paired with a charitable “Feet for Francis” shoe drive, the pilgrims are keeping the intention of religious freedom in prayer as they make their way north. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to be part of their welcoming committee when they break into the crowd before Pope Francis’ Mass Sunday on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It’s a serious undertaking, this 100-mile walk, but it’s a reminder that pilgrimage is not a relic of the past. I was reminded of that last year, when a friend invited me on a pilgrimage to the Baltimore Basilica. At first, I thought it was odd. It was less than a mile from where I lived; I walked there regularly. But we did it, praying a rosary on the way there, asking for Mary’s intercession in the undercroft, and adding another rosary on the way back. It was so simple. And while we walked, it became clear that the pilgrimage was about disposition, not destination.

So, here am I, a pilgrim, who will sleep well tonight in a comfortable bed. And there’s Paul, who is likely on some mat on a parish hall floor. Hopefully for both of us there will be other pilgrimages, and among them, those that are physically demanding, and those that are emotionally demanding. Both can be spiritually demanding, and both can compel conversion.

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Pope’s concern is much deeper than most environmentalists’

September 24, 2015

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

People assume President Obama and Pope Francis share similar concern over environmental issues, but I think an important difference motivates these two world leaders.

The president advocates for tougher green laws because he wants a cleaner world. Like most environmentalists, he wants cleaner water, cleaner air and cleaner soil to drink, breathe and cultivate. Pope Francis wants those things too, but he really wants much more. He wants us to grow closer to God.

While Pope Francis is worried about the environment, he is much more worried about our souls. The Pope isn’t worried about climate change because of what it will do to our land and oceans, but because of what it says about our relationship with God.

Pope Francis explains in Laudato Si’ that all things are connected. He explains there is a relationship between humans and nature; if we don’t know how to treat each other, then we won’t know how to treat nature.

The fix to our current deplorable situation, Pope Francis writes, isn’t so much the adoption of renewable fuels as it is about placing God at the center of our being. Although you would never know it from reading the media accounts, the majority of Laudato Si’ is advice for getting our relationship right with God.

When the pope laments the polluted environment, it is because he recognizes it as a symptom of a culture that has seriously damaged its relationship with God. And while the symptom is alarming enough, the Pope’s real concern isn’t the symptom; it’s the cause.

If we can restore that relationship, we will find the environmental issues less pressing. If we can get ourselves right with God, it will follow that our relationships with each other, and with nature, will improve.

Thomas Bengtson is a local small business owner and writer. You can contact Bengtson by visiting his website.

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Solving the mystery of pilgrim swag: What’s in the clear WMF backpacks?

September 22, 2015

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Pilgrim swag from the WMOF. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Swag from the WMOF Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

When we walked into the Pennsylvania Convention Center lobby this afternoon to sign in for the World Meeting of Families, cheerful volunteers handed us a T-shirt and a clear plastic backpack. Nevermind that we were already equipped with backpacks; now we had two. As I watched thousands of pilgrims sport this new accessory around the convention center — and to opening events including an address by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and Mass with Archbishop Charles Chaput — I grew more and more curious about exactly what was in these bags of mystery. Yes, we could see in them, but their contents were like a kaleidoscope, always changing, never quite in focus.

In the safety of my hotel room, I dumped the bag. The following are its contents:

  1. A navy blue cap with the World Meeting of Families logo. This might come in handy Saturday during the Festival of Families. Two days ago, weather.com forecasted perfect weather for this weekend and the outdoor events on Benjamin Franklin Parkway with Pope Francis. Tonight, the 10 p.m. news meteorologist painted a much darker picture — one that involves rain and wind.
  2. WMOF official T-shirt. I like it because I love green. Thank you, WMOF, for making these shirts green. Maybe chalk that one up to the intercession of WMOF co-patrons St. Gianna Molla and St. John Paul II?
  3. A WMOF official pin. Kind of like the Hard Rock Cafe, but it’s actually the World Meeting of Families.
  4. The Gospel of St. Luke. I’m not clear why a lone Gospel is in the pack, or why one of the evangelists was favored over the other. My guess: St. Luke’s Gospel may be the most family-centric, based on its inclusion of the Visitation and the longer Nativity narrative. That narrative contains this gem about the Blessed Mother’s reaction to people meeting her son: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
  5. Holy Cards. Not one for Blessed Junipero Serra, who will be canonized tomorrow. That was definitely a miss. However, one of them is actually a magnet, so it evens out.
  6. WMOF official pen. Which is good, because I lose pens. Double points if it works, because it’s hard to trust a free pen these days.
  7. Publications. OSV Newsweekly and Family Foundations among them! Both insightful reads, but I’m biased.
  8. Water bottle. I brought my own, but this one is also green! #LaudatoSi’
  9. Official schedules. Critical, because there’s a ridiculous amount of stuff going on. And that’s just the kids’ congress.
  10. Pope Francis Fan. This idea was clearly pilfered from the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity.
  11. Pope Francis poncho. Again, helpful in the event that the weather decides to test our pilgrim dispositions, but now I’m feeling guilty for packing the only umbrella in the house.

Not included: ALL THE PAPER. Namely, flyers for every Catholic organization under the sun, including a clothing company hawking “popeful” shirts — you know, “hopeful,” but with added pope for pop. Now, to plan which talks to attend tomorrow, and assess whether or not I’ll need the poncho…

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Reasons that I’m a big fan of Saint Junipero Serra

September 18, 2015

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Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Initial Acquaintance.  My first encounter with then-Blessed Junipero Serra was when I was a Crosier religious brother on a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, in the 1980’s.  I have a special devotion to the Cross, and I had an aunt, now deceased, Sister Mary Eve Goering, O.S.F., who was a Franciscan Sister of Little Falls, so the Franciscans have a dear place in my heart.  There, above the entrance to the La Casa Retreat House in Mesa was a statue of Father Serra holding a Latin Cross and dressed in a Franciscan habit.  I liked him right away!

Similar Journeys.  As I learned more about St. Junipero Serra’s life story, I discovered that we have some things in common.  Father Serra had strong Catholic parents; so do I.  He often attended daily Mass, was an altar server, and attended a Catholic school; and so did I.  I started discerning a vocation to religious life at twelve or thirteen; he started at fifteen.  Father Serra entered the Franciscans at seventeen; I entered the Crosiers at twenty.  He was a college professor for eight years; I was a high school teacher for sixteen years.

The Major Similarity.  Father Serra was restless, and so was I.  He was a brilliant college philosophy and theology professor; I was a successful high school science teacher and athletic coach.  Yet, we were both agitated, unsettled.  God was shaking us.  God was pleased with what we were doing, but God wanted us to shift to a different ministry.  When Father Serra was thirty-six, he asked his Franciscan superiors if he could become a missionary to Mexico, and when I was thirty-seven, I asked my Crosier superiors if I could shift from brotherhood to priesthood.

Missionary Par Excellence.  This past July, 2015, I was blessed with an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to southern California to visit the Franciscan missions, nine which were founded by Father Serra.  Over the course of four days, we went from San Diego to San Francisco visiting several missions each day.  We drove along the rocky coast, over rugged mountains, across deep ravines, through forests, and across several desert regions.  I was delighted to be riding in a van.  The engine strained.  Heat fluctuations were extreme, AC in the desert, heat at elevation.  Father Serra walked it all, and he covered thousands of miles by foot.   The difficulty of the route reminded me of my two pilgrimages to Greece.  St. Paul set the standard for walking miles and miles to proclaim the gospel.  St. Paul preached with courage and conviction to those who held other beliefs, and his message was so compelling that he made many converts and founded one Christian community after another.  Father Serra is an eighteenth-century version of St. Paul.  He was on fire for Christ, and nothing, not his short stature, injured leg, bouts with illness, the taxing journeys, or the sometimes disappointing results, could hold him down.  Father Serra was driven, a man on a mission to bring Jesus to as many people and places as possible.  Like St. Paul, Father Serra made many converts and founded one Christian community after another.

The Saints.  The artwork in the mission churches reveals that Father Serra had a great devotion to the saints, and so do I.  Father Serra held the Blessed Virgin Mary in high esteem, and she is often depicted as the Queen of Heaven, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and our Lady of Sorrows.  St. Joseph is often shown holding the child Jesus in his arms.  In addition, St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of Father Serra’s religious order, is on display in almost every mission church, oftentimes holding a crucifix or with the stigmata in his hands.  Two other Franciscan saints also receive major attention, St. Anthony of Padua, my middle name and second patron saint, and St. Bonaventure.

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Saint Junipero Serra, O.F.M., Priest and Missionary

September 18, 2015

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Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Blessed Junipero Serra is written in this icon by local iconographer Kati Ritchie of St. Bonaventure in Bloomington in celebration of the 18th-century Spanish priest’s Sept. 23 canonization. See related story at right. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

One of the highlights of Pope Francis’ trip to the United States will be the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, O.F.M., as a saint, this coming Wednesday, September 23.  Father Serra (1713-1784) was declared venerable, the first step toward sainthood, by Pope John Paul II in 1985, and he was beatified, the second step toward sainthood, also by Pope John Paul II, on September 25, 1988.  His canonization is the third and final step to official recognition as a saint.

Father Junipero Serra has long been regarded as the apostle and founder of California, but this well-known and highly-respected portion of his ministry was the third major chapter of his life.  Two other very important chapters preceded it.

Saint Junipero Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra on November 24, 1713, on the Spanish Island of Mallorca off of the coast of mainland Spain.  His parents, Antonio Serra and Margarita Ferrer, were both devout Catholics who raised their son in the faith.  During his childhood he went to a nearby Franciscan friary where he went to daily Mass, was an altar server, sang in the monastery choir, and attended school.  By the time he was fifteen, Miguel felt called to a religious vocation, and he entered the Franciscan novitiate.  He made formal application to the community at sixteen, but was denied because he was too young, too frail, and too short of stature at only five feet, two inches.  Extremely insistent, he was admitted a year later and made his first profession of vows on September 15, 1731.  He took Junipero, the name of one of St. Francis of Assisi’s closest friends, a jovial friar known as the “Jester of the Lord,” as his name for religious life.

Serra studied philosophy from 1731 to 1734 and theology from 1734 to 1737, and was ordained to the priesthood in November, 1737.  He was brilliant academically, and spent the next twelve years as a philosophy and theology professor, first at the Convento San Francisco, and then at the Lullian University in Palma where he held the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy.  This abruptly changed in 1749 when he asked for permission to be a missionary to New Spain, Mexico.

Serra arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico, on December 7, 1749, for the second major chapter of his life in Mexico from 1750 to 1767.  The first eight years were spent in Sierra Gorda in the north central region of the country where he preached the gospel to the Pames people and built five new mission churches.  In 1758 he was recalled to Mexico City where he served at San Fernando College and as an itinerant preacher throughout southern Mexico.

Then another abrupt change took place.  On June 23, 1767, the Spanish government issued a decree that expelled the Jesuits from all of the missions in Mexico.  The Franciscans were asked to replace them and Father Serra was appointed their leader.  He moved briefly to Baja California, but shortly thereafter was offered the opportunity to go to Alta California, the northern portion, which today is the southwestern part of the State of California.  Wishing to be a missionary in a place where the gospel had never been preached, Father Serra jumped at the chance, and he, accompanied by a band of fellow Franciscans, arrived in San Diego on July 1, 1767.

The third and last chapter of his life was in California from 1767 until 1784.  During this time he traveled thousands of miles by foot, preached far and wide, made converts, baptized new believers, and founded nine missions. He objected to the Spanish military’s harsh treatment of the native peoples, and in 1774 he went to Mexico City to advocate on their behalf, and obtained a Bill of Rights for them.  His personal motto was, “Always go forward, never turn back.”  He died of tuberculosis on August 28, 1784, and he is buried at the church of San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel, California, at the second mission that he founded.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

September 17, 2015

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Our Lady of SorrowsVarious Spiritual Titles. Our Lady of Sorrows is known by a number of different names. In Latin, she is called the Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Mother. Mary endured The Seven Dolors or the Seven Sorrows.

A Two Day Celebration. A memorial that honors Mary is combined with a feast that honors Jesus. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is on September 14 and Our Lady of Sorrows is on September 15. Similarly, earlier in the year, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is paired with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Like Son, Like Mother. Both the hearts of Jesus and Mary were pierced. The heart of Jesus was pierced when a soldier thrust his lance into the side of Jesus (Jn 19:34a), and when Mary presented her infant son Jesus in the Temple, Simeon told her, “You yourself a sword shall pierce” (Lk 2:35).

Mary’s Sorrow.   Mary shows in a heartrending way how when the person you love suffers, you suffer along with them. A mother suffers when her child suffers. As Jesus hung on the Cross in agony, Mary stood at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25) agonizing along with him. Mary suffered her own passion as she participated in her son Jesus’ Passion.

One of Seven. Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross was not her first or her last. Traditionally there are seven sorrows of Mary, three during the early years of Jesus’ life and four on Good Friday. The first sorrow was Simeon’s prophecy, the troubling announcement that her heart would by pierced by a sword. The second sorrow was the flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15), the terrible anguish Mary endured knowing that the king wanted to kill her child, the hardship of the grueling trip across the desert, and the sadness of living in Egypt as a refugee apart from family and friends for a number of years. The third sorrow was the overwhelming fear that she experienced when her son Jesus was lost for three days in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52).

The Four Sorrows of Good Friday. The fourth sorrow was the tragic moment when Mary met Jesus along a street in Jerusalem as he carried his Cross. The fifth sorrow was the torment she endured as she stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her son writhe in pain and then die such an ignominious death. The sixth sorrow was when Jesus was taken down from the Cross and laid in her arms. And finally, the seventh sorrow was for Mary to watch, weeping, as her son was laid in the tomb.

Special Mass Texts. In addition to the Scripture readings that are recommended for the Mass, either Heb 5:7-9 or Col 1:24-25 for the first reading, and either Jn 19:25-27 or Lk 2:33-35 for the gospel, the Lectionary also offers an optional Sequence, a prose reflection on Mary’s sorrows, and the Stabat Mater, a poetic reflection with the verses that are commonly sung with the Stations of the Cross.

Our Lady of Sorrows in Art. The most famous representation of the Sorrowful Mother is the Pieta by Michelangelo which is on display at St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica in Rome. The primary symbol for Our Lady of Sorrows is a red heart pierced on top by a single sword. Mary is often portrayed with her head slumping, supported by her hand, her eyes downcast, and her face streaming with tears. She also is often shown with a single sword thrust into her chest or with her heart visible above her chest and pierced by seven swords.

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