Tag Archives: St. Junipero Serra

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Just and True

Justice means we give others what is due them. Disagreement need not skew a reasonable evaluation of others; justice demands we strive for objectivity so we can honor what is honorable in our fellow humanity.

Justice has stumbled in the streets, as mobs morph from demanding fair treatment of African Americans to destroying honorable signposts of our history.

On this Feast Day of St. Junipero Serra—the Apostle of California—I just witnessed his statue being lassoed, toppled, and smashed by protesters in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Not only have the bullied become the bullies, they now seek to edit American history by destroying any symbol that disturbs them.

We must insist on justice. Irrational and ignorant vandalism have no place in a just culture. Justice demands we give our forefathers their due, whether we agree with their legacy or not.

The mob ruled Franciscan Serra a bigot for bringing Christianity to California in the mid-18th century. He trekked on foot from Mexico City to San Francisco and established missions along the way to serve the native peoples. (Many of the missions are still active churches where I have fasted and prayed for California.) Over 6000 persons were baptized into the Church through his efforts. Did he enslave native Americans of the West Coast, as the mob insists?

Absolutely not. Though no-one today would advocate for the two-pronged advance of evangelization and Spanish political conquest, Serra disdained the latter. Backbreaking travel and labor—supported by an ulcerated leg—were eclipsed by his biggest conflict, the interference by the Spanish military state on his efforts to convert and disciple native peoples.

Various biographies clarify: the sword that pierced Serra’s heart was military cruelty of his sheep. Like a good shepherd, he constantly fought Spanish officials for freedom from arbitrary and cruel acts upon his people. He succeeded at ensuring that the presidios, or military barracks, were stationed as far from the missions as possible.

To be sure, he labored in a flawed system that lanced him more deeply than any cross-cultural challenge. Pierced, he loved his people well, pouring out the heart of Jesus for California. Perhaps many oppose him because they at core oppose the Gospel. But one cannot dispute his heroic sacrifice, and how his self-giving laid the basis for California’s thriving, diverse Christian culture.

To deface him is to act as unjustly as the arbitrary violence imposed on native Californians by the Spanish military in Serra’s day.

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Highway to Holiness

‘Let us make good use of our time. Out steps must conform to God’s call on our lives; let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling and with burning love and zeal for the salvation of our neighbors.’ St. Junipero Serra

I write this from Mission San Gabriel, perhaps the most excellent of the Franciscan churches founded by Father Serra who introduced Christianity to California in the mid-eighteenth century. He endured unfathomable hardships to blaze a highway of holiness from San Diego to San Francisco: he did so by planting a series of outposts, like stations in a relay that could sustain evangelization and discipleship of the native peoples of California up and down the west coast.

Mission San Gabriel, not far from one of our most fruitful Living Waters groups at HROCK Church in Pasadena and closer still to our excellent regional leader Brian Barlow and family, was especially strategic for this ‘highway’. Its fruitfulness supplied many of the needs of the other 11 missions; its success consoled Serra during the last 25 years of his good hard life.

I find a small niche on the side of the original chapel of Mission San Gabriel, the oldest standing building in Southern California, and marveled that Mass has been held in this sanctuary every day since 1771. From my roost I can see grapevines and orange trees which the Spanish padres introduced to CA in the ground of this mission, thus laying the base for the state’s rich agricultural future.

I reflect on Serra’s life as I await a prayer gathering with our Living Waters leaders from Southern California. We shall pray for the defeat of AB2943, still pending in the state senate. We shall welcome Brian and Pastor Gwen from HROCK back from Sacramento where they have spent the day testifying of transformation before leaders who are unsure; these two are heroes, like many today who Jesus is summoning to declare His highway of holiness throughout California.

Of course we shall pray that the bill will die. Most importantly, we pray that the Church rise and shine in glorious unity—each faith community a station in a relay that restores dignity to the fractured.

Like Serra and his padres, our hope is sure and we shall not back down. Serra traveled 24000 miles over land and sea with an ulcerated foot in the last decades of his life to plant the cross in CA. We shall do the same. We like Him shall try to look more for Jesus’ interests than for our own (Phil. 2:21).

Serra’s greatest ‘cross’ was the state—government authority driven by greed and pride that continually thwarted his spiritual plans. He especially hated the mistreatment of his charges–the native peoples—by Spanish soldiers who abused them and so defiled God’s will for them. Native uprisings against Serra and the padres were provoked by military abuses, not religious ones. He grieved then; we grieve now for the abuse that AB2943 inflicts upon the most vulnerable.

Like Serra, we shall not lose sight of the prize, which is the saving of many lives. We fight for wounded lives to have a fighting chance to know the Healer, the One who unites us with the good of our gendered selves and guides us lovingly as we return to the Father in our disordered affections and choose to walk the highway to holiness, seeking through grace to unite our thoughts with God’s best for us.

Amid his multiple afflictions, Serra wrote: ‘All things are sweet to a lover.’ He was espoused to Jesus and like the leader of his order, St. Francis, he kept his eyes and heart fixed on Christ Crucified. I enter now into the old sanctuary and am most drawn to the beautiful image of Francis above the altar gazing with affection upon the small crucifix in his hands. All for love! We can do all things through love, drawing continually from its Source.

Nothing shall stop us. Jesus invites each one of us to become and to declare the way He makes for every willing soul to discover their place among the beloved. Serra died happy, surrounded by the saints. He poured out his life to forge a highway of holiness on which the first Californians—over 6000 persons—were baptized and confirmed as Christians. We follow him today in the Spirit of St. Francis, the Holy Spirit who makes all things sweet for those who walk in Christ.

‘And a highway will be there, it shall be called the Way of Holiness…’ (IS 35:8)

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California Andrew Comiskey

Five Things You Need to Know about California

‘And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.’ (IS 35:8)

Fact number one: I write this as we gather in Malibu Canyon for our first CA Living Waters Training in 11 years. We are wedged in-between two Santa Monica Mountains; Bruce Jenner’s home (won’t call him Cait) rises like a castle on a nearby hill. It would be facile to write off Los Angeles as the seat of gender-bending fantasy, no-fault divorce (every adult’s fault!), and Hollywood’s fallen stars reduced to porn. But God honors the faithful in the land; He answers our prayers by releasing His river of ‘Living Water’ upon 60 west coastal saints. Together, from San Diego to Seattle, we are being mobilized by a Force that is furious in love to reclaim His image in humanity.

Fact number two: God is reclaiming His highway of holiness in CA. Each of us represents a distinct faith community that is declaring ‘enough is enough.’ We are committed to gathering in order to declare throughout our churches that He integrates fractured souls through Almighty Mercy. We are the healed, we are the broken; we are His healers arising in His Church for such a time as this. Get ready for new and revived ‘wells of healing’ in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Central Coast, throughout Los Angeles, Pasadena, Long Beach, Inland Empire, Palm Springs, and San Diego.

We are taking up a baton that saints of old carried up the west coast. Second fact: our conference site this week is just a couple miles from El Camino Real, the Spanish ‘King’s Highway’ that Franciscan missionaries paved over the course of a hundred years beginning in the late 17th century. Led by St. Junipero Serra, these men planted the first CA churches in a series of missions that stretched from San Diego to Sonoma. Still functioning today, these outposts testify to faithful ones who braved unimaginable hardships (including clashes with greedy opportunists) to bring Jesus to the native peoples of CA. Truly, their witness along ‘El Camino’ does not honor the king of Spain, but the King of Kings who saw fit to employ them to pave His highway of holiness along the west coast.

Third fact: we at Living Waters move in the flow of the Spirit that was released mightily in 1906 when one-eyed, African American William Seymour began to hold a series of ‘Spirited’ meetings in downtown Los Angeles. Son of a slave, lit from within by holy fire, he dared to allow the Spirit to do what He had done in the Gospels and book of Acts: to heal, deliver and cleanse the people of God. Remarkable in its diversity, this ‘Azusa Street Revival’ united Christians of all stripes, dissolved racial and economic walls, and empowered women to arise in their full Holy Spirit anointing.

Fourth Fact: God used ‘Azusa Street’ as the source of the modern Pentecostal movement, whose early pioneers included Aimee Sample McPherson and the Four-Square Church movement in nearby Echo Park; that wave of the Spirit inspired Chuck Smith who in the sixties transformed disillusioned hippies into ‘Jesus-people.’ Out of Smith’s Orange County-based Cavalry Chapels emerged the Vineyard movement in the late seventies, the birthplace of Living Waters. Today the Spirit continues to fan lives into flame through Bethel in Redding CA, a youthful ‘station’ in the Spirited highway to holiness that runs up the west coast.

Fifth fact: Did you know that the two leaders of the Catholic Church in San Francisco and Los Angeles are godly men who fight for the true definition of marriage and for chastity for all persons, including those with SSA? Newly appointed Archbishops Salvatore Cordileone (SF) and Jose Gomez (LA) are pillars in God’s CA house. Pray for them! They bear unimaginable burdens for us.

God’s hands are not tied by the disintegration of His image in CA. He liberates His saints with passion for His truth. Each of us is a living stone along ‘El Camino Real.’ Pray that we at Living Waters would do our part ‘on the Way’ with passion and integrity. May many broken ones see and hear and return to trust in the Lord.

‘And the ransom of the Lord will return; they will enter Zion singing. Everlasting joy will crown their heads…and sorrow and sighing will flee away.’ (IS 35:10)

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Heading for Rome 1: Passion for a Chaste Bride

‘Always Go Forward, Never Turn Back’ (St. Junipero Serra)

This Wednesday I shall depart for Rome, site of the Roman Catholic Synod on the Family. On Friday Oct. 2nd, I have the privilege to speak (alongside others far more qualified than me) at a conference designed for synod leaders who shall deliberate on family matters, including homosexuality. The synod’s pastoral recommendations will not change church teaching but will influence its pastoral application for years to come.

Please pray for me! I am a seasoned minister but a new Catholic. During confession with my priest last week I admitted tearfully to intimidation (Catholics revere advanced education and in the west are deeply divided on the ‘gay’ issue). While in prayer, I saw an image of a child holding a small cross and joyfully declaring the gift, and virtue, of chastity. My priest then quoted the Gospel reading in which Jesus placed a child in the midst of the disciples and said: ‘Whoever receives one such child as this in My name receives Me’ (Mk 9: 37). Thank You Jesus; I go as I am, simple and on fire with the beauty of chastity.

Friends, may I enkindle that same fire in you? I am convinced that the goal of chastity is the best counsel we can embody and proclaim to all Christians. Though a Catholic term, it has dynamic meaning for all humanity, regardless of their sexual histories (LGBTQRSTUVW…). Simply put, chastity means sexual wholeness: ‘the successful integration of sexuality within the person’ which means human beings growing in the unity between who they are as spiritual beings and as persons with a gendered body and thus a direction for their sexuality (CCC2337).

Such ‘successful integration’ is a lifelong adventure with God and our fellow humanity. Cross-in-hand, let us discover together the beauty of what it means to be beloved sons and daughters of one Father, and good gifts as men and women for each other. Chastity necessitates self-control so that our offering is clean and clear for our fellows; progressively chaste witnesses have power to mirror to one another the awesome gifts we are without clouding the image with robbers like fear, porn, lust, and seduction.

I love chastity! My whole being is aligned with Jesus who made me and who is reclaiming the good gift of my masculine humanity. I cooperate whole-heartedly with His rhythms because I love the fruit of chastity, which is the freedom to love others generously, not confusedly.

As I proceed to Rome, I am cheered on by the saints, and in particular, the first saint canonized on American soil, St. Junipero Serra. (Pope Francis made this ‘Apostle of California’ a saint last Wednesday in Washington DC.) Growing up amid the California missions, I followed St. Junipero’s footsteps up the El Camino Real from San Diego to San Francisco, and marveled at this 5’ 2” missionary. He left Spain in the middle of the 18th century to Mexico City then travelled hundreds of miles by foot and donkey with an ulcerated leg to what is now California. There he lifted high the Cross in a series of still intact missions; with tender care and much suffering, he introduced Christianity to the first Californians.

His suffered as Spanish soldiers and other opportunists abused his beloved native peoples. I have done mush reading on this subject and am amazed at the herculean efforts St. Junipero exerted to protect the first Christians of California. He helped reclaim their dignity then fought to stave off the cancerous side effects of Spanish colonization.

I love him. I honor him. I am proud to be a California signed by the very Cross he planted on the soil of my birth. May I honor his witness as I go to Rome.

‘Our clear duty is to conform ourselves in all things to doing the will of God, and to prepare to die well. That is what counts; nothing else matters. If this is secured, it matters little if we lose the rest; without this, all else is useless.’

St. Junipero Serra

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