♥’ing the Saint of the California Bays

Junipero Serra Mass Monterey harbor

Two hundred forty-six years ago tomorrow, Junipero Serra, aged 55, landed in San Diego bay. The building of the California Missions began. Fr. Serra presided over the construction of beautiful open monasteries all along the coast. The places we know as San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Jose, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, and, of course, San Diego, all got their names from the patron saints of these missions.

In California some enemies of the Church refuse to celebrate Father Serra as a Founding Father or even to remember him as a great and generous man. To the contrary, they accuse him of colonialism and genocide.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit the mission chain with a couple brother priests. The surviving missions offer the pilgrim a great deal of prayerful peace. Not that that proves anything in a historical argument, in and of itself. But it does make you wonder if the criticisms really make sense.

One important fact to keep in mind: the native tribes of California survived through the Spanish-mission period. When Mexico gained independence from Spain in the 1820’s, the government proceeded to confiscate the missions. Then, of course, Mexico lost her war with the United States. It was the Gold Rush of 1849 that doomed the indigenous natives of California. Genuine cruelty arrived in California not in 1769, but in 1849.

I think we should take special pride and rejoice on July 1 for these reasons…

Juniper Serra tomb1) Fr. Serra did everything as a son of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of the northern parish of our beloved cluster.

2) This Franciscan qualifies as a genuine Founding Father of the USA.

No, he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. At that time, praying, baptizing, confirming, and teaching people the Gospel occupied all of his attention. In fact, in 1776, he had just buried the first martyr of California, one of his brother Franciscans, and he had to re-build the San Diego mission that a hostile Indian tribe had destroyed.

While Thomas Jefferson and Co. were declaring independence from England, Fr. Junipero was pleading with the Spanish authorities not to punish the Indians who had done the burning and martyring. He wrote, “”If I should die a martyr’s death at the hands of the Native peoples, I ask that no revenge or retaliation for my death be taken. What would be gained for our cause by such an action? Instead, show them and teach them the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

3) When Pope Francis comes to the US in September, he will canonize Fr. Junipero, and our land will have another saint. Last year I prayed at the tomb of this saint for you!

What Father Serra’s critics lack is sympathy with his fundamental motivation. He and his brother Franciscans believed that one thing gives life its true meaning: union with God in Christ. The Franciscan missionaries lived their monkish lives and made their monasteries places where the native peoples could learn and pray. The Franciscans owned nothing and insisted that the land belonged to the natives. Of the converts to Christianity, the friars demanded discipline. But it was no more than the discipline they demanded of themselves. The Franciscans were morally strict, never racist. Over and over again, they took up the causes of Indians who had been wronged by Spaniards.

Doesn’t mean the missionaries didn’t make mistakes. But the vision that Fr. Serra had of what America could be—that vision could really help us at this point in history, I think.

Not to beat around the bush: Fr. Serra had no conception of technological and material “progress.” He was actually an enormously successful entrepreneur, after his fashion, building up a huge, amazing ‘business,’ so to speak. But the idea of ‘capitalism’ meant nothing to him. He had no thought of anything other than a tranquil, simple lifestyle.

Nor did he have any idea of absolute individual freedom. He courageously stood up for the native peoples, but neither he nor they would have understood the idea of religion as a personal, individual choice. Rather, he believed that God had given the land as a common inheritance, so that people could live together in prayerful peace, practicing the religion of Jesus, making their way to heaven.

Not a bad founding vision for this beautiful land. And it’s not too late for us to try to follow it.

Integral Ecological Sunday

Pope Francis Mass consecration

It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation…The Eucharist is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.” (Pope St. JPII) The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration… The Eucharist is a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.

On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, the “first day” of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality. Sunday proclaims man’s eternal rest in God… The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centered on the Eucharist, sheds its light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.

Laudato Si’ 236-37

The Force of the 12-Year-Old Girl

You don’t have to be a full-time soccer dad to know that, when your twelve-year-old daughter wakes up after having been widely reported dead, she’ll need something to eat.

Jairus the synagogue official loved his daughter. He also believed in Almighty God, and loved Him. The father loved God enough to think: The Lord does not will death and sadness; he does not wish me to lose my little girl.

Cover of English edition of Pope Francis' encyclical on environmentAnd the synagogue official had heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Jairus believed that all the goodness of the ancient Lord of Israel, Who had liberated the people from slavery, and fed them with manna in the desert, and made their daughters graceful as columns—all that goodness dwelt in the Galilean rabbi.

Let’s try to share Jairus’ mind. Dark house. Wailing mourners. His well-meaning neighbors, thinking they were doing him a favor by coming over to caterwaul and lament how sad and miserable the world is. How there really is no hope. Meanwhile, all Jairus can think is: I just want to give my little girl a sandwich and tell her she can go outside and play after she has had adequate time to digest. Why won’t she wake up?

How the mourners must have stared when Jairus declared his intention to stride out into the dusty sunshine in search of the Nazorean rabbi.

“What has gotten into him?” they thought to themselves. “This synagogue official always seemed so reasonable—until now. Grief has overcome his wits.”

Meanwhile, Jairus is thinking to himself, “I can’t take any more of this wailing.” And Christ couldn’t stand the sound of it, either. He put the mourners out of the house. After all, he had told Jairus: “Do not be afraid. Just have faith.”

Just have faith that twelve-year-old girls will continue to eat sandwiches and play soccer. Just have faith that death will not swallow our hopes. Have faith that summertime barbecues will mean peace and co-operation in families, and not misunderstanding and misery. Just believe that the heavenly Father loves His children. His loving Hands will give us life.

Up the stairs. To the little bed…

Talitha koum. Get up, little girl. I am the Lord of Life. I create day, not darkness. I bring healing, not woe. I want twelve-year-old girls to eat sandwiches and play soccer in the afternoon, not die and leave their fathers hopeless and bereft. Just co-operate with me, and all will be well.

nuclearLast week our Holy Father gave us an encyclical letter, as you probably know. Laudato Si’. Blessed be. Blessed may You be, all-powerful, most-holy Lord! May You be especially blessed through brother sun, sister moon, and sister Mother Earth. Blessed may You be, by life bubbling up everywhere.

Not to over-generalize, but: The 20th century bequeathed to us a fearful, dark outlook on things. The 20th century gave us ideas like: Nature deals in death, a law of the jungle; only the strong survive. Left to itself, nature unravels randomly and ends in chaos. Science and technology possess the ultimate power. Only our human know-how can organize and perfect the raw material. We can be ever more comfortable, if only we build better machines. Ancient religious traditions only stand in our way. 20th-century man thought that he could build better than God.

Let’s read one paragraph of our Holy Father’s encyclical…

A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable… The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world.

The blessed, all-holy Lord does not will death and destruction. He has a plan, and He moves things to unfold for life and goodness, for grassy fields for 12-year-olds to play soccer on. Jairus the synagogue official knew: Wisdom demands my co-operating with the God of Israel, Who walked the earth to unite Himself with us.

The 20th century involved mankind trying to control everything. I guess we could say that trying to control all the forces of Mother Nature works just as well as trying to control all the forces of a 12-year-old girl. Better to try to co-operate with those forces, instead of trying to control them. After all, the forces in question are fundamentally forces of life. The forces of nature, set in motion by the Eternal Word, are forces of life.

Let’s pray that the 21st century will see the human race co-operating, instead of trying to control. The human race co-operating, working together towards a common good. Co-operating with God.

Nature, Sterility, and How Love Really Wins

Rebecca at the Well Pellegrini
Rebecca at the Well by Pellegrini

Abraham, our father. He had a son, Isaac, as we read at Holy Mass today. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and of his beloved wife Sarah. By the miracle of human nature.

The fundamental theme of our Holy Father’s encyclical letter is: Everything is inter-connected. God’s Wisdom permeates. The Creator wills the harmony of the cosmos, and He has endowed all His creatures with a part to play in the beautiful symphony, which sounds to His undying glory.

The word we have for the wise ordering of each part of creation: Nature. All creatures have a ‘nature.’ The things that exist are not just atoms in a random cloud. They are atoms united according to the genius of God. That genius has given us creatures a ‘nature,’ a fruitful path to follow.

Abraham never claimed to be perfect. But he followed one guiding light: the fruitful path laid before Him by God. When Isaac came of age, Abraham had one preoccupation: May my son, too, follow the path indicated by God.

Pope Francis pulls no punches in his encyclical. The human race faces a dire crisis. Because we have departed from that path. We have put ourselves in God’s place. The result? Sterility.

us_supreme_courtExtinction of species. Desertification of land. Hopeless poverty for millions. Exploitation of the weak, because the masters of the machines have no real vigor of their own.

I mean no offense by pointing out the following. Even a gay person–at least one who lives in something other than an utter fantasy world–would have to acknowledge it. Nothing could be more fundamentally sterile than the idea of ‘gay marriage.’ The slogans have it that today’s Supreme-Court ruling means that ‘love wins.’ But, actually, sterility won.

The oxymoron of ‘gay marriage,’ however, is not the only fundamentally sterile thing. It still seems like a silly sideshow, to be honest with you, from where I’m standing. Maybe I’ll go to jail someday for refusing to perform a ‘gay wedding,’ but I regard that as the least of my worries. Divorce, abortion, artificial contraception, wage slavery. Godless hopelessness. These things do the real damage. The act of sodomy is a fundamentally hopeless act, to be sure. But so is looking at pornography, or littering. And those sins are a lot more common.

We have to choose. We have to choose to walk with Pope Francis, and with St. Francis, and with Christ–poor, chaste, and obedient to the Father.

The path of what is beautifully natural always lies before us. We just have to kneel down before God, in order to keep our eyes fixed upon it.

Worse 50 Year Later + the Gospel

baptismchristgrecoBirthday of John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Little baby John grew up and baptized repentant sinners with water. Clean, crisp Jordan-River water, flowing south from the Sea of Galilee.

One of the first facts that Pope Francis cites in his encyclical on Mother Earth: Millions of people do not have consistent access to potable water. The poor of the world often find themselves without water to drink.

This constitutes a serious physical problem. But I think we southerners feel also that an existential drought afflicts us as well. Because last week a white boy slaughtered nine innocent black Christians, in a church.

Who can disagree with everyone who has been saying since then: “Look! See! We still have racism in our country!”

Who can disagree? But what about this: “Look! See! This is actually worse. This is worse than any lynching that took place in 1915 in South Carolina, or anywhere else in the South. This is worse than any slave whipping that took place in South Carolina in 1815. This was an execution, in a church. In 1963, a racist planted a bomb in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Half a century later: a cold-blooded, face-to-face execution.

My generation of white boys and girls grew up going to school with black boys and girls. My white dad worked for a black boss, and my dad loved and respected him. Genuine friendships among people of different races truly have flowered throughout the land during the lifetime of my generation, because our fathers got rid of legal segregation.

But who can deny it? The “situation” is genuinely worse now than it was 50 years ago. We elected a black president, and still it’s worse. Worse, in the sense of less mutual understanding. During the hot summer of 1963, President Jack Kennedy, A. Phillip Randolph, and Martin Luther King, Jr., came to an agreement about having a March on Washington. A long, hot summer, 52 years ago, when black and white believed, together, in a better future.

Kennedy Randolph MLK 1963

So: the existential question for the South—and, I daresay, for the world; the existential question for the human race in the hot summer of 2015: Where will the clean water come from? Where will the water come from, that can wash this place clean? The South, the US, the world? The poor by the millions need water for their bodies, and we all need water for our souls.

Now, we are church people; we spend a fair amount of our time in church. Just like the people killed last week. We are not such racists that we can’t see how much we have in common with them. To the contrary, we feel profoundly close to them. And we turn to God, to Christ, at a time like this.

There is a fountainhead—of love, of communion. A fresh start. John pointed Him out.

Elizabeth gave birth to St. John the Baptist during the brightest week of the year, the year when the day all but swallows up the night. Christ our Light dawns. John knew it; we know it. There is water to wash away all the innocent blood spilled since Abel, and to moisten the parched throats of the poor.

Church people! We have to be willing to lose everything for the sake of Christ. Because the world needs the Good News. The world needs the pure and unadulterated Good News of Jesus Christ like she has never needed anything before.

Tennant Hamlet

The DVD version of the 2008 Royal-Shakespeare-Company Hamlet has found its way to the local public library, allowing me to return again to my favorite subject: Don’t cut lines from Hamlet!

I have heard David Tennant play a fun Macbeth porter and an endearing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, not to mention a vivacious Launcelot Gobbo in Merchant of Venice and a crushingly pathetic Edgar in King Lear. (He enacted all these for Arkangel Shakespeare, way before he became Dr. Who.)

But this 2008 Hamlet, for all its earnestness, will go down in history as the version in which they trimmed lines from “To Be or Not To Be…” Party foul, people.

First, however: The unforgettable and amazing thing about RSC 2008 Hamlet: Patrick Stewart’s bad-ss Claudius.

Patrick Stewart Claudius Hamlet

Scary, as in scary frightening and scary good. Claudius’ speech in III.iii, when he tries to pray, but cannot bring himself to renounce his dishonest gains; “O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven” (at 1:21, below)–as heartbreaking a literary artifact as ink has ever left behind for us. Stewart utterly nails it. You wish he could repent. But you relish that, in fact, he cannot.

Indeed, a great deal of Hamlet‘s dramatic energy comes from the fundamentally evil sexual tension between Claudius and Gertrude. The more decisive the acting in this area, the greater the energy of the performance as a whole, since everything revolves around Claudius’ and Gertrude’s sketchy marriage.

In the best movie ever made, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, Derek Jacobi convinces us that Claudius follows after Gertrude like a poor puppy who cannot resist Julie Christie’s ferocious allure. For Jacobi’s Claudius, wearing the crown seems only an undesirable corollary to his original scheme. He could just as soon do without being king. He would have killed his brother in cold blood solely to get the queen for a wife.

In 2008 RSC, though, Stewart’s dominant Claudius preys on Penny Downie’s inability to deal with all her ambivalences. This approach, though quite satisfying in many respects, has one significant problem: it does not resonate with inconvenient lines in the script. Stewart’s Claudius would make it hard for us to believe the “Hyperion-to-a-satyr” contrast between the dead king and Claudius which Hamlet draws in I.ii. (Especially since Stewart also plays the Ghost in this production.) Problem solved, though: they cut that line.

The two-hour Hamlet I saw in Staunton in April simply did not make sense as a whole, so much of the script had gone unsaid. By the time this three-hour RSC production ends, it looks a lot like Hamlet. (Though they cut the last exchange! We never see young Fortinbras!)

The problem is, in this Hamlet many of the most-important speeches don’t make sense. Editing has eviscerated them of crucial sentences. How can we have “To be or not to be..” without a “bare bodkin?” Please.

Another problem: Forgive me for generalizing, but there are two kinds of Hamlets. Skinny adolescent ones and manly ones. Shakespeare wrote a manly Hamlet. Never crossed Shakespeare’s mind to doubt that ghosts can and do appear to people. Hamlet, as written by Shakespeare, has no Oedipus Complex. He simply has to deal with what a ghost has told him. Things like that can happen, after people get murdered.

The 20th century gave us skinny adolescent Hamlets with complexes. David Tennant gives us a 20th-century Hamlet.

I thought we had moved on.

Summary: If you take the trouble to watch this RSC 2008 Hamlet on DVD, you will wish, every 1-2 minutes (except when Claudius is speaking), that you were watching Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet instead.

Que Viaja Seguro, Enrique


Long-time readers will remember that we have prayed for our friend and brother for over a year now, during his incarceration at the Immigration-and-Customs-Enforcement detention center in Farmville, Va. We have prayed that he would not be deported.

He will be deported. On Tuesday, or the Tuesday after that, or the Tuesday after that.

His Mexican-American family will remain, separated from husband and father for the foreseeable future. Enrique will go to his brother’s house in Jalisco, in a town that is by no means safe.

May the good and holy Lord watch over us all and keep us from evil. May the insane Reign of Terror, that is our immigration-enforcement apparatus, come crashing down. I love my country, but I am not proud to be an American today. This sucks.

Job, Mass, and the Divine Genius

God answers Job, by William Blake
God answers Job, by William Blake

Our first reading at Holy Mass Sunday, from Job, poses the question: “Who shut within doors the sea?” Later on in the same chapter, the question gets put another way: Does not the rain have a father?

Gospel reading provides the answer. Who shut within doors the sea? Who is the father of the rain? The Eternal Word of God, Christ, Who fell asleep in a boat once.

Allow me heartily, strenuously to recommend to you reading chapters 38-41 of Job. We human beings have words like ‘wisdom,’ ‘design,’ ‘genius.’ Our words, of course, fail to reach the reality of what Almighty God has, by way of a mind. Even to say that God ‘has a mind’ does not touch the Mind that God is.

But: The unfathomable mystery before which holy Job bowed his head: This impenetrable mystery has touched us in the Person of Christ. We can, therefore, have our share in God’s wisdom. The unbridgeable gap between infinite and finite, between God and us—the gap we could never bridge: God has bridged it, and the bridge is Jesus.

The New Testament and all the early Christian writings sparkle with this particular breathless joy: Now we can share in God’s knowledge! “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I call you friends, because I have revealed to you the Father’s Mind,” saith the Lord Jesus. In days of old, Job had to acknowledge that he knew nothing. But now we know God’s plan. And the plan is: For us to share eternally in Love, with a capital L.

illuminated-bibleWe return, therefore, to our theme for spring and summer 2015: Why it is so daggone important to go to Mass every week.

God shares His mind with us in His own mysterious ways. We can never fully fathom all the ways. But the basic way that God has chosen to share His mind with the human race is perfectly obvious. We can share in the joy of the Apostles and early Christians, who stepped lively on the paths of the ancient empires, because God had revealed His plan to them; we share this unique and unsurpassable joy of sharing God’s knowledge by keeping ourselves in constant contact with God’s Word.

And when we say ‘God’s Word,’ we cannot and must not get bogged-down in some pedestrian way of understanding the phrase. Keeping ourselves in constant contact with God’s Word means…

1. The Bible, taken as a beautiful, coherent whole—the Bible explains to me the living reality that enfolds me within itself. We Catholics are not ‘fundamentalists’ in the way that most people understand that term. We actually believe in the absolute truth of the Bible much more deeply than ‘fundamentalists’ do. We train ourselves, by constant reading, to perceive all of reality according to the Bible.

If that sounds somewhat abstract, just think of it like this. The Our Father. We could say that the Bible has one single, solitary purpose, namely: to make our lives an extended Our Father. Breakfast, lunch, dinner; work, play, sleep and wake; inside, outside, home, away from home: Our Father, Our Father, Our Father. A life that is an Our Father.

2. The Word of God does not only touch us in the readings at Mass, though of course we always need to pay careful attention to the readings. The truth is, the entire Mass, from beginning to end—actually, from even before it starts, from when we prepare ourselves spiritually for Mass, all the way through, past the end, when we execute the commandment that concludes the Mass, and go in peace—all of this is one extended contact with the Word of God, the incarnate Word, Christ.

By this extended contact, we unite our minds with the Mind of God.

Church Burned in Holy Land, Medieval Encyclical

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee

Happier days for the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, in 2008.

The snapshot above shows how the church rises behind an atrium building, which leads to a beautiful courtyard, from which the pilgrim enters the church proper.

Thank God, the arsonists did not destroy the church itself. But the right arm of the building immediately behind the mophead in the photo above now stands as only a smoldering shell:

smoke at tabgha

No place on earth could be more peaceful than Tabgha, of a cool evening, the Sea of Galiliee lapping at its banks. Disturb this peace? Why?

Guns and fires blazing in churches on either side of the world, on the same day. Lord, help us. May the dead in SC rest in peace.

“The lamp of the body is the eye,” said the God-man Who fed the 5,000 in Tabgha.

Mysterious words, since, when the power goes out after a storm, it can be hard to see, without a flashlight or a candle. The eye would seem to need a lamp, not be a lamp.

Perhaps what He means is: What we choose to gaze upon is what makes us who we are.

Let’s choose wisely and meditate on this beautiful paragraph at the beginning of Holy Father Francis’ encyclical:

Our sister, Mother Earth, cries out to us… We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life… We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Anyone who thinks that they have a more traditional and conservative outlook than this: you’re living in a dreamworld, dear friend.

T.S. ELIOTThe thesis: Our moral failures wound the earth herself; she is our partner, our friend, the womb of our birth, the bride of our labors, our legacy for our children–this thesis is utterly ancient.

Off the top of my head, I can think of references to this idea in the Old Testament, in Shakespeare’s Richard II, and in the poems of T.S. Eliot–who had more bona fides as a ‘conservative’ than every man, woman, or child who has run for the Republican nomination for President (since Lincoln), all rolled into one.

And, of course, the magnum opus of all Mother-Earth poetry: The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Laudato Si’ arrives as Vol. 4 of The Lord of the Rings.

Yes, the encylical urges international agreements, UN discussion, etc. Some might regard this as ‘liberal.’

But, more than that, the encyclical urges reverent submission to God and contemplative wonder at His handiwork. Many would regard this as ‘medieval.’

Let’s forget liberal vs. conservative and stick to pure medieval. St. Francis (medieval), pray for us!