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Celebrating Junipero Serra: The Saint Who Founded California

Rob-Bertholf-CC

Brother Silas Henderson, SDS - published on 07/01/15


Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us:
No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business, or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice (201).

Finally, even the historical challenges posed by life in the missions and the lingering “black legend” that corrodes Father Serra’s reputation provide a powerful reminder for each of us as we pursue holiness: sanctity and perfection are not the same thing. For those saints who challenge our perspectives on holiness and perfection, we owe a debt of thanks. They remind us that the Christian life is a movement from good to better, not good to perfect, or even to “best.” We are to strive for holiness, yes, but each of us struggles against the drives of our human nature and the perspectives and limitations of our own time and place. Junipero Serra lived a life that was always moving toward the fulfillment of his missionary vocation and his own growth in holiness.

Times move on and the practices and perspectives of past generations evolved. We ourselves have wars, violations of human rights, lingering racism, and theological tensions. But these also reveal that our generation is dynamic, moving toward a future point whose own generations will judge us based on our care (or lack thereof) of the poor, the sick and vulnerable, the migrant, the refugee, and the environment.

In the end, the Blessed Junipero Serra deserves our gratitude and devotion. His unswerving devotion to his missionary vocation and unwavering concern for his small and scattered flock challenge us to look beyond the boundaries of our families and parishes, inviting us to live out our call the share the Good News and work for justice for all God’s children.

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