Thursday, September 24, 2015

Saint Junipero Serra

Pope Francis is in the USA today.  This morning he spoke to a joint session of the United States Congress.  Yesterday, he canonized Bl. Junipero Serra, whom we now refer to as St Junipero Serra.  It was the first canonization ever to take place in the United States.  This year, I am the president of the Serra Club of Lincoln, Nebraska, and so this canonization is very special to me and to all “Serrans” worldwide. 

Father Serra was a Franciscan friar who journeyed from his native Spain in 1759 to be a missionary on the west coast of Mexico and the United States.  His task was to bring the salvation of Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith to Native Americans in this region.  His purpose included claiming the land for Spain and also to assist with commerce.  Note that this move occurred in 1759, which was seventeen years before our nation was born on July 4, 1776. 

I’m sure I was introduced to Fr. Serra in elementary school in Iowa back in the 1950’s.  It wasn’t until I moved to California in 1973, however, that I saw, first-hand, the evidence of his work.  Up and down the entire coast of California, from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north, this evidence is still visible today in the form of the ruins of the mission churches that he and the natives built.  Many have been well-maintained and are open to tourists today.  Two that I remember visiting during my time in California are the San Juan Capistrano mission and the Santa Barbara mission, both in southern California.  The photo accompanying this post is one that I took while visiting the San Juan Capistrano mission (when my photography hobby was in its infancy back in 1976).

I was startled to learn some additional facts about him and his work as the canonization approached.  First, since the work took place prior to the birth of our country, he is recognized as a founding father of the United States.  Second, a statue of Fr. Serra is one of the two statues representing California in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.  (Pope Francis stopped and prayed before this statue after his speech this morning.)   Third, the names of twenty-one California cities are also the names of the original missions.  In some cases, the city was named after the mission, while in other cases, the mission was named after the city.  Well-known examples include San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.  

Today, in the ever-increasing secularization of our society, there are those who say that they have found fault with Fr. Serra and his work, saying that he mistreated the Native Americans and destroyed their culture.  These folks even want to remove the statue of Fr. Serra from our nation’s Capitol (and from the California state Capitol) for this reason.  Shame on them!

My prayer for today:  Lord, thank you for the gift of St. Juniper Serra.  Please help the Serra clubs worldwide as we strive to increase vocations to the priesthood and religious life and please help us to eliminate the secularization of our society so that greater praise and glory may be yours.  Amen. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

St. Robert Bellarmine, Galileo, and Speculation

Today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine in the Catholic Church.  St Robert was born in 1542 in Tuscany and died in 1621.  He was a Jesuit priest and a theologian.  Pope Clement VIII elevated him to the office of cardinal in 1599.  He is most famous for his book volumes titled “Disputations about the Controversies of the Christian Faith against the Heretics of the Age,” which was a theological response to Protestantism.   Protestantism had taken shape earlier in the same century.  These volumes initiated thousands of pages of response and counterarguments from Protestants.  So his work was obviously not without controversy.

His life coincided with the life of Galileo (1564-1642), the famous Italian (and Catholic) astronomer who proved the theory of Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the reverse.  Of course, there was a great deal of controversy over Galileo’s work, since it conflicted with the accepted theory of the time that the earth was the center of the universe.  Galileo’s ideas were seen as in conflict with especially with the Book of Genesis in the Bible and so he was thought of as a problem scientist who was not to be believed.  In fact, St. Robert, who was a friend of Galileo, played a role in the case against Galileo, saying that his ideas were only a theory not to be believed until proven beyond doubt.  He went on to say that when and if this theory is shown to be absolutely true, then the Church would have to come up with an alternate explanation of Scripture.

There are all sorts of stories about how Galileo was treated badly by the Church.  In my mind, these are mostly speculation.  Some take the stories a bit too far, as if we know all there is to know about the conflict and the personalities involved.  These people seem to enjoy criticizing the Church for the way Galileo was treated.  How can we really know how the story came down without actually being there and making our own personal observations.  I prefer to hold both Galileo and St. Robert in high regard in the matter.  One wanted to uphold the dignity of science and the other wanted to uphold the dignity of the Church.  Of course, I am both a scientist and a devoted Catholic.  What else would you expect from me?

Here in 2015, of course, we know that Galileo was right – the earth does indeed revolve around the sun and today, there are indeed alternate explanations of the Scriptures.  Today, both men are held in high esteem, Robert being named a saint and a Doctor of the Church and Galileo a famous scientist having proven beyond doubt that the earth does indeed revolve around the sun.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Too Many Rules.

I’ve heard it said that many non-Catholics, when asked why they don’t join the Catholic Church (when surrounded by friends and relatives who are Catholic) respond by saying “There are too many rules.”  It’s not that Protestantism has the true message of salvation and Catholicism does not, or anything of that nature.  It’s that in the Catholic Church, there are too many rules. 

Perhaps they are thinking that Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sunday.  Perhaps they are thinking that a Catholic must confess their sins to a priest (receive the sacrament of Reconciliation) at least once a year.  Perhaps they are thinking that as a Catholic, one must believe that the Holy Eucharist is the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  Or, perhaps they are thinking that Catholics must believe that the pope is infallible in the areas of faith and morals, or that the Bible is not the only source of religious doctrine.

While, as a Catholic, I feel I can make a convincing Scripture-based argument that each of the above is a legitimate “rule,” what concerns me the most is that a non-Catholic who makes this statement is focused on “rules” and not on their eternal destiny.  The truth and reality is that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, that the Catholic Church is where the fullness of the truth lies, and that the Catholic Church holds the keys as to where you will spend eternity.  St. Peter said it in John, Chapter 6:  “Lord, where else shall we go … you have the words of everlasting life.”

The founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, relaxed the rules to the point of virtually having no rules except that one must believe.  It’s easy to accept this if one does not want to put forth any effort where salvation is concerned.  But with something as important as salvation, how can one ever think that no other effort is required.  It seems absurd to me.  I would urge anyone who thinks that this one rule is all there is to it to make a thorough study of the Catholic Church, to talk to a priest, to ask questions, to search for an understanding of the basis of the “rules” in the Church founded by Jesus Christ.  I predict that if you are open to it, you will come away with a whole new outlook … one that will change your life and your destiny.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Becoming Fishers of Men and Women

Yesterday I attended the funeral of my aunt at the parish of my youth, St. Peter’s in Defiance, Iowa.  As soon as I entered the church for the wake service on Tuesday evening, I came to the realization that the culture today in this parish is very different from what it was in the 50’s and 60’s.  Inside the church, it was like a social hall.  While the Blessed Sacrament was in the front of the church (but off to the side instead of front and center), the atmosphere was hardly the same as what I remembered.  There was no sign or reverence that the people were aware that this was the House of God and that His body, blood, soul and divinity were present.  I was drawn in and became part of this culture while at the same time being aware of the sanctuary lamp that was burning there next to the tabernacle.  It saddened me, but having experienced something similar much earlier in my life at a Catholic church in California, I submitted to the fact that this kind of thing is commonplace in Catholic churches throughout the country today and uttered a prayer of sorrow to my Lord.

The parish is named after St. Peter, who is a main character in today’s Gospel at Mass.  This Gospel story is the story of the miracle that was Simon Peter’s calling to be an apostle.  After having a very disappointing day as a fisherman, Simon had given up and was washing his fishing nets when Jesus and the crowds following Him appeared on the scene (Mat 5, 1-11).  Simon had apparently experienced Jesus’ charisma and power a few days earlier when He cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a “severe fever.”  (See Mat 4: 38-39).  Jesus told Simon to get back in the boat, go out into the deep water, and lower the nets again for a catch.  Despite laboring the entire day and catching nothing, Simon, perhaps remembering the miracle cure of his mother-in-law, did as Jesus asked and subsequently caught so many fish that his net was tearing.  Simon responded with the now-famous quote:  “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Jesus then said “Do not be afraid; from now on you will become fishers of men.”

For those of you who share my sadness at seeing our churches becoming social halls, I now pray that you ask the Lord not to depart from Him because of this sinfulness, but that you take the Lord’s words seriously and that you have no fear to become fishers of the men and women in your parish.  My suggestion is for you to kneel before the tabernacle in your church before or after Sunday Mass and pray, calling people’s attention to the Lord’s presence.  Your public display of your deep faith will be an inspiration and you will become a fisher of men (and women) right along with St. Peter.

The photo is of the statue of St. Peter in the Cor Mariae Schoenstatt shrine near Crete, Nebraska.  Notice the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven in his left hand.