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Posted by on Jan 22, 2015

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Bl. Junipero Serra Public Domain Image

Bl. Junipero Serra
Public Domain

Pope Francis on January 16 announced his decision to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of the California missions during his visit to Washington, DC this fall. The ceremony will take place at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope decided to waive the requirement for two miracles. Blessed Fr. Serra is said to have cured a nun in St. Louis from lupus. However a second miracle has not been attributed to his intervention. Pope Francis said that Blessed Junipero Serra has been considered to have been a holy man for many decades and that he is a good example of evangelization — bringing the gospel — to those who have not heard it.

Blessed Junipero Serra has become a controversial figure since the mission system led to the downfall of the ancient cultures of the native people and their way of life. He and the other missionaries are blamed for the destruction of ancient ways. Others see him as the founder of California and a moderating force in the Spanish expansion into Alta California. For example, when the Viceroy demanded the execution of 12 captured Kumeyaay Indians who had attacked Mission San Diego in 1775 and killed three Spaniards, Blessed Junipero Serra managed to spare their lives. The Los Angeles Times published a well balanced article on January 16,  “Decision to Canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction.”

Native people today are divided on the subject. Andy Galvan an Ohlone Indian and curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco focuses on the positive aspects of Spanish colonization and says that Blessed Junipero Serra “was a very good man in a very bad situation.” His cousin, Vincent Medina, who is also an Ohlone Indian and the assistant curator at Mission Dolores, focuses on the negative outcomes. Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, SJ, PhD, a religious studies professor at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has characterized the controversy as a debate about “an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards of cultural diversity, religious pluralism and personal autonomy.”

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Posted by on Jan 6, 2010

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

The Magi, the Epiphany, and the Stars of the New Age

There is often a lot of hand wringing and concern about the revival of pre-Christian earth based religions or neo-paganism. Whether it is the five pointed star -the pentagram- demons and vampires, or dancing and drumming at the equinoxes and solstices, all the signs seem to herald something worse than the age of atheism – the return of polytheism. We have now gone full circle from the one God back to many gods and goddesses.

New Age spiritualism allows people to celebrate the reality that is deeper than the merely physical without any of the doctrine or historical messiness of Christianity or any “organized” religion. It allows people to access the transnatural directly or in small groups led by a shaman. There is no need for big buildings, big groups, or any separation from the sacredness of nature.

The Magi or Wisemen were actually following the stars that announced the birth of a new King of Israel. The arrival of the Magi is called the Shining Forth – the Epiphany – the appearance of God to all of the world beyond Bethlehem of Judea.

What was wondrous to good people willing to see the obvious signs was hidden from the evil King Herod.

Although the resurgence of paganism is characteristic of something called the New Age perhaps it represents a search for the Divine in Creation, for the feminine, a faith that the Gaia may rally to overcome the forces threatening to destroy the biosphere and save us from ourselves.

The Magi today are poets, scientists, and dreamers led by Grace to see and understand the portents of the night sky as they search for Day. Caught up in our temples, traditions, and tedium have we missed the Star calling us forth?

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2007

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Halloween – The Secularization of the Pagan


Halloween, that most secular of days, has become a time for adult parties, candies, and Hollywood ghosts and goblins. A safely scary, “ending of daylight savings time,” festival. It is a holiday of candy. The day on which the largest amount of candy is sold in the United States.

Just as we have a secularized Christianity at Christmas – the Happy Holidays which we celebrate without reference to the “Reason for the Season” – Halloween echoes pre-Christian and Neo-Pagan rituals – without a real connection to the earth or that troubling notion of the sacred.

This is not to say that having fun is not a good excuse. However, the focus on the fun excuses any obligation to enter into the mysteries of religion. The witch on her broomstick, the bed sheet with eyes that we call a ghost, the iconic “happy face” on the hollowed out pumpkin, evoke no real connection with the earth and the spiritual powers of nature. There is no shaman, no calling down of the spirits and ecstatic dance, no trances induced by ritual fasting and drumming.

The Celtic New Year’s holiday is not a fall harvest festival in an urban culture in which 2% of the people produce enough food and fiber for the rest. The days are getting shorter in the northern climes.  It is still 3 weeks to that least commercial of holidays – Thanksgiving.

For all of our talk about spirituality, whether traditional or New Age, our cultural manifestation of these ancient festivals shows very little of the spiritual, whether Christian or Pagan. Our focus is not on the transcendent – the totally other. Nor is it on the immanent – the divine fire within. We are becalmed in a world with little dimensionality.  And  we wonder why everything seems flat, gray, and listless!

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Posted by on Oct 30, 2007

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

The Mists of Avalon – Christian and Pagan in Camelot


Halloween evokes the notion of the pagan that underlies so many feasts of the year. The Celtic New Year festival, Samhain (So-ween), celebrated on November 1, with its focus on the the fading of the boundary between the living and the dead, became a celebration of Christian ancestors – All Hallows (Saints). It seems simple and straightforward.

The complexity of the pagan world of the British Isles transitioning to Christianity comes to life in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s 1979 novel, The Mists of Avalon. Critics either condemn or praise this best selling classic as a feminist retelling of the legend of King Arthur. The story is told from the standpoint of the women in a world in transition. Women are losing the power and influence they had under the pagan cult, moving to a subservient passive-aggressive role in a Christianity dominated by men. The Goddess is being supplanted by the God.

What might have been shocking almost 30 years ago – the presentation of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot and their enemies as morally and sexually ambiguous – seems to be a fairly standard deconstruction by our standards. Like our world today, The Mists of Avalon is painted in shades of gray. All of the characters have great strengths and weaknesses, they all make compromises, and they all see their plans brought to naught by forces beyond their control.

In the first chapters of the book, as voiced by Arthur’s half sister and priestess of Avalon, Morgaine, the tone is decidedly anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic. Morgaine’s father, Taliesin, the Merlin of Britain, or chief Druid, presents broad overreaching relativism and tolerance, contrasted with the narrow Christian priests, intent on convincing women that they must be subservient and do good to atone for the fact that sin came into the world through the first woman, Eve. (Note: St. Paul said that sin came into the world by the first man, Adam, but that is grist for another post.) Pagans didn’t have a concept of sin, and Christianity would now make everyone slaves of sin and degrade the very nature of men and women as sinful from conception. It all seems somewhat predictable as a standard anti-colonial, neo-pagan, and feminist polemic that is the standard critique of the moral bankruptcy of Christianity.

Toward the end of the book, the tone has shifted significantly, since the human weakness and moral ambivalence of the devotees of the Goddess have become more than obvious. The cult of the Goddess becomes blended into Christianity; as the cult of the Virgin Mary as guardian of the flame of the feminine and the fertility of the earth.

The psychological and spiritual portraits of the men and the women are compellingly complex. It is far from a man-hating feminist rant or an anti-Christian tract. The book actually celebrates the richness of the masculine and the feminine, quite apart from their stereotypical traits. Men and women, pagan and Christian, are both strong and weak, nurturing and exploitative, bold and yielding.

In the end, the will of God and the Goddess is done. It is a long book but well worth the time.

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