Heeding Father Serra

“He is complete mercy, complete love and complete tenderness toward men, even toward the most ungrateful sinners.”

I thought about this, from one of the four sermons that we have from St. Junipero Serra, in the wake of one of the statues of him at one of the California missions being decapitated and otherwise vandalized with red paint.

In this case, ignorance certainly is not bliss. It pretty much proves the saint’s point.

In the first of four homilies that were translated from the original Spanish for a volume by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz for the University of Oklahoma Press, St. Serra continues: “What a difference there is between a temperament that is harsh, stern and severe, and a disposition that is mild, loving, sweet and gentle. The harsh temperament rides roughshod over everything, causes trouble everywhere, and usually ruins everything. The mild disposition, on the other hand, arranges everything peacefully, softens everything and attracts everyone with its tenderness.”

“The harsh temperament,” he says, “stirs up reasons or excuses for disorder; the mild disposition dismisses any tricks that might be put forward to exempt itself from the law of fairness. It believes that when a monarch treats his subjects with kindness, it is a definite mistake not to esteem him in a fashion consistent with the greatness of his rank.”

Later, the saint explains that “The Lord is sweet and gentle in the words with which he calls us to his love. ... He is gentle even in the sufferings he sends us. ... He is gentle in the delights of the glory with which he rewards his own at the end of their lives.”

“Taste and see,” Serra implores in a homily that seemed to instantly explain why Pope Francis was so eager to canonize Serra when he visited the United States two years ago. The two men have the same pleading way about their preaching. Think of Pope Francis imploring us to never tire of asking God for forgiveness, as God never tires of granting it to us.

And yet, the trend of the moment seems to be to destroy that which some have associated with bad history. Serra is associated with colonization and now he must be wiped away in fits of self-righteous anger that not only are criminal acts but exacerbate the darkness that the vandals pretend to be policing.

“O Christian soul!” Serra says later in that same homily. “See how the Lord behaves with you. He admonishes you to put everything related to this life out of your mind, so that you can hear more directly the voices with which he speaks to your heart.” Here, too, he takes an approach not unlike Pope Francis in many of his homilies — especially those daily morning ones we can all read for ourselves at news.va, where they tend to be translated quickly. Here he is the Jesuit spiritual director to the world, aiding us in pushing away anything that is not of God in our lives.

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As Serra winds down, he says: “Dearest Christian, may what St. Lawrence Justin says come to pass: ‘When one is called by the breath of heaven, let him without delay renounce his vices and evil habits.’”

As anger is only made worse by such criminal destruction as happened to the likeness of St. Serra, a man of heroic virtue, it is incumbent upon the rest of us to spread the words of peace here. Our Lady emphasized penance for just this cause 100 years ago at Fatima.

What are we waiting for in delaying? Stop watching the spectacle — of ruin and disorder, among other things — and get on with the business of our Lord, like Serra did in even harsher times.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).