#CatholicAmerica: Father Junipero Serra (and me!)

#CatholicAmerica: Father Junipero Serra (and me!) September 30, 2014

I’m extraordinarily blessed to receive many awesome books for review. One particularly fantastic one arrived recently: The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States. After only a few weeks with this book, I know it’s not going to be one of those “read it and file it on the bookcase” types of books. My copy of the Almanac has already made it’s way into my daily prayer time rotation of books. By the time I’ve had it a few more months, it will undoubtedly be underlined, highlighted and coffee stained (as all of my favorite resources are).

My morning prayer book stack as it looked today...
My morning prayer book stack as it looked today…

I was very happy along with having a chance to read the book to be selected for its blog tour organized by our friends at Image Books. Katie at Image invited me to pick my favorite entry from the book and to share a few thoughts on the topic with you. This in itself was a challenge. A little look at the overview of the book shows you how expansive it is:

In this page-a-day history, 365 inspiring stories celebrate the historic contributions of American men and women shaped by their Catholic faith. From famous figures to lesser-known saints and sinners, The American Catholic Almanac tells the fascinating, funny, uplifting, and unlikely tales of Catholics’ influence on American history, culture, and politics. Spanning the scope of the Revolutionary War to Notre Dame football, this unique collection of stories highlights the transformative role of the Catholic Church in American public life over the last 400 years.

I overcame my temptation to choose the obvious (see that reference to my alma mater above?) and instead chose to reflect upon the entry for September 25: California’s Catholic Bishop. Happily, you can read this one for yourself since it’s excerpted online at CatholicVote’s blog.

almanacAlthough not a native (I moved to California when I was three weeks old), the majority of my life has been spent in the Golden State. Growing up as the eldest in a Catholic family with five children meant that many of our family vacations were camping trips to various parts of our beautiful state. And while my parents never forced us to memorize the catechism of scripture verses, they instilled a love for our faith in us by doing things like taking us to visit the California missions. Any time we camped near one of California’s twenty-one missions, we stopped by for Mass and prayers. Our family’s tradition of “new church wishes” (silent prayers you made as you walked into the door of a church you’d never visited before) have remained a part of my life as a frequent traveler. As our family travels took us to the various Missions, we sought out the chance for new church wishes in many of the missions. In the missions, we learned about our state’s history, about the people who had lived in these lands long before we came, and about our faith.

Along the way, we learned to love and venerate Father Junipero Serra. His formal title “Blessed Juniper Serra” (since he was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1988) still sticks on my tongue. In my mind he will always be “Father Serra”, even though I’ve long been convinced that he’s a saint. Imagine my joy when I turned to The American Catholic Almanac’s entry for Blessed Junipero Serra and spotted the title for the day’s entry: California’s Catholic Father.

The Almanac’s authors Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson combined efforts to share Father Serra’s personal story. From his reputation as a young scholar to his eschewing of a career as a theologian to wander the wilds of Mexico and Alta California, they personalized the details of his life in a way they do in many of their entries. This is history, but it’s told in a manner that draws you in and inspires you. Father Serra’s story is told here in a way that will invite you to connect it to your own. Even in ill health, Father Serra joyfully took up the task of coming to my state, meeting people where they were, and bringing them the Good News of the gospel.

Junípero_SerraOn a recent speaking trip to San Diego, I had the opportunity to stop and pray at Mission San Juan Capistrano, long one of my personal favorites. Called the “birthplace of Orange County”, the mission was a frequent stop for our Orange County family in my childhood years. As I knelt in the pew of the modern Mission Basilica and prayed through the intercession of Father Serra, I smiled to think that I was  — in my own very small way — following in his footsteps. I’m simply a mom, not a priest, but I have the joy of frequently traveling my state to share my love for my Catholic faith. Life Father Serra, I am a missionary. Granted, I do my mission work in a MINI Cooper and with much less personal effort or theological expertise than Father Serra had. But I thought that day about the work that he did back then in the 1700’s is work still undertaken by all of us now in the 21st century. Even in our own homes and workplaces (our Domestic Churches!), we Catholic moms are all missionaries in the spirit of Father Serra.

As Father Serra was in his time, each of us is called to the New Evangelization. Today in California, mission work still continues in new, challenging and exciting ways. It is a true blessing that we have the example of Father Serra to guide our steps. It is good that he acts as an intercessor when the challenges of our mission work — even in our own homes — are met with reluctance or outright hatred. It is good that we have his example of how to care for those we endeavor to serve. It is good to have his role model as a tireless foot soldier for the Lord on the days when we most feel like giving up.

In invite you to check out The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States and to consider making this great book a part of your family’s daily reading and prayer time. Just as I found a connection with “California’s Catholic Father” and so many of the other entries in this book, I know that you too will connect, learn and be blessed.

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Copyright 2014 Lisa M. Hendey

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