There’s not a lot of variety in our climate hereabouts. So I think it’s safe to say that our saint, Junípero Serra, is a saint for all seasons.
I love his motto: ¬°Siempre Adelante! Keep moving forward! I find it useful in my own prayer, especially when I grow tired — at midday, or midweek, or midmonth, or mid-hour.
Always forward. Always onward.
Ah, but in order for that to work I need to be pointed in the right direction, as he was.
In 1768, Father Serra was an “old man” of 55. Remember that life expectancy then wasn’t what it is today, and medical care was almost nonexistent where the Franciscan priests were doing their work.
He was at an age when most men were slowing down or praying to St. Joseph for a happy death. He was himself suffering from recurring infections in his foot and leg. Yet that was the year the colonial authorities asked him to lead a new mission into the lands we know today as southern California.
All of his friends tried to talk him out of it. He had every reason to say no. But he was hearing none of it. ¬°Siempre Adelante! He kept moving forward, putting his trust in God. He said: “I hope that He will grant me to reach not only San Diego to raise the standard of the Holy Cross in that port, but also Monterey."
And there’s the secret. He wasn’t just moving forward blindly. He wasn’t moving onward with no clear goal. He was going to a place where he could “raise the standard of the Holy Cross,” as he did in each and every one of his missions.
I find that fascinating — and convicting. He pressed on, not simply toward heaven, but rather toward heaven by way of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Father Serra knew that there was no other way to reach his goal. We move, as Jesus did, toward glory by way of the cross, by way of sorrow.
Yes, in dying Jesus conquered death. But he did not simply die in our place as our substitute. If that were the case, we should not need to die. We should not need to suffer. And yet we do suffer, and we do die.
If Christ simply took my place, then why do I have to endure the daily privations and discomforts and inconveniences of diabetes? Why do so many of my parishioners have to put up with diseases far more challenging, not to mention my Sunday homilies?
On the cross Jesus taught us to suffer. But, far more than that, He united Himself to us in our suffering. He enabled us to suffer with His strength and His redemptive power.
Living in Christ, we can save the world with Him, even by our suffering, even by our dying.
This is why the Church celebrates a feast in honor of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Sept. 14. We glory in the cross. We boast of the cross (Galatians 6:14).
Father Serra planted the cross in our land. Let’s never lose sight of that sign. God has taken up our lives in order to endow them with grace and power, not only when things are going smoothly, but even more when we must endure hardship, pain, humiliation, and failure.
This feast day of the cross reminds us of all that we should be moving toward — toward a particular destination, where we’ll find ourselves in triumph. And our triumph will be the cross.