“The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose and it will defend itself.” ~ Saint Augustine
In today’s 1st Reading (Amos 5:14-15, 21-24) we are reminded that authentic worship goes far beyond the temple and church walls. God desires true sacrifice from His children, not “cereal offerings,” “stall-fed offerings,“ or “noisy songs(!)” as the prophet Amos, apparently no fan of Led Zeppelin or The Who, concludes.
With the in-person celebration of Holy Mass returning to Parishes around the country, albeit with face masks, lots of hand sanitizer and no music ~ the latter of which is a major disappointment to many ~ we are nonetheless reminded that the sacrifice of the Holy Mass is about encountering Jesus in the Eucharist. This is why attending Mass as often as we can, certainly on Sunday, is the most important thing that we do in our lives. Whatever is next comes in a very distant second place.
Over the course of this seemingly endless pandemic, it’s been amazing to witness those who have still managed to donate food to the food banks, give blood at the local hospitals and shop for the elderly in our midst who have chosen to remain in quarantine. These are the corporal works of mercy in action, and we know that our Lord delights in them (Matthew 25:31-40). Those who have steadfastly devoted themselves to these tasks are living the message of the shepherd-turned-prophet Amos.
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 8:28-34), we revisit the bizarre story of Jesus driving a band of demons into a swine herd in the territory of Gadarenes, a tale that I always revisit with mixed emotions https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Thats-a-Lotta-Pork-Chops. It would seem as though the Catholic Church generally avoids the topic of demonic possession and exorcisms. Rarely are exorcisms discussed in homilies, even when presented with today’s Gospel or the many others like it wherein Jesus or one of his disciples exorcise a demon or evil spirit. The church instead allows Hollywood to take the lead in this department, with visions of Linda Blair’s spinning head no doubt settling into the mind’s eye of many of you who are reading this. Demonic possession is frightening stuff no doubt, but it’s real and it’s something that we as people of God cannot and should not run and hide from. Evil is everywhere, the arrest of notorious pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s accomplice this week serving as yet another reminder of this grim reality. Our own church has been plagued, decimated really, by the sexual abuse of minors. Has anything of any consequence been done to expiate the problem? Will the McCarrick Report ever be released?
On the topic of exorcisms, I thought it was appropriate and very wise of Archbishop Cordileone, Shepherd of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, to offer exorcism prayers and other acts of spiritual reparation at the precipice of Golden Gate Park this week near the location of the statue of the man whose Feast Day we celebrate today, Saint Junipero Serra, a statue that was inexplicably torn down by vandals and looters.
“Evil has made itself present here,” Archbishop Cordileone poignantly and succinctly stated. “So we have gathered together to pray to God, to ask the saints for their intercession, above all our Blessed Mother, in an act of reparation, asking God's mercy on us and on the whole city, that we might turn our hearts back towards him.” Archbishop Cordileone went on to say “I feel such a great wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy disparaging the memory of Serra who was such a great hero, such a great defender of the indigenous people of this land.” He concluded in rather point blank fashion that the statue was “blasphemously torn down.”
Many of you surely know that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that inspired and coursed through the soul of Saint Junipero Serra as he did the work of our Lord, is the only sin that is unforgivable in the eyes of God (Mark 3:28-30). What’s going on here? Who was this man, the one who so grievously offended the “woke” vandals, those who mistake patriotism, and in this case Christianity, for racism?
In reality, Saint Junípero Serra was an ardent defender of indigenous peoples' rights against the abuses of Spanish colonists. He was concerned with the material well-being of indigenous people for sure, but more importantly he took on the task of insuring that their eternal souls would travel safely home to the Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. As such, he baptized several thousand individuals and, when granted the authority to confirm in the year 1778, he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to well over five thousand Native Americans. He served for 35 years in the New World Mission before passing away on August 28, 1784 at the age of 71. A century after his death, the California legislature declared August 29th a legal state holiday, and in 1931 California gave his statue to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Saint Junipero Serra gave his life for the native people of California out of love for them, out of love for Christ, and out of love for Christ’s Bride the Catholic Church.
Knowledge is a gift of the Holy Spirit, borne out of wisdom and understanding, two other gifts of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge is a perfection of the human mind, a perfection that compels us to follow the pure impulses of the Spirit in judging created things so that we can properly assess them relative to God.
Knowledge serves as something of a “supernatural instinct,” one which allows he or she who possesses it to discern that which is authentic in all matters pertaining to God and eternal life with Him. The Spiritual gift of knowledge fortifies and galvanizes us during the times in which we struggle, insuring that temptation and doubt have no power over us during these moments of adversity. The gift of knowledge indeed confirms our hope in God by giving us confidence in Him as the source and summit of all our strength.
We must pursue knowledge and pray for this gift of the Spirit. We must pray too for others who pursue and crave destruction, dishonesty, and the largest Twitter following, complete with the assorted commensurate evils that such a vain pursuit ultimately engender. We must pray that these souls will abandon vice for the virtuous quest for knowledge. To pursue truth, or to at least respect it.
Perhaps we could all take a cue from noted author Neil deGrasse Tyson who once said “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday, and to lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.”
Saint Junipero Serra, pray for us....