In light of the recent events concerning the tearing down of statues and monuments, I thought my first post could focus on one person whose statues were torn down by mobs of rioters in two cities. These two cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, received their names from missionaries, like Serra, who established the California missions. Their aim was the salvation of souls, not the oppression of people.
(Photos above taken by me at the Mission Juan Capistrano in California, one of the missions founded by Saint Junípero Serra)
In the following essay, written for one of my theology classes, I discuss who Saint Junípero Serra was, some of the controversies surrounding his life, and what his mission was in the Americas. I chose to write this essay in response to my fellow Catholic classmates who, much to my dismay, shared more of the sentiments of the rioters than the sentiments of the Pope who canonized him on American shores.
The Suffering Servant’s Mission
The Mission of Jesus: The Suffering Servant
Jesus had no missionary disciples prior to his death. He had disciples, but they were not ready for the mission that He had for them. It was not until after Jesus had died, resurrected, ascended, and sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles that they realized their mission. It was not until this moment that the mission of the Church began. However, before the Apostles could realize their missions, Jesus had to fulfill his mission. In Isaiah 53, the image of the Suffering Servant is presented. Many biblical scholars and theologians have agreed that Jesus is the Suffering Servant portrayed here. The suffering of this servant (Jesus) is described as such:
“Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” 
Jesus fulfills his mission by His suffering and death on the cross. But, what does this mean for the missionary disciple? Our Lord says in the Gospels, after rebuking Peter for tempting Him not to endure His Passion, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Matt. 16:24; cf. Luke 14:27 [RSVCE]). And in another discourse with His disciples about one’s foes being in his or her own household, he says again, “and he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38). Therefore, for one to be a disciple of Christ, the qualification seems to be the willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ Himself, and to follow Him wherever He goes. If we are to follow Christ, then we might say that above all else that following Christ is the mission, and our daily cross is the means.
Following in Christ’s mission of suffering love: St. Junípero Serra
St. Junípero Serra is probably one of the most controversial persons to be canonized a saint in recent history. During the process of studying his life for canonization, Serra had been called everything from a tireless missionary and advocate for the native peoples to maniacal tyrant of the likes of Hitler . And even today, the controversy lives on. However, without having sufficient knowledge to parse through the controversy and trusting the judgment of the Church, it can be said that St. Junípero Serra exhibited the suffering servant as a missionary disciple of Christ. Serra was born in Mallorca, Spain and was baptized on the same day. At the age of 2, he was confirmed. Though he may have practiced self-denial in other small ways as he grew up, his first denial of himself for the sake of Christ came as he entered into the Franciscan order in 1731. After much intellectual formation, Serra, having come of age during the Spanish colonization in the Americas, desired to leave everything: his home, his family, his community, and his homeland for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (Mark 10:29). He knew that he would never return to his country, but he also knew that he was called to preach the Gospel to the peoples in America.
Serra traveled throughout Mexico and California for hundreds of miles on foot or by sea. He worked tirelessly to set up missions in order to bring the Native Americans to Christ. However, imperfect his methods were, it is undeniable that he had denied himself comfort, rest, and even bodily health in order to evangelize the native tribes. On several occasions, Serra had to be carried around because of severe leg injuries. But none of this stopped him from completing his mission.
Though Serra’s interests were primarily evangelical, the Spanish government’s interests were almost purely political. The Spanish were looking to expand their empire all through the Americas. In similar fashion to almost all empires that have ever existed, they usurped territory from the natives through wars and by oppression, enslavement, and other forms of terror. But the most devastating consequence of their presence in the New World was the diseases that they brought over with them. It was these diseases that nearly wiped out the native peoples in the Americas, whose immune systems could not protect them from these foreign diseases. These were the conditions under which Serra tried to spread the message of Christ: amidst great hostilities between native people who had their own religions and way of life and the imperial Spanish powers that were taking by force land, power, resources, and the lives of the native inhabitants. Surely living between these two worlds was a source of great conflict, disappointment, betrayal, sadness, and grief for Serra and his companions. Yet, his mission was to evangelize these people and he would not be deterred by the circumstances of his day.
A set of four sermons  were given by Serra during one season of Lent. One would expect that if Serra had been the maniacal tyrant and racist of which he has been accused, his sermons would have been much like that of other racist, murderous tyrants. One would expect rhetoric of the superiority of the Spanish peoples over the native people. Or a call for violent persecution of those who would not submit to his rule or to the rule of the Spanish colonists. On the contrary, these sermons were on the topic of the goodness of God and the mercy of God. Upon reading the fourth sermon entitled, Of the Sweetness of the Lord in His Mercy , one could have mistaken this sermon for one of Pope Francis homilies at Santa Marta during this Year of Mercy. He speaks of the mercy of God, which seeks out the sinner, even while the sinner is in sin, far from God. He tells a story about the Lord being pleased to forgive a great sinner:
“There is a story that one day such a great sinner went out into the field seething with rage and blaspheming against God. He issued this challenge. If God is strong enough to fight me, let Him try, and I will destroy Him! Do you think that the Lord came down to fight against that unhappy man? Instead, God arranged it that a document floated down with this message, ‘Say this, have mercy on me, Oh God.’ The man read it. He changed his mind and repented and the Lord granted him His infinite mercy. Saint Anthony of Padua rightly says, ‘Oh, the depth of the divine clemency!'” Saint Junípero Serra
It is hard to imagine someone like Hitler preaching on the infinite mercy of God to his “subjects”. Clearly, it was Christ who consumed the mind and heart of Serra and the Holy Ghost who gave Him the words to speak to those he was evangelizing about God’s mercy. During this turbulent, violent time in history, Serra preached the timeless truth of God’s abundant mercy in Christ.
Serra sought Christ and to win souls for Him and His glory – his own and those of the natives inhabitants of California and Mexico. He had many crosses which provided the means to Christ: leaving everything he knew to voyage to an unknown world, encounters with people who were hostile to the Gospel, unsuccessful missions, Spanish colonialism with all of its violence and oppression, difficult co-laborers, raids by Spanish soldiers into the missions, attacks by native people on the missions, injuries and illnesses, and finally trying to overcome his own weaknesses and sins, of which he was aware. In his missionary zeal, he founded many missions in California that are now major cities, with large populations of Catholic peoples who descended from those missions. As the Lord says, “A good tree does not produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit (Matt. 7:18 [NIV]). St. Junípero Serra shared in the suffering servanthood of Christ and was a true missionary disciple.
“No servant is greater than his master”: Reflections on the New Evangelization
Much like St. Junípero Serra, the missionary disciple today finds him- or herself at the dawn of a new age, in a new sort of colonialism, not one of land, but a colonization of the mind and heart of the people. The Christian worldview is no longer dominant in the West. The minds and hearts of people have been captured by relativistic philosophies and principles, radical individualism, contempt for authority, every sort of vice and sin, and a “throwaway culture” that reduces the human person to his or her utility only. Because this colonization is not a dispute between two parts over physical territory, but rather one of the heart and mind, the boundaries are not so clear, and many Catholics have fallen away from the faith due this neo-colonialism. And this is why the new evangelization exists: to call forth missionary disciples to capture the hearts and minds of today’s people and bring them to Christ.
To accomplish the new evangelization, it is still necessary to do what Christ has said: to take up one’s cross and follow Him. The missionary disciple must be willing to suffer in accomplishing his or her mission. Some of these sufferings may be: the loss of relationships, loneliness, rejection, mockery for one’s beliefs, indifference, persecutions, loss of reputation, possibly loss of job, imprisonment, and even death. The missionary disciple endures all this knowing that if he or she remains in Christ’s love, Christ’s suffering love, that he or she will win Christ and win others over to Christ. The missionary disciple will be misunderstood, will be mocked, will be condemned, and will even be betrayed by his or her own people. But this should not discourage the missionary disciple because no servant is greater than his master (John 15:20).
The missionary disciple will have to witness to the truth with his or her very life. The missionary disciple may be used by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles, but it was not the miracles that kept people faithful to Christ. Many people saw and experienced Christ’s miracles, but turned away from Him when He gave a hard teaching (John 6:66), or while He suffered His Passion. The missionary disciple will need community; the community of other committed missionary disciples who are willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. For there were throngs of people who followed Christ, but only twelve were chosen to be his apostles. And even at the Passion, only one of the apostles remained with Him. And the Holy Spirit, while emboldening them, did not give them gifts so that they could lead a life of comfort and pleasure, meeting in small groups to edify one another, but rather so that they could “suffer…for the sake of the Name” (Acts 5:41). It was this suffering that grew the Church in the early days, and it is this same suffering that missionary disciples all over the world are experiencing for the sake of the Name (ن). These are missionary disciples, accomplishing the work of the new evangelization by their blood.
Missionary disciples are not made, but rather forged through fire. They are purified through the suffering and toil of their work for the Gospel. Jesus had no missionary disciples before the cross. Missionary disciples must take up their cross daily in order to even be disciples. In the new evangelization, missionary disciples must be willing to enter into suffering for the suffering love of Christ. Although formation is always necessary for the disciple, and Jesus spent much of His ministry teaching and showing the disciples how to live as He lived, in the end every missionary disciple must give witness by his or her life. Jesus gave the supreme witness to the truth of His love by the Cross; St. Junípero Serra by the many crosses of his life; and if the plight of Christians around the world says anything about the missionary disciple of the new evangelization, it is that he or she will be a martyr.
Author: Natasha W
Saints Augustine and Monica, pray for us!
 Isaiah 53:4-6 RSVCE
 Sandos, James A. “Junipero Serra’s Canonization and the Historical Record.” American Historical Review 93, no. 5 (December 1988): 1253. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 24, 2016).
 Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, Before Gold: California under Spain and Mexico, vol. 3,Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), 427-57.
 Ibid. 450-457.
 Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz, Before Gold: California under Spain and Mexico, vol. 3,Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), 455.