(Optional) Memorial of Saint Junipero Serra, priest
(Amos 5:14-15.21-24; Matthew 8:28-34)
St. Junipero Serra continually pops up in the news. Every so often images of him are vandalized by protestors who think of him as an ogre. During a demonstration following the killing of George Floyd, a statue of him in Spain was torn down. In today’s first reading the prophet Amos calls for “justice (to) surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.” Despite protestors’ misgivings, history shows Junipero Serra having fulfilled Amos’ petitions.
Serra left comfort and status behind to evangelize in Mexico. Eventually, he moved up the western coast to found the California missions. His purpose was both religious and social. He and his Franciscan brothers not only instructed the natives in faith; they also taught them farming skills. There were incidents of natives leaving the communities, being returned and punished. But Serra was more involved in defending natives from the Spanish lords than in persecuting them.
Justice in Scripture is primarily a personal virtue. People become just by heeding God’s word. In doing so, they give others their due and take special care for the vulnerable. Junipero Serra was eminently just in all this. He was considered a holy man and a humanitarian long after his death. Those who malign him today do not make the effort to learn Serra’s story.