Thanks to Pope Francis this past week, Junípero Serra (1713-1784) has been canonized as a Patron Saint of Vocations and Callings. Indeed, the Franciscan priest worked hard as a professor in Spain, an administrator in Mexico, and an evangelist in California. He was very dedicated to bringing Catholicism and agriculture to the indigenous California population. Serra was known to flagellate himself with an iron chain, because he grieved being a sinner. To remain humble, he sometimes wore an undergarment made with broken wire bits. It was Serra’s evangelizing zeal that Pope Francis admires. But similar to other colonization stories, the suffering of the indigenous population under Serra’s watch is hard to understand. What can we learn from Serra that inspires our life journeys, our vocations?
Have you heard of the Camino de Real? Serra’s vision and administration were instrumental in its formation along the California coastline. This Royal Road or King’s Highway was a pathway that connected each mission to each other by a day’s journey of 30 miles. Beginning at age 55, Serra founded the first nine of the 21 missions that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco.
Imagine a California traveler journeying down a rocky path in the 1700s. It is the rainy season. He is cold and wet, hungry and thirsty, riding his mule for hours. Suddenly, in the darkness, he sees some flickering lights and hurries toward them. He knocks on the large mission door and is welcomed inside. Here is a place to rest, eat and drink, find encouragement and information–until he must travel again.
With a little faith we can stretch the Camino de Real into a metaphor for our life journeys. We’re on God’s road; his time table. The journey is sometimes easy, but often difficult. We press on.
I once heard poet Luci Shaw use the Camino de Real as a symbol for journaling. She suggested that daily, reflective writing can be mission respite from our work. It can refresh, encourage, and reveal insights we do not understand until we write them down. I have found this helpful, but journaling isn’t for every one. We each must discover what aids us best in traveling from one day to the next.
Recently, I found writer D.L. Mayfield, a woman in her thirties, who struggles with her vocation. She’s different from St. Serra, who seemed to dive confidently into his vocation. Mayfield writes that she didn’t feel “called” to minister to the poor as much as she felt dragged. I love her honest writing. She admits that she often feels helpless and overwhelmed by the hurts of others. She wonders if making Funfetti cakes for sad neighbors really is meaningful. But then she writes:
“…I feel like God said: you keep baking cakes. Some of the most unrecognized ministries are my favorites. Like, the ministry of playing yu-gi-oh cards with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing white styrofoam containers of Pad Thai to people whose baby is very, very sick. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending postcards. The ministry of sitting in silence with someone in the psych ward. The ministry of gardening flowers….The ministry of noticing beauty everywhere–in fabrics, in people, in art–and in the wilderness.
“The older I get, I realize now that the ministries I once thought so trivial I now think are the most radical. I spent the last year being stripped of anything that
would make me feel lovely to God, and I came out a different person. Because I discovered that he always loved me anyways. I’m not Joan of Arc, it turns out. I’m just somebody who likes to bake cakes.” (Check her out at www.dlmayfield.com)
With Mayfield, I can relate to small tasks transforming from trivial to radical. Water turns into wine. Our work, our life journeys, the very essence of ourselves, matter to the One who keeps us. Because we know we are accepted and loved there is no need for barbed wire garments or flagellation. Our best works are done in response to the love that does not fail.
I discovered that he always loved me anyways. –D.L. Mayfield