Padre Junípero Serra, OFM devoted to building a society of Christians

Considering the life of Blessed Fray Junípero Serra, OFM, from the viewpoint of philanthropy and the natural sciences, one finds much with which to credit him—and also something for which to fault him. If we judge him by the standards of today—two centuries after his death—we can find much for which to praise him, and also something for which to blame him.

The same might be said of a number of important figures who lived around the same time, including presidents of the United States who kept slaves and sanctioned raids against Native Americans.

A friend who is a university professor writes that you should “never remove a human being from his context—that is where he belongs and that is where he lives, and [where] mercy and grace dwell there, not in some sky-rocket idealism where only angels dwell.”

To wit, we should never take Padre Serra from his 18th-century Spanish-type of Christianity and transplant him into our own secular culture and a 21st-century expression of the faith.

So when I think of Father Serra I measure him not by today’s standards or even by those of his own country and times, but rather by those of the faith that inspired him and made him the man that he was.

That same faith today expresses itself somewhat differently than at the time of Junípero. It is still the same but it has insights that were hidden in his day, just as our expression of the faith will one day be even richer than it is today.