Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Friday, May 15, 2015

California Mission Pilgrimage - 8

California Mission Pilgrimage(8)


Day Ten: Divine Mercy Sunday


Mission San Juan Capistrano

          After driving home on Saturday, we went back to Mission San Juan Capistrano on Divine Mercy Sunday to finish our pilgrimage.  After attending Mass in the new basilica, we visited the old Mission.  We had been there numerous times, but it continues to be a special place.

          First of all, this Mission has more to see, in terms of artifacts and buildings, than any other Mission, with the possible exception of La Purisima.  There are also some really incredible places here.

          One is the Old Stone Church.  This church was a labor of love, built by the padres and Indians in the beginning of the 1800s.  You can see little sea shells mixed in with the stones, that had been added by Indian women just so they could contribute something of personal value to the place.  After only eight years, the church collapsed during Mass on December 8, 1812, during an earthquake.  The ruins have been retrofitted, and the new basilica is a larger model of the Old Stone Church.

          Possibly the best place is the Serra Chapel.  This chapel, still used for Mass, is the last original building still standing in California, where Father Serra himself personally celebrated Mass.

The Serra Chapel

The Old Stone Church

Lots to see at this Mission
The new basilica

          Thus ended our Mission pilgrimage.  It was an incredibly wonderful and spiritual experience.  In the weeks since I have gotten back and returned to the hectic pace of life, I have often found myself thinking longingly of our trip.  I couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone else thinking of giving it a try.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

California Mission Pilgrimage - 7

California Mission Pilgrimage(7)

Day Eight: Easter Friday


Mission San Francisco de Asis

          The Mission in San Francisco, sometimes called Mission Dolores, is a great place, but to me, it is in the worst location.  Getting to the Mission is tough (especially when you are trying to make the morning Mass).  The traffic is difficult, and once you arrive, parking is even worse!  The Mission is located in a rather dirty part of San Francisco, and will probably require a fair amount of walking up the city’s hilly streets to get there.

          We did make it just in time for the morning Mass, and found that there were exactly four people attending Mass (not counting the priest).  We more than doubled the crowd (although another family came in a few minutes into the Mass.)  Still, the Mass was beautiful, as is the church, and the grounds are really very nice.  There is even an entrance to the adjacent new church, which is used for larger celebrations, such as Sunday Mass, for example.  We were just exploring that church when we had to leave for the sake of a funeral.  Another interesting experience at Mission San Francisco was that we had to tour the Mission grounds while avoiding a film crew that was working on some sort of documentary.

Inside the new, adjacent church

Mission San Rafael

          Finding your way out of the city from Mission San Francisco can be tough, but once you do, you’ll get to drive on the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a nice iconic experience if you haven’t done it before.  North of the city of San Francisco is another urban Mission, San Rafael.

          The small Mission chapel is located on the same grounds as the new church, like San Francisco.  The small chapel is beautiful, though, with nice angelic art.  There is a tiny corner in the gift shop with only a handful of artifacts, but the woman at the gift shop was very helpful, and this Mission is free to visit.


Mission San Francisco Solano

          Our final Mission was San Francisco Solano, the last Mission to be built, and the only one built under Mexican rule.  This is the other Mission that is a state park, not an active church.  One of the treats at this Mission is a room with watercolor paintings of all the Missions, created by Chris Jorgensen in about 1915.  There is a little more to see on the grounds, the chapel being the high point.  Down the street from the Mission is the soldiers’ barracks, which contains some really nice historical artifacts.

Again, watch out for secular bias.  For example, one of the workers made it a point to share how the Indians were not allowed in the cloister area, as if that was somehow terribly degrading to them.  Of course, any Catholic should know that a religious community needs some cloistered area, where the members can get away for prayer and community life, away from the world outside.

          One nice thing about this Mission is its location.  First of all, the drive to get there is through beautiful wine country vineyards.  The Mission is located right off a town square with a park in the middle and little cafes and shops along the edges.  It is also near other historical sites, such as the location of the original Bear Flag Revolt.

The Bear Flag, in the museum at the soldiers' barracks

The view of the Sonoma square from the balcony of the soldiers' barracks

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

California Mission Pilgrimage - 6

California Mission Pilgrimage(6)

Day Seven: Easter Thursday


Mission Santa Clara

          We were only planning to visit two Missions this day, and then spend the night with my mother, who lives in the East Bay Area.  We started with Mission Santa Clara.  This Mission is totally unique because it is located on a college campus!  It is the church for Santa Clara University, a Catholic college.  The chapel is a beautiful building in the middle of campus, and the inside of the church is really rather stunning.  One problem, however, is that the office doesn’t open until 1:00.  We were ready to leave about 10:00, but we also wanted our passport stamped.  One of my sons and I explored the student commons and the campus ministry office, searching for a stamp, to no avail.

          We ended up coming back after visiting Mission San Jose, only about half an hour away, and found a student in the church office who let us in an hour early and gave us our stamp.

The old cemetery has been turned into a rose garden

Mission San Jose

          Not far from Santa Clara is Mission San Jose.  This Mission is in a busy downtown area, very different from the rural setting of most of the Missions we had visited the previous few days.  The Mission contains a modest museum area, which we actually found to be pretty nice, even after having visited so many.  Then, of course, there is the church itself, which still serves a parish community.

          That is one thing to be careful of when visiting the Missions.  It is great to be able to attend Mass there, but sometimes there is a wedding or a funeral (as we would discover the next day) and visiting the church may not work out.

What the Mission looked like in its early years

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

California Mission Pilgrimage - 5

California Mission Pilgrimage(5)

Day Six: Easter Wednesday


Mission San Carlos Borromeo

          This Mission is often simply called Mission Carmel, and to be honest, I really didn’t want it to be my favorite, because it is everybody’s favorite.  But I have to admit, after having visited it, that it is my favorite (although each Mission is special and San Juan Capistrano is a close second).

          There are a few things that make Mission Carmel so special.  First of all, the church is absolutely beautiful.  Also, many of the Missions have wonderful sacred art and artifacts; some have more than Carmel, in fact, but what they have here is really amazing.

          The most incredible thing that Mission Carmel has, which no other Mission does, is the grave of Father Serra.  In the church, before the altar are three graves.  One is Father Serra’s.  Another is Father Fermin Lasuen’s, who founded the next nine Missions after Father Serra.  Since we had been learning about him on our trip, it was special to visit his grave, as well.  There are also many relics of Father Serra.  You can see a part of his coffin, for example.  Since Carmel was Father Serra’s headquarters, you can also visit his room there, which is where he died.  There are some nice relics at other Missions, but the vast amount directly related to Father Serra make Carmel a unique place.

The grave of Fr. Serra, before the altar
Father Serra's room, in which he died
The Blessed Sacrament chapel

San Juan Bautista

          From Carmel, we went to Mission San Juan Bautista.  Although it doesn’t have as much as Carmel, this is a great Mission to visit.  The church and courtyard are beautiful, as is the Mission’s location.  There is an original dirt section of El Camino Real at this Mission, and it is in a cute little town off highway 101, at the end of a street, making up one part of a square surrounded by other historic buildings that have been preserved and are open to visitors.

          After visiting the Mission, we ate lunch at the “Mission Café” just down the road.  One thing about San Juan Bautista is that I found it to be the last Mission located in a really beautiful location with a beautiful drive to get there (with the exception of our last Mission, San Francisco Solano).

Our Lady of Guadalupe chapel

Mission Santa Cruz

          After leaving San Juan Bautista, we headed to Santa Cruz.  Although there was a wonderful drive through the mountains, as we approached Santa Cruz, the traffic became horrendous, and the city itself was crowded and kind of dirty.  We arrived at Mission Santa Cruz shortly before 3:00, and it was a good thing we did, because the old Mission is a small chapel located next to the new church, and it closes at 3:00.  There is very little to see at Mission Santa Cruz, so our lack of time turned out to be no problem, but the chapel itself is nice, and of course it is holy ground.  It is free to visit, just make sure you don’t get there too late.


          We camped that night at New Brighton State Beach, which is a campground I would definitely like to visit again.  (The state hadn’t even gotten around to boarding up the bathrooms yet, which provided us with an unexpected luxury).  One major problem, though, was that the traffic the rest of the day and the next morning, around Santa Cruz, continued to be terrible.

Monday, May 11, 2015

California Mission Pilgrimage - 4

California Mission Pilgrimage(4)

Day Five: Easter Tuesday


Mission San Miguel

          We woke up Tuesday to a rainy morning.  The lack of showers and the fact that I had to break camp in the rain meant we wouldn’t be making morning Mass at San Miguel.  This Mission is right off the highway, so we had seen it before.  We arrived while Mass was still in progress and before the office opened, so we drove to nearby Paso Robles and escaped the rain by parking in an outside car wash facility, in order to organize the van and change into dry clothes.

          Feeling a little fresher, we went back to San Miguel.  Having been there before, we did not tour the whole grounds, but we went into the church to pray.  The parish community there is always so warm and friendly.  There are also things to see in the front of the property and surrounding it.  Given its location to the highway and the prayerful setting, Mission San Miguel is a nice place to stop on any trip up the 101 for a brief opportunity for both history and prayer.

This bell tower at the back of the property is the view from the freeway exit.

Mission San Antonio

          San Antonio is one of the Missions I had not seen before this trip.  It is a ways off the freeway, and once again, the drive to get there is gorgeous.  To reach the actual Mission, you have to drive through an army base, which was a treat for the kids.  Then you reach a large property nestled under the mountains where the Mission is located.  Despite its rather remote location, Mission San Antonio is an active parish, for about 35 families.  Priests come in from Mission San Miguel on Sundays. 

          The beautiful location of this Mission gives it a quiet, peaceful feel.  There is also plenty to see on the property.  The Church, with the double façade is beautiful, as is the courtyard (though the church itself is currently under renovation).  People can actually make reservations to stay at this Mission.  It would definitely be a quiet if not somewhat scary (at night) place to make a personal retreat.

Mission San Antonio is currently undergoing renovation.
Driving through an army base to reach this Mission was a treat for our kids.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

          Our final Mission this day was the small Mission Soledad.  Like so many of the Missions in the middle, Soledad is in a beautiful location, and it is not far off the highway.  The chapel at this Mission is quite small and we were blessed to be able to pray with a group of Sisters when we were there.  There is a small gift shop and museum area, and there are a few ruins on the property.  One treat about Mission Soledad is that there is no charge to visit any of the parts of the Mission, and we also learned that if we returned with a fully stamped Mission passport, having visited all 21, we could receive a free pin at Mission Soledad.

          In fact, the woman at the gift shop told me an interesting story.  She said that there was a biker club that had made up its own version of the Mission passport.  Bikers would frequently visit them at the Mission and present their passports to be stamped.

          From Soledad, we took another stunningly beautiful drive to reach Carmel, the site of Mission San Carlos Borromeo.  We stopped by the Mission before going to our motel, just to see where it was, and it was good that we did, because we got to visit the Blessed Sacrament chapel, which was open and is often used for daily Mass, but which would be closed when we visited the following day.  Another neat thing we saw that night, in Monterey, was a stone cross set up to mark the place where Sebastian Vizcaino first set up a cross in Monterey in 1602, when he first discovered the bay there.

The marker where Vizcaino placed the first cross in Monterey

Friday, May 8, 2015

California Mission Pilgrimage 3

California Mission Pilgrimage(3)

Day Four: Easter Monday


Mission Santa Ines

          At this point, our pilgrimage took a delightful turn because of the sheer beauty of the scenery over the next few days.  We woke up early on Monday to head out toward Santa Ines.  We got very early starts each day (quite a feat with four kids) to ensure we could reach all three Missions that day, and also because the peace and quiet of the early morning made for wonderful starts to our day.

          This day, we also sought to make the morning Mass at the Mission.  My wife and I had vacationed near Mission Santa Ines when we were first married, so we were pretty familiar with it.  There is not a large museum on the grounds, but for my money, it is in the most beautiful location of all the Missions.  The parish community is very warm and there is a chapel with perpetual Adoration at the back of the Church that makes Mission Santa Ines a special place to pray.  The beauty of the place is also very conducive to prayer outside, on the Mission grounds.

The grounds at Santa Ines are very conducive to prayer

Mission La Purisima

          From Mission Santa Ines we took the beautiful drive to Mission La Purisima.  The drive is short, only about half an hour.  La Purisima is one of two Missions that is no longer an active church; it is a California state park.  This Mission is a nice place to visit because there is so much of it left to see.  Being a state park, it has been preserved without the renovations that other Missions might need to accommodate parish communities.  There is also still livestock on the property and an opportunity to walk on a dirt road section of El Camino Real, the original Spanish road that connected all the Missions.

          Visiting a chapel at a Mission that is no longer an active church has a very unique feel.  There is still art, an altar, and a retablo, but it is pretty bare.  Praying there is kind of a special thing.  I thought of the wonderful things that had happened there, and how many souls came to Mission La Purisima to meet Christ for the first time.  Praying in that chapel I felt as though I was bringing something back to that place that belongs there, but is so often forgotten.

          One word of caution is that the informational displays at the visitor center are somewhat biased.  They are written from a modernist secular point of view that sees Spanish involvement in California as pure colonialism, without honoring the heroic sacrifice so many men of God made to serve the spiritual and material needs of the native population.

          Mission La Purisima sometimes hosts “living history” days, in which people can experience some of the atmosphere of 18th and 19th century life at the Mission.  That might be something to look into if you’re interested.

For many years the Holy Mass used to be offered here

Walking El Camino Real like pilgrims of old

Mission San Luis Obispo

          From La Purisima, we drove to Mission San Luis Obispo.  This Mission is located in a cute little town along Highway 101.  It is a nice (if somewhat dirty) downtown to explore, and we had lunch there.  This Mission has unique architecture because it is the only Mission laid out in the form of an “L.” 

          The kids particularly liked the fountain out front with the bear statues.  San Luis Obispo was once known as the “Valley of the Bears,” because of the grizzlies that once lived there and provided meat for many of the other Missions.

The church has a unique 'L-shaped' design


          We were able to leave San Luis Obispo relatively early and head toward our campground for the night at San Simeon State Beach.  This was a nice place to camp, but a bit farther from the Mission than I expected.  There are some things to see nearby, such as Hearst Castle, and a viewing area for elephant seals, who like to beach themselves just off the road.  One thing to watch out for, though, is that due to the drought, the bathrooms were all boarded up, and a line of port-a-potties were the only available facilities.