Do Justice for the Sake of Doing Justice
The following is Matthew Fox’s talk, given at the Amah Mutsun Tribal Day of Prayer, Ceremony and Protest against the Canonization of Junipero Serra, July 11, 2015.
I wish to thank chairman Valentin Lopez and the Amah Mutsun nation for sponsoring this event and for including myself in it. And I wish to honor all those who have come to speak and to dance and offer prayers that open the heart so that truth and justice can flow and authentic healing can happen.
In the year 1992 a Caribbean poet named Derrick Walcott won the Nobel Prize for poetry. In his acceptance speech he spoke the following sentence: “The fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.”
We gather today because, like Walcott reminds us, history is not always beautiful or kind or good or just. The Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire—urged on by the papal teachings we call “The Doctrine of Discovery” from the fifteenth century—are part of that shadow history that we need to acknowledge in order to grow up. And we need to speak truth to power in order to heal. Of course these Empires, accompanied by missionaries, some of whom were not in love with creation, left much havoc and brokenness behind–what Chairman Valentin has called “severe historical trauma.“ As have the British Empire, the French Empire, the German Empire, the Japanese Empire, the American Empire and more.
No, history is not always beautiful and is full of tragedy. But our lives are much bigger (thank God!) than human history. Creation is much bigger than human history. The Great Spirit is much bigger than human history. Human history has to catch up with the Creator and with the beauty and joy of creation itself. We are on this earth to fall in love and to share the beauties of creation—in spite of history. And because we are all human we all carry if not guilt then at least some responsibility for human history. But we still have poetry…and all the other arts such are represented here today, the art of dance and ceremony and prayer and study and scholarship and research and psychology and the art of speaking the truth to power—all of which I would maintain exist in order that “we might fall in love with the world…in spite of history.”
The missions of California and Junipero Serra in particular are clearly and by all the authentic scholarship of our time including of course the stories passed on to and through surviving Native American peoples part of that dark side of human history. That is why we protest vehemently against the abominable attempt to canonize Serra a saint. This is an insult to our hearts and minds and the suffering of the ancestors. Pope Francis said this week in Bolivia that “very serious crimes” were committed against the indigenous peoples. Well, canonizing Serra is squaring the very same “serious crimes.” It is itself a serious crime. It is also an insult to the person of Jesus who taught love and compassion and justice, not hatred and racism and militarism and empire-building. After all, his life was cut short and in a very cruel fashion because the Roman Empire did not approve of his teachings. Jesus was not on the side of empires—he opposed the Empire of his day; but Serra was on the side of empire.
It is fitting to cite Walcott, a Caribbean poet, at this gathering to remember the mission movement of Serra because the very first outside visitor to the missions was a French sea captain who had sailed from the slave plantations of the Caribbean to Monterey Bay. On seeing the missions he drew explicit parallels between the slavery of his French Empire perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and what he observed in the missions. “Even the sounds of the whips” were the same he said. And Serra loved the whips. He whipped himself regularly; and he whipped the Indians for years and years and years—even after the military governor of the area forbade it.
Serra canonizers tell us that we cannot judge him by twenty-first century standards. Well, why not? He is being proposed as a “spiritual model” (i.e. saint) to twenty-first century peoples. But we don’t have to judge him by today’s standards actually. The French sea captain judged him in his own time. And he was not alone. Even fellow Franciscans in the mission era were appalled by the state of the California missions and their treatment of Indians not only the torture going on but also that face that there was no educating of them. They were not taught to read or write or even learn the Spanish language (just as in slavery in the south, reading and writing were forbidden). Even military governors had running fights with Serra about his treatment of the Indians.
It is highly significant and deeply synchronistic, I believe, that this gathering is occurring 24 hours after the confederate flag in the state of South Carolina, the birthplace of the Civil War and the number one seaport for the slave trade in America, has finally come down. What the confederate flag is to black Americans the Missions of Serra are to Native Americans of California and beyond. Both represent a time of slavery and subjugation of other humans beings in the name of white supremacy and racism and colonialism and empire building and free labor amassing fortunes for the few; and also false religion. Serra’s religious ideology distorted the teachings of Jesus in his day just as much as ISIS distorts the teachings of the prophet Mohammad in our time.
That Pope Francis does not yet see this is a scandal. But some day maybe he will learn the truth and will be converted. Meanwhile, while it is important to speak truth to power, and the papacy is still powerful, we ought not to focus overly much on what popes say or do or do not do. When the Serra canonization process began under Pope John Paul II who ”beatified” him that same pope changed the basic rules of canonization itself. He did away with the “devil’s advocate” whose job it was for many centuries to argue against any person proposed for sainthood by researching and studying the person’s shadow side. By doing away with the devil’s advocate Pope John Paul II opened the door to lots of financial wheeling and dealing to get people canonized who in no way deserved it.
One such person is Jose Escriva, the founder of the secret society in the Catholic Church named “Opus Dei.” Escriva was no saint—he was a Spanish fascist priest who admired Hitler and supported the dictator Franco and who screamed at women calling them “whores” in front of others, etc. etc. But in his rapid canonization process the powerful and moneyed figures who supported him did not allow even Escriva’s secretary of seven years, a woman who experienced his regular tirades among other things, to testify against him. It was a rushed job; a set up. Someone made lots of money on it.
The same is true of the canonization of Pope John Paul II himself. He ignored the pedophile priest reality for decades and he supported Father Maciel, a big money raiser and a severe pedophile and a radical right-winger who was a friend and admirer of dictator Pinochet in Chile.
JP II killed theology in the Church and brought the Inquisition back. In my book “The Pope’s War” I name the 106 theologians he condemned and hounded (I was just one of them). He appointed as bishops and cardinals Yes Men who also looked the other way when priestly pedophilia was happening; and also many Opus Dei hierarchy whose entire theology can be summarized in one word: Obey. One priest very knowledgeable about South America told me that JPII “killed at least 10,000 people in Latin America” by his attacks, with the CIA’s backing, on liberation theology and base communities there.
If Serra gets canonized he will be in the company of these other two so-called saints. It will be powerful money forces—including the Opus Dei archbishops of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the Knights of Columbus who are pushing the canonization—who will have once again succeeded. One Catholic leader wrote me this week that there are some very powerful money people in Spain who are the great Pushers behind Serra’s canonization. They call themselves “Serra International.“
Thus we do not want to focus overly much on Pope Francis or any pope. Rather, we want to ask: What can we do to speak the truth and work for justice and thereby offer healing and a better future so that the people might live. We do justice “for the sake of doing justice”—not to overthrow any popes. I love what St Thomas Aquinas teaches when he says: “The proper objects of the heart are truth and justice.” Truth and Justice live in the heart, not just in the head! Our work of truth-telling and research is heart work; it heals the heart and it expands it. Didn’t someone once say, ”the truth shall make you free?”
I propose that we look beyond just books and speeches and written words to share the truth. Let us look to art—and especially to the visual arts to tell the truth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we worked a deal with the state of California and its legislature and governor: First to remove the statue of Serra from the state house in Sacramento; and do the same from the capitol building in Washington D.C. If South Carolina can put the federal flag into the museum surely we can put statues of the Racist Colonizer-in-Chief Father Serra into the museum can we not? We don’t want him representing us any longer any more than South Carolinians want the confederate flag representing them. This action will be a moment of education for many.
But what comes next? What if the tribes of California were to receive funding from the state of California and its many philanthropists to create paintings and mosaics to post in all the missions around two themes: 1) the theme of the painful history of the missions and 2) the theme of the beauty of creation which was at the heart of the spiritual consciousness of those who lived and loved and respected this land before the Spanish Empire and its missionaries set foot here. It is this passion for the beauty of creation that needs to be awakened in all hearts and souls and religions today if Mother Earth is to be healed.
This grass root art project could be a marvelous new industry for Native People including children and teen agers and adults and elders to engage in. It would create good work for many people to tell the stories in visual form: The sad stories of history along with the good ones and along with the story of the Creator’s beautiful creation. It would be healing for Native people’s souls living and deceased. Ceremonies could accompany the postings and teachings of the paintings and murals. The ancestors, many of whom still dwell on this land, would be honored and remembered. But it would also be a healing for others, people of all races would learn truth and beauty and would therefore heal.
The genius of non-violence as taught and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and others is that it does not deny evil. And Denial is so much in the air in this shameful effort to canonize Serra. How serious is denial? The great Dominican mystic of the fourteenth century, Meister Eckhart, said “God is the denial of denial.” This means that where there is denial, the Great Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is blocked from acting. This is why truth-telling is so important; art that tells the truth is so important: Let us deny denial.
They are doing it finally in South Carolina. Is California that much behind Southern Carolina? Where is our Governor on this subject of Serra’s ugly canonization? Where are our Senators? Our congress people? WHERE? Where are our religious leaders? Where is the media? When we can deny denial, then God can flow again; and truth can flow again; and healing can occur so that joy can flow again.
Finally, I want to invoke the wisdom of the Austrian poet Rilke who says: “Walk your walk of lament on a path of praise.” It is important that we lament; that we grieve; that we remember all that was lost and acknowledge the suffering and brokenness of hearts and communities that has occurred. But it is equally important and even more so that we recover our power of praise. We are not asked to praise history in all of its dark manifestations. And we are certainly never going to praise Father Serra; rather we pity him and pray not to him but for his very tortured soul. We are not asked to live in the past. Our ancestors would be the first to tell us that.
But we are asked to praise the Creator; and creation now. And we do this by seeking every day to fall in love again with creation. Maybe it is a leaf or a tree; a flower or a bird’s song; an animal or a child; a loved one; a poem; a breeze; a river or stream and our precious water; a song; a sunset; a book; a friend. This is the power of non-violence. To convert our moral outrage and anger at injustice into love and to use our outrage as a fuel for creating a better history, one more worthy of the creation the Creator has bestowed on us. For just as the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, so our existence, our brief and holy and blessed existence, is loveable beyond measure. And no person; and no institution; and no history can or ever will deny us this.