Which Way?

May 28, 2008
We went to see Prince Caspian the other day. What a fantastic rendition of the book. I have to admit, the actors that get cast in the roles of my favorite characters are rarely as I imagined them, but when the movie is well made, that little distraction passes, and I end up captivated. I read a review on the movie later which delved deeply into the spiritual issues that C.S. Lewis was dealing with in this book, namely pride. Although much of the reviewer’s analysis escaped me, I did grasp certain points of the movie. Namely, that when I try to “do it myself” I frequently fail, sometimes miserably. If we could do Spiritual Direction ourselves, we wouldn’t need the Ten Commandments, the Gospels, religious leaders, retreats, pilgrimage or the Church. Like Peter, carrying out an attack on King Miraz’ fortress himself, rather than seeking out Aslan and his advice and direction first, I bumble through one misadventure after another, leaving behind a trail of destruction and tears. Without a spiritual guide, it is difficult at times to resist the glamour of evil, as when the White Witch offers power and prestige in exchange for one drop of Peter or Caspian’s blood. Edmund, who remembers his humiliation at the hands of the White Witch and Aslan’s subsequent mercy and sacrifice, shatters the illusion and saves Narnia from that possible disaster.
Spiritual Direction requires submission. I am a proud, vain person. I like the feeling of being recognized for something “I’ve done myself”. But in truth, anything I’ve ever done well, I’ve had lots of help with. In music, I’ve had years of lessons, encouragement, criticism, and investment by my parents. In running my businesses there has been a network of people, offering advice, experience and assisstance. So in my spiritual life, why is it so hard to figure out who to turn to? Submission requires trust. Our parish priest is busy, yes, with all the administrative details of running a “business”. But when approached with spiritual questions and issues, his demeanor changes. He takes on a new enthusiasm, and answers with care and compassion. This is his real vocation. Our local bishop is laden with responsibility in running a large diocese which has been deeply hurt by scandal and in which immigration is a very present issue. Yet when he offers Mass, and preaches on Jesus word and how very applicable it is in our lives right this minute, you feel his holiness, his closeness to Jesus, his sincerity and devotion to us, his people. He is approachable, and very easy to converse with.
Spiritual Direction is not a do-it-yourself project. I have to ask for help, trust in the helper, and do what is suggested. How do I know if it’s working? I have to look at my relationships. Am I at peace, or fighting everyone and everything? Am I at peace in my living situation? Am I at peace with my work? Am I in constant communication with my Lord? These are my goals in seeking Spiritual Direction.

Just a Little Bit

May 21, 2008

Spiritual Direction. A friend and I were discussing religious life the other day. Sometimes she thinks about entering a monastery to become a contemplative nun. I encouraged her desire (against my own selfish wish to keep her here as my friend) to take several weeks or months at a Benedictine monastery where she is an oblate to discern this vocation. After arguing with God about why He would give me such a gift in friendship and then take it away, I realized that in this particular case, knowing my friend’s devotion to her elderly uncle, her daughter and her grandson, she was probably just experiencing a need for some Spiritual Direction. In days past this was achieved by frequent confession with one’s parish priest. Now, with fewer priests, and the ones we have being pulled in so many directions, it is sometimes a challenge to even have the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Confession.

This has also been a theme in my life today. Unlike my friend, I do not have quite as much freedom or finance to travel to the nearest monastery for a few days of personal retreat and guidance from the holy people there. I try to get to confession frequently, which right now is every few months. I try to absorb the message of the homily during Mass. Here in our rural community, we have Mass on Sundays and Thursdays. Our pastor lives 20 miles away and serves 3 churches and helps with a fourth over an 80 mile radius. We have no deacon or assistant pastor at this time. Where to turn for more frequent direction?

Some days it’s as simple as reading a few verses from the Gospel of Matthew over breakfast with my son. We read from the parts where Jesus is speaking. Only a few lines, as just keeping a 5 year old’s attention to bless the food is a challenge. The words will stay with me for at least a few minutes, and I can contemplate them in between planning the day’s work, chasing the dog off the porch where we’re enjoying the early morning sun with our meal, and calling the child back from fighting off Captain Hook in Neverland to finish his oatmeal. And sometimes it’s just enough to bless the rest of my day.


Mission Santa Ines – Solvang, California

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Mission Santa Barbara is regal and grand. Mission La Purisima is gentle and serene. Tiny Mission Santa Ines lies quietly between the two.  It is as unlikely as the nearby Danish colony of Solvang.

On September 17, 1804, the “Mission of the Passes” became the 19th California Mission.

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Santa Ines was expected to become the most successful of the missions. Due to a series of unfortunate events, this did not happen.

First, the Hidalgo uprising of 1810, gave Mexico its independence from Spain. And then, the great earthquake of 1812 devastated all the missions. Finally, the secularization of 1834 did not give the new mission much time to live up to its promise. 

In the few years it did have, the mission saw over 1,000 baptisms and hundreds of marriages. It boasts some of the earliest industrial sites in California.

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Joseph Chapman was a craftsman from Maine.  In 1818 he sailed west to Hawaii. The Argentine pirate, Hippolyte de Bouchard, forced him into service on his crew.  When Bouchard stopped to raid the Ortega Ranch, near the mission, several crewmembers were captured as well as several soldiers. 

In the exchange of prisoners, Chapman was overlooked or refused and remained in the custody of the soldiers.  When the new governor discovered Chapman’s mechanical inclination and craftsmanship, he pardoned him. Chapman was turned over to the padres at Mission Santa Ines.

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Consequently, Chapman studied and embraced the Catholic faith. He went on to design and build a New England-style fulling mill, which the padres had long envisioned, for treating woolen cloth.  In addition, he married a daughter of the Ortega family, whose ranch he had helped to raid. They settled near the mission, continuing his work there. 

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La Purisima has had massive restoration due to federal and state funding. Yet, Mission Santa Ines has had to rely on the generosity of visitors and benefactors. It has been in continuous use, serving the surrounding community of Solvang, a Danish colony established over 100 years after the founding of the mission.

Danish settlers wanted to train young Danish Americans and preserve their lifestyle. The idea worked. Visitors to Solvang can marvel at Danish architecture, costume, handcrafts and hospitality while wandering the streets and cobblestone alleys of the town.  You might even catch some of the locals speaking the language.

For more information and to plan your pilgrimage:

Old Mission Santa Ines

1760 Mission Drive

Solvang, CA  93463




Pierce Brothers Mission Series




Mission San Juan Capistrano – San Juan Capistrano, California

mission san juan capistrano

The fragrance of thousands of blooms fills the air, floating on a cool ocean breeze.  The ruins of a magnificent cathedral give proud testimony to a transforming faith.  Is this Greece?  Turkey?  Egypt?   No.  This is the coast of Southern California, and the ruins are the Great Stone Church of Mission San Juan Capistrano.   

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This journey was more like a family fun day.  We boarded the Amtrak Coaster in San Diego, found some seats with a table, and ate our lunch.  In Oceanside, we switched to the Pacific Surfliner, for the short hop to San Juan Capistrano.  The mission is a pleasant stroll from the station, past upscale eateries, and through enticing boutiques and galleries.  This location was likely as alluring in 1775 when the Jewel of the Missions was established, as it is today.  The Mission was immediately successful.

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The Great Stone Church, begun in 1797, boasted 8 domes and an arched roof.  Less than ten years after its completion, the devastating 1812 earthquake struck, during Mass, killing 40 people.  One dome and the sanctuary wall still stand, and on occasion a reclusive artist can be found in its shadow, capturing the haunting and beautiful architecture on canvas. 

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The fabulous Mission bells, which welcome the swallows back to their mud nests in the old stone church every spring, have their own story.  Eight days after Fr. Fermin Lasuen’s party arrived in 1775 to establish the mission here, Indians attacked the mission at San Diego, killing the padre there.   The bells were quickly buried and the party fled to the presidio.  The following year, when Fr. Serra arrived, the bells were found, undisturbed.  They were hung from trees until the 120-foot bell tower in the Great Stone Church was completed and they hung there until they were damaged in the 1812 earthquake.  Recast in the year 2000, they once again celebrate the St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) return of their old friends, the swallows.

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Adding insult to injury, only six years after the earthquake, the pirate Hippolyte Bouchard attacked the Mission.  After sacking the town for food and provisions, the mission’s winery was discovered, and revelry ensued until the wine store was depleted.  The pirates moved on.  A large brick wine vat is pictured below, center.  The Pirate Festival is one of many historical reenactments held yearly at the Mission.

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San Juan Capistrano is probably one of the best and longest restored of the missions.  While excavations as early as the 1930’s turned up tallow vats used for making soap and candles, dyeing vats for dyeing wool and furnaces for forging metal tools and hardware were also discovered.  In addition, the restored industrial center is a tribute to the engineering skills and the building efficiency of the Franciscan missionaries.

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The mission had to grow all its own food, and the active garden displays are interesting. Also of note, young Indian boys operated the olive mill stone and the grist mill;  the stones pressed oil from mission olives and ground grain for flour.

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Father Serra’s Chapel is the original mission church.  It withstood the 1812 earthquake and was once again used as the mission church after the Great Stone Church fell.  The chapel got its name because it is the only surviving church where the mission presidente said Mass.  Ongoing conservation efforts in 2008 will be focusing on the 400-year-old hand carved retablo with gold leaf overlay, from Barcelona, Spain. 

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The mission still ministers to the spiritual needs of thousands of Southern Californians and tourists.  A replica Basilica stands nearby and functions as the parish church.  But something is always happening at the Mission itself.  The second Saturday each month is Living History Day, with re-enactments, demonstrations, and costumes from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  Concerts include the Capistrano Valley Symphony Pops, Jazz, Swing and Classic Rock Bands. 

For more information and to plan your pilgrimage:

Mission San Juan Capistrano

26801 Ortega Highway

San Juan Capistrano, CA  92675

949-234-1300, ext. 318



Mission Guide, San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano, Pierce Brothers Mission Series






La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

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With vistas of rocky beaches, farms, sandy beaches, and ranches, the drive to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park from Los Angeles reminds me of everything I like about Southern California.  Entering the park itself is like stepping back in time.

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Sheep and goats fill the corrals, turkeys gobble, and horses graze.  We look around for an Indian shepherd, or a neophyte coming to gather the dried hides to be tanned, but apparently this is a non-living history day.  The pastoral quiet is soothing.

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Because it is a State Historic Park, La Purisima receives grant funding and has enjoyed massive restoration.  Beginning in 1935, the California Conservation Corps performed painstaking research. CCC completely restored the buildings using the original construction methods, adobe bricks, clay tiles, handmade furniture. 

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Many living history events are held here throughout the year. This gives visitors the opportunity to see first-hand what life was like when the mission was at its peak. Docents and reenactors demonstrate mission crafts and skills. From grinding corn and making tortillas, to spinning wool and soap and candle making, everything is produced by the mission. 

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The tallow vats above were used to melt animal fat in preparation for making soap and candles.  An abalone shell to hold holy water at the entrance to the church is representative of California’s coastal bounty.  The church itself is sparse, much as it must have been when the 11th Mission was founded and the faithful stood and knelt or sat on the bare floor.

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Extreme would be the word to describe the history of La Purisima. The mission was founded on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1797. In just one year, there were over 900 residents. Construction began on a new church but by 1804, the neophyte population had reached 1,520. 

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Scandal is nothing new to the Catholic Church. Accusations of mistreatment of the indians brought an investigation of the Franciscan padres and the military by the Spanish Governor.  The accusations proved unfounded.

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Extreme disaster followed extreme prosperity.  In 1804, death and disease began to claim the lives of the Indian converts.  The massive earthquake of 1812, followed by heavy rains, leveled the mission and its outbuildings.

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Due to the devastation of the original mission, the padres relocated the new mission to the north. The new construction marked a departure from the traditional quadrangle mission plan.  Laying the buildings out in a line worked better with the natural contours of the land. This allowed for a quick escape as well as preserving the farmland.  As a result, extreme prosperity returned.

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Because of the direction of Father Mariano Payeras, the mission continued to enjoy peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately, after his death in 1823, the Chumash began to revolt against the military. Finally, the Mexican government took control of the property in 1834.

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The government sold La Purisima at auction and as a result, the mission fell into ruin.

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Fortunes began to improve in 1903 when then owner Union Oil Company realized that the mission grounds were an important part of history. Remarkably, the company donated much of the land to the State of California and restoration began.

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Today, La Purisima Mission is building a new Visitor Center Complex. It will include a museum, exhibits and gift shop. The Mission offers many school programs and activities, as well as numerous living history events and an annual art show and sale.

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La Purisima Mission and State Historic Park

2295 Purisima Rd.

Lompoc, CA  93436