Toppling Statues and Junipero Serra – Part 1

Statues. They’ve been making the news lately. Statues do many things for us: they make visible, tangible, and concrete (sometimes literally…pun intended), invisible or abstract ideas. They commemorate for us certain people that we want to imitate OR certain VALUES that those people represent. And in the Catholic worldview, we have a great appreciation for statues; especially as we go a step further and our statues in sacred spaces communicate to us the invisible beautiful spiritual and heavenly reality that is really truly present when we pray.

I am certainly open to having the conversation about what values do certain statues represent, and if we want as a nation think those values should still be held up by this embodied statue. I think, in fact, they’re conversations worth having. Unfortunately, it seems that those toppling statues are not acting from the reflective or critical thinking and conversation that needs to be had before we topple a statue!

It’s worth noting that most people we make statues of were not always perfect in their life, and may not line with all of our own values. And sometimes we don’t understand the stranger or imperfect things they said or did because we don’t appreciate the very different historical context that they lived in. But we build statues to symbolically hold up some value or good that they DO represent, a value, good, or ideal we think should endure. Even with Saints: not every Saint said and did everything perfectly (St. Peter is a PRIME example), BUT they still embody for us some good and values that we want to imitate and bring into our own lives.

St. Junipero Serra is just such a Saint. You perhaps had never heard of him; but he’s been making headlines as his statue is one that has been being toppled as of late. But why would people in California be toppling a statue of a Catholic Saint?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the room to sufficiently address that here. Thus, tune in to my column NEXT week, as I will then say more about St. Junipero Serra: who he was, why people are toppling his statue, and how Catholics might think about him, what he did, and what he represents.

-Fr. Kevin