Yesterday, among all the other things we did, Janet and I travelled to San Juan Capistrano to see the mission there – started by Father Junipero Serra; and opened on November 1, 1776. It was the 7th of 21 missions spanning more than 600 miles along the coast of California. This is the famous mission that we have all heard about with the annual migration of the swallows. They leave each year on Oct. 23, and return the following spring on March 19th. Unfortunately, since the ruins of the original church, damaged by an earthquake back in 1812, were reinforced to prevent further damage, the number of swallows returning each year has been greatly reduced. During the stabilization program, completed in 2004, most of the nests had to be removed and the birds have now found other places to build their summer homes.
Nonetheless, the mission has become famous for the swallows and also for being the home one of the oldest buildings in the state of California. Anyway, the first time I visited this mission was with my father and mother when we went to California when I was 11 years old. We had flown to California by means of Tuscon, AZ and I vividly remember the lay-over in Arizona. As we got off the plane and headed down the ladder to the tarmac below, long before we had jetways and air conditioned corridors. I remember the blast of hot air that greeted us as the plane door opened. I had never been in such hot air in my life and as I recall, it was something like 108 degrees. It actually hurt to breathe. But as they say, it was a dry heat. Just one question – so what?
After arriving in California, we rented a car and headed down the coast. Our ultimate destination was LaJolla, where my great aunt lived. Dad had to ask her for a loan for the business and he wanted to go in person. I know that you have heard this from me before, but our family vacations always involved going somewhere that Dad had business. Otherwise, we couldn’t afford to just take time off and spend money at some random place.
In fairness to Dad and Mom, we did do some entertaining stuff. We were in Anaheim at Disneyland on that trip and Dad loved to visit historical stuff. So we hit many of the missions started by Fr. Serra. Some were very small, and others quite impressive. It was like a treasure hunt – we would navigate and then head to the series of missions that were in our area of travel. Pretty soon, we would look for common elements. Layout of the sanctuary, where the graveyard was, etc. In fact, I actually remember the first time we visited Capistrano. The area was pretty desolate and we could park right in front.
Well, let me tell you, things have changed during the last almost 50 years. Strip centers and all sorts of commercialization have sprung up all around the mission – it’s kind of sad. In fact, there is a Starbuck’s right across the street from the main entrance, and a Chico’s several stores down from the coffee shop. Not quite the mission I remember from my childhood.
There are some things that are nice, once you are inside. It is obvious that programs for children have been added and the administrative wing has now grown to now take over one whole bank of buildings in the mission. The place is well maintained, but has fallen victim to commerce as has most of the rest of the country.
Like so many other things I have returned to, our visit there brought back memories. But sometimes I find that just leaving the past in the past may be the better way to go. When Janet and I travelled to California on our honeymoon, back in 1973, we also remember stopping at Capistrano. Janet was as surprised as I was on this return trip.
When we were finally ready to leave, and head across the street for a cup of coffee, I couldn’t help but think of what the lady in the museum store had told us about the swallows. She seemed so sad when she related how so few birds return each year now. And since Janet and I collect Christmas ornaments from our travels, we decided on a painted swallow to add to our collection this year.
In honor of the famous birds of Capistrano, the verse from tonight is from Matthew 6:25-27, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Ain’t it the truth!
My encouragement tonight is to let you know that God knows and recognizes your need. While it is true that He loves the birds of the air, He loves you more. He will take care of all those swallows, and knows exactly what to do to meet your needs as well. My prayer is that you will rest in the knowledge that God has a perfect plan for you; and that plan is already in motion. You can’t change God’s will for your life. Frankly, we can’t dream big enough to out-dream God. So, relax and enjoy the ride. The God of the universe has you covered.
One more thing – as we headed out the exit of the mission, we were greeted by a sign that read, “Vaya Con Dios” – which means “Go with God.” And so it is with my prayer for you tonight….