Nearly one year ago, Catholic leaders from around the globe attended what was hailed as…
A simple solution to a complex problem
I’m not a math person, and I never have been. I knew during my sophomore year of high school — after failing freshman algebra — that writing seemed to be my calling, and that the most complex math I’d need was to balance a checkbook or to figure out batting averages, free-throw percentages or yards per carry, depending on the season and sport I was writing about.
But that was before the coronavirus, before schools were shut down last spring, and before I had to reteach myself eighth-grade algebra (in order to teach it to our oldest son). And now? Now I’ve got a decent handle on the stuff. Finding solutions and solving problems isn’t that difficult if you know a handful of key principles. Generally, what seem to be complex problems have simple solutions.
One of the lessons I learned (and then taught) last school year involved the mathematical principle of inverse proportion, which essentially means that as one variable goes up, another variable goes down. Now, maybe you’re not a math person, either, so I’ll give you an example. When traveling a certain distance, the faster you go, the less time it will take, and the slower you go, the more time it will take; speed and time are inversely proportional as they relate to distance traveled.
The principle holds true for a number of things, one of which was on my mind recently: The amount of traveling a family does is inversely proportional to the number of children we have: less kids, more travel; more kids, less travel. We haven’t traveled anywhere in a while. But when we do (or, frankly, did), we make it a point to visit a Catholic landmark — a beautiful cathedral for Sunday Mass or a nearby shrine for a quick visit. Doing this checks off a couple of boxes: It shows our kids the beauty of the Faith, but it also makes them realize the universality of the Church. The Mass at, say, the beautiful Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago is the same as it is at our home parish. The beauty, we hope, seeps into the soul and serves as inspiration to seek out the beauty in all aspects of the Church.
Throughout the years, as I’ve researched articles for Our Sunday Visitor or wandered through the vast Catholic internet on my own time, I’ve compiled something of a mental bucket list of Catholic sites across the country that, if we’re ever in the area, I’d like to visit: St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in Missouri, the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland, Oregon, and St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh. There are many others.
I was heartbroken to read that one of the places on that short list burned recently. According to news reports, the 249-year-old San Gabriel Mission Church in Los Angeles was severely damaged by a fire this past weekend. St. Junipero Serra saw the need for a mission to be established between Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá (in what is now San Diego) and San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission (in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California) to the north.
The Los Angeles Times reported that while nobody was hurt in the blaze, the damage to the historic Church was extensive. “Flames destroyed the roof, most of the just-refurbished pews and portions of the interior, though some statues and other historic items survived,” according to the newspaper.
During a Mass on the grounds of the mission church a day after the fire, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said that San Gabriel — the first parish in the largest archdiocese in the country — “will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles,” according to Catholic News Agency.
The fire, while tragic, also seems symbolic. So much of our society today seems to be burning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unrest over racial injustice, the deep political divisions, and more. It seems as if our world is turning to ash before our eyes. But as Christians, we are called to not lose hope, despite the fires burning around us.
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez said: “We can’t give in to this sadness. We need to make this a moment for purification and renewal of our mission — renewal of the Mission of San Gabriel and renewal of the mission that is each one of our lives. … St. Junipero would tell us today: ‘Siempre Adelante!’ Always forward, and don’t look back.”
Words of wisdom from a saint, and a simple solution to a complex problem.
Scott Warden is managing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.