Monday, March 15, 2021

The year was 1711. Today we remember Eusebio Kino. The reading is "Communion in the Asylum" by Andrew Hudgens.

It is the 15th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1711.

In 1978's Superman with Christopher Reeve, Lex Luthor (played by Gene Hackman) hatched a plan to blow up the coast of California, making new coastal property that he could then exploit. The West Coast of California was reduced to a few islands. Perhaps the screenwriter (Mario Puzo of "Godfather" fame) was inspired by 16th-century stories from Spanish explorers who claimed that California was indeed an island. There are various theories as to why this is the case, but the most compelling might be that some greedy folk realized they could use the story to distract other fortune-seekers from seeking California gold. This is point number 1.

Remember that when your Christian friends put existential weight into personality tests like Myers-Briggs or Enneagrams, they reflect an age-old Christian fascination with making sense out of what seems to be an ordered and internally consistent model. We see the same themes with astrology and astronomy. For longer than we might like to admit, the church was all in astrology before the refinements that birthed the modern science of astronomy. This is point number 2.

Today we will link these ideas and look back at a man sent to Mexico to work as a missionary for the second day in a row.

Eusebio Kino was born in 1644 in Tyrol (today in Austria) to a noble family. He was educated in Germany and was especially noted for his mathematical abilities. Despite being of noble stock and having been offered a job as a professor, Kino joined the Society of Jesus, intending to become a missionary. According to Kino, when he was sick, he made a vow that if God healed him, he would become a missionary. Kino had hoped to go to the far east and spent time studying astronomy and cartography as they were preferred for missionaries to the East. Western missionaries found that many in the East would be hesitant to speak to a priest but found the scientists worth their time. Kino would become a scientist-priest (and yes, "scientist" is a little anachronistic here, but you get it). But a local Elector sought out Kino to work as a mathematics tutor for his children, and thus his mission plans were scuttled. When it became time for him to take a call, he was not sent to the Far East but Mexico instead.

He arrived in 1681 and spent the next three decades as a missionary, rancher, royal astronomer, and cartographer. Kino has been called "the first cowboy of Arizona" as well as the "singing priest" as he rode on horseback from mission to mission, teaching the catechism via song. He was notorious amongst the Spanish mine owners as he insisted that any baptized native could not be held as a slave. He used his influence back home to push for policies advantageous to the natives and used his family wealth to establish over 20 missions into modern-day Arizona and Baja California. While establishing these, he also produced some of the earliest and most detailed maps of the area. Because of his cartography and astronomical projections, he was able to show those skeptics that California was not an island.

Today, statues of Father Kino can be found across Mexico, Arizona, and he is remembered at the Vatican Observatory in Italy and at the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope in Arizona, not far from where he died on this, the 15th of March in 1711.

The reading for today comes from Andrew Hudgens. This is his Communion in the Asylum.

We kneel. Some of us kneel better than others
and do not have to clutch the rail or sway
against those next to us. We hold up hands
to take the body in, and some of our hands
-- a few -- are firmer than the others. They
don't tremble, don't have to be held in the priest's
encircling hands and guided to our lips.
And some of us can hold the wafer, all of it,
inside our mouths. And when the careful priest
tips wine across our lips, many of us, for reverence,
don't moan or lurch or sing songs to ourselves.
But we all await the grace that's promised us.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 15th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by a man whose only kryptonite is bad coffee. He is Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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