Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fr. Peter Carota: Strange Like a Saint

The late Fr. Peter Carota was always burning.  He yearned for a greater knowledge--a greater closeness to our Lord--for himself and for whomever he met.  Now that he's passed on and has beheld the shining face of Christ, he burns even brighter.

While he was with us, we thought of him as strange, foolish, unpolitic, of rude zeal.  He was foolish when he cashed in his wildly successful real estate practice to open a soup kitchen and homeless shelter.  Then he made another leap and was ordained a priest of Christ.  For a time he was a more or less typical parish priest, but then the burning started again when he discovered the old mass, that ancient highway between man and God.  He shared it with his congregation, and then he was driven to share it with everybody else.  He left his unknown parish in Ripon, California and set about to form a missionary society of priests to spread the old mass, and even broadcast it on a dedicated satellite channel.  He burned, brighter than ever, but neither of the dreams came to pass.  He did burn lots of bridges though, especially with brother priests.

I first learned of him through the indignant rant of a celebrity priest.  I was at a local Catholic Men's Conference, and our widely traveled priest/speaker couldn't stop blasting this "very confused" and "way off" priest down in "middle of nowhere Ripon".  Apparently Fr. Carota had urged him to learn Latin; that it was important for his priesthood.  The celebrity priest bristled, and warned us not to come up to him after his talk and tell him "goofy sh*t" like "the devil hates Latin".  Now since the celebrity priest was full of ugliness of all kinds I reasoned that his judgment was backwards and that the lowly Ripon priest must be someone worth reading about.  I was right.

Fr. Carota was never boring and this was reflected in his blog.  His frequent stays in Mexico made for fascinating reading: they were part cultural study, part missionary journal and simple stories of local people.  Fr. Carota also took to prickly situations like a hummingbird to a cactus flower.  If there was an abortion provider nearby, he was outside the building in prayer.  If a couple were "shacking-up" while raising their kids, Fr. Carota would bring them to the altar.  If young women dressed for mass like they were at a nightclub or in a Univision soap opera, Fr. Carota would remind them of their baptismal dignity.  Then there were the blog posts on the Illuminati, Freemasonry and the New World Order.

I began to grow weary of his exhortations and forays into strange topics and so gradually stopped reading his blog.  Fr. Carota burned too hot for prudence, for gradualism, for tact, for the "art of the possible".  If only he'd been educated at elite schools like myself--that would have cooled off his brain!  But the art of the possible is the province of politics (as Tip O'Neil had it), and not the faith that can move mountains.  So much the worse for us, so much the worse for me.

While many turned their backs on him, Jesus Christ was always at his side.  Especially when he was offered up like a victim lamb on our behalf.  He was afflicted with a mysterious illness that would not let him keep his food down.  It had echoes of my favorite movie, Diary of a Country Priest.  The medical profession was unable to diagnose and resolve the malady and he slowly wasted away.  Fr. David Nix put it starkly, "Fr. Peter Carota starved to death today."  He starved so that the Church might be fed.  He was a chosen soul, holy in God's sight but an embarrassment to men.  Fr. Peter Carota, forgive my arrogance.  Fr. Carota, ora pro nobis!


  1. Fr. Peter, was my parish priest for three years before I moved to Sacramento. Undeniably a man of prayer, and he hardly ate back then. Though I disagreed with the direction he moved toward later in life, there is no doubt he was a man of faith, that always saw the world with supernatural vision. I miss him, and I am grateful to have been apprenticed by him. Fr. Peter Carota, pray for us! - Felix

    1. Thanks for the insight, Felix. It seems that he had a very rare gift for today. As you put it, he "always saw the world with supernatural vision." I also think it's telling that everyone who knew him loved him. Even though he had rude zeal, I think God is much more patient with us than we are with ourselves and with others. Pax Christi.