Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 12, 2013
Rev 11:19.12:1-6.10, Judith 13:18-19, Lk 1:39-47
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in this homily:
- On this great feast of the Patroness of America, Our Lady of Guadalupe, we see in the readings that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a woman consistently on a mission. A specific type of mission. She’s pregnant with Jesus seeking to bring him to others. In the Gospel, we see what she does as soon as she became pregnant by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit: she went with haste to care for her cousin Elizabeth, forming her embryonic son to be the itinerant missionary he would become before he even had developed the tiniest of feet. And when she arrived in Ein Karim, Jesus blessed his in utero cousin John the Baptist in the womb, preparing him for his own mission as the precursor of the Messiah. Likewise in the first reading from the Book of Revelation, we see Mary pregnant once again, this time with the Church — we know it’s the Church because she “wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth,” something that didn’t happen in Bethlehem, but certainly happened on Calvary as Jesus announced to her that she was to be the mother of the human race — seeking to help bring to birth in all of God’s children the image of her Son Jesus.
- These are the perfect readings with which to understand this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe because when she appeared to St. Juan Diego 482 years, when she imprinted her image in his tilma, she did so as a pregnant Aztec princess, a symbol that she was about to give birth to her son here in our continent, in our hemisphere. Christianity had arrived in Mexico just a short 10 years before but there were relatively few converts because most of the indigenous people were turned off by the conquistadors than turned on by the Franciscan missionaries to the Lord both groups claimed to believe in. But after her appearance and seeing the image of this mestiza woman — which was an harmoniously beautiful mix between Indian and Spanish features, showing the compatibility of the Gospel being announced by the Spanish Franciscans and the Indian nature — there started to be converts by the millions. Ten million came to the faith in just the next decade.
- The mission Our Lady of Guadalupe gave to St. Juan Diego shows us how Mary sought to give birth to her Son in his hemisphere. It wasn’t merely bringing people to baptism and the sacraments. It was incorporating them into her Son’s saving mission. It was helping them to continue Mary’s own work of bringing Christ to birth in others. St. Juan Diego’s vocation story shows us all how each of us, no matter how worthy we think we are to be asked to cooperate in this missionary work of Christ and his mother.
- When the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill on December 9, 1531, he was a simple, humble, 57 year-widower known for walking with his head down and shuffling his feet. He had been baptized only seven years before by the Franciscan missionaries. He soon became a fervent believer. Every Saturday and Sunday he would walk 15 miles each way to Mass. As he was journeying one cold Saturday morning, he heard a voice calling from the top of a hill, “Juanito,” “Dieguito,” “Come here!” He scaled the rocky slope, where at the top he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary arrayed in splendor. Our Lady announced she was on a mission of mercy and wanted him to be her emissary to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga of Mexico City to have him build a church on Tepeyac Hill. Obeying simply and immediately, he headed in his simple peasant’s outfit to the episcopal residence, where he was forced to wait for hours in an outdoor courtyard. Eventually the bishop received him, treated him with kindness, but basically, despite Juan Diego’s obvious sincerity, as a little deluded. Juan Diego left feeling like a complete failure. Returning at once to Our Lady on Tepeyac Hill, he said that he had struck out. “I beg you, Noble Lady,” he implored, “to entrust this message to someone of importance, someone well-known and respected, so that your wish will be accomplished. For I am only a lowly peasant and you, my Lady, have sent me to a place where I have no standing. Forgive me if I have disappointed you for having failed in my mission.”
- Our Lady smiled tenderly on him and said, “Listen to me, my dearest son, and understand that I have many servants and messengers whom I could charge with the delivery of my message. But it is altogether necessary that you should be the one to undertake this mission and that it be through your mediation and assistance that my wish should be accomplished. I urge you to go to the Bishop again tomorrow. Tell him in my name and make him fully understand my disposition, that he should undertake the erection of the teocalli (temple) for which I ask. And repeat to him that it is I in person, the ever Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, who send you.” We see here that Mary didn’t strictly speaking need Juan Diego. She could have appeared to the Bishop himself. But she wanted to incorporate him in this saving mission. Likewise she wants to involve each of us, no matter how unqualified we feel or may in fact be.
- So after that second meeting with our Lady, Juan Diego went with trepidation to see the bishop a second time. He feared what the bishop’s overprotective servants might do to him. They greeted him with ill-concealed exasperation. He was told the bishop was busy with more important matters. He told them he was willing to wait — and did, for several hours in the frigid outdoor courtyard. When he finally met the bishop again, he repeated, with fervor and tears, the message of Our Lady entrusted to him. The bishop asked some questions. Though moved by Juan Diego’s sincerity, he wasn’t going to build a church in a desolate spot on the basis of one native’s unsubstantiated word. To test the message, the bishop asked him for a special secret sign from Our Lady. Juan Diego left at once to ask for the sign. Arriving back at Tepeyac, the Virgin told him to return the following day to receive the sign to bring the bishop. That sign turned out to be Castillian roses, which had not yet been introduced to Mexico, growing on the top of a stony hill in frigid December temperatures. Juan Diego was instructed to bring them back to the bishop in his tilma, or outer parka. When he returned to the bishop, as he opened up his tilma, the bishop saw the roses from his native Castille, the sign he was seeking. He and everyone else also saw something even more miraculous: some of the roses had melted into the tilma and produced the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: our Lady, dressed like a pregnant Aztec princess, was giving witness that she was ready to give birth to Christ among the Mexican people.
- For me one of the most impressive elements of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and an incredible sign of its authenticity is what has happened when they’ve done modern scientific tests on the tilma. Various tilmas like it of maguey-fiber (ayate) fabric have been made as controls and they all begin decomposing, even behind glass, after about 20 years, and yet the image itself is present without any decomposition after 482 years. Studies have been done about how an image could get and stay on a tilma like that, showing that it defies human means; infrared studies have shown that there was no trace of paint at all and that the fabric hadn’t been treated with a means to receive paint. And my favorite is what has been discovered with regard to the eyes. With high-tech zooms magnifying the image 2500 times, it’s been discovered that 13 highly detailed figures are present in the iris and pupil of her eyes, in the left and right eyes, as would happen when human eyes reflect the objects before them. The figures seem to be all those who would have been present in the Bishop’s room when Juan Diego unfurled the tilma, including the Bishop himself, shown as a balding, elderly man with a white beard, matching portraits of him at the time. Such optical information would be impossible for anyone to paint, not only because of the microscopic detail but also because the science of the eye and how images are processed in reflection (the Purkinje effect) not known at the time. At a theological level, it shows that the Blessed Virgin always has us in the apple of the eye. She’s looking at all of us now with love. We’re not only in her eyes but in her heart.
- And that shows us how we’re supposed to look at others, with a similar love, with a desire to bring Jesus to them and them to Jesus. Yesterday, Pope Francis, the first Pope from the American hemisphere, gave a message to all of us as we were preparing for this feast. He said, “When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity. That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.” Mary calls us, like she called St. Juan Diego, to share in that mission of evangelization, which is after we have been embraced by God and the Mother he gave us, we in turn open our arms and our hearts to others, to bring them into this family.
- This calling we have received, this calling that is renewed today, is not a burden but a great blessing. When Blessed John Paul II traveled to Guadalupe 14 years ago today to celebrate Mass and give our continent the document Ecclesia in America (The Church in America) to guide our continued growth, he made a link between what St. Elizabeth said to Mary in today’s Gospel and what the whole world says about us. “Elizabeth’s words to Mary who is carrying Christ in her womb — ‘Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’ — can also be applied to the Church on this continent. Blessed are you, Church in America, for you have welcomed the Good News of the Gospel and given birth in faith to numerous peoples! Blessed are you for believing, blessed are you for hoping, blessed are you for loving, because the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled!” Yes, we are indeed blessed among all nations for this great maternal love of our Lady, who wanted a temple built so that she could embrace us with her motherly love and help us to become more like her Son. As we prepare to receive that Son now in Holy Communion, we thank his Mother for bringing him to us, so that, just like John the Baptist, we can leap for joy and go out into the world to prepare the path for Jesus to fill them with the joy of salvation as well! Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
RV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.”
JDT 13:18BCDE, 19
Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God,
above all the women on earth;
and blessed be the LORD God,
the creator of heaven and earth.
R. You are the highest honor of our race.
Your deed of hope will never be forgotten
by those who tell of the might of God.
R. You are the highest honor of our race.
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”And Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”