The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe 2013
Homily by Archbishop John Vlazny: 12-12-2013
“A woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” My brothers and sisters, this is the woman whom we honor today: Mary, the mother of Jesus, La Morenita, the dear Lady of Guadalupe.
On the tilma of St. Juan Diego, her image reflects the indigenous culture of Mexico, some 500 years ago. Her star covered mantle, represents the heavens, a mantle reserved for royalty among the native peoples. The Black ribbon around her waist, in the Aztec culture, signals that she was with child. This is the woman who greeted Juan Diego as he was walking to the Barrio of Tepeyac on that memorable December morning, back in 1531.
You know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was an experience of conversion for the unchurched folks here in the Americas. And eventually, that Church transformed itself from the Church of the Spanish conquistadors to the church of the poor and oppressed. It’s the kind Church that Pope Francis envisions. When he says that he wants our Church to be one that is poor, and for the poor. This Abbey, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, is indeed poor in terms of the financial resources that are so treasured in the world of our own day. But it’s also for the poor, engaged in the struggle to lift up all of us who are poor: physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
As I mentioned at the beginning of mass, Abbot Peter was kind enough to invite me to return to celebrate this beautiful feast with the Abbey community and with many of you who are their friends. Peter has learned, as have many others now, that my emeritus status makes me more available for such pleasant gatherings which wasn’t true in the past when I was serving as Archbishop. But there still remains one element in this celebration that makes me a little bit uneasy. As is typical, in most of the stories of apparitions of Jesus, Mary, and the other saints, it’s the local bishop who always seems to be the buffoon. He is the last to believe and the last to succumb to the power of the Divine intervention among his people. Of course, such was the case in the apparition at Guadalupe. When it took a miraculous presentation of roses found in the tilma of Juan Diego to turn the tide for the Bishop and indeed for the Church on this continent five centuries ago.
Now certainly, the establishment of this feast tended to promote devotion to our Lady, the Mother of God. But we cannot overlook the role of Juan Diego, who is presented to all of us as a model for our own Christian lives. Here Western Oregon and many parts of the world, we have come to understand in more recent times, much more clearly, that baptism was for all of us, a call and a challenge, to be disciples on mission, together to spread the goodness of the love of God wherever we go. And it was this very mission that the Blessed Mother encouraged Juan Diego to promote more publicly and more effectively both in his own personal life and in the life of the Church.
The story of the miracle at Tepeyac, is not uncommon with respect to the way God chooses to work among us and through us. You know, time and again, we often don’t realize that God’s ways are simply not our ways of doing things. Scripture reminds us in many places that God chooses the weak of the world, to shame the strong and the foolish of the world, to shame the wise. Juan Diego, this indigenous little Saint, was to bring God’s good news to his people much more effectively than the powerful and wealthy Spanish conquistadors. And like the rest of us, I’m quite sure that many of these Trappist Monks have not always felt very good about their own personal weaknesses. And such feelings may even have slowed down their decision to answer the call to monastic life. But our God seems to delight in making those who apparently count for nothing in today’s world really to do something special in the service of the Gospel.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that Mary was more than willing to travel in order to share God’s goodness with others. As a young, pregnant teenager she traveled, we were told, to the hill country in haste in order to be with her aging cousin Elisabeth who was also pregnant with her first child. With Elisabeth, after they met, she proclaimed the greatness of God and then she was blessed by her cousin for believing and for accepting God’s invitation that she would indeed become the mother of his divine son.
The Last Sunday of October, we concluded the year of faith and in some ways, I think the year of faith was our final gift as Catholics, from Pope Benedict the 16th. It was a reminder, as he saw it, to Catholics across the globe, that faith is much more about relationships than about doctrine and morality, as important as those things may be. And the then Pope encouraged all of us, during that year, to strengthen our relationship with the Lord Jesus and then to do what we can to help others, especially those who may have keep the Lord at a distance, to help them rediscover Jesus and renew their friendship with him all over again.
When you stop to think about it, how blessed this local Church was back in 1955 when the monks of this community of Our Lady of Guadalupe left their first home in New Mexico and chose to settle in our beautiful, Willamette Valley. Their witness of the importance of relationships with the Lord, with one another in this community, and with us whom they’ve invited to celebrate with them today, together with the powerful prayers they offer, and the support of the evangelizing mission of our diocese which is their gift to us, this is a blessing, that perhaps, we all too often take for granted. So it’s good to be here today and thank them for that. And I do readily acknowledge how grateful all our pastors and my brother priests are, my brother monks, for your support of our mission and also your support, my dear friends, for this poor monastic community, in the service of our poor Church.
Blessed John Paul II, soon to be canonized next April 27th the Sunday after Easter, once commented on the profession that these men have made of the evangelical councils, those councils of poverty, chastity, and obedience. You have to remember, they’re called councils, not just for monks, but for all of us! The Pope went on to say that these councils mirror the characteristic features of Jesus and thereby they are visible to the rest of us in the midst of our own spiritual struggles and our many and diverse worldly activities. These councils, poverty, chastity, and obedience, are given back to us not only through monks and religious but by all his disciples. And these men, my sisters and brothers, live their promises by their faith, by their daily prayer, and their hard work.
My brothers, through the charisms of your spiritual and monastic lives, you do continue to empower our Church’s evangelizing mission and you contribute every single day to the growth in faith in the lives of our people. To be honest with you, this is no small gift to all of us who struggle with the demands of the Gospel in the face of the radical secularism in today’s world which so vigorously demeans the message of Christ and his Church.
You know, it was nearly 40 years ago, when Pope Paul the sixth called our Lady of Guadalupe under a new title, he called her the Star of the New Evangelization. So back in the time of the Jubilee year 2000, Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization, became our own special patroness here in Western Oregon, as we too try to become Guadalupanos, Guadalupanos like Juan Diego. More effective and more faithful in carrying out our mission of proclaiming the good news and calling ourselves and others to conversion. Blessed John Paul, would tell people that Mary is Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea, the one who leads all of us on our voyage to the new Advent. It is Mary, it’s Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who will lead an unbelieving world to her son and nurture faith in those who find it hard to believe. I think you’ll all remember, I certainly do, how Pope Francis on the very first day as the Bishop of Rome went to visit the special shrine in honor of Mary at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and there he asked for prayers and blessings for the success in his service as pastor and chief evangelizer, chief Guadalupano, of the universal Church.
Why did the Pope go pray to Mary? And why do we pray to Mary and why should we pray to Mary? Well let me tell you. Most of you I’m sure have heard of the famous American evangelizer Archbishop Fulton Sheen. You may recall, that he appeared on television weekly back when I was a teenager in the early 1950s. And it was just a little more than a year ago, that Pope Benedict declared Archbishop Sheen venerable, making him a candidate one day perhaps, God willing, for canonization. At any rate, as Archbishop Sheen tells the story, one day the Lord came along and meet Saint Peter and said to him, “How in the world Peter are all these people getting into heaven?” Peter said, “Hey, don’t blame me, every time I close the door, your mother opens a window!” So my friends, when you and I come to the end of our journey and stand there at the gate of heaven, if it happens to be closed make sure you check all the windows before you follow the devil down stairs.
May God bless us all, especially you, my dear brother monks, all of us, poor and unworthy servants, Guadalupanos, like St. Juan Diego, in this poor but truly blessed Church.
+ Archbishop John Vlazny