The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe 2014
Homily by Fr. Peter Byrne, S.J. : 12-12-2014
Later this evening, after our celebration of the Eucharist is finished, after the festive meal is completed, after the dining room is cleaned up, then the monastic community along with any of guest who are hanging around will gather under that magnificent tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And they will sing that ancient Latin hymn, Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae. One line that jumps out is, ‘turn your eyes of mercy towards us’. As we ask Mary to turn her eyes of mercy towards you and me, and our families, and so many other families that are living in fear of deportation, separation, so many in detention centers, so many poor, famished, children of Eve all throughout the world, in refugee camps, fleeing war and violence, seeking human dignity, seeking just a measure of comfort of God.
Truly our Lady of Guadalupe is the comforter of the afflicted and her image of tender compassion, is found all over the world really. In the magnificent French Cathedral, Notre Dame in Paris, there is a side chapel and when you go into it of course, there she is again, this mother of mercy, tender, compassionate.
The French author, Albert Camus, has a line that is haunting and challenging. He wrote once, there is in this life both beauty and the humiliated and we must, difficult as it is, be faithful to both. Yes, there is both beauty and the humiliated and we must, difficult as it is, be faithful to both. Mary of Nazareth, so featured in all of the readings today, Mary was a person, who knew in her heart and her bones, and cherished there the beauty of her Jewish heritage and she was faithful to it. She found in the songs, as did her own son, the deep prayer, sometimes of lament, sometimes of great rejoicing and praise to God. She relished the great festivals of her people. She looked forward to journey to Jerusalem for Passover. She knew in her heart, the foundation story of her people how God had led them out of bondage to Egypt and brought them into a new land and made them a people after his own heart. And she knew in her heart the dream and the vision of the prophets, the terrible beauty of God’s dream for His people. And Mary was faithful to that beauty.
But Mary knew something else in her bones and her heart, she knew that her people were humiliated. They were oppressed, they were being ground under and crushed by Roman occupation, cruelty, and terrible power politics. And like her God, she noticed the humiliated and she was faithful to them. And God, God found in Mary a receptive heart. God found in this young, Jewish girl someone who could receive a great portion of the presence of God and bear a child, but not just any child. And after a few questions, a little reservation, then she answered that messenger, yes. Yes, I will, I will, yes. And that led her down that path to her cousin Elizabeth.
I think we all know, whatever our own personal devotion to Mary is, that all of her appearances throughout history, is that she’s always come to the poor. She’s always come to those who have been crushed and humiliated, and she comes to bring compassion and the tenderness of God. And that is certainly true of the indigenous people of Mexico. For when the Spanish first came, they came with great cruelty. And the God that they preached was not credible to the people. They associated the God of the Spanish, too much, with the occupation, and the violence, and the cruelty of the conquista. And it is only when Mary comes, as one of their own, speaking their language, and a woman of compassion is that she makes God credible and believable to the people. And how true that always is… how true, that always is. Mary comes to the poorest of the poor and she says wonderful words to them, and by extension to all of us, it is my ardent desire, that a Church should be erected here so that I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit the land.
And as Archbishop Vlazny said, gratitude for this Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe, because, among other things, this Cistercian Chapel with that magnificent tapestry keeps fulfilling for all of us, for people in this valley and around this city, a place to come and to know something of the mercy of God. So that she can show us tenderness and kindness.
There is in this life both beauty and the humiliated. And you and I as Church, as followers of Jesus, must difficult as it is, be faithful to both. We have to be faithful to beauty. If we don’t have beauty, then our hearts wither. And we need festivals, and we need music, and we need great food which we’ll soon share. We have to have them or something dies inside our souls. But we also have to be faithful to the humiliated and they’re all around us. As one poet says, injustice is done knowingly and the air bares the dust of decayed hope. There’s so much decayed hope, all around us today as we get close to Christmas. There’s cruelty, there’s racism, there’s violence. Our African American brothers and sisters, especially our African American brothers, veterans from so many wars going all the way back to Vietnam and further. Men and women struggling from addictions, the homeless. These are the people that, in some way, we have to be faithful to as Mary was.
So as we move closer to Christmas, that most festive, enchanting, beautiful of all feasts, we need to celebrate, we need to rejoice, because God as Zachariah said has come near and that is our hope. But we also again need to be faithful to the humiliated of our world. And to be faithful to both, it seems to me, requires a nourishment and a power that is more than we can summon by ourselves. It comes from the same Spirit that overshadowed Mary of Nazareth. That gave her the courage to say yes. That gave her the ability to be the mother of compassion.
And so we’ll come to the Eucharist in a short while and receive the body and blood of Christ Jesus, son of Mary, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, but much more: the very incarnate Word of the Father.
Yes, later this evening, long after our celebration of the Eucharist is over and our festive meal has been devoured by all of us, and some of us have taken those desserts home, darkness will come over the valley and the fields and the monastic community and some friends, may be a little more tired than usual, will gather under that fabric, that beautiful tapestry, and they will sing once more, as they sing every night, Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae. Turn your merciful eyes towards us and turn your merciful eyes towards our world.