The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – 2016
Homily by Archbishop John Vlazny 12-12-2016
Back on March 1, 1955, our Catholic Church here in western Oregon became the home of these Trappist monks, our brothers, who today celebrate their patronal feast, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Like most migrants, they arrived quietly and, I presume, without much fanfare. The beautiful surroundings, rich in agricultural potential, more than the faith-filled people of the time, predecessors of most of us here present this morning, motivated their move from New Mexico, where they had their beginnings in 1948. But over the years, their quiet and prayerful presence among us has nurtured and supported their neighbors’ Baptismal call to be effective missionary disciples. But they too, even though not engaged directly in pastoral ministry across this historic archdiocese, have become spiritual shepherds, happily tainted by the “smell of the sheep”, who regularly, like today, frequent these holy grounds!
Abbot Peter said he was reluctant to preach again at today’s celebration, even though most of us come, eager to be inspired by his thoughtful and provocative reflections. But, notwithstanding his reluctance to preach today, allow me to share a striking observation that the good abbot made in his homily last April at Brother Scott’s clothing. He told Scott, “You are vowing yourself to a community that will continually distract you from where, you think, you are going. A community that will continually disrupt your “plans” for how the pieces of your life should come together. To be blunt: you‘re throwing in your lot with a herd of lost sheep! Our only hope – is our belief – in Jesus’ own words – that he himself is the Shepherd of the Lost Sheep.”
There you have it friends. The truth of the matter is that we’re all his sheep, lost together, when left to our own resources, but still on the way together when, in spite of the occasional unpleasant odors of sin, selfishness and discontent, we walk wisely and faithfully with the Good Shepherd in the lead. We come together at this Eucharist to praise the Shepherd, honor His mother and support these consecrated brothers, the pieces of whose lives continue to come together in amazing and unexpected ways. This, of course, should not be surprising, because our Shepherd’s ways are not our ways.
No one of course, learned that lesson better than the woman of faith, Mary, the Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of all the Americas, whose apparition to St. Juan Diego nearly 500 years ago, dramatically changed the pieces of the lives, not only of the indigenous folks like Juan Diego, but the colonizers, Franciscan evangelizers, and their successors too, blending the beautiful culture and traditions of their “mestizo” descendants who celebrate this day as their own greatest feast.
It was earlier this year, on February 13, that Pope Francis made his own historic first pilgrimage to the Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. There he shared important sentiments of obedience, surrender and hope, themes central to the life of all God’s sheep, nowhere more vividly on display than in communities of monastic men or women like this one here in our own valley.
After all, it was Mary’s “yes” to the angel that prompted her “to give the best of herself” to others, to go forth and meet others as we were reminded in today’s gospel about her visit shortly thereafter to her aging cousin Elizabeth. As she accompanied Elizabeth in her time of need, she accompanies all who are in need. Our Trappist brothers model for us the obedience of Mary to God’s call, an obedience characteristic of baptized believers who are also prompted to give the best of themselves in response to the divine word spoken at the very depth of their being. Monks understand that the first act of obedience is listening, listening to God, listening to their abbot, listening to one another. Mary today challenges us to listen, faithfully, lovingly, and fearlessly, to God, to our teachers of faith, to one another. Most of the time, the “best of ourselves” is yet to come, a future we may never know without listening.
Pope Francis also noted that St. Juan Diego first experienced true mercy and hope through Our Lady of Guadalupe. St. Juan certainly didn’t feel that Mary had approached the “right person” to make “her ambassador.” Yet it was Juan Diego’s seeming insignificance that clearly helped our Lady share her Son’s message that “we are all necessary, especially those who normally do not count.” In choosing Juan to be her ambassador, Mary was not against anyone but in favor of everyone. As her choice, Juan had to surrender his own personal agenda and plans and thereby allow the pieces of his life, and ours too, to come together in the surprising and sometimes perplexing ways in which this church of the Americas has grown, struggled and served this new world for nearly five centuries. These monks, whose presence, names and labors remain largely unknown to many whom they continue to serve as Mary’s spiritual ambassadors, proclaim, by their witness and prayer, the kind of surrender to which we are all called in our shared life of faith.
The Pope went on to say, “On that morning, God roused the hope of the little ones, of the suffering, of the displaced or rejected, of all who feel they have no worthy place in these lands.” In other words, true Christian hope is a gift from God for one and all. St. Juan wasn’t learned. He wasn’t literate. He wasn’t the one the world of his day or any day would choose to build the church. But he was the one God chose. Juan experienced in his own life what hope is. We are all necessary, each in his or her own God-given way. Therein lies much of the beauty of community life as enacted here for more than sixty years in this beautiful hope-filled sanctuary of faith and love. The Abbey is so much more than these buildings. It is the life of these monks, a life that stirs the hope in our own hearts for a better church, a better world. It is the life of the many faces who come here every day to meet the Lord, with the hope in their hearts that what beautiful things happen in this faith-filled community of holy men can also happen to us.
Obedience, surrender and hope. Without these, there would be no Abbey here nor would there be this local Catholic church of western Oregon, which has become our spiritual home. Once again the tender story of our Lady’s appearance on that hill of Tepeyac, so long ago, reminds us that, equipped with these spiritual gifts, all of us, in spite of our apparent littleness, can become effective missionary disciples, ambassadors of our dear Lord and Lady, in the work of building God’s kingdom of justice and peace for all, notwithstanding all the obstacles of poverty, homelessness, alienation, grievances and rampant secularism.
Mary told Juan, “Am I not your mother? Am I not here with you?” – as the presence of this Abbey among us reminds us. She repeats those words to all of us on this her feast day. Together we shall build for her Son a shrine of justice, love and peace. Together, with our prayers, witness and service, we lift up the lives of all our sisters and brothers, especially those among us today with the greatest needs.
So there you have it, Abbot Peter, Brother Scott and all you brothers! Yours is not the only community that distracts each person from where, he or she thinks she or he is going. We are in this together over the long haul. We are so grateful that you came here to walk with us, under the double banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Good Shepherd of all us Lost Sheep!
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, Carlton, OR
December 12, 2016