I’m back home in San Antonio after a long semester in Houston. Life is good. God continues to bless.
While vesting to altar serve at Mass this morning, the visiting priest asked me give the homily. Unprepared and canonically unable to (the homily is reserved for an ordained minister), I protested a bit. But he insisted so I complied. You know… obedience. Let’s call it a reflection instead. Armed with 10 minutes of preparation, a quick read through the readings, a semester of trying to figure out what role Mary is supposed to play in my spiritual life, and a recent trip to the Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City, I gave some variant of the following reflection. Afterward a few people asked me for a transcript of what I spoke, so I sat down and tried to write from memory.
Speaking as someone who’s long struggled with the necessity and role of Mary in the devotions in the Church, I’ve been coming to a deeper appreciation of this truth: The simple fact, proven time and time again throughout history, is that Mary desires nothing more than to bring every person on earth into relationship with her son Jesus Christ. That’s something to celebrate.
Mass Reflection 12/12/16 – Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be back at this parish and have the chance to worship with this community that gave so much to me throughout my childhood and teen years. Father invited me to offer a reflection this morning. Thank you for the opportunity.
Today in the Liturgy of the Word we were exposed to two of the great songs of the Incarnation – The Gloria and the Magnificat. At the Incarnation Christ became man and history was changed. The Gospel of Luke, which we read from today, records the response to the news of the Incarnation – Joy. In the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church preserves and highlights four major reactions – The Gloria, and the Canticles of Zechariah, Mary (Magnificat), and Simeon. At the major hours each day, I pray these prayers along with the vowed religious and lay faithful. Each in its own unique way proclaims that joy and fulfillment that Jesus’ human existence bring to the receivers of his presence.
The Incarnation changes people – The Angels cry out in heaven and Earth, “Glory to God in the highest!” (Lk 2:14). Zechariah proclaims “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel… He has come to his people and set them free” (Lk 1:68-79) Simeon beholds the child Jesus in the temple and declares his life fulfilled, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled” (Lk. 2:29-32).
Today our Gospel records the beginning of Mary’s response. As she shares the marvel that is occurring in her life with her cousin Elizabeth, she cannot contain the joy of what her son, Jesus, is going to accomplish in the world. She can only sing out a song that reverberates throughout history, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-55).
The joy that Mary found in the salvation Jesus brought through his incarnation, death, and resurrection cannot be contained by death. We know that the dead who experience the beatific vision of God in Heaven continue to intercede for us in. They want nothing more than for each one of us to share the joy they now live in eternity. In a particular way, Mary refuses to rest until the whole world has been brought into relationship with our Savior Jesus Christ. Throughout the centuries she has continued to appear on earth and point us back to her son – the source of our joy and salvation.
All of that brings us to the reason we are here today – to celebrate the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1531, the Catholic Church was not in the best shape. The Reformation was ravaging Europe and pulling millions of believers away from the Church established by Christ. In the New World, religious missionaries had labored for decades to convert the indigenous Aztecs and had little to show for it. Conversion simply wasn’t happening – Human sacrifice was rampant in the region and worship of Aztec gods continued in full force.
Against this backdrop, Mary made an appearance to accomplish her defining purpose – Bringing people to know her Son. As the story goes, Juan Diego was minding his own business when Our Lady appeared to him with a mission to build a church. The Bishop didn’t believe, reasonable I’d say, so Our Lady appeared again. This time, she directed him to roses for the Bishop and produced in his tilma an image that we now know as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
At that point, things happened fast. The Bishop moved, a church was built, missionary effort increased under the blessing of our heavenly Mother, and over the next decade 5-10 million people were baptized Catholic. The imagery on the Tilma spoke directly to the heart of Aztec religious imagination and showed that the God of Jesus Christ is the one, true God. As decades progressed, missions spread throughout the Americas and tens of millions more were converted. Through Mary’s intercession, Mexico was brought into relationship with Jesus. Lives and history were changed.
Last year I had the opportunity to visit the Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I walked in the original church where Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego and saw the ancient waters where miraculous healings occurred. A participated in a Mass in the presence of the tilma and had to opportunity to gaze on it from a 5 foot distance. Nearly 500 years later, the image is still impeccable. It has survived age, physical attacks, and, not exaggerating, direct bomb blasts. Miraculous is the only word to describe the wonder of her presence and the effect her intercession has had on the world.
Despite human fear, Mary gave an unconditional “yes” to God. That “yes” brought our savior into the world. Centuries later, Juan Diego was troubled by the message he received from Mary but his obedience kick started the conversion of his country. Each of us have the opportunity to give God a daily “yes”. Are you giving God a chance? Are you yourself responding to Mary’s desire that we focus our lives on her Son? Are you asking the Lord to reveal the idols that prevent you from being filled with the joy he desires to give? Are you choosing each day to invite Christ to give you grace and aid your own conversion? I hope you can join me in emulating the surrender and love of Mary and the Saints.
“Why do we need Mary? Isn’t Jesus enough?” This is a question I’ve struggled with my entire life. Our Lady of Guadalupe has shown me that this is a false dichotomy. Jesus is enough. That’s why we need Mary. She is never the end. She is only the means. Her heart burns for us to fall in love with her Son and live lives of conversion. The simple fact, proven time and time again throughout history, is that Mary desires nothing more than to bring every person on earth into the joy of relationship with her son Jesus Christ. That’s something worth celebrating.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
Some links if you want to read more about OLG. It’s a remarkable history.