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Our Lady of Guadalupe – Inspiration for the Ecumenical Catholic Communion
At a parish I used to attend, I was thurifer every Sunday for about a year. As Sunday Mass ended and I conclude my thurifer duties, I censed Our Lady of Guadalupe in the back of the Church because I honor Mary. I honor Her because She gave us Jesus. I also honor Her because She can inspire the Ecumenical Catholic Communion to do great things…if we let Her.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, according to a priest in Mexico City, Father Miguel Sanchez, writing in 1648, appeared at Tepayac Hill, an area near Mexico City, on December 09, 1531, to Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican, as an “apparition,” that is a supernatural vision, similar to Her appearances at Lourdes (France), Fatíma (Portugal), and Walsingham (England). Juan Diego saw an image of an adolescent female surrounded by light. Speaking to him in his Nahuatl language, She asked him to build a Church there in Her honor. Recognizing Her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Juan Diego reported his vision to the local bishop, Juan de Zumárrraga, who asked him to return to Tepayac and ask Our Lady for “a sign.” Juan Diego returned and Mary again appeared to him and told him to gather some flowers from the top of Tepayac Hill, even though it was winter and no flowers were in bloom. He found Castillan roses, a species usually found in Bishop Juan’s native Spain, not in Tepayac. He gathered the flowers. Mary Herself arranged them on his cloak, or tilma. Juan Diego returned to Bishop Juan and showed him his tilma, and a picture of Mary miraculously appeared imprinted on the tilma. The local community built a very large Church, there, called a Basilica, which was not completed until 1741, where the tilma was displayed. The site grew so popular that in 1976, a new and larger Basilica (which accommodates up to 40,000 people) to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit it each year.
A representation of the tilma forms the basis for the classic statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Fr. Sanchez tells us the image of Mary is ” the woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” found in Revelations 12:1. Theologian Mateo de la Cruz, writing twelve years after Fr. Sánchez, argued that “the Guadalupe possessed all the iconographical attributes of Mary in her Immaculate Conception.” Over the years, Our Lady of Guadalupe evolved into a national symbol for the people of Mexico. In the words of Fr. Sanchez, “this New World has been won and conquered by the hand of the Virgin Mary…[who had] prepared, disposed, and contrived her exquisite likeness in this her Mexican land, which was conquered for such a glorious purpose, won that there should appear so Mexican an image.” Author Judy King proclaims that Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “common denominator” uniting Mexicans. She wrote that Mexico is composed of a vast patchwork of differences—linguistic, ethnic, and class-based—according to King, “The Virgin of Guadalupe is the rubber band that binds this disparate nation into a whole.” Should not she have this role for the Ecumenical Catholic Communion binding our diversity into a common mission for a successful Church?
Faith is a confident, obedient trust in the power of God known through God’s acts. In the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we Christians are asked once again to believe in something supernatural. We are a religjon based on supernaturals, starting with the story of Creation itself; the Fall of Adam; Enoch assumed into heaven and did not experience death; Abraham’s wife Sarah conceiving Isaac in her old age; Moses receipt of the Ten Commandments; the Exodus through the Red Sea; the visions of the prophets; Elijah leaving earth in a whirlwind; the Virgin Birth; countless miracles performed by Jesus as he cured sick people and raised at least one from death; Jesus rising from the dead himself, Jesus’ Ascension to heaven; the coming of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire on the heads of the Apostles at Pentecost; and the appearance of Jesus to Paul on his way to Damascus. At Mass, our faith has us believing that the Bread and Wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus. If one is looking for an earth-based, rational religion, Christianity is not it. We are a people of faith, best explained in Hebrews 11 as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is neither easy nor simple. On an objective level, faith is a statement of what we as Christians believe as truth. But on a subjective level, it is the most difficult and demanding thing there is – to live in the absolute confidence of the presence, the word, and the promise of an unseen God. Faith allows us to transcend our present, concrete reality and open ourselves to a God without limits. Simply put, faith is unseen truth based on trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Our beliefs as Christians are the product of faith, not a reasoned conclusion based solely on sensory data, that is, what we see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. Modern society extols reason and science as the standard for providing answers to the physical world. The extreme elements of the continental reformation and the Age of Reason did great violence to the Church by discounting and ridiculing any possibility that whatever does not appear in canonical scripture or perceivable on a sensory level is not worth considering. Such thinking ignores the reality that the universe is not entirely material. Hence, a person without faith is a limited person, a closed person, not open to all the possibilities with which God endowed us. Mother Carter Heyward, a seminary professor and one of the first female priests in modern times, described faith as “an embodied realization that God is good, real and powerful,” and that faith arises from community, intuition and imagination. If we place limits on ourselves, we defeat God’s purpose for us. But if we can picture ourselves beyond the world where we are now, we will garner inspiration to lead us to places where we never imagined ourselves. As St. Thomas Aquinas told us in the Summa, faith is truth unseen, the seed of that for which we hope will occur.
Faith, a bottom, requires belief. According to Aquinas, “unbelievers see neither the things that believers believe nor their believability. For people of the catholic tradition, faith is simply not just a belief; it is what we could be; it is what inspires and moves us to move ahead. We must ask ourselves: what are our hopes and dreams for ourselves as a Church community? Without faith, we are nothing. Will we just exist Sunday to Sunday, until our resources run out? We must plant the seeds of that for which we hope.
Faith requires an opening by a spiritual presence, an acceptance of that opening, and putting it into action. In the story of our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady’s spiritual presence was an opening to Juan Diego which he and his people received and put into action with the building of the Church. For the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, Our Lady of Guadalupe is our inspiration, too. We need Mary to appear in our lives as She did at Tepayac Hill. We our need faith, just as Juan Diego and his bishop acted on faith. Lack of faith will impose limits to constrict us, but faith will give us the actualization of the possibilities of what we could be. As James 2:17 tells us, faith without works, is dead. Juan Diego and his bishop relied on faith that Tepeyac was a good place to build a Church, and they were right. The building of the Church was their faith turned into works. Think of Our Lady of Guadalupe as an example of faith for the building of our Church community. We can identify with Mary’s response to Gabriel of “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to your word.” Serving our community, and being open to God’s command to build a church as Juan Diego was, will be the key to our success as it was for him. Faith causes change as it seeks a greater understanding of God. Faith is not simple obedience to a set of rules or statements. Faith is trust in God. By faith we overcome fear. Recall that Jesus, with his disciples when a storm overcame their boat, said, “O you of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. By our faith, God will look with favor on the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, and will do great things for us. As you look into the eyes of Our Lade of Guadalupe. Pray that just as she inspired the building of a Church at Tepayac Hill, She will inspire us to build up the Ecumenical Catholic Communion.