In his Post-Synodal Exhortation (Jan. 22, 1999: Mexico City) Pope John Paul made a significant announcement regarding Our Lady of Guadalupe: December 12 is to be celebrated liturgically as a "Feast" not only in Mexico, but throughout all of the nations of North and South America. Perhaps ironically, perhaps providentially, December 12 falls on the Third Sunday of Advent which takes precedence over the Feast. Still this beautiful icon of Mary can provide a helpful focus to appreciate the Scripture lessons.
In today's first reading Isaiah says God has anointed him to "bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted" and to liberate prisoners. When Mary appeared to Blessed Juan Diego she asked that a church be built on Tepeyac hill where her children could bring their sorrows, griefs, sickness... The words of Isaiah and of the Blessed Virgin have particularly significance twelve days before the inauguration of the Jubilee Year. Jubilee means to forgive debts, to wipe the slates clean.
One of the ways of starting fresh is by receiving the Holy Year indulgence. As a first step, this requires a complete and integral confession. Our parish offers several opportunities for confession before the beginning of the Holy Year: Saturday mornings from 9 to 10; Wednesday evenings from 7:30 till all are heard or Thursdays (Dec. 16 & 23) from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. As your pastor it is my hope that each parishioner will be able to receive the Holy Year Indulgence. When you come to confession, I will have information on the next steps. Do not be afraid. The Indulgence is a free gift which no one should pass up.
A second way this Sunday's readings point to Our Lady of Guadalupe is found in the Gospel, "Make straight the way of the Lord." In his Post-Synodal address last January, Pope John Paul spoke about Our Lady of Guadalupe as the evangelizer of the Americas. In her case she not only went before Jesus, she actually brought him with her. At Holy Family Parish we have been blessed by visits from two experts on the tilma: in September of 1998, Fr. Virgilio Elizondo and last November, Fr. Adrian Luevano. Both emphasized the black ribbon below Mary's folded hands. It represents pregnancy. Our Lady of Guadalupe has within her the Child Jesus.
Some might ask how it is possible for Jesus to return to the state of a fetus, an unborn child. The answer brings us face to face with the mystery of time. For us the Incarnation began two thousand years ago. We are creatures of time. For example, I might be thinking about the future, say 9 o'clock tonite when I will be on Camano with my mom, brother and sister. But in order to arrive at this evening I have to first pass thru the afternoon and when I get to 9 p.m. I cannot make time stop; it just keeps moving ahead. We are so used to this relentless experience of time as past, present and future that we somehow assume it must also apply to God. But it does not.
When we come to Mass, we enter into "God's time." Even tho the death and resurrection of Jesus happened in time, we are joined to those events, because for God they are taking place now. The same can be said for all the occurrences of Jesus life: his baptism, his birth, his nine months of gestation in Mary's womb. In God these are not slices of time taken out of his overall existence. We view our lives as parcels of time, for example, the seven years I spent down in Peru remain in my mind as memories or impressions. I am a human being with a limited grasp on reality, even what I have personally experienced. But God is reality itself. He cannot lose even the tiniest moment of his human life in Jesus.
Some people have a strange experience of this when they visit the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. It happens as they look upon the tilma, the mantle of Juan Diego. Gazing at the image of Our Lady, it seems they are looking not at a painting but a person. I cannot explain it, but when I visited the basilica in 1980 with my parents I had something of that sensation. It almost seemed like she was more looking at me than I at her. And that God has somehow chosen to contain himself in the two dimensions of the image. I cannot explain this, but I believe our Greek brothers and sisters have a beautiful insight. For them an icon is not just a picture or representation of Jesus or a saint. No, before an artist paints an icon he spends days in prayer and fasting because a true icon will actually contain the presence of the Blessed One.
It is interesting that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared at a moment in history when people were questioning the use of images, even many priests wanted to downplay them. For that reason devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe had a slow start officially. But the faith of the people was not so reticent. They saw her as their mother, the one who would bring them the Savior, her very Son.
This morning we ourselves should not be so reticent. We have already lit the third candle of our Advent. Its rose color signifies "rejoicing." I know for many of you that is not an easy emotion at this moment. But St. Paul tells us today, "Rejoice always...give thanks in all circumstances." We have such a lovely motive for doing so. Before our eyes - the Blessed Virgin, the mother with child. She not only brings glad tidings; she bears within her womb the gladdest of all tidings.
Did Juan Diego Exist?