Thursday, December 9, 2021

Juan Diego: Apostle to the Americas

Today we celebrate Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, and with him we recall the "spiritual founding" of the modern Pan-American experience in the extraordinary first visit of the Virgin Mary to the hill of Tepeyac outside Mexico City on December 9, 1531. 

She came to this hemisphere in the midst of profound turmoil and change, when the gospel of her Son was first being preached here by missionaries from Spain and Portugal (among whom there were many dedicated and holy servants of God). These new European missionaries, however, faced special difficulties. Not only were they ignorant of many of the languages and customs of the people they encountered, but they were also dependent on the power of European compatriots who sought worldly glory, including those who thought little of betraying Christ for silver and gold. There were, indeed, many complex and contradictory motivations that fueled the engines of what turned out to be a rapid and profoundly ambivalent political expansionist project. Indeed, we might say that - unbeknownst to anyone at the time - "globalization" had embarked on its initial phase of historical realization. 

The previous four decades had ushered in a sudden and unexpected "collision of worlds" that brought the emerging modern nation-states of Europe into contact with the various indigenous peoples of the Americas. Too many evils were perpetrated in the rush to conquer territory, seize valuable resources, and gain advantage over rivals as European powers and their agents were inevitably driven to seek their own exaltation and enrichment, to the detriment of the dignity of the persons of the original inhabitants.

The already-challenging task of evangelization may have seemed hopelessly obscured and compromised for early 16th century missionaries who wanted to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ as meaningful for every person - and therefore as God's mercy and salvation reaching out to indigenous peoples in their own sufferings, conflicts, and fears, as well as for the fulfillment of all that was beautiful in their own traditions, all the longings and hopes of their ancestors.

But Jesus and His Mother had a special plan, a miraculous encounter that would "remain" in the midst of these lands to generate a new gift of unity and forgiveness, consolation, reconciliation, and solidarity that would overcome many forms of sin, oppression, and division.

It began with the songs of birds at dawn on December 9, and a poor simple man who at that time was one of the few indigenous Mexicans who had already obtained the grace of explicit faith in Jesus.

In a sense, Juan Diego was chosen to be the "proto-evangelist" of the Americas. But we would be mistaken to regard the great work that began on December 9, 1531 as something that was finished long ago, as if the luminous tilma with the icon of Mary carrying Jesus in her womb is just a curious relic of the past. Guadalupe is a foundation for an enrichment of faith that is offered to us here and now.

Guadalupe is for all of us. We can accompany in our hearts the tens of thousands who are making the pilgrimage in these days to the Basilica on Tepeyac hill in Mexico City to "spend time" with the Madrecita through her 490-year-old miraculous image. The "Queen of America" (North, Central, and South), Our Lady of Guadalupe's house is geographically at the center of the habitable Western Hemisphere. December 12 is her Feast Day, although some countries will celebrate on December 11, since the 12th this year is Laetare Sunday.🌸

We can display photographic copies or artistic renderings (in various styles) of the mysterious original and still vivid self-presentation of the woman who called herself "the Mother of the Creator of all things, of the Lord of the near and of the far." She came 490 years ago, and she remains here today, to console her children in their sorrows and be their refuge amidst tribulations: she who is the Mother of Jesus, she who always accompanies Him and reaches out to us.

We must have confidence in her promises, and entrust ourselves to her tender love and unique maternal intercession with her Divine Son. The love of Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh in Mary's womb, is greater that all our sins and all the complexities and conflicts and dangers we face today.

In fact, the full evangelization of the Americas has only just begun. We are still in the dawn with Saint Juan Diego. The greatest fruits of the unique events we celebrate in these days are yet to come.