Dear parishioners and friends of our parish,
The Sunday of the Third Week of Advent this year is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For many Catholics, especially Mexican and Mexican-Americans, this day is one of the most significant celebrations of the year. “La Morenita,” or the Brown Virgin, as Our Lady of Guadalupe is called affectionately, is the Patron of the Americas and undoubtedly our hemisphere’s most beloved manifestation of Mary, the Mother of God.
The feast commemorates the Blessed Mother’s four appearances in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant whose own tilma or cloak bore—and continues to bear—the miraculous imprint of her image. What’s most significant about this image is that it depicts Mary as a mestiza, a person of both European and American ancestry, a divinely fashioned mixture of cultures. Clothed with the sun and wearing the cinta, the maternity band signifying that she is pregnant with Christ, Mary stands upon the moon, with head bowed and hands folded in prayer. She is born aloft by an angel of the Lord. The stars that adorn her cloak signify the coming of a new age, and the sunrays emanating from behind her symbolize the fact that she is the bearer greater than the sun itself. Altogether, the image offers a message of hope and liberation to the people undergoing conquest as well as to the Spanish invaders who were supposed to evangelize them. While the Virgin of Guadalupe has become identified with the faith and culture of our Mexican brothers and sisters, she is venerated universally by the Church as Patroness of the Americas.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a preeminent figure in the Advent season because she proclaims to us the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation in Christ. To the Aztec people who were oppressed at that time, and to all of us in our contemporary time, Our Lady of Guadalupe offers hope. She shows the nearness of God who listens to the cry of the poor and responds to their pains and sufferings. She proclaims powerfully the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, mestiza “Church” that came to be incarnated as the result of the sixteenth-century cultural confrontation between Spain and Mexico, and we might also say, she functions as a typus ecclesiae—a “type,” or “image,” or “model” of the Church in our days. Indeed, the image of Our Lady being pregnant with Christ, the Incarnate Word, surely mirrors what the Church herself is, and what we ourselves are called to be: similarly “pregnant” with the Incarnate Word for the life and salvation of the world today. This, to me, is the most significant dimension of the image, and one of the most profound gifts that Mexican and Mexican-American spirituality offers to the whole Church today. More than ever, the Church is being called to be clearly multi-cultural and mestiza in form. To gaze contemplatively upon the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, then, is to gaze at what the Church is called to become.
How appropriate, then, that we celebrate Mary of Guadalupe in Advent! Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that her Son desires always to be born anew in us. Like St. John the Baptist, she also comes as God’s messenger, inviting us to give him a home in which to be born again in our life. As the “woman clothed with the sun,” Our Lady of Guadalupe also reflects the overall eschatological focus of Advent as well, the longing of humanity for the glorious return of the Lord at the end of time.
Since my arrival to our parish, I have come to appreciate more deeply the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe that exists here. I am moved by the simple ways in which people revere her. I am struck by the stories of so many people who have experienced God’s mercy through her intercessions. Deep within, I can sense the people’s longing for a God who is close to them, who identifies with them, and who has compassion for them.
This weekend, the rose candle will be lit in our Advent wreath in church, and priests will be wearing rose colored vestments as a sign of joy, signifying that the Lord’s coming is near. There’s also St. Juan Diego with all those roses in his tilma or cloak. What better way to experience that special joy than to celebrate it with Our Lady, Bearer of the Incarnate Word?
Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham