Yesterday the entire archdiocese came together, it seemed, to honor the Mother of God. 40,000 pilgrims made their way through the city to the cathedral in the 25th annual Guadalupe Procession, walking, singing, and praying for 12 miles into the City of St. Francis. Horsemen in brilliant Guadalupano colors led the way onto the central plaza, pausing at the church door to let in a young woman dressed in the bright mantle Our Lady of Guadalupe, accompanied by a bearded indigenous man dressed as Juan Diego. Thirty Aztec concero dancers in plumage and shells followed them, all keeping their eyes fixed on the 20-foot cathedral mosaic of la Guadalupana. They made their way to her, offering gratitude and prayers to God for sending his holy mother to the Americas in 1531. After the singing, they backed away toward their places for Mass, never turning their faces from hers. And it seemed to me that she was with us yesterday; more than a mere image, the Mother of God who left her image on Juan Diego’s tilma 487 years ago has never left the Americas. God sent his Mother to Mesoamerica during Advent, a Christmas gift, a birth of the Christian faith in the new world. In that year, ten years after Hernan Cortez landed in Veracruz, both Spaniard and Aztec were locked in a war of attrition, grinding toward mutual destruction. Only a mother, and only the Mother of God, could reconcile God’s children. Today they are one race, La Raza, and all of us from Canada to Chile, are Guadalupanos.
In my catechism class yesterday, I asked four children to draw a picture of “Christmas” on the board. Each of them drew a Christmas tree. I asked them: What does a fir tree have to do with the birth of the Messiah? And a little girl said it was because Jesus would carry a big piece of wood one day through the streets of Jerusalem. Yes, Christmas is the birth of the Messiah who would save his people by the wood of the cross. Advent is a time of greater prayer and penance to knock down the mountains and fill in the valleys in our lives: to dismantle sinful or simply exaggerated behaviors, and to fill in good habits that may be lacking, especially consistent prayer. Most of us don’t pray enough, and because we don’t give significant time to focused conversation with God, we become easily stressed, irritated, discouraged, depressed, angry, and abusive. The answer to every confusion in our life, the strength for every weakness, is to come before the altar of God, like the Aztec warriors themselves did 500 years ago in Tepeyac, and as they did yesterday in the cathedral. I want to thank all the people from our parish who attended this Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patronal feast of the United States. Thank you for coming before the altar of God today as well.
Make Straight the Path
Luke begins his Gospel with a list of important historical figures, establishing his credentials as an historian: In the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, in the governorship of Pontius Pilate, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” But the word of God, and the judgement of God, did not come through these great leaders. It came through John the Baptist, a simple preacher who lived in the desert. He wore animal skins and ate insects. He said very simply: Prepare the way for God to enter your soul. Make a straight path for him into your life. Straighten yourself out. We have work to do in these last three weeks Christmas, and I don’t mean only shopping. We must send out the cards and buy the gifts and stage the parties, which are good things. But please do not neglect the real meaning of this season, which is to prepare our souls to receive Him.
The Immaculate Conception
On Saturday we celebrated our national patroness, the Immaculate Conception. It was on this day, Dec 9, that Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, a poor little Indian man who could not even speak Spanish. He was on his way to the Mass of the Immaculate Conception when she drew him in by flor y canto, by roses blooming among cactus and songs of delightful birds. In exquisite sweetness she called out: “Juanito, Juan Diegito, el mas pequeño de mis hijos.” He asked who she was, and she told him: “Know for certain, my son, my littlest one, that I am the perfect and ever virgin holy Mary, mother of the true God, through whom all things live, the creator of mankind, the sovereign of all that is near and far, the maker of heaven and earth.” We are all children of this woman, and children of God. Our lives can be ordered and peaceful, preparing for heaven even while on earth, so that nothing here can disturb us. We only need to pray to the good God through Our Lady, and that prayer is how we make straight the path for God into our hearts this Christmas. We celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe this Wednesday, December 12, at 6 in the morning. Can I count on you to join Juan Diego and me on that day, at that hour, to meet her in our church here on Geary Boulevard?