12 December 2011

Mary, Juan Diego, and You (now with audio!)

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, New Orleans


Just last week the Holy Father's household preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa named the Blessed Mother the model of the Church's new evangelization. This is completely unsurprising given that we have considered her the model of the Church almost from Day One. That she should also be imitated as the principle example of how Catholics are to reclaim western culture for the Lord is, well, the most natural thing imaginable. Mary's submission to a lifelong vocation of humble service as the mother of the Christ—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord”—shows us the way to be our perfection in her son. Her fiat—“May it be done to me according to your word”—shows us the way to receiving the Father's Word through the Holy Spirit. If we could achieve even for a moment the clarity and determination this young woman showed when confronted by Gabriel, we could bring this world to its knees before God. And more importantly, we ourselves would be brought to our knees in repentance and radical conversion. During her life on earth, our Blessed Mother had one substantial advantage working in her favor: her immaculate conception. We do not enjoy this singular, unrepeatable privilege; however, we can and do enjoy the immeasurable benefits of her intercessions for us before the throne of God. With her help, following her example becomes more than just a possibility.

We could ask whether or not Juan Diego had an idea that his encounter with the Blessed Mother would transform a culture. Did he suspect that her appearance and his report of her appearance would spark an international devotion and set the Church on a path toward evangelizing Central and South America? As a poor Aztec farmer only recently converted to the faith, we can guess that none of what followed from his meeting with the BVM ever crossed his mind. In fact, his story sounds quite a bit like the one we heard this evening. A perfectly ordinary soul is made extraordinary by an encounter with what appears to be a divine being. Mary meets Gabriel and receives the seed of God's Word in her womb. Juan Diego meets Mary and receives an icon that revolutionized a culture. Both Mary and Juan listened to the voice of God's Spirit and acted according to their respective gifts; each took away from their encounters all that they could carry, all that they could possibly share. And no matter how many of their abundant gifts they surrendered to the work of the Gospel, they remained full of grace. Mary and Juan both lived and died as witnesses to the freely given and boundless abundance of the Father's love for His people. 

If you and I will reclaim creation for the work of God, we too must live and die as witnesses of a mercy so deep, a love so wide that not even the most vicious enemy of God can withstand the onslaught of His call to repentance. This means—at the very least—that we live each day in the eager anticipation of being called upon to receive God's Word and act accordingly; to be visited by divine grace and share that grace without meagerness or reluctance. To become ourselves angels, messengers sent to announce the goodness and beauty of the Lord. And to invite, to provoke, to tempt everyone we meet with the open-handed offer that Christ's sacrifice on the cross made real: to live and die as a well-loved child of the living God. 

Let's ask ourselves an advent question: is the life I am living right now look and feel like the sort of life that draws others to Christ? If not, it is never too late to say, “May it be done to me according to your word”

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