It was bound to happen. Pope Francis is the first Pope from the “new world” and he’s Hispanic even if his ancestry is Italian. He’s “American” as understood by everyone south of the southern border of the United States. Thus, when that Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, which is properly “American”, came up on the calendar, Pope Francis decided to bump the Feast up to a Solemnity, celebrate Mass in Spanish, and invite (more or less) all of the Western Hemisphere to St. Peter’s.
It really was quite remarkable because if you’ve ever been to a celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, especially in a Hispanic community, you know that no expense is spared and hours upon hours are devoted to preparations for the Mass, the dinner, and the dances that inevitably follow in Catholic communities through the “Americas.” Thus, as can only be done at St. Peter’s, the celebration was taken to a new level.
That being said, Rome and the “Old World” can rightly look at the “New World” a bit dismissively; the Church has been in Europe for almost 2 millennia while the Americas have only been Christian for about 500 years…a drop in the bucket historically. In fact, many of the “American” saints and feast days are – as would be expected – not as important on the liturgical calendars in Europe. If I’m not mistaken, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a feast in the Americas while it’s an optional memorial in Rome, at least. Furthermore, the Church throughout Europe and the Middle East has seen more than its fair share of notable saints and Marian apparitions: Lourdes and Fatima, to name the big ones. In addition, the Roman calendar is taken up almost exclusively with saints from Europe, Northern Africa (which was basically part of European civilization for centuries), or the Middle East. Whether the cause is a certain snobbery on the part of the “older brother” or a mere fact of numbers is for those who are far more learned in these areas than I.
Something struck me this year, however, in a way that it has never struck me. It’s a known fact that in the days of the exploration of the “East Indies” and the “New World”, the inhabitants of those new lands were looked down on to varying degrees as beings of a lower dignity. This was unfortunately true such that the Church issued documents and decrees affirming the equal dignity of all human beings of every race, for example. Even in the apparition of our Lady, St. Juan Diego’s proclamation to the Bishop of Mexico City was ignored at least in part because of St. Juan Diego’s racial status. All that being said, so many details of Mary’s apparition to this lowly native American was a wake-up call for so many: the ethnicity of the one who received the message, the apparition of our Lady as an Aztec queen, God’s selection of one who was considered nothing in the eyes of the world, and the use of a humble fabric as the background for the miraculous image of our Lady.
When news of this apparition made its way back to the “Old World”, I’m sure there were skeptics, but I was told a story (if it’s not true, it ought to be) that the Holy Father’s response to the news of Mary’s apparition in the “New World” came from the Book of the Psalms: God has not done thus for any other nation! What’s more remarkable is that while the Church was about to experience an explosion of faith on the heels of this apparition in AD1531, the “Old World” was in the throes of the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps that great and mighty Church had gotten too great and too mighty in God’s eyes and needed a reminder about simplicity and humility – the premier path of God.
This apparition to these “simple” people in a “remote” part of the world would remind our older brothers in the Faith that God was still at work spreading the Gospel, and that God had chosen yet another people to add to the number of the elect. They were seeing the expansion of God’s saving power before their very eyes. God’s ways are not our ways, and we sometimes are reminded of that in big ways. God was informing His older children that there would be a newly-adopted child in the family: the peoples of Americas. I found myself in St. Peter’s Basilica that night 2 weeks ago, surrounded by a mighty throng of those whose faith was likely due to the conversion of their ancestors in response to this very apparition of our Lady!
In addition, as you may know, the Franciscans, who had struggled mightily in those early years to convert the natives of modern-day Mexico, found very little success in bringing these peoples to the Church. From this side of the pond, it was easier for me to see what the Church means when She says that Mary always goes ahead of her Son to prepare for His reception, as she did for Elizabeth and John the Baptist at the Visitation. Here, the Blessed Mother was going to a far-off land, a land which mankind had only reached with great difficulty, but in which Mary merely appeared with the greatest ease. What followed was likely unmatched in any other period in the history of salvation; within a mere decade of the apparition of our Lady at Guadalupe, some 9 million natives from the “New World” would become Catholic. That is, the life of God was planted in their souls, and they were re-created after the image of the Perfect Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ was born in their souls, but only because Mary had first come to prepare her soon-to-be-children to receive her firstborn Son. What men were only doing with great efforts of time and energy, Mary was doing with the greatest of ease, because she must go before to prepare a worthy home for her Son.
Just a few thoughts on humility, power, and the ways of God. How great He is. Our Lady of Guadalupe & our Lady of Advent, pray for us!