Diocesan Celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
(Rev. 11:ff; Lk. 1: 26-38)
December 10, 2016 6:00 p.m. St. Augustine Cathedral
Introduction/Greeting at beginning of Mass:
Greetings in the Love of the Lord to one and all! I am so happy to welcome all of you here from around the Diocese for this beautiful and festive celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I welcome my brother priests and deacons who are here with me, our dear Sisters, and most especially, I welcome all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Even though the actual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe doesn’t take place until Monday, I am so happy that we can come here to St. Augustine Cathedral---the “Mother Church” of our Diocese---so that we can rejoice together in this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of Jesus our Lord, and the Blessed Mother of each of us. This Feast fills our hearts with Joy because, through God’s unconditional love and our dear Blessed Mother’s intercession, we are ALL God’s Family.
So, let us prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries by calling to mind our sins, and ask God’s forgiveness and mercy.
“Hail Mary----favored one---the Lord is with you!”
Those are the first words that the young Virgin Mary heard while she was praying to God, as she regularly did, in her modest home in Nazareth. It not only startled Mary, but we are told that “she was deeply troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be”.
I’m sure it took a while, but Mary finally realized that an Angel from God was actually talking with her. Then the Angel----Gabriel----continued: “You have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus.” The Angel said a lot more as well, but I’ll bet Mary was still focused on the first part of that message, that she would conceive a Child. How could that possibly be, since she had committed herself to a life of dedication to God as a virgin? And, in fact, that was her only question to the Angel: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
But the Angel reassured her that this would all take place through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that in fact, this Child, the Son of God, would be the One to save the world. As far as “how this can be”, the Angel simply assured her: “nothing will be impossible for God.” And so Mary opened herself completely to God’s holy will and said: “May it be done to me according to your word.”
We call that event “the Annunciation”, and it was at the very moment when Mary said “May it be done to me as you say” that the Word was made Flesh; Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, and God’s plan for the Salvation of the world began to move forward. As Catholics---as People of Faith----we know how God’s Plan continued to unfold: Jesus was born, which during this Advent Season we are preparing our hearts to celebrate on Christmas day; Jesus grew up; began His public ministry, teaching the world about God’s unconditional Love and limitless Mercy. We know that Jesus suffered, died and gloriously rose from the dead, thereby accomplishing the goal of His mission which was to save the world from the control of sin and the destructive power of death, which we celebrate every year on Easter. We call this Good News the Gospel of Salvation. It is this Good News that transforms the world, and each of our lives if we are open to God’s grace. Even though Jesus accomplished the Salvation of the world 2,000 years ago, God’s Plan of calling all people in every time and place to accept that gift of Salvation continues through the Church. We know that our dear Blessed Mother from her Heavenly vantage point continues helping God to call the world to repentance, and that’s what we celebrate on the great Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
It was 485 years ago, in the year 1531, in Tepeyac, Mexico, that our dear Lady appeared to Juan Diego, whose Feast Day we just celebrated yesterday. Juan, a 57-year old Aztec, was a good and holy man. And just as the Angel Gabriel sought out a young, devout virgin in Nazareth, so did our Blessed Mother seek out this good and holy man to help advance God’s plan of salvation for the people of Mexico who had such great need for God and the gift of Faith. Our Blessed Lady called to Juan by name----“Juan----Juanito----come here!” And when Juan came to the beautiful Lady, she identified herself: “I am Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live.”
We are very familiar with the rest of the account of what happened; that Juan went to the local Bishop, and persisted in trying to convince him of what our Lady wanted him to do---to build a church and to call people to faith. After gathering the roses putting them inside his tilma to serve as proof for the Bishop, when Juan opened his “tilma” to give the roses to the Bishop, Our Lady’s image was on the tilma instead of the roses-----this image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that we cherish and venerate this evening. When the people heard about this miraculous event, they turned to God in huge numbers-----8 million Mexicans converted from their pagan practices and embraced the Catholic faith over the months and years that followed.
Now, almost 500 years later, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness and the Queen of South, Central and North America. Our Lady of Guadalupe is our Queen; she is our Mother. It’s important to remember, as we gather here this evening, that we aren’t just celebrating a miraculous event from nearly 500 years ago. We’re celebrating the fact that God’s Plan of Salvation continues to unfold in our own day and time----and in the lives of each and every one of us.
We’re living in some challenging times, aren’t we? I realize that there are many people who are living in fear, not knowing what might happen as our country goes through a change in leadership; a time when our country’s government policies are uncertain. We worry for ourselves, our children, for those we love and care about.
But let’s go back to the Gospel passage we heard just a few moments ago. The Angel came into Mary’s life and changed it forever with his greeting: “Hail Mary, favored one.” And then the Angel Gabriel told Mary that the plans for the future which she had made were going to change. She was being asked to do what God was asking, which seemed not only hard, but humanly impossible. The Angel gave Mary three important messages: “The Lord is with you”; “Do not be afraid”; and “Nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary’s greatness and the reason we hold her in the greatest esteem possible for another human being, is simply because she believed God absolutely. And as long as she remembered that the Lord was with her, and as long as she trusted that God was never stopped by human impossibilities, then she would have no need to be afraid!
My brothers and sisters, I would say those same words to you today: Do not be afraid. And I say that for the very same reasons: because the Lord is with us, especially through His Church and through the gift of our Faith, and it remains a fact that nothing is impossible for God. The Lord is with you and the Church is with you. All of us stand with you in our shared faith, and the Church at all levels----beginning with Pope Francis and continuing with all of the U.S. Bishops, who stand in solidarity with all our people against any discrimination, or unjust treatment of any of our people. As Archbishop Jose Gomez, the newly-elected Vice-President of the U.S. Conference of Bishops said on behalf of all of us Bishops in the United States: “We will work to promote humane polices that protect refugees and immigrants’ inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation.”
The Lord promises that He is with us, and we know that the Lord remains with us primarily through His Church. An integral part of the Church’s mission is to protect refugees and immigrants and to help our neighbors in need. As we go through this time of transition in our country, let us hold fast to our faith in God’s Plan, which continues to unfold among us, as He constantly reassures us that He is with us, and nothing is impossible for God’s unconditional Love and limitless Mercy.
During this Mass and throughout these coming days of celebration, let us hear Our Lady of Guadalupe call each of us by name, as she called Juan Diego, and hear her reassure us: Am I not your Mother? Do not be afraid! In turn let us pray that we can be willing to say: “May it be done according to Your word!”
God bless you, now and always!