Sing and rejoice of daughter Sion! See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they shall be God’s people, and he will dwell among you, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.
Zechariah 2: 14- 15
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
Luke 1: 26-7
Today’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and its gospel of the Annunciation to Mary are reminders to us of the fact that God’s love is universal and that God appears and calls through the unique human forms of every race, and tongue, and peoples. For those of us who are of European origin, it is not surprising that our images of the scriptural characters have European features. It seldom even strikes us as strange that the images of Mary that arise in our imagination are likely to be more Florentine than Semitic. All peoples tend to imagine God and God’s manifestations in our world as of their own kind.
This pre-reflective human tendency, however, becomes dangerous when we begin to conflate the Mystery of God with our own culture. From the beginning of recorded history to the present, the human religious experience tells the sad story of the competition among the gods of various cultures. “Our god” is always on our side, and, as we so painfully see in some manifestations today, commands us to proselytize and convert the strangers, pagans, unbelievers even by force. It is not surprising that Pope Francis consistently reminds us that evangelization is not proselytization.
The advent of Christianity into the new world is in significant part a very sad story of violence and oppression. Today’s feast, however, counters that original narrative of cultural hegemony. It reminds us that God comes to the world in every human form, culture, and cultic expression. It is appropriate that the Feast occurs in the middle of the Advent Season, for it reminds us, individually as well as culturally, to realize that God is always with us and coming to us, but very often in places and forms we would least expect.
How can be prepare ourselves for such unexpected annunciations? Perhaps one way is to catch our unconscious movement to shrink away from the foreign and strange that we encounter and to attempt to move toward it in appreciation and gratitude. In this way we can respect, that is “look again” at what we might look away from and begin to allow its truth to speak to us.
Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas. I would like to greet all my brothers and sisters on that continent, and I do so thinking of the Virgin of Tepeyac. When Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego, her face was that of a woman of mixed blood, a mestiza, and her garments bore many symbols of the native culture. Like Jesus, Mary is close to all her sons and daughters; as a concerned mother, she accompanies them on their way through life. She shares all the joys and hopes, the sorrows and troubles of God’s People, which is made up of men and women of every race and nation.
When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity. That is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it is also my message, the message of the Church. I ask all the people of the Americas to open wide their arms, like the Virgin, with love and tenderness.
Pope Francis, Message to the Americas for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 2013