Our Lady of Guadalupe 2021
[Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3: 10-18]
This past week brought us some disheartening news. The long-anticipated journey to Rome of a delegation of Indigenous peoples to meet Pope Francis has been postponed. Tonight, we had planned to commission our Alberta delegates and speed them along with our prayers. Instead, we find ourselves dealing with disappointment, as, yet again, circumstances beyond our control intervene to disrupt our plans and frustrate our hopes.
In this present experience of disappointed hope, we may find it very difficult to understand the message we receive tonight from the Word of God. In the biblical texts we hear a call to rejoice, always. The summons to the follower of Jesus Christ is to live in joy at all times, even in the midst of disappointment and discouragement.
It is important that we grapple with this, because none of us is a stranger to situations that leave us not only disappointed but also fearful and anxious. Often due to circumstances beyond our control, plans for our marriages and family lives, for our communities, for good health, for economic well-being and so on often do not turn out as we had hoped. At times, the challenging circumstances and failed plans leave us and the people we love deeply wounded, and we struggle in consequence to see a bright future. When we add to this the great uncertainty still plaguing us due to COVID, it is little wonder that mental health issues are spreading as worry and anxiety take hold just about everywhere. In such a context, how is it possible even to think of rejoicing as the Word of God summons us to do? We need to engage this question directly, because life cannot be fueled by disappointed hopes. What gives energy and hope is joy. So, where do we find it?
St. Paul is crystal clear in his answer to that question. We find joy in the Lord. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says. Now, keep in mind that St. Paul himself was very familiar with disappointment and worry. In fact, he is writing this letter to the Philippians from prison, where he would have had every reason to be fearful and anxious. Yet, he does not hesitate to exhort his readers – and us – to be joyful. Behind his words is his own experience of the power of God’s love, which became visible and active in his encounter with Jesus Christ. From his knowledge of the Lord, he knew that nothing in life, however painful, disappointing or dangerous, is more powerful than the love of God. Furthermore, he was aware that this love of God was at work in the world and in his own life to turn all things to the good in accordance with God’s saving purpose. This caused there to well up within his heart a joy that no difficulty could diminish. St. Paul found his joy in the Lord and earnestly desired that others would, too.
St. John the Baptist adds to our understanding of this. In the text from St. Luke, we hear him use the image of a winnower to describe the way the Messiah would be at work among his people when at last he came among them. By means of a large fork, the winnower tosses threshed wheat up into the air. The wind blows away the lightweight and useless chaff, and the good heavier wheat kernels fall back to the floor to be gathered into a barn. To speak of Jesus, the Messiah, as a winnower is to say that he knows how to sort things out for us. He understands exactly what must be done to sift out the bad and assemble the good, and does so by the gift of his great love and endless mercy. So, no matter how difficult the circumstance, no matter how far it lies beyond our ability to do anything about it, it is no match for Jesus Christ. When we turn all things over to him, we can have full confidence that Jesus will thresh it out and turn it to the good according to God’s plan of love for each of us. This is why St. Paul says the mere fact that Jesus is near is enough to dispel all anxiety and worry from our minds. Instead of living in fear, we rejoice, because our all-powerful Saviour is here, and he loves us.
Our special mass this evening adds another powerful reason for joy. It reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, too, is with us. In one of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearances to San Juan Diego, she spoke to him at a time when he, himself, was deeply troubled and anxious. He was very worried about his uncle who lay dying, and was anxious to get to him. At that time, Mary spoke to him those words, which have since echoed through the centuries and are now found emblazoned on the façade of the great basilica of Guadalupe: “Am I not here, who am your mother?” The Blessed Virgin revealed herself as mother, not only to Juan Diego but also to us all. Just as an anxious child becomes still when carried by its mother, so, too, do we find comfort in the knowledge that the all-powerful Mother of God and our mother is here, carrying us. There is no need for fear. Jesus is near. So, too, is the Blessed Mother. Dismiss all anxiety and rejoice.
As we recall the Marian appearances at Tepeyac, there is one remarkable aspect of that event we must not overlook, especially at this particular moment in our history. Mary appeared with an Indigenous complexion and spoke in an Indigenous language. This is of enormous significance. In our country, there has been over the past number of months a great awakening to the history of the Indigenous Peoples of this land, especially to the message often communicated in the past that Indigenous identity had to be set aside in order to embrace the Christian faith or enter fully into society. In her appearance precisely as an Indigenous woman, Mary’s message was the opposite. Indigenous identity is to be embraced as a gift to the Church of her Son, and need never be disowned. This message has been underscored powerfully in words from our Popes in recent decades. It is the very same message we want to see lifted up before everyone as we continue to look forward to our encounter with Pope Francis at a time that now waits to be determined.
Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice, too, in the nearness of the Blessed Mother, who always leads us to deeper faith in her son Jesus. May that faith dispel all anxiety and bring us to the peace and joy Jesus wills for each of us.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
December 12th, 2021