Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sermon on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, Oregon

Dec 12th, 2012 The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

In 1505, when Montezuma II ascended the throne of the Aztec Empire, the capital of which was at Mexico City. His sister, Papantzin, governed the people of a nearby city. In 1509, she died and was buried in a cave in her garden. But after she was placed in the tomb, “she had an incredible experience. She found herself standing on the shore of a great sea. In her mind was the compulsion to reach the other side. When Papantzin was about to leap in, a beautiful young man with wings of exquisitely colored feathers and attired in a long snow-white robe stepped in front of her. On his forehead he had a sign - a cross. The young man spoke to her and said: ‘Stop, Papantzin! It is not yet time for you to cross this water. Do not fear. I have been sent by the true invisible God to give you a message. He loves you although you do not know him’ (Behrens, Helen. The Virgin and the Serpent God. p. 29).

“While the Angel was speaking, Papantzin saw a number of galleons sailing on the water. The men on the galleons were not Indians; they had white skin. They were wearing helmets and holding banners on which she saw the same sign as the Angel had on his forehead - a cross” (29-30).

The Angel continued: “The men whom you see will come from the other side of the great water. By the force of their arms they will conquer all this land, and with them (you) will come to the knowledge of the True God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Give this message to your brother. God wants you to live so that when the great change has taken place and peace is again established in the land, you, Papantzin, will be the first to receive the water that heals and washes away sin. Guide the inhabitants of this land to do likewise.”

“When the vision had faded away, Princess Papantzin became conscious and found herself enclosed in a tomb. She was unable to get out, but feeling strong and well she shouted loudly until servants came early in the morning and released her” (30).

“After some days had passed, Montezuma asked his sister to make a drawing of the vision. She complied with his request, and the court artists then made copies of her drawings. The Emperor sent the copies to his people along the coast with orders to notify him as soon as such ships made their appearance” (31).

Ten years later, in 1519, Hernan Cortez headed an expedition to Mexico. “One of the Spanish soldiers was wearing a gilded helmet …of the same shape as those worn by the white men in Papantzin’s vision. The Governor told Cortez that he wished to send the helmet to the Emperor” (39). Montezuma recalled the vision and proceeded cautiously.

The serpent god, named Quetzalcoatl, was the primary god worshipped by all of Mexico and possibly by all of Meso-America (cf. Behrens 13). This serpent god was identified with the morning star and the evening star, and is thought to have originally been identified with a comet that appeared at the time of Moses and Joshua, 1450 years before Christ (15). It was a common practice among the various tribes of Mexico to offer human sacrifice. When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in 1519, 20,000 humans were sacrificed each year by the Aztec nation alone (18).

Cortez begged Montezuma to cease offering human sacrifice. He and his soldiers went into the Temple area and cleaned up one of the rooms, scraping human blood off the walls and pavements where it had dried (Behrens, 100). They constructed an altar and placed a Crucifix and a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary upon it (47).

This act enraged the Aztecs and they determined to exterminate the Spaniards. Montezuma warned Cortez that he must take his men and escape in order to save their lives. A few years of wars and political intrigue followed, but Cortez managed to remain alive and in command. Montezuma relinquished his kingdom to the King of Spain, and the King of Spain sent twelve Franciscan missionaries in 1524 to Mexico. Cortez and a group of native nobles and chiefs went on horseback to meet the missionaries. The natives were dressed in beautiful native costumes. But the missionaries arrived on foot, barefoot, and dressed in rough brown habits. Cortez in his finery dismounted, took off his cap, knelt down and kissed the hem of the superior’s habit. All of those with him then did the same. The natives were astonished that such poor-looking men should receive such honor and determined that the missionaries were “superior and more perfect than the rest of mortal men” (147).

After 6 years of laboring, the missionaries met with little success and were becoming disheartened. Among the few whom they had baptized were a man who took the name of Juan Diego, his wife Maria Lucia, and his uncle who took the name Juan Bernardino. Meanwhile the bishop elect, His Excellency John Zumárraga, was troubled because the Spanish who had come to govern in Mexico were not virtuous men and did not treat the Indians well. He protested and “they planned to have him removed or killed…he suffered persecution, insults and false accusations, (but) continued faithfully in his pastoral duties” (Behrens 152). The Spanish governors intercepted his mail that he sent to the Emperor in Spain. So, the bishop began to hide his letters in a hollow cross that he sent to Spain. When the Emperor found out the trouble he was having, he removed the governors and sent a new team of virtuous men to Mexico in their place. But the Indians were not appeased, and the bishop felt like the whole venture was gravely threatened. The bishop prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help and he asked her for a sign. Within days a native Mexican man named Juan Diego came to see him asking him to build a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill. Was this the sign? His Excellency had asked the Blessed Mother for a sign. The bishop was hopeful, but cautious.

Now, who was this man and why did he come to the bishop? St. Juan Diego was a native Mexican. He was not a poor man. He owned land. He belonged to the middle class and had been educated, but he lived very humbly. He had “offered himself for instruction and baptism only two years after the first Franciscans had landed in Mexico” (Johnston, The Wonder of Guadalupe, 24). In 1529 his wife died. He was alone and childless and decided to move to Tolpetlac to live near his uncle. On the morning of December 9th, 1531, the 57-year-old Juan Diego set out early in the morning for his 9-mile walk to attend Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. “As he passed Tepeyac Hill, a blanket of warmth and peace overtook him. He could hear the sound of sweet angelic voices singing above him, coming from the top of the hill. …He was overcome by the angelic melody. After a short while there was silence again. Then one single voice rang out to him like a bell (Bob and Penny Lord, The Many Faces of Mary: A Love Story. p. 25).

“Little Juan, Juan Dieguito.”

“He darted up the hill as quickly as his legs would carry him. The sight he beheld filled his heart with such joy, he thought it would burst. But the dazzling beauty of what he saw made him freeze on the spot. He couldn’t catch his breath (Lord, 25-26).

She spoke: “Be it known and understood by you, the smallest of my children, that I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God…the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

“I ardently desire that a temple be built for me here, where I can show and offer all my love, compassion, help, and protection, for I am your Merciful Mother. …and in order to carry out what my mercy seeks, you must go to the bishop’s palace in Mexico and tell him that I sent you to make it clear how very much I desire that he build a temple for me here on this place” (26).

Juan visited the bishop. The bishop was cautious, but kind. He invited Juan to come back again and tell him the rest of the details. Juan returned the very next day and the bishop was not so kind this time, but while listening to Juan, His Excellency was in awe. How could this simple man, a new Catholic, have such a profound knowledge of our Lady if this story were not true? The bishop asked Juan many questions about the apparition and then he sent Juan away asking for a sign. He also sent a couple of servants to follow Juan and spy on him.

It was two days later that Juan, after having tried to avoid our Lady, was greeted by her and given the sign. She gave him roses in wintertime and instructed him to hold them in his tilma and not to show them to anyone until he presented them to the bishop.

Upon arriving at the bishop’s palace, guards refused him entry. The servants tried to get Juan to show them the contents of his tilma, but he would not. They harassed him and he finally showed them just one rose. They were surprised to see a rose and grabbed at it. “It disappeared and turned into a painting on the tilma” (Lord, 35). Finally their curiosity got the best of them and they ran to tell the bishop, who invited Juan to enter his residence. Juan told his Excellency all about the roses and knelt before him opening the tilma. He said, “Receive them!”

The bishop did not look at the roses, he looked at Juan’s chest. His expression changed from surprise, to awe, to reverence. He fell to his knees before Juan and shed tears. Juan looked down at his chest and he saw an image being painted by angels while they all watched. The image was not there when he first dropped the roses. It was painted by an invisible hand while they watched.
The miraculous image brought about 8 million conversions to the Catholic faith in Mexico within the next 7 years. St. Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life as a hermit, in a small room next to the church that was built to house the image. He cared for the shrine and greeted pilgrims until he died in 1548.

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