Wednesday December 12, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Our Lady of Guadalupe
Reading (Zechariah 2:14-17) Gospel (St. Luke 1:39-47)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about Our Lady proceeding in haste into the hill country. While the context of that Gospel reading has to do with going to visit at the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah right after receiving Our Lord into herself, in this particular feast it has a different meaning. Our Lady, once again, proceeded in haste into the hill country – but in this case it was not in the Holy Land, but rather, it was in the Americas. Our Lady came to a place that is now Mexico City, and it was there that the worship of Satan was in full bloom. There was human sacrifice; there were all kinds of awful things that were going on there. Our Lady came to put an end to it. Missionaries had come there, Franciscans, and they had been there for quite a while, but they were making almost no headway. One of the difficulties is that people who are into the worship of Satan are very, very difficult to get out of their particular paganism. And so, in this case, the Franciscans were having very little success in trying to convert the native peoples.
They had converted one young man by the name of Juan Diego. When we think about what we do in trying to get up every morning and get here for 6 o’clock Mass, Juan Diego would walk for miles and miles to be able to get to Mass, literally. I think it was about 20 miles that he had to walk - one way - just to be able to get to Mass. So he would get up very early in the morning, obviously, and set out walking. Our Lady appeared to him at this mountain called Tepeyac. After several apparitions and asking him to go to the bishop and [Juan] being treated terribly by the bishop’s servants and the bishop himself, suddenly, Our Lady appeared one more time on top of this mountain in a season when there would not normally be roses and where roses of that particular type (they were Castilian roses) did not grow naturally. There, on top of the mountain, were a bunch of roses that he picked. He put them into his tilma, a poncho that he was wearing, and brought them to the bishop as a sign from Our Lady that in fact it was she who was appearing.
As he dropped the roses, suddenly the image of Our Lady began to appear, almost like a Polaroid snapshot. And there, in that image, is what is known as a pictograph. Because the people of the area were unable to read, they would use pictures. And the pictures said many, many things to the people. They worshiped the sun; they worshiped the moon; they worshiped the stars - so here is Our Lady clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, arrayed in the stars. She is wearing a native dress, something that the native Aztec women would have worn. And in the middle of the dress, right above her stomach, is one little flower. It is the only place on the entire dress where that particular flower is located, and that is the indication to the native peoples that she is with child.
They knew that this was the mother of the Christian God, that she was not a goddess; first of all, because her eyes are downcast and she is praying: Her hands are folded in prayer. If she were a goddess she would not be praying, but rather, she would be [shown] being worshiped. With her hands folded in prayer and her eyes downcast they knew that she was not a god. But then, right up under her chin on the brooch that holds the dress together, there is a cross; so they knew that this was the mother of the Christian God, the mother that these Franciscans had been talking about. So they recognized that this woman was more important than all the elements of their worship. Yet, they also recognized that she was not God; therefore, all the things they had been worshiping were not God.
The word of this traveled, of course, and there were people who converted in droves. By the time the Franciscans would come to a village, the people would run out to meet them, begging to be baptized. They could not baptize them until they had taught them about the Faith, but the people wanted this even before the missionaries got there. All in all, more than 9 million people were converted because of this particular apparition of Our Lady, because they saw this picture.
According to modern science, it is made of colors [whose] pigment is unknown to earth; they cannot explain what it is. The turquoise on Our Lady is something that, in anything of earth, fades very quickly; yet, it is still very brilliant. It is made out of a cactus fiber cloth which normally completely disintegrates within 30 - 40 years, and it has been hanging there since 1531. And it is in perfect condition. The [proofs] could go on and on to make clear that this is indeed something that is truly from God.
But I think what we need to recognize is that she came to be the Queen of the Americas. She came as Our Queen. And keep in mind always that this is the only actual picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we have. [Compared to] all the beautiful pictures that any artist might paint of the most beautiful woman that he can find and then try to present that as Our Lady, this is the only [actual] image of Our Lady that we possess because this was not painted by human hands. This is from God Himself to demonstrate who His mother is for us. We need to look to all that is going on there. We need to look to what she did in converting these peoples.
Now, in our neopagan society, where once again we are slipping away from the worship of God and falling into false worship, where we are sacrificing human beings left and right, once again we have Our Lady who has come to save her people. She has come to call us to repentance. She has come to call us to the worship of her Son. So we turn to Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray for the end of the slaughter of innocent human life. We turn to her for the conversion of the people who are into pagan religion once again. We look to her for protection and - as she is stronger than all the elements of creation, even though she herself is a creature - we ask her prayers and intercession for the protection of her Church and of her children so that we will be able to continue to fight the good fight of faith for which she came into this continent.
When we consider this particular feast in alignment with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (that is the patronal feast of the United States), and now just 4 days later we celebrate the patronal feast of all the Americas - North, Central, and South America - as we celebrate this feast of Our Lady, I think Our Lord is trying to tell us something very clear: that we must look to Our Lady and she will lead us to her Son, as she led 9 million people from this continent to her Son 450 years ago. Today, once again, we need that same kind of extraordinary work that God will work through His mother. So we turn to her as Our Lady, as Our Queen, and we beg her intercession for the conversion of sinners and for the end of the slaughter of innocent life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.