Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – Patroness of the Americas… And our little bilingual Parish will celebrate in style. The church is decorated with with rosies and the very anglo, fair Mary that usually positions herself near the front of the church has been replaced by Our Lady of Guadalupe. The mass will be be bilingual. There will be a procession and a gathering afterward.
As anyone who reads this (and there are few of you), you know that I’m just not so big into Mary – or at least not traditional RC Marian devotions. But, Guadalupe was probably my first close encounter with the Catholic Church. I was in high school and my Girl Scout troop took a trip to Mexico. I knew some kids who had gone to the Catholic grade school, true. That’s not quite the same as seeing the pilgrims walk on their knees from across the square to the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There were many questions from this group of 25 or so girls from the deep south. We heard the story of Juan Diego (Susan wrote about this on the 9th – Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe); We saw the shroud. And I remember the guide telling us that if the church shared it’s wealth instead of hoarding it, all of Mexico would be devout Catholics (this was 1968).
What a memory. What a trip. What a stop along this journey I’m on. I remember the pilgrims on their knees and being pretty much horrified. I remember the beautiful cloth. I have looked back at the story and come to a place where I can marvel at the power and love of our God: Mary at Guadalupe bridged the gap between the Spanish, male centered church and the female centered religion of the local peoples. This Mary opens the way the Jesus, just as she has done from the beginning.
That is what I take with me from this holy day.
[Note:It’s easy to remember my niece’s birthday as she shares it with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception…]
This a season of Mary as well as of the coming of Jesus. It’s rather like we need to see what came before to get to the gift of the baby Jesus. And so, I’ve been considering the concept of “Immaculate Conception.” I learned early on in my journey into Catholic Christianity that this Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s beginnings, not to her conceiving Jesus.
Often, it helps to go back to the original language to find a meaning to theological ideas. But, I don’t have a history of terms here, so I fall to considering the English meaning of Conception. Creatures are conceived, but also are ideas conceived. Take the term “concept” – basic concepts underlie projects and belief structures. Mary’s Immaculate Conception – Mary, conceived without sin — that had to be God’s concept. We wouldn’t have thought of it. And so, Mary, who the Catholic Church declares to have been conceived without sin, had to be the result of a concept that was born from God.
As Advent progresses, we move toward the birth of Jesus. What a concept! God becoming one of us in every way except sin. Had to be God’s idea. We would never presume to think this is really something God desired. I suspect that even those sorely broken humans who seem to think they are God carry deep within them a strong doubt that God would really want to be them. They might think they can have God’s power, but, I suspect that they don’t really think God would BE them.
And so, I wrestle with terms like Immaculate Conception and Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. And I look at the word Virgin, free of sexual attachments. I consider the Virgin was a translation and perhaps it refers to a young woman, free, in an of herself, to make the decision to embrace God’s will. The angel Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. Ah! The source of the concept of Jesus – God incarnate originates from God as the Holy Spirit. And Mary said “Yes.”
The power of Mary’s “yes” and the awesome gift of her allowing God to become human through her knocks me over sometimes. And it reinforces my awe at the site of a new baby, and the power of someone, anyone, everyone saying “yes.”
I’ve long had difficulty with traditional Marian traditions/prayers/worship. Probably partly stems from my Calvinist introduction to Christianity. But, I think it may go deeper than that. I believe it involves the traditional image of Mary who honor is that she was submissive — and the idea that we often get that she was submissive to men. Yes, I see her as submissive – but only to the will of God. One has to be pretty well centered and strong in faith to submit to God’s will. One has to be ready to stand tall, face opposition and be willing to stand their ground to carry this out.
I’m not so strong. I am often submissive (and resentful) to the wrong things, to the wrong people.
And so, last week, at the vigil mass for the Assumption, I was very struck by Fr. Alex’s message. He asked each of us to share the virtue(s) of Mary that we wish to emulate in our lives. We’re a pretty talkative group, so there were several responses. Then he followed with the idea that the ultimate virtue of Mary was that she gave birth to Christ — she brought Christ into the world. And that is what each of us is called to do, over and over again.
This morning as I made my way through morning prayers and the readings for the mass (Queenship of Mary), the power of Mary as the first among the disciples, the first to bring Christ into the world came back fiercely.
I can only pray that on ocasion I too can bring the Light of Christ into the part of the world I inhabit.