Homily for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe 2015 for the Diocese of Yakima
Zechariah 2:14-17; Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab; Luke 1:26-38
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima
Peace be with you! As many of you know, there are a number of Marian apparitions around the world that have been noted by the Church – about 17 in number. Some are quite famous: Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of La Salette in France, our Lady of Lezajsk in Poland, Our Lady of Knock in Ireland and Our Lady of Kibeho in Rwanda.
My own family had a huge devotion to the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. Appearing to young children in 1917 she asked that we all pray for the conversion of Russia. This was enormously attractive to my one family given the fact that – like so many German-speaking families here in the Yakima Valley – we actually were Germans from Russia escaping civil war, hunger famines and religious persecution. Seventy years later, when the Berlin Wall fell and Communism came to and end, I still recall my grandmother holding up her rosary and turning to me as saying: “See it worked.” Like so many elderly parishioners here in Yakima with German roots she faithfully prayed the “Fatima Prayer” at the end each decade of her rosary.
So why? Why among the some 17 apparitions of Mary, “Our Lady of Guadalupe” the most popular? Why is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe is the most visited pilgrimage site of any religion and any faith anywhere in the world? Why do between 10 and 12 million people visit her each year? Why do more people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe in Mexico City than the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome?
Why? Our Lady of Guadelupe answers this in a single phrase: “I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live…. I am truly your merciful Mother.” She wants every one of us to know that – not matter our condition, our race, our language, our culture or even our legal status – we have a mother and the this – her Church – is our home.
Indeed, unlike the approximately 17 other apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this apparition is the only one where the message of the Blessed Virgin does not focus on any special requests. Unlike her apparitions at Lourdes in France or Fatima in Portugal, the Blessed Virgin Mary does not ask for prayers or fasting. She does not call for the conversion of Russia as she did at Fatima. “Our Lady of Guadelupe” has no particular spiritual demands. She simple appears and wants us to know one simple fact: “I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live…. I am truly your merciful Mother.”
Yes, we are aware that Our Lady of Guadalupe has a desire that a Church be built – but it is not for her – it is so that she can convey to everyone that she is our mother. Note these words translated from the original Nahuatl language:
“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my son, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live…, I want to give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me; you will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard.”
The starting point for her is not the Basilica. No. The starting point of the Basilica is her message: “I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live…, I am truly your merciful Mother…” and her Basilica stands so that through the ministry of the Bishop of Mexico, she attends to the “…sorrows, hardships and sufferings…” of her people interceding for them in the name of her Son, Jesus Christ. Do we not do the same today at this Eucharist in honor of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego at Tepeyac?
I am painfully aware that the message in our culture often sounds precisely the opposite. We have political leaders who claim to favor immigration reform but have also overseen the largest numbers of deportations in American history. We have other political leaders who not only oppose immigration reform but who speak in public about immigrants using language that in inflammatory and denigrates their human dignity.
I am also keenly aware so many of our local leaders seem to live in total denial about the fraudulent foundation of our local Washington State economy. The largest sector of our Washington State economy is agriculture. Yet this 49 billion dollar industry is built on a fraudulent immigration system that hurts both our employers as well as our workers. If you are an employer and inspect worker documents you run the risk of being sued for racial profiling by the Department of Justice. If you do not diligently inspect work document you can be raided and fined by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This results in tremendous stress and fear with so many – right in our own parishes – living in the shadows, fearing deportation and family separation.
Yet this is precisely why we must take for ourselves the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego for – as your bishop – this is also my message for you. Mary is your mother. She loves you. The Church is your mother. She loves you. I am your bishop. I love you.
If – because of the harsh reality of your lives – you find these words hard to fully absorb or grasp, know that you are not alone. Recall that San Juan Diego had the very same struggle. “No soy nada más que una escalerilla de tabla.” That’s how San Juan Diego responds to the words of “Our Lady of Guadelupe. “I’m so low I am nothing more than a walking path,” he thinks to himself. “I am so lowly and insignificant people walk on me.”
Yet Mary tells him directly that she could have chosen anyone to bear her message. But “Yo te escogido a ti.”
As bishop that’s my challenge for you. Like San Juan Diego, you have been selected to bear the message of love that goes straight to your own “…sorrows, hardships and suffering…”
You – the Spanish-speaking community of the Diocese of Yakima – you have a great and noble mission: to uplift this unique apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe with your lives. In the face of the “sorrows, hardships and sufferings…” of our people’s lives go and share the message that the Church loves them, that the bishop loves them and that they have a merciful mother that accompanies them: “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
¡Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!
¡Viva San Juan Diego!
¡Viva la Iglesia – Madre de Nuestra Esperanza!
¡Viva nosotros – el pueblo de Dios!
¡Viva Cristo Rey!