This essay was given as a homily on November 16, 2019, at the Mass of the Americas at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, directly over the spot where our Lord’s Cross stood, there stands a Greek altar. Directly next to it is a Latin altar, and in between the two altars hangs an icon of the Mother of God. Right at that point of encounter, where she stood 2,000 years ago at the foot of the Cross, she now stands uniting East and West, Greek and Latin.
She is our Mother, whom we all venerate, and she wants her Son’s disciples to be one. She continues to intercede for this intention, that her Son’s dying wish may be fulfilled: “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21).
This Mass we celebrate today, the “Mass of the Americas,” speaks to the power of our Mother to unite her children. She stands there in every generation of the Church, interceding for her children and actively leading them to her Son, that they may be united as one in him. Throughout history she has appeared in every corner of the earth, especially in turbulent and threatening moments, making herself present to her children to both admonish and console, to exhort and reveal, to call both to prayer and to penance, so that all of her children might be led more deeply into the heart of her Son.
The story of our Immaculate Mother’s apparition on our continent in 1531 to a poor, illiterate, and devout indigenous man named Juan Diego is well known to us, as is the story of the massive conversions to her Son after her appearance at Tepeyac. She appeared at a time of great conflict, turbulence, and bloodshed, to form a new Christian people for her Son—not by the sword nor by human sacrifice, but by the love of a mother who identifies herself with her children. The Aztecs saw in the image of the woman on Juan Diego’s tilma one of their own: She wore a cloak of turquoise, an honor reserved for Aztec gods and the Aztec royal family, and she was being carried, another sign of honor accorded to the ruling family of the Aztec empire.
But she is more than a princess: Stars decorate Our Lady of Guadalupe’s mantle, and she stands on the crescent moon. Her head is bowed and her hands are folded in humble supplication—exalted though she is beyond all others, she worships one more powerful than herself. And she wears a dark band of maternity, indicating that she is carrying a child. Her brooch is a cross. This illustrious yet humble woman is the Mother of the Son of God, “the handmaid of the Lord” whose whole being proclaims the greatness of the one true God.
The Spaniards, too, came to accept the appearance of this woman as the Mother of their Incarnate God, because they saw in her an image of the Immaculate Conception. They saw in this image the woman in the Book of Genesis who crushes the serpent’s head. But they also saw in it the woman in the Book of Revelation, the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, and with child about to give birth (Rev. 12:1-2). The Spaniards saw in this image the Lady they venerated as the Immaculate Conception, a dogma their theologians had championed and their artists had depicted with poignant beauty for centuries before Pope Pius IX declared it as such in 1854.
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