Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2019 by Monsignor Patrick Perez
Monsignor began the sermon by reciting the Hail Mary.
This week has been a marvelous week. It’s about the coming of Christ, more at the end of time rather than just celebrating His birth in Bethlehem. But it’s also very much about the Blessed Virgin. We’ve had just a wonderful week; in the same week we have the Immaculate Conception and then during the Octave of the Immaculate Conception we have the wonderful feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is our patroness, the Patroness of All the Americas. And so I wanted to say a few words actually about Our Lady of Guadalupe because there is a lot about the story – I always know some of my parishioners are way ahead of me on these things, but there are a lot of people who don’t know a lot of the details about Our Lady of Guadalupe and why specifically the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe is just stellar even amongst the apparitions of Our Lady, and very, very interesting. So I thought I would say a few words because it is appropriate to this Advent season to increase our love for the Blessed Virgin Mary as we prepare our souls to receive Christ at His coming.
Now Our Lady of Guadalupe goes way back and most of us are familiar with the image – we have one there (Monsignor pointing to the image we have on the wall in our Church) so you’ve got to be familiar with it. It’s hanging in your own Church. But we’re familiar with that, and we know the story more or less about the flowers and the bishop and building the Church and Our Lady. But there is a lot more. In fact, this story goes back to apostolic times. It didn’t start in Mexico City. It started with the Blessed Virgin Mary and a friend of hers who was writing one of the gospels, St. Luke.
Now St. Luke was a very talented man. We know he was a talented writer. He wrote the gospel which is just a beautiful, beautiful thing; we know he was a friend of the Blessed Virgin Mary because that’s where the things in his gospel that are not in the other gospels comes from, the things that she told him herself. But he was also a physician and he was a painter, an artist in general, and he could carve wood and things like that, and made statues. So he did a painting, in fact, more than one it has been reported of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but he also did a little statue of her. It’s about yay big and it’s of her holding the Christ Child. It was very dear to him and after Our Lady was assumed into heaven he kept it with him for the rest of his life and, in fact, it was buried in his coffin with him, this little statue. It was made by the way of cedar wood. He chose cedar wood to make it out of. It was buried with him. He was buried in a part of the empire that later became the Eastern Empire by Constantinople and when his tomb was opened the statue was found and the patriarch of Constantinople decided to make a gift of this statue to the pope who was Pope St. Gregory the Great at the time.
So now we move on to a few centuries after St. Luke died. Pope St. Gregory the Great was the year 590 to 604. So some time in there, the patriarch as a gift to the pope and to Rome gave him the statue carved by St. Luke. Of course, the pope treasured it but he was moved by the Holy Ghost to give the statue to a friend of his, St. Leandro, San Leandro. There is a place in California named after him. St. Leander/San Leandro was the bishop of Seville in Spain and he had converted some of the Visigoth kings, at least one of whom became a saint, St. Hermenegild. And for such an outstanding job, being such a great bishop, the pope sent the statue to St. Leander in Seville. So we are up to the 6th Century or beginning of the 7th Century.
It was venerated in Seville, it was held by the priests in Seville and the story was known, the documentation was with it – well then what happened? The Muhammadans invaded the Iberian Peninsula and they were killing all the Christians, burning the Churches, statues and everything that they could find. So in the year 714 the fall of Seville was imminent, the Saracens were at the door and they were going to kill everybody. So the priest responsible for the statue took it to another province, it’s called the Extremadura which is another part of Spain that was not yet under Muslim occupation. He took the statue, wrapped it in a cloth sack and buried it.
Now there it remained hidden for centuries. The key part here is that he buried it by this river in the Extremadura called the Rio Guadalupe, okay, the Guadalupe River. It stayed for centuries; the Muslims didn’t find it, but then the Christians didn’t find it either. They completely forgot about it as a matter of fact. It’s something like the apparition of Our Lady of Good Success in that it went out of memory until such time as it suited heaven’s purpose to bring it back into memory and that time was the early 14th Century, early 1300’s. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd – actually I called him a shepherd but he actually herded cattle so a cow herd or something. I’m not sure what the word is, maybe he was a cow herd and not a shepherd but a shepherd who herded cows, however you want to put it. What caught his attention was he lost one of his cows so he left the herd and he went searching around the forest there by the river and he found the cow dead. So he was going to at least skin it so he got something out of it but as he was about to do so the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and resurrected his cow which I find really hilarious (Monsignor laughing). We don’t only resurrect people; we resurrect cows as well when it suits heavenly purposes.
So the cow got resurrected and this, of course, got his attention as did the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she said,” Go and get the priests and tell them to come here and dig exactly on the spot where your dead cow was, and there is an image of me buried under there”. So he went and got the priest – oh, and she said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the Mother of God” so he knew who she was. And she said, “When they dig it up tell them not to move it from the place where it is now but build a house right here and put the image in it”, the house being a little chapel. So the priest unearthed the statue and what’s interesting is this: this is 700 years or so after it was buried. It’s a wooden statue buried in a cloth sack and everything was completely beautiful and intact. Not only was it beautiful and intact, but the documentation telling that it was made by St. Luke, went to the patriarch of Constantinople, was given by Pope St. Gregory – all that documentation just written on pieces of leather perfectly intact, perfectly preserved with it.
So they did as instructed, they built a little chapel there and many pilgrims made their way to this chapel over the centuries. Even Christopher Columbus who was saved by Our Lady from a storm where he certainly would have perished on his way to discover the new world was saved by Our Lady and she was known then as Our Lady of Guadalupe. So this was Lady of Guadalupe (A), the one we don’t hear about which is quite interesting.
Now we skip ahead – like I said, Christopher Columbus and many other famous dignitaries, including the king and queen of Spain, made pilgrimages to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain in gratitude for favors received.
Now we skip ahead several centuries and we’re at the 9th of December, 1531. This is the story you all know so I won’t go into it too much but a native Indian, a Toltec, was going by this hill they call Tepeyac near where Mexico City is now and Our Lady appeared to him. Now he was a convert, his family were converts and she said, “Go tell the bishop I want a Church built in this place”. Now what’s the background here? The background is that in all of Mexico, 1531, just after the Conquista you know, there were only about fifty missionaries there, only about fifty, mostly from Spain. And they were making no progress. They had a handful – yes, Juan Diego was one of their converts and his family, but it was pitiful. They were on the verge of despair because they had so few converts. Mexico was a huge and populous country, millions and millions of people, but the problem was that the missionaries being Spaniards were identified very closely with the invaders who were Spaniards you see. In the eyes of the Indians who were there, it’s like, Okay, they’re trying to push this religion on us. It’s not our religion. They’re just religious invaders, these missionaries. So they got nowhere, practically nowhere. They did get Juan Diego and his family and others.
So she appeared and we know the story. The bishop said, Well, no. And Juan Diego went back and Our Lady appeared again and he said, Well, the bishop said no. And she goes, Well, go to him again. And he went to him again and the bishop said, Okay, if you’ll give me a sign then we’ll think about it. So he went back. And he was supposed to meet the Blessed Virgin the next day (I love this part because it’s such a Catholic thing) but his uncle got sick and he had to take care of him. So who else but like this saintly person out of charity would miss an appointment with the Mother of God to take care of his uncle. But this is exactly what he did.
The following day he went down again and Our Lady caught him. He was going around the other side of the hill because he was embarrassed that he missed the appointment and Our Lady caught him and she said, Well, where were you. He told the story and that he wanted a miracle. So Mary said Go up to that hill and pick those flowers, put them in your cloak and then go to the priest. So he went and he picked them but Our Lady stopped him and I have yet to totally find out the significance of this and if anybody knows it I would appreciate hearing it. But Our Lady stopped him and she rearranged the flowers in his tilma, his cloak. She rearranged them. I can imagine being a guy – he didn’t do a very good job in arranging the flowers (Monsignor laughing) but her maternal hands said That isn’t a good flower arrangement as a miracle for the archbishop so I’m going to fix it. But there’s probably something else to it. She rearranged the flowers and he went to the bishop. He said I have the miracle, he opened his cloak, the flowers were interesting flowers because this bishop was from Castillo in Spain and the flowers that fell out were Castilian roses, unknown in Mexico, but even if they were, they don’t bloom in the middle of the dead of winter, December 12th by this time it was.
All of a sudden the bishop and his entourage all fell on their knees because imprinted on his cloak, his tilma, was this miraculous image that we know now as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Now this, of course, got her a chapel built there, no problem. But I wanted to say a few words about the significance of this, the significance for us.
As I said, first of all there were only fifty missionaries and they made no progress amongst the native people there. But Our Lady has the key to our hearts; she has the key to human hearts. When Our Lady appears it’s with heavenly wisdom that fits the purposes of God and the situation, whether that be to appearing to a nation or to us individually, she has the key to our hearts. So first of all she spoke to him in Náhuatl – oh, I’m sorry. Somebody thought I said she was speaking in Narwhal. Narwhal is a kind of whale and I thought well, I’m sure if anybody is, Our Lady is fluent in Narwhal, but the Indians are not. So she spoke in Náhuatl which is the native language of the Toltec people there.
First of all she appeared not only as one of them, you often hear this story in the secular translations about her, that she appeared as a Toltec princess. She did not appear as a Toltec princess. She appeared as the Empress. Our Lady is not a princess. And specifically if you look at her cloak she, like the Lady of the Apocalypse clothed with the stars, only the emperor or the empress was allowed to wear that color cloak and especially with stars on it. So first of all she said, “I am the Empress”. Before they knew anything about her this image says “I am the Empress”. What does it also say about her? The way she has her hair to the Toltec Indian says she is a virgin. The band around her waist was worn by pregnant women. When you became expectant with child you put on one of these ribbons around your waist. So it said she was Empress, she was a virgin and she was with child. And many other things about this image that are so miraculous, you know if you knew nothing, if you knew nothing about Christianity and you researched this image and its’ story, you should be a Catholic until the day you died.
So what other things about it? The flowers – by the way there was a lot of controversy because people think some of that is painted on her. It’s not. There were some things that they had added over the centuries but they took them off later on. Like they had added some cherubs around her and they took them off. They had put a little crown on her and they took that off. So all the stars are original. The stars represent exactly and precisely the constellations as they would appear the day of her apparition, December 12, 1531, but not as if you had looked at the constellation and drew a constellation on her. No, the constellations as they would be reflected on a surface, perfectly reflected on a surface. And all very precise and very important constellations with the constellation of the virgin here with the Southern Cross, very important constellations. So all this is very providential.
What else about this? The flowers tell that she is the Mother of God. They had in their pagan things certain flowers and the mother of their gods had a certain pagan thing. Well this was the particular flower of that that said she was the Mother of God, she was a virgin, and she was with child, so many many things.
The image itself: They want to say, Why was it painted on the Tilma? First of all the Tilma was made of cactus fibers like those cactuses that they make tequila out of, Agave kind of thing. One thing about these fibers is it was the cheapest fiber you could get because these were dead-poor Indians. It was like burlap. If any of you have ever seen burlap, it was like burlap and they seldom last more than five or six years. They disintegrate, it doesn’t matter what you do to them they disintegrated. This is over 400 years old, almost 500 years old and is perfectly intact to this day. Not only that though, imagine burlap. Try painting a fine painting on burlap. You can’t do it. You have to put stuff on it first to make it smooth and then you can paint on it. There is no stuff on that. Not only that, there’s no paint. Later as the centuries and technology went on they wanted to investigate it. So even NASA was able to investigate this. They gave them a little sliver of one of the parts that had some yellow on it. It’s not paint, it’s not a substance, it’s not any known thing. It wasn’t animal, mineral or vegetable and they have no idea. Not only that, whatever the image is doesn’t touch the tilma, it levitates above it. It is not on the fibers; it is hovering over the fibers.
In her eyes are reflected what she would have seen when she appeared that day and they only found this out with the very finest of microscopes that were only invented in our day. They see the reflection from when Juan Diego revealed the flowers to the bishop. The archbishop is in it, Juan Diego is in it. There are thirteen people discernable and some of them they have portraits of, like the bishop. And you can tell it looks just like him from the portraits. So there’s the eyes, there’s the pigment; there’s all these kinds of things. Finally the one last little detail that I like not better than the other details because they’re all just out of this world, but the image which is in this ugly Church now in Mexico – they built a “new” Church of course because the old basilica would look too much like a traditional Catholic Church so they had to put it in the “new” basilica. But the image – and you know in Mexico City it can be hot, humid, it can be cold, whatever, kind of like here depending on the day. The image itself always stays at 98.6 degrees, body temperature. It always stays. I don’t mean they keep it at that temperature. It stays at that temperature no matter what temperature it is around it.
So all of these things combine to say no one can explain this miracle, no one can explain this miracle. People have tried painting copies of it; they can’t get it right. So many things to talk about. But what I wanted to finish with, you see Mary said, Mary told them “I want to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe”. Now what did this do? It did so many things because only heaven knows how this did what it did, but she first of all drew the connection as the Indians coming as one of them, dressed as their Empress, speaking Náhuatl, but choosing a name that came from Spain – not only from Spain but really from an image that came from apostolic times. So she’s drawing that connection with the Apostolic Faith that was brought to the Spaniards over to the Indians. In the one or two years following the apparition, there were more than ten million conversions. Literally the priests were baptizing in relay teams there were so many conversions there. It was unimaginable. You couldn’t ship in enough missionaries quickly enough. So imagine they doubled it or tripled it doing ten million baptisms in the space of one or two years following this. Our Lady made the connection with the native people that made their conversion possible.
The final thing I want to say about this is what’s the message for us? The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a one liner that I think made the conversion possible, it made the connection complete for the Toltec people who they were trying to convert. And it’s one I want to leave for us. It is the same one liner for us. In our trials and tribulations, in everything that’s going on, in our penances, in waiting for the coming of Christ or our meeting Him at our judgment, everything we have to endure – she said simply to St. Juan Diego this one liner that I’m going to leave you with because he was trying to fight all these things and he was upset for having missed his appointment with her, and she said,
“Am I not here, I who am your Mother”.
It made all the difference. Not only was she the empress, the virgin, the Mother of God, but she was our Mother and she didn’t say anything about her being empress to them. She didn’t command them as empress. She said, “Am I not here, I who am your Mother” and that is the message to us right now. Whatever happens, Am I not here, the Blessed Virgin is saying, I who am your Mother.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.