Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prayers today: Come, Lord, from your cherubim throne; let us see your face, and we shall be saved. Psalm 79: 4, 2

Lord, let your glory dawn to take away our darkness. May we be revealed as the children of light at the coming of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The feast in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the sixteenth century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story. A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honour of Our Lady. He was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared and within it a young Native American maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared. Eventually the bishop told Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Diego to try to avoid the lady. The lady found Diego, nevertheless, assured him that his uncle would recover and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma. When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground and the bishop sank to his knees. On Juan Diego’s tilma appeared an image of Mary as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. It was December 12, 1531.

Mary's appearance to Juan Diego as one of his people is a powerful reminder that Mary and the God who sent her accept all peoples. In the context of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the apparition was a rebuke to the Spaniards and an event of vast significance for Native Americans. While a number of them had converted before this incident, they now came in droves. According to a contemporary chronicler, nine million Indians became Catholic in a very short time. In these days when we hear so much about God's preferential option for the poor, Our Lady of Guadalupe cries out to us that God's love for and identification with the poor is an age-old truth that stems from the Gospel itself.

Mary to Juan Diego: “My dearest son, I am the eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God, Author of Life, Creator of all and Lord of the Heavens and of the Earth...and it is my desire that a church be built here in this place for me, where, as your most merciful Mother and that of all your people, I may show my loving clemency and the compassion that I bear to the Indians, and to those who love and seek me...” (from an ancient chronicle).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 17.10-13)

The disciples asked Jesus, Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first? Jesus replied, To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognise him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

The Great Pattern
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are many magnificent people who are the protagonists of what the Christian calls the Old Testament. There is a magnificence about Abraham and his faith in God. We read how he understood God to have ordered him to sacrifice his son Isaac, which he thereupon prepared to do. In the event, God intervened to prevent the deed but Abraham’s obedient faith had been manifested. We could go on to cite — as does the Letter to the Hebrews — example after example of outstanding faith exhibited by the Patriarchs, by Moses, the prophets and certain of the kings and priests. Particularly intrepid was the great Elijah and we remember how he withstood the four hundred prophets of Baal. In one great demonstration of faith he vindicated the truth of Yahweh and dealt a tremendous blow to the worship of Baal. In some mysterious sense it was prophesied that Elijah would return to prepare the way of the Lord. We read in the Gospel of St John (Ch.1) that priests and Levites from Jerusalem had asked John the Baptist if he were the Elijah who was to come. John said with humility that he was not, but in our Gospel passage today our Lord declares that he was. Years later when Luke wrote his Gospel, he included the prediction of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah — presumably the source being the Virgin Mary — that his son John would be great in the sight of the Lord and would act in the spirit and power of Elijah. John was the gift of the Lord to his chosen people to prepare “for the Lord a people fit to receive him” (Luke 1:17), and as such was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi (4:6). In John the Baptist, kinsman of our Lord himself, “Elijah has already come.” But, sadly, “they did not recognise him, but have done to him everything they wished.” The power of evil had been very great. There is in the Old Testament a pattern of moral magnificence and moral squalor, the two in conflict, and the latter all too often overcoming the former.

In the third book of Kings, Elijah has his victorious showdown with the prophets of Baal (ch.18), and then he flees from the wrath of Jezebel and arrives at the Mountain of God, Horeb. We remember the gripping story in Exodus of the meeting between Yahweh God and Moses on this same Mountain centuries before. At Horeb Elijah has his famous conversation with Yahweh, and the theophany is very different in his case. The Lord speaks within the gentle breeze, and he instructs Elijah to anoint Elisha the son of Saphat to be his successor (ch.19). Now anointed, Elisha becomes his disciple and his successor-in-waiting. Finally in the fourth book of Kings (ch.2) Elijah is taken up to heaven in the chariot and the whirlwind while Elisha, now having a double portion of his spirit, takes up the mantle and begins his own magnificent ministry. We can surely see in this a prefiguring of the prophetic mantle passing from John the Baptist to Jesus Christ, for Christ confirms that John was the Elijah to come. Elijah met with tremendous opposition, and John too, our Lord points out, was treated as they pleased. But Christ surpasses all in every respect. His miracles were far greater and more numerous, his teaching had a loftiness without parallel, and his holiness surpassed all before him. The scale of his rejection and his sufferings also far exceeded the suffering prophets who had preceded him, and this is what our Lord alludes to in his conversation with his disciples today. “In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands” (Matthew 17: 10-13). And so it is that the patterns we perceive in the Old Testament illustrate the patterns we see in our Lord’s life and ministry. Above all, as pointed out earlier we see the pattern of moral magnificence and moral squalor, the two in conflict with the latter all too often overcoming the former. But ah! The good is not overcome. Precisely through sufferings, precisely through persecutions, the good prevails. Mysteriously, the Messiah has to suffer in order to enter his glory. He must suffer rejection at the hands of those who are evil if the world is to be redeemed. Just as John suffered, so too must the Messiah to whom was passed the prophetic mantle.

What this means is that the mystery of evil and suffering becomes a source of life and goodness. The pattern present all through the scriptures and present in the prophetic ministry of, for instance, Elijah and John, is supremely present in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Death leads to life, if we die in God. It is the great revelation which God has given to a broken world. The Messiah by his life and death has lit up the meaning of the Scriptures which themselves point to him. By his life he lights up the meaning of suffering and death, if we suffer and die with him. Let us take up the mantle, then, as did Elisha from Elijah, and as did Christ from John. Our mantle is that of Jesus Christ.

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