Los Angeles archbishop outlines 5 strategies for reinvigorating the American church by aligning our lives with the lessons of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
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At the recently closed 7th Annual Napa Institute Summer Conference, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez delivered a speech in which he reflected on a recent diocesan pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and what makes Guadalupe relevant in our “post-Christian” times.
Recalling the history of Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego, and referencing Diego’s humble tilma, which still displays the supernatural image of Our Lady nearly 500 years later, Gomez said, “I am remembering that history today because I believe that Guadalupe holds the ‘key’ for understanding the times we are living in.”
Back in the first centuries of the Church, St. Jerome was writing about the Arian heresy, which denied that Jesus Christ was truly God. And Jerome had that famous line: “The whole world woke up and groaned, and was astonished to find that it was Arian.” We could say something similar about our times. In the last decade, it is like we all woke up to discover that American society is being progressively “de-Christianized.”
Gomez argued that America has never “been a fully committed ‘Christian nation.'” That while this country was founded upon Christian principles, the sins of slavery, the oppression of indigenous peoples, racism, and abortion — sins often perpetuated in pursuit of commerce — have prevented America from “living up to Christian values,” which promote human dignity and human freedom and which remain, said Gomez, “at the heart … a Christian commitment.”
The point is — all that is changing right now. We face an aggressive, organized agenda by elite groups who want to eliminate the influence of Christianity from our society. … My friends, we do not have the luxury to choose the times we live in. These are hard times. There is no denying it. But the saints remind us that all times in the Church are dangerous times. St. Augustine said: “Bad times! Troublesome times! This is what people are saying. Let our lives be good, and the times will be good. We make our times. Such as we are, such are the times.”
Gomez asked, “Are we going to shape our times? Or will we allow our times to shape us?” He then clarified: “The better question is: how does God want us to shape our times? What is the path that Jesus Christ would have us follow in this moment in our nation’s history? I want to suggest that the path already exists. It began in Guadalupe in 1531. The apparition at Guadalupe was not a random occurrence. There are no coincidences in the Providence of God.”
Calling Guadalupe a “true founding event” in American history, Gomez said, “Guadalupe gives us the ‘alt-history’ of America. In God’s plan, this is one continent. It is meant to begin new civilization. A new world of faith. … Within a few years after this apparition, millions came to be baptized in Mexico and throughout the Americas. A great wave of holiness swept through the continents — raising up saints and heroes of the faith in every country.” What is needed now, he continued, is for Catholics to consecrate themselves to Our Lady of Guadalupe, “The way forward for our Church — right now, in this moment — is to ‘return’ to Guadalupe.”
The archbishop proceeded to identify five “strategies” important to redirecting and advancing the Church in America — themes of “vocation, education, life, culture, and family.” His remarks are excerpted here:
- When he first met the Mother of God, St. Juan Diego protested. He said he was not strong enough, not holy enough to do what she wanted. At one point he urges her to find someone better. He says: “I am only a man of the fields, a poor creature.” … [Our Lady said,] “Understand that I have many servants and messengers who I could send to deliver my message and do my will. But it is absolutely necessary that you yourself go.”
- We need to rediscover — the beautiful truth that every one of us has a vocation — to be holy, to be saints. To build a shrine with our lives.
- Holiness does not mean separation from the world. Holiness means transforming the world — living totally for the love of God, and sanctifying the world by our love and service.
- Our faith is not a collection of rules and obligations. The Catholic faith is a way of living, a way of seeing the world with “new eyes.” With the eyes of Jesus.
- We need to renew in our times the Catholic imagination and our “sacramental” vision.
- Holy Maria of Guadalupe appeared as an icon of new life, as a woman carrying a child. She presented herself to Juan Diego as the Mother of all the living. She told him: “I am the ever-Virgin, holy Mary, Mother of the true God — the life-giving Creator of all peoples.”
- From the beginning, the saints and missionaries of the Americas proclaimed that every life is precious and an image of the living God. And we need to continue this mission.
- [Mary] came dressed in the garments of the indigenous peoples and she spoke to Juan Diego in his own indigenous language. And in all this, Our Blessed Mother reveals herself in a powerful way to be an icon of the Church.
- Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that the Church was established to be the vanguard of a new humanity and a new civilization — one family of God drawn from every race and every nation and every language.
- Beyond the color of our skin or the countries where we come from — we are all brothers and sisters. All children of one Father. And the Mother of God is our mother.
- We need to be models for a culture that is confused. We need to proclaim — by our example more than our words — the beautiful truth about the human person and God’s loving plan for creation and the family.
- There is beauty like this to be found everywhere in our families, in our parishes, in the joy of our children. We need to proclaim this to our culture.
Gomez concluded his remarks on a personal note regarding his visit to the basilica, noting the warmth and protection he felt in the presence of the tilma, and the miraculous image of the Guadalupe, “…you can feel the warmth of her tender eyes gazing down upon you. It is a powerful feeling, hard to describe. There is a beautiful sense of feeling protected. Of feeling like a child who is loved by the Mother of God. And when you are in her presence, you can almost hear her speaking. The same tender words she spoke to St. Juan Diego: ‘Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. … Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?'”
“We need to go always forward with confidence,” he concluded, “because we go with God and with his Mother.”
You can read the whole address, here.