(Archbishop Gomez delivered these remarks at the 7th Annual Napa Institute Summer Conference)
It was December 1531 and the Blessed Virgin appeared to a poor Indian convert named Juan Diego on a hilltop outside Mexico City.
The Virgin entrusted Juan Diego with a mission — to go and ask the bishop to build a shrine in her name.
To convince the bishop, Our Lady gave him a sign. She made roses bloom even though it was the dead of winter. Then she used those roses to “imprint” her own image on the cloak — called a “tilma” — that Juan Diego was wearing.
And as we know, that tilma is still hanging today — almost 500 years later — in the Basilica, which is built not far from the site where she first appeared.
I am remembering that history today because I believe that Guadalupe holds the “key” for understanding the times we are living in.
I think all of us here today feel a sense of urgency about where our country is heading.
We face an aggressive, organized agenda by elite groups who want to eliminate the influence of Christianity from our society.
Our beliefs are now labeled as a kind of hatred or intolerance. Our Church institutions face lawsuits — for the “crime” of still believing what Jesus taught. The “crime” of not wanting to cooperate with practices we find immoral or dehumanizing.
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.”[iii]
This is the challenge that Christians face in every time and every place. Are we going to shape our times? Or will we allow our times to shape us?
What we decide will make all the difference. Not only for ourselves and our families. But also for our times — for our society and culture.
And that brings me back to Guadalupe.
Our Lady did not appear only for the Mexican people. Her intentions were continental and universal.
In the account that has been handed down to us — an account based on the testimony of St. Juan Diego — Our Lady told him: “I am truly your compassionate Mother; your Mother and the Mother to all who dwell in this land and to all other nations and peoples.”[iv]
At Guadalupe, the Mother of God came to be the Mother of the Americas.
Guadalupe is the true “founding event” in American history. And that means it is the true founding event in the history of our country — and in the history of all the other countries in North and South America. We are all children of Guadalupe.
I think this is the answer to the challenges we face right now in our culture. The way forward for our Church — right now, in this moment — is to “return” to Guadalupe.
We need to follow the path that the Virgin sets before us — the path of building a new civilization of love and truth in the Americas.
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.”
I think we all feel that way sometimes. That we are not worthy of what God is asking us to do. I know I can feel that way. But vocation is not about perfection. God calls every one of us and God gives each of us a mission. Your particular vocation — what God is calling you to do for him — there is no one else who can do it.
That is what Our Lady told St. Juan Diego. These are her words: “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.”
Friends, God is speaking those words to you and to me in this time. God has a message that he wants you to deliver with your lives.
St. Juan Diego was on his way to church when he met Our Lady. It was his custom, every Saturday and Sunday, to get up before dawn and to walk nine miles from his home to go to Mass and then go to classes to keep deepening his knowledge of the Catholic faith.
For Juan Diego, Jesus Christ came into his life — and there is nothing more beautiful than to know Jesus!
This is a message for the Church in our times.
We are here to share this beautiful treasure of our relationship with the living God — who became a man for us, who gave his life to save us and to make us into a new humanity. Who is living with us now and walking with us as our Friend.
We need to renew in our times the Catholic imagination and our “sacramental” vision.
We need to push back against the scientific and materialist vision of our age. We are living in a culture that tells us there is no reality that “transcends” what we can see and hear and taste and touch.
In the presence of the Virgin, Juan Diego wondered whether he was in paradise, whether heaven had come to earth. With her coming, the mountains were filled with songs like wonderful birds. Flowers bloomed in the winter season in soil where there were only stones and cactus and thorns.
This is the beauty that we can see with the eyes of faith. So in our teaching, we need to help people to see that our lives are connected, part of the beautiful mystery of God’s plan of creation. A great adventure that is unfolding under the eyes of our loving Father.
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.”
Guadalupe is a vision of the world as God wants it to be. The “shrine” that Our Lady wants us to build in the Americas is a new civilization — a culture that celebrates life and welcomes life.
The Christian faith in this new world confronted the brutality of the Aztec rituals of human sacrifice. 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.
As we see every day in our society, life has become “cheap” and easily discarded. We see it in the crisis of homelessness, in the lives wasted by addiction. We see it in the push to spread euthanasia, in the continuing tragedy of abortion.
This is a task for us, my brothers and sisters.
In my reflections at Guadalupe, it struck me that there is a touching family drama in the middle of the story of Juan Diego and the Virgin.
As you recall from the story, Juan Diego’s uncle — Juan Bernardino — is in the final days of an illness that is terminal. And as he is trying to serve the Virgin, Juan is also caring for his uncle — trying to find a priest who can come and anoint him. Also in the story, we see Our Lady’s tender care to heal the sick and to console Juan Diego in his stress and grief.
It is a touching story — that many of us can understand from our own families. Many of us know what it means to be taking care of a loved one who is dying.
And I think that speaks in a special way to our moment right now in our culture — with all the pressures to permit assisted suicide, with a population that is getting older and needing more medical care and attention.
This is an area where the Church can truly make a difference, in the spirit of Guadalupe. Perhaps part of the future of Catholic health care is to find ways to teach and train people in the ways of showing God’s tender mercy to those who are dying and to those who cannot be cured.
When we look at the self-image that Our Lady left imprinted on the tilma — we notice that she is a brown-skinned young woman — a mestizo. A person whose family background includes a mix of descendants from Europe and indigenous peoples.
She 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.
Right now in our country, and even in the Church, we see signs that we still have problems with nativism and racial prejudice. So we need to pray and we need to work harder to overcome our divisions.
The saints of the Americas show us that holiness knows no color. 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.
This is the message of Guadalupe.
Finally, my friends: the vision of Guadalupe encourages us to strengthen marriage and the family as the foundations of a truly human civilization.
Some of the earliest martyrs in this country — were missionaries who were killed for their witness to God’s truth about the meaning of marriage and the family. These include the Hispanic Franciscans martyred in Georgia in 1597 and some of the martyrs of Florida.
We need to ask these martyrs to give us the strength we need to confront the broad cultural crisis of the family today.
We do this first — by living the beauty and fullness of the Church’s teaching ourselves. In our own marriages and families.
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.
Let us hold up the great married saints from the Americas — like the Servants of God Eugenio Balmori Martínez and Marina Francisca Cinta Sarrelangue. They were from Veracruz and the story of their courtship is very moving. They wrote each other beautiful poems and love letters.
And they gave us a beautiful vision of the family. Marina wrote: “Our home will be a chapel of love, where no other ideal will reign other than to thank God and to love each other very much.”[vi]
Full story at Angelus.