By Chava Redonnet, Oscar Romero Inclusive Catholic Church, Rochester, NY
Bulletin for Sunday, December 10, 2017
Second Sunday of Advent
I’m writing this a bit late… it’s Tuesday, December 12. It’s the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: this morning in Mexico, people got up early and processed through the town with candles, singing “Las Mananitas”… at least, they did years ago and I expect they still do, now.
I almost didn’t write about Our Lady of Guadalupe. There’s a whole ‘nother bulletin almost written, about some great books I’m reading this Advent, “Listening in the Dark,” and “Tattoos on the Heart.” But yesterday at the nursing home, I was going to preach about her at a service, and all the elders were at a Christmas concert at the time of the service. Tonight we were going to have a special Mass to celebrate her, with guests from the city, but our guests cancelled because they are tired and busy with Christmas preparations, and we decided to cancel the Mass because it was just going to be a few of us. So when I almost didn’t write about her here, in favor of writing about Advent, I thought, “Wait a minute!” – She keeps getting pushed to the side. This won’t do.
Do you know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe? How, ten years after the Aztec conquest, she appeared on a hill near Mexico City to a man named Juan Diego? Juan Diego – a Spanish name carried by an indigenous man who was not born with that name. In the previous ten years, his whole world had disappeared. Spanish conquistadors had come in, enslaving the people, raping the women. Did you know that? That a whole nation of mixed-race people was born of rape? What does that do to a people’s soul? The Spanish had so utterly destroyed the world he knew that he had even lost his name. The gods he had worshipped as a child were gone, replaced by this Christian religion. It is hard to imagine how all that felt – how beaten down, defeated and broken his spirit would have been.
And then, walking on a hillside, he encounters this vision of a beautiful woman, with dark skin like his, speaking his language, not Spanish. She stood in his presence, treating him with honor and respect. She wore symbols he knew from his original Aztec religion. It’s like God was saying, “It’s me! The God you loved and worshipped always – I’m still here! I am with you.” There is more to the story and if you are interested I encourage you to find books by Jeanette Rodriguez – I first encountered this story in her book, “Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith and Identity.”
But don’t miss this story. Don’t miss this story that keeps happening, again and again. Our God breaks through into the worst times. Writing about the experience of the indigenous people of Mexico, one can’t help but draw parallels to the experience of African people, a bit to the north and east on the same continent, in the centuries following this story. They, too, found God whispering to them that they mattered – often in direct defiance of what they were told from the pulpit. Read Cain Hope Felder’s book, “Stony the Road We Trod” for more about that.
We are living in a dark time, now. Could get worse. Rich, straight, healthy white men are grabbing everything they can for themselves and doing their best to grind everyone else under their feet. A beautiful thing these days is that so many people are shouting back, “We matter!” – Dreamers are proclaiming their worth. Football players are kneeling to say, Black lives matter. People in wheelchairs, people of all colors and sexualities, women, immigrants, Muslim and Jewish people all standing up in so many ways. Listen to those voices! Listen to God in those voices, saying “I’m still here! I am with you!”
Our understanding of God will morph with the times. Just like Juan Diego, finding the old familiar and the new wrapped together. God is God, wherever God shows up. Whether God is whispering to a slave from the pages of a Bible she can’t read, that she has worth and dignity – or showing up and treating a conquered Aztec man with respect – or whispering in the heart of a transgendered person, “You are the person I made you to be!” – or the voice in the head of an abused woman telling her, “believe that you are okay” – or getting born in a shed and placed in a feeding trough, the son of oppressed people on the edge of an empire – God is God is God, and God tells us over and over and over – you have worth and dignity. You are the person I made you to be. Shine! I am with you.
Blessings and love to all