Monday, 12 December 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Well, I've just done my ecclesiology exam, and now I'm turning my mind to John's gospel, which is tomorrow morning. First, however, one should mention that today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

There are many Americans in our diocese - one of them became a seminarian, so happy feast Henry! - and, when I was a student in one of our universities, I remember the Spanish-speaking students from Latin America always put of a great celebration in honour of Our Lady, and Mass was celebrated largely in Spanish. I specialised in early modern Spain and Spanish America before I arrived at Oscott all those years ago, so I'm feeling particularly festive myself!

When missionaries arrive in a new land, they often convert places of pagan worship into Christian centres of worship. Just look at the Pantheon in Rome; no longer a temple to all the Mithraic gods, but now the Church of Our Lady and All Martyrs. Or think of the magnificent Cathedral in Cordoba; you'd think it was a mosque. It was built as one! St Boniface, one of my favourite saints, had a habit of chopping down pagan trees and building churches on them too.

This ancient practice, a custom found not only in the Christian religion, but is common in almost all religions, and even political philosophies, did not stop in ancient times, but when the 12 Franciscan missionaries arrived in the New World back in 1512, they also copied this practice.

There was a pious belief, proposed principally by the Jesuits later on in that century, that the religions of the ancient Americas were so 'in-tune' with the Christian religion, that an apostle must have been to the continent (Bartholomew was said to have travelled to Peru - historical nonsense of course, but fun all the same). In the Andes, in South America, for example, there was an ancient understanding of a separated priesthood, distinct from the people. That wasn't a peculiarly Christian belief, until one discovers that the people also believed in a fellowship of sharing bread, and confessing sins to priests, and veneration of the dead. I think Lumen Gentium refers to such things somewhere in chapter 8!

One of the beliefs of the Mexica was in a mother-goddess, whose principal temple was found in a village called Tepeyac, down from the road from Tenochtitlan. This temple was torn down, and, later, a Christian Mexican experienced a vision of Our Lady, whose image was left in-printed inside his poncho, which he used to carry roses which Our Lady presented to him to take to his bishop. A shrine grew up, and the rest is history!

Recently, because of the image's association with the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady (the feast is kept within the octave, after all), Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a patron of the pro-life movement, and is often invoked as Patroness of the Unborn.

We pray for Our Lady's intercession for missionaries and the American Churches, which many East Anglian priests have served, especially in the Society of St James, and also, that Our Lady's prayers and example might soften the hearts of those involved with abortion to the truth, and comfort those left indelibly hurt and damaged by this practice.

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