This past week, in our liturgies much of the focus has been on Mary. On Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and on Thursday night we had a vigil mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I remember the experience of the Guadalupe mass when I was at Immaculate Conception parish in Durham. The mass was scheduled for 4:30 in the morning so that our Mexican parishioners could attend and then go to work. I remember walking along our quiet, dark street toward the church and then across Chapel Hill Street, in those dark early morning hours, there was the church, lit up, already crowded. By 4:30 the church was filled with an overflow out onto the steps and in front of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside the church people had left hundreds and hundreds of roses. It was like a scene straight out of a Mexican village, crowded, filled with devotion and color, and a mix of young and old. When the mass ended, there was coffee and pastry in the parking lot and everyone on their way.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which in the Latino community can be found on key chains, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and framed in the living rooms of apartments and trailers and kitchens is an icon that reminds a people who often find themselves far from home and living in a kind of exile, that the maternal love of God shines on them, even when it might seem far away. I remember, when I was at a parish in Delaware, a family once said to me after mass, “Padre, we’ve seen an image of Our Lady in our kitchen, can you come to our house?” I went. What would I see? In a corner of the kitchen, an outline of what appeared to be something that, if you stood in a certain spot and the angle of the light from outside shined in a certain way, looked like the image of Guadalupe. They asked “Padre, what could it mean?” How does one answer a question like that? “ I think that it can only mean that God looks upon you and loves you very much!”
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, we remember that Mary was conceived without sin. One of the best observations I have heard about this feast comes from Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who in a book about Mary called “Truly Our Sister” wrote that so often in Catholicism we focus on original sin, and yet this feast tells us that, with God, “grace is more original than sin.” Beautiful.
We continue to move through this beautiful Advent season as we watch and wait for Christmas in just a little more than a week.
Blessings to all as we move through these days.