At Morning Prayer, the Church's Office of Lauds, on this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the reading from Zechariah 2:14-17 contains this verse: Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they shall be his people, and he shall dwell among you, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For Zechariah, one sign that the Lord is with us and that the Lord has sent his messenger to us is the providential union of many nations into the People of God.
That, of course, is one dimension of today's great celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patronal feast of North and South America, commemorating the apparitions of the Mother of God to Saint Juan Diego, an Aztec Catholic convert, in December 1531.
That was, of course, a mere 12 years after the conquista of Mexico by the Spaniards under Cortes - the destruction of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), then perhaps the largest city in the entire world and with it the destruction of the pagan religion that animated Aztec culture. It was a depressed and depressing time - not just for the conquered and oppressed indigenous population but also for their Spanish conquerors who now ruled over a much larger and potentially rebellious population. It was also a discouraging time for the missionaries who accompanied the conquistadores and whose efforts to evangelize the indigenous population had met with only modest success.
Into this appalling mess, God sent Mary as his messenger of compassion and hope (Am I not your Mother?), appearing to the socially insignificant Juan Diego (el mas pequeño de mis hijos) and speaking his native language. In the image which miraculously appeared on Juan Diego's tilma, the Mother of God appeared as a pregnant indigenous woman, whose image spoke in the symbolic language of native culture, but in which the Spaniards could likewise recognize the Christian symbolic imagery of the Book of Revelation. Likewise, the title by which she identified herself in the native language (Who crushes the serpent) resembled the Spanish word Guadalupe, in which the Spaniards recognized a familiar Marian title of Spanish devotion.
And so began the great union of the two nations and cultures into a new nation and new culture. Mary had asked that a church be built at the hill where she had appeared. As a consequence, a new Church uniting European and American peoples was built on this continent.
Today's feast is an appropriate occasion to reflect upon the providential union of many nations and cultures which has been our American history and heritage. This country continues today to be a nation of immigrants, on whom it depends for its future - including especially its spiritual and ecclesial future. Our dysfunctional political system's failure thus far to achieve a just and comprehensive restructuring of our immigration system remains an ongoing moral and social disgrace that cries out to be addressed responsibly and rapidly.