Homily on the Solemnity of the Virgin of Guadalupe
The following is the translation of the homily on the Solemnity of the Virgin of Guadalupe preached by Fr. Javier del Castillo on December 12, 2022 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Archdiocese of New York. (Watch the Mass on YouTube.)
– Dear Cardinal Dolan – Archbishop of New York,
– Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia – Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations,
– Bishops of Mexico,
– Bishops of the State of New York,
– Rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Father Enrique Salvo,
– Ambassadors and Consuls of the Americas,
– Presidents of the Archdiocesan Hispanic Committees,
– Men and Women Religious,
– Distinguished representatives of the Americas,
– Representatives of the various social and cultural institutions of the State of New York,
– Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
It is a great honor and privilege to be here with you on this great Solemnity!
I remember as if it were yesterday being in this same Cathedral in the year ‘92 or ‘93 -I was 17 or 18 years old- when the Cardinal of Mexico City gave an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Cardinal O’Connor so that those of us who had immigrated to this country could be very close to the Virgin and thus be able to fulfill our “mandas” that we had promised her.
Today, thanks to the same pastoral solicitude and spirit of fraternity between the Bishops of Mexico and New York, Our Lady of Guadalupe once again crosses borders to be here in the image of her Tilma (in an exact replica) accompanied by an icon of St. Juan Diego that we enthroned today in the side chapel to your right.
These two images have been on pilgrimage for an entire year from the time they left La Villa (of Guadalupe) until now, passing through many churches along their journey and receiving the veneration and prayers of thousands of people.
Just as Our Lady hurries to visit her cousin St. Elizabeth in the Gospel of St. Luke, so today we see how she does the same to visit us and stay with us, since a soul in love that carries Christ within knows not of delays, and that is why we see her here.
If we look at the reading of the Apocalypse (which we have just read) we notice the coincidence between the woman described there and the Virgin of Tepeyac: both appear as a sign in the sky, clothed with the sun with the moon at their feet. Both are pregnant with the Christ of God and both fight against the evil one. It is God himself who gives us hope in our times of struggle and darkness as in the time of 1531 when the people and the church in Mexico suffered from the social chaos after the Conquest.
It was then that the Virgin went out to meet her people and appeared to Juan Diego as if she were his own mother and asked him to go to Bishop Zumárraga to build a temple in her honor so that she could listen to the prayers of her children.
The story is very familiar to us: when Juan Diego goes to fulfill his mandate, the Bishop does not believe him. Then he returns, and the Bishop asks him for a sign.
In the meantime, Juan Diego wants to excuse himself from his mandate and asks the Virgin to send someone else with more credibility. But the Virgin replies that she has many ambassadors who could fulfill her mandate much better, but it was necessary for him, the poor and humble Juan Diego, the youngest of her children, to go to the Bishop to ask for this favor.
When Juan Diego returned to receive the Virgin’s sign, he postponed the meeting with her because he thought it was more urgent to look for a priest for his uncle Bernardino who was dying.
It is at that point that the Virgin runs and cuts off Juan Diego on his way and asks him where he was going. Juan Diego answers her in a very Mexican way: My daughter, how did you wake up? Did you sleep well? How is your health?… But, the Virgin, being a good mother, assures him that he has nothing to fear and says these words that are as tender as they are famous:
Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and shelter, in the fold of my arms? Am I not your well-being? What more do you lack?
It’s just as we read in today’s Gospel: “Nothing shall be impossible for God.”
Immediately the Virgin sends him to pick some roses in Tepeyac that will serve as a sign for the Bishop. When Juan Diego arrives before the Bishop, he spills the flowers that the Virgin had placed in his tilma, and the Virgin’s likeness appears remains on the cloth.
Many things could be said – and in fact have been said – about this story. But right now three aspects call my attention.
You and I perhaps feel like Juan Diego: very little. We are not worthy. We are nothing. Perhaps we are weighed down by our limitations, our miseries, even our sins… But neither that nor anything else should frighten us or worry us because as St. Paul says:
“Where sin abound, grace abound all the more.”
And for that we have the sacraments (the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and all the other sacraments and pious practices of the Christian Life, such as prayer).
If besides we also trust in God’s grace, he will do everything, for “nothing is impossible for God.” This is, in fact, the Lord’s way. St. Paul says so:
“For, brethren, consider your calling: there are not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but the foolish things of the world has God chosen, that he might shame the wise; and the weak things of the world has God chosen, that he might shame the strong; and the vile things of the world and contemptible things has God chosen, and the things which are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are.”
So if we are nothing: so much the better. That means the Lord has to place it all in us. We are like the very tilma of Juan Diego that normally should have disintegrated after 20 years. But Juan Diego’s tilma has lasted more than 500 years because it carries the image of Our Lady. In the same way, our poor life will acquire an extraordinary value that leads us to eternal life if we turn to the Mother of God.
When Juan Diego went to pick the roses, I don’t think he suddenly pulled out his Swiss Army knife to cut the flowers. I like to think that he cut those roses with his hands and I’m sure he pricked himself with the thorns.
God is like that: He promises us eternal life with a sure promise, but with a little (and sometimes a lot) of suffering here below:
But as St. Paul says to the Romans:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? […] But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Period.
I recommend that you and I make our own list of what takes away your peace and joy:
Lack of papers, lack of money, family problems, sickness…A relative who has no faith…Make your list and read it to Our Lady. She will surprise you beyond your expectations about everything you ask of her:
I asked her for money, papers and so many other things and I came out with a vocation! Go figure! So watch out what you ask of her!
So let us come to her presence. Let us come and ask her for a favor, a miracle, a cure, a conversion. Whatever you want. Or simply come to accompany her. She will always take you to her son Jesus and waits for you with open arms.
On December 12, 1531, Juan Diego lost his tilma! And being poor, perhaps it had cost him a lot! (This reminds me of Bartimaeus who left his cloak aside to approach Jesus and regain his sight.) But no one would have thought to think that way (i.e. that he lost something). May we not think that way either when the Lord and his Blessed Mother ask us for the tilma of our soul, of our life!
Let us not focus on the sacrifice, but on the person who loves us, who is God and the souls He has entrusted to us: and then our Lord will reward us with a hundredfold and life everlasting after this life on earth.
The only thing our Lord asks of us is that we give him all that we have, (our two mites, perhaps, but all); he will then transform all that we give him into graces that will lead us to eternal life. Amen.