On Monday, Pope Francis celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pointing to Mary’s faith not as the result of false ideal where everything is rosy, but rather of unwavering strength particularly when life is at its worst.
“In Mary we find the faithful reflection not of a poetically sweetened faith, but of a strong faith especially at a time when the sweet enchantments of things are broken and there are contradictions in conflict everywhere,” the Pope said Dec. 12, marking the Marian feast.
He stressed that we should learn from this “strong and helpful faith that characterized and characterizes our Mother; to learn from this faith that knows how to get inside history so as to be salt and light in our lives and in our society.”
Pope Francis celebrated Mass marking the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The celebration featured special elements typical of Mexico’s indigenous regions, including ancient hymns composed in indigenous languages such as Nahuatl, Quechua, Mapuche and Guarani.
Veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe dates back to the 16th century when a “Lady from Heaven” who identified herself as the Mother of the True God appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac, on a hill northwest of Mexico City.
She instructed Juan Diego to have the bishop build a church on the site of the apparitions. As a sign, the now-famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted miraculously on his tilma, or cloak. Both the image and the tilma remain intact after more than 470 years.
Pope Francis traveled to Mexico earlier this year, a voyage that was made in large part to visit the shrine and adjoining basilica dedicated to Our Lady.
In his homily for Mass, the Pope pointed to the day’s Gospel passage recounting the moment of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would be the Mother of God.
The passage, he said, “bears all the dynamism of the visit of God: when God comes to meet us He moves us inwardly, He sets in motion what we are until all our life is transformed into praise and blessing.”
When God comes to us, he leaves us with a “healthy restlessness” that invites us to proclaim that he lives and is present among his people.
Mary, “the first disciple and missionary,” is a prime example of this, he said, explaining that “far from remaining in the reserved space of our temples,” she goes out to meet and accompany others.
Just as she went in haste to accompany her cousin Elizabeth during her pregnancy with John the Baptist, in 1531 she did the same thing on the hill of Tepeyac, running “to serve and accompany this people who were gestating in pain, becoming their Mother and that of all peoples.”
“Mary is the icon of the disciple, of the believing and prayerful woman who knows how to accompany and encourage our faith and our hope in the distinct stages we must go through,” he said, noting that modern society is increasingly marked by division and fragmentation.
It’s hard to brag about the scientific and technological advances of our culture when society has at the same time become “blind and insensitive” to the thousands of people excluded by “the blind pride of the few,” he said.
A society such as this “ends up establishing a culture of disillusionment, disenchantment and frustration in many of our brothers, and even anguish in many others as they experience the difficulties they need to face so as not to lose their way.”
Society seems to have unconsciously fallen into a perpetual state of distrust with serious implications for both the present and future, Francis said, noting that this distrust “gradually engenders states of apathy and dispersal.”
He pointed to the thousands of children and youth living on the streets who are forced to sleep in train stations, exploited in illegal work or are driven to beg for money at intersections by washing the windshields of passing cars.
“They feel that the ‘train of life’ has no place for them,” Pope Francis said, and pointed to the many families “scarred by the suffering of seeing their children made victims of the merchants of death.”
The Pope also pointed to the exclusion of the elderly and the “precarious situation” affecting the dignity of women, many of whom since childhood and adolescence “are subject to many forms of violence inside and outside the home.”
These situations “can paralyze us,” casting doubt on our faith, our hope and our way of looking toward and facing the future, he said.
However, when faced with all these or similar circumstances, we must look to and learn from “this strong and helpful faith that characterized and characterizes our Mother.”
Celebrating Mary above all means remembering that she is a mother, and that “we are not and never will be an orphaned people,” he said.
While there will always be fighting among brothers, with the presence of the mother “the sense of unity will always prevail,” the Pope said, adding that has always been impressed by women from different areas of Latin America who often struggle on their own, but still manage to raise their children.
This is the same way Mary acts with us, he said, calling her “a woman who fights against the society of mistrust and blindness, the society of apathy and dispersion; a woman who fights to strengthen the joy of the Gospel, who fights to give ‘flesh’ to the Gospel.”
“Mary, because she believed, loved; because she is the handmaid of the Lord and the servant of her brothers,” he said, explaining that part of honoring Mary means to imitate her in going out to meet others with the same merciful gaze and actions.
“Her presence leads us to reconciliation, giving us the strength to create bonds in our blessed Latin American land, saying ‘yes’ to life and ‘no’ to all kinds of indifference, exclusion, or the rejection of peoples and persons,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his homily by urging those present to go out “and look upon others with the same gaze. A gaze that makes us brothers.”
“We do so because, like Juan Diego, we know that here is our mother, we know that we are under her shadow and her protection, which is the source of our joy, and that we are in the cross of her arms.”