Dec. 12 is the saint day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. She may actually be the most venerated “Mary” in the Catholic Church. And she seems to resonate even beyond Catholicism.
Just a brief encapsulation of her story: An indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, was walking over a hill near Mexico City when he was stopped by a vision of the Virgin Mary. After several visitations and the appearance of roses in his tunic in the dead of winter, Juan Diego convinces the local bishop to build a church where the Virgin asked for one to be built. The church is there today, though it is not open to the public because it is no longer structurally sound. But a beautiful new church was build nearby and today thousands of people will be at the church to venerate the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The incorporation of Guadalupe into the Catholic pantheon is important because she came through an indigenous person and appeared as an indigenous person. She represents the incorporation of the indigenous veneration of the goddess into the Catholic faith. Guadalupe is a beautiful example of the universalism of Christianity bringing together different cultures and traditions which all point in the same direction – a Divinity of love for all people.
Of course this kind of syncretism is not new to the Catholic church or to any church. Every church, in every setting, incorporates cultural practices, traditions, assumptions, and, yes, biases, into its identity. The Christianity we know is rife with European and American influences. Sometimes it is hard for us to see these influences because we are so familiar with them. To us, they are like the air we breathe. It’s easier to see them in Christian practices from other cultures like the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico or the Christian Church in Malaysia where God is referred to as Allah.
Remembering the Virgin of Guadalupe reminds us that God is present in humanity, all of humanity. There is no human creature that is not created to be a bearer of Divine Love. Our faith is intended to be universal. And in order to be meaningful to all cultures and peoples, many different practices and rituals and customs and images are needed.
Our job is to make sure that our expression of Christianity is built on the solid foundation of the teachings of Jesus. Advent is just the time to remind ourselves that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
Prayer We give thanks for the many expressions of Christianity around the world. We give thanks that our faith is intended to bring light to all people in all times, all places, and all cultures. May the universal light of God show us the way to valuing all people, treating all people with dignity, and honoring the Divine image in each and every person. Amen.