Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 at a difficult time in the history of the New World.
In the 1520s, the future of the New World was uncertain and unclear. The Spaniards had arrived in Central America and were making cultural inroads, which led to inevitable clashes with the native cultures that had flourished across Central and South America. While the future of the region was uncertain, what was clear was that the culture of Latin America was at a crossroads.
Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego at this crossroads. In a period of cultural ambiguity and upheaval, the mother of the Redeemer appeared as the mother of a people. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as the source of joy. She appeared to a place, a people and a nation “under the shadow of her protection.”
Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, says that Our Lady appeared in America in order to establish a “civilization of love.”
Last year, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI echoed this sentiment. To build a civilization of love, he said, Our Lady of Guadalupe “invites us to stay with faith and charity beneath her mantle, so as to overcome in this way all evil and to establish a more just and fraternal society.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe was fundamental in establishing a just and fraternal society—a truly Catholic culture—among the people of Mexico and Latin America. She can do that again, today, for us. Certainly we are in need of her help.
Like Juan Diego was, we are living at a time of cultural crossroads.
In the United States today, the immigrant is regarded as a tool, and not a person. The elderly are abandoned. The destitute are isolated. And the unborn—the most vulnerable members of our society—are regarded as mere inconveniences that can easily be disposed of in the pursuit of fleeting wealth and power. Further, our religious identity is also imperiled—American Catholics are attending Mass in fewer numbers, divorcing in greater numbers and failing to uphold the most basic dignities of the human person.
We need Our Lady of Guadalupe. We need a new evangelization—one that makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ present in our national and social identity. We need a cultural transformation. We are sorely in need of a civilization of love.
This is precisely why the Lord sent Our Lady of Guadalupe to America. We should imitate her love and her respect for the dignity of all human persons. We should imitate her preference for the lowly and downtrodden. We should pursue the goal of a just and fraternal society. We can do that by doing what Our Lady of Guadalupe did—pointing the way to Jesus Christ. Blessed John Paul II said that to love Our Lady of Guadalupe is to love her son, Jesus Christ.
Imitation of Our Lady of Guadalupe means placing charity and evangelization hand in hand. It means casting down falsehood, as Our Lady did, but in charity and truth. Imitation of Our Lady of Guadalupe most especially means holding out hope that Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, will renew all things in himself—he will enable us to love one another with the generous love of his mother.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On Sunday, we celebrate Gaudate (Latin for “rejoice”) Sunday—the day in which the Church instructs us to rejoice in the steadfast love Our Father has for us. Our Lady rejoiced in that love. Her soul proclaimed its greatness. If we want to build a civilization of love, proclaiming a hymn of gratitude and joy to the Lord in unison with Our Lady is the place for us to begin.