Our Lady of Guadalupe: source of joy

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.


COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.