273: Guadalupe crosses borders and, in doing so, heals divisions
Day 273 December 14th 2020
A Reflection on Our Lady of Guadalupe
By Father Jim Fredericks
Normally on the night of 11 December, we gather at Saint Leo’s for mass. It is the vigil of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
A ten-piece Mariachi begins the procession. The guys in the Mariachi know just how to honor Nuestra Señora. After they process to the altar, they don’t turn around and look at all of us in the pews as if we were their audience. Instead, they look up to the image of Guadalupe, high above the altar and, all together, we sing the old hymns dedicated to La Virgincita, the patrona national of Mexico and “The Mother of all the Americas.”
After mass, women go to the kitchen to serve the tamales and hot chocolate (the best Mexican chocolate of course). It’s a great night. The whole church is filled with the Church – little kids dressed up in traditional garb; old grandmothers (maybe some great-grandmothers) looking elegant and dignified with their shawls draped over their braided gray hair; some of the men wear cowboy hats. The moms and dads are there: the men that work in the vineyards and the women who clean homes are there. Father Jojo is there as well – he’s as delighted as anyone in the church because this ever-so-Mexican fiesta reminds him of celebrations in his local parish back in India. The mere thought of Father Jojo’s happiness makes me happy as well. And, of course, I am there too – so grateful to Nuestra Señora that she has claimed me as one of her children.
Normally, after mass, I go about the church and greet everyone by giving them a holy card bearing the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I’m sure you’ve seen it.
After mass, these cards will go into bibles and prayerbooks. They are taped to dashboards of pickup trucks or on the sides of cash registers. They also show up the following November on home-altars for the Day of the Dead (2 November is the Feast of all Souls. (Saint Leo’s has lots of Mexican women who will be happy to show you how to build a lovely altar to honor your deceased loved ones at home next November).
This year, sadly, I will not be greeting the people. My doctors don’t want me saying mass because of COVID. So, the holy cards with Guadalupe’s image are resting by my laptop as I write this homily for you.
Passing out the holy cards with the image of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe has a special meaning for me which I want to share with you. The cards remind me of a friend who means the world to me. My friend has taught me much about faith in God, about fidelity to family and what it means to be a beloved child of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
My friend doesn’t live in Sonoma or even in Sonoma County. In fact, he lives far from our Valley. He has lived in the United States for about twenty years, but he was born on a little family farm in Mexico. NAFTA drove the off the farm and, with no future in his home village, my friend came to California looking for work.
He works really hard and has done well for himself. He is a handyman who can do just about anything. Since he is here on “this side” (as we say in Spanish) and without papers, I will call my friend “Juaquin.”
Some twenty years ago, Juaquin kissed his mom goodbye and set out for the USA thinking that he would never see her again. Irish immigrants used to tell similar stories about saying goodbye to families in places like Claire and Mayo, Cork and Kerry, as they set of for New York and Boston.
But things turned out differently for Juaquin.
After many years in the United States, members of a drug syndicate in Mexico kidnapped Juaquin’s aged mother and held her for ransom. The gang demanded $30,000 to release Juaquin’s mom. His sister called Juaquin from Mexico with the news. No one in Juaquin’s family had this kind of money. Juaquin didn’t either. This is an enormous sum for a dispossessed farming family in rural Mexico and for a handyman with no Social Security number and a family to support in California.
Juaquin did what he had to do. He scraped together as much money as he could and went back across the border to Mexico. He drove his pickup into some forlorn canyon in southern Arizona and then went on foot across the desert. Juaquin was crossing the border illegally once again, only this time, he was headed south.
I don’t know the details. The gang members were paid something. Maybe they got the whole $30,000. I do know that Juaquin got his mother back, unharmed.
I also know this: when Juaquin told me about his plan to return to Mexico to ransom his mom, I told him to be careful. I told him things that seem almost silly in retrospect
I told him that the desert is dangerous.
I told him that the thugs who are holding your mom are demons.
I told him that, whatever happens in Mexico, you will have to come North again, across the desert, to be with your wife and kids here in California.
And then, Juaquin gave me a smile full of tenderness and serenity and said,
But Padre, I will not be traveling alone.
Juaquin took out his wallet and produced a carefully folded piece of paper. It was a holy card with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on it.
La Virgencita will be with me, Padre.
Saturday was 12 December, the feast of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. There is so much to learn from our Mexican neighbors regarding their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. There is the story of her appearance to Juan Diego, a lowly Indian. She spoke to him not in Spanish, the language of the conquistadores, but in Nahuatl, the language of the vanquished Indians.
She has remained with the vanquished ever since.
La Virgencita (as Juaquin calls her) appeared in Mexico, almost five centuries ago with a message that spoke directly to the Indian and the Spaniard, the vanquished and the conquistador.
Look into the face on the image and see that Guadalupe is neither an Indian nor a Spaniard. She is a mestiza – the new humanity that has come out of the marriage of vanquished and conquistador.
Guadalupe is the first mestiza and therefore the first Mexican. I think we can say that she is the first American as well – by “American,” I mean a person originating in the Western Hemisphere. Remember, Guadalupe appeared almost a century before any
Englishman set foot in Virginia.
Guadalupe is also a revelation from God about our future. The image is a sign indicating that all that divides us is being overcome by the maternal love of God.
This is because Guadalupe crosses borders.
In the sixteenth century, she crossed the border that separated the Indian from the Spaniard in New Spain. Her image proclaims the ultimate reconciliation of the vanquished Indian and the conquistador that colonized them. In transgressing this border, Guadalupe gave birth to Mexico.
Guadalupe has crossed the US-Mexican border as well. She came across the border with my friend Juaquin when he came North in search of work after saying goodbye to his mother for what he thought was the last time.
Guadalupe crossed that same border when Juaquin headed back into Mexico to ransom his mother from her tormentors. And she accompanied him when Juaquin found his way across the border once again to be reunited with his wife and children here in California.
Guadalupe crosses borders and, in doing so, heals divisions. As such, she is a sign, not only for Mexico and its long-suffering people. La Virgin de Guadalupe is a sign for the people of the United States as well. The divisions that separate us – the racial strife, the failure of our economy to provide for the common good and our broken politics – are being overcome by the maternal love of God.
Look into the face miraculously imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma. There you will see my friend Juaquin’s face and the face of his kidnaped mother. Look closely, and you will see the faces of those who kidnapped Juaquin’s mom as well.
Look into the face of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There you will see the faces of the little kids slurping their hot chocolate and singing to La Virgincita with the Mariachi on the night of 11 December at Saint Leo’s. You will see the faces of all the grandmas and grandpas.
Look closely and you will see Father Jojo’s face as well. I have no doubt whatsoever that Guadalupe is crossing the border that separates the wonder that is India and the Sonoma Valley.
Let’s be patient as we wait until next December. On the evening of the eleventh, at the vigil mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe, I will have a holy card for you with the image of La Virgincita. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish. Just come.
The church that night will be filled with the Church.
The Mariachi will lead us in singing all the old hymns, and, after mass, there will be hot chocolate and tamales. And together with La Virgincita, Nuesta Señora de Guadalupe, Mother of All the Americas, the first Mexican and even the first American, we will cross borders, trusting in God’s maternal love which has no border.
Que viva la Virgincita!
READING: John of the Cross
If you want, the virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say
“I need shelter for the night,
please take me inside your heart,
My time is so close”.
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime intimacy,
the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yes, there, under the dome of your being does Creation come into existence, through your womb, dear pilgrim,
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is His beloved servant, never far.
If you want, the Virgin WILL come walking down the street
pregnant with light, and singing!
Mariachi Voces de America serenades Virgin of Guadalupe
The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) – Mary’s Song of Praise and Justice
Song To Our Lady of Guadalupe
Melva Freeman is home!
I'm sure she'd appreciate receiving cards, notes or a phone call: