Go back and tell John what you hear and see. Matthew 11:4
15 December 2019, 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1–6, 10, Psalm 145(146):6–10, James 5:7–10, Matthew 11:2–11
Word had found its way to John the Baptist in prison that Jesus—the one whom John himself had baptised in the river Jordan; the one for whom the skies opened and God’s very voice proclaimed, “This is my Son, the beloved”—was performing great miracles and preaching the coming of the kingdom of God.
The question John sent to Jesus was simple: “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” (Mt 11:3).
The question behind the question is as obvious as it is painful. I’m in prison, Jesus. I’m alone, I’m tired and I’m scared. I thought, and I still think, I am doing God’s work, but am I right? Has it all been worth it? Please tell me this prison is worth it, because you’re the promised Messiah.
When we truly follow Jesus, it comes with a cost.
In the 20th century, there were more martyrs for the faith than all other centuries combined. In the western world, our martyrdom takes on many forms—exclusion, ridicule, and sometimes even more serious persecution. In the “prisons” we experience, John’s question is our question when the night is darkest.
And, we should never be afraid to ask it because Jesus is always ready to reply, “Happy is the person who does not lose faith in me.”
Lord Jesus, you tell me that you are the One promised by God. Help me to trust in you. Amen.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
“Our Lady of Guadalupe”, C . 1531.
Image on Tilma (cactus fibre), two pieces 170 x 105 cm each. Public Domain.
This is not the image you would have been expecting for an Advent meditation on “The Visitation”. But, it was a visitation in a real sense!
We believe that Mary is truly our mother—given to us by Christ on the cross (cf. Jn 19:27).
Christian tradition attests that Mary has shown her motherhood by her concern for her children in distress at various moments in the history of the Church.
An unprecedented event occurred in Mexico City in A.D. 1531. Mexico had been invaded by Spanish conquistadors in A.D. 1521 under the command of Hernando Cortés.
He was accompanied by Franciscan missionaries who made little progress in evangelising the Aztecs. Theirs was a violent religion—worshipping the sun, the moon and the stars. Their sun god had to be appeased each day by the offering of a living human heart ripped out of the breast of an unwilling victim. They practised polygamy and cannibalism. They were not impressed by their conquerors who, although Christian, showed no respect for human life and whose only goal was the acquisition of gold.
An early convert was a certain Indian, Juan Diego. He and his wife had both been baptised. Soon after, she had died. It was Juan’s custom to attend Mass each Saturday in honour of Our Lady.
On 9 December 1531, he was on his way, as usual, to attend Mass in Mexico City. He was met by a beautiful lady who said to him: “You must know, my son, that I am truly the eternal Virgin, Holy Mother of the true God, through whose favour we live, the Creator, Lord of heaven, and the Lord of the earth. I am in truth your merciful mother—to you and to all the other people dear to me who call upon me, who search for me, who confide in me.”
The Lady asked that the newly-appointed bishop build her a shrine where she would show her protection to all who came to her. The bishop asked for a sign. The Lady told Juan to gather the roses he would find at her direction, wrap them in his tilma (or cloak), and take them to the bishop. On the cloak appeared the image of the Lady.
The image persists to the present day in all its beauty. The cloak, made of the local cactus plant, should have disintegrated within 20 years. Kodak and NASA have both declared the image is not of human origin. Within 10 years, the Aztec religion had disappeared. What the Church had lost in Europe, through the Reformation, it gained in the New World—7 million conversions.
The native people read the image as a catechism. The Lady stands in front of the sun, so she is greater. She stands on the moon, and her cloak is adorned with stars (proven since not to be accidental—it is the star chart for the Northern winter of A.D. 1531.)
Her hands are joined in prayer, so she is not a goddess. The neck and sleeves of her garment are edged in rabbit fur, a sign of royalty. The black girdle at her waist shows she is pregnant. Her face has an almost Mona Lisa quality and is impossible to adequately copy. In reverse to an ordinary painting, the image grows clearer the further away from it you move.
Pope Francis, from South America, is especially devoted to this image of Our Lady, and has spoken many times about its relevance. “Mary’s gaze makes us feel her maternal embrace. She shows us that ‘the only power capable of winning hearts is the tenderness of God’” (A meditation to priests during the Year of Mercy, 2 June 2016).
Photographic science has shown that when the face of Our Lady is magnified, the images of those present in the bishop’s palace in A.D. 1531 are shown to be reflected in the eyes of the portrait.
And so, Pope Francis further comments, “Only a Church capable of attentive concern for all those who knock on her door can speak to them of God. Unless you can treasure the faces of those who knock on your door, you will not be able to talk to them about God.”
Perhaps this image could be named Our Lady of Concern. She visited an aged Elizabeth out of concern for her wellbeing. She visited the Mexican people out of her concern that their primary image of Christ had been disfigured by their conquerors. She visits us each time we turn to her in our troubles.
Her message to Juan Diego is her message to us: “There is nothing for you to fear. Am I not your mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Are you not in the fold of my mantle and safe in my arms?”
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
Peter Gilmore has a background in youth and young adult ministry and currently works as a coordinator of CCD and evangelisation for the Office of Renewal and Evangelisation, Diocese of Wollongong. He has recently completed his studies in theology and currently supports parishes utilising the Divine Renovation and Alpha resources. He has a passion for making Church teaching and biblical truth accessible to all.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years, he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.
With thanks to the Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2019 reflections from their publication, The Way – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2019. You can read the reflections as they are published here.