DECEMBER 12, 2006, OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE: APOC. 12-1-6; Lk 1:26-38

A WOMAN APPEARED IN THE HEAVENS CLOTHED WITH THE SUN AND THE MOON UNDER HER FEET. This vision found in the Book of the Apocalypse that closes the Bible is a dramatic presentation of the mystery of redemption as understood by the early Church. But it is expressly stated to be more than a vision: it is Ďa great sign that appeared in the heavensí, whose central figure is a woman. Early in the life of the Church this woman was identified with the Church, clothed with the Logos, the Word of God. Earlier still the Bl. Virgin Mary had been identified by St. Irenaeus as the second Eve, and so as the true mother of all those living by the life of the Spirit of God. This image is the high point of the Apocalypse in this sense that it represents the birth of the new people of God in the Church of Christ. Some few centuries were to pass before this woman was seen to represent not only the Church but Mary, who in her person embodies in its most excellent form the human members of the new People of God. For the present she must suffer on earth with the birth pangs of persecution. In this suffering she brings forth her Son, the Redeemer, united with his members, and attacked by the forces of the demon. Yet as the Son overcomes by the divine power that protects him in Godís presence, the Church too, in the form of the Virgin Mother, is cared for by God in a place of austere solitude, the desert, for a time. In the end she will share in the manifest victory of her Son.

This sign that is an image of the history of the Church in this world shows the continuity between the Church and the ancient People of God as well as indicates the trials and purification to which those united with the Redeemer are subject. Hearing this account of the mystery of redemption in the Apocalypse along with the version of St. Lukeís account of the Incarnation confronts us with a striking contrast. Rather than appearing as a sign dramatically presented in the heavens, the Annunciation of the Incarnation made to Mary takes place in a remote village, quietly, in a hidden manner. It is revealed at first only to the Virgin, in solitude, and, once her assent is given, the event itself is brought about by the invisible action of the Spirit of God in the body of the mother.

We are thus taught by the Scriptures that there are various ways of conceiving Godís action in the world. All of them take place within faith which alone gives access to the meaning of Divine intervention in human history. There are levels of meaning in human experience that find expression under a variety of forms. Each calls for identification and recognition for what it reveals. This characteristic of life in this world remains operative throughout the course of history as it does at all stages of individual development. It is a function of the measure of purity of heart, acquired by Godís gift of grace and the operation of his Spirit, that allows us to understand the various meanings conveyed at different levels of experience. One of the purposes of contemplative prayer is precisely to render us capable of ascertaining the truth revealed to us in its concrete forms as they occur in the ordinary circumstances of life.

One tradition, as depicted in certain paintings of the Renaissance, has it that Mary was alone in her room, meditating on the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 7: "A Virgin shall be with child" when the angel appeared to her, suddenly. If she was prepared to respond as she did, this view suggests, it was because she was already, in the ordinary course of her life, preparing herself for this encounter with Godís plan, by fervent and faithful reflective prayer.

Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, came to be the much-loved and venerated of the Latin American Church. She was felt to be at once supremely united with God in his working out of salvation for us all and at the same time most sympathetic to the condition of the ordinary person. Her fidelity to daily events as expressions of Godís care and working, her hidden life, lived largely in obscurity makes her accessible to all of us who accept our insignificance in terms of this world. To honor her, to trust in her care and intercession is to put faith in Godís revelation and Providence. May we join our Latin American brother and sisters in this trusting faith as we honor God in the holiness he conferred on the mother of his divine Son, through the working of his Holy Spirit.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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