It might be frightening to look at our culture today. There is the sense that a Catholic worldview is not welcome. Some feel confusion about what it means to be Catholic. A culture of death and darkness seems to oppose God’s love. One wonders how the Holy Spirit will work in the world and through the Church amidst such hostility and division.
This is not the first time the Church has encountered such a moment. The 1500s were also a tumultuous era. At the beginning of the century, in, 1517, the Protestant Reformation started. Then the English Reformation of Henry VIII began in 1534. The Church responded with the Counter-Reformation. A new order, the Jesuits, was founded in 1540 and in 1545, the Council of Trent was initiated. By that time, millions of people had left the Catholic Church. It seemed to be a time of waywardness and chaos. How was the Holy Spirit going to work in such a world?
Simple: By sending the Mother of God not to the Old World—Europe—but to the New World. Specifically, Mary appeared at the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531 to ask a 57-year-old peasant named Juan Diego to speak to Bishop Zumarraga about building a chapel in her honor there. This is where Our Lady, on December 9th, made her first apparition to her “Juanito” or “dear little Juan.” She told him that she was “the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth.” On her last visit on December 12th, Mary arranged roses in Juan Diego’s tilma and sent him to the bishop to ask him again to build a shrine to her on that spot. When he opened his tilma to show the bishop the roses, it revealed her image, which can still be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Mary appeared on a hill that was already sacred to the ancient peoples of Mexico as a shrine to a mother goddess. She was dressed as an Aztec princess, pregnant with the God who made us. She spoke to a humble native of the land and called him her “youngest and dearest son.” Before her apparition, approximately 200,000 Native Americans had been baptized. Between the time of her visit to Juan Diego and her message to Bishop Zumarraga and their deaths in the spring of 1548, over 9 million ancestral peoples had received the gift of faith and baptism.
In a time of great conflict, colonialization, and racial tension, Mary appeared on this continent to tell Juan Diego, “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.” She is the mother of all the peoples in the land, then and now. She reminds us that what truly defines us is not our status or ancestry, but our membership in the Body of Christ.
It can be a struggle to know and act like a member of Christ’s Body when there are so many opposing forces. What does it mean to act like a Christian, vote like a Christian, shop like a Christian, or even speak like a Christian? It means that we take our fears, our sorrows, our hopes, our hurts, and our weeping not to a political party or an outlet mall; but to our Mother, who in turn presents them to her Son.
Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? -Our Lady to Juan Diego
Question for Reflection: In times of distress, do you turn to Our Lady to bring you closer to Christ?
“The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” is the theme that Pope Francis chose for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland. One aspect that will be explored is how “the Christian family, by its witness to the life and love of Jesus, is a principal agent of evangelization to the world.” Catholic teaching calls the family, the “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11) and parents are told in the Rite of Baptism that they are “the first teachers of their child in the ways of the faith.”
Others in the Church, clergy, those in consecrated life, and lay people, are supposed to be co-responsible with parents not only for teaching children and young people, but most especially, nurturing them, protecting them, and witnessing to them holiness of life. When this fails to happen whether in the past or in the present, as is once again showing itself in various parts of the world, then repentance, reform and renewal are not only needed, they are necessary. Repentance, reform, renewal, and greater holiness are not possible without co-responsibility among all the faithful in deeper conversion of life in Christ as our patron, St. Vincent Pallotti, envisioned over 183 years ago in Rome. We cannot do this on our own as Pope Francis reminded all in his apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate:
“Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth” (GE, 50).
Since we are limited, we are challenged to do, with God’s grace, as St. Vincent Pallotti exhorts us to do: "We must begin to reform our lives by putting all our confidence in God."
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In Christ, Apostle of the Eternal Father,
This past spring, Pope Francis went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the motto, “So that they may be one.” On November 12, we celebrate a saint who lived by this motto, St. Josaphat.
St. Josaphat was an Eastern Rite bishop and model of Christian unity. He was martyred in an effort to bring part of the Orthodox Church into union with Rome. He was born John Kunsevich in 1580 to a Catholic family in what is now modern day Ukraine. Clergy who were seeking and supporting reunion with Rome influenced Kunsevich at a young age. This led him to become a Basilian monk and priest. He lived as a preacher and ascetic.
Josaphat was elected bishop of Vitebsk in 1617 and became archbishop of Polotsk in 1618. Through synods, catechesis, reform of the clergy, and personal example, Josaphat influenced the greater part of the Orthodox in the area of Vitebsk to unity. He remained steadfast in his beliefs by opposing Latins who saw unity only in Latin terms. Likewise he suppressed Byzantine traditions in the name of Catholic unity.
An Orthodox archbishop was appointed in Polotsk and Josaphat was accused of taking office invalidly. Many of the Byzantine Catholics were won over to allegiance to Orthodoxy. The Latin bishops of Poland did not support him. In 1623 Josaphat went to Vitebsk to bring peace and preach to churches to reconcile differences. On November 12, a mob broke into the house where he was staying, shouting hatred and violence. He was struck in the head with an axe blade mounted on a long shaft, and shot. His body was thrown into a river after the upheaval.
An article from EWTN writes, “It is important to say that there was a martyr on the Orthodox side as well, and even good men were uncertain where truth and justice lay. St. Josaphat died working for reconciliation, and peacemakers often find themselves hated by both sides.” Four hundred years later Church leaders are supporting the same cause for unity. St. Josaphat did not have all of the answers, but he did know that following Christ and working toward forgiveness and peace were worth the pain of confronting those who hated him. He was canonized by Rome as the first saint of the Eastern Church.
Pope Francis displayed this sentiment in conversations with the Orthodox Church while visiting the Holy Land a year after he spoke about the treasures of Christians. He noted that “we Christians bring peace and grace as a treasure to be offered to the world, but these gifts can bear fruit only when Christians live and work together in harmony.” He shares the convictions of St. Josaphat and the gifts they bear. It is an important reminder of the responsibility we share to promote unity among all Christians.
Sophie Jacobucci is a recent graduate of the Echo Program at Notre Dame and currently lives in Denver, Colorado.