He Dwells Among Us

Bishop Richard F. Stika's Blog


God’s living photograph

by Bill Brewer on September 14, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe helps us to recognize our brothers and sisters in need.

The science of photography, even before it went digital, has always intrigued me. But nearly 300 years before the first photograph was taken and developed in 1826, we have record of an image of rich color and great detail that developed upon the unlikely photographic film of a poor Mexican peasant’s cloak woven of coarse plant fibers. Capturing the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego in 1531, this miraculous image is not so much a photograph as it is a presence. In contemplating God’s living photograph of their Heavenly Mother, a people of great diversity and culture came to recognize themselves as brothers and sisters and in unity to call God their Father. More than ever, with such growing division in our country today, we should have recourse to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Far too many think that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is but for the Hispanic community alone; however, nothing could be further from the truth. It seems no coincidence that Guadalupe marks the geographical center of the Americas. For good reason then did the Church declare her the Patroness of the Americas and offer to us her feast day to be celebrated as a continent on Dec. 12.

So I was particularly encouraged by the news last month that the Knights of Columbus, during their annual convention in Denver, had announced a new nationwide Marian prayer program dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Knights also reflected upon their fraternal mission that from their founding in 1882 has helped to serve the needs of migrant people wherever they may be. And so I commend the Knights for the courage to take up a subject that sadly divides so many Catholics today: immigration.

Of particular note during their convention was the address of Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gómez on immigration. His talk and the one he delivered a week later to the Napa Institute are very helpful in better understanding the consistent teaching of the U.S. bishops on this difficult subject. I highly encourage you to reflect on his words, available at http://bit.ly/ABGomez-Knights and http://bit.ly/ABGomez-Napa.

As Archbishop Gomez points out, we are a nation of immigrants and above all a Church of immigrants. But, the Church also teaches that a nation has the right to control its borders and to consider various concerns such as the economy in its decisions. However, the Church also reminds us that we mustn’t exaggerate these concerns. Though we certainly do not condone breaking the law or circumventing the proper procedures for documenting one’s legal entry into the country, there are reasons why people enter illegally.

“Very few people ‘choose’ to leave their homelands,” Archbishop Gómez pointed out. “Emigration is almost always forced upon people by the dire conditions they face in their lives.” His question to all of us calls for honesty in answering, “What wouldn’t you do to provide for your loved ones? To feed hungry mouths? To give your children a better future?” Those we call “illegal,” he reminds us, “are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters—not much different from [ourselves].”

There is room for legitimate debate on comprehensive immigration reform—on how to fix a broken system and on how the undocumented can make restitution and legalize their status. But as Archbishop Gómez emphasizes, it is time to approach these questions not as Republicans or Democrats, conservative or liberal, but as Catholics. It is time for Catholics to cease “privatizing” their faith and to be witnesses of the fullness of the Gospel truth.

I am not a politician, but as a pastor I must emphasize that we have but one true homeland whose citizenship we should seek residency and but one language that we should all strive to be fluent in: the language of faith.

Because Our Lady of Guadalupe appears to us as both an expectant mother as well as a person of mixed race—a mestiza, an outcast—we see in her an image also of those that Sacred Scripture call us to be particularly mindful of: the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner (cf. Exodus 20-22). The new widows and orphans of our day are those pregnant women whose boyfriends or husbands have abandoned them and their responsibility to the life they helped to conceive. And the foreigners roofing our storm-damaged houses, working our fields, are they not like the mestizos of that time who were ostracized as a stranger to both the indigenous people and colonial population alike?

As St. Juan Diego stood before the Church in the person of Friar Juan de Zumárraga, concealing within his cloak the gift of a mother’s love, so I believe the foreigner stands before all of us concealing this same mother’s love behind a shirt stained with the sweat and soil of his labors for a family he left behind to support. We need to remember that the citizenship we seek in heaven requires a particular visa stamp in this life: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome . . . as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:35-40).

I can think of no better book to recommend to gain a greater appreciation for the significance of this apparition than Our Lady of Guadalupe—Mother of the Civilization of Love (Doubleday, 2009) by Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Monsignor Eduardo Chávez, postulator for the cause of St. Juan Diego. I pray you can read this book as well as the talks of Archbishop Gómez.

In closing I would ask that everyone consider placing in their home an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to reflect well upon their message of love and mercy.

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