Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Day Three ~ Guadalupe Novena Countdown ~ Juan Diego and the Bishop

THE EDITORIAL OF THE NOVEMBER 16, 2013 issue of The Tablet, the newspaper of the Brooklyn Diocese, reflected upon what's being called The Francis Effect: the impact the new pope is having on people around the world. It seems that while the pope is warmly received in so many circles, some are criticizing him for a (perceived) desire to revive the spirit of the earliest Church when the community was without evolved hierarchical structures. 

The editorial cites Vittorio Messori, who wrote in Milan's daily newspaper, Corriere della Sera that, "Historically, charismatic movements which refused to change into hierarchical structures were swiftly reduced to irrelevance." I expect  that is so, but we might well consider the converse: that the Church, where the hierarchical structures are overstated, runs the risk of forgetting and losing the charisms (spiritual gifts and qualities) of the founder. This sad fact is played out repeatedly throughout the history of the Church. Pope John Paul II recognized this and was unafraid to declare it while in the year 2000 he repeatedly apologized before the world for the historical sins of the Church. Some high ranking prelates thought he was mistaken in doing this. 

Pope Francis understands. He says that the Church can lose the fragrance of the gospel. I wonder if there are many Catholics who even understand what that might mean. He has instructed bishops to change course in emphasis and style. In the same issue of The Tablet, Cardinal Dolan reflected on a meeting he recently had with Pope Francis. Cardinal Dolan said of the pope: "He made a special point of saying that he wants pastoral bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." This pope often calls for the end of clericalism (when a priest thinks the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to him) and for the clergy to get out of their churches to be with people and serve them where they are.

All of this to say, that as the account of Juan Diego and the Lady of Guadalupe unfolds, Juan Diego has to meet a bishop.

It is said that in the age of the European countries establishing colonies around the world, notably in Africa and Central and South America, that the clergy hitched a ride. But from the start there is a problem, as the clergy have associated themselves with the defeating powers. It's hard to convince people of the beauty of Jesus when you arrive with colonizing disease bearers, thieves, exploiters, abusers, cultural destroyers.

In the Guadalupe account we notice that the Lady didn't reveal herself to the Spanish Governor nor to Bishop Zumarraga, but to Juan Diego who was effectively on the bottom of the pile. Juan Diego was of no consequence in the culture of the day. He's wasn't a slave and he wasn't in the army, but the story tells us that he still had to show up for roll call. And so the first thing the Lady accomplished in speaking his language, in conversing with him while standing barefoot on the ground, in resembling his people, was to  give him his dignity back. She made him her viceroy!

And as is true in almost all the accounts of Marian Apparitions throughout history, the seer (the see-er) is disbelieved. But seers are almost always children or poor - or poor children. Indeed, Juan Diego is worse than disbelieved, he is reviled. The language coming out of the Bishop's household regarding Juan Diego is telling: They held him in suspicion. They observed and spied on him. They became disgusted and angered with him. They said Juan Diego was a deceiver, a fake, a dreamer, a liar. They schemed, should he return after being sent away, that they would arrest and punish him harshly.

Often the Church simply doesn't share the joy. The pope has said we have become obsessed with certain sexual and morale issues and in doing so something of the essential gospel message is lost. Participating in an international conference in Washington, D.C. recently, in the course of nearly three days, nearly every person with whom I spoke told me some sad story of their having "left the Catholic Church." In one diocese I know of, the word hemorrhaging is used to describe the exiting of Catholics to Evangelical Churches where the transforming Jesus of the Gospels is proclaimed. In the telling of their stories, often it's disclosed that people feel the Catholic Church has simply lost joy.

Pope Benedict XVI said of the Church in the First World that it is exhausted. I wonder at times if our Church hasn't become a kind of an empty shell or an antique, substituting liturgical theater, charade, sentiment, power, religious distraction, lies and talking in the vacuum of specialized and arcane language, as a substitute for the real thing, which is Christ. One priest I know told me years ago that we have lost our Christic-Center.

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Waiting after Katrina

Perhaps nothing else reveals the loss of the heavenly or spiritual thrust in the Guadalupe story as this - that repeatedly, Juan Diego is made to wait. The poor always wait. They wait in clinics. They wait for buses. They wait on long lines. They have no letters of recommendation or badges to flash to open access, no names to drop or tips to speed things along for them. They're in no position to bribe their way - no this-for-that negotiating power.

"On arrival, he (Juan Diego) endeavored to see him (the bishop); he pleaded with the servants to announce him; and after a long wait, he was called and advised that the bishop had ordered his admission."  

And again: "On the hour Juan Diego left for the palace of the bishop. Again with much difficulty he was able to see him."

Then, as always happens in the stories of apparitions from heaven, the Church takes charge of the site and the story itself - as if to tame, manage and massage the message. In truth we are told that the bishop fell to his knees before the mystical image on Juan Diego's tilma and shed sorrowful tears for his disbelief and procrastination, but then we read:

"When he rose to his feet, he untied from Juan Diego's neck the cloth on which appeared the image of the Lady from heaven. Then he took it to be placed in his chapel." The tilma didn't belong to him. But the tilma was enshrined and has become the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. But does the presence of the tilma change us? Does it change the Church?

The Guadalupe Account proposes something new for the Church - beginning with the top: a Church that's eager to listen, where no one of us lords it over another, where service is pre-eminent, where the poor are moved up front so the rest of us can help, where the things of heaven give us joy, where suspicion is reduced, where we respect the messages others carry.

And when I suggest that the poor be moved up front I am not speaking of stepping aside so someone can get to the soup kitchen door - I"m talking about the rich countries and the poor countries. Maybe before Christmas we could read Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation Evangelli Gaudium where he calls the First World to a new attentiveness and response in these things. For the price of one bomb we could build 34 schools in the poorest parts of the world.

In the mid 1980's, when AIDS was out of control and people were getting sick and dying quickly and in large numbers, the gay community in New York rallied and took even strangers into their homes, people who had lost their families, their jobs, their apartments, their savings - and be-friended and nursed them until they died. When I shared this in a Sunday sermon and suggested that perhaps Catholics had something to learn from that community, the only ones who objected were the  pious never-miss-Mass folks. It's confounding how a religious person can appear to have so much insight and truth and underneath have so little.

Bishop Zumarraga was chaplain to the Empire's Governor. There was a lot of power and prominence built into that relationship. Yet it was Juan Diego (the littlest one) who carried the message and the picture from heaven. That's pure Gospel!

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