St. Joseph Basilica
December 12, 2016
Like everyone else over the past week or so, I've been doing my best to stay warm. Temperatures have plummeted, and to make matters worse we've been invaded at the same time by that evil menace called "the wind chill." We know from experience that this will all pass in a few months. However, there is a far more menacing chill that threatens to be with us for a very long time. I'm speaking of the cold that invades the human spirit. The coldness outside reminds us to be aware of any iciness within. We are heartened when we are told that temperatures will get warmer. A far greater cause for joy is the melting of the human heart.
Winter is marked by a lessening of light; the days are shorter. Water and land solidify as the temperature falls. When it is dangerously cold outside, we tend to stay closed within our homes, venturing forth only when necessary.
Coldness inside, that is, within our hearts and souls, is signalled by similar characteristics. Light fades as we live under a cloud of moral confusion. We stay closed within ourselves, thinking only about our own needs and desires, rarely venturing forth to be of assistance to others. As a result, separation from others solidifies, and the call of the Gospel and the cry of the poor is met with glacial indifference. The season of winter that we experience outside of ourselves is but for a time. When winter invades the heart, however, it threatens to settle into permafrost. In order that this not happen, in order that we be set free from this iciness of spirit, we need to understand what is going on and how to respond.
So, what is happening? Our faith provides the answer.
Simply put, just as winter envelops the land at those points where the earth is farthest from the sun, so does coldness of heart spread in those whose lives are at greatest distance from the Son. Jesus is the Son of the Father, sent at that time when humanity's distance from God had left it encased in the ice of sin. He came as Saviour, to lead us back by his death and resurrection to the warmth and glow of the Father's love. When we grow distant from him, we inevitably grow distant from one another and, indeed, from our true selves. Hurts arise; they are not healed but harden into bitterness. Lives can become frozen in the immobility of addictions. Hope fails to blossom, because the light of Jesus the Son has been eclipsed by the darkness of sin.
Yet hope can arise, even in the bleak winter of the soul. This is the message of Guadalupe. Recall the miraculous roses given as a sign to confirm the truth of Our Lady's visitation to Juan Diego. To the wonder of all, they bloomed at a time of severe frost. Mary knows the hearts of her children, she sees our neediness. In her maternal love, she shows us how hope can blossom even when we would judge it impossible. She does this very simply: by directing us back to the Son, her Son and the Son of the Father.
The role of Mary in God's plan to save us is linked inseparably with the mission of Jesus. From the time she gave her yes to Gabriel's message, her life was fully intertwined with that of her Son, and fully directed toward him. The Gospel passage narrates the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, but it is ultimately not about them at all, but about Jesus. Mary is hailed as the mother of the Lord. The child in Elizabeth's womb leaps for joy at the presence of the child within Mary's. Mary responds by exalting not herself but the Lord. She who was the perfect disciple, who followed her Son in faith even to the foot of the Cross, invites others to do the same and accept all the Jesus commands. Her words to the servants at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you,” is the same direction she gives to all who follow the Lord. It is in this way that she turns us back toward the Son, so that we might accept anew the light of his instruction, and our frozen hearts be melted by the warmth of his forgiveness.
Mary's apparitions are rare in history. San Juan Diego was one of a very select few. Yet these apparitions are meant for us all. Her appearance to Juan Diego gave rise to conversions enormous in number and astonishing in rapidity. The image of Mary left on his tilma is permanent, given as a promise that her maternal love for us all will never fade. The picture imprinted on the tilma is one of Mary at prayer. By this gesture she is pointing us to her Son, and inviting us to trust in her intercession for each and every one of us.
So let us do that this evening. We have gathered to honour Mary under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We come here as winter is settling in, aware that our weakness and sin is causing a coldness to take hold of our hearts and spirits as well as of a great number of our brothers and sisters in our communities and throughout our world. Let us entrust ourselves to her prayers, which are very powerful. She is our Mother, she loves us, and she wants nothing more than to re-direct our lives back to the source of light and life, that source which is the Son of the Father, Jesus our Lord.
✠ Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
December 12, 2016