Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 9, 2017
Saint John Neumann Parish, Scranton

What a beautiful day to honor our Mother Mary – Our Lady of Guadalupe – here in Saint John Neumann Parish near the historic site of the first Mass ever to be celebrated in the city of Scranton in June, 1840 – 177 years ago.  What a blessed way to begin our Diocese’s 150th Anniversary year!

Today’s celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe recalls an event that took place in history many more years ago than even the first Mass celebrated in this community.  In 1531, our Mother Mary appeared to Saint Juan Diego who was out walking in the early hours of the morning doing his chores in order to take care of his family.  Speaking to him in his native language, she told him that she wanted a church built upon Tepayac Hill, where she would – in her words – offer her people “love, compassion and protection.”

But, as we know, Saint Juan Diego was uncertain about the role that he was being directed to assume.  When he returned to the place of the apparition, he asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to send someone else to the bishop in order to persuade him to build a church.  …  Do you recall what Our Lady of Guadalupe said in response to Saint Juan’s request?  …  “My little son, there are many I could send.  But you are the one I have chosen.”

The words that Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to Saint Juan Diego are words that reflect, in so many ways, the exchange between Our Lady – the Virgin Mary of Nazareth – and the angel Gabriel in today’s gospel passage from Saint Luke.  Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a child – Jesus – the Son of the Most High God.  Mary – like Juan Diego – was overwhelmed.  Yet, despite her confusion and her fear in being asked to assume this unique role in God’s plan to save his people – despite her own questions and concerns about how this could come to pass – Mary responded with these simple words:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

Because of her willingness to trust unconditionally and to say “yes” to following the Lord completely, Mary became a woman for all ages – even and particularly for us today.  …  Mary became a sign of hope to all of us who struggle to find meaning, purpose, and a way forward in our lives.  …  Mary became the handmaid of the Lord who traveled a lowly path throughout her life.  And God lifted her up and did great things for her!

Mary’s message to us is a simple one.   She reminds us that the same mercy and love of God that carried her through life and entrusted to her the gift of her son Jesus – as unlikely as she saw herself to be in God’s plan for creation – will fill our lives and lead us to lasting peace if we but open our hearts to God, trust in his ways, and serve our brothers and sisters with love.

Now reflect again on the words that Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to Saint Juan Diego:  “My little son, there are many I could send.  But you are the one I have chosen.”  …  My brothers and sisters, do you believe these words of Our Lady spoken to Saint Juan Diego?  …  More precisely, do you believe that these same words are spoken to you?  …  I hope and pray that you do, because – like Saint Juan Diego – regardless of how ill equipped you may find yourself to be, you too are chosen by God to build His Church – to proclaim the Gospel message in both words and acts of service and love – and to bring hope and peace to your corner of His great world.  And you are chosen for the simple fact that you have value, worth and dignity – not because of a passport, a green card, a visa or a work permit – but because like Mary, you are created in the image and likeness of God!

I understand that these are difficult times for many of you.  Some of you fear for your future.  Many of you have friends and family members who are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation.  Perhaps some of your children are being bullied in school.  And so unfortunately, discrimination has raised its ugly head in many of our communities and neighborhoods.

Sadly, such realities can wound our spirits and diminish our hope.  In the face of such struggles, however, I want you to know that, as your bishop and brother, the Church stands with you – for the simple fact that YOU are a treasured and valued part of the Family of God.  …  Above all, Our Lady of Guadalupe is with you and speaks to us the same words of encouragement and challenge that she spoke to Saint Juan Diego:  “Do not be disturbed in your heart; do not be afraid.  I am with you, I who am your mother.  …  There are many I could send.  But you are the one I have chosen.”

In February of last year, Pope Francis visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  He offered these words of hope that also call us to mission and service in in the Church.  “Visiting this Shrine, the same things that happened to Juan Diego can also happen to us. Look at the Blessed Mother from within our own sufferings, our own fear, hopelessness, sadness, and say to her, ‘What can I offer?’  …  We look to our Mother with eyes that express our thoughts: there are so many situations which leave us powerless, which make us feel that there is no room for hope, for change, for transformation.  …  And in looking at her, we will hear anew what she says to us once more, ‘What, my most precious little one, saddens your heart?  Yet am I not here with you?’”

Pope Francis continued to reflect upon the message of our Lady of Guadalupe, “‘Am I not your mother? Am I not here? Do not let trials and pains overwhelm you,’ she tells us. Today, she sends us out anew; today, she comes to tell us again: be my ambassador, the one I send to build many new shrines, accompany many lives, wipe away many tears. Simply be my ambassador by walking along the paths of your neighborhood, of your community, of your parish; we can build shrines by sharing the joy of knowing that we are not alone, that Mary accompanies us. Be my ambassador, she says to us, giving food to the hungry, drink to those who thirst, a refuge to those in need, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Come to the aid of your neighbor, forgive whoever has offended you, console the grieving, be patient with others, and above all pray to God.”

The Holy Father concluded his reflections with these words of Our Lady of Guadalupe spoken to each of us this day, “‘Am I not your mother? Am I not here with you?’  …  Go then and help me to lift up the lives of my sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters.”   Amen.