12th Dec 2013

One Timely Encounter! Guadalupe, Francis, and Our Urgent Mission

by Kathryn Jean Lopez


Encounter, that is.

With Christ.

With the Holy Spirit.

With God the Father.

Encounter is the door into the deepest reality of our lives, where we exercise our truest freedom. We exercise this freedom in union with the Trinity, participating in the love the Father has for the Son and the Holy Spirit, the love that he has for us in creating us and providing for us. It is the love he revealed to us in sending his Son to humbly live among us and redeem us in victory over death — a victory won by his Passion (read: suffering), cross, his own death, and his resurrection.

Encounter is the door by which we can bring others to Christ.

Encounter has to begin with our humble submission to Christ. Advent focuses in this divine desire for us to be with God, always. To submit to Christ. To feel this fulfillment . To be contagious with zeal for this supernatural reality and generous in sharing the eternal happiness it promises.

Last month (as I’ve noted), I went for the first time to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today. During my visit, I found myself be overcome with gratitude. We were there just before Thanksgiving, and “thanksgiving” is the word to describe the common spiritual experience in Mexico City: The image of Our Lady left on the cloak of Juan Diego (a most unlikely messenger by worldly standards, much like the rather ordinary children of Fatima), like a baby born in a manger as the means by which the Creator of the world chooses to encounter us, has a way of drawing people in — to the neighborhood, to the Shrine, to the feet of the Virgin.


Mass is celebrated on the altar in front of the beautiful Marian image. Underneath, pilgrims travel back and forth on those moving sidewalks so familiar to airport travelers. One of my favorite stories from our pilgrimage is that of a prominent Catholic leader from the United States who spent some time in prayer during a Marian vigil going back and forth on these transports, at our Lady’s feet, at the heart of Christianity in the Americas.

It’s hard not to be childlike in the way we are called to be at Guadalupe. There may be violence, crime, chaos, poverty, oppression. But there is faith: Real, gritty faith. Elderly women make their way to the altar on their knees as their sons walk with them, protective and possibly hoping that something of the depth of their mothers’ faith inspires a deeper commitment and union within their own hearts.

That deeper union is key to the experience and is intimately wrapped up in encounter.

Time magazine has named Pope Francis its “Person of the Year” for 2013. Maybe that selection is due to an American Idol-conditioned celebrity effect, an unread and misunderstood exhortation, Rush Limbaugh, or the wishful thinking of “progressives.” Whatever the motivation for the honor, it presents an open door and an opportunity. Back when the horrid scandal of sexual abuse was unveiled in the Archdiocese of Boston two decades ago, George Weigel, biographer of soon-to-to-be-canonized saint Pope John Paul II, thanked God for the media and their role in exposing this evil and forcing it to be confronted. The healing from this crisis continues today, and the apostolic gifts of Pope Francis are no small balm.

This same week as the Time news broke, Catholics celebrate both the feast of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God,” Pope John Paul said at his canonization Mass.

“You know, we and Jesus have the same Mother!” Pope Francis brought the house down at this congreso I attended this November, on the grounds of the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sponsored by the Pontifical Commission on Latin America and the Knights of Columbus when he concluded his video address on that note. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was leading these Catholic bishops, religious, and lay leaders in Church organizations, lay groups, education, medicine, charities, and media into an encounter with their mother, who was chosen to bring Christ to us and place us right into his arms, where he gives us his most Sacred Heart.

If we only go to him. Why do we need the Church? For the sacramental graces of his Divine Mercy and the gift of his true Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Why do we need the Church? To be complete, for the fulfillment of our deepest desires, beyond our imaginations or abilities. We also need the Church, by the way, to understand Pope Francis and much of what he has been saying over these last eight months.

There’s a spiritual dimension to this that most of us miss in headlines and op-eds, in all the selective gushing, gloating, condemnation and citing by the president of the United States (whose relationship to freedom of conscience is in some question).  If you’re feeling affirmed in your political persuasion or endorsed in your ideological comfort zone, then there’s probably much more for you to encounter here.

This is all-important, because our lives and our souls depend on encuentro.

Encuentro was said so much during the congreso that I may have made a joke about potential Tequila shots to the word. (Humor is not foreign to the Gospel of Joy. When done in charity, it opens doors.) Encuentro was used so often because of the palpable urgency and responsibility of the message.

This is our first pope from the Americas — and here he is, drawing people’s rapt, furious, and nervous attention. Not everyone is listening, and many of those who are listening don’t listen to every word, for sure. But people are looking in his direction, and they are paying some attention. There is healing happening as people wonder whether perhaps there is something in the sacraments for them to encounter — whether there might just be a call for them to answer.

In his message to us in Mexico City, Pope Francis went back to his apostolic journey in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he talked about the missionary mandate of the Gospel to Christians. During that pilgrimage, he went to our Lady, in the Shrine of Aparecida, where he helped set out a vision for New Evangelization in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007 one that very obviously influenced his “Gospel of Joy.” He said:

Aparecida proposes putting the Church in a permanent state of mission, carrying out acts of a missionary nature, within the broader context of a common mission: that all of the regular activities of the particular Churches may have a missionary character. And this in the certainty that missionary outreach, more than one activity among others, is a paradigm; that is, it is the paradigm for all pastoral work.

The Church’s intimacy with Jesus is an itinerant intimacy, it presumes that we step out of ourselves, that we walk and sow again and again, in an ever wider radius. The Lord said, “Let us go to the nearby villages to preach, for this is why I have come”. It is vital for the Church not to close in on herself, not to feel satisfied and secure with what she has achieved. If this were to happen the Church would fall ill, ill of an imaginary abundance, of superfluous abundance; in a certain way, she would “get indigestion” and be weakened. We need to go forth from our own communities and be bold enough to go to the existential outskirts that need to feel the closeness of God. He abandons no one, and he always shows his unfailing tenderness and mercy; this, therefore, is what we need to take to all people.

If you want to understand Time’s Person of the Year, if you want to grow deeper in friendship with Christ, you must understand that intimacy with God is a priority for Christians. We are called to be fruitful, and such intimacy represents our only hope.

At the shrine in Guadalupe in 1999, JPII said:

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). Elizabeth's words to Mary, who is carrying Christ in her womb, can also be applied to the Church on this continent. Blessed are you, Church in America, for you have welcomed the Good News of the Gospel and given birth in faith to numerous peoples! Blessed are you for believing, blessed are you for hoping, blessed are you for loving, because the Lord's promise will be fulfilled! The heroic missionary efforts and the wonderful evangelization of these five centuries were not in vain. Today we can say that, as a result, the Church in America is the Church of Hope…

Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, in her pregnancy. It is with expectation of eternal encounter with the Incarnation, with the Father and our Counselor, that we mark her feast day in the midst of Advent. We celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe even as we approach that great feast of the school of the Nativity, focusing and renewing life and family life, even as we encounter a culture adrift in confusion and obfuscation. The Rosary, although often regarded as a Marian devotion, is a most blessed prayer because it bring us to Christ (as Mary always does), reflecting on the scenes of his life, death, and resurrection, all the while with one great and holy lady present right alongside him. Whenever our burdens seem impossible, we ought to look to the Cross and consider the Pieta, with the weeping Mother holding the lifeless body of her beloved Son. She who knew the deepest sorry will help you encounter Divine Mercy — even as we continue to pierce her heart, and Christ’s heart, by our sins.

“The encounter that took place in the winter of 1531 is an encounter with God himself, whom our Lady carried in her immaculate womb,” writes Msgr. Eduardo Chavez Sanchez, postulator of the cause for the canonization of Juan Diego and uber-expert on Guadalupe, who I learn more from every time I listen to him, in a reflection reprinted in the devotional Magnificat for this day this month. “It is a real encounter with Jesus, who has taken the initiative to meet man through his Mother.”


The Gospel, Msgr. Chavez Sanchez writes, “revolves around a central axis — the Incarnation of the Word and the Pentecost. This is to say that God takes on our human condition (except for sin), heals us, saves us, and gives us the profound promise of resurrection.”

When Time pays attention to the pope in Rome in its 2013 closing issue as it has, it is like a window opening into this truth for a culture with a painful, inflamed, bleeding ulcer. Yes, I know there are understandings and misuses and abuses. But Time has quoted Pope Francis referring to the Eucharist as “a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” And that, and God’s grace, may just make all the difference.

In this alone may be no small Advent miracle!

If we are to build the Civilization of Love as we have been called to do — 41 years after the Supreme Court made abortion the law of the land, and in a society that all too often treats the weak and the elderly as disposable commodities — we need this Blessed Lady of Guadalupe. She was sent here not just for Juan Diego and the millions of Aztecs who converted after his testimony, but also for us today, here in the Americas, and here in the United States of America. She came for us even as we face our urgent need to work toward something better on immigration, health care, and innocent human life and in all its stages than we have today.

Pope John Paul II called the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe “a model of a perfectly inculturated evangelization.” There was nothing foreign about the encounter to the people of the time, save for mercy and hope — for Christ. “Through God, Church teaching is adapted to meet man in conditions so adverse and desperate, so heartbreaking and disastrous, that only his intervention can solve the problem,” said Pope John Paul. “This marvelous intervention involves his precious Mother, the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.” In the Guadalupe image, not only is the Mother of our Lord pregnant, but her knee is positioned for dancing. She is carrying the Gospel of Joy and living it! How can we help but encounter unexpected and unearned joy with her as our mother?

In another place, in the book Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love, Msgr. Chavez Sanchez and Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus (who sponsor this website) write that:

…in a unique way, the full radicalness of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s apparition can only be understood fully now, when Catholicism’s most expressed model for society is a Civilization of Love and its greatest explication of human dignity is the Theology of the Body. ….

She appeared to Juan Diego in a brutally harsh culture, where not just the Aztecs but even the more Catholic colonials did not err on the side of tenderness.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love further reads:

[W]hile other Marian apparitions (such as those at Fatima and Lourdes) included words of admonishment or even warnings, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s only words of spiritual guidance are her gentle but persistent reminders to Juan Diego about love: a love that can be trusted, a love that gives dignity, a love that is personal. If we are to see in her words an answer to a spiritual problem, the spiritual problem it answers is a lack of love and a lack of understanding about love as relationship rather than as practice. The Guadalupan message is, in its originality, a spiritual education, an education in love.

“Today,” the priest and head Knight write, “as life is often characterized by a lack of love and by misunderstandings and misgivings about love, her message is one to take to heart.”

A lack of love. Isn’t that what Time and everyone else is responding to? Even critics are respectful. There seems a tacit acknowledgement that there could be more here. What is it? The Holy Spirit at work. Christ seen in the world, acknowledging, encountering, healing our wounds.

Whatever you think of Time, Pope Francis, pray for us — that we may answer our divine call to love by first letting Christ love us in encounter with Him, in prayer, in sacrament, in our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers, in the innocent and troubled, in strangers and criminals. Sinners, it is only in this kind of divine encuentro that we — and, yes, civilization—has a prayer.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)