Were it not Sunday, today, the twelfth of December, would be the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As you probably know, back in 1531 the Blessed Virgin appeared to a poor Mexican man named Juan Diego, a recent convert to the Catholic Faith. Our Lady sent Juan Diego to the bishop to tell him that a basilica was to be built to her honor on the hill where she appeared, Mount Tepeyac. Juan Diego was terrified of his errand, for the bishop was a man of great importance, and he was but a lowly peasant-but, ultimately, he went to the cathedral, and by means of two miracles the bishop was convinced of Juan Diego’s message: The Blessed Virgin had him pick some long stemmed roses that were growing on the hill and bade him carry them to the bishop in the fold of his “tilma” or poncho. The roses themselves were miraculous; out of season, and of a variety that grew back in the bishop’s native Spain, but not in Mexico. But, more significantly, a full color image of the Blessed Virgin was impressed on the fabric of the tilma. The bishop built the basilica, and even today the image of our Lady of Guadalupe adorns the crude fabric of Juan Diego’s cloak-the preservation of which, for all of these centuries, is a miracle in itself.
Perhaps more important than the building of the basilica or the preservation of the miraculous image was the enormous impetus given by these events to the conversion of the Mexican people to the Catholic Faith. This early part of the sixteenth century was the time of the Protestant Reformation; a time when many many people in Europe abandoned the Faith either voluntarily or by coercion. It is said that the conversions of the peoples of Latin America added as many to the Church as abandoned her to the “reformation.” Certainly, the appearance of the Blessed Mother was a confirmation of heaven’s blessing on the missionaries who brought the Faith to New Spain.
What caused me to mention the happy circumstances of Guadalupe was not all that pleasant. One of our parishioners mentioned to me a week or so ago that she had seen a very anti-Catholic television program on the Public Broadcasting System. She gave me the name of the man they were interviewing, and mentioned that he had written several books. I got his latest book from the library and forced myself to read some of it. It was the kind of thing that you often see on PBS-the professional anti-Catholic who wraps his bigotry in the garb of academic respectability. I’ll have more to say in a forthcoming article in our Parish Bulletin. For the moment, I would just like to call your attention to the fact that we are surrounded by this sort of anti-religious (and specifically anti-Catholic) propaganda. It may be obvious to you-or, perhaps, you have heard it so often that you no longer notice it.
Some of the propaganda is simply illogical. The academician tells a moderately involved story, with the hope that it will be complicated enough that the casual listener won’t notice when an illogical conclusion is drawn from real facts.
Sometimes the propagandists rely on lies. A PBS segment that I saw recently had a Christian soldier out of the Crusades talking about how he and his fellow soldiers ate Moslem children for dinner. All of the attacks by Islam on Christian countries were attributed to “progress,” but every attempt to repel the invaders was portrayed as Christian viciousness.
But, by far, the most devastating weapon in the arsenal of anti-Catholicism is the lack of knowledge among Catholic people of their own history. The reality of it is that, over the centuries, Christians have done bad things as well as things which merely seem to be bad on the surface. All too often, our people are unaware of the circumstances that surround the good and the bad of Catholic history. All too often, because we are ignorant, we simply assume that the institutional anti-Catholic is correct in shaming us for things like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.
Real world history is rarely so clear cut that we can refer to its events as being clearly “good” or clearly “evil.”
The Crusades, for example, represent a period in history-perhaps 1300 year long or more-during which Christians attempted to drive Moslem invaders out of their lands, and tried to prevent the invasion of other Christian lands. No doubt one can find evil deeds perpetrated by people on both sides; Christian and not. But that is one of the awful consequences of war-a war that would not have taken place if Christendom had not been continuously attacked over those many centuries. The alternative to fighting that war would have been “submission” to the ideology of a false god, who in many ways treats his own people barbarously.
The institutional anti-Christians never tire of reminding us that European colonists could be quite brutal with the native peoples of North and South America. Words like “exploitation” and “genocide” are often attached to modernist descriptions of the expeditions led by men like Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortez, and Juan Ponce de Leon. No doubt they were sometimes brutal; certainly by the modern standards of the “civilized” world.
But reading about the conditions found by these men among the natives requires a strong stomach-I will try not to be very descriptive. As Catholics, the Europeans would have been put off by the false worship they encountered: god and goddesses, often in the form of animals. Modern liberals would say that such false worship was none of the Christians’ business, and that they should have ignored it. But what the near ancestors of Juan Diego were immersed in was far more than just an error in theology-for they were literally eating one another! In order to worship their Sun and fertility gods, the Aztecs raided the surrounding tribes and took thousands of captives annually-these were tortured, roasted in a fire, had their hearts cut out while still beating, and then they were skinned and eaten. The worshippers sometimes wore the skin.
Certainly, Juan Diego and the other Mexican Catholics never suffered anything remotely as horrible at the hands of the Spanish - and some of them did quite well when exposed to the things of Western science and culture. Would any of them have wished that Cortez never came? Probably not-for we know that the surrounding tribes actively sought out and assisted Cortez in his effort to tame the Aztecs-anything was better than being roasted and eaten. Surely, our Lady of Guadalupe would not allow anything like that on her watch!
I would ask you not only to keep this one event of catholic history in mind, but also to maintain an attitude of critical thinking about anyone who comes along and tries to belittle religion and the Catholic Faith. Our fellows have not always been saints, but by and large our civilization is a far kinder one than any that might have been put together without Jesus Christ. Be prepared to do a little bit of homework-to learn the truth about the things that are advanced against our holy Faith by the institutional bigots who would have us living in a godless society.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, protectoress of the Americas-protect the Faith of your little ones from those who would take them away from the Kingdom of your divine Son!