In early December Erin and I visited a longtime friend who lives in Phoenix. An Episcopalian priest who was born and raised in Mexico he is now an American citizen who pastors a Mexican parish in that desert city. It had been several years since we had seen him in person and so it was great to spend time with him.
While we were there his parish celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is foundational to the cultural identity of Mexicans. The parish celebration began with a procession down the street outside the church. At the head of the procession was a life size statue of Our Lady carried on the shoulders of men. Behind this statue came dancers from the various regions of Mexico. Each group of dancers dressed in custom and masks that reflected the distinct characteristics of their particular region. Interspersed throughout the procession were several mothers clutching to their chests their personal statues of Our Lady, which they had obviously brought from their homes. After everyone had processed into the church we celebrated the Eucharist, with Our Lady standing in a place of honour behind the altar. Once the Eucharist was finished the congregation processed with the statue outside to the parish grounds where the festivities continued into the late afternoon under very pleasant December skies.
This celebration was a heartfelt affirmation of the role of Mary, Our Lady, in the lives of her people. The affection with which the Mexican people hold Our Lady of Guadalupe was palpable. I could feel the sense of warmth and solidarity, which she symbolized, emanating from the crowd. Within the bosom of Our Lady of Guadalupe many of the people find welcome and protection both of which are sorely needed given the hardship and discrimination many Mexicans face within the United States today.
The plight of Mexicans is not unique. Many migrants around the world face obstacles to employment and citizenship, including my own county of Canada. Indeed, few countries have a monopoly on unjust immigration regulations. It is no surprise then that Mary, the mother of all, holds such currency for migrants and the dispossessed. She is the one who symbolizes welcome, protection and openness to life that is essential for all peoples to thrive.
One need not be an explicitly religious person to recognize the impact of Our Lady for people. Indeed, noted philosopher Emmanuel Levinas often argued that the feminine principle of hospitality animates the world and through hospitality the human person cooperates with the Creator in the necessary repair of the world. It should not surprise us to witness that both men and women can be carriers of hospitality for this feminine principle transcends genders. Our Lady, then, provides a meaningful model of hospitality and she constantly calls us to listen to our best selves and to welcome all who come to our doors.
What a world it would be if our politics made more room for hospitality. What a world it would be if more communities highlighted welcome and protection of the most vulnerable. What a world it would be if we as a species could honour the primal hospitality the earth has shown us by living in communion with nature. We are a long way from a world where the feminine is valued. But, it is as available to us today as it has been throughout history.
As I approach the final days of Advent and hustle to finish the last minute preparations for Christmas, I find myself asking myself, “Have I been hospitable enough? Where do I need to make room for the ‘other’? Where do I need to stand for the ‘more’ that continues to seek to be born in our world, transforming and humanizing our world?” For today, I give thanks to Our Lady and to the people who carried her aloft that fine Sunday in Phoenix for serving as witnesses to the power of hospitality to heal our hearts and our world.
Your reflection on Our Lady which stemmed from your reconnection with your priest friend and the devotion, I would say, of his mostly poor parishioners, to Our Lady of Guadalupe, is not only very informative but very inspirational to me, linking as it does, and reminding me, of the association of our Mother, the Mother of Jesus, God’s Son, with hospitality. I recently gave a piece of jewellery to a friend-I call it this because you wouldn’t be able to buy it from a store selling Christian objects in Australia. It was an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe set amidst real tiny dried flowers, enclosed in an oval case of some kind of special glass, on a long chain. My friend is poor and devoted to Our Lady so I knew she would like it as there has been little beauty and tangible expressions of religious comfort in her life in recent times. God did not make us pure spirits but human beings, and hospitality is a fruit of the Holy Spirit though given another name like “kindness”. This religious object is handmade by a Mexican family who seem to have formed a cottage industry, primarily by hand crafting all kinds of this tedious jewellery for sale overseas. I was very much tempted not to part with it but I rarely wear jewellery, so it would be wasted on me. I do have a Marian devotion of sorts but not at all like that associated with the Spanish culture. Also, your blog brought in many themes tangentially which has stirred and freshened my memory for prayer and what I call uplifting ‘God thoughts’ during the day. You mention the philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, who seems to have incorporated many startling original spiritual ideas in his writings, but common folk such as myself, need intellectually gifted people like you to pull the threads out and weave them in such a way as you have done here, so that they are not lost in the plethora of spiritual offerings available to us today. Thank you for your reflection.
Thank you Carolyn for your kind response. It is true that Our Lady has a universal appeal and I suspect the friend to whom you gave the Mexican pendant of Our Lady of Guadalupe was comforted. I shall continue to try to integrate the wisdom of others in my writing. Wishing you all the best as you journey in Australia. Michael