Editor’s note: Please see the related story, “Homily on feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe addresses agricultural workers”
Peace be with you! We are building a basilica. Like Juan Diego, we are building a basilica. Why?
Listen, again, to the words she speaks to Juan Diego as he makes his way to visit his sick uncle: “I will give [my Son] to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection; because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
This is the point of the Basilica. With the Basilica, the Blessed Virgin Mary is telling Juan Diego at Tepeyac that she wants to present a gift from her Son, Jesus Christ, a gift of her compassion for all in the land who bring her their sorrows and sufferings.
Note the response of Juan Diego: “Yo soy nada más que una escalera de tabla.” “I am nothing more than a walking plank.” Juan Diego cannot believe his ears. He cannot believe she wants him to go to the bishop. He considers himself so low and so insignificant that such a lofty goal in building a basilica to house the gift of Her compassion for simple people like him is beyond him. He thinks she should choose someone more powerful and more significant.
Yet what does the Blessed Virgin Mary say to Juan Diego in response? “A ti.” “Yo te he elegido a ti.” She tells him that she knows well that she could choose someone more powerful and more notable and more educated. But she does do this. Rather she tells him that despite his doubts and despite his avoidance of her during his second trip to his sick uncle, she has selected him: “A ti.” “Yo te he eligido a ti.”
As bishop, I am painfully aware of how hard it is to assimilate the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a message for us today. Certainly there are real and legitimate concerns on the part of our civil authorities on border security, human trafficking, and the drug trade as well as gang violence. But when political leaders at the highest level of the government generalize Mexican immigrants with harsh and prejudicial language, they destroy the very fabric of trust we need to address serious issues of public policy.
Even more, such distortions on the national level overlook the local reality here in the Yakima Valley. A true reading of history reveals that when America sent an army to Europe in World War II, Mexico sent an army of workers — “braceros” — here to the Yakima Valley to pick the fruit. Ever since, we have never had a local labor force sufficient to meet the demands of a growing and globalized agricultural industry, which, today, is worth around $50 billion per year — the largest sector of the Washington State economy.
Families from rural Mexico often have long-standing ties with families here in Central Washington. This is why it is morally wrong and reprehensible to blame either workers from Mexico or growers here in the Valley for this situation. The responsibility for this situation lies clearly and directly with governmental leadership of both political parties unresponsive to the local conditions here in Central Washington.
How, then, can we live this message of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Juan Diego and make it part of our lives in this climate of moral and political corruption? Permit me to take a page from a rather little-known leader from the Czech Republic — Vaclav Havel. He was a playwright by profession during the post-World War II period. After the fall of communism he became president of his country. Later in life, he became friends with Pope John Paul the Second and when he died in 2011 his prison cellmate — Miroslav Cardinal Vlk — celebrated a “Te Deum” Mass for his soul even though Vaclav Havel was not a believer.
During the height of the communist totalitarian rule, Vaclav Havel wrote an essay in 1978 titled, “The Power of the Powerless.” There, he laid out a vision for combatting corruption and deadlocked political power that had gripped his country. In a nutshell, Vaclav Havel proposed that the way to overcome a corrupt and unresponsive political system was to create pockets and spaces of freedom – in our private homes, among our closest friends, and with trusted co-workers. In these spaces of freedom, we can live and express our deepest aspirations, our most profound desires, and our most firmly held beliefs – including our religious beliefs. These spaces of freedom would slowly erode the gridlock of corrupt politics. Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” became a bridge between believers and non-believers leading to friendship — including his friendship with Pope John Paul the Second.
Friends, this is what we do tonight. We are building a space of freedom. By hearing the command of Our Lady of Guadalupe to San Juan Diego as our own, we are building a basilica of faith. We are claiming our basic human dignity that cannot be limited by any lack of legal status and cannot be corrupted by a broken immigration system. We stand together this night in all of its wonder before the beauty the Blessed Virgin Mary as she appeared to San Juan Diego, conscious of the fact that she reflects the beauty and dignity of each of us — not only of our earthly humanity — but the eternal beauty of the soul God has given each and every one of us.
Our capacity to confront failed immigration laws comes precisely because we stand upon an eternal and moral natural law. We stand here fulfilling our God-given obligations to raise our children, to keep our families united and to feed them — not simply the food we harvest — but the eternal food of God. In the Eucharist, we receive God’s very presence and God’s very strength to grow and spread this God-given freedom and this God-given dignity with the hopes that some day those in public office will catch on to what we already know from natural moral law: that our human dignity does not hinge on the whims of changing political fortune, but ultimately comes from a God who chooses to take on our humanity with all its sorrows, struggles and sufferings.
“Yo te he elegido a ti.” Those words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to San Juan Diego are words spoken to you. You are chosen. You are chosen to live fully a profound human dignity that no political power and no social movement can ever destroy. You are chosen! You are chosen to build a basilica of faith! “Yo te he eligido a ti!”
So let us return to those words of comfort given to San Juan Diego by Our Lady at Tepeyac: “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”
“Yo te he elegido a ti!” May we continue to heed the command given to San Juan Diego and build the basilica of faith! Peace be with you!