Tuesday, December 8, 2015

When Mary Was Mixed Race: Mary and a Catholic Approach to Social Justice

Praised Be Jesus!

I hope that everyone is doing well and navigating the crazy change of weather — Jersey has been a mess! As we journey on now that the Synod of the Family has drawn to a close, and we will soon see what the Holy Father plans to do with the challenges facing the modern family. Many of the issues in the modern world do fall into the realm of Catholic social teaching and how we are to respond to the many cultural and justice issues in our day-to-day lives.

I was listening to one of my favorite songs recently, "La Guadalupana," which recounts the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico. There's a line in the song that states "her face was Mexican," which seems like something very minor — after all, the image is from Mexico — but in a broader context, this simple fact has deep implications. The Apparitions of Mary at Guadalupe came at a very tenuous time in the history of Mexico. It was a time of great strife, the Spanish had little success in colonizing and converting the Aztec people, and the Aztec people were fiercely resisting the Spanish's efforts to colonize and evangelize.

And then came the miraculous image, and then the largest mass conversion happened in all the history of the Church. There is something striking about the image itself that tends to get overlooked by other facts about the image, and especially by the fact that the conversions largely ended the worship of Aztec gods. But the fact the the Virgin is biracial tends to escape our modern conversation about the image and the impact it had. The image pictures Mary as offspring of the the native Aztec and Spanish settlers, but interestingly enough, the image has more Aztec symbolism than it does Spanish: Mary comes as an Aztec princess, with the constellations in her mantle, pictured in the blazing sun with the crescent moon under her feet, and in her womb she is bearing child, as indicated by the black sash.

In a sense, Mary is reaching into the culture and a history of a people: She is in solidarity with them, she knows their pains and trials, their joys and what they hold dear and value, but at the same time, Mary calls all to unity in their diversity, for she herself is of mixed blood. She is both Spanish and Aztec. Mary reaches beyond the breach of culture and racial identity and seeks to make them one, without destroying one or the other.

There seems to be a breakdown in the modern social justice movement. We hear of social justice in the realms of modern feminism, the gay rights movement, and many forms of outreach to help the poor and impoverished. Many Catholics find themselves at odds with the idea of social justice because it appears in conflict with the Church, and so they never give the Church's actual social teaching a second glance. What the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe teach us is God's plan for unity and justice among people in a way that takes no side, as well as how to serve Christ in all people.

The first striking detail about the Guadalupe's image is that she is of mixed race, she is Mestizo, a mix of the native Aztec people and the Spanish, so in her becomes infused the people who are at odds with each other. In many cases, the Spanish thought those whom they were evangelizing (and outright colonizing) were beneath them, savages who needed to be Europeanized to be considered civil. Mary puts an end to this: She assumes in herself what is considered inferior and makes it a part of her identity. She becomes God's vision for a unified society, a society where no one is considered less-than, but has equal dignity as children of the Creator, Our Father in Heaven.

Mary becomes a palpable symbol of what Saint Paul writes to the Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." How many times have we looked upon someone who is in need, someone who is hurting and refused to help him or her because he or she either didn't live the same way we did, or saw the world in a manner that was different from us? Have we sought to serve Christ beyond the differences that we see or perceive?

Another striking aspect of the image is what our Lady is that she is wearing traditional Aztec dress. It is in this gesture that Our Lady takes on the identity of a community. She takes on a community's culture, their history, their joys, and pains, she does not sublimate a people but instead affirms and shows proudly who they are, and seeks solidarity with an oppressed people. Are there people in and around us whom we seek to want to hide from? Do we go out of our way to pretend people wouldn't exist so that we wont feel criticized by our peers? Solidarity is a striking element of Catholic social teaching. Solidarity seeks within itself to identify with The Other, as Christ stood in solidarity with the widowed, the orphan, and many times with sinners, so too do we need to stand with those who have been marginalized in society — and sometimes even in our own Church. Pope Francis is constantly urging us to seek out who is invisible in our own backyards: Who are the people we consciously ignore? These are the people who need us the most and need to be shown Christ's face in us.

And last of all, Our Lady in the image is a pregnant woman; in her womb, she is bearing Christ Jesus for all humanity. Before anything else, we are to be a new Theotokos, bearing God to all of humanity. Mary's maternal mission becomes our mission, as Christ is once again made flesh to others in each and everyone of us, it is by bringing Him and His light into society that we have true justice. It is in Him the we have true union. It is the message of the Gospel which "sets captives free" and seeks to reconcile all humanity, no matter where people find themselves in life. And it is always our mission to serve Christ in others, no matter who they are or what their dispositions are. There is a beautiful part of the Legion of Mary Promise that states that through us "the person of our Lord may be once again seen and served by Mary his mother" and that person of Christ is our neighbor, it is the outcast and it is the marginalized, and this is the Christ we are called to serve.

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