15th Sunday Ordinary Time A

“Revealed to little ones”

When Our Lady made her special “visits” to Lourdes and Fatima, she appeared not to wealthy and powerful citizens but to what today’s Alleluia verse calls the “little ones.” The same was true in 1531 when she appeared in this hemisphere, at Guadalupe, Mexico. “Our Lady of Guadalupe” revealed herself not to any hidalgo or hierarch, but to an illiterate Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, a devout convert to the Faith. She ordered Juan, “my little son,” to tell the bishop of Mexico City that she wanted him to build a church dedicated to her patronage at the spot of her suburban apparition.

Although he was doubtlessly timid about approaching a bishop, the Indian followed directions. Juan de Zumarraga, the Franciscan bishop of Mexico City, was a good man, but too prudent to accept any tale of apparitions without further investigation. When Juan returned to him twice more on Our Lady’s insistence, the Bishop said he was unwilling to act unless the Lady gave him some sign that she was the Mother of God. Finally, on December 12, 1531, Mary greeted Juan once again and gave him not one but two signs for Bishop Zumarraga. She told the Aztec to go up the hill to a certain place and pick a bouquet of roses. Now, this was not the season for roses, and the patch, which he knew well, was usually tangle of weeds rather than a garden. Yet he now found it full of sweet and beautiful flowers. After he had cut them, Our Lady herself arranged them in the lap of his tilma, a sort of poncho worn as a cloak. He must hold the front edges of the cloak close to his shoulders, she said, so the roses would not fall; and he must keep it there until he was in the bishop’s presence.

Juan Diego set out for the city and was ushered again into the presence of Bishop Zumarraga. Kneeling, he told the bishop that he had brought this sign. Then he let fall the hem of the tilma. The roses dropped to the floor. But a second marvel appeared. On Juan Diego’s cloak there was a colored picture of Mary just as he had seen her, a figure 56 inches high. At once, bishop Zumarraga and his companions fell to their knees. This was indeed a sign. The bishop obeyed Our Lady and built the shrine in her honor, installing over the altar the portrait that Juan Diego had brought him.

The picture on the tilma has been an object not only of spiritual devotion but of a scientific interest second only to that shown to the Holy Shroud of Turin. Scientists have agreed not only that the coarsely woven burlap-like figure on the tilma should have long since decayed but also that the picture on it is not a painting. In 1951, one of the scientific investigators discovered something still more surprising. Using a magnifying glass, he discovered in the eye of the image the reflection of the face of a bearded man. The then Archbishop of Mexico City undertook a new investigation which discovered in both of the eyes three figures, not one. The main bearded figure corresponded with sixteenth century portraits of Juan Diego. The other two resembled Bishop Ranival, known to have been on hand February 12, 1531, and Juan Gonzalez, Bishop Zummarraga’s interpreter. Now, reflections of bystanders do not appear in hand-painted eyes. They do appear in photographs. Was Mary herself in the room that day; and was the picture a kind of miraculous photo of herself and those present?

However the image may have been impregnated on the cloak, the reflections of people in her eyes suggests that she “had her eye” on all of them. You and I may be unimportant “little people,” but it is good to know that Mary has her eyes on us. Why not? Isn’t she the second Eve, the Mother of all the sons and daughters of God?

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q327: Isn’t there a kind of “magical” quality being applied to the interpretation of today’s First Reading (Is 55:10-11) that diminishes its message?

The first two words out of the Lord’s mouth, as conveyed by Isaiah, are vitally important: “just as”… A powerful comparison is being drawn here between something that every human being can relate to – rain – and the Word of God. Note that the one long sentence which comprises the entire First Reading conveys several meaningful images. “Rain and snow” do many things: they provide moisture to the earth which prepares it for farming, which produces the seed which is later used to plant in order to produce more seed; and eventually that seed becomes the bread we eat which sustains our life.

In the same way, the Word of God is not an empty gesture, it produces an effect. Like rain, the Word is sent for a purpose; it fulfills that purpose by preparing our souls to produce good fruit. Furthermore, since it is part of God’s plan, God’s Word cannot fail in accomplishing what it was sent to do, despite all the “weeds” and vandalism which it encounters. Some seed (God’s Word) will not be successful because of the hardness of the ground (hearts) it encounters. But there is always a faithful remnant who will “hear” God’s Word and respond in faith by acting upon that word.

Because it is God’s plan, there is no “magical” quality about it. God’s Will always will be accomplished, through human beings, even though resistance and dissent may delay the final bountiful harvest.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Catholics encounter this “imperishable seed” of the Word of God in our Baptism, where it produces its life-giving effect (CCC #1228). We Catholics pray daily for our daily Bread of Life, which our Faith tells us is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ received in the Eucharist (CCC #2835).

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Q484: How can I tell if I am “hard hearted” like certain Pharisee leaders that Jesus had to deal with regularly?

Some folks just do not want to hear truth. Jesus called them “hard-hearted.” But he also had a way to make them listen. If he spelled out clearly just how dumb and stupid they were, and how they were working against God’s plan by placing obstacles in the way of people’s spiritual journey, then they would ignore him or attack him. So instead he would Tell Stories. He had a special kind of story, called a Parable. It had a moral point to make, but did not attack anyone explicitly. Instead, you had to reflect on the story, and find the underlying truth – as well as the identity of the real-life culprits being criticized (which just might be you and me).

For example, how do you tell the Pharisees that they are “hard-hearted” because they will neither listen to nor accept his teachings about the kingdom of God? Well, “There was a sower who went out to sow some seed…some fell on rocky ground…and it withered for lack of roots.” And later, Jesus explains his parable, saying in part, “The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it.” The Pharisees probably knew that he was talking about them; but there was nothing they could do about it, because it was all “hidden” within the parable; no direct accusations had been made, no names had been dropped. So all they could do was burn and seethe with anger.

Resistance to God’s call to change our ways is “hardness of heart.” A modern example would be resistance to the Church’s teachings on faith and morals (such as contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment). Sometimes the seeds of the Church’s teachings just fall on rocky ground, or on the barren path of our hearts. The Evil One is very active today!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! You and I are called to “sow” God’s word in our children, and to live out the values that Jesus “sowed” in us through his Church; but first we must open our hardened hearts and become true disciples (CCC #546). Consider “telling stories” to illustrate the truth in the message you are trying to convey.

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And the Rain Came Down and Brought Forth the Fruit

Today’s reading from Isaiah reminds me of a year which was quite different from this year. All through May and June we had very little rain. My lawn was dry with ugly blotches of brown all over. Then the rain came and things started growing and getting green again. Isaiah, speaking to the exiled Hebrews in Babylon, told them not to give up hope. The Lord had spoken and like the rain his Word would produce its fruit in due time. In his Gospel Matthew writes for a community of early Christians’ who had to adjust to new challenges and problems. A farmer listening to Jesus’ words would easily identify with the problems of working the weedy sun-dried soil even if he did manage to get a living out of it. But Jesus talked about a yield of a hundred times better. Jesus wasn’t talking mere farming, he was talking about the wonderful effects on human life from the rain-like Word of God.

Lord God, you sent your Word to become flesh and enable us to share in your divine life. Help us to prepare the soil of our lives so that the divine seed may take root and come to fruition in us.

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