Tuesday, May 1, 2012

After Guadalupe: Rise and Fall of a Catholic Culture

Reposted for new Sky View readers:

Divine Providence: Preparing the Way

From the very beginning, the visit of Our Lady of Guadalupe had the marks of Divine Providence. Before Christopher Columbus asked the Isabel in 1492, Queen of Spain, to sponsor his exploration to the New World, he stopped to pray at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Spain. And as Queen Isabel considered his request, she spent two weeks praying at the same shrine.

Tradition has it that “the shrine housed a statue reputed to have been carved by Luke the Evangelist and given to Saint Leander, archbishop of Seville, by Pope Gregory I. When Seville was taken by the Moors, a group of priests fled northward and buried the statue in the hills near the Guadalupe River in Extremadura. At the beginning of the 14th century, a shepherd claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to him and ordered him to ask priests to dig at the site of the apparition. Excavating priests rediscovered the hidden statue and built a small shrine around it which evolved into the great Guadalupe monastery.”

In any event, it was also providential that the three ships Columbus used were named, Santa Maria (St. Mary), Nina (Little girl) and the Pinta (Painted image). Of course, this was prophetic reference to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe some 39 years in advance.

Our Lady of Guadalupe:

It is interesting to note that the Blessed Virgin waited until the Church arrived to do her work. She could have appeared to the Aztecs before 1519, that is, before Cortes and the Conquistadors arrived on the shores of Mexico. But she did not. Quite often she will wait for her sons and daughters so that they too can share in her work.

To summarize, there were three miracles associated with this Marian apparition. The first was that the Blessed Virgin Mary had Juan Diego gather roses from Tepeyac Hill in the middle of December when roses did not grow at that time. Second was her miraculously impressed image on Juan’s tilma. And third, it would seem that this is no less miraculous, and that is the conversion of about nine million Indians between 1531 and 1541. From this unprecedented sanctification of souls, a Catholic culture was born. It may be a surprise to many that Mexican culture between 1531 and 1761 was not inferior to European or American culture during this time period.

Mexico’s Greatness: Culture of Life

Take for instance, the early 1800’s. The lot of Mexican Indians at this time was comparable to their northern neighbor in America. Catholic missionaries had managed to build a culture no less impressive than what had been achieved on the North American continent up to that point. The U.S. Bishops, in their defense of the Church in Mexico (which had undergone terrible persecutions by the Communists during the 1920’s) chronicled for the world the praiseworthy achievements of the Church in Mexico. In their 1926 Pastoral Letter, the U.S. Bishops provided the following points for all to consider:

• To Mexico goes the glory of the first book, the first printing press, the first school, the first college, and the first university in the New World, and to Mexico's Catholic missionaries should go her gratitude for these distinctions

• Indeed, the building of hospitals and orphanages seems to have been the favorite work of many bishops, who paid for them out of the revenues not needed for the support of their households and the Cost of managing their large dioceses. The hospitals in particular were the best that the times knew and superior to those of Europe.

• Bishop Zumarraga went is indicated by one of his letters to the King of Spain written in 1537: "That which occupies my thoughts, to which my will is most inclined and my small forces Strive, is that in this city and in every diocese there shall be a college for Indian boys learning grammar at least, and a great establishment with room for a large number of the daughters of the Indians."

• Foundation of this college was the Indian's original and most effective methods of instruction. Among orators, an Indian bishop, Nicolas del Puerto, holds a place of distinction.

• A bibliography of the books written by Mexicans before the First Revolution fills many large volumes and in it the Indian has no small place. To whom the credit? To the Church which the Mexican government informs the world gave nothing to its country.

• At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Mexico had proportionally more colleges and more students in them, as well as less illiteracy, than even Great Britain, a testimony given her by a writer in a recent number of a London magazine [i.e. around 1926].

Mexico’s Decline: Culture of Death

As to this Mexican culture which, no doubt, was marked with progress and charity, the Pastoral Letter adds that this “fine picture fades and is replaced by one of sadness when, more than a century ago [i.e. late 1700’s, early 1800’s], Mexico's internal troubles began.”

When Secular-humanism or liberalism begins to take root in a nation’s soil, that is, in its institutions, then sooner or later what comes forth is a soft kind of Socialism or a hard-core Communistic State. In the early 20th century, it was the later for Mexico. The Communists were no less barbaric than their pagan predecessors, the pre-Christian Aztecs. In fact, while the Aztecs believed they were pleasing the gods of war by offering human sacrifices, the Mexican Communists, on the other hand, executed its own citizens for mere political purposes.

“Why, then,” the U.S. Bishops asked, “did Mexico advance to such a high place from the depths of savagery, there stop and begin to retrograde, while the United States went on and climbed to her present eminence?” Guilt must be assigned to anti-religious Mexican revolutionists. The Pastoral Letter continues: “Ask that question of the closed university, the suppressed colleges, the empty schools, the confiscated monasteries and convents, students scattered in other lands, the muzzled press, the Laws of Reform, the sword, the gun, the violated ballot box.” Again, the U.S. Bishops do us the favor of summarizing the events which led to Mexico’s downfall:

• The history of the decline of education in Mexico begins with the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1761…College after college had to be given up, most of them closed by the predecessors of President Calles. Gomez Farias closed the University of Mexico, the first university on this continent, in 1833. Reopened by Catholics, it was closed again by Comonfort in 1857. Again reopened one year later, Juarez closed it in 1861. The Liberal Cabinet of the weak Maximilian put an end to it in 1865. Later it descended to about the grade of a high school and, with some exceptions in certain departments, it has scarcely more than that rank today.

• In two generations, she had lost what three centuries of peace and cultivation had won for her; her churches seized; her wealth, formerly dedicated to education and social welfare, turned over to the looter. The worst elements rose to power and for them power was merely the road to riches. The subversive Jacobin doctrines [from the French Revolution], an evil legacy carried like a taint in the blood from generation to generation, yet prevail; but the buildings of the Church, monuments of education and social betterment, still stand, changed, alas, to other and often ignoble uses. Solidly, often beautifully constructed, many remain as barracks, prisons, hotels, and offices.

• The Constitution of 1857 declared the union of Church and State to be dissolved.

• While Mexico's "patriots" destroyed and ate up her own substance and sold her birthright as, one by one, her schools were closed, her teachers driven out, and her welfare institutions turned over to other uses. Many of these were sold at nominal prices to enrich the families of the revolutionists.

• Those that stand today are monuments to a zeal and devotion that promised great things for the Mexican people, but which is now fast becoming a memory of a light that once astonished by its brilliancy and power; for the early progress of Mexico under the care of its missionaries was the admiration of the world. But figures speak louder than words.

• In fact, such laws [depriving its citizens of civil and religious liberties] hark back to paganism. Were they to prevail they would show civil society to have been marching, not in advance, but in a circle; and again arriving, in this our day, at the point from which it started with the dawn of Christianity.

Lessons for America:

It is good for us to know that what the Church had built-up can be torn down and what has been found by Christ can be lost again. As Hilaire Belloc and T.S. Eliot both admitted, once a civilization has ascended the mountain of God to learn his truth and experience his goodness only to descend from that summit afterwards, the attempt to reverse course is ever so difficult. In fact, climbing the mountain for the first time is much easier than turning around and going back up it a second time.

Mexico could have been a great nation. Its history serves as a lesson for America’s survival. What made Mexico great during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is what made America great: The cause of greatness was none of other than the light of the Gospel. But what is equally important to know is that the winds which fiercely blew against Mexico, bringing it down to almost a third-world country status, are the very winds which blow threw America today.

Ultimately, no man-made solution can calm destructive winds. However, the very substance of what led to Mexico’s and America’s greatness is to be found in what leads to their recovery. The Franciscan’s took great risks in traveling overseas and preaching the Gospel to a new and foreign people. Their toil and preaching were the seeds of new life for Central America. However, planting seeds is never enough. They must receive sufficient sunlight and be watered for the harvest. This is where Our Lady of Guadalupe cames in. She bestowed heaven's blessings upon the Church’s work in the New World. As a result, justice, progress and charity flourished in Mexico for over two centuries.

Just as history can repeat itself with evil, it can likewise repeat itself with the good. But it will not happen without the Mother of God and her Christ-child. With her Son, she is the chosen instrument of God to bring about a desperately needed renewal of the human spirit and civilization itself. She is the template of fidelity, purity and self-sacrifice. She is also living proof that wisdom and moral goodness comes from God. Her aid is not just for citizens but for rulers as well.

As the Three Kings from the Orient came to find the new born Messiah, the light of nations, in the arms of Mary, today's political leaders will find him in those arms. Without rulers of nations acknowledging Christ as King and Mary as Queen, the world will be riddled with the human cruelty of ancient paganism and modern totalitarianism. Guadalupe and the history of Mexico provides a potentially life-saving lesson for America: Mexico could have been as great as America if it had not been menaced by an aggressive form of Secular-liberalism. What is even more important for us to consider is that America could very well look like Mexico if it succumbs to the same foe of political and cultural prosperity.