With God, nothing is impossible!

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1999 -- Genesis 3, 9-15, 20 + Ephesians 1, 3-6, 11-12 + Luke 1, 26-38

Blessed Juan Diego, December 9, 1999-- Isaiah 41, 13-20 + Matthew 11, 11-15

December 10, 1999 Isaiah 48, 17-19 + Matthew 11, 16-19

December 11, 1999 Sirach 48, 1-4, 9-11 + Matthew 17, 10-13

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Right at the beginning, the pattern is set. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Which just goes to show, the more things change, the more they remain the same. When these words were first committed to print, the dominant mode of transportation was walking, the rich rode horses or camels. Subsistence farming was the rule, and starvation was never far from the land. Technology was very rudimentary -- wheels, carts, levers, olive presses. No radio, no TV, no printing press, very few literate people. Today we can crash our satellites into Mars, fly to Europe in a few hours, turn on a switch and use electricity that may have been generated across the continent, and etc. Yet today as then, we aren't very interested in accepting responsibility for our actions.

We have very good reasons why we aren't responsible. It's not our fault, it's those bad evil corporations (where do those corporations get their money?). It's not our fault, it's the government (who elected the government?). It's not our fault, people are poor because they are lazy (who contributes to the structures of sin that oppress the poor?).

On this solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, we also learn something about our nature as human beings -- predestined to be sons and daughters of God. The Governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, who also happens to be a Roman Catholic, hopefully listened carefully to the second reading when he went to mass Wednesday, as lately he has taken to calling some poor people "white trash" and "black trash", a very sad situation (let us keep him in our prayers).

We are given on this feast day the gospel of the Annunciation. We read of an angel sent to Mary, a poor peasant woman in a land on which the Roman yoke of oppression lay heavy. Unmarried, she is told that she would bear a child, the Messiah, whose rule would cover the earth. She is also told that her cousin Elizabeth, previously without children, had also conceived and this memorable phrase -- "with God, nothing is impossible."

How hard it is to have trust in that phrase -- but how crucial is such trust to our faith and praxis as Christians in this world, for we are God's hands and feet, the Body of Christ. So it is not impossible that justice will come upon the earth -- it is not impossible that the rich will stop their oppressions of the poor -- it is not impossible to think that the United States government might abandon its wicked ways and turn towards Beauty, Justice, Wisdom, and Love. It is also not impossible that the United States will collapse onto the ash heap of history, even though we so sure of our grandeur and our military might.

Isaiah writes to us of the Liberator of Israel, the Messiah, who says "Fear not, I am with you." (There's that phrase again.) Don't be dismayed, the Lord is our God -- he will strengthen us and help us and uphold us with justice. Strength, help, justice -- surely with this God, nothing is impossible.

What happens to those who fight against the Lord and his people -- who oppress the poor and levy injustice? They will perish, Isaiah says, they will come to nothing. The desert will bloom, the poor and afflicted will be comforted -- and when we see this happening, we will know that the hand of the Lord is among us, the Holy One of Israel has done this.

Sirach gives us poetry, a song of joy about the great prophet Elijah, who ministered in Israel before it was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians. He compares Elijah's ministry to a cleansing of fire.

The gospels for the days following the Immaculate Conception speak of John the Baptist, and compare his ministry to that of Elijah, and interpret the ancient scriptures that foretell the "second coming" of Elijah to refer to John the Baptist. In the anticipation of Christmas, it is easy to forget the strong social justice component of John's preaching, but to do so is to do violence to Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Church. His call to repentance was directed to all people -- and this did not exclude the ruling classes. His language directed at the rulers was pointed, scathing, and his ascetical lifestyle was a judgment upon the lives of indolent luxury financed by offerings extorted from the poor and injustices committed against them.

On Thursday we remember the Blessed Juan Diego, an Aztec of Mexico, to whom our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as an Aztec maiden. As we tell this story, we often focus on the effect this apparition had on the evangelization of the Aztecs, but there is another aspect to this. At that time -- and since then -- the indigenous peoples of Mexico were looked upon with scorn by their Spanish rulers. The conquistadores were fond of committing ruthless atrocities against the Aztecs, and even though at least one pope of the era issued a bull forbidding the enslavement of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, they were nevertheless a conquered people whose lands were stolen and their civilization destroyed. Thus, our Lady's decision to appear as an Aztec maiden is also a condemnation of the ruthless racism that was characteristic of the Conquest of the Americas by the Europeans. She appeared at that time in history -- not as a Spanish lady, but as a woman of a despised and persecuted race, and she appeared not to the Bishop, but to a poor man.

Thus our Lady ever takes her place in solidarity with those who are persecuted and rejected. Do we have the courage to follow her example?

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