It is that time of year again when someone somewhere has to write an article lamenting the commercialisation of Christmas, though it has to be said that these type of articles have faced some competition of late from articles lamenting the campaign by the politically correct to abolish Christmas altogether. Poor old Christmas: attacked on one side by rabid secularism, and on the other by demented consumerism. Never stood a chance.
Those of us who like our Christmases to be strictly religious are really in for a tough time. Of course, if you loathe it altogether, you are really quite lucky, as you can go to one of the several countries that have in fact made Christmas celebrations illegal, such as Saudi Arabia or North Korea. If you want to have a purely religious celebration, one needs to make a different journey, an interior one, into one’s own soul, as well as into one’s parish church.
At present, we are well placed for this spiritual journey, as we do not only have the season of Advent to help us should we choose to observe it properly, and keep Christmas at the appropriate time, that is, not before the evening of December 24; we also have two great Marian feasts approaching: the Immaculate Conception, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The first of these underlines the perfect co-operation that exists between the Divine and the human as seen in the figure of Our Blessed Lady filled with grace from the moment of her conception, anticipating as she does the grace won for us by Christ her Son. As Mary is, so all Christians should aspire to be; as Mary is, all Christians can be, thanks to the grace of Christ.
Mary reminds us that God does not have low expectations of humanity, and we should not have low expectations of ourselves either. The Immaculate Conception is the feast of humanity, being the feast of the greatest and most spotless of human beings, the sole boast of our fallen nature. In this it resembles Christmas, that other feast of, among other things, humanity and human warmth, being the birth of the blessed child of Bethlehem.
The second Marian feast, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is steadily becoming more popular here in Europe, as is only fitting. The appearance of the Virgin to St Juan Diego in 1531 (on the eve of the English Reformation, funnily enough) marks one of the turning points of Catholic history. For the Virgin is the great evangeliser of the peoples of the New World, and it is thanks to her that the New World was, as the Catholic monarchs of Spain intended, claimed for Christ.
Moreover, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego with the features of a Mexican woman, and wearing the traditional maternity dress of the Aztec people: this, the image on the tilma, is the only image we have of Our Lady pregnant with Our Lord, a fitting image for December and Advent, and a wonderful image for us all as we contemplate the Incarnation.
Also of note is that Our Lady is seen as standing on the moon, robed with the sun, and crowned with 12 stars, as in Revelation 12:1, that is to say, displaying the iconographic attributes of the Immaculate Conception. As at Lourdes, so at Guadalupe: the Blessed Virgin comes to us as the Immaculate Conception. This is how she wants to be known to her fellow human beings.