As I preach today from Mission Santa Clara, on this Feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe, I begin by pausing to acknowledge that Mission Santa Clara and Santa Clara University sit on the land of the Ohlone and the Muwekma Ohlone people, who trace their ancestry through the Missions Dolores, Santa Clara, and San Jose. We remember their connection to this region and give thanks for the opportunity to live, work, learn, and pray on their traditional homeland. Let us take a moment of silence to pay respect to their Elders and to all Ohlone people past and present.
Growing-up in an Azorean and Argentinian Catholic household, I encountered Mary, the mother of Jesus, on a daily basis. Whether sitting to pray the rosary with my grandmother, singing Marian hymns in Portuguese with my Tia Celeste, or picking roses from our garden to place before Mary’s statue on our home altar, I grew-up with the sense that Mary was ever-present. To be honest, I didn’t always understand why my grandmother and great-aunt had such a strong devotion to Mary. Whenever Mary was mentioned in my catechism class or during a priest’s homily, she was often described as passive, quiet, and obedient. I couldn’t understand why my grandmother and great-aunt – strong women who constantly encouraged me to follow my own path – resonated with this woman who seemed so unlike them. What I didn’t realize then, and what I have come to realize in these many years since their passing, is that my grandmother and great-aunt were in tune with what Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson refers to as “the dangerous memory of Mary.” Drawing on the work of Catholic political theologian Johann Baptist Metz, Johnson argues that recalling the “dangerous memory of Mary” challenges depictions of Mary’s life that attempt to neutralize its radical implications for pushing against injustice and its call to stand in compassionate solidarity with all who suffer.
In both choices for gospel readings today, we see this “dangerous memory of Mary” at work. In the story of the Annunciation, for example, we do not see Mary quietly and passively acquiescing to God’s will. Instead, we see Mary actively “pondering” the angel Gabriel’s greeting, questioning “how can this be” that she will conceive the “Son of the Most High,” and consenting to this invitation by stating: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Similarly, in the story of the Visitation, we see Mary determinedly “setting out” in “haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant after being “barren” for many years. It’s important to note that “barrenness” (or infertility) is a condition that would have brought Elizabeth much suffering in a world where God’s favor and a woman’s worth were believed to be evidenced in the ability to bear multiple children. Indeed, even to this day, in many parts of our world and in the Catholic Church, a woman’s primary vocation is seen as motherhood – whether physical or spiritual – and her worth is often bound-up in how she uses, or does not use, her sexuality. Yet in the story of the Visitation, we witness an encounter between two women who do not fit these definitions of “womanhood.” Instead, we see a young girl, pregnant out of wedlock, going to visit her older female cousin who is now pregnant after suffering from infertility and social rejection. Remarkably, in a world that does not recognize them, they recognize the divine within each other and themselves.
The ability to recognize the divine within each other and ourselves is a theme that is also present in the apparition story of La Virgen de Guadalupe whose Feast we celebrate today. It is important to note that official church teaching categorizes Marian apparitions as matters of “private” rather than “public” revelation and therefore does not consider them intrinsic to Catholic faith. Nevertheless, in examining the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe and her prominent role in the lives of Latinx Catholics (as well as many other people) I believe that we find within it, too, a “dangerous memory.” Namely, in the story of La Virgen’s encounter with Juan Diego, is the dangerous memory of the Nahua people resisting the dehumanization of Spanish imperialism by seeing themselves reflected in the divine. Furthermore, as a mestiza, La Virgen de Guadalupe not only brings together the Spanish and Mesoamerican, but she also signifies a new consciousness — a mestiza consciousness. As Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa argues, mestiza consciousness resists dualistic understandings of the world. It pushes against the violence inherent in an “us” and “them” mentality and instead advocates a nos/otras worldview in which we (nos) learn to recognize that we are always connected to the other (otros) and that the other is always connected to us. It is this dangerous memory of La Virgen of Guadalupe that empowers nos/otrx to push against all that keeps us from recognizing the presence of God in ourselves, and each other. With her we sing:
My soul proclaims your greatness, O my God,
and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.
For your regard has blessed me, poor and a serving woman.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
for you, who are mighty, have done great things for me;
and holy is your Name.
Your mercy is on those who fear you, from generation to generation.
You have shown strength with your arm.
You have scattered the proud in their hearts’ conceit.
You have put down the mighty from their thrones,
and have lifted up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
and have sent the rich away empty.
You have helped your servant Israel,
remembering your mercy,
as you promised to Abraham and Sarah,
mercy to their children forever.
(Luke 1:46-55 as adapted in The People’s Companion to the Breviary: The Liturgy of the Hours with Inclusive Language)
Pearl Maria Barros, Th.D.
Pearl Maria Barros, Th.D.
Dr. Pearl Maria Barros is assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University. She holds a Th.D. in Religion, Gender, and Culture from Harvard, an M.T.S. from Harvard, and a B.A. from Santa Clara University. She is a Catholic feminist theologian whose work engages Latinx cultural studies and decolonial theory. In particular, her research focuses on the relationships between sexuality, subjectivity, and spirituality in Latinx women’s writings, especially in Anzaldúan thought. Dr. Barros is published in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and is the First Place Winner of the JFSR’s Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza New Scholar Award for 2020. Her work has also appeared in Sojourners magazine and From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism (Liturgical Press). She served as an editorial assistant for Theological Studies from 2016-2019 and is a member of the Critical Gender Studies Research Initiative at SCU. She is an associate member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Monroe, MI).
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