Saturday, July 14, 2012

Does the devotion of Hispanics embarrass the Bishops and other Catholics?



Or are we just dismissive church-people?

A New Jersey woman claims to have discovered a miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a natural scar on a tree trunk on a West New York street.  Crowds have been gathering to view and venerate the image they consider miraculous.  Indeed, there is a resemblance to the Virgin of Guadalupe, although it is the reaction and spontaneous devotion of the people which seems to me to be the evidence of the presence of something spiritual and supernatural.  Like sheep without a shepherd, the people flock to the image they hope is a sign of Our Mother's love and protection.

Miraculous images and occurrences might be considered commonplace in the rich history of Spanish and Spanish Colonial Catholicism.  Many miraculous images were discovered throughout the centuries, some dug up from the earth, others floating in a river, still others appearing in the trunk of a tree, or on the sides of cave walls.  Were these images perhaps later embellished by artists to bring out the details or features only hinted at in the original?  Or simply to decorate or embellish what was already there?  Or did angels and saints do the artwork as legends suggest?  The most famous image not made by hands is the tilma of Juan Diego, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  Everyone agrees, no artist ever created that.

Don't be  so smug.

Is it so unusual that Spanish Catholics continue to recognize the presence of the Holy Virgin in contemporary urban environments?  The latest case of the Virgin's image on a tree trunk in New Jersey could be a modern version of a 13th Spanish  miracle of El Rocio in Andalucia.  What if the original statue of El Rocio had to be carved away from the tree wherein it was discovered, then finished and polychromed?  There is another famous miraculous image found in a tree trunk in Mexico in the 16th century, revered as the Virgen of Ocotlan. 

There are similar stories told over the centuries, attested to by miracles as well as spiritual conversions and vocations.  Perhaps those occurring in our day are not always instances of pareidolia - random perceptions of religious imagery in nature or matter.  What if the response of simple, ordinary believers leads to an increase of devotion and amendment of life?  What if the image seen most recently, was extracted from the tree, embellished by fine artisans, and venerated in a shrine at the local parish, which would become a place of pilgrimage?  I'm not saying it should be done, I'm just saying I think that may be what used to happen in ages past - perhaps in the cases of El Rocio and Ocotlan? .

And yet today - these days of declining church attendance, when even the traditionally devout Hispanic Catholics leave for more charismatic denominations, Church authorities seem to be embarrassed by such popular expressions of piety and devotion - spontaneous outbursts of hope and cries to heaven for help - on the streets where these good people live and work amidst hardship and discouragement.  While the well-off travel on luxurious religious vacations called pilgrimages to European shrines, and promote excursions and unofficial tours to unapproved religious-commercial sites such as Medjugorje - a place far more curious than an innocent knot on a tree resembling the Blessed Virgin, which inspires devotion and prayer - in the public square.

No wonder many Hispanics do not feel welcome in predominantly 'white' Catholic parishes.

20 comments:

  1. Interesting and challenging words. Being someone who prefers a "quiet" celebration of the Mass, I was initially uncomfortable attending a Mass in honour of OL of Guadalupe. They sang las mananitas, there was a mariachi band, people were weeping, young children seemed to be constantly passed from one family member to another - and the church was standing room only!

    Quite unexpectedly, it hit me that this was Catholic worship in action and that the people had real devotion to La Virgen, a devotion that put my own to shame. How could I consider my "quiet" Mass to be superior to the exuberant celebration which surrounded me? I realised that I was being Euro-centric rather than truly Catholic in my attitude towards how people might pray and experience God.

    Although I am still rather stoic and Celtic in my approach to the Mass, I am so grateful for experiencing the fervour and joy with which the Hispanic people in the US celebrate the Eucharist. Anglo dioceses & parishes would be foolish to ignore how Hispanics pray; it will not be long before more than 50% of US Catholics are Hispanic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. susan2:30 PM

    GREAT post...didn't see it from this angle before. Cogent points all.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think there has been an embarrassment toward Marian piety by many churchmen for decades. There exist places where priests do not want the rosary recited in a group before Mass. The religious community I visited recently was founded in Argentina. Their patroness is the Virgin of Lujan. They have a beautiful tradition of after compline after singing the Salve Regina going forward individually and kissing the image of Our Lady of Lujan goodnight. Such a beautiful and tender sign of devotion to our heavenly mother by future priests can only be a positive sign.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Anglo saxon? Huh, isn't that the English?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used it in the sense of WASP - White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant. I didn't want to say white because I'm not accustomed to thinking of people of Spanishdescent as people of color. Then there are people who dislike the term Hispanic - so I'm all screwed up regarding the current PC racial labeling process.

      Delete
    2. Oops - looks like I did say white after all. Oh well, WASP brings it all the way home anyway.

      Delete
  5. Also - I've written critically about pareidolia events in the past - to be sure - there have been quite ridiculous examples in the past. Yet some of the 'revelations' remind me of the origins of some of the more notable miraculous images in Church history. I also think it is a cultural phenomenon and could well point to something lacking in popular piety in the average US parish, not to mention the absence of devotional artin our 'worship spaces'.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous9:49 PM

    "No wonder many Hispanics do not feel welcome in predominantly white Catholic parishes."

    As a life long Californian let me say that there are many hispanics have also gone the extra mile to make sure that wnon-hispanics aren't welcome in their parish. Being uncomfortable with a "style" of worship is one thing but I think its simply a bigotry, most of the time, that really makes a person feel unwelcome.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Very good account. Latin TV in the NY harbor area is most often highly sexualized or power oriented with true Spaniards having nearly all the good paying entertainment jobs (those novella women sure don't look Mayan etc...those perfect slightly upturned noses began in Europe). I surf past sometimes and remark...sons and daughters of conquistadors still at it.
    Poor Latinas off screen and in Hudson county imbibe that all week long negative sermon of the screen. Mary may have requested that God give her some ad space in this context of the worldly as being life itself.
    The proportions are very near perfect...but ambiguity should be present too...otherwise God would just produce a perfect indisputable image that would be attributed by many to a human artist working secretly on the tree at
    night. Miracles can't win with everyone either way. If they're perfect, a human manipulated it into being. If they're imprecise, they're natural. When Christ raised the dead daughter of Jairus, surely some of Jairus' temple friends ruminated that she really had not died but only seemed so. Hence God raised the stakes with Lazarus...he was entombed and "stinketh" in the King James wording and Christ raised him nevertheless..."how ya like me now" Christ was then asking all of history's people in a sense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Bill - great points.

      Delete
    2. Bill Bannon writes : "I surf past sometimes and remark...sons and daughters of conquistadors still at it."

      As one of those sons of whose family came here from Austurias Spain to settle a land grant and kept the blood pure through the centuries via consanguinity, I can certainly tell the difference even if Mr. Bannon thinks we all look so much alike that he thinks those actors and actresses look Spanish.

      Delete
    3. As for tying us to the wrongs committed by conquistadors, few as they may have been.

      As my father once replied when he was stopped on the street and railed against for the wrongs committed, "you have the wrong man, I wasn't born yet".

      Delete
  8. love the girls,
    Let me know when you see a Mayan, Olmec, Toltec or Aztec in the novellas as a land owner or gorgeous daughter. I'm not alone:

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110329102107AAqZb1C

    ReplyDelete
  9. Mr. Bannon,

    None of them look like they just got off the boat from the Iberian peninsula.

    http://webpoori.blogspot.com/2008/04/top-ten-best-latino-actresses.html

    They may not have enough Indian blood for you, but they are obviously not from northern Spain with fair skin and blue eyes. Or at least it's obvious to me that they don't look like my family, except where in the extended family there has been the mixing of blood in the last generation.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Then we disgree. No.7 alone has trace non white features. These mostly are hollywood not telemundo/ unision novella people anyway. End of this for me.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Of course Catholic authorities are embarassed by this. It's on the same level as that woman in Bayside.

    ReplyDelete
  12. The woman in Bayside claimed to be reeiving communications from the Blessed Mother, though. It's much different.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah Dymmphna - Veronica made them wear blue berets and there were all those miraculous photos and the imposter Pope to contend with... and the ball of redemption.

      Delete
  13. I went to Adoration one evening at a parish I don't usually attend and one woman went up the aisle on her knees. She was Hispanic. It was very moving. Have any of you seen the movie, "Henry Poole is Here"? It's a wonderful movie that came out in 2008. Here's a part of the plot...

    "Having been diagnosed as terminally ill, Henry Poole purchases a tract house in his hometown, a working class suburb of Los Angeles, and awaits the inevitable, fortified with whiskey and frozen pizza. His peaceful solitude and self-imposed exile are disrupted by his meddling neighbor Esperanza Martinez, who insists she sees the face of Christ imbedded in the stucco wall of his home and is convinced the image has miraculous powers when it begins to exude drops of blood. Before long, she is leading pilgrimages to his backyard and inviting Father Salazar from the local parish to bless the supposedly sacrosanct blemish."

    ReplyDelete

Anonymous comments will no longer be accepted.
Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. Be sure and double check if your comment posted after you do the verification deal - sometimes it doesn't print if you made an error.