By Mark Smith | Published 13 Dec 2014 in The Madera Tribune | Used with Permission | All rights reserved |
Flurries of rain hours before sunrise didn’t keep the Guadalupanos Society of Madera and others from traditional Mexican songs and prayer Friday, Dec. 12, during the annual celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
More than a thousand Maderans waited inside St. Joachim’s Catholic Church as the Guadalupanos carried a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe across 4th Street before 5 a.m. as heavy rain continued to fall.
Carlos Rodriguez, the group’s president, said the traditional ceremony served to honor the “Virgen de Guadalupe,” — a title for the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ — and her “birth” into Mexican culture in 1531 A.D. via an unusual image, one well known across the world as a miracle.
Across four days in December of 1531, Rodriguez said Mary appeared from Heaven to 57-year-old Juan Diego, a widower, farmer and weaver belonging to the native Chichimeca people and the first Roman Catholic saint of the Americas. She allegedly asked him to have a new church quickly built on the outskirts of Mexico City.
As she spoke in his native Nahuatl — aka Aztec — language, Diego became convinced she was truly the mother of Jesus. He spoke to Mexico City’s archbishop Juan de Zumarraga, who asked Diego — a convert to Christianity — for proof of her identity.
On the final day she appeared to Diego, Dec. 12, Mary told him to gather flowers atop the city’s Tepeyac Hill. There he found a swath of Castilian roses in bloom out of season and out of place — the plants are native to Spain, not Mexico.
Mary arranged the roses in Diego’s tilma, a sort of cloak or poncho, before he went to the bishop. When Diego opened his cloak before him, the roses fell to the floor and on his tilma was the image of a pregnant Mary standing on the moon and in front of the sun. Some interpreted this as a sign that her child Jesus was superior to the Aztec moon and sun deities.
After the building of the requested chapel, Diego lived as a hermit in a small hut nearby and shared his story to those who came to see the tilma until his death in 1548.
Rodriguez said recalling that powerful image, as well as the love provided by the Virgin of Guadalupe to her people, was a worldwide tradition and one celebrated in Madera, California, since the Guadalupanos chapter was formed in 1927.
“Friendship, love, and unity is what she gives us,” Rodriguez said. “The whole continent celebrates this date. It’s like being a family. We feel like a family with this. She has a lot to give all of us.”
Once the group entered St. Joachim’s with the statue of Mary upheld, the audience rose to sing many songs such as “Las Mananitas,” a traditional Mexican birthday song, before they prayed for the “blessed mother” and participated in a Catholic mass service.
After that, free breakfast was served to hundreds in Holy Spouse’s Hall across the street from St. Joachim’s, as they celebrated past sunrise with more music and dancing.
Normally, without the heavy rain that spent most of Thursday and Friday drenching the state, the Guadalupanos would walk from Clinton and Tozer streets to St. Joachim’s with the statue of Mary and sang to Madera as its citizens woke.
Because of Friday morning’s stormy weather, however, the group instead carried Mary across 4th street from Holy Spouse’s Hall to St. Joachim’s in a shorter, but powerful procession.
That joined eight previous days of rosary prayer by Guadalupanos members in front of the Catholic church to honor one of their most holy figures, members said, as strongly as the group could each year.
“Every year, whether it’s rain or shine, we celebrate her birthday every single time,” said Adrian Medina, a 20-year-old Guadalupanos member who helped set up the event. “Even with the rain, everything is for our blessed mother, Juan Diego, and for our community to represent who we are.”
For information on the Guadalupanos Society of Madera and the events they hold all year, call 559-647-5200.
I've written three series of columns for The Madera Tribune newspaper in my life, and this most recent one began nearly three years ago. What words I have used most in this one can be seen in the heart-shaped "word cloud" above.
That cloud is ever growing of course, and as of a month ago it has spread to another website, Catholic 365. Those interested can read updated versions of my past writings on that site. Visit http://catholic365.com/author/john-rieping/ for a list.
Regardless, thank you for taking the time to share in my heart's ramblings. May God bless you and all you love. Please keep me in your prayers.
By John Rieping | Published 8 Nov 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
My thanks to those readers who called last week. Samuel of Tulare, California, asked for a list of books about Rev. Miguel Pro, SJ, who died for his faith in Mexico in 1926. I haven't read any -- just many articles. But one highly rated on the website www.goodreads.com is "Blessed Miguel Pro" by Ann Ball. Another book to consider would be "La Cristiada: The Mexican People's War for Religious Liberty" by Jean Meyer.
On Wednesday, someone online asked others to share their worst experience leading a tabletop role-playing game. The niche hobby combines elements of a board game with the storytelling of a game of "let's pretend." One person often acts as a kind of referee.
A few years ago I stepped up to lead one such game after one of our playmates moved away. But I decided to majorly re-invent the game we were playing. I worked for weeks writing about a new world of my own invention and filling it with peoples and mysteries.
Eventually the game began, and the adventurers portrayed by my real life friends found themselves in a foreign world they did not understand. I had imagined it would be, metaphorically, like a sandbox in which children can invent their own fun. So I gave them no guidance or help.
I realized they weren't having fun, so I planned during the week and even recorded a silly song to aid the storytelling.
We played a week later and this time I wasn't hands off. I used a forest fire in the story to try to force the lost adventurers into an ambush I thought they could handle. Instead my silly song scared them and they chose to nearly burn to death rather than face unknown foes.
That game session ended in a real life argument.
The third session went even more badly, and by the fourth week only one of my friends bothered to even show up to the scheduled game. The rest never offered an excuse.
The story had died.
Both before and after that experience, I've led enjoyable role-playing games for others. Yet that failed one is one I've pondered most in hopes of not repeating my mistakes.
And I see myself in the characters played by my friends.
When I lack guidance or direction, I too flounder. I want God or others to clearly point out where to go or what to do. Yet I'm not docile. If afraid, I rebel. If pressured, I rebel. If bored, I rebel. If uncomfortable, I rebel. If offended, I rebel.
But the divine creator of this world, unlike my fictional one, is trustworthy.
I suspect a frequent unspoken prayer is "God, lead me where I want to go and help me do what I want to do. Grant me adventures without serious danger, and heroism without prolonged hardship. I will taste the cup of suffering before me, then hand it back. Not your will, but mine be done."
Can you imagine a movie or book featuring a hero with that attitude?
Journalist and author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong."
He explained that some want a faith that is compatible with their social life, with practicality, with science, and so on. Yet they would be social, practical, scientific, and so on even without religion.
"They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already," he continued. "They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it. It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood."
God, grant us grace to be bound for glory.
By John Rieping | Published 31 Oct 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
This Saturday, I will start a new “lectio divina” (“reading God”) group from 11 a.m. to noon at St. Marello Bookstore, 211 N. J St., Madera, California, on “Learning to Pray in Scripture.”
All who respect the Bible will be welcome as I (and I hope others) look at how people in the Bible prayed and what we can learn from them about prayer. Contact me about it at my website (wambly.weebly.com).
Viva Cristo Rey
Less than a century ago, my grandfather left Mexico with a price on his head, set by the state of Jalisco. His homeland’s atheistic government wanted to cripple the church and had no pity for one who stubbornly taught his creed and assisted priests.
Yet the United States wouldn’t be entirely welcoming, and he never abandoned Mexico in his heart.
Higinio Lozano first worked as a cook for a railroad line crew in the South. Once, he received a strong dose of poison oak while carrying water to wash the pots and pans. That evening his younger brother Natalio, seeking medicine, walked miles along train tracks to the nearest town.
Natalio arrived at a drugstore cold and wet from a storm. As he scraped off his muddy shoes, someone yelled, “What do you want?! Don’t you get on my floors. You wait out there until I’m ready!”
Natalio waited as a customer loitered. Eventually the pharmacist came to the door and took his order for calamine lotion. A sign in the window explained: “No Negroes, Mexicans, or Dogs Allowed Inside!” The experience soaked in as Natalio made his way back to camp in the dark.
The brothers now spoke often of heading west.
By the late 1920s, they did so. Though lacking strength and agility, Higinio worked in the fields of San Fernando, California. But he applied his mind to his church and community. He volunteered with the Catholic Association for Mexican Youth, and wrote, directed, and performed in religious dramas.
The execution of Rev. Miguel Pro, SJ, in Mexico City on Nov. 23, 1927, inspired one such drama. My grandfather portrayed the priest. A young Maria del Carmen Najar played another role. This led to a relationship, marriage, and my own existence.
But the truth behind that play deserves repeating.
Born in Mexico of a mining engineer, Miguel Pro joined the Jesuit order Aug. 14, 1911, at age 20. Three years later he left his homeland due to its revolution. He fled to Texas and California before studying in Spain, teaching in Nicaragua, and learning theology in Belgium, where he was ordained a priest Aug. 31, 1925.
He wrote: “How can I explain to you the sweet grace of the Holy Spirit, which invades my poor miner’s soul with such heavenly joys? I could not keep back my tears…”
Though he had a serious side, Pro loved quips and pranks. As a seminarian, he’d amuse with tricks, stories, American English slang, and by singing random lines of popular songs.
He ministered first to Belgian miners. But his superiors let him return July 8, 1926, to Mexico, in hopes the food and climate would ease his chronic stomach problems. Despite the nation's deportation of many Catholic priests, no Mexican authorities bothered to check his passport or bags.
Pro created “Eucharistic Stations” throughout Mexico City to secretly distribute Holy Communion to hundreds daily. He aided the sick and poor. He even impersonated a prison guard to pray with prisoners and hear confessions.
He once met policemen guarding a house at which he’d planned to offer Mass. He strode up, opened his vest as if showing a badge, and declared, “There’s a cat bagged here.” Hoodwinked, they saluted and let him in.
Another time, police invaded a home while Pro celebrated Mass. He rushed everyone into other rooms, hid the Eucharist in his suit pocket, and then joined police on their fruitless search for a priest. When Pro left, he told a guard posted at the door he’d have helped longer but he had a date with his girlfriend. He later wrote, “I returned to the place, but, somehow or other, the priest had not yet appeared…”
He would be jailed repeatedly, which aided his prison ministry.
Finally, the Mexican government had enough. A few days after a bomb injured former president Alvaro Obregon, Pro and his brothers were arrested on false charges of attempted assassination. A trial was set for the next day, but morning brought a firing squad.
President Plutarco Calles had requested the execution six months beforehand, and photographers had been hired to document a cowardly death. But instead Pro forgave his guard, prayed, and blessed his executioners. He refused a blindfold and with arms outstretched yelled, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King.
By John Rieping | Published 1 Oct 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
The hot and sunny summer of 1793 had been good for the harvest in France, a country troubled by foreign and civil war, but tough for the millers, who lacked water to power their trade.
Hunger and fear met in the metropolis of Paris when news came of the surrender of the port city of Toulon to the British. Many were frustrated. More than four years of liberal revolution had not conquered poverty or inequality as promised. Parisians protested, occupying the hall of the French National Convention on Sept. 5 and petitioning for emergency measures.
The legislators responded and a “Reign of Terror” began that day to “protect” the nation and bring “salvation” to the people. When the campaign against accused traitors ended on July 28, the Revolutionary Tribunal had formally executed about 16,594 people in France and another 25,000 without even a fair trial, according to Dr. Marisa Linton of Kingston University and Donald Greer of Cambridge. Others died in custody or were lynched.
Criticizing the government once, if overheard by an informer, could send a man and his family to the then state-of-the-art guillotine for beheading. The accused were not allowed to say a word in self-defense. Most who died were common people, not aristocrats or the wealthy. Some were fellow revolutionaries.
“If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless,” said French revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre in a speech February 5, 1794, justifying the government’s tactics. “Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible...
“It has been said that terror is the principle of despotic government. Does your government therefore resemble despotism? Yes, as the sword that gleams in the hands of the heroes of liberty resembles that with which the henchmen of tyranny are armed.”
France would be liberated, equal and fraternal — whatever the cost.
Particularly targeted was an institution considered an enemy to enlightenment and progress — the Catholic Church. On July 12, 1790, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy closed the last legal loopholes for church property and monastic orders, legislating them out of existence. It also reduced the number of bishops from 135 to 83 and required clergy to swear an oath of loyalty to the government.
Only five bishops and half of the clergy agreed.
Violence grew against those who went to Mass and nuns who would not abandon their consecrated life. Reaction was not always peaceful. Some believers didn't turn the other cheek. The campaign escalated.
Priests who would not swear loyalty were banned from preaching in February 1791, and all such priests were considered suspect and arrested after a Nov. 29th decree. Countless priests died of harsh conditions in chains on prison ships in French harbors.
In 1793, the government replaced the days and months of the Gregorian Calendar, such as Sunday, with a new calendar featuring a 10-day week with a day of rest and festivity at its end.
By the time of the Reign of Terror, the government would establish an atheistic and human-centered Cult of Reason and a deistic Cult of the Supreme Being in attempts to de-Christianize the nation. For a nationwide Festival of Reason, churches across France were transformed into Temples of Reason.
Far worse happened at the docks of Nantes.
From Nov. 1793 to Feb. 1794, around 4,000 or more Catholic priests, nuns, and families — including women and children — were drowned in the Loire. Or as Jean-Baptiste Carrier, member of the Revolutionary Committee of Nantes, called it: “vertical deportation.” More than 2,000 were also executed by firing squad at a nearby quarry.
Ten months after it started, the government would end its bloody Reign of Terror. Five years later, it would fall to the dictatorship of military genius Napoleon Bonaparte, who dreamt of empire. With his defeats, the revolution at last lost its final champion.
Yet, despite it all, Christianity remained.
“During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: 'Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?' The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: 'Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.' ” (Ross Douthat, New York Times, March 28, 2010)
By John Rieping | Published 18 Sept 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. ... For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”
— Journalist and author G.K. Chesterton
A strange phrase we take for granted today is that of “finding one’s self.” One would think that the “self” is the one inseparable asset one has.
I can imagine easily losing my keys, but if I truly lost my head I would expect an axe or guillotine to be involved — far from a painless loss. The “self” is no less intrinsic. So how is it one can lose it?
A lazy glance at the Oxford American Dictionary reveals the self as “a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others.” In other words, it is the core of one’s human nature as a unique person. As such, it clearly isn’t something we lose so much as forget or contradict.
In this, and other ways, our heart becomes a battlefield in which our very life is at stake. Can there be a more intimate war than one waged within?
In ancient times, I suspect, two popular strategies for “winning” this war dominated. One looked within or at humanity. The other turned to an ideal, divinity, or belief deemed greater than the self. Both have merits.
The human-centered methods of self-reflection or social discovery both help one to locate the self.
By introspection, we open our eyes to what feelings and thoughts drive our action and inaction. Once exposed, they find it harder to ambush us and lead us astray. With sustained effort, we may even learn to somewhat tame these otherwise wild horses within.
By social interactions, we reveal by our behavior many truths about ourselves that may not match our self-image. Virtues and vices cannot hide in the light. If we prefer the dark and so stubbornly close our eyes to them, then the hard consequences of some of our acts may yet reach us.
In contrast, the god-centered methods of devotion to a higher purpose or power can aid one in transcending or uplifting the self. After all, why focus on the self only to be limited to it like a prison? Instead the self becomes not the destination but the start of a personal quest. Through self-sacrifice and discipline, some claim to find enlightenment, fulfillment, tranquility, divinization, or an escape from the tyranny of the self. By losing one’s self in such ways, some paradoxically find it.
These human and god centered methods of finding the self are often kept separate, and even in opposition, to each other. Hence we may see philosophy at odds with theology, science vs. religion, pragmatism against idealism, and so on.
This is not ultimately the position of Christianity however. Nor could it be. A central claim of this oddball religion is that the one God and creator of all chose to also become a genuine man of a particular time and place. By doing so, Christians claim, he showed to us both God and a perfect human.
As a result, the Christian way of finding one’s self is simultaneously human and god centered. Within, around, and above should be the focus of believers, Christianity claims, and without all three we will be lacking (1 John 4:20).
The incarnation of God as a man, as believed by Christians, was not only to present an example or teacher however. The God-man also came as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the demands of justice for each of us so that humanity could receive the offer of forgiveness, healing, and a glorious life after death. To sum it up in one word: mercy.
I think then we will never find ourselves without it.
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d. / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: / It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes... / It is enthroned in the heart of kings; / It is an attribute to God himself; / And earthly power does then show like God’s / When mercy seasons justice.” (William Shakespeare, “The Quality of Mercy”)
By John Rieping | Published 11 Sept 2014 in The Madera Tribune | All rights reserved |
“There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
-- Journalist and author G.K. Chesterton
One of the peculiarities of polite conversations is they tend to begin with the deepest questions that often receive the shallowest of answers.
Think back to the last time you ran into someone, whether vaguely familiar or a stranger, with whom talking was an expected courtesy. You exchanged revelations to satisfy the ignorance of the other, whether that lack of information was spoken or assumed.
Who are you? What do you do? How are you? There are those who will gladly inform you about these topics like a dog happily fetching a ball, eager to run and skillful in performance. Some offer merely acceptable replies. Then there are the ones who have to think about the answer.
Be wary. Those are the ones in danger of possibly taking your interest seriously.
We may satisfy this oft-assumed curiosity with a name, a place of origin, a job, or a relationship that binds us — however weakly — with the one with whom we speak. Yet such questions are metaphysical puzzles wherein may lurk dragons fair or foul.
In fair form, the dragon may be one of satisfaction and comfort in who and what we believe ourselves to be — a good daughter, son, spouse, student, worker, friend, lover, Christian, Muslim, atheist, athlete, thinker, etc. In venomous form, the dragon may be shame and doubt over who and what we believe ourselves to be — broken, dumb, fat, ugly, unlovable, old, addicted, useless, abandoned, etc. We find our value in our self image, regardless of how true it may be, and present it to others more than we realize.
And these dragons can sink their poisonous teeth into more than ourselves.
In late August, one such reptile showed itself at the Madera Unified School Board meeting in central California in which some parents expressed concerns about a man hired to work with at-risk students. He was a convicted, imprisoned, and released felon who in the past decade has worked professionally in gang and drug intervention.
As one parent said, “A felon is a felon, is a felon.”
Such thinking works well when speaking of inanimate objects. When I plug in my cell phone to charge it before I sleep at night, I would be a bit puzzled if I woke up and found it had transformed into a toaster. The only changes common to objects are that of decline: food goes bad, toys break, clothing wears out, and so on.
With animals, including humans, such a mindset can mislead. A gentle household dog may meet up with other pet dogs at night and roam the area together brutally attacking livestock like a feral wolf pack. A once good student may become a poor one when strong emotion grips the heart, and the reverse is just as possible. And so on.
We well know that change is possible and likely, but the dominant threads pulling on our heart — such as love of a child or spouse — make us foresee good or bad changes without cause, and distrust what does not fit our vision.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis pondered the words of the Jewish rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) in the Gospels: “Be merciful, just as your father is” (Loukas/Luke 6:36). This command of Yeshua is easier or harder to follow depending on “who” is the person involved. What of jailed criminals, Francis asked on behalf of skeptical Christians, must we be merciful to them too?
“Some will say, ‘This is dangerous. These are bad people.’ Listen carefully: any one of us is capable of doing what these men and women in prison have done. We all sin and make mistakes in life. They are not worse than you or me. Mercy overcomes any wall or barrier, and leads us always to seek the face of the human being. And it is mercy that changes hearts and lives, that is able to regenerate a person or enable him to be newly reintegrated in society.”
Mercy disturbs our clear understanding of “who” and “what” we or others may be, and it may complicate our lives. But it liberates as well. Because mercy is a dragon slayer that reminds us where our value truly lies — in our shared humanity, made in the image of God (Beresheit/Genesis 1:27).