Since Advent is the season of hope, and since our city, our state and even our country seems to be in short supply of it, there is no time like the present to rejoice in the future.
If the impending celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world is not going to instill a certain sense of optimism in you, I’m certainly not going to accomplish much in 700 words, but I will try. First, if I am half the Christian I think I am — and if I am half the Christian I think I am, then I believe I have made some remarkable progress — then I have to believe that hope is the gift from God that we must never loosen our hold on.
Even though a quick remote control tour of nightly news programs will get you scratching your head about just want kind of fractured country we actually live in, getting out and about is the best remedy to any malaise watching too much news causes. Instead, try people watching. I had the opportunity to do a lot of it last weekend at the East Los Angeles Christmas Parade. This parade, which had lain dormant for several years, roared back to life in 2016 with thousands of people lining Whittier Blvd. in one of the most historic L.A. neighborhoods.
You might think that I, as a non-Hispanic, going to this parade in one of the most intensely ethnic neighborhoods would be made to feel like an outsider. It was not. I think what tipped it all in my favor was when I saw a parade participant decked out in Aztec Warrior finery. Elaborate feathers and sea shells and a very cool helmet. Now granted, the low-top Converse Chuck Taylors were probably not authentic to pre- or post-Columbian America, but it was what was on his back that really stood out — and it helped me make a connection with the Aztec warrior that otherwise would not have existed.
He wore a kind of cape draped along his back. Not being an expert on Aztec culture I couldn’t tell you how authentic, except for the Chuck Taylors, this costume was, but I’m pretty sure no Aztec ever went into battle wearing a cape embroidered with a beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first thing I thought was, “How Catholic.” Like the early Christians taking the god-sized holes in pagan Roman culture ad turning them into things of holiness, the Blessed Mother had done wonderous things here in the New World. I also thought, “How American.” The Aztec parade participant was just like me — a jumble of cultures and backgrounds and I thought, “Wow, we have so much in common.”
The same goes for East L.A. and all other ethnic centers in the city. If you looked out at the parade in East L.A. and at the crowds gathered to enjoy watching it, some things fell very clearly into focus: family, food, music and faith bound these folks together. You can feel free to start humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” about now, but isn’t our country supposed to be like this? Out of many, the one kind of thing you know. Just like how family, food and music were the glue that kept the East L.A. Christmas Parade together, the same could be said for a community east of the Rockies or the top of the Appalachians.
And we Catholics in America have an extra bond: our Patroness. She shows up in the most interesting places. Her appearance in Mexico to an indigenous person instantly and intimately bound them to their Spanish rulers. Her appearance to peasant children in Portugal gave people the hope they needed to persevere as the world’s bloodiest century was just about to get started. And even her image as part of a parade costume is impactful as well.
She’s the only person who ever lived (or who is ever going to live) who heard the first words Jesus ever spoke as well as the last words … and a whole lot of other words in between. She is the ultimate mixer and mediatrix. In the afterglow of the just celebrated Immaculate Conception, she is the main water carrier of our hope and helps us all keep a firm grip on this ultimate gift, regardless of what any news network may be reporting.