This past Sunday I had the joy to join thousands of you and your families in East Los Angeles for the 86th annual procession and Eucharistic celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

It was beautiful way to begin Advent — a celebration of faith and hope, strength and solidarity. 

And it caused me to reflect that our Christian faith can always be lived with joy, even in times of uncertainty and struggle.

Worshipping with us on Sunday were many young people and families living under the threat of deportation, caught in the web of a broken immigration system and waiting for Congress to decide the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Yet there was great joy because we know that Our Lady of Guadalupe goes with us on this journey we call life. Indeed, this procession in East L.A. was started decades ago by families who were fleeing the worst religious persecution ever witnessed in the Americas.

These refugee families became pillars in our community and in the midst of their hardship and loss, their example still shows us the way. They found hope and grace in turning to the Mother of God.

Reading the news these days, it can seem like we are living in challenging and confusing times.

Christ’s disciples are always called to live and work and carry out our mission in the midst of the anxieties of our time or place.

This is one of the quiet lessons of the Advent and Christmas season.

Read again and reflect on the beginnings of Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels. You see how the “biographies” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are shaped by the politics and history of their nation.

A government decision, the census, causes the movements that bring them to Bethlehem on Christmas night. A king’s fears and ambitions for power change their lives — forcing them to flee the country as refugees.

Mary is at the center of the story. And she is at the heart of Advent.

As we do during each Advent, this week we will celebrate her Immaculate Conception, which marks the beginning of our salvation. Three days after that, we will remember her appearance at Guadalupe, which marks the beginnings of American history and reminds us of her continued role in the God’s plan of salvation.

Our world is not a chaos of passing events. God is always God and his love is always at work, no matter what is happening in our society or in the world.

Mary gave herself totally to God’s plan and by her “yes” to God, she gives us an example for how to find joy in these times we are living in.

What God asked of Mary, had never been asked of anyone before — to carry in her womb the One who was to be the Savior of her people and the whole human race. She was asked to do that, no matter what sacrifices it would require in her life.

Every step of her life with Christ required that Mary “put out into the deep,” as Jesus told his apostles to do.

She had to face her fears of the unknown, of where God might be leading her next. She had to let go of all her priorities and plans — she had to let go of everything she might have wished for her life.

Reflecting on Mary this week, I found myself returning to the words that St. Elizabeth spoke at her visitation: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This is how we can rejoice even in times when God’s purposes seem mysterious or challenging or hard to accept.

We find God’s blessings when we believe — when we open the door to our hearts and welcome Jesus, when we trust that his Word gives us the path to follow for our lives.

Believing in God does not mean that all sadness or suffering are swept away.

But the more we trust in God’s loving will for us, the more we will find the strength and courage we need to handle whatever comes our way — knowing that we are not alone, that God is with us in the mystery of his love.

So, in this first week of Advent, pray for me and I will be praying for you.

And let us try to follow Mary more closely, because no one on earth was more closely united to Jesus, no one who knew him better than Mary.

May Our Blessed Mother always go with us to guide us to the encounter with Jesus, the one who brings us true joy.

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