Today we gather as a Catholic, Hispanic community to celebrate “El Día de la Raza” (Race Day). We commemorate the date – October 12th – when Christopher Columbus expedition arrived to the shores of an American island. Since then, the contact between Europe and America began, which culminated with the so called “encounter of two worlds”. Or as some would commonly say: Columbus arrived in America on October 12th and nine months later the first Latin American was born. Of course, this encounter had its lights and its shadows, but there is no doubt about the fact that it transformed the visions of the world and the lives of Europeans and Americans as well – not to mention Africans and later Asians.
When a woman gives birth, there is pain, but also joy. The joy she and the whole family experience seeing a new baby being born does not minimize the pains. However, the joy and the hope which nurture her, overcome the pains. Contrary to those who say there is nothing to celebrate because the Europeans “discovered” these lands, we do find reasons
to celebrate. We can celebrate this encounter with happiness and hope. We celebrate it with all its lights and shadows.
The celebration of el Día de la Raza (Race Day) is the celebration of Hispanic identity as Hispanic – an identity forged in a melting pot of different cultures and races, baptized in the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Every Latin American should be proud of this identity.
Pope John Paul II, lovingly remembered, often pointed out the fact that man cannot be understood without Christ – since Christ, being true Man and true God, shows us who is God and who is Man.
The same way, one cannot get to understand what the Hispanic World is without taking into consideration the Gospel. In Latin America, faith has become culture. And it is a Catholic culture. This does not mean that we do not recognize the need to purify that culture even more, nor does it mean that it is enough for the culture to have a Catholic touch. It is also necessary for each individual to have a personal faith, a convinced faith, and a coherent faith.
And that is why today’s Gospel passage tells us about the rich man and the dangers of wealth which challenge every one of us. We are invited to reflect and to look inside ourselves to evaluate this identity as it is now in the light of Jesus values. Because in spite of the religious roots of the Hispanic identity, the reality in which we live today –
wherever we live – is a more and more secularized reality. In the words of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, we live quasi Deus non daretur – as if God did not exist. We do not dare to declare ourselves atheist – but, we do not give God that much importance in our daily chores. It is not that God has left, but that we do not notice His presence in our daily life as much as our parents and our ancestors did. Look at the current situation in Spain, the Mother of the Hispanic World, where the birth certificates do not read mother and father but parent A and parent B.
In a society where the rich are rewarded with even more wealth, where those who have more seem to be more, it is easier to be disciples of an insatiable consumerism than to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Our true identity is revealed by what we serve. If our identity as individuals is defined by our possessions – by what we have – who will we be if we lose them one day. Like that rich young man, attachment to material possessions will easily turn us into their slaves. We have beautiful cars – but, are we really their owners? Or having to pay such high monthly installments do the cars own us? Attachment to material things deprives us from the freedom to accept the Lord’s invitation, just like that young man who left sadly. In our eagerness to make “a good life” for ourselves and for our children, we should maintain an inner independence, so that what we are would not depend upon what we have.
The disciples of Jesus Christ can be identified by their relationship with Him and with others. And this is why Jesus gave so much importance to the Commandments when he replied to the young man’s concerns. If we want to inherit eternal life – because after all that is what counts – we have to keep the Commandments. And on so doing we learn to say “no” to ourselves and to the sinful inclinations of our fallen human nature, to be able to be better prepared to say “yes” to God.
The contents of that “yes” to God is expressed in the Ten Commandments. And it is important to understand that the Commandments are not just a package of prohibitions. Do not allow yourselves to think that way about the obligations we assume as Catholics. Of course, as Catholics we should not miss Mass on Sunday, we should not venture in any of the superstitions of the New Era or in any of the other kinds of syncretism; as Catholics we should not use artificial contraceptives nor support abortion or in Vitro fertilization or sterilization; as Catholics we should not have sexual relations outside marriage. As Catholics we cannot deceive our employees or robbed our employers or spend our lives pursuing material things only.
All this and much more are true; but the Commandments are not impositions on our life or limitations to our freedom. Actually, the Commandments project a great vision of life and show us the way to true freedom. And the rich young man in today’s Gospel did not get to understand this, in spite of having kept the Commandments since childhood. And for this reason he could not take that step forward the Lord – who looked at him with so much love – offered him. He was so attached to his possessions that he became their slave and as a result he did not have the freedom to make a grater commitment to Jesus. He lacked the inner freedom to say “yes” to the Lord.
As Pope Benedict XVI said on January 8th, 2006, when he baptized some children on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord: The 10 Commandments are a “yes” to a God who gives meaning to life (the first three Commandments); a “yes” to the family (Fourth Commandment); a “yes” to life (Fifth Commandment); a “yes” to responsible love (Sixth Commandment); a “yes” to solidarity, to social responsibility, to justice (Seventh Commandment); a “yes” to the truth (Eighth Commandment); a “yes” to respect for others and for their belongings (Ninth and 10th Commandments).
The Hispanic World should be more than folklore; more than customs and habits; more than a lived experience of a current reality, a reality where faith becomes culture. If you wish to preserve the Hispanic World, if you wish to maintain your Hispanic identity – in a world of opposed values – it is not enough to preserve a Catholic touch in your family traditions.
It is also necessary for everyone to have a personal faith, a convinced faith, and a coherent faith. In other words, as the Holy Father pointed out, it is necessary to have a faith which is a lived “yes”: to God, to family, to life, to responsible love, to solidarity, to social responsibility to justice, to the truth, to the respect of others and their possessions.
Today, as we remember the cultural heritage we have received because of this Hispanic World, which is the product of the encounter of two worlds throughout the last 500 years, let us pray to the Virgin Mary, to the Most Blessed Virgin of El Pilar of Zaragoza, patroness of Spain and of the Hispanic World, that She may intercede for us. That She may intercede for us and for our children, so that God may grant us – in the midst of the lights and shadows in which we live – this spirit of Wisdom from which all good come, not just for this life but for life everlasting. Amen.