It is Columbus Day Weekend, three days off with a lot of nice autumn weather scheduled. There will be sales. Ballgames. Trips. You know – the usual holiday weekend stuff. Why? Ask a school kid; I do not know how many can even tell you anymore that, “In fourteen ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Aside from a widespread confusion about the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, I doubt there is any federal holiday to which less thought and appreciation is given than Columbus Day. I admit that I myself do not think about it very much, and am embarrassed by my own inattention.
Sure, I know about the Castillian King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who financed the proposal of the Italian navigator with his theories of reaching “the Indies” by sailing west, instead of east around the Horn of Africa. He pulled together three ships, which I hope everybody still knows were named the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, the largest of which was not as long as the average house in the neighborhood here. And he landed on San Salvador, one beach that no one in this parish is likely to visit over the weekend.
Does anyone say that he “discovered America” anymore? That is so unfashionable. Since the Americas, as these continents later came to be called, were inhabited, some question whether they wanted discovering. His own awareness of just what he had discovered was a little slow in coming, and he was loath to admit publicly that he had failed to reach the Indies.
However aware of their own existence the native tribes of the islands he first visited were, I would submit that they too discovered something in being discovered. By learning of the existence of other peoples from other places with other cultures and technologies, they learned something about who and where they themselves were. It is similar to how only in encountering and relating to others, from our infancy on, do we come into an understanding of our own identities.
Imperialism and colonialism are big buzzwords for what Columbus’s voyage represented and introduced to these lands. I am not certain that anyone whose tribe fell to the Aztecs or the Incas would say that these were particularly new, though. Greed and abuse of other human beings are remarkable only in how consistently they are present in every human culture and polity. Recognized for what it is, it can be identified as original sin.
Which brings us to the one genuinely new thing that Columbus brought with him to these splendid continents when he came. Not a thing, in truth, but a person, and a person who is both the response and the remedy to original sin and its universality among men of every race and land.
The good news of Jesus Christ, His presence in the Church, and His working in the Sacraments, first arrived with Columbus where heretofore none had known Him. The evil spirits and petty gods to whom the native peoples enslaved themselves will never be completely driven from this land or any other, but thanks be to God, and with a little help from His Holy Mother at Tepeyac, these continents are marked for freedom. No human being need fall victim to their depredations, for the Holy Savior – San Salvador – has manifested here the Divine Mercy. That is something worth celebrating, not only one Monday, but every Sunday.