Book 1 Chapter 4
4. A Bell and a Miracle
Summary: Latour is awakened from sleep on the first night after his return from Durango when he hears a bell chiming the Angelus (a triple stroke repeated three times, so named for the Catholic devotion, commemorating the Incarnation, with which it is associated; the Angelus is traditionally rung at six in the morning, at noon, and at six in the evening). In the morning, Vaillant tells him that the bell had not been rung in a century or more, but that he has had it refurbished and made ready in the Latour’s absence. He also tells Latour that a native priest from the Indian mission at Santa Clara is present to tell the Bishop about his trip to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Latour and Vaillant listen to the priest’s account. Vaillant is much moved that the Blessed Mother would visit the people of the New World in such a way; Latour responds that miracles are more common than Vaillant imagines: “Where there is great love there are always miracles.”
Analysis: The chiming of the Angelus bell reinforces the theme of continuity in time, since the bell Latour hears has been in the New World “a hundred years or more” (p. 44). Its restoration can symbolize Latour and Vaillant’s work of restoring the faith and the Church’s presence in New Mexico. In addition to representing the continuity of the Bishop and his flock with the past, however, the bell also represents a continuity of place. When Latour hears it, he imagines himself to be, first, in Rome; then, in Jerusalem; and, finally before awakening, in New Orleans (pp. 42-43). The ringing of the bell—again, symbolizing the practice of faith—unites all time and place for Latour. (The text may even hint at a larger continuity still, since Latour “is glad to think there is Moorish [i.e., Spanish Muslim] silver in [the] bell,” p. 45—the bell somehow represents a unity that transcends mortal religious divisions).
Similarly, the story of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Mexican “neophyte” (p. 46; i.e., newly ordained priest) Juan Diego testifies to the presence of God or the divine in the New World, as Vaillant espouses: “It is a household word with [the native Roman Catholics] that their Blessed Mother revealed Herself in their own country…” (p. 49). The devotion to the Lady of Guadalupe is a further example of how the Catholic faith has acculturated itself to the New World (cf. Latour’s reflections on early Christian claiming of pagan sites in I.2). In the context of this chapter, however, the story also becomes an occasion for reflection upon the meaning of miracle. Consistent with his earlier thoughts on the subject (see I.2), Latour tells Vaillant, “Where there is great love there are always miracles… [Miracles rest] upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always” (p. 50). In other words, Latour believes that miracles can be “with” nature, not always necessarily “against” it. One need merely contrast Latour’s reaction to the story with the reaction of Juan Diego’s bishop to the report of the apparition: “Because of the Bishop’s reproof [Juan Diego] had fallen into doubt…” (p. 47). Juan Diego’s bishop, overly concerned with ecclesiastical order, acted in a way that suppressed faith. Bishop Latour, concerned with miracles of love, acts in a way that allows faith that has taken root to flourish.