Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The story of Mary’s visitation to the Americas and appearances to Juan Diego in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill amazes me for many reasons. First, the place where it happened was not just another hillside in the rugged terrain outside of Mexico city. It was the site of a temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess of the Aztec Indians, a fertility deity. When the Spanish conquisitadors came they destroyed that pagan temple. Then Mary, the true Mother of God, appeared in the same place. She asked for a shrine to be built in her honor where she would heal their sufferings.
A second reason the story amazes me is the conversion of so many Azetc people. Spanish missionaries had minimal success bringing the good news to them. But after Mary’s appearances, during the next ten years, there were over eight million conversions, something unheard of in the stories of missionaries.
A third reason it amazes me is the tilma of Juan Diego. It is made of fibers from a cactus plant, the usual material poor people used who couldn’t afford imported cotton. As you would expect, the course cactus threads normally begin to deteriorate after twenty years. But his cloak, almost 500 years later, shows no signs of deterioration.
A fourth reason I’m amazed is the nature of the image. It was not painted, there’s no evidence of pigment or dyes on the threads of this rough material. And if it had been painted with a pigment or water color the image would have faded long ago because of the hot and humid weather in that tropical climate. But the colors of this image still maintain their luminosity and brilliance today. Compare that to the beautiful icons in the meditation hallway of our guest house, where the paint is already cracking and peeling after less than fifteen years; or the choir desks and stalls in our church needing to be refinished after only forty years in a mild climate.
But what amazes me even more than these miraculous and wonderful stories is the life of St. Juan Diego, himself. He was not a child or a young man. He was 57, a very old man for those times. And yet, he walked almost daily over fourteen miles to and from the Church for Mass and instruction. It was only after Mary’s appearances and construction of the first shrine that a little hermitage was built for him on Tepeyac Hill so he wouldn’t have to walk so far. Imagine walking from here to the cathedral in Dubuque for Mass! But that’s what he did, and he went barefoot, like most of the Mexica people in those days.
As St. Benedict would say, what else is this story but an inspiration for right-living. However, for us who are lazy and negligent it is a source of shame and confusion, because we have only to roll out of bed or get into a car and we are practically in church! And for that we’re proud of ourselves! May Mary, the Mother of God, give us a share in St. Juan Diego’s great fervor, deep humility and profound love for herself and the Eucharist.