Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Scripture Readings: Zech 2: 14-17; Lk 1:39-47 

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-livingHowever, 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

[Scripture Readings: Zech 2:14-17; Lk 1:39-47]

“My dear son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion.” So Mary introduced herself on December 9, 1531 to an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego On Tepayac hill in central Mexico. In these words, Mary offers herself in a special way as a gift to the people of Mexico and not being people of Mexico, we might find ourselves searching a little inside ourselves for a personal motive to celebrate this day dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A very striking feature of the story of Mary's appearance to Juan Diego is the very intimate way he is acknowledged as an individual. Mary, the patroness of Mexico, does not address herself to Mexico, but to her “own dear son,” she speaks to one man. This shouldn't come as a complete surprise to us since, on Golgotha, as Jesus hung dying on the cross, he addressed himself to one man, John, and said, referring to Mary: “Behold, your mother.” Mary, the mother of the church is, by Jesus own testimony the mother of the one man John.

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical “The Mother of the Redeemer,” reminds us that motherhood, of its essence, is a gift to a person; one person, and is oriented toward one person, no matter how many children a mother has. A mother's relationship with each child is always an absolutely unique and unrepeatable relationship, because of the unique and unrepeatable way in which each child is generated from her mother.

The pope goes on to say that motherhood in the order of grace preserves the analogy with what in the order of nature characterizes the union between mother and child. And so there is a Marian dimension and, in fact, a concrete very individual and personal relationship with Mary on the part of every single disciple of Christ even though an individual neglect to acknowledge and foster this relationship. Today, as we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, we can rejoice in Mary's very intimate offering of herself to the one man Juan Diego as confirming the truth that Mary is a real mother, the one true mother, and intimately involved mother for each and every one of us. As Pope John Paul II concludes: “Mary's motherhood is a gift which Christ himself makes personally to each and every individual.” Jesus entrusts Mary to John, because he has entrusted John to Mary. In the history of the church, this “entrusting” of each individual soul to the Mother of the Redeemer is realized in different ways. Celebrating the meeting of Mary with a humble Indian man five centuries ago, we are confirmed in our belief in Mary's true motherhood which is a unique gift to each one of us. May our celebration today and the course of our entire life be a witness to Mary's presence and influence as our own mother.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

[Scripture Readings: Zech 2:14-17; Lk 1:26-38 ]

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” The handmaid, the servant, the slave. St. Bernadette of Lourdes once said, “How great will be the crown of those who … have imitated the humility of our Savior.” When asked about her life in the convent following her visions of Our Lady at Lourdes, St. Bernadette said she was like a broom that was no longer needed and put behind a door. She had done what she was called to do.

Once St. Therese of Lisieux described herself as a grain of sand, and asked her sister Agnes to pray that this little grain of sand might become even smaller, even more humble, an atom that only the eyes of Jesus could see.

Centuries before St. Bernadette Soubirous and St. Therese of Lisieux were born, St. Juan Diego was already practicing the humility of spiritual childhood. He said, “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf.” What can you do with a short piece of rope? What value does a leaf have?

Well, practically nothing. Compared to broad jumping, one little step is nothing at all. But, we can walk thousands of times farther than the greatest distance anyone can cover in one mighty broad jump. It is by our ordinary acts of humble obedience, poverty and chastity, of silence, kindness and service done every day with love that we please God and become saints. Jean Leclercq writes that “the extraordinary does not dispense with ordinary acts of asceticism, reflection, study and prayer.”

Mary herself practiced the humble, ordinary way of spiritual childhood. “Behold, I am the handmaid, the servant, the slave of the Lord.” And she continues to live in this humility, this service and kindness to others. How else can we explain the miracle attributed to Juan Diego that led to his canonization? The miracle happened on May 6, 1990. A drug addict named Juan Jose Barragan Silva gave in to despair. In the presence of his mother he stabbed himself with a knife and then staggered to a balcony 32 feet above the street to throw himself over. His mother, Esperanza, tried to grab him in a desperate attempt to prevent his suicide. But he struggled free and jumped over the railing plunging to the ground below, striking head first. When he jumped his mother called on blessed Juan Diego saying, “Save this son of mine!” Then addressing the Blessed Virgin she prayed, “And you, my Mother, listen to Juan Diego!” Mary did.

The young man was rushed to the intensive care unit of Durango Hospital in Mexico City in serious condition about to die. Suddenly he was instantly and completely cured. The doctors described it as “unheard of and inconceivable.” Pope John Paul II approved this miracle that led to the canonization of Juan Diego in July, 2002.

May the example of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the handmaid of the Lord, and of St. Juan Diego whom she called the littlest of my children, encourage us to walk along the humble way of spiritual childhood.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

[Scripture Readings: Zech 2:14-17; Luke 1:39-47]

Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” It was the voice of a young Aztec princess surrounded by a glowing cloud encircled with a rainbow. She was calling on the 57 year old Juan Diego as he was on his way to church in Mexico City in his daily walk of fifteen miles. In this early morning of December 9, 1531, she introduced herself as the Blessed Mother who wanted a church to be built on that hill of Tepeyac and assured him of her “love, compassion, help and defense.” He was heading for some opposition of doubt and disbelief, particularly from the bishop of the place, Bishop Zumarraga. Instead, this occasioned the giving of proofs of Mary’s apparition to him. The ailing uncle of Juan Diego whom he was visiting on the 12th of December was healed. Upon instructions from the Blessed Mother on this fourth day of apparition, Juan was able to pick up Castillian roses in wintry December on the Tepeyac hill. Then, before the bishop, with the falling roses he gathered on his tilma (or mantle), he saw the image of the Lady imprinted on it. Mary in this apparition came to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

On that image of our Lady, she is portrayed as a native dark woman wearing pink dress with a black sash or cincture. In the Aztec culture, the back sash indicates that a woman was pregnant. But the pink dress shows that she was still a virgin. Her appearance in such countenance and clothing highlights the message that our Lady incarnates or inculturates the Word according to the culture and time of Juan Diego, the representative of the aborigines and the inhabitants of the New World, the Americas. At the time the New World was being evangelized by missionaries from the Old World. With the opportune moment of the apparition and her relevance in our modern world, Pope John Paul II calls Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “Star of the New Evangelization.”

Mary here is called “Guadalupe.” Some wonder whether the term comes from the Spanish Arabic word and refers to a church in Estremadura, Spain. There is no sure response to the question. However in the native Nahuatl tongue, the word “coatlaxopeuh” (pronounced as quatlasupe”) sounds like “Guadalupe“, and it means “the one who crushes the serpent.” This is how the Blessed Mother called herself. In the book of Genesis, after the Fall of Man, a lady was promised by God to be the one to crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). She is also portrayed in an eschatological context as our Lady in the book of Revelation (Rev 12), a woman clothed with the sun and whom the dragon was not able to overcome. Through the merits of the Son she gave birth, she put an end to the domain of the serpent.


When Juan Diego was given the mandate to build the church, he was at some point evasive of the Blessed Mother because of other concerns, such as the state of the dying uncle. But the Blessed Mother intercepted him on the way and told him: “Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.” This is the same assurance that the Blessed Lady of Guadalupe gives to us who believe. The serpent’s head may keep appearing with its ugly and evil schemes, but the Lady of Guadalupe will always be there with the power of her Son to conquer the serpent. She will overcome. Her intercessions are ever effective.

To Jesus through Mary – this is the principle and process we go through in coming to know and love the Word whom Mary has given flesh into the world. The bond which Juan Diego has developed with the Lady of Guadalupe started with a personal call, just as God calls each one of us by name. Scientific researches indicated that on the pupils of the Lady in that image, there appears the image of Juan Diego before her. He was the pupil of her eyes. The mandate to build a church echoed the call that St. Francis received as he prayed at the chapel of San Damiano. The church which was built later became one of the major basilicas in the world which is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. With the building of the church, Juan was also cooperating in the building of the temple of his body and life to become a fitting instrument in spreading the Good News of Evangelization to others. He spent the rest of his life in a little hermitage near the church sharing to pilgrims his experience of the apparition. He was not spared of the temptations of the world. But his trust and devotion to Our Lady helped him overcome the fatal blows of the serpent’s head.

Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, is considered the Patroness of the Americas. It is to this New World that the challenge of leading the crusade against the serpent is entrusted. In our contemporary world, we benefit a lot from the advances in technology, be it in various scientific fields or in information technology. These are exponential blessings that we have meant to enhance the quality of life, and with the speed to accomplish our projects. However, the serpent’s head keeps popping up, like a computer spam in the internet, in order to take the lives of the children of God and to subject them to its power. There is the forgetfulness or even the intentional deletion of the Christian roots from the memory in the life of the Old World which is mainly composed of the European Union. There are the flagrant legislative bills on contraception, divorce, abortion and possibly on euthanasia. The passing of laws on the same sex unions merely in the context of the legal rights has further threatened the stability of the man and woman in marriage and the family life. To remind us of Mary’s unfailing love for life, especially of the unborn, with the leads of John Paul II, she is called the Patroness of the unborn. Right to Life movements have rightly taken up her cause for the defense of life. If we love our lives, we should love others’ lives too. As Mary loved the life in her womb, by being devoted to her, we take the right path to defending and preserving life, our lives and those of others. We are then worthy to be entrusted with eternal life in her Son, the Christ.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

[Scripture Readings: Zech. 2: 14-17; Lk. 1: 39-47 ]

Throughout Advent we hear exhortations to wait expectantly for Christ’s coming. I find it helpful to ask myself, who does the Lord come to? Who does the Lord choose to dwell among? In this morning’s first reading Zachariah preaches to the exiles who have returned from the Babylonian captivity. The joy and exuberance of Second Isaiah that is prevalent in the Advent readings has given way to disappointment and discouragement with the actual situation to which they returned. Still, Zachariah calls them to sing and rejoice, because Yahweh has chosen to dwell among them. Throughout the Old Testament it is characteristic of God to choose not the wealthy and the powerful, but to choose the humble; those looked down on, at times those who are despised.

Central to our Advent celebration is the Holy Spirit’s coming to Mary, who describes herself as a lowly handmaid of the Lord. Joseph, her betrothed husband was an itinerant craftsman. Yet, God chose Mary to give birth to his Son, and he entrusted the care of Mary and Jesus to Joseph. In her turn Mary came to Elizabeth, a woman whom God had delivered from her humiliation before her relatives and neighbors. Elizabeth and a later Zachariah were from a priestly lineage, but not the ruling elite of Jerusalem. They lived somewhere in the hill country, and it is here that Mary brought not the good news about Jesus, but Jesus himself. In today’s feast we are remembering another visitation of Mary: Not to the conquering conquistadores, nor to high ecclesiastical authorities; but to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, one of the conquered peoples.

What do these Advent comings say to us? They are certainly a call to humility; and, whether we think about it or not, they turn our conventional values upside down. It is one thing to admire the humble and insignificant people that we read about in scripture and the lives of the saints; but do we want to be among them? It is not that any of us considers himself or herself wealthy or exceptionally powerful. I think that is unlikely. But do we really want to say with Mary, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”, and accept whatever God has in store for us with trust and hope? In our times of disappointment and discouragement do we see ourselves reflected in Elizabeth and Zachariah and Joseph and Juan Diego, and sing out with joy because we are among those God favors? Yet, if we want our Advent expectations to be fulfilled, we will need to take on the attitude of Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zachariah and Juan Diego no matter what our external situations may be.

Advent reminds us that Christ has come to us in history and that he will come to us again in the future. Christ also comes to us now. He will be present on the altar in his body and blood. He is present in his word. He is present in each one of us as, in imitation of Mary, we bring him to one another. Our part is to welcome him in humility and without pretence, so that we can experience the joy of knowing that we are favored by God.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

[Scripture Readings: Zech 2:14-17; Lk 1:39-47 ]

In today’s gospel, when Elizabeth greeted Mary she said,

“Blessed are you who trusted
  That what was spoken to you
    By the Lord would be fulfilled.”

When the Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, she addressed him as “…(M)y most humble of sons…” She immediately named the quality that made him the object of her favor. Humility won her favor because her first words to him were designed to ease fears and win TRUST. As St. Benedict tells us, the first step of humility is obedience and obedience begins with listening. Juan listened, trusted, and obeyed.

The Lady introduced herself to Juan as “…the ever virgin holy Mary, mother of the true God.” She then said, “Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten you … . Let not your heart be disturbed…Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? … What else do you wish? … Be aware of how fortunate you are to have access to my motherly care at all times.” When these words met Juan Diego’s humility, when he easily and readily acknowledged the truth of his condition and her loving concern, trust was established.

Trust is a child-like quality found in the humble. Juan Diego trusts when what the Lady speaks to him has great influence on the kind of person he becomes. A child is naturally oriented to goodness because he is totally dependent. Dependence is the pre-condition for trust. It was Juan’s condition. We trust the one in whom we find goodness.

In trusting someone we, like a child, look up from below. We learn from the other what the world is about. Trusting what another says about what is our true good and end in life is how we gain wisdom.

What makes trust possible? Mary shows us four elements that makes trust in her possible. They characterized her relationship with the Father. We are called to imitate them so that we might have such a relationship with the Father and so others will find us trustworthy.

The first element is concern. Concern means we are the object of the person’s sense of obligation rooted in his or her justice or friendship.

Second is competence. She identified herself as his mother. A mother and a Father are known to be competent to both change circumstances and to give consolation.

Third, we trust one who is just, generous, and merciful. She assured him — and us—of her protection. We trust people with whom we have a history of helpful, caring relationships or if they have a reputation for that. There is a catch here, though. It is a law of nature that ‘like calls to like.’ We recognize those qualities in others if we posses them ourselves. We don’t trust people we have mistreated. We learn to trust by being trustworthy.

Fourth, We feel close to one we trust. She told Juan, “Am I not here…?” We draw close by prayer and our Christian way of life. We are trusting a source of nourishment.

Mary, acting on behalf of and by the power of the Father, established these qualities in her greeting to Juan Diego. In humility—in living in the truth—Juan knew his own dependence and need for her care.

When God makes Himself the guide of a soul, he draws from it confidence in Him and freedom from anything that would hinder this confidence. What we bring to it is knowledge of our need for His guidance. The experience of self is the condition which makes it possible to experience God. For some of us this knowledge is born of past failures; for others it has been the gift of faith we’ve had since childhood which the Church has accepted and nourished. In either case, Mary is the model for our trust in God.

Coming out of this knowledge of our need is a willingness to be moved. This is a surrender—a relaxing into—what God is trying to impress upon us. The image venerated at the Guadalupe shrine represents this well: the image is Mary’s; the cloak that bears it is Juan Diego’s. The power is God’s; the need to receive it is ours.