The Life-Giving Love of Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 12th, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which commemorates the Blessed Virgin’s apparition to one St. Juan Diego. Although this feast is beloved and celebrated worldwide, it is of especial importance to those of us who live in the Americas: Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared Patroness of the Americas in 1945, and St. Juan Diego was the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint of the Americas. This feast commemorates not merely an apparition, although that is extraordinary in and of itself. Our Lady’s apparition to St. Juan Diego can be said to signify the spiritual dawn of the Church’s mission in the Americas. As Our Lady spoke to him, she said, “I am truly your compassionate Mother; your Mother and the Mother to all who dwell in this land and to all other nations and peoples.” As such, her apparition gave and continues to give us knowledge that in spite of others who may want to turn our country away from God, the Americas are always united under the protection of our loving Mother.
The Apparition at Guadalupe
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe begins on the morning of December 9, 1531. Juan Diego was a native Mexican peasant who, when walking on the Hill of Tepeyac, experienced a vision of a woman speaking to him in his native language of Nahuatl (the language of the Aztec Empire). She identified herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary and requested that a church be built in her honor. Juan carried her request to the archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who found it difficult to believe Juan’s story and sent him away. Juan witnessed another vision and returned to Fray Zumárraga, who instructed Juan to ask for some miraculous sign to show that she truly was the Blessed Virgin. Juan gave this information to the Blessed Virgin, who promised a miracle on the following day of December 11.
On that day, Juan was delayed by the illness of his uncle, as he was obliged to care for his needs. His uncle’s condition deteriorated to the point of requiring a priest, and Juan was sent to fetch one from a nearby city. Fearing the embarrassment of having to miss his meeting with the Blessed Virgin, Juan chose an alternate route to escape any interaction with her. She appeared to him on that route and, after Juan’s explanation of what had happened in his family, gently encouraged him to trust in her promises, saying: “Am I not here, who am your mother?” She told him that his uncle was no longer in danger of death and advised him to gather flowers from the top of the Hill of Tepeyac. Juan was surprised at her request, considering that the Hill of Tepeyac was generally barren even in warm seasons, but heeded her words. At the top of the hill he found Castilian roses, a variety not native to that place, and the Blessed Virgin arranged them in his tilma (or cloak) to bring back to the Archbishop. Upon his return to Fray Zumárraga, Juan let the roses fall out of his cloak onto the floor, and they saw with wonder that a beautiful image of the Blessed Virgin had appeared in place of the roses. The following day, Juan found his uncle fully recovered, and his uncle said that the Blessed Virgin had appeared to him as well and requested that the miracle of his healing be used to increase knowledge and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Am I Not Here, Who Am Your Mother?”
One of the aspects of this apparition that is exceptionally striking is how Our Lady addresses Juan with a motherly tone of both tender reproach and comfort after he tries to avoid visiting her. Such a tone is not common among the various apparitions of Mary throughout history. Her encouragement for Juan to trust both in her and in God, even when someone he loved seemed to be dying, gives us an indication of the kind of trust that we should strive to have in her intercession even in our everyday lives.
This trust extends to both trust in God and trust in the fact that we will be given the grace necessary to fulfill our vocations. Juan, who was not wealthy and in many ways did not believe himself to be capable of what Our Lady asked, ultimately conveyed the message of what is now the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. So it was that he trusted not only in Our Lady’s promises, but also in the fact that he would be given the grace to perform the necessary tasks of God’s will in his life. Juan built the shrine that Our Lady requested in two ways. He facilitated the building of the physical shrine that now stands on Tepeyac Hill. More importantly, he built a shrine of love and obedience in himself as he responded to God’s calling as it was conveyed through Our Lady.
In the apparition at Guadalupe, Our Lady has given us yet another example of how we may respond to whatever God asks with a simple “yes.” Juan’s obedience to her and ultimately to the will of God helps us to be inspired to do this, but also points towards the original fiat: Mary’s own “yes” to bearing God’s son and thus becoming a shrine herself containing the Word of God.
The Way Forward is To Return To Guadalupe
As we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe this December 12th, we can consider the overall meaning of Our Lady’s message at Guadalupe. In one account of the apparition based on the testimony of St. Juan Diego, Our Lady spoke these words: “I am the ever-Virgin, holy Mary, Mother of the true God — the life-giving Creator of all peoples.” Archbishop José Gomez of the Diocese of Los Angeles has noted that in this way, the apparitions at Guadalupe reflect the possibility of a kind of new history of the Americas, where all work to unite all things under Christ.
This mirrors what is said in St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians: “For he [God the Father] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” It is of great importance that we seek and follow the directives of God’s will in our lives and work to establish a new civilization of love, a new world of faith. This is especially vital in modern America, where faith tends to be dismissed in favor of the idols of man. In such a society, it is more important than ever that we Catholics work to teach and evangelize and bring the gospel of Christ to all.
The vision of Juan Diego shows us the beauty that we may find in the world if we see it with the light of Catholicism: in the dead of winter on a hill that was known to be barren, Juan Diego witnessed the life-giving love of God that manifested itself in a gift from His Mother and a showering of roses. As we celebrate this feast that falls in the season of Advent, a time of waiting for the Light, let us trust in the promises of God and His Mother and proclaim the joy of the Gospel to everyone we meet.