December 12th is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the light of a December morning in rural Mexico, a humble farmer walks to mass and is astonished when he comes face to face with a radiant apparition of Mary as a pregnant young woman in native clothes. Thus begins a relationship between Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego that will change the church. When all is said and done roses will bloom in the unfertile soil, a miraculous image will appear on an ordinary cloak, a man will be healed of a life-threatening fever and a church will be built.
Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us of God’s love for those who are lowly in this world, particularly as Jesus was born lowly and poor in a stable. As we pray with the example of Our Lady of Guadalupe today, how might we be called to be in solidarity with those who are poor and vulnerable, especially as we anticipate the birth of Jesus?
Patroness of the Americas and of the unborn children, You remind us not only of God’s ongoing presence among us, but of that fact that God looks like us, talks like us and meets us where we are at. Guide us as we work to be attentive to the lowly in the way that you cared for Juan Diego and his family. Inspire in us his faithfulness and courage, that we, too, may trust in God’s providence and care. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. Saint Juan Diego, pray for us.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The feast in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the 16th century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story.
A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honour of Our Lady.
Juan was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared, and within it stood an Indian maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.
Eventually the bishop told Juan to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Juan to try to avoid the lady. Nevertheless, the lady found Juan, assured him that his uncle would recover, and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma. It was a miracle that the roses were there and in bloom because there was frost on the ground, and the ground was an infertile place where only cactus and thistles grew. After he gathered them, she helped arrange them in his tilma, or poncho, and told him to show them to the Bishop.
On December 12, when Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground, and the bishop sank to his knees. On the tilma where the roses had been appeared an image of Mary exactly as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac.
The tilma is still intact after 470 years. The colours have not faded, and the cloth has not deteriorated. It has been on display in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all this time.
The manner in which Our Lady appeared on the tilma was very significant to the Aztec Indians. God had her dressed in a way that they would understand who she was. She was dressed in royal clothes that showed that she was very important, perhaps a queen. She also had the symbol of the cross at her neck which was the same symbol the Spaniards had on their ships and in the churches they built. She had a sash tied around her waist which meant that she was with child, for this was the way the Aztec women dressed when they were pregnant. And on her beautiful dress were all sorts of designs and flowers. But there was one flower on her dress that was very significant. It had only four petals. To the Aztecs, the four-petal flower was the symbol for the true God, the God above all gods. This flower was located on her abdomen, right over the place where Jesus was growing inside of her. The Aztecs immediately understood that this was the mother of the true God!
The Virgin said to Juan Diego:
“Listen and understand, my littlest son, let nothing frighten and afflict you or trouble your heart … Am I not here, I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow? Am I not your health? Are you not by chance held in my mantle?”
These words help us to have hope, faith and strength. God hears the cry of his people; he is present with the Virgin of Guadalupe, sustaining us and giving us his unconditional love in the person of Christ. And just as the Virgin stays with us and sustains us, we have to do the same for each other.