For me the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe always brings back a most pleasant memory. In 1980 my mom, dad and I spent a week in Mexico City. The high point was attending the Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, the very day of the Feast. I had the great privilege of concelebrating the Mass with Cardinal Corripio and 60 or 70 other priests. I was impressed by Cardinal Corripio's calm in the sacristy before Mass. He was in charge of the world's largest diocese, some 15 million Catholics and he seemed calmer than me with a parish of perhaps fifteen hundred members.
At the end of the Mass people brought huge containers of roses in memory of the miracle. The Cardinal blessed the flowers and then, to my surprise, gave a bouquet of six red roses to each of the concelebrants. When we got back in the sacristy, I asked one of the priests if we could keep the roses. He said, "Yes, but I giving mine to her," indicating the Blessed Virgin. I told him my own mother and dad were here so I would give my roses to them.
The crowd was so huge it took some time to get to our pre-arranged meeting spot. On the way a woman said to me, "Padre, you were one of the priests on the altar. Please, give me one of the roses." I was a little sad, but Jesus told us to give to the person who asks, so I said, "Sure," and gave her one. A second lady approached me with the same request and I said, "OK." Then a third. By the time I arrived at my parents, there were three roses left. We wanted to take them back to the United States, but it seemed they would wilt, so we made our way to a table near the image of our Lady and placed them on it.
The roses of course recall the miracle of Guadalupe. When the Virgin Mary first appeared to St. Juan Diego, she told him to go to the bishop and ask that a church be built in her honor on the hill of Tepeyac where the people could bring her their pains, anxieties, sickness--all their problems. And she would listen because she is their mother. But Juan Diego protested, "Niña mia, la más pequeña, my littlest daughter" (it was an affectionate and respectful greeting) "I am not the right person. Send someone more worthy, better educated, someone younger." Juan Diego was a 57 years old widower when the Virgin appeared to him.
She said patiently, "I have many children and many messengers--but I have chosen you. You are my littlest son. I want you to go." Juan was still reluctant, "I cannot go, my uncle is sick and must take care of him." The Virgin smiled and said, "Am I not your mother?"
The Virgin showed her motherly love. She appeared to his uncle Juan Bernardino, healing him. Finally in her third appearance to Juan Diego, she gave him the sign: Castillan roses blooming in the cold of December. Juan gathered some in his cloak, the Virgin helped him arrange them, then he ran to the bishop. He told bishop Zumarraga, "I have the sign you asked for."
When he let the roses fall, the bishop and his assistants dropped to their knees. It wasn't just their amazement at seeing the Castillan roses, but something more. On Juan Diego's cloak appeared the image which, 472 years later, you can still see in the basilica of Guadalupe.
This image of our Lady is the Gospel in picture form. She is, as Apocalypse 12 describes, "a woman clothed in the sun, with the moon at her feet." Those who saw it realized immediately she is greater than the sun, moon, stars which they had worshipped as gods. For people today in what is called the "New Age" she is also a sign not to worship the "forces" of nature.
But she herself is not a goddess. She has her hands folded in prayer, her eyes looking down in humility. To whom is she praying? The clue is in the brooch under her neck. It has a small cross. But she is not only praying to God, she has God inside her. the black band under her hands symbolizes pregnancy. Our Lady of Guadalupe is bringing Jesus within her to the peoples of the Americas.
Because she is with child, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the pro-life movement. She is the protector of unborn children--and of their mothers, especially those who are facing an unexpected or difficult pregnancy. I ask women who have undergone an abortion to turn to Mary. That is so important because often the root cause of the abortion can be found in their relationship to their own mother.
You can see the compassion in the face of the Blessed Virgin. Many have commented on that beautiful face, noting the dark hues of her complexion. It has been suggested that Mary appeared to Juan Diego as an Indian woman. That could be, but there is another possible explanation. Mary, of course, was a Hebrew woman and probably herself had black hair and dark skin. Perhaps what we have here is how Mary actually looked when she walked this earth - when was pregnant with Jesus.
Scientists cannot explain how this image was imprinted on the tilma nor how it has lasted for almost five centuries - so bright that it seems like it was given to us yesterday. It may not be a painting at all. So many have said that when they first saw the image of our Lady of Guadalupe it gave the impression of being alive, that it bears the presence of a person. This corresponds to the Greek Orthodox understanding of an icon. It not only represents Jesus or the saint, but in some mysterious sense contains the presence of the saint. That is why an icon is never simply painted, but the artist prays and fasts for a considerable time before even beginning.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is such an icon. It doesn't just represent Mary; for her children it conveys her maternal presence. That can be appreciated especially in her eyes. When the NASA scientists and others were doing their investigation, they took pictures of the eyes and magnified them many times. They were amazed to see the reflection of a man in her eye. For sure it is Juan Diego, the "littlest of her sons" whom she is looking at with such love. But the Virgin Mary has in her eye not only Juan Diego, but you and me. She looks at us as a mother. Not just to correct us when we start walking on a destructive path. She is like some of the mothers here who can spend hours and hours just looking at their recently born child. It is a look of pure love and affection.
Today's feast is an opportunity for us to draw near our Blessed Mother. She knows our anxieties and pains. She wants to give us the greatest gift of all, her own son, Jesus.
(updated, December 10, 2003)
Our Lady of Guadalupe: A Guide for the New Millennium by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo
Pictures of Fr. Elizondo explaining Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady Of Guadalupe Website
In his Post-Synodal Exhortation (Jan. 22, 1999: Mexico City) Pope John Paul made a significant announcement regarding Our Lady of Guadalupe: December 12 is to be celebrated liturgically as a "Feast" not only in Mexico, but throughout all of the nations of North and South America.
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