"... 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."
It is fitting that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12) falls during the season of Advent, during which the faithful ask God to renew within them a spirit of patience and hope. Yesterday, Catholics throughout the Americas celebrated the feast of their beloved patroness, "La Virgencita," or the "Little Virgin" of Guadalupe, who appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531.
At the time of the apparition, Juan was a widowed farmer in his late fifties and a recent convert to Catholicism. He had spent the better part of his life waiting to hear the saving message of the gospel, and though he became a devout Catholic after his conversion, he lived during a time in which many of the Mexican people were still practicing the pagan religion of the Aztecs. On his way to Mass one day, Juan met a beautiful young Lady who spoke to him in his native language, Nahuatl, and asked: "Juanito, my son, where are you going?" When he responded, "Noble lady, I am on my way to Church to hear Mass," the Lady revealed her identity with such gentleness and such affection that her words speak volumes about her love for each of us.
"My dear little 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 to be built in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will see their tears; I will console them, and they will be at peace."
Our Blessed Mother truly loves us. She wants us to know who she is, to know the inexhaustible love, mercy and compassion that flow forth from her Immaculate Heart, and to have confidence that she accompanies us in our work and in our sorrow. She wants to remind us, especially during this season of Advent, that she is the Mother of "the true God who gives life," and that if we wait on God's Word with hope and prepare ourselves to respond to Him with a "yes" like hers, He will sustain us and we too will "bear Christ" to the world, as she did.
The rest of the story of Guadalupe is familiar to most Catholics: Our Lady then asked Juan Diego to go to the bishop and share with him all that he had seen and heard. When the bishop asked for a sign to substantiate the peasant's claims, Juan returned to Our Lady and she sent him to a hilltop where he was able to fill his tilma (apron) with beautiful roses to take to the bishop. The roses themselves were miraculous, since it was the middle of winter and no other flowers were blooming - but since God is not to be outdone in beauty, when Juan unfurled his tilma before the bishop, all who were present were astounded not only by the roses, but also by the magnificent picture of Mary they beheld "painted" on his cloak. She was just as he had described her - a young, olive-skinned Indian woman surrounded by light and wearing the belt traditionally worn by Aztec women during pregnancy. To this day experts have not been able to determine just how the image was rendered, nor how the image and the tilma, which is made of poor-quality cactus cloth, have not deteriorated over the centuries. It is accurate down to the minutest detail: the proportions of the image are those of a young girl of about 15 years of age, the pattern on her red garment is a map of Mexico, the stars on her cloak form real constellations, and it is said that reflections of Juan Diego and his bishop can be seen in her eyes.
Our Lady also appeared to Juan Diego's uncle, who was miraculously cured of an illness thanks to her intercession, and she told him that she and her image were to be called "Santa Maria de Guadalupe." Some linguists believe that "Guadalupe" is really a Spanish spelling of the Nahuatl word Coatallope or Coatlaxopeuh, which means "Who Crushes the Serpent" or "Who Treads on Snakes." This title can refer to traditional depictions of Mary crushing the head of a serpent, as well as Our Lady's triumph over the Aztec snake-god, Quetzalcoatl, since the story of her appearance and the exposition of Juan Diego's tilma led to the conversion of millions of the indigenous people of Mexico and their descendants. The image is loaded with mythological significance for the Aztec people if it is read as a pictograph. This article explains the image in fascinating detail: The Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a Pictograph.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. Accompany us through Advent as we wait to celebrate the birth of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.