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Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12)

December 12, 2007

Blessed Feast!
As Juan Diego, the poor Aztec farmer, walked the 9 miles to Mass to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, he heard beautiful music, as if sung by rare birds, coming from the top of Tepeyac. When he paused to listen, he heard someone calling, “Juanito, Juan Dieguito!” Clambering up the hill, he came upon a breathtakingly beautiful young maiden, dressed like an Aztec princess. She said to him:
“Do know this,
do be assured of it in your heart,
My Littlest One,
that I Myself,
I am the Entirely and Ever Virgin,
Saint Mary,
Mother of the True Divinity,
of God Himself.
Because of Him, Life goes on,
Creation goes on;
His are all things afar,
His are all things near at hand,
things above in the Heavens,
things here below on the Earth.
How truly I wish it,
how greatly I desire it,
that here they should erect Me My Temple!
Here would I show forth,
here would I lift up to view,
here would I make a gift of
all My Fondness for My Dear Ones,
all My Regard for My Needy Ones,
My Willingness to Aid them,
My Readiness to Protect them.
For truly I Myself,
I am your Compassionate Mother,
yours, for you yourself,
for everybody here in the Land,
for each and all together,
for all others too,
for all Folk of every kind,
who do but cherish Me,
who do but raise their voices to Me,
who do but seek Me,
who do but raise their trust to Me.
For here I shall listen to their groanings,
to their saddenings;
here shall I make well and heal up
their each and every kind of disappointment,
of exhausting pangs,
of bitter aching pain.”

The maiden then sent Juan to the bishop to ask him to build this chapel for her. Bishop Juan de Zumaraga, meanwhile, had problems of his own. It had only been 10 years since the great Aztec empire had surrendered to the invading Spaniards, who had since proven themselves oppressive overlords. The native peoples were on the verge of revolt. Try as he might, the bishop could see no way of averting a massive bloodbath. He had been begging Mary for help, asking her specifically for Castilian roses, which only grow in Spain, as a sign of her intercession.

Even so, Juan Diego did not have an easy task. The doorkeepers of the bishop’s residence did not want to let such poor riff-raff into the bishop’s presence, and even when they did, the bishop did not believe his story. Juan returned to the Virgin, asking her to send someone more likely to be believed, but she insisted. No one else would do.

Juan returned to the bishop the following day, at which Bishop Zumaraga asked for a sign. The next day Juan’s beloved uncle fell desperately ill, so Juan stayed home to nurse him. A day later, December 12, the sick man’s condition had become so serious that Juan rushed to find a priest to hear his uncle’s Confession and administer the last Sacraments. Not wanting to be delayed by the Virgin, he went around the other side of Tepeyac, hoping to avoid her. She, however, came to meet him:

“Do listen,
do be assured of it in your heart,
My Littlest One,
that nothing at all should alarm you,
should trouble you,
nor in any way disturb your countenance,
your heart.
And do not be afraid of this Pestilence,
nor of any other pestilence
or any rasping hardship.
For am I not here,
I, Your Mother?
Are you not in the Cool of My Shadow?
in the Breeziness of My Shade?
Is it not I
that am your Source of Contentment?
Are you not cradled in My Mantle?
cuddled in the Crossing of My Arms?
Is there anything else for you to need?
Nothing else, though, should trouble you,
should disquiet you.
And do not let it trouble you,
this Pestilence of your Uncle’s,
for he is not going to die of it now.
Do be assured of it in your heart
that he has already healed up.”

She then sent him up Tepeyac to gather the flowers he would find there, as a sign for the bishop. They were Castilian roses, blooming in December! When Juan brought the roses to the Virgin, she arranged them carefully in his tilma and sent him on his way. After more trouble with the doorkeepers, Juan finally brought his precious gift to Bishop Zumaraga. As he opened his tilma and the roses cascaded to the floor, all eyes were suddenly fixed on the rough cactus fiber cloth of the garment. The image of the Virgin herself, in vivid color, appeared before their eyes.

In the meantime, the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego’s uncle, healed him, and told him that she wished the image to be entitled “the Ever Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe”.

By this time, Bishop Zumaraga was more than convinced. He had the chapel built and put Juan Diego in charge of taking care of it. Juan Diego moved into a little hut next to the chapel and spent the rest of his life (17 years) praying, taking care of the chapel and telling everyone who came about Our Lady and about Her Son. The native people, convinced by the image that the new religion was the true one, converted to Catholicism in droves. The Spaniards, in turn, realizing that Mary herself loved the native peoples, began to treat them more humanely. Juan Diego’s tilma, which would be expected to disintegrate after 20-30 years, is still on display in Mexico, nearly 500 years after the original appearance of Mary. To this day, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a unifying force for the Mexican people.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, compassionate Patroness of the Americas, pray for us!

Since Our Lady of Guadalupe is Patroness of the Americas, the readings today are specific for the feast for us:
Zechariah 2:14-17 (God is coming to dwell among us)
OR: Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 10 (the ark of the covenant: a woman clothed with the sun)
Judith 15:9, 13:18, 19 “You are the highest honor of our race”
+ Luke 1:26-38 (the Annunciation)
OR: + Luke 1:39-45 (the Visitation)

Before we can celebrate the birth of a Baby, there has to be a pregnancy, right? That little detail often gets lost in our thinking about Christmas. Mary is in her final month, great with Child, eagerly looking forward to being able to hold her Baby in her arms for the very first time. God is already with us, dwelling in our midst within the womb of the Virgin.

This feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe highlights Mary’s pregnancy. The black belt around her waist indicated to the Aztecs that she was with Child, and the readings are all about God’s Presence in her womb. Through Zechariah, God tells us, “I am coming to dwell with you”, which He did in Mary’s womb. “Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day”. When God came to Mexico in Mary’s womb, that nation joined the many nations that had embraced Christianity. “Let all flesh be silent at the Presence of the Lord! For He is risen up out of His holy habitations.” Jesus came forth from Mary, His holy dwelling, in the stillness of the night on the first Christmas.

In St. John’s description of the visions God revealed to him in exile on the Island of Patmos, he saw the long-lost ark of the covenant; the awe-inspiring dwelling place of God among men. Then he saw the new ark of the covenant, a woman about to give birth, clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and a crown of stars on her head. When Mary appeared in Mexico, she stood in front of the sun, so that its rays surround her like a garment. The moon is under her feet, there are stars all over her cloak, and she is with Child. She is the woman of Revelation.

Our two options for the Gospel both speak of Mary with Child as well; first we read of her yes to God’s invitation to be His mother, and then of her journey to share the good news and to share the Presence of the Baby in her womb with her kinswomen Elizabeth, who was also with child.

In our Psalm response, we exclaim to Mary that she is the highest honor of our race. How? Through her motherhood, which opened the way to our salvation. The highest honor of our race, and certainly of women, is the incredible ability to surrender our very bodies to God for the creation and nurture of eternal souls destined for the splendors of Heaven. When St. Paul told the young bishop, St. Timothy, that holy women would be saved through childbearing (I Timothy 2:15), that was a compliment! Mary participated in bringing the souls of all of us to Heaven by saying yes to motherhood. Holy women throughout the ages have done the same, although in more limited ways. Even those of us women who cannot physically give birth have a call to spiritual motherhood, to nurturing souls and drawing them to Heaven. When women say no to their sacred vocation of motherhood, Heaven and earth are both deprived of the crown of God’s creation. If all women said no to motherhood, the human race would vanish from the planet in a single generation.

The most important person on earth is a mother.
She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame cathedral.
She need not.
She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral–
a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of baby’s body.
The angels have not been blessed with such a grace.
They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven.
Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature.
What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: To be a mother?
-Joseph Cardinal Mindzenty

As we celebrate this feast of Mother Mary, may we honor and encourage all mothers in their high calling of bringing life to the world.

For today’s treasure hunt, let’s look for Jesus in children. It’s often said that Christmas is all about children, that it’s for children. Certainly children love the Christmas traditions: cookies, presents, lights, stories. If it weren’t for their enthusiasm, some of the more jaded of us adults might not bother with all the extras of the season. Children remind us that God came to earth as a Child. He did not despise their lowliness. In fact, He told us that unless we become like little children we won’t even enter His Kingdom! (Luke 18:17) Children can remind us of Baby Jesus, but also of the little boy Jesus, Who must’ve been as excited over the annual Jewish feasts as modern children are over Christmas. They can challenge us to a fresh innocence, eagerness, humility, and trust of our own as we seek to enter more fully into the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

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