“Am I not here, who am your Mother?”
Reflection on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated each year on December 12. This feast commemorates the great events that took place from December 9-12, 1531, when Juan Diego, a 55 year-old native Mexican, received four apparitions from the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hill of Tepeyac located in the northernmost delegación or borough of the Mexican Federal District (Mexico City).
The Basilica of Guadalupe built on this site is one of the most famous and most visited Catholic shrines in the world. During the apparitions, Juan Diego received the iconic image of the Lady of Guadalupe. Mary introduced herself to this poor, humble man as the “ever perfect Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God.” The Mother of God not only visited Juan Diego’s people, but she chose to remain with them. She left her sacred image mysteriously imprinted on the tilma (cloak) of her messenger in order that we might keep in mind the symbol of Mary's covenant with these people, conferring her spirit and tenderness.
The faithful cannot conceive of Our Lady of Guadalupe without St. Juan Diego's tilma. For the Indian cultures of that time, the tilma was the exterior expression of the innermost identity of the person. By being visible on Juan Diego's tilma, Mary became imprinted in the deepest recesses of his heart – and in the hearts of all who come to her. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not simply an image on the tilma, as miraculous as this is. She has become part her children's innermost identity.
During the apparitions when Juan Diego told the Virgin he had not been able to relay her message to the bishop, he suggested she send someone of greater stature. He explained, “Because for sure, I am a meager peasant, a cord, a little ladder, the people’s dung; I am a leaf.” But to the humble Virgin of Nazareth who was appearing in the Americas, he was “Juan Diegito, the dearest of my children.” Mary considered herself a “handmaid,” but the angel told her she was the “favored one.” Juan Diego considered himself “the people’s dung,” but Mary considered him “the dearest of my children.”
Love has given Mary a thousand names. For us in the Americas, and particularly through the eyes and hearts of the Hispanic peoples among us, we know the Mother of the Lord under different titles: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Our Lady of Charity of Cobre (Cuba), Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil), Our Lady of Divine Providence (Puerto Rico), and Our Lady of Mercy (Peru). Each of these peoples people speak of Mary with tenderness and devotion, with terms of love and endearment. She is not only Nuestra Señora, but she is also Madrecita, La Virgencita, and La Morenita.
In paragraph #286 of his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes:
“Mary was able to turn a stable into a home for Jesus, with poor swaddling clothes and an abundance of love. She is the handmaid of the Father who sings his praises. She is the friend who is ever concerned that wine not be lacking in our lives. She is the woman whose heart was pierced by a sword and who understands all our pain. As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love. As a true mother, she walks at our side, she shares our struggles and she constantly surrounds us with God’s love. Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity. Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God. There, in these many shrines, we can see how Mary brings together her children who with great effort come as pilgrims to see her and to be seen by her. Here they find strength from God to bear the weariness and the suffering in their lives. As she did with Juan Diego, Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: “Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?””
The apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe had a deep impact on Evangelization in the Americas. The messages that Mary imparted to her children in 1531 from Tepeyac Hill need to be made known once again. In a society that talks more about God rather than to God (prayer), we need to be reminded that God exists. In a world that is entangled with practices leading to death such as abortion, euthanasia, genocide, wars etc. we need to hear the message of respect for life in all its stages. In a world that is losing the sense of the supernatural, we need to know that Jesus is our Savior and that He has given us a most precious gift: his own Mother to be ours. Let us turn to Mary with our most intimate problems and deepest questions. She listens to us with attentiveness and compassion. On her special feast, let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to protect especially our suffering brothers and sisters in Mexico and throughout Latin America.