Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! This day commemorates the appearances of Mary to a man named Juan Diego between December 9-12, 1531, in Mexico. Known by various names including the Mother or Patroness of the Americas and La Virgen Morena (The Brown-skinned Virgin), Our Lady of Guadalupe is a culturally unique and passionately beloved manifestation of Mary.
According to the legend, Our Lady of Guadalupe made her appearance to Juan Diego about a decade following the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, who brought with them, among other things, the practice of Roman Catholicism. An early convert to the new faith, Juan Diego was walking from his village toward what is now Mexico City when, on a hillside, the Virgin appeared to him and, speaking in Diego’s native language of Nahuatl, told him to take a message to the bishop that a sanctuary should be built on that site. Diego made several visits to Bishop Zumárraga, who was naturally skeptical of this peasant man. Finally the bishop asked for a sign. The Virgin provided one. Sending Juan Diego to the top of Tepeyac Hill, Mary told him to pick the roses he would find there. Gathering the out-of-season blooms in his tilma (cloak), he set out once again to see the bishop. When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the presence of Bishop Zumárraga, the stunning December roses spilled forth, but Mary had one more miracle in store: to the amazement of those present, the empty tilma bore an image of the Virgin.
The Lady received her sanctuary.
In the succeeding centuries, controversies have attended the Virgin of Guadalupe, including disputes over the authenticity of her appearances and of the image on the tilma, which still survives. Her role as an indigenous manifestation of Mary receives much attention; emerging from the encounter of native Mexican religion with the Catholicism of the conquistadores, she is perceived by some as a sort of syncretistic, Christianized goddess. Whatever her origins and meanings, Our Lady of Guadalupe persists as a powerful presence of hope and a beloved sign of Mary’s love for the Americas.
In a bookstore several years ago, I picked up a small volume titled Felicidad de México. Published in 1995 to commemorate the centennial of the coronation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the book is in Spanish, which I understand muy poquito and read just barely enough to be dangerous. I got it for the pictures. Filled with wonderful images of Mary, the pages offer many versions of the apparition of Guadalupe. In these depictions, the blue-cloaked Mary wears a crown, hovers above an angel-held crescent moon, and shimmers in a penumbra of sunlight with rays like knife blades. Always, there are roses.
Here at the midpoint of Advent, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe invites us to keep our eyes open for the variety of guises in which the sacred shows up. This day beckons us, too, to be mindful of our connections with sisters and brothers of the global church. On this day I am asking myself, To a world in which God is laboring to be born, what difference does my Advent journey make? And what wisdom might the Mother of God have to offer me about that?
A blessed feast day to you! May something miraculous come your way.