“At the school of Mary, we learn that her life is marked not by protagonism but by the capacity to enable others to be protagonists. She offers courage, teaches people to speak, and above all encourages people to live the boldness of faith and hope. In this way she becomes the transparency of the Lord’s face who shows his power by inviting and calling people to participate in building up his living temple.” – Pope Francis, Homily on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2018
Such a strange thing Christ has done! He has left his mission to the baptized until he comes again in glory at the end of time. This is the part of Advent waiting that we often do not dwell on. The first half of Advent is very much focused, though, on this reality. Our waiting is not passive, but very active. We are protagonists who are called to boldly witness Christ in our lives. Bold witness in the way of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who encouraged St. Juan Diego to go forth to build not simply a physical temple in the Lord, but one that is living.
In a time of needed renewal within the Church, we turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary to be with us, but also to give us example. She did not focus on the reality of the change in her life when she heard the message of the Angel Gabriel. Instead, she rose and went “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth to rejoice and be in solidarity with her. Elizabeth’s son, St. John the Baptist, later went forth to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah through conversion of hearts and minds to the Lord. We, too, are meant to do the same. We cannot sit back and wait for others, but need to go forth with urgency, in haste, “inviting and calling people to participate in building up his living temple.”
This inviting and calling that enables “others to be protagonists” has a name – co-responsibility. It is co-responsibility for the mission of Christ and his Church. Pope Francis invites us to “move towards a participatory and co-responsible Church, one capable of appreciating its own rich variety, gratefully accepting the contributions of the lay faithful, including young people and women, consecrated persons, as well as groups, associations and movements. No one should be excluded or exclude themselves” (Christus Vivit, 206). Therefore, may our Advent waiting not be passive, but very active in our bold witness of Emmanuel, King of the Nations and Prince of Peace!
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
It might be frightening to look at our culture today. There is the sense that a Catholic worldview is not welcome. Some feel confusion about what it means to be Catholic. A culture of death and darkness seems to oppose God’s love. One wonders how the Holy Spirit will work in the world and through the Church amidst such hostility and division.
This is not the first time the Church has encountered such a moment. The 1500s were also a tumultuous era. At the beginning of the century, in, 1517, the Protestant Reformation started. Then the English Reformation of Henry VIII began in 1534. The Church responded with the Counter-Reformation. A new order, the Jesuits, was founded in 1540 and in 1545, the Council of Trent was initiated. By that time, millions of people had left the Catholic Church. It seemed to be a time of waywardness and chaos. How was the Holy Spirit going to work in such a world?
Simple: By sending the Mother of God not to the Old World—Europe—but to the New World. Specifically, Mary appeared at the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531 to ask a 57-year-old peasant named Juan Diego to speak to Bishop Zumarraga about building a chapel in her honor there. This is where Our Lady, on December 9th, made her first apparition to her “Juanito” or “dear little Juan.” She told him that she was “the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth.” On her last visit on December 12th, Mary arranged roses in Juan Diego’s tilma and sent him to the bishop to ask him again to build a shrine to her on that spot. When he opened his tilma to show the bishop the roses, it revealed her image, which can still be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Mary appeared on a hill that was already sacred to the ancient peoples of Mexico as a shrine to a mother goddess. She was dressed as an Aztec princess, pregnant with the God who made us. She spoke to a humble native of the land and called him her “youngest and dearest son.” Before her apparition, approximately 200,000 Native Americans had been baptized. Between the time of her visit to Juan Diego and her message to Bishop Zumarraga and their deaths in the spring of 1548, over 9 million ancestral peoples had received the gift of faith and baptism.
In a time of great conflict, colonialization, and racial tension, Mary appeared on this continent to tell Juan Diego, “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.” She is the mother of all the peoples in the land, then and now. She reminds us that what truly defines us is not our status or ancestry, but our membership in the Body of Christ.
It can be a struggle to know and act like a member of Christ’s Body when there are so many opposing forces. What does it mean to act like a Christian, vote like a Christian, shop like a Christian, or even speak like a Christian? It means that we take our fears, our sorrows, our hopes, our hurts, and our weeping not to a political party or an outlet mall; but to our Mother, who in turn presents them to her Son.
Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? -Our Lady to Juan Diego
Question for Reflection: In times of distress, do you turn to Our Lady to bring you closer to Christ?
Lately, I have found myself in circumstances of trial and uncertainty, unsure where the Lord is in the midst of everything. The waiting certainly parallels the season of Advent in which we await the coming of Our Lord, the Messiah. Waiting is painful and uncertainty requires trust, both of which my control-hungry self wrestles with.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, is the remedy to our fear and doubt. There’s something unique about the portrayal of Our Lady of Guadalupe: she wears a black belt. In the Aztec religion, a black belt indicates someone who is with child, showing that She too is waiting for Christ in solidarity. She wants to wrap her motherly love and protection over us, to mother us through the waiting, through the anticipation, and straight to Her Son Jesus Christ.
Our Lady came to peoples who were deeply enthralled in the Aztec religion, with angry gods who required sacrifice. She spoke a language they understood. The image left on St. Juan Diego’s cloak for the people of what is now Mexico destroyed the power of the Aztec gods and elevated the glory of Her Son. She wants to do the same for you this Advent season. Look at these words she spoke to Juan Diego, the simple farmer turned saint, “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 existence.”
In my circumstances, I am comforted to know that I am not abandoned. I have a Mother who will fight for me, exclaiming, “Let not your heart be disturbed. Am I not here who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happy within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not be grieved or disturbed by anything.”
As we wait for the coming of the Messiah, find comfort that Our Lady waits with us. From the moment she encountered the Angel Gabriel, to searching for a place to give birth, to fleeing to the desert, to the painful prophecy of Simeon, to the loss of Her child for three days, to the witness of His persecution, to the foot of the Cross, Mary waited. Mary waited in faith of the Father’s goodness, exclaiming, “be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Just like in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pregnant with Our Lord, Our Lady knows how to wait with peace. She wants to give you Her peace; she wants to speak your language, love you where you are, and guide you to the joy of the coming of the Lord.
This Saturday, December 12th, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some know the story of how Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego and asked him to build a church in the spot she appeared. Juan Diego then went to the bishop and presented, as proof of the apparition, beautiful flowers that Our Lady had given him in the middle of the winter. When Juan Diego opened his tilma to show the bishop, the tilma had an incredible image of Our Lady on it - just as Juan Diego had described. Our Mother’s mission was to show compassion on her children so that those who interceded for help could receive peace in their hearts and find solace in their troubles.
When I was in high school, my family began praying the Rosary together with a portable shrine that circulated around our parish community of Our Lady of Guadalupe, called the “Pilgrim Queen” of the Family. We had a certain time each month to host and guard Mary - praying for our parish, the diocese and bishop, and all families. While she was under our care, we prayed the Rosary each day and when our time was up, another family had the honor of hosting Our Lady. Looking back, I think it was because of those years that we hosted Mary and prayed the Rosary together, my family experienced deep peace. Mary’s compassion was at full force in the Kirby house!
In this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis has called Catholics to show mercy to others with Works of Mercy and become an effective source of God’s love and compassion for each other by learning from Christ’s example. We can learn from Jesus and his Mother about how to live out mercy and compassion by clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, counseling the doubtful and forgiving offenses, to name a few.
Within our own homes there can be difficulties and affliction that may seem unbearable at times. When that happens, I invite you and your family to pray the Rosary. When life is at stake or danger is imminent, pray the Rosary. If life is desolate and despair creeps in, pray the Rosary. At any time, in any place, with anyone - pray the Rosary.
Mary is on our side. She is our Mother and loves us and wants us to be consoled. She will never abandon us. Blessed John Henry Newman was enamored by the beauty and meaning to Our Lady’s apparition at Guadalupe. He wrote the poem, “The Pilgrim Queen,” to help people and families better understand the meaning behind the portrait that he describes, which you can find below.
“The Pilgrim Queen”
by Blessed John Henry Newman
There sat a Lady
all on the ground,
Rays of the morning
circled her round,
Save thee, and hail to thee,
Gracious and Fair,
In the chill twilight
what wouldst thou there?
'Here I sit desolate,'
sweetly said she,
'Though I'm a queen,
and my name is Marie:
Robbers have rifled
my garden and store,
Foes they have stolen
my heir from my bower.
'They said they could keep Him
far better than I,
In a palace all His,
planted deep and raised high.
'Twas a palace of ice,
hard and cold as were they,
And when summer came,
it all melted away.
'Next would they barter Him,
Him the Supreme,
For the spice of the desert,
and gold of the stream;
And me they bid wander
in weeds and alone,
In this green merry land
which once was my own.'
I look'd on that Lady,
and out from her eyes
Came the deep glowing blue
of Italy's skies;
And she raised up her head
and she smiled, as a Queen
On the day of her crowning,
so bland and serene.
'A moment,' she said,
'and the dead shall revive;
The giants are failing,
the Saints are alive;
I am coming to rescue
my home and my reign,
And Peter and Philip
are close in my train.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of God, Patroness of the Americas, pray for us!
To learn more about the Rosary, please visit our Prayer and Catechesis resource page.
Mary has appeared throughout the last two thousand years to different peoples all around the world. Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on which we celebrate the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac outside of Mexico City. We have all heard the story of how Mary appeared to Juan Diego and told him to build a church on the hill in her honor. Upon returning to his town and informing the Archbishop of what he had seen, the Archbishop instructed him to return to Tepeyac and ask for a sign that this was indeed the Virgin Mary. Mary instructed Juan Diego to fill his tilma with roses and carry them back to the Archbishop. When Juan Diego laid the roses before the Archbishop there on his tilma was an image of the Virgin Mary, the image that we know today as Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Basilica built on the very spot of her appearance is the most visited Catholic site in the world. This alone speaks to the widespread devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout the world. Today’s feast day provides us with a wonderful opportunity to remember the universality of Mary. She has appeared to many different cultures at many different times throughout history and with each depiction she reminds us that she stands beside each and every one of us as a mother for all people.
Pope Francis, in an audience shortly before the Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe in 2013, spoke of one of the most important aspects of Mary: “When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America – the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come. Mary’s embrace showed what America – North and South – is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.” This points right to the heart of Mary as our Mother, a Mother for all peoples, for all cultures.
The Virgin Mary is an important aspect of my own faith, but for one reason or another, her depiction as Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in my heart. It might be because her feast day is also my birthday, or because my Dad often jokes that he wanted to name me Guadalupe, or that I grew up in Texas where this depiction is very prominent. I do not know why her image speaks to me so deeply, but I do know that in my devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe I feel a Mother’s embrace. I know that she welcomes me in and I feel at home.
But we are not meant to just live for that embrace of Mary, our Mother, but rather we are called to embrace all peoples and all cultures. And Mary teaches us how! She is the perfect example of how to live out that embrace. She unites us in our humanity and she strengthens our faith in Jesus. She knelt before the cross watching her own son die, and yet when Christ entrusted all of humanity to her, she said yes. She opened her arms and welcomed us in. On this Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let us be like her, let us open ourselves to the whole Church, not just in our local communities but throughout the world.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional in Washington, D.C.