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Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas and Pro-Life Icon

juandiego_guadalupe

The Virgin Appearing to St. Juan Diego

The Momentous Encounter

Tepeyac hill was a dry place, strewn with boulders, and adorned with cactus, mesquite bushes and other small plants. In the chilly pre-dawn starlight of December 9th, 1531, which in those years was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Juan Diego, was hurrying on his usual 9 mile trip to Tlalatelolco to attend catechism class and Holy Mass. As he approached Tepeyac hill, dawn was breaking. Startled, he heard the music of singing birds, beautiful beyond words. Then a woman’s voice called to him in his native Nahuatl: “Juanito…Juan Dieguito,” in tones of gentleness and respect. Climbing up towards the voice, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a Lady of overpowering beauty whose radiance suffused the surrounding area with light and colors inexpressibly beautiful.

From the beginning the beautiful Lady announced who she was: “Know for certain, dearest of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God, through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things, who is Master of Heaven and Earth. I ardently desire a temple built here for me where I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who live united in the 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 hear their weeping and their sorrows, and will remedy and alleviate their sufferings, necessities and misfortunes…” [1]

Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl

Significance of Tepeyac Hill

Quetzacoatl, primary god of the Aztecs represented as a stone serpent, had to be appeased by live human sacrifice, sometimes thousands in one day.  Tonantzin, the mother god of the Aztecs, was portrayed as a head composed of snake’s heads and with writhing snakes as a garment.  Tepeyac hill was the place of her crumbled temple.  The Virgin’s request for a temple of honor on the site of the previous pagan temple was in perfect harmony with the Nahuatl name she announced: “te coatlaxopeuh,” meaning she who “will crush, stamp out, abolish or eradicate the stone serpent” (Gen. 3:15).  [2]

Through Aztec Eyes and Judeo-Christian Tradition

When all became known concerning the appearance, the Aztecs understood that God had intervened directly, lovingly and most powerfully in their lives. Where once death ruled the people, now many sought baptism – so many that the missionaries had trouble fulfilling all the requests. A priest reported that he and a companion baptized 14,200 people in five days. [3] In a few years over 9 million Aztecs asked for baptism where prior to the apparitions conversions to Christianity were very low.

Through Aztec eyes and Judeo-Christian tradition, remarkable aspects of Guadalupe emerge and explain the massive conversions. The summit of a high place, even a hill like Tepeyac, represents a point of contact with the divinity. Dawn is the beginning, the start of something new. Song, along with the presence of flowers, was a sign of an imminent divine communication to the Aztecs. St. Juan Diego hears his name called, as did Abraham (Gn. 22:1). Resplendent light is also typical of divine manifestation as in Ex. 19:16-20, Lk. 2:8-14, Rv.21:9-27. [4]

From the beginning the Church has proclaimed the perpetual virginity of Mary, based on Mt. 1:18-25. Mary is full of grace and shares in a singular way the holiness of God. Jesus, Son of God and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity sent his Mother to Tepeyac hill. For the Aztecs as well as the Spanish, the intervention was divine.

The Miracles of Tepeyac

castillian rose

Castilian Rose

Our Lady asked St. Juan Diego to go to Bishop Zumarraga and request that he build a temple in her honor on Tepeyac hill. Skeptical as the Church always and rightfully is about alleged supernatural interventions, the bishop asked for a sign that this was God’s will. St. Juan Diego reported this to the Virgin who instructed him to come back the next day when he would have his sign.

In the meantime, St. Juan went home to find his uncle, Juan Bernardino, dying and asking for a priest. Early next morning St. Juan, wanting no delay from Our Lady, hurried out of the house to walk the 9 miles to get the priest by a different route. However, the Virgin intercepted him, assured him that his uncle would recover and instructed him to go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers he found there.

No flowers bloomed in winter on Tepeyac, let alone Castilian roses which did not grow in Mexico at all, but those and other exquisite flowers were in abundance. Doubting not, St. Juan climbed to the top of the hill, collected the flowers, and returned to Our Lady. She arranged the fragrant flowers in his tilma and sent him on his way. At the same time, Juan Bernardino was cured by a visit from the Virgin.

When St. Juan finally was granted an audience with the bishop that day, he opened his tilma and the flowers came tumbling out. But even more remarkable, the image we know today as Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared. The bishop was convinced and the rest is history.

Interpretation of the Miraculous Image

guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady both told and showed who she is even to this day. The people of the Aztec culture communicated through painted symbols. Our Lady appears as a mestizo, half Aztec and half Spanish, showing the blending of the two peoples. Her gown is flowered with nine Mexican magnolia blossoms symbolizing the Aztec heart flower, yolloxochitl. The only 4 petal flower is a Mexican jasmine which rests on her womb and symbolizes pregnancy as does the purple/black sash which is an Aztec Maternity Belt. The song birds St. Juan Diego heard and flowers on her gown signified truth to Aztecs.

The Virgin’s sky blue mantle, the color of Aztec kings, is covered with golden stars, the very constellations of the night sky during the season of the apparitions. Since the Aztecs were expert astronomers, this aspect of the image impressed them deeply.

At her throat is a jade brooch, the Aztec symbol of life, upon which is the same cross that the Spaniards wore on their helmets.

The moon under her feet and sun-like rays surrounding her show she is the woman of Rv. 12:1-7.

The Virgin’s head inclines to the right and her hands are joined in prayer, indicating she is not a goddess, but that there is One greater than she. The celestial signs taken as a whole show that she came from the heavens, yet she also belongs to the earth as evidenced by the rose color of her gown, the color of dawn in the Valley of Mexico. [5]

Scientific Discoveries Concerning the Image

In 1936, the Nobel prize-winning chemist, Richard Kuhn, examined the fibers of the tilma, which is made of ayate fibers. He found that the colors of the image did not come from animal, vegetable, or mineral elements. Synthetic colors were unknown in 1531. The type of pigment remains unknown and the colors do not penetrate the fibers.

Tilmas made of ayate should last only 30-40 years at most. This one has lasted over 450. In addition, the image was exposed to candle smoke and the touch of many loving hands for over 100 years, yet it remains undamaged. A worker cleaning the silver frame in 1791 accidentally spilled acid on it, yet the damage faded in a couple of weeks.

The image contains no brush strokes nor is there a preliminary drawing underneath the image as would be usual if a human had painted it. It matches no sixteenth century painting style.

From May of 1951 to September of 1963 extensive studies were made of the eyes by renowned ophthalmologists. They discovered the images of St. Juan Diego, his interpreter, and Bishop Ramirez y Fuenleal, known to be present at the time, reflected in the eyes of the image in perfect obedience to the laws of curvature of the cornea. [6] Subsequent research has confirmed these findings plus additional images in the pupil.

Attempt to Destroy the Tilma

In November of 1921, a communist from the Calles regime placed a powerful time bomb in a vase of flowers at the base of the image. During the 10:30 a.m. High Mass, it exploded, destroying the stained glass windows of the basilica, blowing chunks of marble and masonry into pieces in the sanctuary, and twisting a heavy iron cross on the altar. When the smoke and dust settled, no one was seriously injured. The image was not only not damaged, the glass covering was not even cracked. Today this miraculous image is protected by bullet-proof glass and can be seen by anyone making a pilgrimage to the new basilica.

St. Juan Diego

St. Juan Diego

St. Juan Diego

St. Juan Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002 at the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. His feast day is December 9th. St. Juan is the first indigenous person of Mexico to be canonized. His name in Nahuatl means “the eagle who speaks.” Verbal and written tradition shows that he was always a devout and humble man who never sought to attract attention to himself but rather to bring others to the love of Christ and His mother. For the rest of his life after the apparitions, he served as devoted sacristan of the chapel of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Tepeyac hill.

Much more could be written concerning the events and image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I am indebted to the scholarship of Manuela Testoni who wrote Our Lady of Guadalupe: History and Meaning of the Apparitions, and Francis Johnston who wrote The Wonder of Guadalupe: The Origin and Cult of the Miraculous Image of the Blessed Virgin in Mexico. Reading their books will teach much more than I have been able to cover here.

[1] The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnson, © 1981, Tan Books and Publishers, p. 26

[2] ibid., p. 47-48

[3] ibid., p. 57

[4] Our Lady of Guadalupe – History and Meaning of the Apparitions by Manuela Testoni, © 2001, Alba House, p.37

[5] ibid., p. 43-45

[6] The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnson, © 1981, chapter VII, “The Verdict of Science”, p. 11


 

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, M.C. (1910-1997)

mother-teresa-feeding[1]
Mother Teresa feeding a starving boy

Perhaps the best known woman in the 20th century, Mother Teresa of  Calcutta, was born Agnes Bojaxhiu in Skoplje in Serbia, Yugoslavia on August 26, 1910.  Her family belonged to the Albanian minority living there.  By the time she was 10, she was studying in a State school in Croatia, where she was inspired to become a missionary to India by letters sent from a Jesuit missionary.  After entering the Loreto nuns in Ireland, she was sent to Darjeeling in 1929 to complete her novitiate.  In 1931 Agnes took the religious vows of Poverty, chastity, and obedience and was given her name in religion, Teresa.

Sister Teresa taught school for middle class Bengali girls in Calcutta and eventually became headmistress.  On September 10, 1946, “Inspiration Day”, a special day observed by the Loretto sisters, sister Teresa received her special calling from Jesus to serve Him among the poorest of the poor.  She received permission from her community in 1948 to live outside the convent.

At that point, Sister Teresa went to Patna to learn medical aid at the hospital run by the American Medical Missionaries Sisters.  Her training completed, she went to Calcutta, staying at the Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor and began working in the slums where she lifted the sick and dying from the streets and treated them with the dignity due a human being.  Not long after that she was given a room and then an entire top floor of a house  for her work.  In 1949 on March 19th, the feast of St. Joseph, she accepted her first young lady to serve in what would become the Missionaries of Charity.  By 1953 Mother Teresa had 28 sisters and established the Motherhouse of the Congregation.  From this point on, her community grew almost exponentially, spreading to over 600 houses in over 136 countries.

As Father Edward le Joly, S.J. writes in his book about Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living (Compass) “For Mother, Jesus is everything – the beginning, the middle and the end of her work, of her whole enterprise.  There is no need to seek elsewhere, for Jesus explains all that has been done.  Mother claims no credit for herself.  On the contrary, she says: ‘I don’t do it, he does it.  I am only an instrument in his hand.  I am surer of this than of my own life.’”

Mother_Teresa[1]
Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa had great trust in prayer and suffering offered to God.  In fact, early on the International Sick and Suffering arm of the Missionaries of Charity was founded by a laywoman who was too ill to join in Mother’s work.  This association is made up of members, each linked to a particular sister, who offer their pain and suffering up for that sister’s apostolate.  Mother Teresa understood the value of redemptive suffering well.

Through the years, Mother Teresa’s message never changed:

“God is love.

“God created all men and women out of love and he continues to love them.  Therefore, we must love God and love one another as God loves us.

“Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man and lived among us, said: ‘What you did to the least of mine, you did it to me.’  Thus, when we serve and do good to the poor, we serve and do good to Jesus.

“At the end of life we shall be judged by love, according to the love we have shown and practiced towards our fellow men and women.”

For those of us who are not called to an active apostolate like Mother Teresa’s, and whose lives are limited due to pain and suffering, God has a different call: to be a quiet and invisible missionary of His love so that others may come to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in paradise.

© 2009 Barbara A. Schoeneberger, M.A.

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