Viva Nuestra de Señora de Guadalupe!
December 10th, 2014
By Bishop William J. Justice
There is the famous line at the beginning of the Charles Dickens book “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ….” Though Dickens was referring to London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution, it could easily describe the situation in the area that is now Mexico City. Hernán Cortés had led the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521. For the local people, the old order collapsed and a new order controlled by the European Spaniards began to be created. The Spaniards brought European civilization, including the Catholic faith. But they also brought diseases and ways of living that began to cause depression and fatal illnesses to the conquered Aztecs. It may have been the best of times for the Spaniards, but it was becoming the worst of times for the conquered people. There was serious concern that the native people would die out, or be so reduced in population that they would not be a factor in the future.
The story begins to change. On Dec. 9, 1531, on Tepeyac Hill near the City of Mexico, Juan Diego, one of the conquered people, was on his way to church when he heard chirping birds and beautiful music. Then a beautiful lady appeared to him. She calmed him down and introduced herself as “the ever Virgin Mother of the true God” and wished that a church be built on Tepeyac to bear witness to her love, her compassion, and her protection. She sent him to the bishop of Mexico City to request her desire.
Two times, at Mary’s request, Juan Diego went back to the bishop, who finally asked for a sign. On Dec. 12, Our Lady appeared to Juan and told him to gather fresh roses from Tepeyac, which she arranged in his tilma, or cloak. Juan Diego again went to the bishop. When Juan Diego opened his tilma, there were the roses, along with a beautiful image of Our Lady as she had appeared to him at Tepeyac.
There is seemingly an extraordinary reality about the image. The facial features of Mary are basically European, but the color of her skin is the color of the local people. The rays coming from behind her are like the rays of the sun, an Aztec God. Yet Mary is standing in front of where the sun should be. And Mary is wearing the cincture, which was the Aztec symbol of motherhood, pregnancy.
The conquered people now saw in this image of Our Lady that the true God loved them; that this Lady was European and Aztec; that she talked to one of them, Juan Diego. She had promised love, compassion and protection. She had asked for a church to be built in her honor.
What is amazing is that the decline in the local population began to decrease in the years after Mary’s appearances. And as intermarriage between the locals and the Europeans increased, the unique combination began to be understood as “La Raza.” Something new in God’s creation.
There is further effect of Mary’s message to Juan Diego, as we have come to realize the depth of the Letter to the Ephesians 2:19-22:
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Through baptism we are part of the great temple or church of the Lord. Jesus is the capstone that holds us all together as the temple of the Lord. So when we hear the story of the apparitions of Mary and her request for a church, a temple, to be built in her name where we can sense her compassion, love and protection, we are invited to remember that we are part of that temple or church in her Son, Jesus Christ.
She is challenging us, in this present age of the best of times, but also the worst of times, to not just build a constructed church, but a living church that is alive in the world around us, that calls forth the love, compassion and protection of Mary here and now for the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, the single parent, the end to violence, and the mercy and forgiveness of her Son that brings true peace. Mary pleads with us: Build my Church! Bring Tepeyac to the world! Bring hope to a fearful people.
Mary came in 1531 to bring hope to a people who were beginning to believe there was no hope. Mary comes on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to tell us, the witnesses to so much violence in our world, that there is hope; namely, in being the living church with her Son as the capstone, the fullness of love, compassion and protection.
Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!
Bishop Justice is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
From December 12, 2014 issue of Catholic San Francisco.