This year, the third Sunday of Advent was also the great feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This story is a very powerful reminder of what we pray in the Magnificat Canticle of Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden (Luke 1:46-48).
Our Lady did not appear to someone who mighty but rather to a humble person of a very low degree (Lk 1:52), an indigenous peasant, St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin whom St John Paul II, in the canonization homily in Mexico City, on Wednesday July 31, 2002, aptly described him as the simple, humble Indian (no. 1).
Following the trail of the shroud of Turin, the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe made herself visible to St Juan Diego on a piece of fabric. How interesting is the introduction which the Blessed Virgin made when she appeared on Saturday, December 9, 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico: I will give Him (the Lord) to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because 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, those who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints, and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.
After this powerful introduction Our Lady immediately said: So that this desire of mine may be fulfilled, go to Mexico City, to the palace of the Bishop. Tell him that I have sent you to him to tell him how much I want a house to be built here for me, a church built here at the bottom of the hill.
Fully obedient to our Lady Juan Diego went to the Franciscan Archbishop of today’s Mexico City, Juan de Zumárraga, to convey this message for him from our Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary. At first the bishop did not believe Juan Diego. In fact, he told him: My son, come another time and I will listen to you then. Meanwhile I will consider what should be done about your wish and your desire. He asked this humble peasant a proof for both his story and the Lady’s identity.
Heaven had a marvelous plan for the world through Juan Diego. Hence, Mary appeared to him again near the hill. She stopped him and told him this message: Listen, my beloved son, have no fear or anxiety in your heart. Do not try to do anything about your uncle’s grave illness or about any other trouble of yours. For am I not here with you, your mother? Are you not safe in the shadow of my protection? Am I not the source of your life and your happiness? Am I not holding you in my lap, wrapped in my arms? What else can you possibly need? Do not be upset or distressed. Climb again, my beloved son, to the summit of this hill, to the place where you saw me and heard me speak. You will find flowers growing there. Pick them and gather them and bring them down to me.
Even though it was winter and, normally, no flower should have been bloomed, to his utter surprise Juan Diego discovered an abundance of flowers of a kind that he has never encountered before in his life. The Virgin Mary put the flowers into Juan’s tilma (cloak). Then Juan Diego went to Archbishop Zumárraga and presented to him the exotic flowers, which the Archbishop recognised them as Castilian roses, surely not found in Mexico. Juan Diego told him: My Lord, I have done as you asked. I went to my Lady, the Queen of Heaven, holy Mary, the Mother of God, and told her that you had asked for a sign so that you might believe me and build the church that the Virgin herself desires. I told her that I had given my word to bring you back some sign of her wishes. She heard what you had asked and accepted with good grace your request for some sign so that you could fulfill her will. Today, very early, she sent me back to see you.
Another detail which vivdly emerges from this moving story is that on the tilma there is imprinted a colorful image of the Virgin Mary. In this image, Our Lady is represented with her head bowed and hands together praying. This is the Virgin of Guadalupe, certainly the most holy thing in Mexico. It was the schoar Antonio Valeriano who, after 1556, wrote this magnificent story in a manuscript in the Aztec’s native language Nahuatl.
In the canonization homily of Juan Diego St Pope John Paul II nicely brought together the importance of Juan Diego in his relationship to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Let not forget that Juan Diego was one of the first indigenous people in the New World to welcome the Catholic faith.
In accepting the Christian message without forgoing his indigenous identity, Juan Diego discovered the profound truth of the new humanity, in which all are called to be children of God. Thus he facilitated the fruitful meeting of two worlds and became the catalyst for the new Mexican identity, closely united to Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose mestizo face expresses her spiritual motherhood which embraces all Mexicans. This is why the witness of his life must continue to be the inspiration for the building up of the Mexican nation, encouraging brotherhood among all its children and ever helping to reconcile Mexico with its origins, values and traditions.
Let us pray with St Pope John Paul II to Our Lady of Guadalupe when he visited Her Basilica as he was doing his first foreign trip as successor of St Peter in January 1979:
O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church!, who from this place reveal your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection, hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.
Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church; hold us always with your loving hand.
Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the Bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole people of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in the faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.
Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children.
Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.
We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left us on earth.
Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which come to us from your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pray for us.