The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe isn’t situated in the middle of Advent out of coincidence. Advent was made for women – and not just because we bake all the cookies and buy all the gifts. Like us, Mary was made for this season and the way she completed her mission in Guadalupe gives us a blueprint of how to confront the challenges of today.
It was just 55 year ago when the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council entrusted the daughters of God with a very important mandate given to us by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council who called upon women of the entire universe to “ . . . Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization. . . . you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment, it is for you to save the peace of the world.”
Okay, I admit the first time I heard this, my initial reaction was, “Like I don’t have enough to do, now I have to save the peace of the world too?”
No question this mandate is tough to live up to in this day and age, when our marriages and families are under attack. Abortion on demand reigns in our land. People are allowed to change their gender on a whim and we have to respect it or be branded as haters. Every other week there’s another mass shooting, terrorist attack, Hollywood sex scandal
So how are we supposed to save the peace of this world? We being “mere” women?
For answers, I looked to Our Lady of Guadalupe and found the perfect example of how brilliantly the feminine genius can work even in a world as confused as our own.
The culture that Mary faced in Mexico in 1531 was at least as bad as ours today. Even though the the Aztecs were an advanced civilization of about 10 million people at the time of apparition, they were followers of a religion that sank to the lowest levels of superstition. They believed all of creation was comprised of natural forces which they personalized as gods and goddesses, many of whom demanded blood sacrifice. Anytime something calamitous occurred, an earthquake or pestilence of some kind, it set off a frenzy of human immolation that saw thousands of people sacrificed in a single day in order to appease these gods.
When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico and began to introduce Christ to the people, it was a slow process which was often complicated by the greed of the conquerors who could not resist pillaging the rich resources of the land. This created discontent among the native people and slowly brought the country to a boiling point.
In short, Mexico was a mess, a seriously conflicted, religiously confused country.
Bishop Zumarraga, the ranking bishop in Mexico at the time and a very holy man, began a novena to Our Lady to ask for help. A few days later, she appeared on Tepeyac hill, once the site of the temple of the fierce mother god Tonantzin, to a 57 year-old Aztec Christian named Juan Diego.
It’s the only apparition where Mary is visibly pregnant, which only underlines the tremendous confidence that God has in women. Not only does He send a woman into this mess, He sends a pregnant woman at that!
So much for the weaker sex.
Mary wastes no time putting her genius to work on the very flustered Juan Diego who doesn’t quite understand what he’s seeing in front of him as he makes his way to Mass.
“Juanito,” Mary calls to him. “Juan Dieguito . . .”
Everytime I read this part, about how Mary uses his affectionate nickname, I can’t help but smile. Isn’t this like us women? We know how to butter our biscuits, don’t we?
Mary asks Juan where he’s going even though she already knows but this is our way, to engage the other, to look at them and see them and try to relate to them. This is one of the four marks of our feminine genius – our sensitivity.
This quality is what gives us the unique genius of understanding the hearts of others. Juan was afraid and she knew it – and she cared. Like us, she knows how to be selfless, how to think of the other first. This is what enables us to put ourselves aside and embrace an altruistic mission.
Mary then tells him: “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 teocalli (temple) to be built here for me where I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people . . . Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate their sufferings, necessities and misfortunes. . .”
She sends him to Zumarraga to ask that the temple be built, and the bishop doesn’t hesitate to say “no.” Why would he build a temple in the middle of nowhere on the word of a peasant who claimed a celestial vision told him to do so?
Juan returns to Our Lady and apologizes for his failure, then finds it necessary to tell her that he’s a nobody and that she should find someone better known and respected for this mission.
What does Our Lady do?
The same thing we would do if our child said the same thing. “You’re not a nobody. You’ll always be somebody to me!” we’d reassure.
This is exactly what Our Lady did with Juan.
“There are many other servants who could so this, but I chose you for this,” she told him. “You are the one who is to deliver this message.”
With that, she sends him off to try again.
Mary was not about to give up on him any more than we’d give up on our child.
This is another aspect of the feminine genius – our generosity – which enables us to go to heroic lengths for the people and causes we love. If it’s something – or someone – we believe in, we’re all in and we don’t back down.
“What kind of sign?” Juan eagerly asks.
“I’ll let her decide,” Zumarraga says.
Encouraged, Juan tells this to Our Lady.
“Very well, my son. Come back here tomorrow morning and I will give you the sign and he will no longer doubt you . . . go home now. I shall be waiting here for you tomorrow.”
However, when he got home, Juan found his uncle lying near death with a dreaded fever that had killed many of the villagers. When it became apparent that his uncle was dying, he asked Juan to summon a priest, so the faithful man embarked on yet another long journey to fulfill this request.
However, when he came to Tepeyac Hill, he decided to go a different way because he was afraid the lady would delay him and cause his uncle to die without an anointing.
Just as he was hurrying past, a blazing light coursed down the side of the mountain. Standing within it was the Lady. His heart sank.
“What is wrong, my little son?” she asked. “Where are you going?”
Juan told her about his uncle and how he needed to get a priest before he died and then hurriedly promised to come back the next day.
Accounts of the apparition say that Mary paused when she heard this, and fixed him with a steadfast gaze in which he could feel a flood of love and sympathy.
“Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son,” she said, and then proceeded to utter the words that would echo through the centuries
“Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
In those words, spoken to a humble Mexican peasant, our Lady disclosed the exquisite tenderness of her Immaculate Heart, the same Immaculate Heart that said “yes” to her maternity – to the end of her dreams so that ours could be realized – to the Redeemer who would open the doors of heaven so that we might have eternal life – to the ensuing centuries of expectant Advents and joyous Christmases.
“Am I not here who am your mother?”
How many times have we uttered those words to our little loved ones when they were frightened by the dark of night?
That is the most striking aspect of our feminine genius – our maternity. It gives us our maternal orientation to nurture, to mother, to minister to. As Catholic author Mary Jo Anderson explains, this is what builds cohesive, life affirming communities. “It is maternal influence that promotes unity within families and is the genesis of peace in the whole of the human family.” Yes, we are the peacemakers!
As was Mary on that day as she stood on the side of Tepeyac Hill, in all of her maternal glory, in the midst of a country darkened by the blood of human sacrifice, of civil unrest, of impending war – just as ours today is darkened by the blood of abortion, the painful divisions among us, the terrorism that threatens us daily.
“At this moment, your uncle is cured,” she told Juan. “Now go up to the top of the hill and pick the flowers growing there – put them in your tilma and take them to the bishop.”
We all know what happened next, when Juan opened his tilma before the bishop to reveal a cascade of Castilian roses – and an exact replica of the Lady he had been seeing on Tepeyac hill.
But this was not just any old image of a lady appearing on a cloud in a blaze of light. This image was perfectly suited to the hearts and minds of the people who were destined to look up on it, from the meaning in the sun behind her and the black ribbon that denoted her pregnancy, to the mantle that signified royalty and the four-petaled jasmine flower etched into the dress over her womb which told the people that she was bearing the One True God.
Mary did for the Aztec people what all women do for those they love – we become who they need us to be. Not letting go of who we are – but adapting who we are to those who need us. This is what she did in the specific design of the tilma. She was open and receptive to the people, to their customs, their hearts, their hopes and dreams – and reflected this back to them in order to gain their trust.
This is the fourth aspect of our feminine genius – our receptivity. Our receptivity makes us open to receiving the gift of the other. It’s the ultimate form of tolerance. In some cases, as it was for Our Lady of Guadalupe, this gift makes us open to receiving a life-giving mission, be it a mission to “save the peace of the world” on a grand scale or in the individual “mission” that our children and families become to us.
Thanks to her genius, millions of Mexicans were converted to the faith and centuries of bloodletting was brought to an end.
Yes, Our Lady of Guadalupe gives us the key to understanding why the Vatican Fathers called upon women to save the peace of the world. We have all the equipment we need to do this!
Even though our country seems to be moving further away from God, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a story of victory in the midst of a non-Christian – or, in our case, post-Christian – society. This was a victory brought about by a “mere” woman who just happened to be filled with the grace of God that made her invincible – grace from the same fountain accessible to us all if we but ask for it and then cooperate with it.
We do not have the luxury of choosing the time in which we live, but as the story of Guadalupe reminds, all times in the Church are treacherous. All we need to do is comply with the requests the Virgin made of Juan Diego 500 years ago to “build a shrine” from where the seeds of conversion will spread.
That shrine is in our hearts. It is built with grace and the fabric of our everyday lives. The meals, the laundry, the job, the school work, the children.
As St. Tersa of Avila once said, “God is found in the pots and pans of life.”
He’s not asking us to do anything more spectacular than just to be who we are – daughters of God. To be the bringers of the feminine genius – our maternity, our receptivity, our sensitivity, our generosity – into a culture that is dying for it.
Build a true Christmas shrine in your heart this advent. You be the one who brings the Christ-child into your baking and gift wrapping and family gatherings. Let the light of Christ radiate from your heart into the lives of your loved ones – which will, in turn, bring him into this hurting world. Be it with a softly spoken word, a gentle outreach, or just a mere mention of His name.
Let us do this anyway that we can – with a softly spoken word, a gentle outreach, or just the mention of His Holy Name – all the while remembering that it was precisely for this that we were made.
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