Posted by: Fr Chris | December 12, 2018

Guadalupe Day, 1531

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We remember the appearances of Our Lady in 1531 from Dec 9 – 12. In 1521 the Spanish invaders and their native allies defeated the Aztec Empire. The Spaniards had been horrified when they discovered that the Aztec religion required the constant sacrifice of hundreds of people a day, with their blood running down the temple steps, which the Aztecs believed kept the universe in harmony and fed their gods. With the conquest, the religion was overthrown, but what came to replace that worldview?

The friars who came to preach the Gospel faced serious challenges at converting anyone in Mexico because of the awful behavior of many conquistadors, who themselves killed people, stole from them, raped the women, and enslaved entire towns. Many Spaniards questioned if Indians were even human beings with a soul. Even though the Spanish Crown intervened on the side of the native peoples, and even though the Church decreed that Native Americans were indeed fully equal human beings, the seeds of racist behavior had already been planted.  As for the Aztecs, most of the population was in a severe state of spiritual apathy and depression, to the point of suicide. They had no hope  in the future, their past religion had been shown to be based on falsehoods, their nobility had joined the Spanish, and they were ruled by foreigners.  Very few people converted to Catholicism.

St Juan Diego (1474-1548), his wife Maria, and his uncle Bernardino were among the few – by 1531 his wife Maria had died, and it was he and his uncle remaining.  Juan Diego’s birth name was “The eagle who speaks” which is very important for the story. The eagle was the main symbol of the Aztec state. God chose The Eagle Who Speaks to convey the message of heaven to the bishop and other Spaniards, that God indeed recognized the Native people not only as human beings, but as His children who were to be instructed in the faith. When Juan Diego first meets the Virgin on Tepeyac hill, she says to him: “Know, my dear son, that I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, and it is my desire that they erect a temple to me in this place from where, as a loving Mother of you and your people, I will show my loving clemency and compassion that I have for the natives and those that love and seek me. I will hear their prayers and supplications to give them consolation and relief. And so that my will be done, you should go to Mexico City to the bishop’s palace and you will tell him that I sent you and that it is my will that he build a temple in this place. You will tell him what you saw and heard. I will thank you for what you do for me and I will give you prestige and exalt you.”

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The bishop asks for a sign. But when Juan Diego prepares to ask the lady for the sign, his uncle is dying, and he has to find a priest to give him the sacraments. He tries to evade Tepeyac, but Mary finds him again. Not only does she assure him that his uncle will recover, she says these wonderful words: “Do not be afflicted about anything, not even with illness or any other harmful things. Am I not here, am I not your Mother? Are you not under my protection and care? Am I not life and health? Are you not in my lap and walk under my care? Do you need anything else?”… That is the first miracle, the uncle’s cure, and in fact she appears to his uncle. Then she provides the sign: Spanish roses, of the type found in Castile, which Juan Diego collects in his cactus cloth. Of course when he presents the roses, instead the greater miracle with what we in the Christian East call an icon-made-without-hands, the miraculous image left by Mary on that simple cloth.

If you go to Mexico City, that image remains as radiant as it was on December 12, 1531. Our Lady appears with brown skin, a mestiza, or woman of mixed race. In 1531, the children of Spanish men and Native women were scorned as the products of rape or at best illegitimate, and they were forced to scrounge and beg for food and clothing as no one wanted them. But the Virgin Mother of God appears as one of them, the sign of the mestizo race which now dominates Latin America. The despised are exalted, the poorest and most humble are lifted up to the level of the Mother of God herself.

Her robes are covered with symbols:

She stands on the moon, which was the Aztec god of darkness: she has conquered, as she and her Son have defeated Satan.

She stands in front of the sun, that Aztec god who demanded a constant flow of blood, showing that she has defeated the old gods.

She bends her head down, looking at Juan Diego, but Aztec gods looked straight ahead, never at their worshippers – she shows herself to be a mother who listens.

She is carried by an angel – in the Aztec world, only royalty were lifted up and carried by others. The angel has eagle wings – the eagle was the messenger of the gods who led the Aztecs to settle in Mexico City.

The stars are the exact ones that appeared over Mexico City on December 12, 1531.

The glyphs are all powerful symbols from the original Nahuatl style of writing – one is of jasmine, a sacred flower to the Aztecs, and marking the Child inside the womb as divine; the glyphs for mountains, rivers, and nation are turned upside down to reveal the human heart with arteries. Instead of tearing hearts out of captives, the Christian God presents His own divine sacred heart for the Natives to turn to.

Her dress is the color of the dawn sky, a new age appearing for the people.

Her black rope shows that she is a virgin, but her swollen stomach declares that she is also pregnant with the Eternal Word of God, and she is bringing Him to the natives.

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Juan Diego himself became a great missionary, as a layman living next to the chapel built at Tepeyac. His intercession with God was credited with many miraculous cures during his lifetime and after his death, but his Cause for sainthood was delayed for centuries, and he was not beatified until 1990 and canonized only in 2002.

The Catholic Church in the Americas is facing repeated scandals connected with violation of vows of celibacy and poverty, with decades of abuse of children, teenagers, and adults at the hands of various priests, bishops, and even a cardinal. For every person who converts to the Catholic Faith, six Catholics walk away from the Church. In 1532, the spread of the message of Guadalupe by Juan Diego, his uncle Bernardino, and the Franciscan friars resulted in a flood of nine million people being baptized and accepted into the Church. These millions went on to lead lives of strong devotion, people who sought out confession on a regular basis, who turned their backs on human sacrifice and the temptation to despair and suicide and moved into the light of the Gospel.

This is very much a moment for you, the laity. People expect priests to still preach the Gospel and uphold Catholic truths, but fewer and fewer will listen to us thanks to the sins of those priests who molested youngsters and adults, and thanks to the bishops who protected them for the last 70 years. Now is most especially the moment of the laity. Ask Saint Juan Diego, the eagle who talks, to intercede for you with God so that like him, you can proclaim the message of Jesus Christ and His Church to those around you. Ask the Virgin Mother to strengthen your own commitment to her Son’s Church, and to make this Christmas not a Christmas of gifts but a Christmas of proclamation, of salvation, of lifting the members of the Body of Christ  away from despair and into the proclamation of joy to the world. We are thirteen days away from the Nativity of Christ – we must be the light of Jesus to the darkened world around that is so torn with anger, division, despair, fear. We must be the ones who speak the truth boldly, to anyone, that Jesus Christ comes to save us, and He founded a Church which, despite the sins of its members, continues to proclaim the fullness of truth and revelation.

Christ is among us!

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