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Our Lady Of Guadalupe
Friday Book Pick: Our Lady of Guadalupe; Mother of the Civilization of Love by Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chávez
In every CFR chapel hangs an image like the one that adorns the 500-year-old tilma on display in Mexico City—Our Lady of Guadalupe. Every friar and sister is consecrated to her. Her image often accompanies us in our works of evangelization, especially when we pray in front of Planned Parenthood or other abortion facilities. Before she was declared the patroness of the American continent, and before her feast day was officially established (by St. Pope John Paul II in 1999), she was chosen by our founding friars as the patroness of this little Community. Or, maybe she chose us.
Most Catholics in the U.S. have seen the image. Many have heard the story. Nevertheless, a tale this rich, this layered and meaningful deserves revisiting, ongoing inquiry—pondering.
Today’s “book pick,” Our Lady of Guadalupe; Mother of the Civilization of Love by Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, is an excellent analysis of the events behind the image. And more than that, this thoughtful book explores the message and applies it to our own current North American culture—going beyond a retelling of the story to explaining its implications.
But before anyone can connect all the dots and make intelligent applications, the story itself comes first. Part of the reason I highly recommend this particular book on Our Lady of Guadalupe is because of the appendices. Appendix A, for example, offers readers a translation of the Nican Mopohua which is the earliest written account of the events on Tepeyac in 1531—it is the primary source. And Appendix B offers a very detailed time line of all the important dates related to Our Lady’s appearances from 1474, the year Cuauhlatoatzin (“eagle that speaks”) was born, later to be called Juan Diego, to 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Bishops of Latin America underscoring the ongoing significance of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The Nican Mopohua is thought to have been written before the death of Juan Diego in 1548. Juan Diego was the man to whom Our Lady entrusted a special task and a special image—her own! This primary source was written largely in Nahuatl, the language spoken by Juan Diego. Because it records the actual conversation between Our Lady and Juan Diego, it gives an insight into the people and culture of Mexico in the 16th century and into the person and mission of Our Lady as well. The dialogue gives the reader a direct glimpse of the beautiful encounter between a mother and a son through the familiarity and the love with which they spoke to one another.
The basic outline of the well-known story is this: In 1531 a new convert to the Catholic faith, Juan Diego, experienced a visitation from heaven (several in fact) in which Our Lady sent him to the Bishop to request that a church be built so that her Son Jesus could be adored and so that she could comfort the people, her children. Hesitant but obedient, the dutiful and humble man did as he was told. The Bishop was slow to believe and requested a proof or sign, and Our Lady complied with this request. The sign was blooming, fragrant flowers on a barren, desolate hill. More than the miraculous flowers, Our Lady caused her own image to be retained on the coarse cloak worn by her chosen messenger. This image, venerated from the first moment it was seen, is miraculous in innumerable ways (explained in detail in the book). Everything about the image spoke to the people: the color of her skin, her posture, her hair, the flowers on her dress, the sun behind her back, the moon at her feet, the sash at her waist and even the placement of the stars on her mantle. She came simultaneously as one of them, and she came as the pregnant Mother of the One True God, and the people got it. Her wordless catechesis hit the mark—nine million native people requested baptism in the Catholic Church as a result of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s visit. Needless to say, the church she asked for was built, Jesus was adored, and the people were deeply consoled.
The brief encounters Juan Diego had with Our Lady changed his life and the lives of his people. These events had implications reaching far beyond the boundaries of his country and even of his continent. Anderson and Chavez show that Our Lady’s appearance to Juan Diego acted as validation of the equal dignity of the native peoples of Latin America, brought an end to the common practice of human sacrifice, and began a reconciliation between the Spanish and the Native people. Our Lady accomplished what a legion of missionaries could not.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a patroness for the cause of protecting and defending life. When John Paul II visited Mexico City in 1999 he called the Americas the “Continent of Hope,” and he challenged us to become the “Continent of Life” where there will be “Life with dignity for all! For all who have been conceived in their mother's womb.” The Holy Father went on to exhort us: “Dear brothers and sisters, the time has come to banish once and for all from the continent every attack against life. No more violence, terrorism and drug-trafficking! No more torture or other forms of abuse! There must be an end to the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty! No more exploitation of the weak, racial discrimination or ghettoes of poverty! Never again! These are intolerable evils which cry out to heaven and call Christians to a different way of living, to a social commitment more in keeping with their faith. We must rouse the consciences of men and women with the Gospel, in order to highlight their sublime vocation as children of God. This will inspire them to build a better America. As a matter of urgency, we must stir up a new springtime of holiness on the continent so that action and contemplation will go hand in hand.”
The image that hangs in the basilica in Mexico City is as it was 500 years ago. It is unfaded and it has not deteriorated with time, indicating I think, that Our Lady is as near to us as she was when she intercepted her unsuspecting servant and son, Juan Diego. She is close; her message is personal and relevant.
There is much talk about equality, unity, peace and reconciliation these days, and we all feel the need for it.
“Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son. 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?”
These few sentences, a small part of her message, offer us supernatural consolation. Not the words only, but the lived reality—the being—in the crossing of her arms. And when children find themselves in the arms of the same mother, it can only mean that they are brothers and sisters. It is in the crossing of her arms that equality, unity, peace and reconciliation are found.
Yes, even though our founding friars settled on this particular image and title of Our Lady to be our special patroness, I don’t have any doubts that it was she who chose us, just as she chose Juan Diego, and she has chosen you too. As she said on Tepeyac, she “is honored” to be your Mother. There is a place for you in her embrace.
True devotion to Our Lady results in true devotion to her Son. Our Lady of Guadalupe; Mother of the Civilization of Love could spark such devotion. And the fruit of true devotion will be a revolution of grace America needs now more than ever before.
Mother Clare, CFR