Our Lady of Guadalupe: hope and human life
Five centuries ago, in the country now known as Mexico, senseless human sacrifices were performed. Between 20,000 and 50,000 human beings were murdered a year in the Aztec empire. Most of them were slaves and included men, as well as women, and children. An early Mexican historian estimated that one out of every five children in Mexico was sacrificed to the gods.
The climax of these ritualistic killings came in 1487 when a new temple (ornately decorated with snakes) was dedicated in what is now modern day Mexico City. In a single ceremony that lasted four days and four nights, accompanied by the constant beating of giant drums made of snakeskin, the Aztec ruler and demon worshiper Tlacaellel presided over the sacrifice of more than 80,000 men.
It was Our Lady of Guadalupe who crushed the head of the wicked serpent in 1531.
For, it was then that she appeared to a poor, humble, uneducated man, Juan Diego. In bare feet, he walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, departing before dawn, to be on time for Mass and religious instruction.
On December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill, the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. She asked him to go to the Bishop and to request in her name that a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who invoked her. The Bishop, who did not believe Juan Diego, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was true.
On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. Here, the Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the roses that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and although it was winter, he found the roses in bloom. He gathered the roses and took them to Our Lady, who carefully placed them in his tilma (a type of poncho) and told him to take them to the Bishop as “proof”. When he opened his mantle, the roses fell to the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, a beautiful image of the Blessed Mother as she appeared at Tepeyac.
Today this image is still preserved on Juan Diego’s tilma, which hangs over the main altar in the basilica at the foot of Tepeyac Hill. In the image, Our Lady is pregnant, carrying the Son of God in her womb. Her head is bowed in homage and in humble obedience to God.
When asked who the lady was, Juan Diego replied in his Aztec dialect, “Te Coatlaxopeuh,” which means “she who crushes the stone serpent.” His answer recalls Gen. 3:15 and the depiction of Mary as the Immaculate Conception, her heel on the serpent’s head.
As a result of that image, 9 million Aztecs were converted to Christianity and the human sacrifices were abolished. The image converted their hearts to the one, true God and drew them out of the darkness of despair into the light of hope.
Today, the ancient serpent is slithering around the globe, making big hits in its attack upon human life. Millions of unborn children are murdered every year around the world, in procedures that in many countries are not only legal but also officially supported and financed.
However, we can be confident that The Woman clothed with the sun, in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Protectress of the Unborn, will crush the head of the serpent today.
Just as she affectionately referred to Juan Diego as “Juanito” – “her little one” – she calls us to also make ourselves her little ones – her children – and to put our trust in her As Fr. Marie – Dominique Philippe, Founder of the Community of St. John tells us, “[On] the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe it is truly Mary who shows her presence. This enables us to understand that in our Christian life, Christ’s presence and Mary’s presence are primary and come before any spoken words. A mother is a silent presence, a presence that will help her children sleep peacefully, trustingly…a presence of love, of warmth for the heart, so that we might truly be in her hands, asking her to carry us and to teach us this evangelical way of littleness, which will allow us to obey just as a child obeys his mother.”
Today Our Mother encourages us with us the same words she spoke to Juan Diego:
“Hear and let it penetrate your hearts, my dear little ones. Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you; let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Do not fear vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”
~ Copyright Jean M. Heimann, 2009