The God of Wonder & Our Lady of Guadalupe
For those who are paying attention, God can really blow our minds sometimes.
Take for example, St. John Paul II. Many know that the young Karol Wojtyla was an actor as a young man. He performed in numerous plays by the Polish Romantic playwright Juliusz Slowacki. The work of Slowacki was popular with budding artists of Wojtyla’s day because he wrote about the mystical forces shaping human history and Poland’s suffering as a redemptive force in that drama. One such work was a poem he wrote in 1848 called Our Slavic Pope.
God’s bell the Conclave’s petty strife has stilled:
Its mighty tone
Brings news of Slavic hope fulfilled –
The Papal Throne!
Pope who will not – Italian-like – take fright
But, brave as God himself, stand and give fight:
His world – but dust !
Okay people, listen up – the poem was written in 1848! The young Wojtyla had performed in dramatic readings of this poem numerous times. He knew the poem inside and out. When Wojtyla was elected Pope in 1978, he was the first non-Italian in over 400 years! I can just image the delightful amusement that must have filled St. John Paul II’s heart when his named was called –
“Seriously? Me? I AM the Slavic Pope?”
Is it any wonder then that his rallying cry was “Be Not Afraid”?
Which brings me to our feast today of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As we all know, St. John Paul II had great devotion to Our Lady, his motto being Totus Tuus (Totally Yours). His first missionary trip abroad as Pope was to pay homage to Mother of God by visiting her shrine in Mexico in January of 1979. For someone who had just been overwhelmed by the wonders of God, it seems only natural that he would visit one of the most miraculous images known to man, which contains the most mind-blowing event in human history –the Incarnation.
The image, of course, is that of Our Lady in the Book of Revelation (12:1) – the woman, clothed with the sun, who is with child. St. John Paul II interpreted this image to mean not only the Incarnation, but also the birth of the Church in history, as well as the bringing of the Gospel to the Americas. The final act of Jesus’ earthly life was to entrust the care of the Church to His Mother, when he said to St. John the Evangelist “Behold your Mother.” (Jn 19:26)
St. John would eventually take Mary to Ephesus. There is a tradition in the Church that St. Luke (a follower of St. Paul) spent time in Ephesus with Our Lady and St. John. Some say that St. Luke was not only a physician, but also an artist and was the first one to depict the Madonna and Child. St. Luke’s painting is believed to be the icon that hangs above the altar at St. Mary Major in Rome. It is also a tradition that St. Luke carved an image of Our Lady, known as the Black Madonna. In the fourth century, Pope Gregory the Great gave the statue to St. Leander, the Bishop of Seville. When the Muslims invaded Spain in 711 A.D., the statue was put in a strong box and buried in the Asturian Mountains. As the centuries past, the location of the statue was lost.
In 1329, Our Lady appeared to a shepherd near the village of…Guadalupe, in the medieval Kingdom of Castile. She told him to have priests come dig at the site of the apparition. There they unearthed the strong box that contained the statue. The statue became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe and a shrine was built there in her honor.
Many of the Conquistadors who travelled to the Americas were from this region in Spain, including Hernan Cortez. In 1527, the Emperor Charles V sent a Franciscan priest named Juan de Zumarraga to Mexico and gave him the title of “Protector of the Indians”. Zumarraga was a good and just man, who was often at odds with the conquistadors over their treatment of the natives. At the same time, he was distressed over the Aztec practices of human sacrifice and polygamy. He worked hard to convert the natives, but with little success. By 1531, things had reached a boiling point between the natives and the Spaniards and the country was on the verge of war.
By this time, Zumarraga had been consecrated as the first bishop of Mexico. He had a strong devotion to Our Lady, and had entrusted his missionary activities to her care. He begged the Heavenly court to prevent the impending war and secretly asked Our Lady to send him Castilian Roses as a sign of her reception of his prayer.
Obviously, Castilian Roses were native to Spain, not Mexico, so he what he was asking for was a miracle.
On December 9, 1531, an unassuming native named Juan Diego was walking to Mass. He was one of the few natives that had converted to Christianity. His wife had recently passed away, and he was living with his uncle, who was gravely ill. As he passed by a hill called Tepeyac, he heard beautiful music. Suddenly, the music stopped and he heard a woman calling him. As he went up the hill, he saw a Lady standing there, arrayed in a garments that were shining like the sun.
She said to him:
“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my sons, that I am the ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I many therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help and protection, because I am your merciful mother. Go to the bishop of Mexico and say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here a temple be built to me.”
So Juan Diego went to Bishop Zumarraga with the message, who of course, did not believe him. So the next day, when Juan Diego saw Our Lady, he begged her to send someone more important than he so the bishop would listen. But, our Lady assured him
“My dearest son, you must understand that that there are many more noble men I could have entrusted my message and yet, it is because of you that my plan will succeed. Return to the bishop tomorrow…”
So off he goes the next day. The bishop listened attentively, but this time he says to Juan Diego to come back with tangible proof that the apparition is real.
Now comes my favorite part of the story.
When Juan Diego gets home, he finds that his uncle’s condition has gotten worse. He asks Juan Diego to get him a priest the next day. So, off Juan Diego goes to get the priest, but he decides to take a detour around Tepeyac Hill, because he doesn’t want to run into Our Lady. He has to get the priest! The poor guy has too many missions. Of course, Our Lady finds him. As she approaches him, he is embarrassed and explains the situation. She tells him:
“Do not fear this nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my protection? Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, he is now cured.”
When Juan Diego informs Our Lady that the bishop requests a sign, she tells him to go up the hill and gather the flowers he sees there and tells him that this will be the sign for the bishop.
So, he goes up the hill and sees a bush filled with…Castilian Roses! He gathers them up in his tilma – or apron – and heads to Bishop Zamarraga’s residence. When he gets there, he is left waiting for some time, and everyone there is curious as to what in the world he is holding in his tilma.
Finally, he gets in to see the Bishop and releases the roses onto the floor. This, of course, is the miracle the Bishop has been praying for. That would be enough to blow one’s mind. But God was not done with the faithful bishop. As the tilma was opened, there was a flash of light and the image of Our Lady appeared.
After the miraculous encounter in the Bishop’s residence, Juan Diego went to see his uncle. Not only was his uncle cured of his infirmity (as Our Lady said he would be), but she visited him as well. She called herself “she who crushes the serpent”, which in the native Nahuatl dialect is “te coatalxopeuho” and wanted to be known under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Now many make the claim that since the conquistadors were from the area of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain, that they used this image as a means of manipulation to convert the natives.
That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose. However, I am not sure how the natives, who were difficult to convert prior to the apparition, all of a sudden see a “painting” and converted. Keep in mind, the entire nation of Aztecs and Mayans (a total of nine million people) converted to the faith in a short period of time – 9 years. That is approximately 2,700 converts a day for 9 years. The conversion of Mexico is something that St. Paul and St. Francis Xavier could only dream of. All because of a painting? Hardly.
The truth is…the image is a miracle. There is probably no image that has been analyzed more, with the exception perhaps, of the Shroud of Turin. First of all, the tilma is made of cactus cloth and should have disintegrated after 20 years. Over 500 years later, the tilma is still in perfect condition. In 1979, a thorough study was done. The cloth was not treated, it has no brush strokes, varnish, or preliminary drawings. When the image was put under infra-red radiation, the image was translucent from the opposite side. The coloration is not made of animal or mineral elements, and synthetic colorings were not available in 1531.The conclusion by these specialists was that the image was not made of human hands.
Then there is the issue of her eyes. Ophthalmologists have studied the eyes and found images of people in the cornea, displaying the qualities of a normal human eyes, such as light reflection, image positioning and distortion in the cornea. One ophthalmologist even said the eyes looked “alive”.
The image itself had religious significance the natives of Mexico, as well as displayed an astonishing account of the woman in the Book of Revelation. It was only recently that it was discovered that the stars on her mantle are the exact constellation of the night the tilma was opened in Bishop Zamarraga’s residence.
And there is so much more… As a matter of fact, the more one studies the image, the more mindboggling it becomes.
To me, the fact that Our Blessed Mother wished to be known under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings us back to the Apostolic Age, of St. Luke and St. John – and St. John’s Book of Revelation. Which, of course, brings us back to the mystery of the Mass and Incarnation itself.
It also brings us back to the prayer of a faithful bishop. In the most dire of circumstances, he prayed for a miracle. But Our Lord is the God of surprises. Castilian Roses are nothing compared to the Mystical Rose herself.
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those that love him.” 1 Cor 2:9
This article, The God of Wonder & Our Lady of Guadalupe is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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