Our Lady of Guadalupe: Patroness of the Nitty-Gritty in Life

She’s into everything, yammering away as she climbs and builds and rearranges.  From the toy box to my desk, from the kitchen to the bathroom, from bookshelves to dog bowls, the world awaits her discovery.

One morning, when I had to go outside suddenly to deal with loose sheep, I came in to find her watching TV with her big sister, the dog bowl in her lap as she munched the dog food.  Another time, I walked into the living room to find her standing on the back of the couch, smiling triumphantly at me.

I’d like to think I’m immune to her cuteness, to the shock of blonde curls and the crooked smile, but I know better.  She’ll be grown up before I’ve properly reprimanded her for her orneriness, and I’m doing my best to savor the moments before she’s gone.

In the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I recognize that it might not have been all cake and roses for Mary.  There she was, doing dishes in her kitchen, humming along and minding her own business.  Suddenly…WHAM!  A celestial being offering her the unbelievable.  We know she said “Yes,” but I wonder what went through her mind in the time between his asking and her answering?

In the Guadalupan apparition, Mary appears to an apparently insignificant person, a poor Indian convert.  Juan Diego was as “nobody” as it got.

On his way to morning Mass and catechism classes on the morning of Friday, December 9, 1531, he paused by the hill called Tepeyac, because he heard songbirds in a beautiful burst of harmony.  December mornings in Mexico aren’t known for singing birds, and Juan’s walking was keeping him warm.  He wore a tilma, though, and he would have been warm.

Hearing those songbirds must have made him smile.  In the chill of early December, winter stretches ahead, promising gray days and possibly even cold feet.  That reminder of the hope of spring, heard from an unexpected group of birds, was the perfect introduction of the woman he was about to meet.

She walked toward him, lovely and tan-complexioned.  She was mestiza, in fact, a woman who was part Spanish and part Indian.  Sunbeams surrounded her, songbirds heralded her, and Juan Diego first met her at the base of the hill where the Aztec mother goddess Tonantzin had been worshipped.

Did he suspect who she was?  Were the signs undeniable?  What must have gone through his head as the Mother of God approached him?

Mary called out to Juan and identified herself as the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God.  She asked Juan to go to the bishop to request a chapel be built on the hill.

It wasn’t an easy task.  For one thing, he was an Aztec Indian, a native who was poor and not well-respected in the eyes of the Spanish who had taken over—with great violence—the Mexican land and destroyed the Aztec religion.

Being asked personally by Mary to do something difficult, though, gave him the courage he needed.  He went directly to the bishop’s palace and waited a long time before the servants finally let him in to see the bishop.  The bishop was doubtful.  He listened politely, but remained noncommittal.  He invited Juan to come back and visit.  I wonder if he thought that was the end of things.

Mary was waiting at Tepeyac, and Juan told her about the conversation.  He was discouraged, and tried to convince Mary to find someone more influential than him to persuade the bishop.

Mary insisted that Juan was the right person.  “You are the one I have chosen for this task,” she assured Juan.  In my mind, she hugged him.

The next day, Juan Diego went again to the bishop’s palace.  He was treated more rudely than before by the servants, and the bishop was a little surprised to see him again—and so soon.  Once again, he was reserved about the whole matter.  “Ask for a sign,” he told Juan.

On his way home, Juan found the Virgin Mary waiting at the hill of Tepeyac, and he recounted the news.  She assured him that the sign would be waiting for him in the morning.

He went home and found his dear widowed uncle, who lived with him, gravely ill.  He didn’t — he couldn’t! — return to Tepeyac the next day for the promised sign because of the care his uncle required.  His uncle, realizing he was near death, asked Juan to go to the next town and bring back a priest.

On his way to get the priest, Juan had to pass the hill of Tepeyac.  Rather than pass by the usual way, where he had met Mary each time, he went around on the other side of the hill.

She found him, though, and met him as he was passing the hill.

“What’s wrong, dear son?”

Embarrassed, he explained about his dying uncle and their need for a priest.  He promised to come back and help her just as soon as he could.

“Do not be afraid,” she replied.  “Am I not here who am your Mother?  Are you not under my shadow and protection?  Am I not the fountain of your joy?  Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms?”  She went on to assure him that his uncle was healed and that he, Juan, was free to go to the top of the hill to collect the roses blooming there.

The smell of those roses, which were sprinkled with dew despite the cold December temperatures, must have seemed doubly sweet to Juan as he gathered them into his tilma.  He brought them down to the base of the hill, where Mary waited, and she spent a few moments arranging them. Did she pat his head and giving him a kiss on his forehead as she sent him on his way to meet with the bishop?

At the bishop’s palace, the servants were downright impolite to the point of disrespect, and they made Juan wait hours.  As he waited, the perfume of the roses escaping from his lap, the servants finally gave in to curiosity and asked him what he had brought.

Seeing the roses in his tilma, the servants realized that something other than harassment was going on with this poor Indian visitor.  They showed him in to the bishop.

Was the bishop annoyed by Juan Diego’s persistence?  He had to be surprised, but Mondays are a busy day in any church office, and he probably had a desk piled high with tasks awaiting his attention.

Juan opened his tilma, and the bishop, shocked by what he saw, immediately knelt on the floor.  There were more than flowers in Juan’s cloak.  On the rough cloth of Juan Diego’s tilma was an image of the lady, the image now known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The shock of it — tilmas are made with plant fiber, impossible to paint on or embellish much — and the beauty, brilliance, and power of the image was a convincing sign to the bishop.  It was, in fact, a miracle.

While Juan was at the bishop’s palace, Mary appeared to his uncle, explaining what had happened and that her title was to be Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The story of the miracle spread fast and far.  The chapel Mary requested was built within a few weeks, by Christmas, in part because of the instant devotion of Indians and Christians alike.  On December 26, a procession carried the tilma there.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has been carried throughout the Americas since then.  In the seven years between 1531 to 1538, eight million natives of Mexico were converted to Catholicism because of her impact.  She continues to influence people today, as her image is spread and shared.

So much of what Our Lady of Guadalupe has to say is relevant to me now.  She meets me where I am.

Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds me that Mary was human, like me.  Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds me that God loved us enough to send His Son through a woman.  Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds me that my human struggles are redemptive and that peace in my life is attainable through the grace of God.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the unborn and the Americas, but, for me, she’s also the patroness of the nitty-gritty, dirty and thankless, sleep deprived, unacknowledged, invisible, and grace-filled aspects of motherhood.  She represents all that I’m reaching for and stands behind me as I cope with the hurdles and battle through the trenches as a mother.

She teaches me, so gently, what it means to savor the moments of chaos while they last.

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When Sarah Reinhard set off in her life as a grown-up, she had no idea it would involve horses, writing, and sparkly dress shoes. In her work as a Catholic wife, mom, writer, parish employee, and catechist, she’s learned a lot of lessons and had a lot of laughs. She’s online at snoringscholar.com and is the author of a number of books

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