Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas – Bishop Sweeney
Our Lady of Guadalupe
December 9, 2020
BISHOP KEVIN J. SWEENEY
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas
“Know for certain that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God … here I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the Mother of all who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrows … their necessities and misfortunes …. Listen and let it penetrate your heart …. 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?”
Words of the Blessed Virgin spoken to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 9 and 12, 1531 at Guadalupe, Mexico.
[The Wonder of Guadalupe: The Origin and Cult of the Miraculous Image of the Blessed Virgin in Mexico: Johnston, Francis: 9780895551689: Amazon.com: Books.]
I think that many or most Catholics are familiar with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and I would hope that many are familiar with the basic story. If you are reading this and the story is new to you I encourage you to Google it or to do some research and learn about this apparition and message of our Blessed Mother that took place almost 500 years ago and, yet, is still so relevant and important in the life of the Church today.
While the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 is more popular in parishes where there are Mexican or Spanish-speaking communities, there are many reasons why awareness of and devotion to our Blessed Mother, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is important for all Catholics, especially all Catholics in the Americas. I would like to reflect on three of those reasons.
First, the message of our Lady to St. Juan Diego, to the people of Mexico, and, as she said, to “… all who love me…”, “Am I not here who am your mother?”, is an invitation to all believers to trust in her intercession and that she will lead us to her Son. Personally, I am grateful to many Mexican Catholics for the ways in which they have taught me what it means to truly trust in and love our Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have a faint memory of seeing a black and white movie when I was in grammar school that told the story of the apparition at Guadalupe. I learned more in high school and college and by the time I was in the major seminary, I had a desire to visit the shrine at Guadalupe.
In January 1996, a year and a half before I was ordained, I was given the opportunity to go to Mexico City and visit “La Basilica,” as the shrine of Guadalupe is commonly known. I will always remember my first visit, seeing people literally “walking on their knees” from outside the Basilica to visit the image inside. I would learn later that they had made a promise or were expressing thanks for an answered prayer that led them to this act of devotion.
I would learn a great deal more from the Mexican people in the 10 years I served as pastor of St. Michael Church in Brooklyn. The Mexican community truly took to heart and believed with all their hearts that the Mother of God was their loving, gentle and caring mother. As a pastor, getting to know the Mexican immigrant community led me to give thanks for the faith that these parishioners had received in their homeland and brought here to their “new home.” In his homily on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2019, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reflected that the Virgin Mary who made the journey to Tepeyac: “ Is a woman who journeyed with a mother’s sensitivity and tenderness; she becomes a guest in family life, looses the knots of the many problems we manage to create and teaches us to remain standing amid the storms.
The “message” of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the invitation to love and trust in her as Blessed Mother is an important lesson for all of us to learn. The Mother who tells us not to fear encourages us to accompany those who turn to us for compassion and hope. She herself has shown us the way.
Secondly, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a powerful symbol and intercessor for all those who promote the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural death. There at least two reasons why the Blessed Mother’s appearance and message at Guadalupe are an inspiration and encouragement for those who strive to defend life. First, through her apparition, she put an end to the human sacrifice that was taking place in Mexico at the time of her appearance. Secondly, she appeared as an expectant mother wearing the indigenous symbol of a woman who was pregnant. As Father Frank Pavone writes: “Our Lady is carrying God within her womb.”
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, wrote a beautiful article, entitled: Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Pro-Life Movement. In it he writes:
Some nine million Aztecs were converted to Christ by the power of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At that time, the Aztec peoples were practicing human sacrifice. As a result of the image’s presence among the people, their hearts were converted to the true God and the practice of human sacrifice was abolished. A key theological dynamic operating here is that Our Lady turned the Aztecs from a worldview of despair to one of hope, from a conviction that the gods were against them to a conviction that God was so much for them that He became one of them.
Finally, it is important for all of us to know, learn about and appreciate our Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Guadalupe because it reminds us of the beauty of our Catholic faith. We know that the word Catholic means universal, reminding us that Jesus came to save all people, from all lands, nations and tongues. We are also aware that in missionary efforts throughout the history of the Church, from Jesus telling his apostles, “Go to the ends of the earth …” and the moment of Pentecost, the “clash of cultures” was, at times, traumatic and sad and many mistakes were made. However, in spite of all the human weakness and sinfulness, something happened between Our Blessed Mother, the Mexican people and the people of the Americas. That loving and maternal bond remains strong and grows stronger almost 500 years later and continues to be a vibrant part of the Church and, in our times, the “new evangelization.”
Also, Our Lady of Guadalupe helps us to see the beauty of our Catholic faith as it highlights the way in which Mary continues to lead us to her Son. “Guadalupe” is one of the countless titles of our Blessed Mother and as her children, we can each have our favorite title. Yet she is the same Mother, the Mother of God and our Mother, as she said to St. Juan Diego and all, “Am I not here who am your Mother?”