‘I am truly your merciful Mother’

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Introduction In these days, we celebrate the wonderful events of the apparitions of the Mother of God on our continent in 1531.On Dec. 9, we celebrate the feast day of St. Juan Diego to whom the Mother of God appeared on the hill of Tepeyac, in what is today Mexico City.She chose Juan Diego, a Native American, to be her messenger. Dec. 9 is the date of the first of her apparitions to Juan Diego, which would conclude on Dec. 12, the day when we celebrate the feast of the Mother of God, under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.On Dec. 12, 1531, our Blessed Mother miraculously left her image on the tilma, or mantle, of Juan Diego, as was witnessed by Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, the first bishop of Mexico, and his attendants, and, of course, by Juan Diego. From Dec. 9 to 12, the Mother of God appeared four times to Juan Diego and once to his dying uncle, Juan Bernardino.She instructed Juan Diego to go to the bishop, communicating to him her desire that a chapel be built in which she might manifest the mercy of God to his sons and daughters.Appearing to Juan Bernardino, she healed him of his illness and revealed the name by which she wished her image to be called, the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe (Nican Mopohua, n. 208).In a real sense, she continues to appear to us, as she first did to Juan Diego, Juan Bernardino, the bishop and his attendants, for her image miraculously remains on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, enthroned today in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.She remains with us through her image, not made by any human hand.Through her image, she continues to look lovingly upon us and to invite us to know the mercy and love of God in Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church.Every day, hundreds and thousands of pilgrims make their way to her basilica to pray before her image, to ask her help and intercession, and to leave a candle burning as a sign of their constant prayer and trust in God’s mercy. Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Season of Advent The celebrations of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe come providentially during the season of Advent.It is helpful to recall that Juan Diego was on his way to participate in the Holy Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared to him.At the time, in the Spanish Empire, the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother was celebrated on Dec. 9 instead of Dec. 8. Our Blessed Mother did not choose the date of her first appearance by chance.She came to our continent to show herself as the Mother of God and our Mother, the vocation and mission for which she was prepared from the moment of her grace-filled conception in the womb of her mother Anne.God preserved her, from the very first moment of her life, that is, from the moment of conception, from all stain of original sin, so that she might be the fitting vessel to conceive God the Son through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and bring Him to birth at Bethlehem on Christmas. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary manifests the purity and totality of her love of Christ, her Son and our Savior, from the first moment of her existence.Her pure and total love of Christ, God’s gift to her and to the whole Church at her Immaculate Conception, would express itself most fully in His conception in her womb at the Annunciation and in His confiding the Church, His Mystical Body, to her maternal care on Calvary, as He died for us on the cross. The celebration of the feast days of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe helps us very much to enter more deeply into our preparation for the celebration of Christmas, the Birth of our Lord.Our Lady helps us to enter more deeply into the observance of Advent by which we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord by welcoming Him more purely and totally into our hearts as He faithfully comes to us in the Church, especially in the Holy Eucharist.Our Lady helps us, by her example and intercession, to place ourselves anew each day on the Way of Christ, so that we may be ready to greet Him when He returns in glory on the last day. Source of our knowledge of Our Lady of Guadalupe How do we know about the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe?We are blessed to have a written version of the oral account given by Juan Diego during the 17 years of his life which remained after the apparitions, years which he spent exclusively at the chapel on the hill of Tepeyac.Bishop Juan de Zumrraga had enthroned his miraculous tilma in the chapel on Dec. 26, 1531, just 14 days after the last apparition.Here, it is important to note the diligence with which the bishop had the chapel built for the enthronement.Once he understood, through the miraculous image on the tilma, that the Mother of God had indeed appeared to Juan Diego, he carried out her wishes with all due haste. The oral account of Juan Diego was committed to writing by Antonio Valeriano, an Aztec nobleman, who wrote in Nahuatl, the native language of Juan Diego and himself.Valeriano, a noted scholar and esteemed civic official, was a close friend of Juan Diego and visited him often at the chapel of Our Lady on the hill of Tepeyac.It is not difficult to imagine the attraction of visiting a good friend and the even greater attraction of praying before the miraculous image of the Mother of God.It is said that Antonio Valeriano loved to repeat the story of the apparitions, quoting the words of the Mother of God, as he heard the story directly from his good friend, Our Lady’s privileged messenger.In this regard, it is important to recall the strength and accuracy of oral tradition in the time before written texts were easily accessible. Thank God, Antonio Valeriano not only repeated orally but also wrote down all of the details of the apparitions, including the words spoken by Our Lady of Guadalupe, in a text known popularly by the first two words of its lengthy title in Nahuatl, Nican Mopohua.The full title in Nahuatl, translated into English, is: "Herein is related in order and arrangement the manner in which the ever Virgin Mary Mother of God recently and marvelously appeared in Tepeyac, which is called Guadalupe."Studies have ascertained that Valeriano wrote the Nican Mopohua sometime between 1548 and 1560, that is, between 17 and 29 years after the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.It is reasonable to assume that the death of his beloved friend, Juan Diego, in 1548, inspired him to preserve the account for the succeeding generations by committing it to writing. There are other sources which refer to the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that is, written manuscripts, sermons and official acts of recognition and approbation of the devotion by the Roman pontiffs and the bishops of Mexico.All of the sources point to the authenticity and truth of the Nican Mopohua, which is the fullest account of the appearances of the Mother of God on our continent in 1531. The full text of the Nican Mopohua, translated into English, may be found in A Handbook of Guadalupe, edited by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and available through Ignatius Press (pp. 193-204).It is also found in the book, Our Lady of Guadalupe: History and Meaning of the Apparitions, written originally in Italian by Manuela Testoni, and translated in English and adapted by Father Jordan Aumann, OP (pp. 88-100). It is published by Alba House in New York. Mother of America Sadly, the story of the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe is not well known throughout the continent of America, that is in North America, Central America and South America.Here, I note the insistence with which our late and most beloved Pope John Paul II referred to North America, Central America and South America as one continent.In fact, they are all part of one land mass which has been artificially divided by the Panama Canal, but Pope John Paul II had a deeper reason for his insistence, which he expressed in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, "On the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America": "I asked that the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops reflect on America as a single entity, by reason of all that is common to the peoples of the continent, including their shared Christian identity and their genuine attempt to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and communion between the different forms of the continent’s rich cultural heritage.The decision to speak of ‘America’ in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the communion of all in the land" (n. 5). Pope John Paul II saw the diverse cultural heritage of the various peoples of America as mutually enriching.He prayed, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that our continent might be united in the work of the new evangelization.Pope John Paul II understood, as did his predecessors, Pope Pius XII, Blessed Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, that Our Lady of Guadalupe had come to unite all of the peoples who inhabit the American continent. Because the apparitions took place in what today is Mexico City, some faithful conclude that our Blessed Mother intended to speak only to Mexicans or to Central Americans or to Spanish-speaking Americans.I recall hearing about Our Lady of Guadalupe as I was growing up, but somehow I had the sense that her apparitions pertained principally to another part of America.Devotion to the Mother of God, under her titles of Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima and our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, was more fostered in me.In later years, I came to know better our Blessed Mother under her title of special love of the peoples of our continent. As I began to read the account of the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I was especially struck by her words during the first apparition.After she had identified herself as the Mother of God and had declared the purpose of her apparitions, that is, to have a chapel built in which she might manifest the mercy of God, she expressed her purpose again within the context of her vocation and mission of Mother of God: "I will give Him (God) to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who liveunited in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, those who call upon me, those who seek me, those who trust in me, because here I will hear their weeping, their sadness, in order to heal all their sufferings, hardships and sorrows" (Nican Mopohua, n. 28-32). The words of the Mother of God make it clear that her apparitions are for all of America, for all who are united in the one continent of America, and, indeed, for all who love her and seek her intercession. Because of difficulties of communication and, at times, because of persecution, it has taken the Church some centuries to recognize formally the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all of America.The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe had been recognized by the bishops of Mexico, beginning with Bishop Juan de Zumrraga, and, in due time, by the Roman pontiffs, as early as 1575.Pope Benedict XIV, who shepherded the Universal Church from 1740 to 1758, had an especially strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, making her feast a holy day of obligation, with a proper octave celebration, in Mexico.He raised the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac in Mexico City to the rank of a basilica. In a radio message of Oct. 12, 1945, Pope Pius XII proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe the "Empress of All the Americas."In the radio message, he offered a prayer which he had composed and which concluded with these words: "For we are certain that as long as you are recognized as Queen and Mother, Mexico and America will be safe."Blessed Pope John XXIII proclaimed a Marian Year from Dec. 12, 1960, to Dec. 12, 1961.At the conclusion of the Marian Year, he dedicated a church in Rome to Our Lady of Guadalupe, on which occasion he prayed: "From the sanctuary of Tepeyac, for more than four centuries you have been the Mother and teacher of the faith to the peoples of the Americas.Be also our protector and save us, O Immaculate Mary" (A Handbook on Guadalupe, p. 176). Pope John Paul II had a most notable devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the first of his numerous apostolic visits outside of Italy, he visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Jan. 27, 1979.He was to return to the sanctuary three more times before his death: on May 6, 1990, he returned to declare Juan Diego to be blessed; on Jan. 22, 1999, her returned to promulgate the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, in which he set forth the pastoral program for our continent at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium and entrusted the program of new evangelization to the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of America; and he returned finally on July 31, 2001, to canonize Juan Diego. Here, I recall to memory that, at the conclusion of his third visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1999, Pope John Paul II made his historic pastoral visit to St. Louis, arriving on Jan. 26 and departing on Jan. 27. Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization In Ecclesia in America, Pope John Paul II presented the program of the Church at the beginning of a new Christian millennium.It is the program of the new evangelization, that is, of teaching and living our Catholic faith, both in worship and in practice, with the enthusiasm and the energy of the first disciples of our Lord, and the enthusiasm and the energy of the first missionaries to our continent. Noting the maternal care and protection of the Mother of God for the Church from the time of the first evangelization — our Blessed Mother’s presence in the Upper Room at the Sending of the Holy Spirit — Pope John Paul II underlined her particular role in the first evangelization of America and called upon all of America to invoke her intercession and to follow her maternal guidance in carrying out the new evangelization: "The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization.Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent.America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, ‘in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization.’Consequently, not only in Central and South America, but in North America as well, the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated as Queen of all America" (n. 11c). Because of the particular and special role of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the evangelization of our continent, from the beginning, our Holy Father granted the request of the bishops of America that the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe be observed on Dec. 12 in all of the continent.Our Lady is truly our star in the work of the new evangelization, for, like a star, she faithfully guides us to Christ, the Sun, with the instruction: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5). Called to mind Our Lady of Guadalupe’s titles, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, Pope John Paul II expressed his fervent desire for us and our continent: "It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (cf. John 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (cf. Acts 1:14), so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life" (n. 11d). How much the witness of a strong life in Christ is needed in our time which is marked by so much violence and taking of human life! The Mother of God, who brought together into one the Spanish and the Native American peoples in the 16th century, will not fail to hear our prayers for unity and peace in our homes, in our local communities, in our nation and among all peoples.She who was the instrument by which our Lord brought an end to the oppressive racism and the cruel practice of human sacrifice at the time of the first evangelization of our continent will also be the instrument by which God brings an end to the many forms of injustice, above all the deliberate killing of the innocent and defenseless unborn, in our time of the new evangelization.In the beautiful mestiza complexion of the Virgin of Guadalupe, uniting the beauty of both the European and Native American races, we find a constant sign of hope that, with the help of God’s grace, all peoples can live in peace with each other, respecting and fostering the life and faith of every citizen, without exception or exclusion.Before the many and most serious challenges which we face in advancing the new evangelization, especially in living the Gospel of Life in the midst of a culture of death, Our Lady of Guadalupe looks upon us with maternal love and invites us to seek, through her intercession, the grace of conversion of life and transformation of our culture.Remember her words at the first apparition to Juan Diego: "I am truly your merciful Mother" (Nican Mopohua, n. 29). Remember her words to him at the fourth apparition: "Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?Are you not under my shadow and protection?Am I not the source of your joy?Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?Do you have need of anything else?Let nothing else afflict you, disturb you" (Nican Mopohua, nn. 119-120). With the Mother of God, we have all that we need, for she guides us to Christ who alone is our salvation.In every trial and suffering, she will lovingly bring us to Christ, our sure anchor of hope. She will lead us to place all our confidence in Him. Conclusion May the reflection upon the apparitions and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe bring you deep joy in your observance of the Advent Season.May you recognize in the Virgin of Guadalupe your merciful Mother who draws you to the font of Divine Mercy, Jesus Christ, her Divine Son.I urge you to come to know better Our Lady of Guadalupe, who desires to keep you under her shadow and protection, to enfold you in her mantle, and to hold you in the crossing of her arms.She will never fail you.She is indeed our loving Mother. Finally, it is my hope that you will make a pilgrimage to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe at her shrine in Mexico City or at her shrine in La Crosse, Wis.The Web sites of the shrines are: www.ourladyofguadalupe.com.mx (Mexico City) and www.guadalupeshrine.org (LaCrosse).You may also wish to visit the Web site of the Queen of Americas Guild, an association of the faithful dedicated to the work of Our Lady of Guadalupe: www.queenoftheamericasguild.org. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.

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