Our Theme for this Week: The Sacred Art of Mary.
As we search for great works of art around Mary and the birth of Jesus, may these reflections help bring us closer to Him through her.
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” –Revelations 12: 1
My family has deep roots in Mexico and the American Southwest, so far tracing back in Mexico to at least the 1600s. Our Lady of Guadalupe is everywhere—on candles, clothes, posters, on calendars offered for free at the local carneceria (butcher’s shop), on the back windows of cars, and even tattooed on people. She has been carried into the Battle for Mexican Independence (and was part of Fr. Hidalgo’s battle cry—El Grito de Hidalgo, “¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”) and carried on a banner by Cesar Chavez and others when protesting injustice endured by immigrant laborers. There’s even a telenovela, La Rosa de Guadalupe, dedicated to reenacting the everyday miracles attributed to her (My mother and grandmother are loyal viewers.). There will be processions, music (singing Las Mañanitas), matachines (dancers) dancing, mariachi playing, throughout the Americas on her feast day, today, December 12. Growing up, a tapestry of Nuestra Senora—La Virgen, Our Lady of Guadalupe was at the center of everything at home. My grandfather, Guillermo, had placed the life sized, vividly colored tapestry outside, near the entrance to the house. The front entry was a little alcove, where Our Lady was shielded from the harsh Arizona sun. There, a humble makeshift altar was placed before her, where my grandfather, a migrant laborer and gifted gardener, would place his offerings of fragrant lemon blossoms, roses, bougainvillea blooms, and little pink bell-shaped flowers with heart-shaped leaves. Each morning, we’d talk to her, thank her for her guidance, ask for her intercession, and begin our day.
I’ve always been struck by how she is woven into daily life, how her presence was always made known and welcomed by everyone from the saintliest elderly Mexican grandmother to the most hardened gang members who walked the streets of my hometown. Our lady of Guadalupe endures in their hearts. Why? It isn’t just because of the miraculous nature of it all—the wonder of Spanish Castillian roses found blooming on Tepeyac in the winter. Juan Diego’s coarse agave-fiber tilma, which should have deteriorated long ago, still survives. It’s not just because of the image itself, which defies scientific explanation—no painting technique known at the time could have survived this well, or could be so detailed, down to the microscopic image in her eyes showing the faces of the Bishop and others looking at her. Yes, this is all miraculous, but there’s more to it.
This woman, clothed with the sun, radiant, the MOTHER OF GOD, could have easily appeared to the Bishop herself to ask for a church. She could have gone to an important, wealthy, upper-class Spanish man who might have been believed right away. She endures in the hearts of her people simply because out of all the people to ask, she appealed to a poor, uneducated Nahuatl man, a member of that society’s lowest castes.
She is loving and kind to him, speaking to him in his native language.“Cuix amo nican nica nimonantzin?” (“¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” “Am I not here, who am your mother?”) There was no condescension. Just motherly love.
Whenever I see this depiction of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, I’m transported right back home, a child, watching my beloved, humble Mexican grandfather, a man of indigenous background, who endured hardship with grace and faith, who lost his own mother as a child…speaking to a woman clothed with the sun, radiating with The Son. Nuestra Señora, She Who is His Mother—seeing her, loving her, and trusting her, just as Juan Diego did centuries ago, and just as many of us still do today. ¡Que Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe! She Who is Here, who is Our Mother.