The alluring story of the apparitions of Our Blessed Lady to Juan Diego in 1531 is increasingly better well known throughout the world. Seemingly more and more persons are coming to realize that even though these noteworthy appearances occurred in North America, their deep significance is universal.
The “Guadalupe event” was quite straightforward: the Ever-Virgin Mother of God showed herself to an unlettered peasant and directed him to approach the local Bishop. Although wary of such a spectacular claim on the part of Juan, the Bishop believed when he saw the delightful roses (in December!) and the image of Our Blessed Mother on Juan’s tilma.
What has always intrigued this writer about Mary’s appearances in Guadalupe is the long-term and profound effect that they had on the people nearby as well as on their behavior. In the ten years following the apparitions, an estimated nine million Aztec Indians were converted to the True Faith, and the abominable practice of child sacrifice to the pagan deity—which had been performed with horrifying regularity—abruptly ceased.
Such a halt to this indescribable sin, however, was not unexpected. Why? Because Our Lady was involved! It was her firm gentleness that impressed those responsible for this abhorrent act. They soon realized that Mary would never countenance any sin against human life. Hence, they knew that they needed to make a break with this reprehensible tradition.
Our Blessed Mother’s visitation to Guadalupe teaches us about many things: the utter goodness of the Madonna in appearing to the human race (thanks to the mercy of our Creator), the heroic patience of Saint Juan Diego, the humble willingness of the Bishop to accept the divine sign. But let’s not forget another important lesson: the strength of Mary’s example and the power that comes from her heavenly intercession.
The people in the area near Guadalupe were changed by the apparitions. These men and women, boys and girls, came to know the unique person of Mary. They marveled at her—the loving Mother of Jesus. And very soon they accepted a vital truth: the Mother of the Messiah really does care how we act. It is not enough that we believe in her and venerate her as the Immaculate Virgin now assumed into Paradise. Our words and deeds must mirror our belief. We must permit the Virgin’s example and prayers to convert us.
In our difficult age, when it is easy—and even anticipated—to speak virtuously for the public eye but to act immorally in private, we desperately need a forceful corrective to this disturbing schizophrenia. The appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe remind us that once we have heard the message of the Lord, we are, like the Aztecs, to put it into practice. It does not suffice to say “yes” with out mouths but to remain resistant in our souls.
As the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ on earth—commemorates once again the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we beg for the divine grace that Mary distributed nearly five centuries ago: the courage to assent to what she asks of us and to live anew in Christ, thanks to the Holy Spirit, and for the glory of the Father.
Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pope Saint John Paul II
O Immaculate Virgin Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church! You, who from this place revealed your clemency and your pity to all those who ask for your protection: hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust, and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer. Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice, to you, who come to meet us sinners, we dedicate on this day all our being and all our love. We also dedicate to you our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities, and our sorrows. Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples; for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are, our Lady and Mother. We wish to be entirely yours and to walk with you along the way of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church: hold us always with your loving hand. Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas, we pray to you for all the bishops, that they may lead the faithful along paths of intense Christian life, of love and humble service of God and souls. Contemplate this immense harvest, and intercede with the Lord that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole People of God, and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious, strong in faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.
Grant to our homes the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings, with the same love with which you conceived in your womb the life of the Son of God. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, protect our families, so that they may always be united, and bless the upbringing of our children. Our hope, look upon us with compassion, teach us to go continually to Jesus and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him, by means of the confession of our faults and sins in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul. We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments, which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left on earth. Thus, Most Holy Mother, with the peace of God in our conscience, with our hearts free from evil and hatred, we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace, which comes to us from your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. (1)
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan, is a member of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
(1) Pope John Paul II at Puebla, Mexico in January 1979; Manuel of Prayers, compiled by the Reverend James D. Watkins, Rome: Pontifical North American College, 1998.