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Our Lady of Guadalupe points us all to her Son Print
Guest column
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

Guest ColumnBy Fr. David Johannes

Why is Our Lady of Guadalupe important? We have all seen her image — not only in churches, but on car windows, tattoos, flags, or at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Long before I knew I was called to be a priest, my mind and eyes would wander around to images such as this as I sat in the pew at church. I didn’t know it then, but the Church’s very architecture was designed to bring my focus to Jesus Christ on the altar, to teach me about Jesus. It is so important to appreciate the beauty that God gives us.

The world in 1531

To fully grasp the meaning of Our Lady of Guadalupe requires a quick snapshot of the western world at the time of her appearance. We all know that “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” We also know that the mission of the Spanish was to bring the faith to the parts of the world they explored.

They would name the lands they reached in honor of Our Lord by using the titles of Our Lady or saints’ names. For example, Hernando Cortéz landed in Mexico on Good Friday and named the land Veracruz (True Cross).

Aztecs’ devotion to four gods

The explorers soon learned of the Aztecs’ great devotion to their four gods: the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Earth. They learned how the Aztecs sacrificed strong healthy warriors to their gods, believing the gods would give them life in return as daylight, warmth, light at night, constellations to guide their travels and the planting of crops, and the earth to nourish them.

When the Spanish priests taught the Aztec people about the eating of the body of Christ and the drinking of His blood — a concept that was difficult for the Europeans to grasp — it made perfect sense to the Aztecs.

When the priests began to teach about Holy Orders and the identity of the priest as Jesus Christ, the Aztecs began to believe they should consume the priests. As this idea escalated, the Spanish petitioned the pope to leave the new world, calling it a land of barbarians. The Holy Father agreed and allowed for an immediate exit with the added promise of no future expeditions to the new world.

Apparitions changed the world

Obviously, we are here in America now, so what happened? In the midst of four apparitions to an Indian convert named Juan Diego and one to his dying uncle Juan Bernardino, the Mother of God changed the world forever.

In her first three apparitions to Juan Diego (now a saint), she told him she was the perfect and eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God. She asked him to go to the bishop and ask for a church to be built to worship her Son.

On the fourth apparition, Our Lady asked St. Juan Diego to pick the blooming flowers in the winter desert and take them to the bishop as a sign. St. Juan Diego used his tilma (a type of cloak for warmth made of the leaves of a cactus) to carry the flowers to the bishop.

As the flowers fell to the ground, the image that appeared on the tilma, before the bishop and all present, was the image we see to this day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Catholic bishop immediately recognized the image as the Mother of Our Lord.

Importance of images to Aztecs

The Aztecs, however, were unfamiliar with the many images of Mary the Mother of God. They saw instead a woman standing in front of and blocking their sun god. They saw a woman standing on top of and conquering their moon god.

She wore their stars as a mantle and earthen images as her dress. They noticed her knees were bent and her hands were clapping — the same way that the Aztecs worshipped, by dancing and clapping. Who was this woman who was more powerful than gods and who was she worshipping?

The Aztecs cherished life, especially in the womb. In Aztec tradition, a pregnant woman tied a black band around her womb to show that she was with child and untouchable. It was a sign to all in the community to respect her and to offer assistance.

The Aztecs noticed the jasmine flower which appears directly underneath the black band over the lady’s womb. On all Aztec temples, the jasmine flower appeared only once, designating the one universal god that governed the world. The Aztecs knew that the one universal god must be inside the woman.

The child in the womb

Who was the child in the womb of this powerful woman? The priests then told the Aztecs that the child inside the woman was Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a sacrifice for all to inherit eternal life. This made perfect sense to the Aztecs, and immediately human sacrifices came to an end.

The Catholic Church had the most conversions in the two weeks after the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe than in any other time of the Church’s 2,000-year existence. She conquered the new world with the person of Love, Jesus Christ.

Preparing to receive her Son

To this day Our Lady of Guadalupe asks us to allow her into our lives so that she can crush our false gods. She desires not that we worship her but that we receive her Son.

This Advent, let us leave behind all the small gods we sacrifice our lives and time to. Let us prepare an authentic crib of love in our hearts to receive Jesus Christ this Christmas.

Let us respond to the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe as Queen of the Americas and raise her image in our homes and churches, so that we then can offer her Son to the rest of the world.

Fr. David Johannes is the parochial vicar of St. John the Baptist Parish in Waunakee and St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Westport. He will be leading a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico from March 7 to 13, 2014.  He spent a summer with Msgr. Eduardo Chavez, the postulator for the cause of St. Juan Diego. More information can be found in Chavez’s book Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of The Civilization of Love by Carl A. Anderson and Eduardo Chávez.