When the Son of God, ever obedient to the will of the Father, elected to be the Son of Mary and a member of our human race, he accepted the complexity and messiness of human life. Nothing happens that does not have economic, political, social, familial, religious and spiritual ramifications, all of which involve disagreement, confusion, misunderstanding and skepticism. That’s the beauty of human life. It’s often comical, sometimes tragic and invariably bewildering.
So when we turn to the history and legends of Our Lady of Guadalupe we find claims and counter-claims, politics, intrigue and revolution. Even the original story recalls the skepticism of the Spanish bishop and the hesitation of Juan Diego. Her most famous statement, a gentle rebuke, erupts from that discord, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?.” Has there ever been a household that never heard that question?
At the heart of it all is the silent image of Our Lady. She has her head bowed in prayer, acknowledging her humble position before the Almighty God. She does not gaze on the viewer as if to demand obedience or submission. Behind her is the glory, shining in beams of light. She does not so much block the sun as shield the supplicant’s eyes from its burning rays.
The sash around her waist indicates her pregnancy; she is bringing to North America a revelation of mercy in the person of her Son. The Spanish empire was not known for clemency, but neither was the Aztec empire it supplanted. The conquistadors brought a message of peace with their Catholic missionaries, despite their hunger for gold. They brought the story of a God born in a manger and his poor peasant mother, of a homeless Messiah and a crucified redeemer, raised up not by human strength but by God’s mercy.
Although the missionary’s message was “Do as I say, not as I do!” the gospel took root because it was the Word of God, accessible and desirable to everyone prepared to receive it.
It also took root by the beautiful, heaven-sent image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s origins remain mysterious but its attraction is unassailable. Her basilica in Mexico City is the most-visited shrine in all Christendom. Five hundred years of complex human history, of persecutions and revolutions, have not dimmed her charm. She continually directs our attention to Jesus with her direct admonishment, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?”