Father Tirso

For the first time at SMM, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be celebrated in Spanish this Tuesday, December 12th. The night will start at 6:00 pm with the customary “Mananitas” or songs to the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, followed by Mass, and conclude with hospitality in the Gathering Space. Since the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe originated in Mexico and is a huge feast among Spanish speaking countries, the festivities here at SMM will primarily be in Spanish. However, for the benefit of non-Spanish speakers, there will be a point to offer some explanation/reflection in English as well.

The Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in 16th century Mexico on a hill known as Tepeyac which is within the limits of Mexico City. The original basilica still stands but because of earthquake damage that caused it to lean to one side, a newer, safer, and much larger basilica was constructed that can accommodate the throngs of visitors that come year round but most especially on December 12th.

Progress was slow in the efforts to spread the Good News of Jesus in the land of 16th century Mexico. At the time of the apparitions, Juan Diego - a peasant with little to no education - was himself a recently baptized convert. But, the Church was facing an uphill battle in evangelization and catechesis.

As was his custom, Juan Diego would daily pass by the hill of Tepeyac on his way to Mexico City. One day, he heard the melodious voice of a young woman singing from the top of the hill. He decided to investigate and encountered a young lady whose beauty was unsurpassable. She revealed herself as the Virgin Mother of God and her wish was that a church be built on that site. Eventually, she instructed Juan Diego to go to the local bishop with the request. The bishop of the time, Juan de Zumarraga, was extremely skeptical and pretty much dismissed Juan Diego. With each rejection, Juan Diego would go back to the Virgin Mary to report that the bishop would not listen to him. He even begged her to choose someone more educated and of a more prominent status. The Virgin Mary insisting that Juan Diego be the one to deliver the message.

One day, Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill and on the verge of dying. His uncle had asked Juan Diego to summon a priest to hear his confession and prepare him for his final journey into death. In a rush to get to Mexico City, Juan Diego intended to avoid the mysterious lady by traveling on the opposite side from his normal route. However, the Virgin Mary met him on the other side of the hill and again insisted that Juan Diego go to the bishop. In return, the Virgin Mary assured Juan Diego that his uncle would survive, which he did.

After several unsuccessful attempts and very harsh treatment, Juan Diego was eventually instructed by the bishop that a sign would be needed before the bishop would even consider the authenticity of Juan Diego’s claims. Juan Diego delivered this message to the Virgin Mother. She then instructed Juan Diego to follow her to the top of the hill of Tepeyac. There he was told to gather as many Castilian roses that surprisingly filled the hilltop even though such flowers were unable to bloom in the winter months. Juan Diego gathered as many as he could in his “tilma” or cloak. However, the roses were not the miracle.

With his cloak full of roses, Juan Diego was made to wait for hours before being presented to the bishop. When he finally appeared before the bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak and allowed the roses to fall to the floor. That was when the real miracle took place. Without any explanation, an image began to appear on the tilma of Juan Diego and it was the image of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. That was the miracle that convinced the bishop and caused a dramatic change across the land of Mexico.

As a result of the miracle of Guadalupe, virtually the entire nation of Mexico converted to Catholicism. The reason for this was not simply in the miracle but the fact that the Virgin Mary came to Juan Diego as an indigenous woman herself dressed in very Aztec features. The image itself is wrought in symbolism that spoke powerfully to Catholics in the 16th century as well as for Catholics to this very day.

Extensive scientific tests have actually been done on the cloak of Juan Diego. The results of those tests have all pointed to one undeniable fact. The image on the cloak of Juan Diego was not painted onto the fabric by any known human method. There is no rational or scientific explanation as to how the image got imprinted on the cloak and how it has remained the same for over 400 years. In fact, part of those tests studied the eyes of the Virgin Mary in the image and discovered retinal images that can be seen in any human eye. This means that the image is more like a photograph rather than a painting.

This 400 year old image of the Virgin Mary is still enshrined and visible in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. To learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe - her message and the symbolism surrounding the image - I invite everyone to join in the celebration on Tuesday, December 12th.

Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.

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8:45 AM

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