The Catholic Thing
Forgetting Our Lady of Guadalupe? Print E-mail
By Matthew Hanley   
Friday, 10 December 2010

From the cross, Jesus gave us his Mother as our own; the beloved disciple John, by the design of providence, was not to be her only son. On December 12, 1531, Our Lady of Guadalupe – the “merciful Mother of all mankind” as she identified herself – spoke in the tenderest of terms to another one of her sons, Juan Diego:

Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son. Let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? . . .Is there anything else that you need? 

One would be hard pressed to find more comforting words; they are positively riveting given their intimate connection with the miraculous image of Mary imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma. How to explain, among many other things, the reflection, verified with modern technological equipment unavailable in earlier centuries, of Juan Diego (and others in the room when he unraveled his tilma) in the eyes of the Blessed Mother? And all beautifully depicted on coarse fabric that, unlike others of its kind, which last a couple decades at the very most, has not appreciably deteriorated in 479 years, despite over a century of exposure to the elements? 

The extravagance of Mary’s reassuring words is magnified by the fact that they came the day after Juan Diego did not follow through with his promise to meet Mary again at the appointed time and place. He had spent that day tending to his gravely sick uncle. Knowing that he just went AWOL on the Queen of Heaven, though, he decided to take a shortcut to his destination the next day in order to avoid her. Haven’t we all, knowing our own shortcomings, or facing the hardships and counter-cultural demands that come with faith in Christ, taken shortcuts in one form or another? He was nonetheless greeted by Our Lady and heard these soothing words – even after she had explicitly told him earlier: “Do not forget me.”  

Does this hold some significance today – as large numbers of people with at least some exposure to the Church are choosing to take other paths?  Ex-Catholics, it is said, comprise the largest religious affiliation in our country today after Catholics themselves. For some, a painful personal experience led them away. For others, a particular doctrine is discomfiting. I’ve always wondered, though, what those consumed with the demand for women’s ordination, for example, make of the fact that Mary is exalted above all other creatures. L.A. is not the “City of the Angels” but of their Queen: Our Lady of the Angels. (Dude, you have to admit: that is mind-boggling!).

        Juan Diego's tilma: a gift from our mother

Many adopt a secular perspective chiefly to evade Catholicism’s moral code – even though peace depends on it; violating what’s stamped on the heart ensures disquietude that no amount of protest or self-styled spirituality can quell. Still others in the West today turn to the East (or some New Age amalgamation that leaves out the demanding asceticism and morality of Eastern religion, too) for the same reason, or simply because it is the in-thing to do, though some are also genuinely seeking meaning, truth, and spirituality. Even if the reasons ex-Catholics have for avoiding the Church do not quite resemble how Juan Diego sought to avoid Mary that one day – still, the Blessed Mother understands our humanity and stands ready to shower us with her maternal love.

While Yoga has been in vogue here in the affluent West, National Geographic reports that some Mexicans, particularly those surrounded by the plague of drug-cartel related violence and “the prospect of such a terrible death”, are turning “to death itself for protection”; the cult of La Santa Muerte (Holy Death) has, curiously, become the “guardian of the most defenseless and worst of sinners.”     

Is not a certain forgetfulness – of Our Lady, of the Church – at work under such duress here as well? (There can be no doubt that vicious persecution, not just forgetfulness, officially characterized the Mexican government’s relations with the Church for much of the last century). Drugs today, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “point to an interior longing in man which breaks out in perverted form if it does not find its true satisfaction.” Such perversion comes full circle when this unholy image is held up as a means of coping with the chaotic fallout of drugs, which “reveal the vacuum in our society” in the first place.

Shortly after Our Lady’s appearance, the Aztec peoples of the region converted by the millions – and as a result, abandoned their practice of human sacrifice. How could we, with our state-sanctioned toleration of the taking of innocent human life in the womb, have forgotten about such basic injunctions? Our modern-day barbarity not only far exceeds in scale the Aztecs rituals; it has flourished in a culture that, unlike the Aztecs, was formed by Christian sensibility. Their gods ceased having power to make exacting claims upon human life; the idol of absolute individual autonomy – “choice” and the “right to privacy” – still demands its pound of flesh.

Our Lady said she came to give all her love and protection to the people, to hear their weeping, and “alleviate all their multiple sufferings.” There could scarcely be a more inviting and urgent message for an anxious, secular age – particularly one that has forgotten what matters most.  


Matthew Hanley is, with Jokin D. Irala, M.D., the author of Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, available now from the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
written by debby, December 10, 2010
What a Mommy She is!
She has impressed upon us not only Her own image in a truly spectacular way, but She has won our hearts with Her tenderness. She waits for us. Each one of us is the one child She longs to carry. Her arms ache for us. Oh that we would turn to Her as a nursing baby and reach up and caress Her face back in wonder, "You are my Mommy. Mine. and I am Your own. Yours."
Each of us is in great need of Her. Her Immaculate Conception is the answer to the great wound in my heart inherited at my conception and then made deeper and more diseased from my own sins. (JP2- loosely remembered)
let us await the 2nd coming of our Savior, Her beloved Son, with Her, in Her and through Her. She cannot be loved too much for not one of us could out-love or out-honor the One Who chose Her to be His Mother.
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., December 11, 2010
Please forgive me for bringing up a recent comical anecdote. Recetnly our Secretary State visted Guadapule and asked who the artist was. The Monsignor simply answered "God." I don't think that is is unfair to ask how someone in that position of responisbilty, regardless of her "faith tradition," could be that ignorant of what so many people in her hemisphere, let alone the world, believe. I forwarded that report to a priest, hoping he would see the humor in it, he he responded, "So does God hate Hiillary?" Of course I was suggesting no such thing, but I think it is telling that a man of God is so anxious to defend a woman who calls Margaret Sanger her heroine. OK, I am a sinner. I am not fit to judge anyone. But, Please...
written by Aeneas, December 11, 2010
Great article, one problem though....the link "among many other things" does not work. :(

Also, the whole la santa muerte cult is a very strange, yet interesting phenomenon. How bad do things have to get in your country for you to PRAY TO death itself? Sad :(
A silent prayer for our mexican brothers and sisters.
written by Dan Deeny, December 15, 2010
Excellent article. You might want to be stricter with us. We have not built enough schools and hospitals. Nor have we opened enough manufacturing facilities.

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