There’s something about Mary. More specifically, there’s something about Our Lady of Guadalupe. When studying in Europe for a semester, my fellow traveler, Kate, and I would scout the streets, churches and religious gift shops of the continent for a glimpse of our good friend OLG. Surprisingly, she turned up on several occasions.
It was with a knowing smile, then, that I received the words of Msgr. Eduardo Chavez, who recently addressed students at the John Paul II Institute, saying that the true miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe is her international following.
As I began contemplating Our Lady’s universal appeal, it struck me that she is a model of the theology of the body. In most Marian apparitions, the enduring “legacy” is found in words – in a message of repentance or greater prayer or ongoing conversion. With the exception of the phrase, “Am I not here who am your mother?” it is rare to hear people quote Our Lady of Guadalupe, and yet we see her image more often than most Marian art.
That’s precisely where we see her typification of the theology of the body message. It is through the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s body on St. Juan Diego’s tilma that she communicates to us. As Msgr. Chavez beautifully said, “In her image, Our Lady of Guadalupe wrote a letter from God to you.”
With our 21st century American brains, we tend to look at this particular image and see nothing more significant than a woman with her hands folded. For those to whom the tilma was first revealed, however, the intricacies of the image symbolized who she was, and more importantly, who her Son is.
Everything from the colors to the flowers to Our Lady’s garb communicated to the Indian people who she was and what she wanted to tell them. The Knights of Columbus have done a superb job in breaking down various aspects of the image on their website in preparation for their first Marian Congress.
The fact that Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image appears on a tilma is itself a beautiful sign. In an article, by Br. John M. Samaha, “A Scientific Note About St. Juan Diego’s Tilma,” Msgr. Virgilio Elizondo is quoted, "In the Indian cultures of that time, the tilma was the exterior expression of the innermost identity of the person. By being visible on Juan Diego's tilma, Mary became imprinted in the deepest recesses of his heart -- and in the hearts of all who come to her."
According to Msgr. Chavez, in the Mexican culture, a tilma provided protection, symbolized sustenance and was used in marriage ceremonies to symbolize the linking of the couple. A tilma with color noted the dignity of its owner. The greenish-blue color worn by Mary was only worthy of an emperor, thus Our Lady of Guadalupe’s title, “Empress of the Americas.”
There is a fascinating dichotomy in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the one hand, she is a model for inculturation, a concept discussed in the Second Vatican Council’s document, Gaudium et Spes, particularly in paragraph 44. The intricacies of her image spoke directly to the culture to whom she appeared in the 16th century. And yet, there is a universal devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Everyone has a body, and despite the specific time in which she appeared, her image and her legacy touch the hearts of everyone open to her. The message of life and love that she came to present 500 years ago, remains incredibly important today.
In the image, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s face is that of a mestiza – various cultures harmonized into one. Her message of her Son is one for everyone, regardless of individual race, culture or era. May we all heed a lesson from Our Lady – that each of us has the capacity to powerfully communicate the universal love of God through our bodies to the world.
Just how important was the image and appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe? At St. Juan Diego’s canonization in 2002, Pope John Paul II said, “’The Guadalupe Event’, as the Mexican Episcopate has pointed out, ‘meant the beginning of evangelization with a vitality that surpassed all expectations. Christ's message, through his Mother, took up the central elements of the indigenous culture, purified them and gave them the definitive sense of salvation’ (14 May 2002, No. 8). Consequently Guadalupe and Juan Diego have a deep ecclesial and missionary meaning and are a model of perfectly inculturated evangelization.”
Yes, there’s something about Mary and her ability to reach to the heart of a culture in order to transform millions of lives that resonates with our own desire to bring souls to Christ. As we seek ways to communicate the message of Christ, may we ask the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe who continues to be a witness of hope to the life-destructing culture in which we live today.