Kathryn Jean Lopez
From the May/Jun 2011 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
“She’s our CEO,” Theresa Burke, founder of Rachel’s Vineyard—the post-abortion ministry she runs with her husband, Kevin—says of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
This particular image of the Virgin Mother is a source of inspiration and challenge, a Marian mainstay of the pro-life movement. She did after all say, gently but authoritatively, “Am I not your mother?” Why wouldn’t those who seek to protect the most vulnerable— the unborn, and their mothers and fathers so often mired in despair—go to the one who carried the Incarnation in her womb, who freely chose, protected, and loved the Infant Jesus? She is an inspiration and a gentle guide of the pro-life movement, a loving alternative to the culture of death.
“Unlike her apparitions in other times and places, Mary appears on Tepeyac with child, full of the promise and expectation of new life,” observes Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, a Dominican priest working on his doctorate in fundamental moral theology at the University of Fribourg. “Why? What was Mary’s purpose in appearing in sixteenth-century Mexico as the young maid of Nazareth? That’s a mystery for us to ponder in prayer. As I imagine the events of the apparition, I don’t think it’s too far off the mark to suggest that Mary’s pregnancy was what first drew Juan Diego’s eye in her direction. Perhaps it was the fact of her expecting that caused him to approach her hoping to offer some charity.”
A baby bump, as the New York Post would put it if she were one of today’s evanescent celebrities, still catches the eye. “And if we see them in need, our hearts are immediately softened by solicitude for their well-being. And so the history of the Christian faith in the New World began much as it did centuries earlier in the Old World, in Nazareth, with the invitation to grace appearing first on the face of a young, expectant girl.” Fr. Guilbeau
concludes: “At Guadalupe, Mary confirms us in our sensitivity to new life, to take notice of it when it appears, to labor for its flourishing, and to shelter it when threatened.”
Theresa Burke tells me: “We have a giant portrait of her in our home, and with every manuscript we have ever written for healing, or books we have written, the manuals and even the new program we composed for treating sexual abuse (including those abused by clergy), we dedicate [our work] to her. . . . She is the source behind everything we do! She is the best boss in the world— because she delivers Jesus every time.”
Shining Star of Truth
Since Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego on December 9, 1531, and her appearance on the peasant’s cloak three days later, she has been a sign of hope and encouragement for countless Mexicans, making a Christian revival possible in the pagan culture. But she may have a whole new life in the United States right now: We need her and can be transformed by her love.
This contention has a papal imprimatur of sorts: Bl. John Paul II christened her the “Star of the New Evangelization.” But you don’t need a pope to tell you: She’s everpresent. Remember, it wasn’t just pregnancy that made the apparition of the Patroness of the Americas unique. She appeared to Juan Diego in the traditional dress of an Aztec princess. Bearing the gift and burden of new life, “Mary appears to Juan Diego as one burdened also with the task of civil governance,” Fr. Guilbeau reflects.
“Whether they are hereditary princes or elected presidents, temporal rulers are charged with the unenviable task of organizing the common efforts of a people to establish their equitable sharing of the earthly common good. One of the chief tools employed by rulers to fulfill their task is law, or more precisely positive law, which when promulgated prudently and skillfully renders the common good accessible amid the ever-changing contingencies of human life. Again, governing is no easy task, and for this reason the Scriptures exhort us to pray for our civic leaders. Our Lady of Guadalupe, however, reminds us that positive law holds a measured place in human life. Positive law is not all-powerful, nor is it an end in itself. As a tool crafted for good living, it does not bear within itself the source of its authority. Always and everywhere positive law depends for its truth and justice on a higher law. Our Lady of Guadalupe serves as a living image of this truth.”
Fr. Guilbeau continues: “As a personification of positive law, the princess who appeared to Juan Diego bears hidden within her womb—and even deeper within her heart—the Wisdom of the Eternal Law and the Author of the Natural Law. . . . Those who bear the burden of civil authority must bear even closer to their hearts the burdens of its obligations to higher and eternal truths. And so to a hemisphere about to begin a new phase of its social history, the expectant Virgin Mother appears as an Aztec princess to teach its leaders and future leaders about law and the demands of its true service.”
At a time when Catholic lawmakers so often and prominently give voice and momentum to the culture of death—giving cover most emphatically with their religious identification to laws that support and even fund abortion—Our Lady of Guadalupe is a powerful image. She stands as a challenge to every Catholic in public life. She stands as a challenge to civic life and citizenship, which must always be in prudent accord with that which is True and never an offense to it.
Children of the New Evangelization
That’s one reason we need a new evangelization. Among the most radiant faces of this reality among us are the Sisters of Life, the religious order established by the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York in 1991.
“I first met Our Lady of Guadalupe when I was inquiring with the Sisters of Life,” Sr. Talitha Guadalupe, 25, tells me. At the time, she had what those of us in the secular world might call a cocktail knowledge of Our Lady. The sisters had a missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in their chapel, blessed by Bl. John Paul II. “I did not know anything about the image, or Our Lady of Guadalupe,” she tells me. “I did not even know who she was; I only knew she loved me. I was powerfully attracted to her image and spent several hours praying with her. I felt her looking upon me, and when I was able to touch her image, I felt her surrounding me with her mantle of love.”
The Sisters of Life have a deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her image hangs in all of their convents and they return to her in grateful reflection nightly. “Each night we process to the life-sized image of Our Lady of Guadalupe—encountering the young Virgin Mary, carrying the hidden unborn Jesus within her womb—after a day full of conversations and meetings with those caught in the midst of the struggle between the forces of life and death,” says Sr. Mary Elizabeth, superior of the sisters’ St. Barnabas Convent in the Bronx. “As only a Mother can, she soothes, and heals, and her words echo in our hearts: ‘Do not let anything disturb you, and do not be afraid of any illness or anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Is there anything else that you need?’”
“I believe she desires to take all of us into the heart of her Son,” Sister Guadalupe says. “For the past three and a half years, I have prayed to her every night for the sisters in my class (those who entered religious life at the same time I did). At first, I presented different intentions to her. However, over time, she has shown me her own intentions for our group. She takes what we understand as the intentions of our heart, and over time she gently helps us to see what part of these intentions are of God and what part are merely of us. She teaches us to think as God thinks, to love as He loves, and to pray as He desires us to pray. At the time of the Annunciation, Our Lady said, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to Thy word.’ Her whole life was lived in perfect conformity to the will of God. As we grow closer to her, she opens our hearts that we too may be more closely conformed to Him.”
Sr. Mary Elizabeth elaborates: “One of the reasons why we as Sisters of Life feel especially close to her is because she appears pregnant with the unborn Christ-child nestled beneath her heart. In a sense she is Our Lady of the Visitation coming to us. It is the Gospel made present. Her humble, maternal presence fills us with hope, just as Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out with joy: ‘Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? When I heard your greeting, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.’ Our Lady of Guadalupe is an icon of what each Sister of Life strives to be: a Christ-bearer. Our lives are Eucharistic. Just as Our Lady is like a tabernacle, her body the sanctuary of the Body and Blood of Christ, so we seek to be living tabernacles, carrying Christ where He loves to go—to the brokenhearted. We pray that we, like Mary, can have the power of Christ within radiate outward, penetrating the heart and womb of a woman pregnant and in need, in order to lift her burden, to lighten her load, and bring a ray of hope or a moment of joy.”
A Mother’s Appeal
But you don’t have to be a pro-life activist, a priest, or a religious sister to access Our Lady of Guadalupe. She did, after all, appear to a layman! As Carl Anderson and Msgr. Eduard Chávez write in their monumental handbook for understanding the apparitions in Mexico and their significance to our lives today, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love: “Nearly five centuries after the apparitions, Juan Diego remains an example for us today, especially for the new evangelization. In his role in the apparition and in his life afterward, he is a model of faith, of devotion, of sacrifice, and of the role of every believer to transform culture.”
“I think one of the most moving things about Our Lady of Guadalupe is her humility,” Zoe Romanowsky, a young married woman in Baltimore, reflects. “[This] is hard to come by today, and so necessary for successful marriage, parenting, and for converting the culture to a pro-child, pro-woman attitude. Humility is also necessary for any authentic relationship with God.” Romanowsky was born on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, and has a longtime devotion to her: “I’ve always loved that the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, decided to appear as a pregnant peasant woman, identifying herself with the native people, and speaking to them in every aspect of her image—her clothing, symbols, etc. It shows that she not only considers herself mother to all, but that she wants to identify with us, and to show us that God knows us, is one of us, love us as we are.”
“I dearly love Our Lady of Guadalupe,” says Edward T. Mechmann, a lawyer who serves as assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York. “The thing I find most attractive about her is that we really get to see her soft maternal side—the side she showed to Juan Diego when she said ‘Am I not your mother?’ I can imagine that’s the side of her that Jesus, Joseph, and the Apostles saw. Honestly, Our Lady as she appeared at Fatima and Lourdes is a bit daunting and remote. But her kind conversations with Juan Diego appeal especially to the natural male instinct of love for our mothers and wives.”
Her image even reaches as far as Hollywood. Steve McEveety, co-producer of The Passion of the Christ and chief executive officer of Mpower Pictures (which is currently working on two productions involving Our Lady of Guadalupe), tells me why he has answered a call to evangelize her message: “If one looks at our world as if we were the Aztecs (particularly at how we sacrifice our youngest) one might get the feeling we are headed for a similar fate. The conquest ended with the apparition. The human sacrifices were no more and a new culture was born.”
“Do not grieve or be disturbed by anything,” Mary tells Juan Diego—and us. And we will not be, if we only let her bring us closer to Him who is life and love and our only goal.
To venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of the Americas and Star of the first and new evangelization is to venerate her precisely as a Eucharistic woman, a woman through whom Christ came to humanity, a woman who experienced a unique closeness to the Holy Trinity,” Anderson and Msgr. Chavez write. Her love, they continue, “surpasses herself, and leads us to the source of love, a Source which demands from us and enables us to love our neighbor without reservation, without hesitation, without borders.” She is the “Mother of the Civilization of Love.” She is our help for hope and change.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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