“Are you not under my shadow and protection? . . . Is there anything else that you need?”
Our Lady to Saint Juan Diego
Mary Is Our Mother Too
Juan Diego was making his long trip to Mass on the cold morning of December 9, 1531, which at that time was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Suddenly he heard some strains of beautiful music. Looking to see where it came from, Juan found himself at the top of Tepeyac Hill, near Mexico City. He was startled to see a beautiful young woman standing there. She looked like a morena, that is, one of his own people. In his own language, Nahuatl, she called him by name, using a nickname that showed great affection: “Juanito,” she said, “Juan Dieguito, where are you going?”
Hardly knowing what to make of it all, Juan’s words tumbled out, “I am on my way to Mass.” As if to answer his unspoken question, the lady continued, “Know and understand, dearest of my children, that I am the ever-holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life, Mother of the Creator of heaven and earth.”
Mary, the Mother of God? Juan thought. How is it possible that she should come to me? Who am I? I am no one of importance! Despite his own estimation of himself, the Virgin Mary entrusted him with a great task. She told Juan that she wanted a church to be built there on that spot. Why? Mary herself told him that she wanted to “show forth all my love, compassion, assistance, and defense because I am your loving Mother: yours, and all who are with you, and of all who live in this land, and of all who love me, call to me, and trust in me. I will hear their cries and will give remedy to their sorrows and sufferings.”
Then the beautiful Lady told Juan to bring her message to the bishop. Juan did as she asked. But the bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, was skeptical that the Blessed Virgin Mary had really appeared to the humble man before him. Though he spoke kindly to Juan Diego, he was not convinced.
Downhearted, Juan Diego left the bishop’s residence. He again saw the Lady when he passed by Tepeyac and in dismay reported that he had not succeeded.
But the Lady, not to be daunted, repeated her commission. Juan Diego had to go back to the bishop. So he did. After being made to wait a long time, he was finally allowed to see the bishop again, who asked Juan to bring him back some sign so that he could know for certain that the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to him. So Juan went back home, wondering where all this would lead.
In the meantime, however, his uncle had fallen sick. Juan was in a hurry to go and get a priest to bring him the sacraments, so he tried to avoid seeing the Lady. He took a detour. But the Lady appeared to him anyway. Calling him “my little son,” she asked him where he was going. When he told her, the Lady reassured him that his uncle would recover. With a look of great love, Mary smiled at him and gently chided him for his doubts, “Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?”
After those comforting words, Mary told Juan to gather the flowers he would find at the top of the hill and bring them to her. Flowers in December? he wondered, but he obediently did as she asked. When he arrived at the top of the hill, he couldn’t believe what he saw: beautiful Castilian roses at the peak of their bloom! He gathered as many as he could hold and brought them to the Lady, who lovingly arranged them in his tilma. She then told him to bring them to the bishop.
When he returned to the bishop’s residence, he again had to wait but finally was able to meet the bishop. When Juan opened his cloak and the beautiful roses spilled out, the bishop and others in the room were astounded at what they saw: an image of the Lady imprinted on Juan’s tilma. This image, of course, is the amazing icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of Mexico and loving Mother of all people.
The beautiful story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a vivid, touching reminder of how much Mary cares about us and wants to help us in our needs. It offers us much to reflect on. Here are a few points that we can apply to our own lives.
Mary called Juan Diego by name
Not only did Mary call Juan Diego by name, but she used an affectionate term, almost a nickname, “Juanito . . . Juan Dieguito.” This shows us how tender and loving Mary is, that she not only knows each of our names but our nicknames as well. This tells us that we can approach her with great confidence and love.
In the Bible, knowing someone’s name means to really know that person. The Book of Revelation says, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev 2:17).
Isn’t it beautiful to think that God has given each of us a special name, one that no one else knows except God and ourselves? And while this passage doesn’t specifically mention Mary, it is reasonable to think that Mary knows our special name too. This name expresses who we really are and what we are called to do. In calling us by our special name of grace, Mary will lead us to her Son, Jesus, who will fill us with graces and blessings.
Mary spoke Juan’s language
Mary spoke to Juan Diego in his own dialect. In fact, this also occurred at other Marian apparitions. When she appeared to Saint Bernadette at Lourdes, for example, Mary did not speak in French but in the local dialect. At Guadalupe, Mary not only spoke the native language but her appearance also reflected the native features, as did the way she was dressed. Mary comes to us in a way that we can understand. So when we approach Mary in prayer, we can come to her just as we are. We don’t need to put on any pretenses. If we’re down and out, we can tell her that. If we feel weighed down by sin, we can tell her that too. Whatever our condition, we can simply go to Mary and she will help us.
Once at a conference I heard an amazing testimony from a man who had converted from an extremely sinful lifestyle and had lived far from God. As a fallen-away Catholic, he had been very promiscuous, even to the point of acting in pornographic films. When the films began to involve blasphemy and sacrilege, such as desecrating the crucifix and other sacred objects, he went along with it. But he started to feel revulsion at this and wanted to change. One day, not knowing where to turn, he came across a rosary. He still remembered how to pray it, so he started to do so, one Hail Mary at a time. That was the beginning of an amazing conversion. It took time and the way had its ups and downs, but that one Hail Mary was the first step on his road back to God. He said that Mary “cleaned him up.” So no matter what state you find yourself in, don’t be afraid to turn to Mary for help. She will not let you down! Our journey back to God can begin even with one Hail Mary.
Mary asked for a church to be built in her honor
Why did Mary ask for a church? It wasn’t for her own benefit. Instead, she wanted it to be a place where people could come so that she could fully be a mother to all the people. She wanted to console, help, and remedy their afflictions, not only individually, but also for the people as a whole.
We live in an individualistic age, and that is at least part of the reason why many people have stopped going to church. Although the statistics vary from place to place, Mass attendance among Catholics has fallen off dramatically since the 1960s. In some areas, less than 20 percent of Catholics participate in Mass every Sunday. That could only happen when people lose the sense of worshipping God as a community. We come together to worship because God is present not only in us individually through grace, but also in the church community as a whole.
We can’t offer the Eucharist on our own. So by asking for a church to be built, Mary was telling us that it is important to come to church for prayer, especially for the Eucharist. The great Marian shrines around the world, including that of Guadalupe, are also known for devotion to the Holy Eucharist, both in the Mass itself and through adoration. Again, we can see that Mary’s role is always to bring us closer to Jesus, her Son.