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Our Lady of Guadalupe
Empress of the Americas
Your sadness saddens me. Fortunately, that only shows what a sentimental fellow I am; it has nothing to do with the actual gravity of your latest missive. In fact, I would say that you are blessed to receive a rejection letter so early on in your job search; you have already experienced the worst, and have survived. If your first rejection experience had been delayed much longer, I daresay it could have induced a veritable catastrophe.
Nevertheless, you are downhearted, dejected, discouraged. You won’t let those real (and painful) emotions lead you to do anything rash, I am sure (your faith is too mature for that). But what will you do with them? The question matters, because how you answer it will set a precedent. Though you hadn’t experienced rejection and failure before, you will certainly do so again, so the way you react to this first one will create a pattern. Today’s feast can help make sure that pattern is a good one.
It all started back in 1531, in the newly colonized territory of Mexico, on a hill (called Tepeyac) near Mexico City. The Christian missionaries who had accompanied the conquistadores had been having a difficult time evangelizing the native Aztecs, and their efforts were hardly bolstered by the scandalous example of many Europeans. But on this day in 1531 our Lord himself was going to change the momentum a bit. He permitted his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to appear to a Mexican man as he made his way to Mass (his name was Juan Diego, now St Juan Diego, and he hadn’t even yet been baptized). She actually appeared to him more than once, and asked him to go to the bishop to request that a church be built where she had appeared, to honor the Mother of the One True God. The bishop, of course, doubted the poor Mexican’s sincerity (if not his sanity), and asked for a sign. So on December 12th Our Lady had St Juan Diego gather some roses from the rocky hilltop. He knew it was neither the season nor the place for roses, but he obeyed. He found some beautiful specimens right where she had indicated, picked them, gathered them in his tilma (a coarse poncho), and brought them back to Our Lady. She arranged them for him, and had him take them to the bishop, making him promise not to stop along the way or show them to anyone else.
Juan did as she wished, and when he opened his tilma for the bishop, everyone in the room fell to their knees, for they beheld the now famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe: a fifteen-year-old Mexican girl, pregnant (indicated by the black bands around her wrists) standing on the moon, eclipsing the sun (held to be the greatest of Aztec gods), hands clasped in prayer (thus she herself was not to be considered divine), crowned and robed with stars, and stepping forward. St Juan attested that this was an image of the Lady who had appeared to him. The bishop consented to her request.
Almost immediately the image became a rallying point for Mexicans. It served as a highly effective catechesis all by itself, and in its wake millions of residents of the New World were brought into the Catholic fold, at the same time as thousands of souls were breaking away from the Church back in the Old World in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. To this day scientists can’t explain how the pigments were applied to the course cloth, nor can they explain how the cloth has survived intact for five hundred years. But the steady flood of pilgrims to the Shrine on Tepeyac hill is uninterested in scientific proofs. In fact, this most-visited shrine in the Christian world draws the faithful, many of whom make the last mile of the trek on their knees, because in Mary they find the heavenly Mother that they, as God’s children, need, the same one who spoke so gently to St Juan Diego when she first appeared, saying, ““Hear me and understand well, my little son, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear… Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.”
Mary is no distant ideal, no abstract model of virtue. She is a real woman, the Mother of our Lord, the Queen Mother of Heaven and earth, and as such, she is your mother, your protectress, your benefactress. And it is not a sign of weakness to need one, but a sign of wisdom. In moments of emotional turbulence, where do good children go but to their mother’s compassionate and comforting embrace? You are a child of the Eternal Kingdom; should you do any less? I think not, and I know our Lord agrees, because he said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you shall not enter in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). And then, speaking to his beloved disciple about Mary, he said, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). Put two and two together, be humble, and life’s storms will never be able to throw you off course.
Your loving uncle,