Caitlin Kennell Kim, seminary grad, baby wrangler, ordinary radical, writes about the life of a convert in the Catholic Church and explores how faith and everyday life intersect.
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Our Lady of Guadalupe: A Convert’s Guide to Feasting the Patroness of the Americas
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the name of a Church-approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which took place in Mexico in December 1531. She appeared on the hill of Tepeyac to Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Christianity. Juan Diego was on his way to Mass when he heard beautiful music and a woman’s voice calling his name in his native language. He followed the sound to the hillside where he encountered a beautiful Aztec maiden emanating golden light and standing in a cloud upon a crescent moon. The beautiful Lady addressed Juan Diego as her little son and told him not to fear because she was his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. She asked Juan Diego to tell the bishop to build a church on the hill so all may know her motherly affection and consolation.
He rushed to the home of the Spanish bishop in Mexico City. Juan had to wait hours and hours for an audience with him and, when he was finally allowed to see him, the bishop and his advisors scoffed at the poor, illiterate Aztec man who claimed to be speaking on Our Lady’s behalf. He was sent away and returned to the hill brokenhearted. He begged the Blessed Mother to send someone more important to do her bidding — someone the bishop would take seriously. She reassured him that he was the messenger she wanted. He returned to the bishop who was becoming annoyed by Juan’s claims. The bishop told Juan that if his Lady was indeed the Mother of God she would need to provide the bishop with a sign.
When Juan Diego returned to the Lady, she told Juan Diego to pick roses from the hillside to put in his tilma (cactus fiber cloak). Juan found the normally barren hillside covered in Castilian roses, a miracle in and of itself considering that the growing season had long passed and these roses were not native to Mexico. The Blessed Mother arranged the flowers in Juan’s cloak and told him to show no one until he reached the bishop. Juan ran all the way to the bishop’s home. When he was allowed an audience, he opened his tilma and roses cascaded to the floor filling the room with their fragrant aroma. As the roses fell from the tilma, the image of the Lady Juan had spoken with on the hillside appeared on the simple cloak. The bishop fell to his knees before the miraculous image. A church was built on the very spot where the Blessed Mother appeared. Even after 500 years, the cactus fiber tilma (which should have disintegrated after 20 years!) bearing her image remains in perfect condition. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is the most visited Marian shrine in the world!
The image left on Juan Diego’s tilma is full of both Christian and traditional Aztec symbolism. She is both the woman clothed in the sun found in the Book of Revelation and an Aztec princess. She wears the red robe of a Hebrew virgin and blue mantle of a mother in Israel, as well as the dark complexion and facial features of a mestiza, a woman of both Spanish and Aztec heritage. Most importantly, she symbolizes God’s solidarity with all people.
Why is Our Lady of Guadalupe an important part of our Advent preparation? The beautiful Lady of Tepeyac Hill reminds us that all of us — no matter our age, gender, race, or background — are called to be bearers of Christ. Just as Our Lady carried Jesus in her womb, we are called to carry him in our hearts this Advent. Just as she beckoned Juan Diego, a poor and aged Aztec deemed inconsequential by those in authority, she summons each of us. We each have a role to play in bringing Christ into the world. We are called to cultivate a place for him in our hearts this Advent.
At home! We like to have a big Mexican-style meal of enchiladas, rice, and sopapillas. The best part is the Tepeyac Hill cake. You can use your favorite cake recipe or mix baked in an oven-safe Pyrex bowl. Frost the top of your cooled cake with white icing for the cloud and place a small statue or paper cut-out of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the “cloud.” Brown sugar makes great sand for the rest of the hill and strawberries make perfect edible roses! Yum!
At your parish! Many parishes have special celebrations for this feast day because Our Lady of Guadalupe has captured the hearts of her children in every corner of the American continents. Some celebrations incorporate traditional Aztec dance and music in honor of the Blessed Virgin into the liturgy or special community performances.
In your neighborhood! If you’re lucky enough to live in a Latin American neighborhood like we did when we lived just outside of Washington, D.C., you might be in for an extra special treat on the feast day. Many neighborhoods hold parties that include fireworks, music, and dancing in honor of Our Lady.
Make it count
Family fiestas and liturgical celebrations are important ways of honoring Our Lady’s feast, but why not show your love by doing something charitable for those closest to her heart — the poor, forgotten, and little? You can give the gift of fruit trees to a family in need, contribute toward a micro-loan for a woman working to pull her family out of poverty, volunteer at your parish’s food pantry or soup kitchen, or visit an elderly neighbor. Invite family and friends over for a potluck supper. Ask everyone to bring a dish to share and ten small items (bibs, hats, socks, onesies, toiletries, rosaries, holy cards, etc) to put in gift bags for women experiencing crisis pregnancies. Deliver them to your local pregnancy center. Remember, Our Lady was a young, unwed expectant mother and she appeared to Juan Diego as a pregnant teenage girl!
Wishing you a happy and blessed Feast Day! Do you have any traditions or favorite ways of celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe? I’d love to hear from you!