Busted Halo

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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December 9th, 2013

Our Lady of Guadalupe: A Convert’s Guide to Feasting the Patroness of the Americas


A pilgrim carries an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during celebrations marking her feast day in Mexico City. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)

A pilgrim carries an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during celebrations marking her feast day in Mexico City. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) is my favorite Marian feast day of the year! (I’m doing my happy dance. While typing. I don’t want to brag but that takes serious skills.) Who is Our Lady of Guadalupe? What does she have to do with Advent? What are some ways to honor her feast day? Your favorite convert and self-proclaimed Marian nerd here with some thoughts on how to grow in faith, make a difference, and have a fiesta worthy of Our Queen!

The Story
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.

Advent Feast
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!

The Author : Caitlin Kennell Kim
Caitlin Kennell Kim is a full-time baby wrangler, writer, and ponderer of all things theological. She earned her Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry and Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She currently lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband and their four small children.
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  • Veronica

    Growing up in deep South Texas, just miles away from the Rio Grande, I grew up listening to my abuelita pray the Rosary at the small shrine she had on her bureau. The shrine included a cross, pictures of her parents, a few candles, and a framed print of Nuestra Senora. But it didn’t really make much sense to me, though I loved that Abuela would make her famous tamales and bunuelos for the feast day. Later on, about ten years or so ago, I would take my mom to the annual Mass so that we could watch the dramatization of Juan Diego and La Virgen’s encounter and the miracle of the tilma. I always enjoyed the matalchines dancing for the Lady, right down the center aisle. My youngest niece performed as a matalchine when she was in middle school, too! Now Mom is in a nursing home, with severe Alzheimer’s and I will miss sharing the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with her. But I will say a Rosary for my mom, and take her a bunuelo tomorrow. Thanks, Grandma and Mom, for showing me how important La Senora is to our culture and our family!!

  • Doug Beaton

    It’s 1971. A blond, ten year old kid from north of Boston get to take his first trip on an airplane. To Mexico City, where his father has won a vacation in a sales contest. That was me. While there, my parents, Protestants who didn’t darken the door of too many churches, made sure that we would visit the Antigua Basilica (there was no modern church there at that time) to see Our Lady of Guadalupe. It must have made an impression on me — all these years later I can still remember the people crawling on their knees across the plaza to pay their respects at the only Catholic church I ever entered until I was an adult.

    Fast forward to January, 2012. I’ve been thinking lot about going back to church, but don’t really know where or how. Killing a little time on a business trip to Santa Fe, I walked a little ways from downtown, turned a corner, and there on Agua Fria street was — Our Lady of Guadalupe, a statue three times life size, right out on the sidewalk! Like I say, it must have made an impression, because I remembered right away.

    There was a small sign on the door of the 200 year old santuario next to Our Lady’s sidewalk shrine — it said “Daily Mass, 6:30 AM.” And it was there that I took the first small steps toward conversion, joining the Catholic Church this past Easter.

    So even though December 12th will be dark and snowy here, I’m with Caitlin — it will be a day quite worthy of a fiesta and a happy dance. Gracias, Nuestra Senora……

    • Veronica

      Love your story! And welcome to the Catholic Church!!

      • Jane

        Doug- I love your story too! Of course she made an impression. Welcome to the faith….may your faith grow and burn brightly throughout your life.

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