This Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, is referred to as Gaudete Sunday, so called from the first word of the Introit at Mass, which means “Rejoice,” as we are closer now to the coming of Christ than we were at the beginning of the Advent Season.
Today is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As the story goes, on an early December morning in 1531, an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego was making his way along the path of Tepayec Hill on the outskirts of Mexico City. He was on his way to Mass. As he walked along, he began to hear beautiful music, and then he saw a beautiful, radiant lady. She called him by name, in the familiar, as if he were her beloved child: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” As he approached her, she said:
Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, the true God, through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of Heaven and earth. It is my earnest wish that a temple be built here to my honor. Here I will demonstrate, I will manifest, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, and of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.
After Juan Diego received his mission, he asked the lady for her name. She responded in his native language of Nahuatl, “Tlecuatlecupe,” which means “the one who crushes the head of the serpent.” When pronounced correctly, Tlecuatlecupe sounds like Guadalupe, which is the Spanish name for a nearby city with a prominent Marian Shrine, and the name that Juan Diego may well have used when he approached his local bishop with Our Lady’s request.
Although he was a just and compassionate man, Bishop Zumarraga was, understandably doubtful. He sent Juan Diego away, stating that he needed to reflect further on the matter. Juan Diego returned to Mary, who in turn sent him back to the Bishop. So, Juan Diego ran this little relay a few times between Our Blessed Mother and the Bishop. On one occasion, he sought to avoid Tepeyac Hill altogether, his heart heavy with shame for not having yet achieved his mission, and also out of concern for his sick uncle, whom he was caring for at the time. Mary appeared to him, saying:
Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?
Our Lady reassured Juan Diego that his uncle would be restored to full health, and then sent him back to the Bishop with two signs. The first, several roses that were foreign to that barren, dry region, which he enfolded in his tilma, a poncholike garment. When Juan Diego opened his tilma to spill out the flowers, the Bishop wept as he saw, there emblazoned on Juan Diego’s garment, the beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A replica of that image, which touched Juan Diego’s tilma, hangs in the Saint Joseph Chapel to the left of the sanctuary.
It is said that when Juan Diego appeared before the bishop with the signs, the message, and the request from the Virgin of Guadalupe, torch runners were sent to deliver the good news of the miraculous apparition throughout the land. Harking back to that moment, today up to 8,000 runners run The Guadalupan Torch Run, a relay by which a flame is brought overland from the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The run, which covers a distance of over 3,000 miles over the course of seventy two days, hails Saint Juan Diego as a messenger of hope and healing for the indigenous people. This year’s run is scheduled to finish at St. Patrick’s today at around 3:30PM. The torch runners spread the message of hope embodied by Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, who brought Christ to the New World.
When I think about the encounter between Saint Juan Diego and Our Blessed Mother along Tepeyac Hill, especially in context of this Sunday’s call to Rejoice! I am reminded that no matter our anxiety, our fears, or feelings of unworthiness, no matter what human foibles and crooked highways that keep us from answering God’s call, God finds a way to meet us exactly where we are, and support us so that we can be brave and joyfully proclaim the Gospel.
Peace in Christ,