When Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego and his uncle, Juan Bernardino in December 1531, there were many familiar elements common to Marian apparitions. Mary appeared to humble people and spoke to them in a language they were able to understand. There were unexpected miraculous signs, in this case, of healing and of nature. And all of this, we call to mind as we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
There is also something unique to this particular apparition, the words of Our Lady to young Juan Diego, when he failed to respond to her invitation to meet with him on Tepeyac hill. He was not being lazy, but attentive to the needs of his sick uncle. And Our Lady’s response to this situation, ‘¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?’ (‘Am I not here, I who am your mother?’)
In all of this, we must keep in mind, Mary is the outstanding model to us of faith and charity. Because of her openness to God’s will and her total orientation towards love of others, Mary demonstrates that she is, to use the evangelist’s word in the annunciation narrative, kecharitomene, full of grace.
This means, Mary is never self-focused or self-obsessed. Her whole life is inclined towards the vocation she has received. Being full of grace is God’s gift to her to prepare her for the motherhood of the Word of God made flesh. She responds to this gift of grace, by giving herself totally and completely to what she is called to do. There is simply no room in Mary for herself. She is a woman wholly inclined towards others.
St Juan Diego encountered Mary in this way. She became his mother because her beloved Son Jesus had asked her to do so as he hung upon the cross. She is the Mother of the Redeemer, precisely because she fulfils the victory over the serpent, first promised in the Garden of the Fall. To this end, she conceives Emmanuel, God with us. And she is the Daughter of Sion, the poor and humble one of the Lord.
It is important for us to reflect continually upon these mysteries of our faith. They help us to understand precisely how Mary is the model of faith and charity. For as she was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to her role as Mother of the Christ, so we shall receive from the Lord the gifts we need to fulfil our vocation. And here we touch the essence of Our Lady’s poverty and humility.
There is something which the bishops at the Second Vatican Council said about Mary, which is very life-giving. They speak of the early Church Fathers and say this, rightly, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of our salvation through faith and obedience.
The Gospels, and especially the Lucan tradition, present Mary as standing before God with a poverty that is open to God’s will. She does not ask of the Lord, how can I achieve what it is you are asking of me, but simply presents herself as the handmaid of the Lord. One of the fruits of our redemption in Christ, is the desire to give ourselves completely to the vocation we have received from the Lord.
And all of this brings us to reflect upon our vocation to be disciples today. The occasional circumstances of our discipleship may change from place to place, time to time. But the heart of it all is found in Mary’s life and witness to us.
We also then, must be oriented towards others in authentic charity. This is the only appropriate way to live a life which has been defined by redemption. If we are redeemed, then we will want to share the fruits of this grace with others. There is no room in the Church for an understanding of discipleship which makes demands of others and speaks of perceived rights. And in this respect, we cannot become part-time disciples, slipping in and out of a relationship of service when it suits us to take time out from this.
St Juan Diego, like all the saints, is someone whose life is filled with the graces of this Advent Season. Truly, we do not live solely in the present moment. We are defined by the memory of our past. This means the reality of the Fall constantly seeks to rob us of the peace and joy which should be ours by way of our birthright as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. But we are also redeemed, saved from sin and death by the victory of Christ over these realities in his dying and rising. Mary always points us to these mysteries of our faith. I wonder at times, whether we have truly taken hold of these truths and live by them in our daily lives? And that’s why we need the constant accompaniment of our blessed Mother in this pilgrim journey.
And then there are the promises of God about the future. During this first part of the Advent Season, we reflect on those divine promises which look forward to the completion of history. We should not be afraid of these words of the Lord. We should embrace them with hope and expectation. And then, we live our daily lives in the here and now, doing what we can to cooperate with grace and to bring others into an experience of the hope we share together in Christ.
Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pray for us