Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Message for a Modern World
Jason M. Roebuck
Northwest Christian University
On the subject of Mary, the Mother of God, it can be shown how the reality of purity and chastity are revealed not just through Jesus but also through his mother. However, these are not just one time truths from the past, as will be shown through the reflection of at least one revelation from God in the last 500 years. In many testimonials of devotion to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it is possible to see that the Virgin Mary, our spiritual mother, has been using this image to convert hearts to follow her son, Jesus. In addition, articles about the historical and critical perspectives in support of and in opposition to the Virgin of Guadalupe will show that the message has the power to speak through different forms of media. There is much debate over the veracity of the accounts of the apparition of the Lady to Saint Juan Diego. Despite the critical view of the historical accounts of scholars like Stafford Poole, a Catholic Priest, and Gene Sager, a Catholic convert who doubt the historical truth of the Marian miracle in Mexico of 1531, it is impossible to deny the value of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that still exists today and its ability to empower a disciple of Christ in their mission to evangelize the world with the truth about purity and chastity.
Figure 1. Image of Our Lady in Mexico City, Mexico (1531)
The work that began in a humble woman named Mary at around the age of 13 or 14 around 2000 years ago, still continues today. One example of her miraculous work that will be discussed in this paper, happened in a remote area of Mexico over 500 years ago. The best example of her work, in union with the will of God, would have to be Jesus Christ, who was her son, as well as the Son of God. This work, called Our Lady of Guadalupe, is communicating a message to the world is desperately in need of: purity and chastity. This purity and chastity is calling us to be more fully prepared to join ourselves in the nuptial union that is being prepared for us in heaven.
Where do we start?
In today’s culture there are too many diversions from the ideals of purity and chastity promoted by the Virgin Mary. In marketing, it is the stickiest message that gets shared the most. Like the commercial, “Where’s the beef?” from Wendy’s over 20 years ago. For the Virgin of Guadalupe that came to prominence over 500 years ago, it was a message that would be with the Mexican people, and hopefully for the world until Jesus returns. The first place to start would be with the message. The message of the Virgin Mary from the beginning was to bring her son into the world in a way that indigenous people on the planet earth would be able to accept him. She brought him into the world as a baby, through her womb. In the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she is bringing her son to the indigenous people of Mexico and by extension to the entire world. This message is the same because in the image she is seen as a pregnant mestizo young woman, who is bringing the good news of this new God to a people that were following the wrong God. In the image, the woman is seen as covering the sun and standing on the moon, both the sun and the moon being gods of the indigenous people of Mexico in the 1500s. When Mary is revealed to the world in salvation history, she is called the favored one by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:28,33 Ignatius Study Bible). When she is revealed in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe or Virgin of Guadalupe, she is delivering a message that does not need words. The name for the image and the woman of the image will be used interchangeably throughout this paper, and the author will try to change to the name of the image or woman depicted, as appropriate. It is important, for perspective to see the image as it exists today in Mexico. It has been argued that the image has been touched up or changed since it was first imprinted on the tilma. (Poole, 2007) When we look at this image, we see that she has her eyes cast down in submission. She is showing us the submission that is necessary for a human to have, in order to be a true disciple of Christ. Even though, it could be said that she has more power than any creature before her in history, and only Jesus among those in human form had more authority. Yet, she is seen in submission to the will of something outside of herself.
The problem with the analysis of the tradition surrounding Our Lady of Guadalupe, is that there is no shortage of opinion concerning the veracity of the stories that make up the tradition that tells us about the history behind the image. One controversy is stated like this, “The campaign for the canonization of Juan Diego, the visionary of the Guadalupe tradition, between 1995 and 2002, revived a long-standing controversy over the authenticity of the tradition and the reality of Juan Diego himself.” (Staples, 2014, p. 464) The idea that the story surrounding the image can be questioned by a small group of scholars, and thereby their argument be given more weight because of a lack of accurate translation of one of the stories about the tradition is preposterous. Stafford Poole, a Catholic priest whose interest in the tradition only developed after his retirement from active ministry, would be considered one of the scholars who stands in opposition to the tradition. However, his opposition stems from two accounts of the tradition that seem to have their bias based on the disagreement about the prominence of one group of Native Mexicans over another. (Ronan, 1997) So, the opposition to the apparition tradition notwithstanding, it is still obvious to even the casual observer that the image has had an incredible effect on missionary evangelization in Mexico. Since, in the years following the apparition and subsequent revelation of the image, there were no less than 10 million Mexicans converted to Catholicism. There are other apparitions that could be used to show the preeminence of Marian devotion in the work of evangelization, but for this paper the focus will be on just this one, although the opposition to the importance of Mary’s role in salvation history will be discussed first.
Opposition to Marian Devotion. Through a somewhat cursory look at the opposition to Marian devotion, the conclusion can be drawn that any attempt to deny the validity of devotion to Mary is to deny the deity of Jesus. One article I found went so far as to say that the development of the Marian “cult” is a result of repressed sexual desires, or as the writer puts it “A goddess mediator like Mary totally dissociated from sexual intercourse could be popular in a society characterized by patron/client relationships or a heavy reliance on agriculture” (Bildstein, 1988, p. 653) It is ironic how a journal that studies psychology would just deny the importance of religion on the ability of the mind to process information. It seems that whenever anything does not agree with their worldview, or their atheistic sensibilities, it is easier to just explain it away with nonsense. Rather than accept the fact that for the first 300-400 years of history after the death and resurrection of Jesus, his mother would have been honored in secret because of the persecution of Christians. Some scholars would rather just dismiss that giving honor to Mary was happening at all. In the case of declarations of Marian doctrines by the church, it was not until the Council at Ephesus that her title of “theotokos” or God-bearer was questioned formally. After that council in 431, where the Catholic church declared the truth of her being the Mother of God, (Staples, 2014, p. 17) we see Marian dogmas being promulgated throughout Christendom, in order to combat the now declared heresy of those Christians who did not accept this truth.
Next, the Marian doctrine of Mary as the Mother of God is often opposed by Protestant scholars by the argument that if Mary is the Mother of God, she would have to be God. However, the argument falls apart when presented with the fact that Jesus is only one person of the Trinity and therefore even though Jesus is God, Mary does not have to predate him in order to be his mother, because she is not the mother of the Father or the Holy Spirit. Also, in much the same way that humans are created with a soul, without the need of the parents knowing how it is created, God is created in Mary as both human and divine qualities without her knowledge of how this works or having to be God in order for this to happen. (Staples, 2014, pp. 29-30)
Finally, before moving on to the explanation of how this amazing miracle of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe reveals the truth of the gospel for our modern church, it is necessary to overcome the most revealing objection to Marian devotion. The objection says, that Jesus did not give Mary to everyone as a spiritual Mother, it was meant just for John, because he happened to be there. Oh yeah, and she is not perpetually a virgin, because there is no biblical evidence for it. However, in Luke 1:34, Mary asks the question of the angel that announces the conception of Jesus in her womb, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” In fact, she was already betrothed to Joseph, so she did not plan on having sexual relations, which would have consummated the marriage and made him officially her husband. A valid translation of the 34th verse of Luke’s gospel is, “How will this be…” which shows that she was not intending on breaking the vow of chastity that she had made before they were betrothed. (Staples, 2014, pp. 133-135) This objection is most revealing. In our modern culture, we seem to need to justify our bad actions in the arena of sexual behavior by saying Mary and Joseph were just like us. The Catholic Church says that Mary was not just like us, and Joseph was only like us before he met her, and then his world and thereby his view of chastity in marriage drastically changed. This reveals the truth that needs to be revealed to our world right now about the holiness that everyone is called to. This holiness is revealed to the world today by the image that is given to the Catholic church through the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Evidence for Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe. If we look at movies that have currently been released from Hollywood, we may not get a sense of the transcendent value of the image of Our Lady. There was a movie released in the last few years about a sting operation at the border of Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas that was called, “Sicario”. In the movie, we catch an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the expensive home of a major leader of a drug cartel as the hero comes to take out his form of justice on him. It is worth mentioning this view of the image, even though it is not a journalist’s view of the issue around the relations between Mexico and the United States at the border, it depicts the casual nature of the devotion that pervades the culture in Mexico and Latino homes in the United States, as well. In the movie, “Quincenera”, that was released in 2006, we see the way the image pervades the culture in the Latino culture and how Marian devotion stands in opposition to evangelical faith. In her article about the movie, Espinosa says that the depiction of this coming of age ceremony brings to the foreground this opposition through a shared experience of discrimination and resistance in East Los Angeles. Even though, the main ceremony takes place in an Evangelical church, Espinosa says the event felt intrinsically Catholic, many images recalling the Virgin Mary. (2009) The article devolves into a treatise against the historical context of the tradition of the story of the image. The movie and the article still stand as a great example of the power of the image to a culture that is slowly being lost to the subversive nature of the American dream that seems to be inexorably linked to the problems that come from sex before marriage. The reviewer concludes her comments about the movie saying, “Quincenera represents the open-ended condition of religious choices that confront a new generation of Hispanics who can reject traditional aesthetics and Marian strategies of identity and contestation” (Espinosa, 2009) The argument can be made that the same choices confront a new generation of Americans who have already rejected traditional beauty and artistry.
In our current culture, especially since the results of the election that just took ended this past month, the Catholic church is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the gifts that Marian devotion have to give. For instance, the newly elected administration appears to be positioned to make the pendulum swing in the direction of protecting all life, especially pre-born life in the womb. The argument could be made that it was the prayer of pro-life prayer warriors and the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe that made that possible. Now, it is the appeal to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has the power to transform our culture in a way that has a lasting effect on millions of lives. If we can accept the fact that this Virgin Mary wants to tell us that it is a good thing to live a life of chastity and purity. As was evidenced in the movie “Quincenera”, the result of lack of sexual purity is unwed mothers in the Hispanic community in the East Los Angeles area. This issue is not particular to this region of the country, but the issue of what to do about these “crisis pregnancies” is as varied as the neighborhoods that the young women find themselves living in are. For instance, in 2012, there were more black babies killed by abortion in New York City than were born there. Since, the law should soon be on the side of protecting unborn life, the emphasis on our evangelization should be on educating young people on the value of saving themselves for marriage.
The Virgin Mary, in Catholic tradition is seen as a shining star of purity. She was kept free from the stain of original sin, and remained sinless throughout her life by the singular grace of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that was applied to his mother outside space and time. This was done by God, in order that a vessel could be made ready to house the Son of God in the worthy body of the Virgin Mary. This grace was applied to her, but even though the angel called her “full of grace” she is not the only object of his grace. The grace that comes from his sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to purify the whole world. We only have to convince young people that God wills their purity. Our Lady of Guadalupe has the power to do that for us, even though we were not kept free from original sin.
It is necessary to take the time to explain the nature of the miracle that exists in the image, as well as the miracle that happened in Mexico over 500 years ago of the millions of non-Christians converting in mass numbers and being baptized in such a short period of time. So much so, the nation of Mexico is seen as one of the most Catholic countries in the world, save only the Philippines. However, the issue in Mexico of abortion has pervaded their culture as well, and the safety of the unborn children of Mexico are at risk in the same way as they are in America.
The appeal to the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe at this point needs to be made, so that the changes we are making to our laws in this country around the issue of abortion, could be shared with our neighbors to the south in Mexico and the whole world. As the new administration struggles with difficult issues of immigration and securing the border with Mexico, it would be easy to include the reformed view of this issue with the administration in Mexico and with all of the countries around the world that rely on us for aid. Now that time for the rhetoric of building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it is over, the United States has a real chance of creating a bridge between our two cultures and the wider world.
It is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has the power to bring the two cultures together over this divisive issue and bring this issue to the world stage that hasn’t happened since Saint Mother Teresa used the occasion of the Nobel Peace prize speech to convict the world of the danger of not protecting the lives of the unborn. She said that the world cannot expect to be able to be at peace, as long as a baby is not safe in its own mother’s womb. At the risk of using more movie references in this paper, than written ones, it is appropriate to mention one more movie here. The movie is called “For Greater Glory” and it tells the story of how the rebels in Mexico rose up against the atheist Mexican government in the early 1900s. The rallying cry for that uprising was “Viva Cristo Rey!” which means long live Christ the King. In addition, it was that Catholic faith that led the people of Mexico to stand up against an unjust power that was trying to infringe on their most valued right of freedom to exercise their faith by participating in their Catholic religion. Many people died standing up for what they believe in, and it was the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that empowered them to have faith in God.
It was this image that created a bridge between the conquering Spanish conquistadors, who were Catholic, and the indigenous people of Mexico in the 16th century. These Catholic conquistadors were more ruthless than a presidential candidate that says he going to make the Mexicans pay for a wall, and the Virgin of Guadalupe was able to introduce them to her son, Jesus, and he brought a majority of the country to conversion to the Catholic religion. This is not about conversion to the Catholic religion, per say, but it is about bringing people to a better understanding of the issues surrounding unwanted pregnancies and protection of all life, in all phases of development, from the womb to natural death.
The issue that most comes to mind that the indigenous people of Mexico were dealing with before the adoption of their new Catholic faith at the prompting of the Virgin of Guadalupe was the sacrifice of innocent people to appease the gods of the Aztecs. This practice completely died after the country was converted and it is impossible to deny the similarities of this practice and the death of the innocent children in the womb through abortion.
The next issue that the Virgin of Guadalupe will be able to speak to, without saying anything or appearing to anyone else, is the message that she gave to Juan Diego during the apparitions of 1531. It was December 1531, when she appeared to him for the last time and she told him that it was his humility that gave him the ability to deliver her message for her to the Bishop. Saint Juan Diego was initially fearful that he was not a qualified messenger to deliver the message to the Bishop for the Virgin, but she assured him that he was the one to deliver it. It is that call to Saint Juan Diego that should empower all men and women who think they don’t have the qualifications to deliver this message to the world, to be qualified by the simple fact that they see the message clearly and have the ability to share it. The Virgin of Guadalupe told Saint Juan Diego to pick some Castilian Roses that were growing on the hill of Tepayac, that would normally not grow in December, and were native to Spain and not to Mexico. He picked the roses and brought them to the Bishop and when he opened his tilma to show the roses to the Bishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was printed on his tilma. This humble indigenous man was filled with the Holy Spirit and given the power to deliver the message that would save his people and bring them to new life in Christ. The question is, what are the Castilian Roses that we are are being asked to pick. In other words, what miraculous task will we being asked to do in order to deliver the message of the Virgin Mary’s purity and chastity to a world that desperately needs it.
What is the message for the next generation?
In order to deliver the message of the image to a waiting world, there is a message that easily attaches itself to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The message is one that was delivered by Saint John Paul II, during 129 general audiences over a four-year period that is called the “Theology of the Body.” In these audiences, the Pope, now Saint of the Catholic church, expounded on the issues that we face when we lose touch with the way God created us. In Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, he restores the sanctity of marriage to the faithful people, both the indissolubility of it, as well as the leaving of father and mother that is required of a husband, who is asked to cling to his wife, as they become one body. (Genesis 2:24) The concept of becoming one body is required of all men who desire to follow God into their vocation, including those men who would become priests and not get married to a woman, but rather take on the Bride of Christ, the church as their spouse. This teaching of the Theology of the Body is not new, but rather it is a teaching that has been lost to a culture that has dominated the conversation about love and sex for too long. The culture says that marriage is good, as long as it is convenient and comfortable, but God says that earthly marriage is supposed to last as long as both the husband and wife live in this world, and it is a foretaste of the union that is to come in heaven. These talks remind the faithful that marriage is a gift of self that requires each party to look to help their spouse get to heaven. Marriage is not supposed to be a selfish gift, that sends the guilty party to hell for their indiscretions. Saint John Paul II asked the same questions that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is asking. Our Lady of Guadalupe wears a black ribbon around her waist, which denotes the fact that she was pregnant. The image shows her standing in front of the sun and on top of the moon, and thereby showing that the baby that she is carrying is supplanting the power of the gods of the indigenous people of Mexico. The question is whether or not we were going to follow the other gods of this world that offer temporary pleasure. Will we abandon those gods, in favor of the greatest gift that could be given to parents, which is a child born to married parents? Even though Saint Joseph is not pictured in the image, his fidelity to the marriage of the Mother of God can hover in our mind when we see her there as a pregnant mother. As men and women of God, this imagining could be important if we struggle with identifying with the image because of the effect of our earthly mother psychologically on how we see the image.
Connecting the image to the theology of the body. In one of his latest book on the theology of the Body, Christopher West explains that the proper disposition to pleasure means that we recognize its ability to point us to heaven, rather than the pleasure becoming an idol to indulge, and it is not an evil that we need to reject. (West, 2012) Pleasure becomes something that is a foretaste of heaven, rather than the end we seek for its own merit. The pleasure will end, but the promise of heaven never ends. Our young people today, and some of us older folks as well, that have subscribed to the theory of the never ending frat party that is the pleasures we derive from sex and alcohol. An untwisting of the indulgent nature is necessary to understand what this foretaste of heaven is and how our whole being yearns for it. (West, 2012, p. 162)
Now, let’s go back to the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe. With her sublimated eyes, she is showing us the proper disposition toward the pleasures of this world. It is not that we should not take pleasure in the gifts that God brings into our lives, but the pleasure must always be put in its proper place, so they can be seen as foreshadowing heavenly bliss. In addition, she shows us that to be made perfect, like her. We would need to let the pleasures of this world lead us to a perfect relationship with the church, which is the body of Christ. This is perfected by the nuptial union of Christ and his church. The Virgin of Guadalupe reveals to us this truth, because she is in perfect union with Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that brings forth life. She reveals that we do not need the physical reality of sexual union to be in communion with each other, in the same way Saint Theresa of Avila and others were in communion with God and experienced the ecstatic vision. Christ has shown us the way to perfect union with him. It is through the perfect love of our friends, where we are willing to die for them, that we see how to be perfected. Our Lady of Guadalupe is bearing the body of Christ in her womb, and she could have been subject to death for being pregnant before she consummated her marriage with Joseph. We are called to do the same thing when we receive his body into our body through communion, and hopefully we are never threatened with death for wanting to receive it, as some people were in Mexican history of the last 100 years. Our love is perfected by our relationship with Jesus, by focusing on what he did on earth and emulating him as much as humanly possible. We shouldn’t look to our relationships on earth to accomplish the things that only God can do. Regardless of the quality of our relationship with our spouse, it is only God who can heal the pain that comes from suffering in this world.
The story illustrates the point that is being made by the theology of the body’s ultimate end and the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image. An agnostic or atheistic psychologist would say that we are sick for seeking a nuptial union, and what we need is sex. However, our response should be that what we really want is union with God and our desire is disguised by sex. In an explanation of the parable of the wise and unwise virgins, West explains that the wise virgins are the ones who do not run out of oil, or repress their love for God, but rather keep their fires burning for God. (2012, p. 172) Since the Virgin of Guadalupe is holding the Son of God in her womb, she is completely satisfied by the love that we can only hope to get a glimpse of through communion. Also, it is available by gazing into her eyes that reveal the communion to those that will unite their will to the will of the Father. In the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we see in the studies that have been done by a scientist and many ophthalmologists, who all agree that the eyes look strangely “alive”. They appear to have qualities that only a human eye would have, and no picture could have even replicated the appearance in a modern photograph until recently. The temperature was tested using infrared technology and the tilma that the image is displayed on was found to maintain a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as that of a living person. There was acid spilled on over 50% of the image when the glass case was being cleaned in 1785, and the image completely restored itself after 30 days.
Finally, in the only article that I could find that was not in opposition to the image’s veracity, it makes clear that the story of Juan Diego is linked to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Goizueta, 1999) The expression of everything that the theology of the body is supposed to teach about the dignity of the human person is made clear through how Mary is pictured. She is in authentic relationship with God by consenting to carry the Son of God, and she is revealing the dignity of all persons by appearing as an indigenous woman herself. The truth of this is that by walking with our brothers and sisters in Christ, that might just look different than us, we are allowing God to perfect our relationship with him.
The name of the book that provides a defense of the Marian doctrines that I have used to make up a good portion of material explaining the need for Marian devotion is called, “Behold Your Mother”. The idea that readers of this paper should come away with, is that in order to learn how to get closer to Jesus, you may just need to spend some time observing his Mother. Throughout the history of the Catholic church, Mary has been appearing to different visionaries that are for the most part, reluctant seers. As we come up on the 100th anniversary of the message of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, the message and the miracle delivered to convert the whole world to her son is even more imperative. The life of the reluctant seer was not easy, but when they discovered the secret, that the end result of their suffering was eternity with God, it made the experience worth it.
The experience of going through the degree completion program at Northwest Christian University is difficult for a married man with a full time job and four kids. It has been over 20 years since I last attended college, so the information that I learned in all of my courses, is invaluable to completing this work of evangelization to a modern world. The hope is that it has given me the ability to deliver a message to a world that is really in need of it right now, and the method of message delivery has been greatly improved by the business, communication and bible and theology courses that were all part of the interdisciplinary studies in my degree completion program. Tools that were taught through these courses that were part of my required curriculum will provide the opportunity to deliver the message of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the messages of Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to a world that is rapidly changing the way it communicates. No matter the time or the place or whatever form of media that is available, it is imperative that this message gets shared to bring people to Jesus, Mary’s son. So, he can bring about their conversion and more people can spend eternity in perfect relationship with God in heaven.
Bildstein, W. J. (1988). The Cult of the Virgin Mary: Psychological Origins. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 653-654.
Espinosa, A. (2009). Home altars and the Virgin of Guadalupe in Quinceanera: historical and critical perspectives. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 21(1). Retrieved from http://proxy1.nwcu.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.proxy1.nwcu.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=s8887269&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA213033190&asid=0f95e304a8b68f8bd05734bb4daea189
Goizueta, R. S. (1999). Resurrection at Tepeyac: The Guadalupan Encounter. Theology Today, 56(3), 336-345.
Poole, S. (2007). Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego: The Historical Evidence. Catholic Historical Review, 464-465.
Ronan, C. E. (1997). Book reviews: Latin American. Catholic Historical Review, 153.
Staples, Tim (2014). Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. El Cajon, CA: Catholic Answers Press.
West, C. (2012). Fill these hearts: God, sex, and the universal longing. New York, NY: Image.