December 12, 2006
Roses in Winter
The Tilma. The actual cloak of Juan Diego preserved at the Bascillica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City Mexico
Roses in Winter
Juan Diego had seen a lot in his 57 years. He was alive 10 years ago, just barely, when the White Men came, and conquered the ruling classes of Tenochtitlan. He survived the sickness, the red spotted fever and the dreaded block spotted fever that killed thousands upon thousands of the native Mexicas, He had, after much thought, committed himself to the Mission, and to the brown robed brothers that worked the land and cared for the animals. He didn't understand all that they believed, religion had always been the province of those that were of the higher classes in the stratified society that had been the Aztec Empire, where he and his parents, who had been not much more than slaves, had wispered in hushed tones, of the ceremonies held in the great temples of Tenochtitlan. How slaves and captives had been marched up the steps and had their hearts cut out to honor the gods and goddesses. Since the time of the old King, who had built the great Temple of the Sun and dedicated it with the living beating hearts of 80,000 men. Then for the years there after, every one of the 300 cities and towns of the Aztec Empire, one thousand sacrificial victims were required every year. Day and night, the drainage troughs ran red with the blood of human sacrifices. One in three children born were thought to have been given for sacrifice at birth. He shuddered, imagining the living beating hearts of little children in the hands of the pagan priests. Yes, better was the faith of the Spanish, who worshiped The Captive Sacrifice, and celebrated His torture and death. One Captive...instead of thousands, One Victim, instead of many, including himself. The black robed priests cleansed the blood off of the high altars and celebrated their rites to the God Man that was the Ultimate Victim. Better to serve the foreigners, the white men, and know that perhaps his children had a chance at life
But the world was not better. In the villages, people were sacrificing to the old gods still killing children and babies, hoping that by this terrible offering they would gain the upper hand against a more powerful enemy. There were raids, then, they would go into a town or onto a hacienda and kill any white people that they would find. In turn, the white mans army would retaliate killing many more of the people, Years now, this had been happening.There seemed to be no end to the bloodshed For protection he, his wife and elderly uncle had fled to the Bishop's hacienda, and placed himself in his service, for as a "conversio" one who had been baptized into the White man's religion, his death was assured should he be caught in a raid by his people.
Juan Diego, was walking through Tepeyac Hill located in the higher ground above the great City. Thinking about his sick uncle and all that was going on aound him, he saw, out of nowhere a young mexica woman standing there on the hillside. She was clothed in an indio garment belted with the black sash that signified that she was pregnant. The Woman told Juan to have a church built on this spot. This was startling to him for the name of the place in the Aztec language means " The place where the goddess kills the stone serpent", or "Guadalupe". It was holy ground to his people.
Twice Juan Diego went to his master, the Bishop, only to be told in exasperation to ask for a sign from this woman. Embarrassed, Juan Diego, didn't return to the hill for some days. His uncle was still very ill and he couldn't leave him. When he was finally well enough, Juan Diego took his leave of the old man and trudged up Tepeyac Hill.
When Juan saw the Lady again, he told her what the bishop had requested, that the Lady gave a sign. Juan felt very bad about this, but told Mary what the bishop asked. She told him not to fear, but return in a couple days and she would produce a sign. Unfortunately, Juan couldn't return for a few days because his uncle was gravely ill again. When he saw Mary again on Tepeyac Hill, she was surrounded by bushes covered with roses. She reassured him his uncle would be fine, and bid him to gather roses by the hill. He did so and she wrapped them in his cloak, called a "tilma". She told him to return to the bishop and show him. When Juan did, the roses fell to the floor and the image of Mary was seen formed on the cloak made of cactus fiber.
The tilma is a marvelous miraculous relic, which even today nearly 500 years later remains in excellent condition with the image intact. It has withstood several environmental hazards such as fires, smoke, floods, torrential rain, and more. Usually the tilma fiber falls apart after twenty-five to thirty-five years, but not this has not been the case with this fabric. In the image, Mary stands on the moon and in front of the sun. After Juan showed the tilma, he returned to his uncle. His uncle was completely cured, and explained a young woman appeared to him and told him to call her Santa Maria de Guadalupe. She also told the uncle that she sent his nephew to the city to show an image of herself.
The Bishop believed the sign, and commissioned the church to be built. It was later destroyed by fire only to be rebuilt and rebuilt again. Today it stands, on that hillside, housing the miraculous image bearing tilma, which hangs above the altar, incased in bullet-proof acrylic. The huge Basillica built to house up to ten thousand worshipers, is, by far, the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere.
But the real miracle of Tepeyac was not the tilma, or the roses in winter, or the appearing of Mary. It was the effect that it had on the indigenous people of the region. Within six years after this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. The sacrificing of children ended, and gradually peace came to the land. It wasn't paradise, there are still many problems, and the divide between the rich and the poor is still as great as it ever was. But the people gained hope and something to believe in. They see in the image a glimpse of themselves, and can understand that the true God is for all people not just the privileged few or people of a certain color... And today, on this anniversary of the vision, the multitudes gather in that church to honor that reality. To sing praise and to recite the prayer of now, Saint Juan Diego Our Lady of Guadalupe,pray for holy Church, protect the sovereign Pontiff, help all those who invoke you in their necessities, and since you are the ever Virgin Mary and Mother of the True God, obtain for us from your most holy Son the grace of keeping our faith, of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life of burning charity, and the precious gift of final perseverance.
Perhaps in this divided world we need to see a vision for our time. I pray for it...