Our Lady of Tepeyac, Mother of Conversion
Until Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico City in 1521, and the Franciscans were able to evangelize, the Aztecs had oppressed the region's Indian tribes and held many thousands of bloody human sacrifices to their gods. Cuauhtlatoatzin ("the talking eagle") was a man of fifty, a Chimichimeca of the area that is now Mexico City, when he was baptized Juan Diego in 1525. He and his wife were among the very first Catholic couples of the New World. By 1531, Juan Diego was a widower living with an elderly uncle. With strong faith, he traveled fifteen miles by foot to the Catholic church to assist at Mass on the Feast of Immaculate Mary Ever Virgin, which the Spanish Empire celebrated on December 9 in those days.
As he approached Tepeyac Hill, Juan Diego heard sublimely lovely music and a voice calling his name. Wondering if he had awakened in heaven, Juan Diego climbed the hill and saw a beautiful lady of "superhuman grandeur." He was overjoyed and bowed low before her. The woman spoke to him tenderly, as to a beloved child, and directed him to go to the bishop to request a church be built on that place, where she would, as merciful mother, bestow all her love and help upon all who love her. Obediently, Juan Diego went to the bishop, who heard him with kindness but did not believe his story about the heavenly lady. Next day, presenting himself humbly to the ever virgin Holy Mary, he was told to persevere. This time, the bishop asked for a sign that what Juan Diego was telling him would be affirmed.
Juan Diego avoided Tepeyac Hill on his next hurried trip to the Franciscans because his uncle was very ill and he was anxious to bring a priest to hear his deathbed confession and administer the last sacraments before his uncle died. The Virgin Mother stopped him on his way, consoling him with the promise of his uncle's cure, which Juan Diego accepted with trust and faith. His uncle was cured at that time, when the Virgin visited him and told him of Juan Diego's mission for her. Juan Diego was directed to the top of the hill where he would find an abundance of flowers on arid ground that could only produce weeds had it not been December, and too cold for anything to grow. The Mother of God told him to cut and carry these Castillan roses in his cloak and to present them to the bishop. She herself arranged them. The flowers, she told him, would be the sign the bishop required.
When before the bishop and some of his attendants, Juan Diego knelt and opened his coarse tilma, the flowers tumbled out and in awed astonishment, the bishop fell to his knees in tears, praying and begging forgiveness of the Lady whose image was there on the tilma. A history of the apparitions of Our Lady of Tepeyac can be found here: http://www.sancta.org/nican.html.
The miraculous image shows a pregnant virgin, and contains numerous signs that the people of that time and region understood. She was the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet. (Rev. 12:1) One can see some of the symbols explained, which spoke so eloquently to the bishop and the people who thereafter came to venerate the image, at this website: http://www.secretsoftheimage.org/en/index.html . Even after many years of handling, catastrophes and exposure, this tilma of vegetable fibers retains its integrity and the vivid miraculous image upon it. The history of the tilma is filled with miracles, and modern science has added to our understanding of its deep significance. It is worthy of study and devotion.
The Church now celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (also known as the Virgin Queen of Tepeyac) on December 12, with St. Juan Diego's feast celebrated on December 9. There is often confusion regarding the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. Proclaimed a dogma of the Church in 1854, it refers to the preservation of Mary's soul from original sin, in anticipation of Christ's infinite saving merits and to provide a pure ark, full of grace, for the New Covenant.
Mary's intercession was necessary for the swift and miraculous conversion of the Aztecs and other indigenous Indian peoples, and it is still necessary in our times, when oppression and human sacrifice terrorize humanity all over the world. Let us invoke her and trust in her to rescue us from the evil that abounds.
December 3, 2014