I wrote this a few years ago and wanted to repost in honor of today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My reflection looks at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a “still speaking” text of liberation and wholeness. ¡Que viva la Guadalupana!
As I reflect over one of my favorite images of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, I realize the rich complexity and beauty within the apparition of la Morenita del Tepayac. Just as in Galilee Mary’s yes and life pointed to God; so too in Mexico on a sacred mount Mary again points towards the path to God. It is an apparition that does not have one meaning but speaks to us today on several levels. The apparition has social, historic, and theological implications with new discoveries and meanings to consider with each look at the story. Theologically, Guadalupe demonstrates God’s revelation through the unlikely hero, the need for safe space for divine encounter, and of the “un-boxing” of God’s revelation.
Throughout Biblical and Christian history, there are many examples of the underdog that saves the day. In Guadalupe we come to see what God can do through the “nobody”, the outcast, and the rejected. Just as God chose a poor Galilean Jewish girl to come into the world, God chose a poor indigenous man to reveal God’s plan for a new creation. It is through the marginalized community that God planted seeds to fix the mess created by misguided, well-intentioned European colonizers—a revolu that is still being dealt with today. Similar to stories in the Hebrew Bible, God demonstrates that God does not abandon God’s people but walks with the people and will provide a messiah. Mary, Joseph, Hagar, David, and Rahab are examples of people who were not hero material on the outside because of their gender, size, class, or fulfillment of cultural expectations but whose lives revolutionized their communities and history; Juan Diego is in this same line of known and unknown individuals that God uses to reveal truth, bring about change, and reflect divine love. Though indigenous people were looked down upon and their culture seen as threat by Europeans, God sees potential and uses Juan to evangelize the Europeans and ultimately the world. God holds up the rejected by calling an indigenous farmer to be a prophet, using the language and symbolism of the “conquered” to deconstruct harmful rhetoric, and comes to the people through Mary’s apparition as one of them through one of them to bring wholeness and liberation.
The story of Guadalupe reflects the need for safer spaces to connect with God. Europeans came and destroyed the lives (on every level) of the Indigenous people of the Americas. Native communities were flattened through a “salvation” of coercion and humiliation—all in the name of God and in the name of progress, globalization, and evangelization. People along with their traditions, beliefs, and way of life were completely eradicated because they were perceived to be less human (difference, like today, was seen as a threat to be silenced and conquered). European notions of God, customs, dress, and education were forced upon tribes. The conquest and colonization did not give people the space to desahogarse of their traumatic experience or grieve the loss of their livelihood as a community who became strangers in their own land—land that they had worked, bought with their sweat and blood, built homes on, and was a source of connection to the divine. They were violated, blamed for being violated, and had no outlet to express these feelings. A dynamic that sadly continues today with other marginalized groups who are re-victimized by being blamed for the dominant group’s harsh treatment of them.
The missionaries’ church was not a place of encounter with God but a place of fear, pain, and terror. Why would the indigenous people who were being evangelized and forced to convert want to come close to a god or deity who obliterated their sense of self, their land, their families, and their way of life? Before any relationship with God could be created and fostered, it was necessary to establish spaces where people could heal and find God in travesty and tribulation. God was not freely found but imposed—that is not healing, forgiving, liberating, or “whole-making” but just deepens the wounds. As with other forms of violence, people than and now begin to believe the lies told to them by their oppressors. It is beautiful and amazing how Mary greets Juan Diego; her greeting in his mother tongue begins to restore dignity that was taken from his people. Guadalupe provided a safe space by reclaiming a sacred site as a place of divine encounter, demonstrating that indigenous practices were not evil but good, and planted the seeds for a new beginning for both natives and foreigners. Though the story of Guadalupe has brought healing and created a safer space, I believe that the Church needs to take a step further to apologize for its actions in the 1500s and not hide behind the image of Our Lady. The story of Guadalupe shows how God reached out to create a sanctuary where people could encounter the divine on their own terms and through their own unique self and to begin a new creation from the pain of chaos and confusion (a message that has many implications for pastoral work today).
God’s work through the unlikely hero and the creation of safer spaces demonstrates that God’s complex and liberating revelation can be revealed to us through simple means that truly pack a punch. Through Juan Diego’s testimony, the tilma with Our Lady’s image, and guadalupen roses God continues to speak to us today in a truly remarkable way. We sometimes get caught up in the grandiose and in the bells-and-whistles; we often forget that God speaks in the “still small voice”. Guadalupe was a reminder than and now that God can use anything as a microphone to speak God’s message of love and justice for all. Guadalupe shows how God spoke and continues to speak through the rejected and marginalized to the Church and to society. God’s message can come through the institution and hierarchy of the Church but it is not confined to it. God speaks through the whole church choosing prophets from every level of church from bishops to forgotten campesinos. The message of Guadalupe did not come from a learned philosopher but from a simple man eager to please his dulce Señora—the message that was given was directed from the pueblo to the higher-ups (not vice versa as is often the case). God used Juan Diego and La Morenita to remind us that God’s revelation is bigger than the neat little box we try to put it in and is not limited to one person or a select few.
The story of Guadalupe has multiple meanings and was an event in history that continues to speak to us today. It’s messages take on new significance with each reading of the events that took place. Hopefully we continue to learn, listen, and live what Guadalupe said and continues to say to us today as individuals, community, and church. ¡Que viva la Guadalupana!