Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Chapel of the Resurrection      
Gethsemane Cathedral

Wednesday Dec. 12, 2007

Luke 1.39-47
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It isn’t an official day in the Episcopal Church, but in the Roman Catholic Church, it is and in some Mexican communities, this is a very huge feast day.

I love the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I will share with you. Between Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, 1531, a Mexican native by the name of Juan Diego, reportedly saw a “brown-skinned” Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. During these visitations, the Virgin talked to him in his native language and, during the conversations, told him that he should build a church on the site. When Juan Diego went to the Bishop about this, the Bishop told him he would only build a church there if there was a miraculous sign of some sort.

So, according to an online source:

"….the Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the hill, even though it was winter, when normally nothing bloomed. He found Spanish roses, gathered them on his tilma (or cloak), and presented these to the bishop. According to tradition, when the roses fell from it the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared imprinted on the cloth."

Sure enough, this was enough of a miracle for the Bishop and a beautiful church was built on the site that is still a great center of pilgrimage and devotion.

And the tilma with the image of the Our Lady is still on it. It’s impressive image and one that I find quite beautiful.

Here’s a few interesting tidbits regarding the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also from that same internet source;

"Some consider it miraculous that the tilma maintains its structural integrity afternearly 500 years, since replicas made with the same type of materials lasted only about 15 years before disintegrating.In addition to withstanding the elements, the tilma resisted a 1791 ammonia spill that made a considerable hole, which was reportedly repaired in two weeks with no external help. In 1921, an anarchist placed an offering of flowers next to the image. A bomb hidden within the flowers exploded and destroyed the shrine. However, the image suffered no damage.
Photographers and ophthalmologists have reported images reflected in the eyes of the Virgin.In 1929 and 1951 photographers found a figure reflected in the Virgin's eyes; upon inspection they said that the reflection was tripled in what is called the Purkinje effect. This effect is commonly found in human eyes. The ophthalmologist Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann later enlarged the image of the Virgin's eyes by 2500x magnification and said he saw not only the aforementioned single figure, but rather images of all the witnesses present when the tilma was shown to the Bishop in 1531. Tonsmann also reported seeing a small family—mother, father, and a group of children—in the center of the Virgin's eyes.

"In response to the eye miracles, Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer wrote in Skeptical Inquirer that images seen in the Virgin's eyes could be the result of the human tendency to form familiar shapes from random patterns, much like a psychologist's inkblots—a phenomenon known as religious pareidolia.

"Richard Kuhn, who received the 1938 Nobel Chemistry prize, is said to have analyzed a sample of the fabric in 1936 and said the tint on the fabric was not from a known mineral, vegetable, or animal source.

"In 1979 Philip Serna Callahan studied the icon with infrared light and stated that portions of the face, hands, robe, and mantle had been painted in one step, with no sketches or corrections and no paintbrush strokes."

But not everyone was so encouraging. You have to remember that the time this happened in 1531 was also the time of the Inquisition and people could be executed for believing anything that was contrary to what the Church proclaimed. Some people accused those who professed faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe as idolaters. The Dominican Order spearheaded the Inquisition and the Dominicans were especially upset with the image. One of the Dominicans, Martin de Leon, said that devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe was nothing more than worship of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin.

Still, despite all of this, the image has become a very important one in Hispanic culture and even in the Episcopal Church. One of the of the largest churches in the Episcopal Church is Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Episcopal Church in San Jose, California.

I was in Los Angeles about a week ago and I was staying at the Cathedral Center there. In the Cathedral, there is a side Lady Altar, with a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

What is so wonderful, I think, about this story, is that it is the first apparition of Our Lady in the Americas. And when she appeared to Juan Diego, she did not appear as a white European, but rather as a dark-skinned Indian, just like Juan Diego himself.

And this is the message I think Our Lady of Guadalupe has for all of us. While some might say that devotion of the Virgin of Guadalupe is merely paganism in disguise, I think it is a sign for all of us how wonderfully God works in our lives. God speaks to us and breaks through to us in any way possible. God even breaks through to us in the form of a humble, dark-skinned Virgin who speaks to a humble dark-skinned Indian. And by breaking through, by speaking in such a humble way, instills deep and truly heart-felt devotion in lives of people.

This is what Advent is all about. It about God breaking through to us in the only way we are truly going to “get it.” God breaks through to us by appearing as one of us—with flesh like our flesh and faces like our faces.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a perfect example of God breaking through and meeting people where they are. And we, who lament and wail over the fact that it seems as though God has abandoned us or doesn’t speak to us anymore or complain about God not listening to us, really are not looking very closely around us. God still does speak to us—in our own language, through people who look like us and act like us—whoever we might be and from whatever culture we might come from. And God does it in seemingly humble and beautiful and sometimes subtle ways. And in the case of the Virgin of Guadalupe, God does it is in a combination of subtle and not so subtle ways.

So, in this season of Advent, remember the beautiful story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And like Juan Diego, look for the vision in your own life. Look for God breaking through in your life and realize that God’s breaking through might not be what you think it is.

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