We have two great feasts upon us: the Immaculate Conception (Thurs, Dec. 8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mon, Dec. 12). I treasure them both because they celebrate aspects of Mary, our Blessed Mother, with whom I grew in relationship during my time as a Salesian Lay Missionary in Bolivia.
PLEASE READ ON: If you don’t have a relationship with Mary or disagree theologically with the Catholic Church, please continue reading because you might be blessed.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in a beautiful and succinct way what we believe;
“To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace’…The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (P.490-91)
This truth was confirmed by Mary’s apparition at Lourdes, France in 1858 when she appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. Bernadette, 14, was told by the Blessed Mother, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Her parish priest was shocked when Bernadette reported this. He knew she wasn’t educated enough to be familiar with this newly declared doctrine. We can conclude that it was Bernadette’s humility and simplicity that drew the Blessed Mother to her.
To be honest, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception didn’t touch my heart until I had a relationship with Mary. As I grew closer to her, I came to see her as a role model for womanhood. She was a humble and gentle woman who “pondered” what God revealed to her and didn’t force her own way.
“O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.”
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Patroness of the Americas)
Mexico had been devastated by Spanish conquistadores and the native Aztecs were oppressed. In addition, the Aztecs were committing atrocities, like sacrificing infants and adults to appease their gods.
In 1531, Juan Diego (John James), a poor, Native convert, was journeying to his sick uncle when Mary appeared to him. She appeared on the Hill of Tepeyac, part of the Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of what would become Mexico City. She called him Juan Diegito – in Spanish, “ito” signifies dear or precious one. This is what she said:
“Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety, or pain. Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow or protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
Bishop Zumarraga, skeptical at first, asked Juan Diego for a sign. Mary caused roses to miraculously bloom in December, which Juan Diego gathered for the Bishop. When he opened his tilma (cloak), the flowers fell out and Mary’s glorious image appeared on the tilma. Almost five hundred years later, the tilma, made of fragile cactus fibers, remains intact and hangs in the cathedral in Mexico City.
There are many miraculous signs associated with the image: Mary wears a cloak that’s tied above her midriff, signifying she’s pregnant. Doctors have placed stethoscopes on the tilma and heard two heartbeats. Scientists have looked into Mary’s eyes and seen the images of Juan Diego and Bishop Zumarraga. The pattern of stars on the cloak that Mary is wearing reflect the stars as they would have appeared in the sky at that time. For more amazing facts, please go to this link.
The significance of Mary’s apparition to Juan Diego is at least two-fold: God, through Mary, reached down to touch His people, those on the lowest rung of society, and call them His beloved. Secondly, ten million Aztec natives converted to Catholicism over the next ten years and stopped their practice of child sacrifice. As a result, Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered patroness of the unborn, as well as patroness of the Americas.
We hope and pray that you are having a peaceful Advent and that you feel Our Mother’s presence in your life.