How a Former Calvinist Fell in Love With Our Lady of Guadalupe

When I saw people praying before the image of La Guadalupana, my heart was profoundly drawn to the love of Christ.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Votive Candles
Our Lady of Guadalupe Votive Candles (photo: Bernardo Ramonfaur / Shutterstock)

When I first encountered Our Lady of Guadalupe, I was meandering around a parish in a poor prison town outside the vast expanse of the Mojave Desert in California. I was young, ignorant, immensely broken, and filled with anguish, but the sight of her filled me with a sense of hope. She was a glimpse of Heaven, and deep down, I knew that I knew it — and that was really something for me at that time in my life. 

You see, being raised Calvinist, I had been taught to despise her very name and shun the mere thought of mentioning it or offering up “blasphemous” intercessions to her. Yet, when I saw Mexican abuelitas (an endearing term for grandmas) praying before the image of La Guadalupana, my heart was drawn to the love of Christ in such a profound, unique way. As they begged her for graces, they seemed to just melt with humility and tender affection for this beautiful mother of their souls. Given that I speak Spanish well, I could understand many of the prayers they were saying, and I was touched by the boundless confidence they had in her. And so, a seed of Marian devotion was planted in my soul that day, one that would be nurtured from that day on. 

One tiny step into the ethereal world of Marian devotion led to another, and I soon began to pray fervently to overcome my tremendous fears about it. This was an arduous spiritual work, considering that these terrors had been deeply ingrained in me in my childhood, by those I trusted with my very life. However, divine grace has an amazing way of busting down the most stubborn of barriers, and before I knew it, I was starting to pray the Rosary (albeit trembling). Along the way, the serene presence of La Guadalupana was always there to reassure me that all she wanted was to help me love her Son. 

About 10 years later, my husband Michael and I were extraordinarily blessed to spend our honeymoon visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. We also visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin a couple of years after we married as well. Looking back, I now see how beautifully she has carried me through the trials of married life, especially by helping me get through many very difficult pregnancies and bring eight children into this world, losing two of them to Heaven. She is truly our life, our sweetness and our hope, and the more we turn to her, the more solace we will find in this world and in the next.

 

Brief History of the Devotion

According to reliable sources of tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared as Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Christianity, in visions on Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, 1531. The name “Our Lady of Guadalupe” holds a beloved place in the religious life of Mexico and is by far one of the most popular religious devotions of its people. Her image has played an important role as a Mexican national symbol. 

During her first apparition she requested that a shrine to her be built on the spot where she appeared, Tepeyac Hill (now in a suburb of Mexico City). But the local Catholic bishop demanded a sign before he would approve the construction of a church, so Our Lady then appeared a second time to Juan Diego and ordered him to collect roses. In a second audience with the bishop, Juan Diego opened his cloak, letting dozens of roses fall to the floor and revealing the image of Mary imprinted on the inside of the cloak — the image that is now venerated in the Basilica of Guadalupe which is properly named Insigne y Nacional Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe. Annually, 20 million or more pilgrims visit the basilica, and Holy Mass is offered there every hour, on the hour, during the day. The basilica has at least twice as many visitors as the best-known Marian shrines, making it an outstanding social and cultural phenomenon, dear to the hearts of countless souls around the world. 

 

A Song to La Guadalupana

Santa Maria de Guadalupe remains tucked away in chapels, shrines and poor human hearts,
all over God’s great earth — she is La Madre de todas las madres y La Reina de todas las reinas,
mother of all mothers, queen of all queens.

She is ravishing — a majestic warrior of serenity, captivating yet hushed by modesty —
Empress of the Americas, the magnanimous Mother of Tepeyac, Nuestra Guadalupana

Her emerald green rebozo glimmers with the luminescence of the of the vast, eternal sky;
she wears the color of a divine being, yet her eyes are solemn with humility. 

She is the lowly daughter of the Royal One, cloaked with golden stars, fur and fringe —
she is sacrosanct but still earthy — regal, yet meek as dew at dawn. 

She is all grace, she is nothing but prayer; everything in her spells the total defeat of Satan,
she was never unworthy of Our Father; her surrender to Him gives eternal birth to souls.

She is so beautiful — bowed down to the King of Kings, she is the essence of freedom —
her presence makes demons flee from the just; she keeps them safe in the hand of God.

Her fiat gave life to the Gospel of Life — she bears within herself its magnificent beginnings;
she is the grand Theotokos; beneath her sash rests the heart of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

She is all mother, her body resonates and swells with the tenderness of maternity;
she holds deep within her every mother and child on the face of the earth.

Her tears of love brought ten million pagans back home to the aching arms of their Father;
they washed away the smear of maniacal murder and painted the world with life again.

The Madonna eclipses the sun while adorning herself with its shimmering brilliance;
twelve golden rays frame her face, she is flooded with the Light of Christ.

Her skin is flushed with the touch of all bloods and on the back of her hand is a yollo —
a burning heart — because She is all heart, all fire, and all for the Almighty.

She boldly stands atop the moon because she is far greater than the “moon god”;
she is the commander of the armies of all good, and the anchor of our hope.

Her song of soul is infinitely more powerful than the groans of the pagan gods —
they thunder with angst and enmity, but Her melody resounds with charity.

She has healed countless children of God, saving them from anguish, fear and darkness,
Guadalupe — “She who will crush the serpent” — wears the cross of His victory forever.

Edward Reginald Frampton, “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” 1908, Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin.

Which Way Is Heaven?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s mystic west was inspired by the legendary voyage of St. Brendan, who sailed on a quest for a Paradise in the midst and mists of the ocean.