Embraced by the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe

How Mary’s visit to Tepeyac left a legacy to a small child and a great nation.

The tilma of St. Juan Diego bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed in the  Basilica in Mexico City.
The tilma of St. Juan Diego bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed in the Basilica in Mexico City. (photo: Cezary Wojtkowski / Shutterstock)

When I was 6 years old, I suddenly noticed that my two older siblings shared names with saints and that my father always referred to them as their “patrons.” But I had never heard him mention St. Kelly. Armed with a few wiggly teeth and a keen sense of justice, I marched up to my dad to figure out what the deal was. He gently explained that there was no St. Kelly yet, and, anticipating my immediate follow-up, informed me that I could not be my own patroness.

Expertly deflecting my burgeoning indignation, Daddy proposed a solution: since my middle name was Marie, I could take Mary as my patron, and choose one of her feast days to celebrate. Appeased, I quickly settled on Our Lady of Guadalupe as my patroness, no doubt influenced by my recent viewing of the Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe movie by CCC.

This decision, made on the whim of a little girl who liked the pretty roses associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe, was the first step in cultivating a deep love of the Blessed Mother. When I grew older, and delved more deeply into the beautiful story of what happened on Tepeyac Hill, I loved her even more. Unlike other Marian apparitions, in which Mary urged prayer and repentance, her tone at Tepeyac was decidedly different.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was not appearing to a Catholic nation that had lost its way. She was not speaking to someone who had grown up immersed in a Catholic culture. Our Lady was speaking to an aging widower, a convert striving to unite his native culture with his newfound faith. She stood on earth that had been stained by the blood of innocent children sacrificed to pagan gods. I imagine how her heart ached for the little ones killed, and for their murderers, who had never known her Son’s name. There was much to atone for, but like every good mother, Mary knew what her children needed. They needed their mother, given to them by their Creator from the Cross.

So on that winter day nearly five centuries ago, she asked Juan Diego to have a chapel to be built in her honor on that hill, and promised:

Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes.

God had sent his mother to a country that had known little mercy. It had been conquered by empires; its weakest had been exploited and killed, often by those who should have protected them. Mary’s message of mercy and her gentle promise of unconditional love would have been a balm on the wounded soul of that land and its people. Christ’s mother, as she has done since her fiat, and as she will do until Judgment Day, placed herself squarely amid the suffering and pain of her children and drew them to her, holding them in her embrace so that through her protection they could come to know her Son and know his love.

Even her image, miraculously preserved on Juan Diego’s tilma, shows her standing atop a crescent moon, signaling the superiority of her, the mother of Christ, over the bloodthirsty gods that had consumed the Aztec children. Her arrival at Tepeyac ushered in a new age for the native people. Millions flocked to her Son’s Church after her appearance and the subsequent building of a chapel on the hill. A land stained by conquest and the blood of innocents was redeemed by the blood of the Cross.

I could not appreciate the searing beauty of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe when I was 6 years old. I loved her gentle face, and her beautiful roses, but I did not yet truly understand the import of her words. It has only been in the years since that I have been able to grasp even a modicum of what she said. She is the mother of all who seek her. We are not to worry when we turn to her. She catches our tears and hears the prayers of all her children, desiring nothing more than to pull us into her arms and draw us to the all-loving gaze of her Son.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!