As I write this column, we are already praying the Novena in preparation for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Over many years, I have developed a great devotion to Our Lady under this title, and I always look forward to the celebration of the “Queen of the Americas.” The processions and the Mass are always a beautiful celebration of Our Lady, her faith in Jesus, and her accompaniment of his people now and across the generations.
Perhaps you are already familiar with the story of the appearance of our Blessed Mother to the poor man, Juan Diego, some 500 years ago in Mexico. Juan Diego was walking in the cold winter countryside when on the hill of Tepeyac, a lady appeared to him and asked that a church be built in her honor. She spoke to him in his native language, that of the Aztecs, and she appeared to him as one of his own people. When Juan Diego failed to convince the bishop of the authenticity of the vision, Our Lady offered a sign, beautiful roses blooming on the hill in the dark and cold of winter. Juan Diego gathered the roses in his cloak. When he opened the cloak before the bishop, the image of Our Lady was revealed on the cloak. It is that same image that continues to be venerated in her Basilica outside Mexico City.
This miracle of the color and life of roses found in winter may not seem much to us who are accustomed to hothouse roses, but this miracle communicated something very important. Juan Diego’s people were suffering poverty and disease. In those early years after the arrival of the Spaniards, their whole world had been in upheaval. Juan Diego lived in a cold and dark world where some Europeans enslaved and derided native peoples. Here, the Mother of God offered beauty and light in darkness, color and warmth in the cold. In the winter of their suffering, Juan Diego and his people encountered the love of a mother who would be one with them and intercede for them. The message was just as important for the bishop and the Spaniards. Here, Our Lady made it clear that she looked like Juan Diego – his people were her people, God’s people. She put to the lie the hatreds that divide peoples and cause such suffering and injustice. The image of Our Lady is also somewhat unusual. She does not hold the child Jesus in her arms, but bears him in her womb. Again, the imagery is of the power of God to bring life and warmth where all seems dark and lost. She bears him who is our hope into the world.
During this beautiful season of Advent, Mary is our Morningstar, leading us to her son. She is the first and best disciple who offers God her trusting fiat and instructs us to “do whatever he tells you.” She cradles the infant Lord and the crucified savior with the same intense and faithful love.
In these weeks, we have two beautiful opportunities to reflect on her example and seek her intercession. We have the beautiful solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. These moments invite us to seek out the roses of winter. Whatever our current circumstances and suffering, God’s grace is at work in our lives and in the world. With the eyes of faith we see the color of spring even in the depth of winter, we feel the warmth of a mother’s love even in a world too often cold with hatred and violence. Even as we seek these roses in winter, I wonder if we should ask of Mary, the grace of being her roses for the world this winter. The disciples of the Lord shelter under her mantle. May she open that mantle to her son and reveal us as a gift of beauty, warmth, and love. In his prayer the night before his death he prayed “Father, they are your gift to me…” May Mother Mary help us to live his mission of healing and mercy and bring those prophetic words to life. May roses bloom in our winter.