The famous image and story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an important part of the history of the evangelization of the Americas – a continent evangelized more quickly than any other in all of Church history. Mary appeared to a poor Indian [St. Juan Diego] with a message for the local bishop – that a church should be built. As a sign, he collected beautiful rare roses, which she pointed out to him. When he brought these gifts to the bishop, a miraculous image of Our Lady appeared on his tilma (a kind of poncho) in which the roses were carried. She became a sign of hope for a demoralized people in the midst of the trials and tribulations of being colonized by Europe. Interestingly enough, her image is honored in many Churches around the world today, even throughout Europe, during a time when many believers feel demoralized and under attack.
Guadalupe may be the transliteration of a Nahuatl word, which means “who crushes the serpent.” This makes a wonderful connection with Genesis 3:15. Ancient liturgical texts have celebrated the Mother of the Lord with the one who crushes the serpent’s head. Along these same lines, asking Mary to pray for us during times of spiritual battle, especially at the hour of death, may have always been part of the Christian tradition of prayer – just as the Scriptures say that all generations will call her blessed. Whatever the meaning of the name Guadalupe, it would be difficult to dispute that under this title, Mary has helped many come to believe in her Son, giving hope in sometimes the most hopeless situations.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has also been associated with the title Mystical Rose – a title associated with the words of the beloved in Canticle of Canticles 2:1, “I am the Rose of Sharon. I am the Lily of the valleys.” Tradition has understood the Beloved of this biblical love poem to be not only an image of Israel, but also of the Church, the new Israel. Mary, because she signifies the Church by her very person, has also been associated with these words as has every soul that is generous in responding to the love of God. For Saint Bernard, the delicate beauty of a rose is in contrast to its thorns and signifies the spiritual passion and purity of charity friendship love of God. He teaches that, in contrast with Eve’s disobedience by which we lost access to God, Mary’s obedience gave us Christ Jesus – the image of the invisible God, the One who is our total access to all true worship of the Lord.
The mystical life – beautiful, passionate and pure – is a participation in the life of Christ by faith. This life progresses by way of the Cross – by following our crucified God. The inexhaustible mystery of his risen life not only purifies us of sin, but fills us with certain truth, deep holy desires and great confidence. Mary is part of this mystical life, the rose of this mystical life, because the Virgin Mother Mary is an inseparable part of the life of her Son.
“Let it be done to me according to your word.” These words of Mary to Gabriel betray a holy audacity, which informs the Christian faith. The mission of the Mystical Rose – to be part of our life of faith in Christ Jesus, and the mission of Guadalupe – to crush the head of the serpent, coincide in the life of prayer. Mary not only exemplifies the kind of faith we must have in the Lord, she also prays for our life of faith – and through her mysterious maternity, helps us realize the victory of good over evil so that we might not lose hope in the face of trials and tribulation.
Art: Virgin of Guadalupe, 16th century, copyright expired, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.
Editor’s Note: Our Lady of Guadalupe was proclaimed Patroness of Mexico in 1737, Patroness of the Americas in 1910, and Patroness of the Philippines in 1935. For an in-depth explanation, including pictures and links, of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the events that transpired in Mexico so long ago, see Diana von Glahn’s three-part series published last year on this site, click here.
For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.