When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill, she asked that a church be built on the site. She told Juan Diego,
“I want very much that they build my sacred little house here, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him on making Him manifest, I will give Him to all people in all my personal love, Him that is my compassionate gaze, Him that is my help, Him that is my salvation.”
This church was to be a place of encounter. It is where Christ would be made present and where God would meet his people.
Juan Diego was born nearly 600 years ago during the Spanish defeat and occupation of the Aztec empire. The Spanish attempted to convert the native population from the Aztec religion—based on human sacrifice to appease the gods and maintain cosmic harmony—to Christianity. At the same time, the Spanish occupation’s governing body, the First Audience, enslaved native peoples, stole their property, and broke contracts with them. Unsurprisingly, this was not an effective means of winning converts. Baptisms remained few and far between.
This was the world in which Juan Diego lived. An adult convert to Christianity, he found himself caught between the prevailing pagan culture and a Church that preached the truth of Christ, but whose members failed to be a living witness to Him. And this is not so very different from the situation that Catholics find ourselves in today.
The culture in which we live is increasingly secular, increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. Human lives are sacrificed on the altars of freedom, economic gain, and efficiency. Christianity is viewed as irrelevant at best, regressive at worst. The ongoing revelations about the abuses perpetrated by clergy and bishops weaken our witness to this culture, leaving Christ’s message of love and salvation without credibility in the eyes of the secular world.
Enter: Our Lady of Guadalupe
This is the world in which we live. Like Juan Diego, we are caught between a rock and a hard place. So why do we remain here? Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance and message to Juan Diego help us understand why.
The Church is not a social club, political party, or charitable organization to be cast aside when things change. She is the Body of Christ. A Body that is wounded and disfigured by sin, but still His Body. The Church is where we encounter God, where God meets us. The Church is where the Scriptures were written and proclaimed and compiled. The Church is where we receive the Sacraments. The Church is where we are united with all those who have gone before us in the Communion of Saints.
My archdiocese has been at the center of last summer’s revelations. Our family thought seriously about discontinuing our contribution to the annual appeal, and redirecting our funds elsewhere. We are frustrated and angry and don’t know how to get the attention of the powers that be, aside from money. But my pastor preached his homily encouraging us to give, because the appeal does not and never did belong to our archbishop. The money funds our seminaries, feeds the poor, assists struggling mothers-to-be, keeps Catholic schools open, and supports homeless shelters. In these places, people encounter Christ through His Church. In Christ’s Body, God is present.
Even in a time when members of the Church disregarded the dignity of all humanity, Our Lady called Juan Diego and other native peoples to meet her son in the Church. She sent Juan Diego to communicate her message to his bishop. She asked the bishop to build a church. In order to bring us closer to her son, Our Lady brings us closer to the Church, because that is where he is found.
The Church is where his love and compassion are manifest, where his help and salvation are found. Let’s continue to stay close to Christ, to work to heal the wounds in his Body, and to live lives that allow others to encounter him, in us.
by Julia Harrell, author of How to Be a Hero: Train with the Saints
What if you could be a superhero with superpowers? How to Be a Hero: Train with the Saints explores the saints' superpowers (better known as virtues!). With stories illustrating cardinal, theological, and "little" virtues, this comprehensive Catholic virtue training will help children ages 9 to 11 build a strong faith that will last a lifetime.
Using a snapshot from the saint's life exemplifying the virtue, each short vignette includes a Bible verse, virtue definition, story, questions for reflection, and an original prayer to help children develop the specific virtue.
Saints and other holy Catholics in this book include Saint Joan of Arc, Venerable Matt Talbot, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Pope John Paul II, Saint Monica, Saint Josephine Bakhita, the shepherds at Fatima, Saint Charbel Makhlouf, Blessed Dina Belanger, Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, Saint Peter Yu Tae-chol and Saint Agatha Yi.