Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Visitation- Guadalupe and the Star of the Sea

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a little town called Cuauhtitlan (or "the place of the Eagle") not far from Mexico City, there lived a sweet, gentle and devout man by the ironic name of Juan Diego. (I say, ironic, as the english version is John James. St. John, the apostle is considered the eagle of the gospels, the brother of St James, as well as enjoyed the distinction of being a special son of Mary.).

Born into the middle class of his day, he grew up in relative comfort, inherited land, worked in a decent trade, and married. Unfortunantly, his wife died much too early and in a desire to assuage his grief, he drew closer to a last surviving relative, an uncle. Juan Diego, being a religious man who had turned to the faith many years before, made it a habit of walking the distance of 9 miles to the local church on Saturdays and Sunday. For us, this might be a bit far, but in that time and place, it was not unusual to willingly make such a trek.

Not long after he had lost his beloved wife, he was making this journey on a particularly special feast day. He had drawn closer in devotion to Mary since his wife died, and wanted to give her his attention and care. As he walked, he heard a voice call out to him.

"Juanito, Juan Dieguito."

The story I'm about to recount, has been told many times. I'm nowhere near capable of giving it justice. Nevertheless, I will share what I can about what I have found to be ...one of the sweetest, tenderest, merciful, and haunting calls to love I've ever encountered.

The image that we're given as the result of that call, is a portrait of a lady, in middle Eastern dress, between 6-7 months pregnant, draped with a map depicting the night sky emblazoned on her mantle. The images that cover her dress flowed out in a poem understood by the natives of that time, as describing truth, poetry and philosophy; the very things considered doorways to the divine- "flower and song". In loveliness and beauty, God is recognized.

In reading her dress, the natives would understand the truth of what Juan Diego was soon to convey. They tell the story of the fire of new life offered by a God who beckons and pleads for the hearts of men. They speak of the Morning and Evening Star, the one whom they understood to be the figure of the one who sacrificed himself before entering into Heaven.

Isn't it ironic that in an image that to this day, is a mystery to those who study it, this woman is presented to us in the figure of the Lady of the Visitation, ... pregnant, traveling a long distance to encounter those whom she carries in a deep and intimate place in her heart. In the same way that she approaches her cousin Elizabeth, she approaches us.... unweary, unflagging, bright with the Presence that resides within her, causing our weary souls to brighten, and find new courage.

Will we recognize her Son in the same way that John the Baptist did, leaping at the sound of her voice? Excited knowing who we're in the presence of?

Over her womb, one flower, a Quincunx, the "flower of the Sun", as well as the Constellation, Leo, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Over her womb, the symbols that convey the message of who resides WITHIN her, as she speaks to us. Not off to the side, not in the sky, not behind her, not below her... WITHIN her. Completely vulnerable, completely dependent, completely transparent, HE chooses to approach us WITHIN her. The God of the universe approaches us not even as a child, but as a baby that is totally immersed in His mother.

This tilma, which carries this image, should have deteriorated hundreds of years ago. There is no chemical, there is no preservative, .... only a miraculous Image that reveals and makes transparent our hearts, our intentions, our fears and most importantly our hopes. In a time, when the natives of what we now call Mexico were on the verge of violent and open revolt against the European invaders who engulfed their land, there appears a mediator,.... a simple woman, whose unequivocal "Yes" to God long ago, ushered in the truest revolt against all that wishes to destroy humanity, in order to reassert who is truly Creator and who is Created.

In a place of violence, of that hatred, of that anger... there appears simply a mother. Patient, sweet, gentle, loving, nurturing, tender, entreating... mother.

In the image of the visitation, she doesn't approach out of her own need. In a time when most mother's are holing into their homes and nesting,.... she takes it upon herself to make an arduous journey to minister ... to someone else. To assist someone in THEIR need. To give of her overflowing abundance of grace, care and love which literally pumps through her own veins, from the child that plays in her womb.

She approaches us, in this image… with the same intent, and the same overwhelming understanding of what we need. She approaches us as …. Mother.

"Behold thy Mother."

The last command given by Christ on the Cross…. Behold…. Thy….. Mother.

The Lady of the Visitation, the Lady of Guadalupe…. Is Mother. To us.


I have two mother's. One, physically brought me into this world and gave me a deep appreciation of the hunger of life.... , and the other…. I've described above.

I didn't fully realize how much this was true until about 2 years ago, February 2006, my consecration month. In one moment, I pieced together many seemingly disparate events and situations that have occurred since my youth…. Into one cohesive whole.

Many years ago, when I felt called to consecrate myself to Jesus through Mary, (and that's a literal description, because at the time it didn't make ANY sense to me), I was given the task of praying one decade of the rosary to be prayed every day for the rest of the life. I was given the Visitation. I often wondered why that was as it was the mystery I understood the least. It was a mystery full of joy, connection and intimacy. At the time, I knew little about all three. Yet, soon after that, I discovered this mystery kept following me. Priests and nuns I knew were always giving me the Magnificat to pray. And the image of Guadalupe began appearing…. Everywhere.

Time would pass and the frequency of both along with the image of the SeaStar would ebb and flow consistently throughout my life. Even my middle name which I THOUGHT was of my own choosing, prior to any knowledge of religious things, turned out to be little more than Divine intervention…. AGAIN. (let's just say it has to do with Mary and sea stars)

2 years ago, I found myself being surrounded by all three, almost on a moment to moment basis. In exasperation, I finally went into the Adoration Chapel and knelt with the complete intention of asking God what He was trying to say through all three. I went into a pew, looked down, and immediately in front of me was a large book on Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As I read… I had an experience. I don't know how to describe it. But let's just say, that sometimes in life we can all have moments where we realize that all that we thought was of our own doing, really wasn't. My name, my mother, my father, my childhood, my decisions, my choices, my hopes, my dreams….. my interpretation of all of it…. Was little more than a response to an invitation initiated by one who for all intensive purposes, could've easily overlooked me.

Instead, what I found was that every detail, every small coincidence, every thought and feeling I have ever possessed …. Were all allowed so that I could recognize who I really belonged to…. Who I was really formed by. I had often wondered how it was that I could be who I was. Anybody who knows my family, is often bewildered when they look at me. I look like my mother, but who I am…. What I am…. Is an enigma to her, and to my father. The choices I make, the way that I think, is …foreign to them. There was a time, when I felt like an orphan…. Without sanctuary, without roots. I love my family and want so much to share with them many of my experiences and thoughts in life, but it's like…. We're of different places, times, beginnings, … almost everything. I share memories, but little else. It's clear someone or something else took over, but …. It became very clear in the chapel that one day, who, what, how and why that happened.

The world became silent. Time rolled through my mind and heart, and I finally began recognizing His and her hands in ALL my life. I was physically alive ... because of her protection. And I needed to know that. I needed to know who my Mother was. There's a long story behind that one, but suffice it to say, in one blinding moment, I didn't just think she was my Mother… I KNEW she was my mother. I felt her as my Mother. And I never had felt that experience…. Ever…. In my life. I finally understood what it meant, when I would hear my friends talk to me about their mothers. I finally knew what they FELT. Safe. Protected. Covered. Connected. Real. Clear that no matter where they were or what they did, they had a sanctuary to come home to. For how can one be a mother, if they have not been a beloved child first? If they have not been allowed to be that "little one"? Little ones, are unafraid of looking you in the eye. They can love and be loved. They know how to give. They know how to receive. They swim without fear in the ocean of His mercy.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Merciful Mother, the carrier of the Sea of Mercy, which is her womb. In her, all is received, all is given. She is the Star of the Sea of Mercy. She is ... home. If she is home, it doesn't matter where we go, because Guadalupe is the quiet place that resonates with the sound of His heartbeat.

Guadalupe... thank you for being my mama. Please help me be a better daughter. I have so much to learn.


From the meditation before Mass on this day:

Unlike a simple visit, a visitation is different owing to the purpose intended by the get-together. A visitation aims to accomplish something. Specifically, a visitation is an encounter that carries within it a meaning that is exceptional. In the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that meaning is not a "message" but rather the exceptional presence of the Son she carried within her womb. We can be certain that the mystery of the Visitation is effective in our life if we do now, before Jesus is born, what Christ will command us to do as he dies: "Behold your mother."

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