The Miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Friday December 12, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Reading (Zechariah 2:14-17) Gospel (St. Luke 1:39-47)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Queen of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Today we celebrate the day that Our Lady, 472 years ago, presented herself in a most marvelous fashion. We all know the story of how she appeared to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac. The bishop would not listen, as one could understand. If somebody showed up at your house and said, “Guess what! The Blessed Mother just appeared to me this morning and said she wants a temple built in her honor,” what would you do? You are probably not going to jump up and down for joy and immediately go and start building a temple, because you need some kind of evidence that in fact the person whom you have never met before is not insane or not seeing things or whatever. And so after several days, Our Lady tells Juan Diego to climb to the top of the hill and there he will find some roses; he is to bring those to the bishop and that will be proof to him.
Well, Juan Diego did not know, but the bishop had actually asked Our Lady for a sign because things were not going well in the missions in Mexico. They could not get the people away from their native religion, which included massive human sacrifice – over 50,000 human beings every year being sacrificed by the Aztecs in their various temples. The people were so into the worship of Satan in this way that they were not able to get the people away. Finally, Juan Diego goes to the bishop because the bishop had asked Our Lady for a sign, a sign that would be absolutely unmistakable, that is, that somehow she would give him a Castilian rose. Castilian roses did not grow in Mexico; the only place they grew was in Spain. And it is pretty obvious, with travel the way it was back then, that there was not going to be a rose coming from Spain that would still be alive by the time it got there. But there, at the top of the hill, were a bunch of Castilian roses. So he picked those and put them in his tilma, in his poncho, and brought them to the bishop. When he finally was admitted to the bishop’s presence, he dropped them on the floor. The bishop, seeing the roses, recognized immediately that this was the sign for which he had been seeking to let him know that Our Lady was indeed with him in this mission in Mexico.
But then, as he looked at Juan Diego’s tilma, like a modern-day Polaroid picture Our Lady’s image began to appear. This tilma should have rotted out within 20 to 30 years because it is made out of Maguey cactus fibers. It has been there now for 472 years. It hung outside for quite a while in the weather, and then it hung without any protection and people coming to touch it and venerate the picture in a variety of ways. Now it is behind bulletproof glass, but that is because the Masons tried to blow it up back in 1920. They brought in a vase of roses with a large bomb inside the vase and blew the sanctuary to pieces. Not even the glass in front of Our Lady’s picture, which was just a regular ordinary pane of glass, was even cracked, but the marble in the sanctuary was blown to pieces. They finally put her behind bulletproof glass now so that she cannot be destroyed.
The colors are unknown to humanity, that is, they are unknown to earth; they do not know what they are made out of. Scientists have done tests on them and they cannot find what they are made out of. They have had ophthalmologists come and look into the eyes with their instruments, and they are not painted eyes. When they were done with their tests, the ophthalmologist, three of them together, had to admit that they were looking into real human eyes, just as if they looked into your eyes or mine with their instruments. It is not an ordinary picture. And the most extraordinary thing about this picture, in my opinion, is that it is the only picture that we actually have of Our Blessed Lady. Every other painting or statue of Our Lady is a model that some artist takes and thinks that this woman would be beautiful enough to be thought to be a model for Our Lady. None of them ever work. But this one is the actual picture of Our Lady from heaven. So this is the one, of all the images of Our Lady throughout the world, that is the most perfect and the most extraordinary of all.
Our Lady appeared in a place where they were killing human beings left and right. Sadly, now in our land we are doing the exact same thing. But Our Lady remains with us. A picture that should have disintegrated (at least the tilma that it was on should have disintegrated 450 years ago) is still in perfect condition. There is no change in this beautiful image of Our Lady; she remains with us. And the place where she chose to appear is in the geographic center of the Americas. From east to west and north to south in the Americas – North, Central, and South America – she chose to appear in dead center to be able to show that she is not merely the Queen for the Mexican people but she is the Queen for all of the Americas. She came into a land that was filled with darkness and sin, and she came to bring it light.
So too now, for us, it is the same. There are many people, sadly, who do not even know much about Our Lady of Guadalupe; yet this is the largest pilgrimage shrine in the world. There are more people that go to Guadalupe than Lourdes, Fatima, or anyplace else in the world just to see this extraordinary image and to praise God for sending His mother to save so many. Our Lady appeared almost simultaneously with the time that Martin Luther broke from the Catholic Church. Nine million people in Europe were lost to the Church at the time of the Protestant Revolt. When Our Lady appeared in Mexico, this image was responsible for the single greatest mass conversion in human history: Nine million people joined the Church. And so when we look at what happened in the Church – we lost 9 million in Europe and gained 9 million in the New World – we see how God was going to protect His Church. Now, as far as Catholicism goes, Central and South America are the strongest place in the world.
It is interesting that in Mexico the Masons have run the country since 1920. They forbid religious education; they forbid the priests from wearing clerical garb; they forbid them from being able to go out and bring the Faith to the people. So most of the people of Mexico have a very, very simple faith. They know a little of what it is that their Faith teaches, but the Masons never succeeded in the least in being able to break the people of their faith because they all know Our Lady of Guadalupe, and they all know that she appeared for them and that she appeared to bring them to her Son. That is all they needed to know. Obviously, it would be important for them to learn their faith, but to have that confidence in the Mother of God – it was an unshakeable confidence – that they could rely on God Who was in their midst, as we heard in the reading.
So when we look at that beautiful image of Our Lady, we need to say with Elizabeth, “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” She has come to us and she remains with us. She remains there for a reason, that is, to continue to call us to a deeper conversion and to know that God Himself, through the ministry of His own mother, remains present in our midst.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.