Ten years after Hernando Cortez conquered Mexico for the world, Our Lady began her conquest of Mexico and all of the Americas for her Divine Son's world when she chose a simple peasant to convey one of the greatest miracles in the history of apparitions. On a frosty December morning in 1531 Juan Diego, a 51-year-old Aztec peasant. Juan and his wife, whose name is not recorded, were recent converts to Catholicism due to the influence of the Spanish evangelization which Cortez brought with him from Spain.
Spain had been one of the few countries in Europe who had been protected from the onslaught of "enlightenment" which ushered in the Protestant Revolt in the early 16th Century. Thanks to the safeguards taken by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and the steady hand of the Spanish Inquisition which prevented revolt by strict vigilance, the True Faith was preserved and spread to the New World in waves of Spanish priests who accompanied the Conquistadors. These Franciscan, Dominican and Carmelite Orders, as well as the Jesuits, played a pivotal role in the conversion of Central and South America. It was Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus's historic journey to the New Indies in 1492 and oversaw the activities of Cortez throughout the early 1500's as the Spanish Conqueror overcame the forces of Montezuma, toppling the pagan Aztec and Mayan nations and subsequently their over-riding culture, as they gradually faded into the archives of history and artifacts, replaced by the strength of the Church and the inculturation of Spain from her language to her customs.
Catholicism had taken root in Mexico, especially around Mexico City, yet the Aztecs did not go quietly. For years they had offered human sacrifice to their gods; Quetzocoetl - the bird and serpent god being the main one. This pagan practice had taken its toll in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands reaching into the millions. This was one of the main reasons Our Blessed Mother came in 1531, to stop the human sacrifice; both with the pagan Aztec traditions and the senseless slaughter of the Conquistadors who had cut a swath of blood across Mexico on Cortez' march to Mexico City from the Gulf. By exemplifying a gentler, Christ-like nature, not only would the native peoples understand what the missionaries were conveying, but also remind the Spanish soldiers of their roots and prompt them to repent of their warring ways.
Into this atmosphere Our Lady chose Juan Diego to impart her message and give to him the on-going miracle of the miraculous tilma worn by Juan on the day of the apparition. In the nature of replacing the ridiculous with the sublime, Blessed Mary asked Juan to have a chapel or church built on the site where there had been an Aztec shrine. This site was the hill of Tepeyac. She asked him to go to the local bishop with this request. One can imagine the bishop's first reaction when he encountered this poor Indian approaching him...and then telling him why he was there. No one should be surprised at the Bishop's response. Bishop Zumarraga demanded a sign that this message Juan brought was truly Heaven-sent. Needless to say, Juan was intimidated and disheartened. He didn't even want to go back to the hill, but through the grace of the Holy Spirit there he was again the next day - December 12th, trembling on Tepeyac Hill both from the winter chill and in trepidation of what he would tell the Blessed Virgin and what, in turn, she would ask him to do. In the custom of the people of his day, Juan was dressed in simple pants and a shirt, sandals, a straw short-visored sombrero and a tilma, which was a scapular-like garment made from a versatile and strong-fibred cactus plant indigenous to this region. Shivering as he waited, he almost did not notice the light and the gentle whisp of wind as Our Lady hovered near the top of the hill. He moved closer and Our Lady sought to allay his fears, bidding him come closer and tell her the Bishop's reaction though she already knew. Juan related his encounter and the need for an outward sign. Our Lady responded with the request that he pick the roses growing out of the rough, semi-frozen tundra of Tepeyac. Juan was aghast to find rich red roses in full bloom and he quickly stooped to pick as many of these rich beauties as he could, gathering them in the full of his front tilma, then pulling it up against his chest to protect them in a pouch-like fashion; then scurrying off to present this "sign" to the Monsignor Zumarraga. Panting and nearly out of breath, he reached the Episcopo alerting the guards outside. His insistance to see the Bishop brought rebuffs from those in the outer circle who thought it odd that an Aztec peasant should be so bold, yet through the grace of God Juan was admitted to the Bishop's chambers and there excitedly exclaimed, "I have the sign, your Excellency!" Impatient, doubting and yet curious, Zumarraga beckoned Juan to approach him. Blessed Diego came near the foot of the Bishop and knelt in reverence as he unrolled his tilma. Juan's eyes were fixed on the fresh petals that tumbled to the floor and did not see the shock and amazement on the Bishop's face as his vision was transfixed on the image he beheld emblazoned on Juan's poor, fragmented tilma. To this day one can see at the Shrine an mega-sized enlargement of Our Lady's eye on the tilma. In the eye, one can see the reflection of the Bishop and his entourage as they stared in disbelief. While transfixed in this incredibility, Juan straightened up and, at once, realized the true miracle Our Lady had endowed. There on his tilma was an image of how she had appeared to him just hours before, in full color.
She had appeared to Juan not as Our Lady of Grace, or as a European-kind of visage, but as an Aztec woman standing on the moon, dressed in a finely detailed full-flowing dress or garment that symbolized many of the Aztec traditions. It was an image that would be accepted by the native Indians of this land moreso than the European icons of the Virgin the Spanish had brought with them. As always the Mother of God has a method to her message and the message conveyed stirred the Bishop to a reconversion and a rededication to evangelizing and serving the Indians while preaching the reason for Our Lady's visit. The results, guided by God, spread faster than the December wind blowing across the Mexican terrain. Within a short time, countless native Indians had been brought into Holy Mother Church's fold. To top that, almost instantly the people realized the error of their ways in the ancient Aztec ways of human sacrifice and abandoned the practice. The population flourished and as the Church dwindled in the Old World due to the erosion of the Protestant Reformation, the pendulum of plentitude swung to the New World in graces and conversions. It was the beginning of a reverence and veneration that would be carried through every generation up through today that sometimes even borders on the extreme. This is said in light of two visits to Mexico City in December by this author when he beheld thousands of devout Mexican people making their annual pilgrimage to the shrine on their knees, no matter the weather conditions. In contrast, the cab drivers and merchants festooned their vehicles and places of business with mardi gras-like decorations honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe. Always, the reverence and love for Mary is prevalent south of the border. It is a veneration that we would hope would permeate north of the border and bring back the reverence and respect for the Mother of God's role in our Church and daily lives. In recent years Our Lady has brought her mission ever more in focus as she asks all to help her in ending the abominal human sacrifice of abortion, a sin far worse than the human sacrifice offered to the pagan gods by the ancient Aztecs. But, as in the early 1500's and that century known as the "Century of Saints" it took great sacrifice on the part of all God's faithful ones to stop the sacrifice of God's children...so also today, we need, more than ever to offer sacrifice through penance, redemptive suffering, fasting and prayer to end the horrible sin of abortion. We have the formula. We have the forces of good on our side. We just need to act and human sacrifice will end as it did in the sixteenth century.
The on-going miracle of the tilma is a direct manifestation of supernatural intervention and for well over four centuries the image has remained ever brilliant even though it is on such a coarse cactus fiber that it would have faded within a few years had it not been from Heaven. The tilma was placed in a small church built at the top of Tepeyac Hill as Bishop Zumarraga obediently carried out Mary's wishes. This same church is still there today above the shrine at Guadalupe. In 1709 a larger basilica was built to house and venerate the image and word of this miracle spread throughout the world. Earthquakes and shifting soil caused great concern in the mid twentieth century and plans were drawn up for a newer, modern basilica which was consecrated in 1976 and today houses the famed image behind glass high above and behind the main altar. Visitors and pilgrims can see it closer by way of a conveyor belt walkway below and behind the main altar. No shrine has been more visited in the world than Guadalupe. In 1910, Pope Saint Pius X declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the patroness of Latin America and in 1945 Pope Pius XII expanded this declaration by designating her patroness of all the Americas. Our present pontiff, Pope John Paul II has endorsed this and brought with him a deep reverence for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Point in fact - reason to rejoice, part one: The liberal, modernist, feminist group calling themselves "We Are Church," after a highly publicized campaign launched a year and a half ago to collect a million signatures with the purpose of presenting this overwhelming petition of names personally to the Holy Father, turned out to be a total dud! Praise God! Point in fact they fell 965,000 signatures short of that goal in a feeble attempt to forge their own agenda of married and women priests, inclusive language, a democratic governing system within each diocese, etc. on the universal Church. The ring leader, a disgruntled unfrocked nun named Maureen Fiedler so much as admitted defeat when she stated that her group had greatly underestimated the resolve of orthodox Catholics in the United States. Right on! To add salt to the wounds, a group formed to combat "We Are Church" called "We Are Catholics", spearheaded by students at Seton High School on the east coast, managed to garner 90,000 signatures of total loyalty to the Pope in a very short time and formally presented the names to Pope John Paul II last month as a show of support.
Reason to rejoice, part two: In the recent American Synod, which concluded the first phase in Rome today, the conservative platform took center stage with such new-on-the-scene luminaries as Archbishops Francis George and Charles Chaput speaking out strongly for the policies of the Pope and calling for a renewal of loyalty and commitment to personal holiness. Meanwhile, noted modernist prelates like Cardinal Roger Mahony of LA, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, and Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Alabama were relatively quiet or should we say overwhelmed by the conservative agenda, where they had little hope of infiltrating their peers with their agenda for the "American Church." The liberal left mouthpiece National Catholic Reporter decried this fact, whining that the Synod "has been heavily orchestrated by the Roman bureaucracy and seems to have little chance of tackling anything but the preplanned agenda." They also make no bones about their displeasure with John Paul II complaining that their hope that "the synodal fathers would repeat what the Second Vatican Council fathers did in the first days of the council, namely, reject the agenda prepared by the Roman curia and start from scratch. This did not happen, and in the present context it couldnít happen. John XXIII in 1962 had made it quite clear that he wanted the bishops to assume and exercise their responsibility. To encourage the widest possible discussions, he did not attend the council meetings, whereas John Paul II sits in all the time and shows his displeasure openly on his face whenever something is proposed that he doesnít like." Praise God. Alleluia! Thank God for our Pope. Their last paragraph truly gives cause for joy: "Few of the bishops, even if totally free, would want to challenge him. Only 142 of the 233 voting members were elected, and many of these were named by the present pope. The probability of major surprises at this synod is consequently minimal." Again, Praise the Lord. The Holy Father is ensuring that all tow the line and follow the true teachings, doctrines, dogmas and traditions of Holy Mother Church. And he is expecting the bishops to be obedient. What a strange ploy; after all isnít obedience one of the prerequisite of their vows?
Reason to rejoice, part three: The Synod of America is expected to conclude next year in Mexico City at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe whose feast we celebrate today. There will be great joy throughout Mexico and the Americas when Blessed Juan Diego is canonized. Mexico just announced that 35 candidates for beatification and canonization have been cleared by the Vatican, making Mexico the far-and-away leader in number of saints from the Western Hemisphere. There is joy that on this special feast day of Our Lady, who came in 1531 to stop human sacrifice, the bishops are united in the same cause as the Blessed Mother - to stop the human sacrifice of millions of aborted babies. They have a new charge to fight the culture of death and go forth in a unified body to bring this message back to the parish level. A news article that ran in the Daily CATHOLIC a few days ago pointed to the fact that abortions have decreased in the U.S. to the lowest they have been in twenty years. Thereís joy in knowing our prayers and efforts are working. Our Lady of Guadalupe has had much to do with this decline in killing. But no one can rest until there are no more abortions, no more euthanasia, no more assisted-suicides. Then there will be total joy!
Reason to rejoice, part four: The abject failure of the modernistsí pet project foisted on the American public in the television vehicle "Nothing Sacred." ABC has obstinately renewed this heretical program and solicited the few modernist new-age bishops like Bishop Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, Minnesota, and auxiliary bishops Francis Murphy of Baltimore, Peter Rosazza of Hartford, and Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit along with other radical, desperate priests and laity that dared to put their name on a national ad praising this program while denigrating such stalwart video spirituality as "Touched by an Angel." This program, which we like to call "Nothing," is about life in an inner-city parish, and is doomed to failure. No matter what ABC and their parent company Disney tout, it will not succeed. There is just not enough interest! Thank God! "Nothing Sacred" has been wallowing in the nether regions of the Nielsen Ratings since its inception this past September. Defenders of the program point to its terrible time slot of Thursday nights when NBC rules the roost and claimed if it were on another night it would be a booming success. Well, theyíve been proven wrong again! Two weeks ago ABC put "Nothing" on the Saturday night slate in a very favorable time-slot and it still came in 74th for the week. Granted, it was a climb over the high eighties and low nineties it had been stuck in, but nevertheless still ranked well behind programs that have already been announced as getting the ax. Last Thursday, in place of "Nothing," ABC ran a two-hour sensational non-flattering journalism piece on John F. Kennedy. In that same time slot, going against such Nielsen giants as "Seinfeld" and "Friends" this ABC special garnered 27th place for the week. Hopefully this will wake ABC and Disney to the fact they are nursing a dead duck in "Nothing."
Reason to rejoice, part five: Like Fiedler and the "We Are Church" radicals, they will see that there just isnít the support for the modernists that the media has painted. The false prophets of today - the secular media - have once again betrayed the publicís trust and exposed the fallacy of their words for all the world to see. They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but when there are only a few spokes left on the wheel and there is only one wheel there is not much stabilization. Such is the case of the modernists and feminists who shout long and loud but there are few to hear the echoes. Blame it on apathy, blame it on the fact theyíre shooting with empty blanks. Blame it on the fact that there are more loyal and sincere Catholics than many have been led to believe, that there are more orthodox, conservative Catholics striving to serve God and His Church than we thought. For that, let us be truly joyful. With the results chronicled here, it gives one joy to surmise that the polls that have been released over the years indicating the vast number of Catholics who no longer believe in the True Presence or believe strongly that we should have women priests and run our churches ourselves without interference from Rome numbers only 35,000 people out of a total Catholic population in the U.S. of sixty two million faithful. As The Catholic World Report Editor Philip Lawler profiled in his December editorial, thatís "just .06 percent of the eligible population, or roughly one of every 1,800 Catholic Americans." We wonder how such radical rags like National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal are reacting to these figures! Yes, it truly gives one joy to realize the numbers stated in past polls have been greatly distorted and, to alter a quote by Mark Twain, "The surmise of the Church has been greatly exaggerated."
Even one Catholic out of every 1,800 is important and there will only be true joy when the lost sheep is back in the fold. We lovingly invite them to return and join the vast majority who realize Christ knew what He was doing when He established His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church when He bequeathed the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter in Matthew 16: 18-19 and that what He deigned then with the first Vicar of Christ he wills today with His two hundred and sixty fourth Vicar - our beloved John Paul II. Yet the NCR will go out of its way to denigrate this great pontiff, case in point when speaking of his opening address to the bishops of the Americas: "In apparent disregard of often expressed views of African-Americans and Indo-Americans, the pope praised the "admirable feat of Christopher Columbus" and the work of the colonizers of this "great American continent." They are full of snide remarks toward this papacy and as they become more and more desperate that they are indeed an even smaller minority than before theyíll cry out "victim" and attack all the more. We have to be prepared, but we donít have to pay much credence to their shallow tones for their voice is weak and completely blotted out by the Voice crying in the wilderness, "Make ready the Way of the Lord" (Matthew 3: 3) which we wait for in Joy and Rejoicing as His Coming draws near - both His annual Coming at Christmas and His long-awaited Second Coming. Yes, it is truly a time to be giddy with Gaudete!!!