The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe was yesterday, December 12th. This day holds significance for all of us at Build the Faith, because it is the day Christina was diagnosed and began her journey of faith. Though I have been Catholic my entire life, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I first heard about Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the time, I was a teacher. I had had heart failure and was fighting for my life. My abrupt departure from the school where I worked had my whole community in an uproar.
Shortly thereafter, one of my students and his family took a trip to Mexico. They were not Catholic, but they knew I was and so they took a detour to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The family returned from their trip with a wooden cross that had relics nailed to it. As they handed me the cross, they told me with complete faith that if I prayed to Our Lady, she would intercede for my healing. I was amazed. What happened in Guadalupe? I wondered. I had to find out!
As the story goes, it was dawn on December 9th, 1531, when Mary appeared to Juan Diego from a hill upon which had once stood an Aztec temple to the mother god. Over the course of the next few days, the Blessed Mother would appear to him 3 more times before imprinting her image as Our Lady of Guadalupe on his cloak so that he could convince the bishop she was real. A shrine to Our Lady was erected on that hill and Juan Diego’s cloak was hung proudly within. Although it has never been purposefully preserved, the cloak with its miraculous image has remained completely intact for nearly 500 years!
Our Lady’s apparition in the outskirts of Mexico City occurred at a time when the Indigenous people of Mexico were being oppressed by their Spanish rulers. Our Lady’s apparition to an Indigenous man gave him and his people hope. After the apparitions, nearly 8 million Indigenous people converted to Catholicism! Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego is also a powerful reminder to people of all races that Mary (and the God who sent her) loves everyone. It’s also a good reminder to all of us that we can call on Mary at any time.
As I placed the wooden cross from Guadalupe on my bedside table that night, I felt sure that Our Lady was with me. That’s the great thing about our Blessed Mother. She’s always there when you need her. When I was 18 years old, my parents gave me my first set of rosary beads. I had often seen my dad pray the rosary and thought of it as something that was done in the “olden days.” Yet, I found that praying the rosary brought me such peace and comfort that it was easy to make a habit of it each night before bed. Unfortunately, as life “happened” my prayer life suffered. I became busy with a fulltime job, a husband and grad school and then, later, children. Before I knew it, I had forgotten all about my rosary beads.
It took that wooden cross to reawaken me and remind me of just how special Mary was. Fortunately for me, Mary takes us as we are. Her door is always open. She welcomes us with outstretched arms like the father in the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son. She allows us to pick up right where we left off…guilt free and with no strings attached. Though that cross was given to me twenty years ago, I have never forgotten the feeling I had that night praying to Mary. It was like being wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket.
The next time you are in need of a little peace and comfort, pull out your rosary beads or say a Hail Mary or two. For, as Our Lady said to Juan Diego on that hill so long ago, “Let not your heart be disturbed. Am I not here, who am your mother? Are you not under my protection?”
Deb Egan grew up in a Catholic family. Throughout her adult life, she has participated as a church volunteer in many capacities, including teaching Religious Education, being a Eucharistic Minister and Lector, Ministering to the elderly and homebound, and Facilitating Small Faith Groups. She has been trained by Evangelical Catholic and became a member of the Build the Faith Team in April of 2017.