Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which commemorates the appearance of Mary to a peasant named Juan Diego in 1531 near Mexico City.
It’s an important day for Catholics on this continent, as Pope John Paul II declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the “Patroness of the Americas” in 1999.
I particularly love this celebration because Mary is one of our tradition’s best teachers of life & justice. There are so many elements of her story that call us to be Christian disciples devoted to protecting and nurturing human life wherever it is threatened.
Let’s look at three of her lessons:
Mary’s “Yes” to Human Life
In the Gospel for today, we hear the familiar story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and tells her that she is going to be the mother of God. She’s skeptical at first, but ultimately says to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This powerful “yes” to God’s call is at its heart a “yes” to human life.
Surely Mary knows what bearing a child out of wedlock could mean for her in her community: at best, rejection. At worst, execution. Being a teenaged single mother was not part of her own plan. But she says yes anyway, trusting in God’s plan. (No wonder Pope John Paul II also declared Our Lady of Guadalupe Protectress of Unborn Children.)
Immediately after agreeing to bear the Son of God, Mary takes an arduous journey through the hill country to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. Mary is looking for support, for validation, for safety, for home. Elizabeth provides these things, and assures Mary that all will be well. “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth wonders in today’s Gospel, affirming Mary’s “yes.”
Elizabeth’s welcome reminds us that we must also be supporters of life in a similar way. We are called to welcome and lift up all expectant mothers—married and single, wealthy and poor, teenagers and adults. This means not resting until all mothers have access to good healthcare, a safe home, and nutritious food. A mother’s “yes” to life must be met by our own “yes” of support.
Mary’s “No” to the Status Quo
Last week, at a parish mission at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Collingswood, the presenter (Rev. Jim Greenfield, OSFS) talked first about Mary’s “yes,” but then also about Mary’s “no.”
After being welcomed by Elizabeth, feeling safe and blessed, Mary sings a song of praise to God—the Magnificat.
In this beautiful passage, Mary says “no” to society’s status quo: “[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Powerful stuff. Mary praises a God who flips things on their heads, who cares for those most in need, who sends away those who can’t be bothered to think about the poor and vulnerable. The message is so threatening to the status quo that the government of Guatemala banned the Magnificat’s public recitation in the 1980s.
Mary’s prayer proclaims that if we want to be followers of Christ, we must have the courage to criticize societal structures that fail to protect what Cardinal Timothy Dolan calls “the uns”: the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated. The Magnificat demands this criticism, and Mary’s third lesson calls for faith-filled action.
Mary’s “I’m With You” to Juan Diego
Juan Diego was a native Mexican and a poor peasant. And yet Mary chooses him, and appears to him as a native Mexican teenager. She speaks Nahuatl, Juan Diego’s language. Mary does not appear to the local bishop, or to someone else with power and prestige.
By appearing to Juan Diego, Mary asserts that she stands with those who are on the margins of society. “I am one of you,” Our Lady of Guadalupe suggests. It’s an inspiring moment of solidarity.
Today’s celebration is complements the message of the Magnificat. Mary’s “no” to the status quo is not the end of the story. Criticism of unjust structures that forget “the uns” is not enough by itself. Like Mary, we are called to stand with the forgotten and the oppressed, taking concrete action together to build the Kingdom of God on Earth.
May Our Lady of Guadalupe inspire us to say “yes” to life, “no” to injustice, and “I’m with you” to all who suffer.
This article is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.