December 12, 2018

El Rostro de Maria: A Reflection for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Listen and let it penetrate your heart . . . do not be troubled or weighed down with grief…
Am I not here who am your Mother? (Our Lady’s words to her servant Juan Diego)

“Speak with Mary to understand God’s desire and love for you, because it’s hard to say “no” to mama.” These were the words that Manny shared with the RdC volunteers during an evening reflection while facilitating their three month retreat in October. Smiles crept across the faces of the volunteers and there were a few giggles, but ultimately they were all nodding in agreement when Manny uttered the phrase, “it’s hard to say “no” to mama.” There are few people who understand this phrase better than Juan Diego, to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to some nearly five hundred years ago.

Rostro de Cristo volunteers 2018-2019 (L to R: Sarah, Maddie, Katie, Carolina, Kate, Clarissa, Lizzy, Valeria, and Jess) and Manny Méndez, RdC Program Manager, on Ayampe Beach during the three month retreat.

Today the church celebrates this encounter between Nuestra Señora and Juan Diego, a Nahuatl who people lived in the area of what we now refer to as Mexico City, and we are invited to contemplate what her intervention can mean for us. Her appearance to Juan Diego early in the Spanish conquest was a liberating sign to a people experiencing the pain and suffering of what the Inca called “Pachakuti”, a turning over of time and space; and it brought hope that something new could happen despite the violence of a conquest by so many European Christians that came to exploit, rob and plunder.

For the native and mestizo peoples of the Americas she offers an image of the holy for people whose religious imaginations value what are often considered maternal expressions of God – nurturing, loving, caring, birthing, sustaining. In Ecuador and throughout the Andes this is reflected in the indigenous religious worship of the “Pacha Mama”, the female image of space and time and or the world, often interpreted as “Mother Earth”. Today throughout Latin America there are dozens of feast dedicated to “La Virgen”. These feasts most often resulted from a mestizaje, blending of indigenous religious festivals with the Catholic devotion to Mary brought by the Spanish conquerors and missionaries.

Her appearance to Juan Diego was a hopeful affirmation of Juan Diego’s faith and culture as a Nahuatl: she speaks his language, she appears on a sacred place of his people – the hill at Tepeyac -, and she makes him a messenger of the good news at a time when the Spanish conquerors and missionaries debated whether Juan Diego and his people were even capable of having “souls”. This speaks to the missiology that requires us to have a humble approach, one expressed by missionary Max Warren, “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.” This approach to mission is one that we strive to practice as a program and one that our volunteers commit to when they accept their service placements with Rostro de Cristo.

As you can read about in this reflection by Fr. Virgilio Elizando, the time that Nuestra Señora appeared to Juan Diego is not unlike the times we live today. There are many who experience the brokenness in the world as a violent flipping of the order that God intended. Indeed, there have never been so many people in history leaving what they know and moving to someplace new. They leave their homelands most often forced by poverty, violence, and marginalization. They seek refuge, safety, and opportunity. They have unmoored from what has given meaning and understanding in their lives, risked everything, and entered into a new culture and a new place in the hope that something better will unfold. But it is not just the refugee or immigrant who needs to change and adapt. Those of us who are receiving communities must change as well. We are called to help create something new and to nurture it so that our transforming and developing communities can thrive and sustain all individuals who comprise them. This is the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe and why today we take time to “speak with Mary”.

Below we have included various resources for your continued reflection and engagement during this feast day of Nuestra Señora. Before you explore these links, we invite you to first examine the words of Maria de Guadalupe to Juan Diego as if Maria, Madre de Dios y nuestra mamá sagrada were speaking to you in this moment. What invitation is here for you? What question or message enters your heart?

We pray that your Advent is filled with hopeful anticipation and the courage to mother one another with love, joy, and hospitality during and after we celebrate the season of Christ’s birth. We are so grateful to be accompanying nine strong and compassionate young women who are serving as Rostro de Cristo volunteers this year and we thank you for the ways you support our volunteers and programs. We ask that you join us in praying and lifting them up during this season of Advent and Christmas as they continue to share in and celebrate finding and being el rostro de Cristo y el rostro de Maria in their Ecuadorian communities.

-Rostro de Cristo Staff (Evan, Michele, Manny, & Henry)

Our Lady’s words to her servant Juan Diego:
Listen and let it penetrate your heart . . .
do not be troubled or weighed down with grief.
Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.
Am I not here who am your Mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not your fountain of life?
Are you not in the folds of my mantle?
In the crossing of my arms?
Is there anything else you need?

Our Lady of Guadalupe Prayer, Reflection, and Action Resources: