I preached this homily at a Choral Evensong observing the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne.
She appeared in 1531, near a small village at the outskirts of Mexico City.
She appeared in the winter, when roses do not bloom. She appeared in the wild, where the powerful do not venture. She appeared to an indigenous man, a person at the margins who saw what others did not, could not see. She appeared just as she had lived and loved and labored in her earthly life—in the hidden, borderless, bracing landscapes where heaven and earth intertwine, where the wind rushes over the hillside and the angels cry ave and the dream of God is revealed, not to calculating kings, but to the wakeful wanderer.
It is not sufficient to describe Our Lady of Guadalupe as a pious legend or a miraculous tale, for no matter what you believe about the veracity of Juan Diego’s vision of Mary in 1531, it is indisputable that she is real in the hearts and souls and prayers of millions across our continent and beyond. She is everywhere, her image burned into our consciousness, into our culture, as surely as it was onto that peasant’s cloak over 450 years ago.
As the Psalmist says of God, so might we say of the Virgin of Guadalupe: where can I flee from your presence? We cannot, for she appears everywhere. She looks back at us from prayer cards and bumper stickers and paintings, from the pages of books, from the pages of our collective memory—even if we know nothing about her or the details of her original apparition, even if we doubt or dismiss the story, somehow we instinctively recognize her, this woman draped in stars, this woman carrying a child in her womb, this woman with dark hair and downcast eyes.
Unlike many other Marian apparitions, there has always been something visceral about Guadalupe, something that almost transcends the structures of faith and doctrine and resonates, instead, with a more elemental and universally human need: the need to know that we have a mother who loves us. The need to know that we were born into a world that wants us. And to have somewhere to turn, someone who remembers us, someone who calls us their beloved child, even when we are no longer children. Especially when we are no longer children.
For generations of people, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been an embodiment of that longing for the profound gentleness of heaven, particularly for those who felt estranged from the patriarchal images of God mediated through the historic colonial church.
For the indigenous people of north and central America, who understandably might have associated images of Jesus and God the Father with the conquerers and clerics who upended their ancient ways of life, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as something altogether different—a divine message of love and care directed to them, a messenger of grace who stood with them and for them, who could subdue the high and mighty not with a sword, but with her peaceful word, with her fecundity, with the possibility of roses blooming in the snow.
She appeared, not just as the mother of a foreign God, but as the mother of all people, and especially the mother of the impoverished and forgotten, those original inhabitants of an old land called the New World. She imprinted herself, not on the robe of a bishop, but on the flimsy tilma of a poor man.
And though centuries have passed, there she remains, a mother for any and all of us who find ourselves feeling poor and forgotten, those of us who still navigate the uncertain landscape of this New World that is not yet a new heaven and earth, this land with its collision of promise and deprivation, wealth and uncertainty, privilege and peril. Amid the rubble of colonialism, astride the divisions of nations and ethnicities and languages, still she stands, hands clasped, waiting, seeing, saying to us the things we do not know how to say to each other:
This land can hold all of you, God can hold all of you, you who have been harmed, you who have done harm. You who came from afar, you who were always here. You of every color, you of every path, you of every loss, you of every dream—I can love you if you will let me, if you will give your heart into my care.
Come to me, and let me show you the true nature of God, the God who is like a child, who is like a dove, who is like a rose climbing up from the cold, dark earth. Come to me, you who know a mother’s love, you who have lost it, you who never felt it before. Come to me, for I have come to you, and I will not leave you.
No, we cannot flee from her presence, this Lady of Guadalupe. And thanks be to God that we cannot. Thanks be to God that she has not forsaken us, that her image endures, that she remains, still, everywhere we wander, a sign of God’s relentless desire to care for each of us, for all of us. For it is your life, too, that she carries in her womb, it is your name she remembers in her prayer, and it is your homeland that lies beneath her mantle of stars. She is God’s mother, and your mother, and ours, forever.