How wonderful that Our Lady of Guadalupe appears as a pregnant woman clothed in the sun! In the book of Revelation, Mary is described in just this manner (Rev 12:1). But we should not approach this symbolism in a superficial or merely sentimental way. The woman clothed in the sun and with the moon at her feet is portrayed in Revelation precisely as a warrior. Confronting her is a terrible dragon intent upon devouring her child as soon as it is born. Through God’s grace, the child is in fact delivered from danger, but the dragon is furious, sending a torrent of water from its mouth to sweep the mother and child away. In the wake of the child’s birth, moreover, a war breaks out in heaven between the dragon and Michael and his angels.
The Lady of Tepeyac is a warrior as well. To Juan Diego she said, “I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God.” In so saying, she was actively de-throning and de-legitimizing any false claimant to that title. Standing in front of the sun and upon the moon, with the stars of heaven arrayed on her cloak, the Lady was showing her superiority to the cosmic elements worshipped by the Aztecs. The gods in question were blood-thirsty divinities, sanctioning imperialistic war and demanding human sacrifice. Mary announced herself as the mother of a God who demanded no violence, and who instead took upon himself, as an act of love, all of the violence of the world. She was thereby effectively calling out the false gods in the name of the true God.
To be clear, in condemning the gods worshipped by the Aztecs I am by no means exonerating the Spaniards, who committed numerous atrocities and visited tremendous suffering upon the native peoples of the New World. Read the impassioned writings of the Dominican Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas for the terrible details. Far too rare were Spaniards who were actually faithful to the God whom Christianity authentically proclaimed.
What followed the apparition at Tepeyac is, of course, one of the most astounding chapters in the history of Christian evangelism. Though Franciscan missionaries had been laboring in Mexico for twenty years, they had made little progress. But within ten years of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, practically the entire Mexican people, nine million strong, converted to Christianity. La Morena had proved a more effective evangelist than Peter, Paul, St. Patrick, and St. Francis Xavier combined! And with that great national conversion, human sacrifice came to an end. She had done battle with fallen spirits and had won a culture-changing victory for the God of love.
The challenge for us who honor her today is to join the same fight. We do not sufficiently engage this great feast if we simply wonder at a marvelous event from long ago. We must announce to our culture today the truth of the God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of non-violence and forgiving love. And we ought, like La Morena, to be bearers of Jesus to a world that needs him more than ever.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.