Our Lady of Guadalupe
Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab, Lk 1:39-47
Our first reading today sets forth the image of a woman. It says, “She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.” Then it describes a huge red dragon and gives the disturbing detail, “Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth.”
Our gospel reading also talks about two pregnant women: Mary, and her cousin, Elizabeth. Even though it has only been a few days since Jesus’ conception, the 6-month infant, John the Baptist, recognizes him as his Lord and leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Implantation in the uterus generally occurs about 8 to 9 days after conception. This meeting with Elizabeth is most likely before Jesus was implanted in Mary’s uterus because after the Annunciation it says she “traveled . . . in haste.” At this stage, Jesus would have been 0.1 mm in size — barely visible to the unenhanced human eye. And yet, both John and Elizabeth recognize him not as a clump of cells but as a human being. Elizabeth calls him “Lord” in the reading we just heard: “how does it happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
And then today we are celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She first appeared to Juan Diego on December 9th, 1531. Her image on his tilma is definitely of a pregnant young woman. The black maternity belt she is wearing clearly signifies this. Every detail of the picture is important; it is filled with Aztec symbolism and the illiterate natives would have been able to read it like a book. It is not my purpose here to interpret each of these symbols but they would have understood that Mary’s unborn child is the divine center of the cosmos. The Spanish were having a very difficult time gaining many converts to Christianity in the New World previous to this apparition. But afterward there was a veritable tsunami of converts. I think it is significant that Mary appeared pregnant rather than holding the infant in her arms like our own icon here behind me. In 1999 Pope St. John Paul II declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the Patroness of the Unborn.
I said in the first paragraph that the image of a huge red dragon waiting to devour the child as soon as it was born is disturbing. We know from nature how vulnerable a mother is when she is giving birth. She wouldn’t be able to defend her infant from a predator as soon as it popped out. If we think of the red dragon as Satan, nowadays he is not waiting for the mother to give birth — he is snatching it from her womb! We cringe when we hear the grisly accounts of conquerors slashing open the full wombs of their enemies. But is what’s going on today on such a large scale really all that much different? The huge red dragon is gorging himself!
But I’m preaching to the choir. No one in the stalls this morning is in danger of having an abortion, and probably none of us has been an accomplice in an abortion. But maybe it would motivate us to pray for women who are in a really tight spot and are thinking abortion is the best way out of an ugly mess. From our comfortable seats here in choir we probably have no idea what some of these desperate women and girls are up against. It seems unfair that women have to live with the consequences of unwise sexual activity more than men do. Not all procurers of abortion are the in-your-face, militant, feminists we often associate with the pro-choice movement.
We may also be drawn to pray on this Marian feast for women who have had abortions and are haunted by it. So many Chinese women were forced to have abortions during the one-child edict. Many others in the West have been forced into it by their partner or their parents. Or maybe they misguidedly just made a bad decision and now bitterly regret it. It’s something they have to live with the rest of their lives. Maybe our prayers for them will help relieve some of the pain and help them to forgive themselves and find peace with God.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us, your needy children.