Friday, December 12, 2014


Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

          One would be hard pressed to find a better example of a highly evocative national symbol than the Virgin of Guadalupe of Mexico. Like her famous Polish counterpart, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Guadalupe embodies abstract principles and precepts of the nation where she dwells.

          The complexity and heterogeneous nature of Mexico are reconciled in Our Lady of Guadalupe in a special way that no other symbol can rival. Political overtones are blended with individual and societal aspirations, especially for the Indian, because it was an Indian to whom she revealed herself in 1531.

          Several decades ago Eric Wolf (1923-1999), noted anthropologist, compiled a masterful analysis of the Guadalupe phenomenon. This is an attempt to summarize his findings. With the recent canonization of St. Juan Diego, this topic is timelier than ever.

          Now and then we encounter a symbol that seems to embody the major hopes and aspirations of an entire society. Such a master symbol is Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patroness – and Empress of the Americas.

          During the Mexican War of Independence against Spain, her image preceded the insurgents into battle.  Emiliano Zapata and his agrarian rebels fought under her emblem in the Great Revolution of 1910. Today the Guadalupe image of Juan Diego’s tilma adorns house exteriors and interiors, churches and home altars, bull rings and gambling dens, taxis and buses, restaurants and houses of ill repute. Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in song and poetry popular and sacred. Annually her shrine at Tepeyac, a little north of Mexico City, is visited by millions of pilgrims ranging from the Indian villages to the members of the socialist trade unions. As one scholarly observer reported, “Nothing to be seen in North America or Europe equals it in the volume and vitality of its moving quality or in the depth of its spirit of religious devotion.”

          Eric Wolf referred to the holy image and the ideology surrounding it as the Mexican master symbol. He identified it as a cultural form or idiom of behavior operating on the symbolic level, and not restricted to one set of social ties, but referring to a wide range of social relationships.

          The history of the image and shrine are well known. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a neophyte Indian of ordinary standing, and addressed him in Nahuatl, his native Indian language. The encounter occurred on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531, ten years after the Spanish Conquest of Tenochtitlan. Mary directed Juan Diego to visit the bishop of Mexico and to inform him of her desire to have a church built in her honor on Tepeyac. Twice unsuccessful in his mission, Mary miraculously provided her messenger colorful roses in a spot where normally only desert plants would grow. Juan Diego gathered the roses into his tilma, and was told by the Virgin Mother to present the roses and tilma to the Franciscan Bishop-elect Zumarraga. When St. Juan Diego unfolded his tilma before the bishop, the roses cascaded to the floor and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously impressed to the cloth. The bishop acknowledged the miracle and ordered a shrine to be built where Mary had appeared to her humble servant.

          Now the tilma bearing the sacred image of Mary is displayed above the main altar of the basilica, showing a young woman with her head lowered demurely in her shawl. She wears an open crown and flowing gown, and stands upon a half moon.

          This Marian shrine, however, had been preceded on Tepeyac hill by the pagan temple honoring the earth and fertility goddess, Tonantzi -- our lady mother, who like Our Lady of Guadalupe, was also associated with the moon. In pre-Hispanic times, that temple was the site of large-scale pilgrimages.

          The veneration accorded Our Lady of Guadalupe at first commingled with and was influenced by the earlier pagan worship of Tonantzin.  Several Spanish friars attest to this over those early years.

          Fray Bernardino de Sahagún writing fifty years after the Spanish Conquest bemoaned the fact that the Indian pilgrims to the shrine were calling Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin, too. “The term refers to that ancient Tonantzin,” he wrote, “and this state of affairs should be remedied, because the proper name of the Mother of God is not Tonantzin but Dios and Nantzin. It seems to be a satanic device to mask idolatry.”

          Later, Fray Marin de León expressed a similar concern: “On the hill of Our Lady of Guadalupe they once adored an idol of the goddess called Tonantzin, which means our mother. This is the name they also give to Our Lady, and they always say they are going to Tonantzin, or they are celebrating Tonantzin; and many of them understand this in the old way, and not in the new way.

          In the 17th century the syncretism was still alive. Discussing the pilgrimages to the shrine at Tepeyac, Fray Jacinto de la Serna noted, “It is the purpose of the wicked to worship the goddess and not the Most Holy Virgin, or both together.”

          The cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe increased steadily in the 16th century and thereafter, and gathered emotional impetus during the 17th century. The 17th century saw the first pictorial and artistic representations of the miraculous original; poems were composed in honor of the Virgin and her chosen messenger; sermons presented the implications of her supernatural appearance in Mexico and among Mexicans. Wolf’s opinion is that historians tended to neglect the 17th century, which seemed “a kind of Dark Age in Mexico.” But in this period the institution of the hacienda begins to dominate Mexican life, and “New Spain” ceases to be “new” and is regarded as Spain. These new experiences required a new cultural idiom, and in the Guadalupe cult the various segments of colonial society found cultural forms in which they expressed their parallel interests and longings.

          The evolution of the Guadalupe symbol took on functional aspects in relation to the major social relationships of Mexican society. Primary among these relations are the ties of kinship, and the emotions arising in the interplay of relationships within families. Wolf suggests that some of the meanings of the Virgin symbol in general and the Guadalupe symbol in particular derive from these emotions. He says “derive” rather than “originate” because the form and formation of the family in any given society are themselves determined by other social factors: residence, economy, technology, and political power. The family is one relay in the circuit within which symbols are generated in complex societies.

          Mexican family life may be understood in terms of two major types of families. The first type of family is congruent with the closed and static life of the Indian village. This is the Indian family. The husband is ideally dominant, but in reality labor and authority are shared equally between both marriage partners. Exploitation of one sex by another is atypical; sexual feats do not add to a person’s status in the eyes of others. Physical punishment and authoritarian treatment of children are rare. The second type of family is congruent with the much more open, manipulative life of a nation, a life in which power relationships between individuals and groups are of great moment. This is the Mexican family. The father’s authority is unquestioned on both the real and ideal planes. Double standards regarding sex prevail, the male sexuality is charged with a desire to exercise domination. Children are ruled with a heavy hand. Physical punishment is common, even frequent.
          The Indian family pattern is consistent with the behavior toward Our Lady of Guadalupe noted by John Bushnell in the Matlazinca-speaking community of San Juan Atzingo in the Valley of Toluca. There the image of the Virgin Mother is addressed in passionate terms as a source of warmth and love; and the pulque  (century plant beer) drunk on ceremonial occasions is identified with her milk. Bushnell assumed that Our Lady is identified with the mother as a source of early satisfactions, never again experienced after separation from the mother and emergence into social adulthood. She embodies a longing to return to the pristine state in which hunger and unsatisfactory social relations are minimized. The Mexican family pattern is also consistent with a symbolic identification of Virgin and mother, within a context of male and adult dominance and sexual assertion, discharged against submissive females and children. In this context the Guadalupe symbol is charged with the energy of rebellion against the father. Her image is the embodiment of hope in a victorious outcome of the struggle between generations.

          The symbolism is further extended by that struggle. Successful rebellion against power figures is equated with the promise of life; defeat is equated with the promise of death. John A. McKay saw additional symbolic identification of the Virgin Mother with life, of defeat and death with the crucified Christ. Mexican artistic tradition and Hispanic artistic tradition in general seldom depict Christ as an adult man, but usually as a helpless child, or as a person beaten, tortured, defeated, and killed. This symbolic equation strikes at the roots both of the passionate affirmation of faith in the Virgin Mother, and of the fascination with death that characterized Baroque Christianity in general, and Mexican Catholicism in particular. Our Lady of Guadalupe stands for life, for health, for hope; Christ on the cross, for despair, for death, for salvation.

          Supernatural Mother and natural mother are equated symbolically, as are earthly and other-worldly hopes and desires.
          However, family relations are seen as only one element in the formation of the Guadalupe symbol. They illuminate the feminine and maternal attributes of the more widespread Virgin symbol. Our Lady of Guadalupe is important to Mexicans not only because she is a Supernatural Mother, but also because she embodies their major religious and political aspirations.

          To the Indians the symbol is more than an embodiment of life and hope. It restores to them the hopes of salvation. The Spanish Conquest signified not only military defeat, but the defeat also of the old gods and the decline of the old ritual. The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to an Indian commoner represented in one way the return of Tonantzin.  Tannenbaum had observed, “The Church gave the Indian an opportunity not merely to save his own life, but also to save his faith in his own gods.” But on a deeper level the apparition served as a symbolic testimony that the Indians as much as the Spaniards were capable of being saved, capable of receiving Christianity. To be understood properly, this must be seen against the background of the bitter theological and political disputes that followed the Conquest and divided clerics, religious, officials, and conquerors into two camps: those who believed that the Indian was incapable of conversion, was inhuman, and therefore a subject of political and economic exploitation; and those who held the opposite and knew that this exploitation had to be tempered by the demands of the Catholic faith and of orderly civil processes of just government. Consequently the Guadalupe event validates the Indian’s right to legal defense, fair government, citizenship, and salvation from random oppression.

          If that sacred event guaranteed a rightful place to the Indians in the social system of New Spain, it held special appeal to the large group of illegitimate offspring of Spanish fathers and Indian mothers. These progeny were disinherited, impoverished, acculturated, and bereft of any status with the Spanish population or the Indian. For these people there was no proper place in the social order for a considerable length of time. Their very right to exist was questioned because of their inability to command the full rights of citizenship and legal protection. While the Spaniard and the Indian stood squarely within the law, the mestizo landed in the intersections and margins of constituted society. Although they acquired influence and wealth in the 17th and 18th centuries, they still found themselves outside the pale of social recognition and power by prevailing economic, social, and political order. For them the Guadalupe event symbolized not only the possibility of a place in heaven, but also an assurance of their place in society here and now. Politically the desire for a return to a paradise of food and warmth, a life without defeat and sickness, gave rise to a wish for an earthly Mexican paradise. There the illegitimate would possess the country and the irresponsible Spanish overlords who never acknowledged the social obligations of their paternity would be driven from the land.

          In the writings of 17th century clerics, the Guadalupe event looms as a harbinger of this new order. A book published by Miguel Sanchez in 1648 offered the view that the Spanish Conquest of New Spain is justified solely on the ground that it allowed the Virgin Mary to become manifest in her chosen country, and to found in Mexico a new paradise. As Israel was chosen to produce Christ, Mexico had been chosen to produce Guadalupe. Sanchez equated Our Lady of Guadalupe with the apocalyptic woman of Revelation 12:1, “arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” who is to realize the prophecy of Deuteronomy 8:7-10 and lead the Mexicans into the Promised Land. Hence, colonial Mexico became the desert of Sinai; independent Mexico the land of milk and honey.

          Writing in 1688 Fray Francisco de Florencia coined the slogan that made Mexico not merely another chosen nation, but the Chosen Nation: non fecit taliter omni nationi (he did not act in such a way for every nation) – words which still adorn the portal of the basilica and shine in lights at night.

          An additional elaboration had been expressed on the eve of Mexican independence when Servando Teresa de Mier claimed that Mexico had been converted to Christianity long before the Spanish Conquest. St. Thomas the Apostle had brought the image of Guadalupe Tonantzin to the New World as a symbol of his mission, just as St. James the Elder had converted Spain with the image of Our Lady of the Pillar. This made the Spanish Conquest unnecessary and erasable from the annals of history. In that perspective the Mexican War of Independence marked the final realization of the apocalyptic promise. The banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe led the insurgents. Their cause was labeled “her law.”

          In this ultimate extension of the symbol, the promise of life proffered by the Supernatural Mother has become the promise of an independent Mexico, liberated from the Spanish father oppressors and restored to the Chosen Nation whose election had been manifest in the apparition of the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac. The land is finally possessed by the rightful heirs. The symbolic circuit is closed. Mother; food, hope, health, life; supernatural salvation, rescue from oppression; Chosen People, national independence. All find expression in a single master symbol.
          The symbol of Our Lady of Guadalupe links together family, politics, and religion; colonial past and independent present; Indian and Mexican. This reflects the salient social relationships of Mexican life, and embodies the emotions generated. It provides a cultural idiom through which the import and emotions of these relationships can be expressed. Ultimately the Guadalupe symbol is a way of talking about Mexico: a “collective representation” of Mexican society.

Litany of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Litany of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.God our Heavenly Father, Creator through whom we live,
have mercy on us.God the Son, the One who owns what is near and beyond,
have mercy on us.God the Holy Spirit,
have mercy on us.Holy Trinity, one God,
have mercy of us.Holy Mary of Guadalupe,
pray for us.*Holy Mary, Mother of America,
Holy Mary, Star of the New Evangelization,
Holy Mary, Perfect and Ever Virgin,
Holy Mary, Mother of the True God,
Holy Mary, Mother worthy of honor and veneration,
Holy Mary, Mother most merciful,
Holy Mary, Mother of those who love you and have confidence in you,
Holy Mary, Mother of those who cry to you and search for you,
Holy Mary, Mother who cures all our pains, miseries, and sorrows,
Holy Mary, Mother who remedies and alleviates our sufferings,
Holy Mary, Mother who keeps us within her compassionate and merciful gaze,
Holy Mary, Mother who shows us her help, love and compassion,
Holy Mary, Mother who chooses those who are humble and simple,
Holy Mary, Mother who graciously repays all who serve her,
Holy Mary, Mother who has us under her shadow and protection,
Holy Mary, Mother who carries us in her embrace,
Holy Mary, Fountain of our joy,
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
spare us, O Lord.Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
graciously hear us, O Lord.Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let Us Pray
Almighty and Eternal God, your message of mercy, entrusted to Our Lady of Guadalupe, invites all your children to place all their trust in you. Through the intercession of the mother of your Son, may your message of Merciful Love inflame our hearts that we may be faithful heralds and instruments of this Divine Mercy to the world.
(Mention your intentions)
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Shared by Mary Jane.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.

Picture source

          In the past five centuries since 1531 each generation of scientific researchers have found the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of St. Juan Diego an unsolvable puzzle.  Our Blessed Mother left a portrait painted by a heavenly hand on material produced by human hands.  Keep in mind this happened only a handful of years after Columbus discovered the western hemisphere and the Spaniards colonized what is now Mexico.   Juan Diego was among the first converts of the Franciscan missionaries.

          A tilma was the broad cloak worn by the early  Aztecs of Mexico.  It was woven from the thick and coarse fibers of the agava plant (cactus ayate), and had the color of raw linen.  Anything made with these fibers generally disintegrates completely within two decades.  Because of its coarse and uneven surface and its loose weave, the fabric is unsuitable as a canvas for a painting. 

          Scientific studies verify that the Guadalupe tilma is formed from the fibers of the agava plant.  After almost 500 years no sign of any decay has been detected and it endures in its pristine condition.  This baffles modern science. Amazing also is the freshness of colors in this incredible image.  Equally impressive is the absence of any indication of spoilage even though the image hung unprotected over a hundred years and was exposed to a variety of pollutants like incense smoke, soot, perfumes, and  the burning wax of innumerable votive candles. 

          The noted Mexican painter, Miguel Cabrera,  reported that in 1753 he observed in a period of two hours the pilgrims touching the image about 500 times with a variety of objects.  Under similar conditions any other image would be damaged beyond recognition.  Yet this image of Our Lady of Guadalupe remains intact and vibrant.  For unexplainable reasons its material is resistant to dust, insects, bacteria, and mold.

          Dr. Phillip Callahan, University of Florida, studied the Guadalupe image in 1979, and reported that one lighted votive candle emits over 600 microwatts of light. In such enclosed premises and in the presence of hundreds of burning candles and thousands of pilgrims  one would expect the colors to fade and the image to suffer irreparable damage.  But the image has been resistant to nay harmful agent.

          The perfect preservation of the fabric and its colors has elicited genuine wonder among scientific experts and art specialists.  Some skeptics and rationalists confronted with the facts resulting from their studies of the holy image abandoned their unbelief and bowed before the mystery of God.  In 1975 Ramirez Vasquez, the renowned Mexican architect entrusted with the design of the new Guadalupe basilica, was permitted to scrutinize the holy image.  The results of his study persuaded him both intellectually and spiritually to renounce agnosticism and he became an ardent Catholic. 

          Throughout its centuries-old history the image experienced numerous incidences of preservation from unfortunate circumstances.  In 1791 a worker accidentally spilled an entire bottle of nitric acid on the image when cleaning its silver frame.   During the 1920s the Church in Mexico suffered bloody persecution under Plutarco Calles, and many met death because of their Catholic faith.  The atheistic Masonic regime closed all the churches in the country except the Guadalupe basilica and planned to destroy Our Lady's image as well as to kill the members of the hierarchy. 

          November 14, 1921, government agents planted a powerful time bomb in a flower vase under the tilma.  At 10:30 a.m. the bomb exploded as a Pontifical Mass was being celebrated.  The blast rocked entire basilica and destroyed the floor, altar, and stained glass windows.  Some people suffered minor wounds, but miraculously no one was killed.  The miraculous image survived untouched. 

          Over the years the Guadalupe image underwent careful examination by many scientific researchers and art experts to determine if its preservation was the result of natural causes.  Studies were conducted with the help of electron microscopes, infrared irradiation, and other state-of-the-art methods.  The conclusions were always the same: no human hand could have painted the image.  
          In 1936 Dr. Richard Kuhn, chemist and Nobel Prize laureate at the University of Heidelberg, ran meticulous tests on fibers of the tilma.   His results  concluded that the dyes used to produce the image are unknown to natural science, and are not of animal, plant, mineral, or synthetic origin, 

          Microscopic studies in 1946 showed that the image bears no trace of brushstrokes or a preliminary sketch or an artist's signature.    Additional studies in 1954 and 1966 by Dr. F. Camps Ribera and his associates reinforced these previous findings.  Authorities have agreed that the greatest artist could not have painted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

          Professional photographer Alfonso Gonzales in 1929 enlarged Our Lady's face many times and discovered that her eyes showed the clear reflection of a bearded man's face.  This prompted a series of detailed studies of her eyes from 1950 to 1990.  The results of all researchers indicated that Mary's eyes are like those of a living person.  They exhibit extraordinary depth, the phenomenon of reflection that occurs only in living persons, and the best of painting techniques cannot replicate this.  Scientists enlarged Mary's eyes up to 2500 times, and this showed that 12 persons are reflected in her eyes -- the scene of Juan Diego's meeting with Bishop Zumarraga and his associates.  The scene is so lucid that it shows details such as tears of emotion, earrings, Aztec sandal laces, a bald man with a white beard, another man with an aquiline nose and whiskers on his cheeks, and other details. 

          These scientific studies rule out any possibility that a human hand may have painted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of St. Juan Diego.  Among the experts conducting these studies were some of the world's leading scientists in the fields of optics and ophthalmology: Dr. Charles Wahling, Dr. Francis Avignone of Columbia University, Dr. H. G. Noyes, Edward Gebhardt of NBC, Dr. Italo Mannelli of the University of Pisa, and others of this caliber.

          Only faith can tell us that the author of this image is God Himself.  The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a sign calling all people to conversion.  Gazing on the miraculous image we can experience the maternal love of the Mother of the Redeemer and our own spiritual mother, who is concerned about the salvation of all her children.  This extraordinary sign reminds us that true happiness is found in God alone.