It had been a few years since I visited Mary at her Basilica in Mexico City1 , maybe 3 years certainly not yet 5 but way too many for sure. It seems there is nothing I can say or do for my unbelieving friends to let them in on the delight that is faith in Jesus Christ. Even more I am helpless to share my passion for Mary. Not even my evangelical brothers and sisters get it. Not to worry, the day was December 12th 2012 and I was at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the very ground where María showed herself to Juan Diego on December 9th 1531 (make that San Juan Diego, first indigenous American saint – as of 2002) . My first visit was in late 1998. I returned to the site of the apparition on nearly each of my dozens of trips to Mexico City, usually attending Mass, occasionally offerring confession and always praying to Theotokos, the virgin bearer of God. Here I am at home and at peace. The image above the Mexican flag was and is and
always will be burned onto the tilma worn by San Juan Diego during his second and decisive encounter with the Blessed Mother on December 12th in 1531. This cactus fiber poncho has survived the 482 years and at least one direct hit by a bomb. Our Lady, loving the indigenous as she loves us all, left from the eternal the above picture of herself. Let the faithless mock Truth itself as we enjoy reverie – basking in the presence of the one who bore and suckled God, never abandoned Him even to the foot of the cross, held the lifeless body of Jesus the Anointed, encountered her resurrected son and finally was assumed bodily into heaven where she reigns today and always. ¡Amen!
My own story has a little miracle. I had been serving in the missions, a week or two each year, for nearly a decade and over that time I went from marathoner to cripple. I was the victim of undiagnosed Perthes Disease. It struck me in 1953 when I was 4 years old. The symptoms went away after a few months but came back with a vengeance as osteoarthritis at age 50. After a couple of years the pain was more than I could take and my hip was replaced on December 12th 2003. My hip was replaced actually means my leg was pretty much cut off along with the ball of the hip. The femur was drilled out and 6 to 10 inches of titanium were pounded in where moments before there had been only bone and blood. A fresh titanium socket was hammered into place and I was put back together. That this surgery is routinely performed and most people enjoy great mobility and lead pain-free lives is itself a miracle of medicine. My case extended a bit further. I suffered no pain. OK, there I go exaggerating. I actually took a few tylenol and felt something like a mild sunburn. Folks, I was pain free, really. I felt and feel that God was sending a message of both love and sovereignty. The following year I found myself in the Basilica on the night of December 11th back to back and belly to belly with 2 million worshiping pilgrims along with dozens of Mexico’s finest pick-pockets. I worked my way through the crowd until I was inside the Basilica itself standing with my friend and Mexico City native, Manuel Sandoval. As midnight approached famous Mexican singer after famous Mexican singer performed. At the stroke of midnight the crowd shouted ¡Viva María! three times, Mañanitas, Mexican Happy birthday, was
sung to Our Lady. Next came Mass after Mass after Mass in Spanish and Nahuatl. Beginning in November, after All Saints Day the pilgrimages start from all over Mexico. They arrive at La Via, the Way, with mysteries of the Rosary posted along the avenues leading to the Basilica. At the plaza of the Basilica many shift to their knees, acknowledging the Holy Ground, their own sinfulness and their love for Mary and her yes that enabled God to enter history. They bring their images of La Virgen to be blessed before the alter and beneath the tilma that bear her image.
It was 2012 and here I was back home again this time on the day of the 12th, this time carrying an image of Nuestra Señora that would grace the home of a friend of a friend, this time, like the last, joyful and thankful, crowded and tired. Thank God I believe.
1. Quote taken from On Being Catholic, Thomas Howard, Ignatius Press, 1997.