I have been a docent at the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California for twenty-five years. This mission is home to the Serra Chapel, which is the oldest church in California and one of the oldest buildings in the state. It’s a beautiful chapel with a world-renowned, 450-year-old retable (a decorative stand behind an altar) called the Golden Altar, in which there are three rows of three niches with a statue in each. In the lowest middle niche, there is a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe directly behind a statue of Jesus on a cross.
Every time I see that Lady, I get ticked off! Why? I can never figure out why this fantasy person is so important or why she deserves all this adoration. Let me briefly share her story. Then I’ll tell you why she ticks me off.
It all started back on Saturday, December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego, an Aztec Christian convert, claimed he saw a vision of the Virgin Mary on the Hill of Tepeyac, a suburb of Mexico City. Mary, who spoke to Juan in his native language, told him that a church had to be built on this spot.
The next day in church, Juan told his priest, who then told the bishop, who didn’t believe him. The Virgin spoke to Juan again that afternoon. Juan went back to the bishop, who told Juan that he wanted a sign. Then “Virge” appeared a third time and told Juan to meet her the next day.
That night, Juan’s uncle became very sick, so Juan, instead of going to meet the Lady, went to find a priest to administer last rites. The Lady intercepted Juan and told him his uncle was fine and that he needed to go gather flowers on the Hill of Tepeyac. Juan obeyed even though it was winter. There he found beautiful roses, which the Virgin arranged in his cloak. Juan then went to his priest and opened his cloak, and the roses fell to the floor. On his tunic was the image of Guadalupe.
On December 13, Juan found his dying uncle fully recovered after Virge had appeared to him. The bishop then took the cloak and hung it in his chapel. It attracted so much attention that on December 26, 1531, there was a procession. During the procession, an Aztec with an arrow through his neck was miraculously healed. A temporary chapel was erected, which became a shrine in 1556. In 1737, the Lady became the patron saint of Mexico City. In 1910, she became the patroness of Latin America, in 1935 she became the patroness of the Philippines, and today she seems far more important than Jesus, especially among women.
I could go on and on about the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but enough is enough, and I’ve had enough.
Do you believe any of this legend? Obviously, I don’t. But how do make-believe stories like this become “truth” and then objects of adoration?
My first answer is that the Lady is so much easier to worship than Jesus because she demands nothing, while Jesus asks for some rather heavy commitments.
Secondly, too many people, when they go to church, park their brains at the door and seem to believe things that are humanly impossible. The Guadalupe story defies laws of nature as well as reality.
What ticks me off the most is that Jesus keeps being pushed to the background while silly fantasies move into first place. I’m sorry, but Guadalupe is not going to give you directions in life. Jesus will.