By Kathy Williams
Ursuline Associate and Director of Communications for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville

Right in the middle of Advent, we find two feast days devoted to Mary—the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, which celebrates Mary being born without sin, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate Mary’s “yes” to God—confused as she was about this turn of events in which she would find herself a pregnant teenager, sans any “relations with a man.” Lk 1:26-38  When the angel appears to her, Mary listens, trying to make sense of the angel Gabriel’s instructions to her.  Finally, Mary agrees, “Okay, I will accept this unbelievable request. I don’t understand it, but I will do what God asks of me.”

With this “yes,” Mary becomes the expectant mother to the savior of the world. One would think she would then be escorted by angels to a palace, accompanied by servants, to attend to her every need while she awaits the birth of Jesus. Joseph, her husband, would gaze adoringly upon his wife and bring her gifts. But no, rewind.

Joseph quickly marries Mary to save her the embarrassment of being pregnant out of wedlock. Mary goes to live in a simple adobe home with Joseph, and then, in her final month of pregnancy, must ride a donkey (not even a horse!) on a long, dusty, and often treacherous journey due to a whim of the Roman emperor who demanded a census so he can tax the poor even more. I can just imagine every bump along the way, can’t you?

On December 12, the blonde, blue-eyed Madonna of many of our Westernized images is transformed into the brown-skinned Mary of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s imagery. Mary, pregnant with Jesus, appears to a peasant, Juan Diego, in 1531 on a hill called Tepeyac, in what is now Mexico and asks him to build a church there. This mestizo Mary understands his poverty and the marginalization of his people, the Aztecs. She chose to take on the appearance of the indigenous peoples rather than their rulers, for she too, was marginalized, forced to leave her home, and give birth in a dwelling that animals lived in. It was most likely smelly, not very clean and certainly not a place in which one would think the savior of the world would be born.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, in taking on the appearance of the indigenous peoples, says to them: I see you. I see your hardships, your suffering at the hands of the elite, the powerful. I too, suffered. I see women on the margins. I see children born into poverty. I too, lived in poverty. I am in solidarity with you. God is close to you, as am I.

Our Lady sees that suffering continue today in the marginalized: refugees, victims of violence and abuse, displaced persons, people of color who continue to be discriminated against and whom for many, justice seems ever elusive.

During this season of Advent, may we be ever mindful that it was a young woman on the margins, who had neither power nor money, whose “yes” gave us the savior of the world—Emmanuel, God with us.

Dear mother, we love you. We thank you for your promise to help us in our need. We trust in your love that dries our tears and comforts us. Teach us to find our peace in your son, Jesus, and bless us every day of our lives.

Help us to build a shrine in our hearts. Make it as beautiful as the one built for you on the mount of Tepeyac. A shrine full of trust, hope, and love of Jesus growing stronger each day.

Mary, you have chosen to remain with us by giving us your most wonderful and holy self-image on Juan Diego’s cloak. May we feel your loving presence as we look upon your face. Like Juan, give us the courage to bring your message of hope to everyone.

You are our mother and our inspiration. Hear our prayers and answer us.

Artwork: By Jen Norton, Used with permission.