The Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in suburban Mexico City is the most visited Marian shrine in the world. Millions of people pass through the Basilica’s doors each year, especially as the December 12 feast day approaches.
Podcast: Bishop O'Connell's Christmas message
This year, three dozen of the faithful of the Diocese of Trenton — bishop, priests and laity on pilgrimage — were counted among that number during the first week of Advent. The experience was deeply moving and profoundly spiritual as we celebrated Mass in this holy place, where the cloak or “tilma” of St. Juan Diego miraculously bearing the image of the “Virgen de Guadalupe” was displayed near the crucifix above the main altar.
A native Mexican Indian, Juan Diego was privileged with four apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary In 1531. In her conversations with Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe attempted to calm his fears with questions that were, at the same time, a revelation of her identity: “Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under my protection?”
Those questions linger in my mind as the great celebration of Christmas approaches. The Infant Jesus born in Bethlehem that first Christmas Day was held in the gentle, careful embrace of his Mother Mary. I can imagine her whispering into the Newborn’s tiny ears, “I am here, your Mother. I will protect you.”
Whatever title or traditions may be our favorite ways to think of her, Mary’s message to us is the same at Christmas and throughout the year. She is the Mother of the Savior, the Promised Messiah, the “Word Made Flesh” who dwelt among us. As she loved him totally with her maternal heart from Bethlehem to Calvary, so too she loves us whom he came to save then, now and forever: the Christ of History, the Christ of Mystery, the Christ of Majesty.
At Christmas, we rejoice in the commemoration of Jesus’ birth. We remember once more the ancient prophecies. We proclaim once more the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke. We keep before our minds’ eye once more the comforting vision of the Nativity: the stable; the manger; the swaddling clothes; the steady breathing of the animals huddled together; the shepherds; the star; the heavenly angels singing; the wise men on their way; the watchful figure of Joseph; the young mother Mary holding the Child Jesus close to her breast. We ponder once more what all of these “Christmas things” truly mean.
The whole world becomes different at Christmas, if we allow it all to touch and move our hearts. Faith seems restored. Hope seems stronger. Love seems easier. Despite all the worries of the world, including our Church — the crises, the challenges, the concerns — we let ourselves begin again, anew; we become like a child once more, listening to our mother ask the questions posed at Guadalupe: “Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not the fountain of your life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”
Merry Christmas! And all God’s blessings in the New Year!